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).

We Are Jonah

Written by Gary Taylor

"Planes, Trains, and Automobiles."  It's a laugh-out-loud movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy.  They serendipitously hop aboard planes, trains and various automobiles on an antics-filled quest to get home by Thanksgiving.  Though rerouted out of their way to Kansas due to a storm, (spoiler alert!) they eventually arrive at their Chicago destination.

"Feet, Fish and Boats." 

That could be a movie title starring Jonah, his meandering journey, and his determination to avoid responsibility.  Part pedestrian, part fish bait, Jonah rerouted far out of the way, causing a storm.  (Spoiler alert...) Despite his rebellion, Jonah eventually arrived at Nineveh, God's chosen destination for him.

Where are you headed?  How circuitous has your journey been up to this point? What 3-word movie title characterizes your journey?... 

Church, Works, and Disappointment? 

Addiction, Recovery, and Relapse?

School, Work, and Pleasure?

Friendship, Fights, and Trust?

Whatever "vehicles" have carried you through life, I have GREAT NEWS: There is a patient and merciful God with unrelenting plans for your life.  He has set His sights on a particular city where he wants you to show his great mercy.  (Spoiler alert...you may already be living in that city!)

In our new series - "We Are Jonah" - we highlight how our lives parallel the sometimes rebellious, sometimes obedient Jonah.  And how we need the always merciful God.

Some More. Some Less.

Written by Gary Taylor

The word "summer" sounds to me like the two words, "some more." (If you say "some more" fast enough, and grit your teeth as you say "more"...)

But can we agree that there are times when we need "some less" rather than "some more" in our lives? Sabbath is a Biblical response to our need for some less.  God modeled some less.  He devoted a busy day to some more creating, then stepped back in the evening to look over the work he had done.  "It is good," was his response.  And then on the seventh day he rested.  He Sabbathed. 

After a week of some more, he chose some less.

What do you do at the end of a long work day?  Do you go home and do some more?  Or would you consider gifting yourself with some less?  Try it today.  Head home for dinner, review your day, and say those same three words God voiced.  And then devote yourself to an evening of some less.

Today is my mom's birthday. She would have been 74. She's been home with Jesus for 11 years now. One of my favorite memories with my mom is eating her magnificently delicious-yet-simple grilled cheese sandwiches as we talked late into the night about the stuff of life.

Beth and I are fixing grilled cheese sandwiches tonight, remembering mom, and talking about the stuff of life. Simple. Basic. I think of it as "some less" rather than "some more."

And, it is good.

In this busy "some more" of summer, how will you choose "some less"?

Climb DOWN a Tree

Written by Gary Taylor

I was in early grade school when I learned that I could climb UP the tree better than I could climb DOWN the tree. I was like that meowing cat who clawed to the heights of the tree, and almost needed the fire department to get me down.

My childhood home had a large maple tree in the backyard. I shimmied up the trunk, then stretched my arm high to grab the lowest branch.  Pulling myself up, I kept climbing, eyes up the whole time, searching for that next limb to grab, locating a large knot in the tree to gain a foot hold.  I suppose it was because I was always looking up that I didn't notice how high I had climbed.  Near the top of the wind-swayed tree, I looked down as a wave of nausea punched me in the gut.  It was an "Uh-oh, what do I do now?" moment. 

Climbing down that tree was one of the scariest accomplishments of my young life. 

I talked last Sunday about Zacchaeus climbing a tree for a fresh glimpse of Jesus.  I love that type of tree climbing - reaching up in prayer, grabbing a passage of Scripture, pulling my thoughts towards God.

But the difficult part is when I gotta climb down, so to speak, returning to the "worldly places" to apply what I glimpsed from atop the tree. 

As an example, this morning (Tuesday), I climbed into my blue leather tree (our Family Room couch), reading Numbers 11 and 12.  In that passage the Israelites angered the Lord with all their complaining, and frustrated the dickens out of Moses. 

