Gratitude

by Pastor Kent Carlson

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I absolutely loved our church’s 30-year anniversary celebration weekend. I’m not completely sure why it was so profoundly satisfying and fun for me. I just know that it was perhaps the most enjoyable time I have had in thirty years of ministry at Oak Hills Church. Maybe it was because we were so very relaxed going into that weekend. Maybe it was because we weren’t really using the celebration for much of anything other than to have a party together. Maybe it was the amazing performance of the Oak Hills Rewind. Maybe it was seeing Rick Leary in long hair. Whatever it was, I had a blast.

The predominant feeling I have coming out of this celebration is gratitude. Thirty years is a long time to be in one place. In one church. There are so many stories, so many beautiful people, so many experiences of God’s grace and transformation. So many people who have sincerely sought to follow Christ in the midst of what seemed like impossible situations. And all these stories flooded over me, and I was, and continue to be, deeply grateful to God and to the people of Oak Hills Church, for all this goodness, all this beauty, all these stories that are a part of God’s great story of redemption. This Thanksgiving, without any effort at all on my part, but simply as the natural result of being overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the people of Oak Hills Church, I am deeply grateful. It’s a good feeling.

Now, on to the next thirty years!

I want to highlight two events to help us bask in the sheer delight of our 30-year celebration. First, we have our Annual Congregational Meeting and Vision Night on Thursday, November 20. We will worship together, meet our elders and vote to affirm them. We will talk about some of the challenges and opportunities in our future and have a time for questions and answers. We will have a scrumptious dessert. And most wonderfully, we will have a repeat of our Oak Hills Rewind. For those of us who have already seen it, we will be able to laugh all over again. For those of you who have never seen it, well, you are in for a treat. Please try to make this night a priority and let’s keep the celebration going!

Second, I want to encourage us all to come to our annual Thanksgiving Eve Service. We will worship together “in the round” and we will share together the Lord’s Supper. There will be ample opportunity to share with each other our deep gratefulness to God for all that He as done for us. I hope to see you all there.

With deep thankfulness,

Kent Carlson

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Telling Our Story.

by Manuel Luz, Creative Arts Pastor

Page0030 - Version 2Everyone has a story. You do, I do, we all do. In a very real sense, a church can be defined as a collection of shared stories brought together by their common faith in Jesus. God, the Author of Days, writes His Story and brings us together through it.

The story of Oak Hills Church contains thousands of stories. And as we approach our 30 Year Anniversary, we thought it would be appropriate to share our stories with one another. I invite you to hit this LINK for more information on how you can share your personal story with the rest of our community. But for now, I’d like to share one of my stories. And it goes way, way back—almost to the beginning of the church.

I first began attending Oak Hills in the fall of 1985. I was an extremely young aerospace engineer by day who played in bands and recording studios by night. And I was brand new to the faith. Truth be told, I had gone to another church in the area for a short while, but was getting distracted by all the pretty girls in the singles group. So a friend invited me to Oak Hills, explaining, “You should come. We don’t have any pretty girls.” (He meant unmarried ones.)

My first impression was a good one. Although the church was small and less than a year old, the people were friendly, the preaching was sound, and the snacks were good. I could sink myself into my Bible without distraction. It felt like a place I could be at for a long time. So it took about a month before I came forward and offered myself to the volunteer Worship Leader, Dave Harbert. Dave, not knowing anything about me, informed me that I had to audition for the worship team.

Being a new church, Oak Hills didn’t have much in the way of a worship band. Dave played acoustic guitar and sang, Christie sang alto harmonies, and Steve was a teenager on the upright piano. I still remember pulling up to the Harbert house and unloading my equipment, which included a small PA, multi-tiered keyboards, drum machine, mic and stand, and a host of foot pedals and other paraphernalia. Dave must have thought he hit the mother lode.

The actual audition consisted of Dave and Steve poking at different buttons on my keyboard setup. I hadn’t played a note and I felt like I already had the gig. Now, I performed at a lot of clubs back in the day, and I could play keyboard on my right hand, bass with my left, trigger drums with my left foot, and sing harmony vocals. So single-handedly that night, I pretty much became the Oak Hills band.

