Monuments and Footprints

Written by Gary Taylor

"A monument only says, 'At least I got this far,' while a footprint says, 'This is where I was when I moved again.'" ~ William Faulkner

We must celebrate monumental accomplishments.  But we cannot rest in them, nor find complacent satisfaction in them.  The best use of a monument is to recall it in a way that fuels the continuation of our journey.

The Church - especially as we read of it in Acts, and as exemplified by the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia - is to be more movement than monument.  The Church is comprised of disciples who are followers.  And followers are on the move, walking in Jesus' footprints. 

Pause to remember monumental acts of God, but don't stand still long enough for grass to grow beneath your feet.  Keep moving.  You'll discover that when your feet are involved in a movement, there won't be time to bow in worship of a monument.

Our church is called to leave footprints - footprints the size and shape of Jesus.  Live and love as Jesus would if he lived in Silicon Valley, as Jesus would if he worked your job, as Jesus would if he was a member of your family.  Walking like Jesus throughout our city leaves footprints marking a movement.

What if the legacy we leave our children, grandchildren and friends is a set of footprints?  Nothing wrong with something like a monumental trust fund, but why not continuous footprints that tell the story of your courageous, never-ending, never-settling journey of faith? 

This Sunday, Adrian Sanchez - a Central-sponsored missionary - is speaking (at our one worship service at 10am).  He and his family have been leaving footprints for many, many years.  They walk through open doors.  Central has commissioned a monumental number of missionaries.  May our God-glorifying missionary monument fuel us forward, leaving more and more footprints.

What door has God opened for you? For most of us, the open door is this city. We are not called to build monuments here; our calling is to movements that leave an impression the size and shape of Jesus' feet.  Where will you leave a footprint today?

Northern Ireland

Written by Kayla Power

Summer Camp 2017 was when our high schoolers first began to learn about the overwhelming depression, the deep confusion about who God really is, and the surprising disunity between churches, that other kids just like them struggle through every day in Northern Ireland. While we wore our American flag, celebrating July 4th at Summer Camp, our youth also wore the Irish flag. As we sang worship songs, opened up our Bibles, and experienced life change through incredible speakers and authentic group discussions, we also prayed for the youth in Ireland to have a similar opportunity. 

God has been preparing the way for the High Schoolers of Central Christian Church to bravely fly across the pond and join Him in His work in Northern Ireland since before CIY MOVE 2017, but it was that week that our students committed to raise support for the youth there to some day experience their own CIY MOVE camp.  Saying "yes", is almost never easy. When the Lord first prompted me to go on a short term missions trip in High School, I struggled to make it happen. I was convinced that I was not "good enough" to make any kind of difference. I was worried about leaving my younger sister alone. I feared that I would be able to raise the money. I suffered through my parents disbelief in me; they were convinced that it would all be a waste of time and money. Never the less, I said, "Yes! I'm scared, and I really don't know why You want me, but here I am, use me!"

My life was never the same. That short trip is where I first learned that I could actually be used by God, not in the way that youth pastors and parents teach their kids, but in the way that only God could reveal. It was that week that I learned how to hear His voice and walk in His ways, I learned how to care about what He cares about, I was forced to get outside of myself, outside of my school, my family, my city, my country even, and I came to find out that, it is ALL about Him. His people. His world. His gospel. Some "yes's" to His promptings are harder than others. Saying "yes" to marry Kyle was scary. Saying "yes" to full time ministry was scary. Saying "yes" to move across the country to join hands with a bunch of strangers here in the Bay Area was scary. 

We have been here 17 months now and I am well aware that this Bay Area culture is one drenched in business, people are saying "yes" all the time, to so many things, I'm sure you feel it, but I am curious, when was the last time you said "yes" to a scary prompting from our Father? When was the last time you said "yes" to something that forced you to trust Him more, that demanded you to hear His voice and walk in His ways? God cares about the youth in Northern Ireland no less than He does about our youth right here in San Jose and that is why we must go. He calls us to go and by going, He prepares us to live more missionally right here at home. 

We desire for our youth who profess Jesus to be their savior to experience the kind of discipleship that changes everything, as close to the way Jesus discipled as possible. The first step for each of His disciples was to say "yes". They had to be willing to get up, leave where they were, and follow Him. There is always a cost to being a part of His mission, but we know that the cost for these kids to not experience the deep challenging excitement of walking with Jesus is greater. We life in a post Christian world today not because no one believes in Jesus, but because not enough people are willing to say "yes", get up, leave _________ (we all have something we do not want to let go of safety, family, money, reputation, etc.) and follow Him.

D. Reginald Thomas, one of my favorite authors, writes, "Too often Christians focus on the appeal of Jesus Christ, His sweetness, His tenderness, His compassion, but there is also the demand of our Lord Jesus Christ." I am excited for our students who are saying "yes" to experience discipleship in a new way, for our parents who are saying "yes" to get uncomfortable in sending their kids and having Jesus meet them right in the middle of it, to remind them that these kids, the ones in San Jose and Ireland, are all His. 

I am also so thankful to each of you who are praying for us as we put together our team and begin training and raising support.

Paper Towels, Mercy, and Grace

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Written by Gary Taylor

In our office bathroom is a paper towel dispenser that you cannot pull a paper towel from unless your hands are already dry.  If your hands are wet when you tug on the paper towel, it rips and all you get is a tiny piece of paper towel the size of your thumb and fingertip.

Doesn't it defeat the purpose of using a paper towel if you have to dry your hands BEFORE you can reach for the paper towel?