Last Sunday I mentioned that while up in a tree our perspective changes.  The Bible word for that is "repent."  It was a perspective-changing time in the tree this morning when I saw my attitude reflected in the lives of the murmuring, discontent, complaining Israelites.

And that's where the climb down from the tree got uncomfortable.  It was the "Uh-oh, what now?" moment. 

My climb out of the tree culminated in a simple prayer: "Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy on me, a grumbler and complainer."  And then I began considering ways I could express gratitude to and for the people around me.

In a tree our perspective changes, but the outward, visible change begins when our feet return to this dusty earth.  The sign of Spiritual maturity isn't how high you can climb a tree - how long you pray, how well you exegete a passage.  No, it's all about the fruit that lands at the base of the tree.

Like the sin-shortened Zacchaeus, may we climb a tree for a fresh glimpse of Jesus.

Like Zacchaeus, may we have a change of perspective.

Like Zacchaeus, may we come down out of the tree committed to live differently.

You are not alone in thinking that life-change is nerve-wracking and uncomfortable.  But it may be one of the scariest accomplishments of your life.

Summer Camps Are Coming

Written by Kyle Power

Churches often say that they are in the transformation business.  We say that life transformation is our goal.  At Central we say that our mission is to reach the world for Jesus one person at a time.  As a youth ministry there is nothing we do that is more transformative than summer camp.  Camp is the most unique experience for students.  We take them away from their normal routine, from their normal environment, away from distractions and surround students with hundreds of other students and adults who love God and we provide space for students to experience God either for the first time or in a new way.  Time and time again I have seen the love and redemption of Jesus break through the largest walls a student could put up.  I have seen high school guys crying over experiencing the love of God, I have seen kids who didn't know each other become best friends after camp.  And if I had the spiritual eyes to see into the hearts of students, I could say that I have seen students go from death to life in the matter of one week.  That is why we care about camp. That is why we want as many students as possible to attend camp, because ultimately we KNOW that experiencing Jesus has the power to change the rest of their life, and the lives of the people they impact.

So how can you play a part?  I firmly believe that camp is a church wide event.  If you are a student - YOU GO.  If you are a parent or grandparent - YOU SEND.  If you are financially able - YOU GIVE.  If you are willing to stand in the gap spiritually - YOU PRAY.  The enemy knows what could happen at camp for these kids and would like nothing less than to take that from them.  We NEED people who are willing to pray for the students and leaders.  We need to prioritize camp over anything else going on over the summer for these students; nothing has the eternal impact that camp will.  We are one church, these students are the future church leaders, they are future missionaries, future teachers in San Jose.  These students will determine how the next generation of Jesus followers joins in His mission to reach San Jose.  It is our responsibility to invest in them, to love them, to support them, to do absolutely everything we can to get them to camp where they can experience the power of Jesus that will motivate them to be different when they come home.

How can you pray specifically for camp?

  • Pray that we are able to take 60 students to camp
  • Pray we have the adult leaders to support those students
  • Pray money is never a reason why a kids can not attend camp
  • Pray against the schemes of the enemy in the lives of these students leading up to camp
  • Pray for salvations to happen
  • Pray for a full cup for the leaders as they pour out all week long

Thank you church for partnering with us to make camp happen.

Baptism and Membership

Written by Glyn Norman

I've been asked recently by a couple of people why baptism is a requirement for membership of Central Christian Church, so I thought I'd write a brief article to explain.

The first reason, though not the most important, is that historically this has always been a requirement of Central. From its very beginnings in 1939, the church required that if you wanted to be a member, you had to have been baptized by immersion, according to the pattern in the New Testament. If you examine the pattern of the New Testament church, a decision to follow Jesus was immediately followed by the person being baptized by immersion. These two events were so entwined that they were often seen as part of the same package. It would have been inconceivable to a New Testament church that a person could decide to follow Jesus, but then not get baptized.

