What's In A Church?

The reason why I asked the question in the previous post is because it's something Paul and I have been contemplating a lot recently.

First, some background. When I moved to Atlanta two years ago, I got plugged in fairly quickly into a nearby Presbyterian (ARP) church. I joined the choir, made friends, and enjoyed the service. Paul moved to Atlanta a year ago and since we planned to get married in the church, we stayed. However, while I was totally okay with the traditional services, hymns, and choir robes, Paul was not used to that. He comes from a non-denominational/Calvary Chapel background. He is used to outreaches and Bible studies, while this church focuses on church events and Wednesday night potlucks.

And, in the meantime, we have been feeling very lonely. There were almost no young adults, married or single. One thing I've found is that while older women are wonderful friends, they are very busy with their kids and their own lives. Going out bowling or hanging out for a game night don't appeal as much to them. I joined what is called a "Circle" - a women's fellowship group (I love the name! it makes me think of an old-fashioned quilting circle). Since it meets in the evenings, all the women are working moms - something to which I can't relate, and frustrates me because that is one thing I hope to never be. (I often have to bite my tongue about my opinion! But that's what it is - an opinion. And I don't have kids yet, so I really can't say anything.)

Paul and I have talked for a long time - probably about a year now - about leaving. Recently, we have started attending services at another Presbyterian church in the area. We have also been talking about what's important to us, and what we want from a church. It's been interesting doing this together for the first time, as we bring our own values and backgrounds to the table.

This is what Paul and I have determined is important to us (in a pseudo-order):

Bible-believing, Christ focused, sound theology and doctrine
I think everyone agrees that this is very important! We don't want to come away from each sermon shaking our heads. We really appreciate when pastors preach from the Word, and always go back to Bible to back up what they're saying. Cute stories are valuable to help with understanding, but important points and truths should be made using the Bible.

Worshipful music
Paul and I want to be able to worship God through music. This is more important to me than him. I love hymns, but after being in a church for two years when all I heard was hymns, I found that I was just singing the words. Some of the contemporary praise and worship is shallow, but some of it is really good and speaks to my heart. I find I feel closest to God when I am singing and able to pour my heart into the songs, instead of wondering if I am hitting all the right alto notes. It's also hard to lift your hands with a hymnbook in them! I am a very emotional and expressive person, so this is important to me in worship. I would love to find a church with a nice blend of the two, but those are few and far between.

Strong outward ministry focus
We would like a church that feels a strong need to minister to the people of the community, of the nation, and of the world. I am very passionate about missions, and I love to see a church active in global ministry. We also want to see a church give back to the local community. Paul is very passionate about local outreaches - cookouts, etc. We both want to be able to get involved in these areas.

As I mentioned, this is one of the biggest reasons we are currently looking for a new church. We believe this is very important - being able to connect with the other members of the church, finding friends, having others in a similar place in life who can encourage you. Also, a church that is interested in meeting the needs of all different age groups is important - we don't want a church that only focuses on families, or only young adults. We want to see a nice age mix in the church because, while we want people our age, we also know there is much to learn from those older than us, and much to teach those younger.

Personal growth
We really want to be challenged, stretched, and grow spiritually in a church. Much of this is personal: how much you put into it is how much you get out. However, we'd like to see a pastor not only just preach the Word, but also challenge us through that preaching.

Godly leaders
We need to be able to look up to and respect the leaders of the church. I must admit that sometimes disagreeing with how a pastor treats his family plays a major role in how I feel about his sermons. We wouldn't attend a church with a female pastor. I prefer to attend a church where a pastor has or is pursing a seminary degree. I know it's not always possible, but I believe education is important. (The reason why I switched to a singular pronoun there is because Paul doesn't necessarily adhere to the same pastoral standards as I.)