Here's my hand washing routine in that bathroom: After the normal soap and rinse, I begin shaking my hands over the sink, flinging off as much water as I can, drops spotting mirror and vanity.  It is at this point that I make my first attempt to pull out a paper towel.  When it rips - as it seems to always do - then I wipe my still-too-damp hands on my pants legs.  When my hands are satisfactorily dry, then I can access the paper towel - the paper towel I no longer need.

I wonder how many of us ever encountered a church or a Christian that made you feel as though you couldn't access Jesus until after you rid yourself of all sin.  Scant fragments of Jesus, so to speak, were all you could get.  You were led to believe that your life was so saturated by sin that you yourself were held responsible for weakening the integrity of the salvation you reached for.

Personally, I can recall a frustrating season of my life that was like that; I wanted Jesus, but felt I had to earn him.  I went to great lengths attempting to shake off a shady past, which never seemed to be so "past enough" that I could get a good grip on Jesus.  When I did momentarily rid myself of a sinful action, I splattered others around me with drops of my pride.  Still unable to get a firm hold on Jesus, I became the guy at church walking around with wet handprints on his thighs - a symbol, perhaps, of the work I had done and the lengths I went to in order to be worthy of forgiveness and great mercy.

Words like mercy and grace sing well, flowing easily off the tongues of churchgoers.  But do we comprehend their weight - how thick and hardy are God's mercy and great grace? 

Mercy, I'm picturing, is being able to reach for Jesus even while we are still drenched by bad choices and unaddressed sins.  In a display of stunning mercy, Jesus refused to tear away as he hung, dripping with my sins, on a cross. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that perceives showing mercy as a sign of weakness.  Which may explain why it's so surprising to us when mercy holds, giving us access to Jesus.  We are in need of healing.  Mercy's gentle hardiness gives us confidence to tug on the hem of Jesus' garment.

But what's so amazing about GRACE is that we get the whole of him.  Jesus unfolds all he is and has, availing himself completely to me.  Grace is that I get ALL of Jesus.  In addition to his mercy that invites me to draw near, in his great grace he sees me, and dispenses all of himself for my healing. 

It must look odd to Jesus, watching us go through our hand-flapping, thigh-slapping routines when all we have to do is confidently reach out for him.

Doesn't it defeat the purpose of a Savior if we continually try to save ourselves?  Reach for mercy so grace can do what we could not do for ourselves.

Northern California Wildfires

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Written by Glyn Norman

Greetings church. I'm sure, just like me, you've been watching the scenes of devastation unfold in the Santa Rosa/Napa region as the wildfires continue to devastate. At this point, many of the fires are only minimally contained. 3500 homes destroyed, at least 24 dead and over 400 missing.

What should our compassionate response be? I've been in touch with some churches in the area and they would welcome donations of the following:

  • Clothing in good condition (used is okay, but please launder before donating)
  • Toiletry items (shampoo, shower gel, soap, feminine items etc.)
  • Gift cards in denominations of $25 and $50 for stores like Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Target, Safeway. 

I'm proposing that we collect these items on Sunday, and then some of the staff will drive them up on Monday to these churches for distribution.

Please pray that the God who is Lord of nature, will command the winds to be still. He's done it before... "Jesus commanded the wind to be still..." and it was.

Thank you for joining in this practical expression of God's love for those who have been evacuated and the many who have lost their homes. Also, please join us for the Healing Prayer and Worship Service at 5pm on Sunday, and include this in your prayers at that event.

A Heartbeat Away From Eternity

Written by Chip Kirk

Hugh Hefner, who boasted that he "exploits sex the way Sports Illustrated exploits sports" died a week ago.  Although he was only a heartbeat away from eternity, Hefner's seemingly sole preparation for death was buying a crypt next to Marilyn Monroe.
 
Rocker Tom Petty, of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers fame, suffered a cardiac arrest Sunday night and exhaled for the last time at 11:40 pm Monday.  Although Petty racked-up fame and fortune and once wrote Free Fallin' about a girl who loved Jesus and Elvis, had he wisely prepared himself to die?
 
Fifty-nine normal Americans were casually enjoying a country music concert in Las Vegas last Sunday evening when a deranged killer machine-gunned their lives away. More than 525 others were wounded; some critically.  Only a heartbeat away from eternity; how many of those immortal souls were prepared to meet their Maker?
 
RESCUE THE PERISHING
 
Moses wrote, "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).  Proverbs 11:30 says, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise."  As Fanny Crosby wrote, "Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; Weep o'er the erring one, lift up the fallen, Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save."
 
As followers of Jesus, you and I have the mandate to help capture souls and rescue the perishing.  That's why you share Jesus with those around you. 

(You can read more of Chip's writings and his ministry here: https://www.chipkirk.com/ )

Houston Relief Efforts

Written by Glyn Norman

Greetings church. This week I had the privilege of mailing our check to The Met church in Houston to help with their Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Our grand total was $32,243 and they are so appreciative of us joining them in partnership to make a difference in the name of Jesus.

According to news reports, the flooding and storm damage in Texas and Louisiana is expected to cost as much as $100 billion to clean up and repair the damage. (Business Insider, Sep 2)

So many people's lives have been devastated by this event, and it's an opportunity for the church of Jesus in Houston to be his hands and feet as they wade in (literally) and help with clean up.

I asked The Met what we could specifically pray for, and this is what they sent back:

"I wanted to circle back and share how we would like continued prayer for our friends and family affected by Harvey.  The homes that we have mudded out are now drying and it takes weeks, maybe longer, for them to be ready for rebuild.  This process could be months for some and years for others.  It is a journey that we want to walk through with them and remember to keep helping as this time goes on.  We appreciate all you are doing and have done.  Knowing we have family across the nation praying with us is such a blessing!!"