We are never fully able to judge the spiritual state of a person, but there are some pretty good indicators. If a person has chosen to be obedient to Christ by being baptized, this implies that they take the Christian life seriously, and intend to be obedient to the commands of Jesus. If they hesitate or balk) at this first step of obedience, a church might legitimately wonder why they are holding back. Is this a sign of pride, rebellion, resistance, a "pick and choose" attitude to the commands of Christ? If the church suspected this to be the case, I would understand why they would be hesitant to accept such a person into membership.

Secondly, a member of Central Christian Church is afforded certain privileges and responsibilities that non-members do not enjoy. A member can:

  • vote on the appointment of a new Lead Pastor (no hurry on this one :)
  • vote on any proposed changes to the Bylaws
  • be recommended and voted onto the Elder Board, with significant responsibility for the leadership and direction of the church
  • vote on candidates that are recommended for an Elder position
  • take a leadership role in the church (Life Group Leader, deacon, Youth Leader etc.)
  • take a teaching role in the church (Sunday school, Children's Ministry etc.)
  • be part of the counseling ministry of the church

These are important ministries of the church, and the Elders, as leaders, want to be as sure as we can about some things. As previously stated, though we can never know the spiritual state and level of commitment of a person for sure, there are some markers or indicators that give us a good sense. For example, if a person has made a decision to follow Christ, and been baptized, this demonstrates an understanding of obedience to Christ, and the importance of baptism. Secondly, if a person has been through the Membership Class (another requirement for membership since 2014), then we know that they have been exposed to information about the doctrine of the church, and the ministry methodology ("playbook") or to say it another way, how we do ministry here (for example, the high value we place on being in a Life Group). 

When a person has done these two steps, we know at a minimum that they appear to be committed to Christ, and they understand the doctrine and ministry approach of Central. That's a pretty good starting point. 

Being a member of a church implies a level of seriousness and commitment to this body. Are there people who attend the church, who are not members, but who are serious and committed? Of course. But I wish for every one of them to experience the joy that comes from obedience to Christ in baptism (if they haven't been baptized) and the excitement that derivesfrom a deeper understanding of the ministry and vision of the church that comes from attending a Membership Class.

For myself, I remember my own baptism that happened about a year after I decided to follow Christ, and for me, it really was a sense of deepening my commitment to Jesus. When I was then made a member, it gave me a sense of "ownership" of the church. Now it was "my church" and I cared about it and wanted to make a contribution to it. It wasn't just a place I visited. It was now a family I was a part of.

My hope is that this church is full of people committed and obedient to Christ, and who say to God, "For as long as you have called me here, I will be committed and contribute to this family." From my perspective, baptism and membership are not hoops to be jumped through, but adventures to be entered into.

For those of you that wish to be baptized, our next opportunity will be on Sunday June 4 when we have Baptism services. Please contact me or Gary if you want to get baptized on that day.

Our next Membership Class will be scheduled soon. Email Janessa to be added to the list, and you receive a reminder email a couple of weeks before.

Thank you church.  Glyn

All Because of One Week

Written by Kristin Potter

To the outsider, the Ellefson family wouldn't have appeared to be anything special. Just a husband and wife, doing their best to raise their two high school girls in the Bay Area. They lived in a house that was a little unkept. They didn't drive nice cars.  Finances were most likely very tight.  

But as a 10 year old girl, I didn't see any of that. I'll tell you what I did see.  I saw Ruth Ellefson, a mom with a full time job, who volunteered a good portion of her year to planning a massive week long summer camp for upper-elementary age kids at the church I grew up at. I saw Mr. Ellefson... actually, I rarely saw Mr, Ellefson.  He was a blue collar, hard working man who did everything he could to provide for his family, When I DID see him, he was always leaving the house on a "snack run" for his girls' party plans. I saw Mandi Ellefson, the youngest of the two daughters.  A 15 year old red headed firecracker, just like her momma.  I saw the coolest house on the block, with a huge backyard, which was home to countless summer trampoline sleepovers.  And last but not least, I saw Marty, an 18 year old High School Senior with the coolest bangs I'd ever seen.  Marty, is where my story actually begins.  