Page0026 - Version 2That was 29 years ago. Since that time Dave and Teresa and I have been through a lot. The birth of their three boys. My marriage to Debbie, and our four children. Starting a project recording studio together. Coming on staff as the worship pastor, essentially becoming Dave’s “boss.” Moving to the high school, then the Presbyterian church, and finally to our present location. Designing and building (literally) the building together. Beginning and leading a host of different ministries with Dave and Teresa, from a symphonic band to a publishing ministry to the Art and Soul Gallery. Co-leading hundreds of people through thousands of services and decades of ministry. A thousand challenges and a million laughs and a billion memories.

Looking back now, I realize that night auditioning for Dave and the worship team changed my life. So much of who I am and what I’ve done and what I believe can be traced to the moment my story and Dave’s converged. Thank you God that you brought me and my wife to Oak Hills, to be a part of a community that has loved us and cared for us and grown with us and believed in us. Thank You for 30 years of faithfulness to the ministries of the church. Thank You for writing my story into the story of Oak Hills.

[Photos: Top, the original Oak Hills Baptist Church storefront location, next to the laundrymat and the Kentucky Fried Chicken on East Bidwell in Folsom; Bottom, a very young Dave Harbert leading worship (pre-Manuel). Any resemblance to Napoleon Dynamite is completely coincidental.]

God Sightings

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by Manuel Luz, Creative Arts Pastor

I was talking to someone recently about the evidences of God. No, not the vast creation/cosmological evidences, and not the theological/philosophical proofs. I mean the small evidences that show up in the often mundane and trivial moments of being, where He quitely shows up and reminds us that He is still God With Us. Because if God really is who He says He is, if we really believe in an Almighty and Ever-Present Triune Godhead, then the evidences of God should be frequent and normative and all around us.

So I thought I would share some “God Sightings” from the last few months of worship services. I hope to remind us that our God is the ever-active, ever-pursuing, ever-involved One who moves dynamically in and through our lives, and pours out great love and grace to us all.

God Sighting 1: God In Our Art

We were busy in the midst of the Sunday morning pre-service rush, working through the logistics of rehearsal and run-through, and I hadn’t had any time to check in with our worship painter for that morning, Mary Fong. After run-through, I decided to pull Mary aside and check in with her to make sure that she was settled with her paints, easel, drop cloth, and brushes, as well as find out how she was doing personally. She shared that she was somewhat nervous and was still unsettled about what she was going to paint. As is my custom, I lay hands on her and we prayed together.

She told me later that an overwhelming calm came over her at the moment, and she had a sudden and focused clarity of vision beyond the blank canvas that stared back at her. The result was the piece shown above. To paraphrase her explanation, the jagged pieces signifies God putting back together the chaos which comes over our lives.

God Sighting 2: God In Our Grieving

As I was preparing for an upcoming service, singing and praying over the songs in order, I was struck by the need to change one of the songs in the worship set. Rather than “At The Cross of Calvary,” which is a modern hymn and one of our congregational favorites, I felt the need to change the song to the old hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” It was a little unusual as the hymn isn’t necessarily one I select often, and it didn’t flow as smoothly in the service. But I felt led to make the change, and didn’t think about it again until Sunday morning.

That morning, I told everyone of the change, and passed out music to a somewhat disappointed Worship Team. (I had to promise them I would bring back “At The Cross” later, as evidenced below.) But as usual, we went through the rehearsal, run-through, and both services with the song.

After the second service, Michael and Sarah Jackson approached me. Michael and Sarah are missionaries to India, working with the Foreign Mission Foundation, and they were visiting us that Sunday. Sarah explained to me that her father, the patriarch of her family, had just passed away this past week, and they were quite burdened by their sorrow. Then she explained that “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was her family’s theme song, and they played it and sung it together all the time. She explained that the song came at just the right time—like a message from God.