So, there it is church. Let's keep praying along the following lines:

  • that people in a time of physical crisis will also seek spiritual solutions
  • that the congregation at the Met will be the hands and feet of Jesus to many
  • that the God of all compassion will become more evident through their actions
  • for Spirit-led conversations as they are working alongside homeowners to repair their properties
  • for wisdom in how to distribute funds
  • that mended houses will lead to mended lives

I. Love. Camping.

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Written by Kristin Potter

Three little words that might completely alter your perception of me, but, contrary to popular belief, this girly girl loves to camp. Growing up, my family spent our summers camping with four other families, families we still consider our dearest friends to this day.  Sure, my family did the usual "Disneyland" type vacations too, but for my sisters and I, our most cherished childhood memories were spent living out of the old yellow tent my Dad bought at a garage sale for $20 with a patch on the door flap that said "Sorry Grandpa"... True Story.  

Yes, camping was a total blast for us kids... but my parents, however, would probably tell you a different tale. To the Ambrose Girls, camping was a total vacation... to my parents, it meant weeks of planning, days of packing, hours of shopping and much more, I'm sure. I don't remember hearing them complain. I do remember a lot of running around, cramming massive amounts of food into a cooler, frantically searching for the big tub we always washed out dishes in... and maybe even my baby sister. My dad would even take the middle bench seat out of our Plymouth Voyager Van (complete with the classy wood paneling on the side), buckle the three of us into the back seat and, literally, pack around us.  We would already have been sitting in the van for an hour before we actually hit the road. But, hey, a Dad's gotta do what a Dad's gotta do, right? 

And the work didn't stop once we were on the road! Once we arrived at our campsite, us girls would bolt out of the van (once we were freed from the mountains of coolers and rolled up sleeping bags that surrounded us), in search of our friends that had already arrived, leaving dear old Mom and Dad to set up what would be our home for the next week.  Lucky them! 

Yes, my parents put in massive amounts of time, energy and effort to make camping 

 happen for their girls.  But I don't ever remember them complaining or arguing about any of it.  What I DO remember is my Dad and his best friends, John Moore, Dennis Brown and John Bolanos, taking us on hikes around the lake... the same guys that I'd hear laughing and praying together from our kitchen on Tuesday Mornings during their men's bible study.  I remember my Mom's best friend, Jane Bolanos, singing worship songs with her old guitar around the camp fire while my God mother, Janet Moore, played with my hair.  These were their people, their tribe.  The people they not only did "church" with, but the families they did everyday life with.  These families helped to shape who I am today.  

Thinking back to last year's Family Camp,  I can't help but think of my childhood camping  adventures with the Bolanos', The Browns and The Moores while our Central families took over the KOA Campground.  I loved watching families share life together for a weekend,  bonding over the fact that their kids had s'mores from the previous night dried onto their faces. I loved seeing families at various stages of life joining forces for a healthy dose of friendly competition with the "Minute To Win It" Games.  And I loved watching 4 and 5 year old little buddies stand in front of Scott and his guitar and belt out "You love never fails and never gives up, it never runs out on me" for the whole campground to hear.  Ask Luca Ferraro for a replay, I'm sure he'd gladly serenade you.  

This is what Central Christian's Family Camp is all about... building community over campfires and cabins, sparking new friendships that can encourage you and nurturing old ones that can withstand the test of time and busy schedules.  Regardless of what kind of family you come with, kids/no kids, spouse/no spouse, empty-nesters or adventure seekers... Family Camp is for YOU! Why? Because you're family.  WE'RE family! The people you casually say "hi" to when you walk though the door on Sunday morning, the woman who sits alone in "your section" of the worship center, the staff and their families... we are YOUR people, we are YOUR tribe.  God calls us into a relationship with Him and with others... So let's live like it... on the campsite or in our neighborhoods- let's do life together!

Central's Family Camp Registration is OPEN and waiting for YOU to reserve your cabin or camp site! (click HERE to register...get excited). Don't think about all of the work that goes in to getting your family there.  Focus on the community and memories that are made once you've arrived.  That's what I remember the most... and I'm sure your family will too.

Hurricane Harvey - How You Can Help

Written by Glyn Norman

I know many of us have been distressed by the scenes of incredible devastation as a result of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and naturally, we want to know how we can help. This church is part of a network of churches called the Relational Discipleship Network, and I am part of a smaller "micro-network" of pastors that meet monthly by video chat for coaching, accountability, prayer and encouragement. One of the pastors in my micro-network is Matt Roberson who pastors a large church in the Houston area, called The Met.

 As you know, Houston was one of the major areas hit hard by Harvey, and Matt's church has been stellar in stepping up to the plate and providing relief to victims of the hurricane.

They have sheltered 800 people (with 150 pets) for 5-6 days. They have "mudded out" and cleaned more than 200 homes. They continue to distribute donations they have received from their church and other sources (clothes, hygiene supplies, non-perishable items etc.). Going forward they will continue with the clean-up and restoration of homes.

 The Washington Times recently reported that Christians have outpaced FEMA in providing aid to victims (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/sep/12/christians-outpace-fema-aid-hurricane-victims/) and churches like The Met are at the forefront of such efforts.

They opened up their church, starting with the youth facility and then expanded to larger areas as the need grew. They are being the hands and feet of Jesus, and the reputation of the church of Jesus Christ is being massively enhanced by their actions. All this while still being in the midst of cleaning up their own campus.