With a mom who runs a summer camp, I'm sure it was non-negotiable that Marty would serve as one of the camp counselors. But it was only for one week, five days actually, so, no big deal, right?  Knowing how that family operated, I'm sure giving up one week of her summer was something she was excitedly looking forward to.  

Marty greeted my group of girlfriends at the entrance to camp jumping up and down as we drove in, ponytail waving in the wind (I told you, coolest hair ever).  And by the end of the week, we said goodbye in that very same spot, crying that the week was over (even though we'd all see each other in two days at church on Sunday.  Girls, right?) 

My fun with Marty and the Ellefsons had just begun, all because of that one week. The Ellefson house became one of our favorite "hangs" as pre-teen girls. Marty and Mandi quickly became our neighborhood babysitters, with us Ambrose girls as their "self proclaimed favorites". As we grew up, the Ambroses and the Ellefsons continued to pour into each others lives. My Mom loved chatting and praying with Marty as she prepared for college, and later marriage. And I loved standing by Marty's side as a bridesmaid in her wedding.  

All because of one week.  

My life in ministry began when I signed up to volunteer at a middle school summer camp at church. I desperately wanted my baby sister to go, and I knew If I signed up to staff it, then Kim would feel comfortable going. I requested time off from my job at Nordstrom, thinking "its only a week". And when it was time to load the buses,  I greeted my group of 6th grade girls with bouncing enthusiasm (and good hair).  

Little did I know that, even as a volunteer, that week would change my life.  Of course, that week I discovered a genuine love for ministry and seeing youth come to know Christ, but in addition, I was introduced to a group of girls who helped to shape who I am today, as a leader, and as a woman of Christ.  

My house quickly became their "favorite hang".  Clothes went missing from my closet on a regular basis. Saturday mornings were reserved for Pancakes and Pajamas at Kristin's. My bathroom was home to many pre-prom makeup and hair prepping sessions. And as they grew up, there were road trips to their colleges, late night phone calls before their finals, and a couple of bridesmaid dress purchases, getting to stand beside them on their special days.  

These girls taught me how to love. They taught me how to pray intentionally for others. They taught me how to show up for someone else and hold their hand through the hard stuff. They taught me how to make disciples, all because of their desire to know more.  I am forever changed because of these beautiful girls.

Unfinished

Written by Gary Taylor

It's taken a lot longer than we expected, as most every construction project seems to do.  The playground that we thought would be ready for this Sunday (May 7) remains under construction.

The weather has been good for completing outdoor projects, right?  So what's the hold up?  

As it turns out, with every hole that was dug for the support poles and foundation of the playset, the workers have encountered gas, water, or irrigation lines.  The lack of visible progress is due to things hidden beneath the surface.

Let me restate that previous sentence, because it's an important lesson for all of us: A lack of visible progress is due to things hidden beneath the surface.

When we are slow to make progress in our marriages or in the deepening of friendships, it's often because we need to first deal with the things beneath the surface of our lives.  Fears and feelings of inadequacy.  Anxieties and apprehension.  Pride.  Doubt and shame.  Bitterness.  Unresolved conflict.  Unhealthy expectations.  The list of things we've buried over the years is quite long, isn't it?

The life we desire above the surface - the playground of deep joy - takes time to develop.  Just as we thought playground construction would be further along by now, I figured I'd be a lot further along in my growth and maturity as a husband and father and friend. I've made big promises over the years - sorta like posting signs stating, "I'll be ready by May 7," only to discover that there are those darn things beneath the surface that God simply will not let me overlook.

The playground is nearer to completion now than it was a month ago.  And it's further along this afternoon than it was yesterday.  Progress is being made, even though it's not always immediately noticeable.