Location, size, denomination
These are some smaller aspects which will play into a decision of settling on a church, but not necessarily define it. Having gone to churches both near to me and far away, I've found that it is MUCH easier to get involved in a church when it is close by! Some people are okay with a drive, but we both feel that the time & money we spend driving back and forth could be better used. Especially if we stay in the South where there is a church on every block. :-)

I always was wary of big churches, but this recent one we've started attending is very large (I can't find a specific number - maybe about 4,000 members?). We both feel that despite the size, the church is not necessarily "stuck on itself" but meets our first criteria. Also, the church offers home fellowship groups and smaller Sunday School classes where we feel we can get to know people more intimately. I would venture to say that the size doesn't matter to us as long as we feel like we can be a part of the church.

I have always been a member of the PCA (Presbyterian) denomination, though I have attended a variety of churches including, Baptist, Methodist, Calvary Chapel, Evangelical Free, CMA, and non-denominational. Paul is mostly non-denominational. The fact that a church is Presbyterian means a lot to me - I know that I'm going to agree with the doctrine for the most part, and the church has some outside accountability to remain true to the doctrine. I also wouldn't ever want to join a church that would require me to be re-baptized.

I think that's about it. So far, we really really like this new church. However, we are sad to leave the old one. I don't want to burn any bridges - I love the friendships I have made. We're trying to figure out how to leave the old church without making it a big deal. I think we'll just attend every once in a while, and gradually "fade out" until they forget us and sometime in the future are surprised to see that we have requested to transfer our membership. :-)

Thanks, y'all, for all your comments. I appreciate everyone for being so gracious about differences - no one got into it about denominations or whatnot. I might have more thoughts on this later as Paul and I continue this road of finding a new church home.

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Feedback from You

Here's a question to consider. I'm curious what your opinions are on the subject.

What do you look for in a church? What areas are important to you, and what areas do you think you could "settle" on? (teaching, fellowship, ministry, kids' activities, support groups, location, outreach, missions, size) Does denomination matter to you?

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Things You Shouldn't Say Outloud

...Especially to a guest who has just finished eating a meal in your house:

"I volunteer to lick the spoon! Then I don't have to wash it."

Poor Susan. I think she's a little worried now to eat here again! I tried to explain what I meant (that I wouldn't have to RINSE the spoon... that I could stick it in the dishwasher as is... I swear I wash my utensils!) but I am not sure she trusts me. I think she will offer to do all the dishes before dinner next time. :-)

But, the meal was lovely - almost as much as the company! We had a delightful time talking about weddings and other such stuff. The dinner turned out wonderfully, and at the request of Hannah I am including the recipe here! It was really easy, and I am just now beginning to use the crock pot even though I've had one for several years! (By the way, I highly recommend this easy crock pot recipe!)

(This really is unusual for me to post two recipes in a row! Beth is the cook of this blog... I am just a cook-by-gender-default.)

Mexican Corn Bread
Prep: 15 minutes
Ideal slow-cooker size: 4 quart
Bake: 1 hr high & 3 1/2-4 low or 6 hrs low
Makes: 4-6 servings

1 lb. extra lean ground chuck
16 oz. can cream-style corn
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup oil
1 cup fat-free milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup low-sodium taco sauce
1 cups shredded fat-free cheddar cheese
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
4 oz. can diced green chilies

1. Brown ground chuck in nonstick skillet.
2. While meat is browning, combine corn, cornmeal, baking soda, salt, oil, milk, eggs, and taco sauce. Pour half of mixture into slow cooker.
3. Layer cheese, onion, garlic, green chilies, and ground beef on top of cornmeal mixture. Cover with remaining cornmeal mixture.
4. Cover. Cook on high 1 hour and on low 3 1/2 -4 hours, or only on low 6 hours.

Per serving: 360 calories (90 calories from fat), 10g total fat (3g saturated, 0g trans), 60mg cholesterol, 1300mg sodium, 39g total carbohydrate (4g fiber, 6g sugar), 29g protein
Daily Values: 10% vit. A, 0% vit. C, 40% calcium, 15% iron

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Monday Laughs

I first read this on Enjoy the Journey. It made me smile, so I decided to share it here!