 Since Matt is part of my network, I consider The Met to be, in some sense,  a "sister church" and as the elders and I were discussing and praying about how to come alongside them in their efforts, it seemed good to us (and the Holy Spirit) that we should give this week's offering to them. So, this coming Sunday, all funds given (except those specifically designated otherwise) will be forwarded to The Met for their ongoing relief work in the community.

 If you wish to give online to this effort before Sunday, you can do in the following ways:

TEXT "centralsj" to 77977 (Select "Houston Disaster Relief" fund)
ONLINE with Pushpay  (Select "Houston Disaster Relief" fund)

We'll have a video to show on Sunday about what the church has been doing, but for now, here are some still images.

Thank you for your generosity to those in need.

 

The Life So Short

Written by Cathleen Norman

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"The life so short,
the craft so long to learn."
~ Geoffrey Chaucer 

I have this quote on a poster in my classroom. We are just about to start our Chaucer unit in my British Literature class. And this quote rang so true as I glanced at it while turning off the lights today. Sometimes you read a quote, and it is obviously profound, but one day its profundity just makes your heart sink.

Life IS short. And it is taking me SOOO LONG to get things right.

As a teacher, I often feel inadequate. I am surrounded by brilliant academics. Why did they choose me? Maybe they made a mistake! Yes, my degree is in English Literature, but my co-teacher has his doctorate! I love literature. I love my students. Is love enough?

And don't get me started on parenting! I was such a better mom before I had kids. I was THE best babysitter! But it is totally different with your own kids. For one thing, I got to go home at night as a babysitter. AND I got paid! And I could say "no, thanks, I'm busy," to the families that were difficult. But as a mom, I am always on. And my kids have challenges that I had no idea would be an issue.

I don't know who Chaucer hung out with for sure, but his Canterbury Tales would suggest that he had a wide variety of friends. And other prolific writers like C.S. Lewis and Virginia Woolf had famous writing groups like The Inklings and The Bloomsbury group, respectively. These groups provided a creative outlet for brainstorming, perhaps a good venting session, and most certainly a good constructive kick in the pants when needed.

As a teacher, one of my favorite teacher quotes came from a seasoned gentleman who casually remarked in the teacher's lounge, "Every November I feel like quitting the teaching profession altogether." It might sound odd, but that was so encouraging - to know that I was not the only one who struggled.

And as a mom... oh boy... do I need mommy friends to tell me I'm not crazy?! Yes. Yes, I do. I need to know that although the challenges may be different, everyone has challenges. I need to learn from other moms' successes and failures. If life is so short, then I need others to help me shorten the learning curve. I want to be the best teacher God has made me to be. I want to be the best mom my kids could ever have. And I need you to help me.

Join my Life Group. Join somebody's Life Group. And as a community, let's build each other up. Let's make this short life count for eternity!

Vocare_Work As Calling

Written by Glyn Norman

Fun Quiz:

Name the song about work that these lyrics come from... extra points if you know the artist... check your answers at the end of the Weekly Walk:

A)     Oh don't you know, that's the sound of the men, working on the ___________________
B)     Working _____ to _________, What a way to make a livin', barely getting' by, It's all talkin' and no givin'
C)     She works ________ for the _______,  so you'd better treat her right
D)     You get up every morning from your alarm clock's warning, Take the 8.15 into the city.... (chorus) And I'll be _________   _________ of ____________
E)      Six o'clock already, I was just in the middle of a dream, I was kissin' Valentino by a crystal blue Italian stream... (chorus) It's just another _________    ____________

On 10th September we'll be starting our Fall series, Vocare: Work as calling. Vocare is the Latin word for "call" and it really begs the question whether we see our work as simply a 9-5 way of earning a paycheck, or whether we can find in it some sense of calling. We spend many hours every week working, and many years of our life. Is it just a necessary evil we engage in to put food on the table and pay the bills? Or can it be something more?

And by the way, just in case you were wondering, I don't define work as ONLY that which gets a paycheck. It would be a foolish man indeed who claimed that raising children was not work (and I'm not that foolish). And for those who are retired, I doubt that you are sitting at home all day watching daytime soaps, but rather still active in some way, contributing somehow to the lives of others. This is all work.

In this series we'll be looking at how we can integrate our faith with our work. Is it just taking the opportunity to share Jesus with a co-worker, or simply working honestly? Or could there be more to it? Spoiler alert: there's more. Much more. Join us for this 6 week series as we explore what it means to have God@Work in you and your job, whatever that might be.


Quiz Answers:

a)      Chain Gang. Sam Cooke
b)      9-5. Dolly Parton
c)      She works hard for the money. Donna Summer
d)      Taking care of business. Bachman-Turner Overdrive
e)      Manic Monday. The Bangles.

The Eclipse a.k.a. "I saw nothing"

Written by Glyn Norman

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This last Monday, I put a strange, very time-specific item on our Staff Meeting Agenda. It read like this:

10:15 am  Eclipse

I had read that the eclipse could be best viewed at 10:15 am if you were in San Jose, and so at the appointed time, the whole staff walked outside, with our special pinhole paper cups that Janessa made. So, we were all outside, 10:15 came around, Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Didn't see it. Even when I glanced quickly with my normal sunglasses.

Two problems: one is that none of us had eclipse glasses (essentially super-dark sunglasses that blotted everything out except the bright sun) and we didn't know how to use the equipment we did have. Eventually we worked it out and saw the crescent of the eclipse filtered through the pinhole and shining on the concrete outside. But this was very different than what I expected. I thought that even though it would only be an 80% eclipse from San Jose, that it would get darker. As far as I could tell, it didn't.