I asked her when her father had passed away, and she explained that they had just heard the news on Friday, the day he passed. That’s when I felt a little shiver. Friday was the day I was playing through the music, the day I felt moved to change the worship set to include “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

120429 2 Impact - Version 3God Sighting 3: God In Our Song

During my time teaching and leading worship in the Philippines in June, I asked Henway Fong and Michaela Nasello to lead worship. Henway, in particular, provided steady and vertically-focused guidance to the worship during the three Sundays of my absence for which I was extremely grateful.

One moment in particular was Michaela leading a stripped-down worship team in a solo of “Oceans” which I have been told fell deeply upon the congregation. There was something quite Spirit-breathed in how she shared the song which moved people beyond mere virtuosity. God was working deeply in people during that song.

God Sighting 4: God In Communion

The following was shared to me by Dave Harbert. He tells this story well:

“There’s something very special about the hymn, “At the Cross of Calvary.” It’s hard to explain—which may be why we simply label it “A God thing.” Sure the author, Jim Heinze, is a friend of Oak Hills. Yes, we just found out his wife is battling cancer. And true, Teresa (ed: his wife) always reminds me she wants that song sung at her funeral. But those things don’t explain what happened last Sunday when we ended the service singing it during communion.

“I was moved so powerfully during the song that I had chills running up and down my spine. The words, the music, the harmonies, the Spirit all blended into “a moment.” After the song ended and the benediction was delivered, I turned to Amy, who was leading worship beside me, to share our usual after-service hug only to note that tears were not only streaming down my face, but hers as well! We were part of something bigger than the two of us. Later I found out that Teresa, who was our sound tech that morning, had to have the Kleenex box moved next to her because she was sobbing through the song. She struggled to keep it together enough to focus her attention on finishing the service.

“Thank you Holy Spirit for helping Jim Heinze write that song, for moving through your church and for stirring us from the inside out.”

What Is Your God Sighting?

We do indeed live in a God-breathed world, where the Kingdom is alive with the hallelujah of His creation. We need only squint a bit, and focus ourselves out of the self-centered myopia to see it.

Do you have a God sighting? Please feel free to share it with me at manuel.luz@Oakhills.org. Thanks!

New Series: Out Of The Box

boxWhy are there so many religions and so many denominations? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? What about the Big Bang (the scientific theory, not the TV series)? What is going on in the middle East? Will my dog go to heaven?

At Oak Hills, we don’t pretend to know all the answers. But we do know that there are a lot of good questions. Beginning on July 27 through August 31, Oak Hills will begin a six-week series that seeks to answer some of your questions about the church, about God, about life. We’ll be collecting your questions, putting them in our Big Question Box, and then attempting to answer them during the sermons on six consecutive Sundays through the summer.

No question is too small or too big for this series, so we encourage everyone to submit questions (either written and submitted on Sunday during our services or via email to the church at susie.worthington@oakhills.org) and let us know what you think. And we’ll do the best job we can of sifting through them, finding the commonalities, and attempting to give you a Biblical, real-life answer.

This is a great summer series to invite your friends and neighbors to, as we also encourage you not to miss a single Sunday through the series. Got a question? We’ll be thinking Out Of The Box!

River Baptism – June 19th

Baptism_18July2013-220By Mike Lueken, Senior Pastor

In our faith tradition (which some of you may not know is Baptist), we regularly observe the two sacraments of the Lord’s supper and baptism. On the first full weekend of each month, we celebrate communion together. Once or twice a year we baptize people at our summer river baptism or in our hot tub out in the church courtyard. A sacrament is just what the word implies – it is a sacred act we engage in with faith that somehow the divine meets the human in that event. Or if you prefer, heaven intersects with earth. These are not just rituals we follow because Jesus said we should. These are certainly signs of what God has done for us in His life and death and resurrection. We remember His grace and sacrifice and the new life He gives in these practices. But sacraments are more than signs. Somehow as we step out in faith into these sacraments, God meets us and our faith is strengthened. Something real and transformative happens at the intersection of the divine and the human.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. After hearing the gospel from Philip, this man was immediately baptized. Philip shared the story of Jesus with this man and the way he told that story made baptism make sense as a first step in this Ethiopian’s new life. So much so that he initiated the idea, asking Philip, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

For many reasons, in traditions like ours, Christians adopt a low view of baptism. “What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” is replaced with “Why do I need to be baptized?” We reduce baptism to something people do who aren’t afraid to get in front of a group of people. We need to recapture the sacredness of this event.