1. Go to maps.google.com

2. Click on "get directions"

3. In the boxes, put NEW YORK in the from box, and LONDON in the to box

4. Click enter and scroll down to #23 in the list of directions.


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Busy-Day Baked Fish

I have a confession to make. I really, really dislike cooking. So I am always on the lookout for recipes that are (a) simple and uncomplicated, (b) do not involve frying anything, and (c) fast – something I can make after I get home from work and will be ready before we’ve died of starvation. I was delighted to see this recipe in the latest issue of Taste of Home. Paul and I tried it last week and both decided that we will do it again.

One note: I love fish, and even though it’s more expensive I try to get it every other week or so. We tried this recipe with shark steak – fish that I grew up eating in Peru. It was even cheaper than tilapia which made me happy! It was a bit tasteless, so I recommend some lemon juice or something to give it a tang.

Busy-Day Baked Fish

1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream (we didn’t have any so I used plain yogurt- maybe this was the reason for the lack of taste?)
2 tablespoons onion soup mix
1-1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs (I only had plain bread crumbs… any ideas of good spices to add to this for next time?)
2-1/2 lbs fresh or frozen fish filets, thawed (I only had 1 lb, so I halved the recipe)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In a shallow bowl, combine sour cream and soup mix. Place bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Cut fish into serving-size pieces; coat with the sour cream mixture, then roll in the crumbs.

Place in two greased 13x9in baking dishes. Drizzle with butter. Bake, uncovered, at 425 for 12 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese; bake 2-6 minutes longer or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Yield: 6-8 servings.
I wish I had thought to take a picture of the dish, because it looked scrumptious!

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dinner time!

What does dinner look like at your house?

Amanda over at following an unknown path is asking for our input! A group of Taiwanese students is doing a senior thesis on what dinnertime looks like in America. The students would like some input from us, so they are asking for everyone (all those in the United States, that is) to take a survey about how you "do dinner" in your house. It only takes about 10 minutes, and I encourage you to take it yourself and spread the word on your blogs! The deadline is April 29th, so don't dawdle!

To find out more about this, read Amanda's blog here.

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Women in the Workforce Pt. 2

I apologize that this post was a bit long in coming. To refresh yourselves on my first article, see Women in the Workforce Pt. 1. My intention with the second post in this series is to discuss my thoughts on home management while also working full time. However, since my schedule is currently in flux, I've been trying to figure out what would be best to write, so I have been slow to get it all down on the computer.

As a working wife, I struggle to find the time to work and keep home. I can't even imagine how the "Superwomen" of our culture pretend to manage this! I know I never could. I would like to discuss more about how I think the Bible addresses the subject of working women in my next post, but for now I'll just mention what my current routine looks like, and how I juggle both responsibilities.

I've been blessed to have a position in which when I come home, I'm home. I don't have to think about the office, what needs to be done, who else I need to call, etc. So when I get home, I just concern myself with my serving my husband and taking care of daily tasks. I wouldn't ever want a job where my main focus isn't my family. Someday Hubby and I plan for me to stay home while we raise children together, so now is valuable time to learn the skills I need once children come along. Even still, I find my time is tight, since most of it is presently consumed at the office. It can be very difficult to find the time to keep house.

I'm sure most every woman could say this, but I find that I just don't have enough hours in the day. I'm committed to the office from 8 to 5 (more if you count preparing to leave in the morning and commuting), so I'm left with only 5 or so hours at the end of the day before I crash at 10:30. Since those hours are precious, I'm trying to get a schedule in line to make the most of the time I have. With my indecisive nature, this schedule is always being tweaked. Many times it is also because I'm tired from a long day at work, but others it simply is because I want to spend time with Hubby. It is more important to me to have a messy house than to neglect the one I love.