Essentially, wrong equipment, and not being in the right place (Oregon) made for a disappointing eclipse experience.

This made me think of a Bible story, where someone else was not able to see the reality of what was really going on. It's found in 2 Kings chapter 6. The prophet Elisha and his servant are trapped in the city of Dothan which has been sieged by the Arameans:

13 "Go, find out where he is," the king ordered, "so I can send men and capture him." The report came back: "He is in Dothan." 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.

15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?" the servant asked.

16 "Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

Now, on the surface, this is patently untrue. They are in a city, and surrounded by the whole Aramean army, clearly outnumbered. What does Elisha know and see that his servant doesn't? The story continues...

17 And Elisha prayed, "Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see." Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Elisha had a depth of spiritual perception that until he prayed, was unavailable to his servant. When he saw as Elisha saw, when he perceived the angelic army, his fear was gone.

I wonder how many times in life we are in the wrong place (out of God's will) with the wrong equipment (eyes that only see the physical circumstances and not the underlying spiritual reality). How different would life look if we were in the right place, the center of God's will, with the right equipment, "eyes to see" the spiritual realities, that God is for us and not against us, that angelic armies surround us, that he will never leave us and forsake us. What difference would that make to how we see the obstacles in front of us?

So, some questions for self-examination:

  • am I where I should be, in God's will? Is there any part of my life that is straying?
  • do I have the right equipment? Am I reading my Bible and praying so that I can soak myself in God's perspective and spiritual truth?

These two things can make all the difference in the world as we discover that our problems are eclipsed (!) by God's love and care for us.

Bike Rides and Bright Futures

Written by Gary Taylor

Two weeks ago I wrote an article about my three-day camping trip sandwiched between 10-mile hikes.  For those of you wondering, I survived.  My fingers that type this article are the only part of my body not sore or still tired.

The day after I returned from the hike, my daughter and I rode bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge.  In our two years living out here in the Bay area, we had driven across the GG Bridge a few times, noticing people biking and walking across.  It seemed like a fun thing to do.  

It turned out to be more than either of us expected. 

The bridge itself was relatively flat.  What I failed to factor into our adventure was the ride from the bike rental store - the hills leading up to the southern ramp of the bridge.  Oh, and then there was the ride back.  Altogether, we rode about 10 miles.  News flash: San Francisco is hilly.

The bridge was packed with pedestrians and cyclists.  During the opening stretch, there were so many people walking or congregating for photos that you couldn't safely ride a bike.  Additionally, cars and trucks whizzed by just a couple feet away.  It was a bit unnerving.  Calleigh looked at me and asked if we could leave the bikes on the bridge, and call a taxi to give us a ride back.  

We were too far to turn around, and she felt too tired to continue.  I reminded her that a Frappuccino was waiting for her when she finished the trek.  It was just enough to get her back in the saddle (the very uncomfortable, chaffing saddle).

Eventually we coasted into Sausalito where we took the ferry back across the bay, going ashore at Pier 49.  While on the ferry's top deck, we gawked at the beauty of the SF skyline, but something else caught my attention: 

I looked at Calleigh, pointed to the Golden Gate Bridge off in the foggy distance, and said, "We have really come a long way.  Aren't you glad you kept pedaling?"

We are in a sermon series called The Future is Bright.  It's a study of 1 Thessalonians which highlights our bright future in heaven, and how that Frappuccino keeps us pedaling up the long, uphill days that mark our life here on earth.  (Did you know that Frappuccino is Italian for "heaven"?  It's not...I just made that up.)

As Calleigh and I sipped our sweet, refreshing drinks at the Starbucks across from the bike shop, we talked about our journey. We recalled our favorite moments and the most spectacular vistas.  We celebrated finishing strong.  We made it!

Someday, when we are in heaven, and earth is merely our foggy past, I plan to have a similar conversation with my daughter.  Remember when life's hills were long and steep, but we didn't quit?  Aren't you glad you didn't turn back?  By God's grace, we made it! 

There we will be, seated with Jesus, sipping the most amazing Frappuccino we've ever had.

Metamorphosis

Written by Glyn Norman

In Kafka's famous book, The Metamorphosis, the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into some sort of giant insect. The transformation is unwelcome, and causes others to recoil in horror. Eventually, Gregor realizes what a terrible burden he is to the family (renters no longer want to rent rooms in a house occupied by a giant bug) and withdraws to his room, where alone and neglected he dies. It's a tragic story which roams over great themes such as our capacity for change, how we react to those different to ourselves and more.

For the Christian, we also are supposed to undergo a metamorphosis of sorts. When we make a decision to follow Jesus Christ, we become a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says it this way: if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. Choosing to follow Jesus is both receiving an invitation (Come to me, said Jesus) and issuing one. We effectively say to Jesus, "Come to me and transform me into the person you always wanted me to be. Deal with the sin in me. Erase the defects of character. Refine me."

And contrary to the effects in Gregor, the effect should be not that others recoil from us, but that they are drawn to us, as they see the good work Jesus is doing in us, making us less angry and more patient, for example.

Of course, the story is more complicated. Though "the old has gone" it still clings on to us. Decades of bad habits and attitudes are rarely shaken off in a moment. Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, there may be traces of the old still attached to us. We are indeed, "works in progress."

This morning, in a situation of tension, the old me surfaced. It wasn't pretty. In such situations, I have to remember to have grace for myself. The temptation is to beat myself up, feel a failure, and not try any more. But that would be defeatist, and deny the Spirit the opportunity to continue working in me. So today I continue, working on a sermon about character, all too aware of the flaws and faults in my own. Know this church - when I preach to you on Sunday, I do not speak as one who has arrived. I am a fellow pilgrim struggling alongside you. These words of CS Lewis are a comfort to me this morning:

"No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of his presence."