If you have a preschooler who has been salivating over this playset-to-come, they might be a bit disappointed when they show up this Sunday.  I hate that, but it's just the way things are.  I don't want to make another promise, but maybe Mother's Day will be the ribbon-cutting ceremony???

Our current sermon series is titled, "Change your Story, Change your Life."  Change happens, but not overnight.  If you come to church this Sunday hoping to hang out with perfectly complete Christian people and pastors - don't be too frustrated by what you find.  Just remember that many of us are encountering change; whether it's visible yet is up for debate.  

This is my "incomplete-playground" prayer.  Maybe you'd consider praying it, too:

Dear Heavenly Father, address the stuff beneath the surface.  Thanks for sending Jesus to walk the surface of this earth.  And thank you, Jesus, for willingly spending three days beneath the surface, so I can make progress.  Holy Spirit, I invite you to keep digging.  I'm embarrassed to think of all you will unearth, but it will be worth it when - someday, at the Big Ribbon Cutting - I can finally climb and slide and swing and play, perfectly complete in Your Presence.

Amen.

Achoo!

Written by Gary Taylor

I am discovering that California is known for more than Redwoods; this area can also be a giant forest of pollen-producing trees.  Around our house, Spring is the season for refilling allergy prescriptions, eye drops, and Kleenex.  Over the past few weeks, I noticed a light, yellow film covering my truck (but I'm happy to tell you it provides a pleasant contrast to the rust!) 

Nothing dodges the pollen.  It seems that the whole world has a powdery yellow hue.

This past Sunday we joined millions of Christ Followers worldwide celebrating Christ's resurrection.

And with the resurrection we celebrate that everything can be coated in signs of new life.  Everything we say, do, and experience can be coated in the Presence of the resurrected and living Christ.  Everything.  Not just Sunday things.  Not just churchy things.  Everything.  Everything, including relationships that grew cold and dormant. Everything including leafless, lifeless branches of former hope.  The resurrection changes the color of absolutely every relationship in your life.

Imagine your entire world coated in a resurrection hue.  Rather than acknowledging Easter for a day, what if we lived its meaning all year?  What if you allowed the life-giving power of the resurrection to contrast even the rustiest areas of your life?

A 24/7 life lived in the Presence of the Risen Savior is something serious to consider.  Or, you could say, "That's nothing to sneeze at."

Serving is Spiritual

Written by Glyn Norman

Acts chapter 6 is a fascinating window of insight into the mentality of the early church. A situation had arisen where the Greek widows were being neglected in the daily food distribution program organized by the church. Clearly, some processes had fallen through the administrative cracks. What was needed here, so it appeared, was a good organizer and administrator. But listen to the qualities that they stated were necessary for the task:

Therefore brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

So, to serve in the food distribution ministry, you needed to have a good reputation, and be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We might think of this ministry as somehow "lesser" than the more prominent roles of preaching and teaching, but the requirements show how key it is. At every level, from those who are full time ministers, to those who volunteer, we need to be people of good character, seeking God and making good decisions.

This Easter, we are in need of people of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wise. There are a multitude of roles to fill, from parking lot attendant, to greeter, to usher, to communion servers and offering takers, to children's ministry and beyond. None of these roles is "lesser." At every point you have the opportunity to represent. To new people, you ARE this church, and the way you welcome them, serve them, show them where they need to go etc. speaks volumes.

Our Vision statement says that we aim to win the world for Jesus, one person at a time. You might think that "one person at a time" is redundant since winning the world includes all people. But we put that there for a reason. To emphasize the point that every person matters. Every person is important. And we want every one of them to have a great experience of Central at Easter.

One Ask Away

Written by Glyn Norman

I met John at the table-tennis club in 1985. He and I became friends quickly, and it wasn't long before I found out that he was a Christian. He asked what my religious background was, and I explained that I had been brought up as a Catholic, but was non-practicing now. And that's how it began. We started having conversations about faith, and he was patient and thoughtful in answering the questions I had... the usual ones concerning why he thought Christianity was the only way to God, why, if there was a good God, was there so much suffering in the world and so on.