Making a schedule and sticking to it as always been somewhat of a challenge for me. As I've mentioned before, I am currently in flux, transitioning from one schedule to another. I usually save one major cleaning activity for the evening, along with cooking, dishes, and laundry. Some nights I relax with Hubby, others he needs to study, so I find other projects such as my sewing when Hubby is busy. I find it too difficult to do all the chores on Saturday, since this tends to be Hubby's free day as well.

Here is a brief rundown of my old schedule:
Monday: Cleaning the bathroom
Tuesday: Decluttering and organizing
Wednesday: Vacuuming and dusting
Thursday: Cleaning the kitchen
Friday: Making the bed and meal planning
Saturday: Groceries

The problem I have with this schedule is that if I don't get something done that day, it probably won't get done until the next week. I also don't have a place for "fun" tasks, such as reading, sewing, or cross-stitching. I also am trying to transition to grocery shopping on Tuesday evenings after work, since the local farmer's market operates that day, and I would love to shop then rather than twice a week.

As I'm transitioning, I hope to put more emphasis on improving my skills as a housewife (I have no idea how to fold fitted sheets!), and I hope to create a home from the apartment we live in. If I can create a schedule that allows me to grow as a homemaker, spend time with Hubby, and be as good of a steward of my time as possible, I'll be happy.

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Back - For Now

So my week-long hiatus was wonderful. I was able to do a lot of the things I planned, including typing up several posts/topics I'd like to address in the future. I have so much I want to say! The challenge is, of course, getting it all down in (understandable!) written format.

However, some things have happened this past weekend which were not good. Nothing too catastrophic, just reminders from God that we need to allow Him to be in control and not us. I am so bad about that! Last night, I couldn't sleep for the worries creeping into my head. I cried out to God to calm my heart... and He did. I was able to fall asleep, but that doesn't necessarily mean blue skies today. My heart still hangs heavy for an unknown reason...

I have a feeling that my cries for help are far from over; that, in fact, they have just begun. Perhaps I'll document that journey on this blog, perhaps it will be too painful and personal to share. We'll see.

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Grocery Savings

I have been inspired in the last month by many recent posts about meal planning and supermarket savings tips and thought I would give them a try.

First, I found these recent posts (see the first in the series here) from Like Merchant Ships where she plans a whole menu based on loss leader items at her local grocery store. (These are the well-discounted meat and produce items that grocery stores reduce the price in order to draw people into their store. They are usually prominently featured in their weekly ads.) It looked so easy! It makes so much sense to plan a menu based on items on hand or on sale at the store, rather than planning the grocery store trip around the meals.

After reordering my meal planning, I used shopping tips from Crystal. I thought I'd try my hand at couponing, but Kroger doesn't take printed ones from the Internet. So, I spent money and actually bought a newspaper. I never thought that I would bother to do this, but Sunday evening I trotted over to CVS to pick up my very own copy of the Houston Chronicle. I only had to fork over $1.75. I was thinking I would be fortunate if I found anything good at all, but I found about $7.00 worth of coupons to use this week alone, including a completely FREE, don't need to buy anything else box of Electrisol Dishwashing tabs (worth about $4.29). That was worth the price of admission alone.

Here's a run down of my purchases:

Kroger: Retail price $18.40
Card discount $3.25
Coupons $5.00 catalina from previous purchase at Kroger
$5.00 from Pillsbury Bake-Off entry
Total spent $5.15

Randall's: Retail price $16.45
Card discount $7.70
Coupons $4.29 for Electrisol Tabs
Total spent $4.46

CVS: Retail price $ 34.34
Card discount $7.90
Coupons $2.75 for various products
ECB $9.47
Total spent $15.39
Plus, $9.49 back in EB (my $5.99 ECB would not work, so technically I have $15.48 in ECB!)

Total: Retail price: $69.19
Out of pocket spent: $25.00 (that was not intentional, I swear!)

My favorite find was the $1.00 bag of Starbucks Winter Blend coffee in the bargain bin at Randall's. This unfortunately didn't make it into my picture (I left it on my counter!). The kitty is playing with the plastic baggie holding the tomato. She loves plastic baggies.