Pack Some Advil

Written by Gary Taylor

I'm nervous.

It's gonna be about 20 miles of hiking.  I've been warned that there are some steep climbs, and that it is strenuous even for a seasoned hiker.  The trip includes two nights of sleeping in a tent, on a thin mat that couldn't be more opposite of my pillow-top mattress at home. 

Advil tops my list of "what to pack."

I'm not nervous about the presence of rattlesnakes or bobcats.  I'm not nervous about getting lost.  I'm not nervous about running out of food or filtered water.  What I AM nervous about is not finishing. What if I don't have the stamina for this hike?  What if I'm a pansy and want to turn back at the halfway point?

I can see it now: I'm too out of breath to yell ahead for my son to slow down.  I'm flat on my back, our friend/guide standing over me with a quizzical look.  Why do you keep stopping to lay down?

"Why," you may be thinking, "is Gary going on a hike that he may not be able to finish?"  Because I don't want to attempt something that I know I can do on my own.  There are times in life when it's prudent to play it safe, but I don't want this to be one of those times.

This upcoming hike, for me, already points to similarities in my real-life journey.  Namely, "Do I have what it takes?"  One of the fears I consistently face is the fear of not being able to finish what I started.  Part of a faith journey is acknowledging that, in my own strength, I do NOT have what it takes to complete the work God has called me to.

What gives me confidence as I prepare for next week's 20-mile hike and camp is that I'm not hiking alone.  Jack and I are going with someone who has made this hike before; a guide.  Another truth that gives me peace of mind is that my son is in good enough shape to run back and get help if I need it.  I know that sounds funny, but I'm sorta serious.

So I'm trying something new.  I'm attempting something I've never done before.  And I know it's too much for me to do on my own.  But I have a guide, and a guy who is healthier than I.

Everyone, without exception, needs help.  You know that, right?

When I'm telling you that Life Group signups on the patio take place on August 20 and 27, it's because I want you to finish what God has called you to.  And for you to finish, you will need help.  In a Life Group, you build relationships with guides - a person or two who, maybe to your surprise, has walked the exact same path you are most nervous about.  And in that Life Group are people strong enough to run to God and pray for help when you need it.

August 20 and 27: Life Group signups. 
A guide.
Good friends.  
And maybe some Advil, if you need it.

The Future is Bright

Written by Glyn Norman

I remember that night when we arrived late in Thessalonica. It had been a long, dry and dusty journey from Philippi. Ministry had gone well there until the city officials got involved, and then the pressure to leave began. Finally, when the danger was too much, we went on our way, seeking the next ripe town for sharing the good news. Thessalonica seemed a good choice, with around 200,000 people there, and a synagogue in place.

That was where we started of course, in the synagogue. They were happy to listen to me, with my reputation as a serious Jewish scholar from the school of Gamaliel. Starting from the Scriptures, I showed them that the long awaited Messiah had actually come, that the Suffering Servant from Isaiah had walked among us. I told of his death, his resurrection and his ascension, some sixteen years past now.

Three Sabbaths they allowed me to speak, then the resistance grew so strong that my speaking privileges were revoked. Even though I was out of the synagogue, there were some who believed and wanted to know more. Many Gentiles too, came over from their heathen idolatry, and placed their trust in my precious Messiah.

But that was a year ago. Though I left them thriving, my heart had been heavy since I was forced to leave the city. My soul burned with concern for these new believers. Were they being taught in accordance with the Scriptures? Was their faith still strong? Were they living together in unity or were there divisions? Were they standing strong against persecution? Many nights I wept in prayer, bringing these new believers before the Lord, asking him to sustain and grow them in their faith.

Finally, I could bear it no more and sent Timothy to them. And what a report he brought back. How my heart was lifted when I heard of their faith, their love and their perseverance. And so now I, Paul, beloved of God, put ink on parchment, expressing my joy and hoping to encourage the saints.

That's the background to Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian church. Our new series going through that letter begins on August 6th, when we will explore the great themes of faith, character, perseverance, holiness and the return of the Lord. Though this letter was written 1,967 years ago, its truth and challenges are just as relevant today, as we seek to live as "children of the day." I hope you can join us as we journey together.

When Helping Hurts

Written by Glyn Norman

The question of how to help the poor has always been a tricky one. Jesus said we will always have the poor with us, so clearly this is not a social issue that can be easily resolved. Over the years various attempts have been made by churches, social organizations, government agencies and non-profits to alleviate the plight of the poor. In many cases, good intentions have resulted in poor outcomes.

One of the primary dangers is that we respond just with relief, which addresses the immediate need (hunger, for example) but does nothing to help the person avoid getting in that situation again. A second danger is paternalism, where we unwittingly become like a parent to the person in need, and create an ongoing situation of dependency, where they never learn to help themselves, but instead depend only on the organization or person to get them out of trouble.

In most of our thinking, we define poverty as a lack of material possessions. In the book, When Helping Hurts, Corbett says "poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation and voicelessness." Clearly this goes much deeper than simply a lack of material goods.

As I've been thinking this through, the question of how Central should be involved in ministering to the poor has been on my mind. At present, we have a food closet, which is a relief response, dealing with immediate need. We have connections with organizations such as CityTeam that do a fantastic job of rehabilitation, rescuing people from the streets, bringing them to know Christ, and then training them to enter the workforce and take care of themselves, gathering a good portion of God's love, and their own self-esteem along the way.