We would sometimes finish playing, and then go back to his mum's house to continue the conversation further over tea and biscuits (as in "cookies", not "and gravy"). Finally, after a couple of months, he asked me to come to church with him. I resisted at first, but then I cracked and gave in (see picture above of the church). Driving to church that first Sunday I made a deal with God. It was something along the lines of "I will attend church for 4 weeks, and you have that period of time to convince me that you are real, otherwise I will be done with religion for the rest of my life."

I know better now, that this was a foolish wager to present to God. Over the course of four weeks the sermons spoke to me so specifically as the pastor faithfully preached God's word, and I was warmly welcomed into that community, even with all my questions, doubts and skepticism. At the end of the service in the fourth week, I had become convinced that not only was God real, but he knew me and cared about me. I asked John to introduce me to the pastor, who led me in a prayer of commitment to Christ.

When I think back on this, I consider myself to be an unlikely convert. I had tasted religion in the past and wasn't impressed. I was not really concerned with the fate of my soul. I was more interested in making money and dating pretty girls. And yet. Something (or more likely someone) prompted John to invite me to church. And it turned out that I was only ONE ASK AWAY from a totally different eternal destination. In fact, his simple request changed the direction of my whole life, in this world and the next.

How many of your neighbors or work colleagues are in the same boat? They may appear skeptical, uninterested, or pursuing other things, but how many are just ONE ASK AWAY from a Sunday that could change their whole life? We will never know until we ask. Surveys have shown that 80% or more of people say that they would go to church if someone they knew and trusted invited them.

This Easter we are praying for our services to be full. We have three services scheduled for 8am, 10am and 12pm. I would love it if we could have at least 750 adults in church on Easter Sunday. Who knows, God could blow away that expectation and bring even more. What I do know is this: that it depends on us. It depends on each of us doing our part - inviting - and allowing God to do his part - winning them over with his love and care for them.

Please start thinking and praying even now, for those you know, who may be only ONE ASK AWAY.

Women's Retreat

Written by Cathleen Norman

We moved here 3 years ago today (March 13), and this will be my 4th Women's Retreat with Central. I have to admit that I was a bit shy that first year. But I also felt extremely welcomed. I do not remember everyone I met that year, but I remember seeing my first banana slug while walking amongst Redwoods, eating snacks in my PJs near a fire, and enjoying a quiet rest from motherhood.

The following year was much more comfortable for me. I got to share a bit of my testimony, and I even got to teach a photography class! Carla Hansen and I ended up spending the majority of our Saturday afternoon angling our cameras for close-ups of flowers. (See above picture)

Last year was just as sweet. Our cottage was built on a hill in such a way that it felt like a treehouse. And my roommates and I bonded over coffee, sweet treats, and chatting about make-up... and everything else.

Maybe you are debating about whether or not to go on this retreat. Maybe hanging out with a bunch of women doesn't appeal. Maybe you are so busy that giving up most of your weekend feels like a huge sacrifice. Maybe you are worried that your husband cannot handle the kids by himself. Maybe finances are tight, and this seems like too much of a luxury. And I get it. Those are all valid reasons for not going.

But. I believe that God can make a way for you to feel comfortable. I believe He is going to build forever friendships. I believe He will provide finances to invest in your relationship with Him and in your fellow females in the battle (and beauty) of this life. I believe He is going to build us up this weekend to be better able to handle the business of work, motherhood, wifehood, womanhood. 

We have been planning space for you to relax, be creative, learn, and connect. And our prayer is that this retreat be an ADVANCE for His Kingdom!

Spiritual Attack Underway: A Call to Prayer

Written by Glyn Norman

Well, it was to be expected. Any pastor worth his salt knows that the week after you preach on unity, humility, gentleness, patience, kind tolerance and so on, those things will be tested. It has been a week of spiritual warfare. If we needed any proof that we are on the radar at Devil Central, there's been more than enough this week.