Baptism is an encounter with the risen Christ. It is the burial and cleansing of the old and resurrection into the new. Baptism is a sacred event where heaven intersects with earth and God makes himself known. Baptism is the New Testament’s initiation of people into Christ and into the Church.

Our annual river baptism is happening on June 19th. If you have never been baptized, now is the time. It doesn’t matter how much you know or don’t know. It doesn’t matter if you have every detail of your faith and life worked out. You have the opportunity to declare to all who are present as witnesses that you are a new creation in Jesus Christ. That’s a really good thing. You have the chance to show your colors. You have the chance to draw a line in the sand and identify with Jesus and with His people. That’s a really good thing. But the most important thing is that God has rescued you. He has taken the initiative and found you. The same power that brought Jesus back from the grave has brought you from death to life. Your life is now hidden with the risen Christ. Your sins are forgiven. You are a new creature in Jesus Christ. So, what can stand in the way of your being baptized?

I hope to see you on the 19th.  Adult classes will happen on Sunday mornings, June 1, 8, and 15 during the 11:00 service in the upstairs library.  Sign up at the welcome center in the lobby, or contact Lorraine Rothenburg.

Serve Day ~ May 17 & 18

Castle Parkby Stephenie Carr, Missional Living Director

 

When I was in high school, a handful of us from Youth Group went over to what is now Kids Play Park, or perhaps better known as Castle Park, on Prewett Drive in Folsom. At that time, the park was in the construction phase and our Youth Pastor, David Holcomb, thought it would be a good idea for us to lend a hand. It was a hot day, a long day, but my memories of it are good. My job was to cut ground cloth to lay under the wooden structures. If you’ve ever been to the park – you can imagine what a job it was to work around the maze of wooden beams and posts that make up the play structure. I remember working alongside some of my friends, laughing with them and figuring out the maze of ground cloth together. For anyone who knows me – math and I are not friends, but co-laborers Todd Dunlap and Jeff Leary, on the other hand, had formulas and theories of the best way to figure it out – none of which, I might add, made the job easier, albeit more entertaining.

Fast forward to today, almost 20 years later and “Castle Park” is a beloved park for my family. It has been the location of our birthday parties, picnics, playdates, swinging contests, nature walks, you name it! Every time I am there, I remember the day we helped to build it. Of all the parks in Folsom, I feel a bit more ownership of that one – I feel a bit more inclined to pick up the trash and leave it in good shape for those who come next – I guess I just can’t shake the feeling of responsibility that comes when you invest yourself in a project like that!

Coming up on May 17 & 18, several of the churches in our area are joining together to invest in these types of projects for our community. There are several reasons I am excited for this upcoming effort:

1. We rarely get to work side by side with our fellow brothers and sisters from the churches around us. We pray for them each weekend, but this is a chance for us to get to know them and be shoulder-to-shoulder with them in our collective community.

2. We will get to invest our labor in projects that fulfill needs in our city! The organizers of this event have spent countless hours talking with the School District, Parks & Rec Department, city officials, as well as ministry leaders and organization directors for months gathering these projects. Our hope is that the city will be blessed. Not only blessed because of the needs met, but also blessed because of the ongoing investment we will all feel for these areas of our community long after the projects are over.
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3. Everyone is included! There are projects for skilled laborers, kid/family-friendly projects, projects for those who like to engage in conversation, as well as projects for those who want to stay busy. You name it, I think you can find a match of some kind on the list. Or if you have your own projects (a neighbor who needs some work done, a favorite organization you don’t see on the list?) – it is not too late to add it!

A few years back, I was infected with the question, “What difference does it make that there are churches in Folsom?” It should make all the difference in the world that churches exist in a given community. Here’s our chance to make our answer a bit more tangible, even if just for a weekend.

Visit www.serveday.net to sign up for a project. Contact Stephenie.carr@oakhills.org to order a t-shirt ($5 each).