Last Sunday we heard from Rich Henderson of Love, INC. about how they act as a "clearing house" between the poor of San Jose, matching the needs of those who call them, with the resources of the churches Love INC. is connected to. Love INC. has taken the lessons of When Helping Hurts to heart, and reorganized the ministry over the last number of years so that they don't fall into the traps mentioned above. They require each person to provide whatever part they are able to, towards a solution, and then the Christian helper can come in and supply whatever else is needed, whether that's budgeting education, painting expertise, or simply company for a lonely person.

If you are at all interested in being involved check out Love, Inc.'s website.

The Camp Experience

Written by Kyle Power

Camp changes lives.  I have said it before and I will continue to say it.  There is something special about getting away from routine, away from home, and being in a place filled with the Holy Spirit, whether a mountain top or a college campus.  God does big things...  God did big things.  Students who were really far from God took steps toward him, students who had never decided to put their trust in Jesus, chose to put their trust in Jesus.  Students who had never been baptized took that step and were baptized, Students for the first time felt that God was specifically calling them into a life of ministry.  Students went to camp hoping to have fun and learn some new stuff about God and experienced the Holy Spirit and were different because of it.

The "camp experience" is hard to explain as it involves every part of camp.  Choosing to play a student's favorite song in the van for them breaks down a wall and allows for open conversation about God while at camp.  Our really big God who does really big things often operates in the little things as well.  No part of the experience is wasted.  Leaders are always looking for moments to have fun with kids that will build trust and lead to real conversations about God later.  Our volunteer leaders are really the all - stars of camp.  Without them this would not have been the same.

Before camp I talked a lot about how this is a church wide event, now that camp is over we get to celebrate what happened together.  We were also able to give full scholarships to over 10 kids and partnered with over 20 families to give them partial scholarships.  The John Slone scholarship fund was well used this summer as those scholarships allowed those students to have these powerful life changing moments.  It was also obvious at different moments that the enemy wanted to distract some students and some leaders from what God had for them at camp, and your prayers, both before the week and while we were there, I know covered us and made a difference as love won, the enemy tried but failed, the cross was victorious!  Thank you for partnering with the youth so they could have this camp experience.

So get ready, because we will do camp again, and we will ask you to be a part of it, and we will want more new kids to come, and we will expect God to show up in new ways for new and old students to experience Him.  Our goals will be raised higher and higher every single year, as we try to keep up with our big God and His big goals for the students in San Jose.

If you want to see photos or videos from either the MS or HS camp check out our Instagram
@ ccc.sj.youth - and make sure to be at church no July 30th as the Youth are taking over and you will get to hear from them about how powerful camp was.

Happy Independence Day

Written by Glyn Norman

It may seem strange for someone British-born to write about Independence Day, but I am also an American citizen, so I think it is permitted. Independence Day commemorates the time when the rebellious colony broke off from its original motherland of England, and became the United States of America. Apparently Americans do not have an appreciation for benevolent overlords, who wished nothing more than your success (and a moderate amount of reasonable taxes). All joking aside, independence is a fine thing to aspire to, when it means relief from oppression. Who would want to be tied and obligated to an oppressive government?

What I've been thinking about is how this Act of Independence became an Attitude of Independence. American folklore is replete with tales of those pioneers who heroically forged their way west, leaving behind the comforts of home to create a new future for themselves. The American hero is traditionally one who needs no one else, who stands alone against all odds, and whose perseverance and an undaunted spirit prevail.

But perhaps a closer look is necessary. These wagons that headed out west were wagons of families. They were also part of a wagon train, as in, lots of other families working together. The earliest arrivals to America required the help of the Native Americans to survive their first bitter winter. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto (though he was never given equal billing). So perhaps the myth of the independent American is just that - a myth. 

And that is for the best. Because the reality is, we were never intended to be independent. God actually created us dependent. Dependent on Him, and dependent on one another. In the book of Genesis, we read this: 

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18)

The stunning part about this verse is that this commentary happens before sin ever entered the world. Even before sin, something was "not good." What was not good was the man being alone. He wasn't designed for it. He was designed to be in relationship with his Creator AND other humans. It was only when Eve came along that everything became "very good."

So while we may treasure the myths of a lone hero forging a noble path, the reality is that we need each other. Acknowledging that saves us from pride, loneliness, and the myth of independence... so let me rephrase: Happy Inter-Dependence Day.

See you on Sunday. Don't come alone, but bring a friend ☺

"I'm here. Almost"

Written by Gary Taylor

Jack was home by himself.  My key unlocked the front door and, before I was completely inside, I made my presence known: "Jack, I'm here." 

Now let me describe a different scenario - those times when Beth, Jack and Calleigh all three are home.  As I walk through the door, Calleigh is often the first to greet me with a big hug.  But it's a one-way hug; I am unable to hug her back because my arms are full - a satchel of books, my gym bag, keys and cell phone in hand.

Centering Prayer is a Spiritual Exercise I mentioned in last Sunday's message. 

For me, Centering Prayer is kinda like gently saying, "God, I'm here."  

At other times, I need Centering Prayer because I'm not quite "here," if ya know what I mean.  Yes, I may have walked through the door, so to speak - my head bowed and my Bible open, but my mind wanders.  Ever had times like that?  It's like you need to set a few things down, to let go of the work of the day.  As I direct my thoughts to God through Centering Prayer, I'm letting stuff fall to the floor.  I'm preparing to receive his embrace.  And embracing him in return.