This probably won't be a typical week for me, since I had those two $5.00 coupons for Kroger, and I didn't need to purchase meat. I love the strategy of using coupons for prices already reduced with the store card. Being creative with the loss leader meats and produce is another wonderful tip to save money. My favorite of all has to be CVS and their Extra Care Bucks system, which I've been using for about a month now. If you're not familiar with this, click here. It's actually very easy once you get the hang of it.

I know to many it may seem ridiculous to spend so much time trying to save money that it seems like I might be Ebenezer Scrooge! And I know that many people simply don't have the time or desire to shop this way. But for me, not only do I enjoy the game of saving money at the grocery store, I love that I'm being a better steward of the money we have. To me, I'm not being miserly. Since I'm spending less on groceries, it means the more I have to give away. I love how Crystal can spend $35 on groceries and have food left over to donate. It makes all the thriftiness worthwhile.
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Accepting my Kitchen Pt. 1

I probably shouldn't be starting another series when I'm trying to work on another, but this post would be way too big to post as one. Don't worry, I'll post my second entry for "Women in the Workforce" later this week.

My kitchen isn't exactly the prettiest to behold. Nor is it the biggest. Our kitchen is little more than cracker box sized, which easily gets overwhelmed with all my clutter. As I've been going through this year, I've been slowly but surely cleaning out cabinets, and I've been much better about using up all the food I buy. However, my heart and soul have not been in really getting the place looking nice. I really want my kitchen to be not only functional, but also beautiful, which as you can see, it is definitely not.

I would really love the kitchen to be a deep red/burgandy, with accents of green, gold, and blue. However, because we live in an apartment, it's not practical for me to paint, so I've had to find other creative ways to liven up the place. As you can see above, there is storage space above the cabinets, which will be great to display treasured knick knacks!

Here are pictures with a much better view of the clutter.

These pictures show my kitchen before I reorganized. This is actually what I considered "clean." As you can see, the clutter is taking over! My plan was to get rid of unnecessary items, reorganize the stuff, and try to find a more efficient system in the kitchen for doing daily tasks. More importantly, my goal was to make the room a joy to be in. I planned on spending less then $10 on organizational items such as plate stands. Everything else I use I planned to make myself.

Next time I'll post the after pictures and what I did to get the new look. Stay tuned!

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Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I found this recipe in a recent Taste of Home magazine, and have fallen in love with them! Hubby actually prefers these to regular chocolate chip cookies. Not only that, but this recipe is also cheap to make (it's in the bargain meals section). Taste of Home estimates that it would cost $3.60 to make the recipe according to directions (which I'm not actually sure is cheaper than regular ones or not), but one could easily save more by finding items on sale.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 Tbls molasses
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup quick cooking oats (I use regular oats; they work fine)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Beat in molasses, egg, and vanilla. Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt: gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll into 1 1/2 inch balls.* Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before removing to wire rack. Makes ~1 1/2 dozen cookies

*After forming the balls, I freeze them in freezer bags, since the 2 of us cannot finish a whole pan of cookies by ourselves. I pull out however many frozen cookies I want to bake, and extend the baking time by 3-4 minutes. They still come out great!
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On Hiatus

I have decided to take a hiatus from blogging until next Monday. I have a lot going on in my life right now (nothing serious, just things to think about and changes we want to make), and I think it would help a lot to take blogging out of my schedule for this short time. I am also going to stop reading blogs, which actually is the bigger time eater than writing. So... next week I'll be busy playing catch-up on all of your blogs. :-) If you write a post that you think I might particularly enjoy, then please send me an email! You can always find the address on the sidebar: onwardupward [@] ashleydesign.org

I have many post ideas swirling around in my brain, and that's one of the reasons I am taking a hiatus. I'd like an opportunity to get them all in written format and edited before I forget them all. :-) So look for some new posts by me next week! And enjoy reading Beth's posts this week. :-)

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