You may already know this, but I'll state it just to be clear: Centering Prayer is not the point; this prayer is meant to transform us in ways that we can better love God and serve our city.  Don't value the quality of your time spent in Centering Prayer by how well you stayed focused.  The real fruit of Centering Prayer is revealed through your ordinary life lived in this great city of ours.  

  • Are you running less?  
  • Are you more patient with others and more at ease with yourself?  
  • Are you shouting less at the kids, or at least less loudly?  
  • Are you scrambling and grasping less, while resting and trusting more?  
  • Are you more fully present to the people in your life?

We are Jonah.  We are responsible for our city.  Unfortunately, we are also runners like Jonah.

If you walked into your house knowing God was there, by what Name of his would you call him?  Perhaps that is your word to use for Centering Prayer.  As God draws near, what do you need to let fall from your grasp?

Times and Turtles

Written by Glyn Norman

There is an old Yiddish proverb that reads "Man plans, but God laughs."

I was thinking of this recently when we were on vacation in Hawaii. Both Cathleen and I are, by nature, planners so we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do, and when we wanted to do it. It's not that we had every day planned out, just a general idea. On Sunday, (after watching the service online, of course) we headed north and then east to view some pretty waterfalls and visit a botanical garden. As we were on our way, we got peckish and felt like we needed a snack, so we made an unscheduled stop in Waimea and looked for a coffee shop. I pulled into a parking lot, and stopped. Cathleen said, "Why are we stopping here?" I said, "Java!" But I had misread the sign. It said Lava, not Java, and it was a Realtors office.

We drove on a little further and found a real coffee shop. As we were in line for ordering, who should walk in but a family from the church here at Central. What a lovely surprise. I was totally taken aback though. It was one of those "of all the bars, in all the world," moments (random Casablanca reference). Seriously, what are the odds? It was a great, serendipitous encounter. We hadn't planned to stop along the way, but it led to this unexpected moment of connection.

The plan for the following day, Monday, was that we would head to the Volcanoes National Park, view the volcano and spewing lava etc., but Sunday was a lot more driving than I expected, so on Monday morning, we ditched our plan and decided to have an easier day with almost no driving. I felt like we should just saunter downtown towards the harbor. As we did, I dropped Cathleen and Cicely off while Landon and I found a parking spot. As I was parking the car, Cathleen texted me that they were looking at a turtle. This was a HUGE deal. My son Landon is a major fan of tortoises and turtles, and up to this point, all we had seen was one small one swimming on our first day there. This was not a small one!

We sat and watched this beautiful creature for probably around 30 minutes.

The next day, the plan was to visit the Volcano, and drive home later that evening. Well, we drove to the volcano, saw the caldera, visited some lava tunnels etc., but then found out that where the lava was most visible was where it was entering the ocean, and that was another 1 hour drive, and 45 minute bike ride. We decided to go for it, since we wanted the dramatic view, and to see the lava at night, and that whole experience in itself was an adventure. However, the cycle back from the lava point took forever, and by the time we were back at our car, it was around 9:15 pm, and the drive home would have been around 3 hours. I'm not a late night person, and was sure that around 10 pm or so, I would be feeling sleepy - and the mountainous roads are not a smart plan for a sleepy driver. So, we made the spontaneous decision to instead find a hotel in Hilo for the night. Cathleen called around and found a good one for us, so we drove to a store, bought some basic toiletries and headed to the hotel. We dropped into bed exhausted, but had a good night's sleep and headed back the next morning.

One of the "fortunate" elements of this deviation is that now we had time to stop at the famous black sand beach, which we hadn't had time for the day before, and thought we would have to skip. Now we did have time and, yes, you guessed it, another turtle encounter - this time with a very big one who had pulled himself up on the sand to sunbathe. Cathleen had her good camera with her, and got some great close-up shots, but here's one of us with the turtle in the background.

On our last night, before we headed to the airport, we planned to have a nice dinner at the Kona Brewery Restaurant. As we arrived there, I was getting nervous about how long it would take, since packing had taken longer than expected, and I wanted to arrive at the airport in sufficient time for the security lines etc. When we checked in at the front desk, they told us that it would be at least a 30 minute wait. I told Cathleen, to her disappointment, that we couldn't do it. It would be cutting it too fine to get to the airport on time. So, we got back in the car and I quickly scanned Yelp for other well-reviewed restaurants close by. I found one, and we got there in about 6 minutes, only to be told that there was no seating available, and a 20 minute wait there too! This was turning into a hurried, disappointing, frustrating evening, and definitely not the way we wanted to end our vacation. Then the waitress said, "Well, you can order it to go." In desperation we agreed and about 10-15 minutes later, we had our food. The restaurant was right opposite the harbor, so we decided to go and sit on the harbor wall and eat our dinner. As we did, guess who came swimming along, right beneath our feet. This guy: 

It seemed that every time our plan failed, or got diverted, or we had to make other arrangements, we had an amazing turtle encounter. We were exposed to the beauty of God's creation again and again. And the slight inklings, "I feel we should just walk around the harbor today" may have been promptings by the Holy Spirit who had these surprises ready and waiting for us. 

The lesson I learned here is that when my plans get frustrated, I should relax and go with the flow, for God is able to create a Plan B that far surpasses my Plan A. This is not just true of this vacation, but of my life generally. There are so many times that my life has gone in a direction differently than I had planned, but this other road has had some wonderful, unexpected blessings to it. I'll close with this Scripture from James, which was originally written as a warning, which reminds me that it is the Lord's will I want to direct my steps more than my own plans.

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. James 4:13-16

So, the next time your plans are thwarted or frustrated, don't stress. Take time to look around. God may have a surprise for you (which may or may not take the shape of a turtle).