Listen to this warning from 2 Corinthians 2:10-12:

10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven-if there was anything to forgive-I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

It's interesting that Satan's schemes seem somehow to be connected to unforgiveness. When forgiveness flows, Satan finds it much harder to get a foothold. And here, also from the Apostle Paul, who knew a thing or two about spiritual warfare:

"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." (Ephesians 4:26-27) 

Anger and a reluctance to forgive are ways in which we give the Devil a foothold. I've seen both expressed this last week.

I would like therefore to ask your prayers for the leadership of this church. That we will be aware and protected from spiritual attack, and that we would be conscious of when we are the ones doing the attacking. There is no faster method to take down a church than to attack the leadership. So, I urge that prayers be said for the elders, the pastors, the staff, the deacons and anyone else with a leadership role in the church. May we be slow to anger, swift to forgive, and alert to the enemy's schemes. May God preserve his unity in this place. Amen.

One Date Can Change Everything

Written by Kristin Potter

One date can change everything.

It did for me, anyway.  

But before I tell you about October 16th, 2014, you'll need a bit of a "Kristin History Lesson".  

I met my husband, Josh, on the dating site, match.com. Both of us had very different experiences with online dating.  Josh was only on Match for 2 weeks or so before meeting me.  After one date, he was hooked and he said goodbye to online dating forever, at least that's how I like to tell the story. My online dating experience was a MUCH different tale. In fact before Josh came into my life, I was *this close* to starting a blog called "Kristin Mingle", compiling all of my first date tragedies, (trust me, there were many.  I could've ended up on Ellen with some of the ridiculousness of these dates, but I digress.) Needless to say 2014 brought a lot of heartache, a lot of "I don't get it God" and a lot of picking myself up and starting again.  Little did I know that God was preparing me for a date that would change everything.  

Our first date was sweet, ended with a "side hug"... (who gives a side hug, am I right?), but sweet nonetheless.  Our next couple of dates were even sweeter.  But it wasn't until the fourth date when everything changed for me.  

On October 16th, 2014, the Giants were in game 5 of the NLCS playoffs, (every good date story starts of with a Giants game). Josh and I decided to meet at a restaurant in Cupertino to watch the game. While driving there, I didn't feel nervous like I had the first couple of dates, I felt at ease, at peace. I walked in to the restaurant and saw Josh, sitting in a booth, with a drink already waiting for me (smooth).  We watched the game and talked the whole time... those "I want to know everything about you" talks- those are the best aren't they? Sitting there with him, participating in two of my favorites past times, baseball and talking, I once again was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace, a feeling of "normal"... a feeling of "I want to do this for the rest of my life".  

The game was coming to a close.  It looked grim for my San Francisco boys, until Michael Morse tied the game, 3-3 with his eighth inning home run... typical Giants torture.  And then Travis Ishikawa, Mighty Travis, stepped up to the plate.  That night was one for the record books- for The Giants, and for The Potters. Unassuming Travis hit that famous walk-off home run that clenched the division for the Giants and sent them to the World Series.  My most favorite game of baseball I've ever watched, sitting next to my future husband. I fell in love with Josh Potter that night, just sitting there, talking. I was getting to know him, and loving every second of it.  

Before Josh, dating always ended in heartache for me.  Regardless of who called it quits, it always felt defeating.  All that time and energy into "discovering" who someone was, and what they were about just felt like time wasted in the end.  But that "wasted time", wasn't that at all- I was discovering who I was, and what I was about all along.  And then came Josh.  

Dating as Mr. and Mrs. Potter still looks very similar. We still go out and watch games and we're still "discovering" each other, getting to know each other, finding out what each of us is about.  That will never stop.  In fact, its more important now than ever. I don't have to tell you how important quality time is, I'm sure you are aware of that.  But I want to encourage you to lean in to your spouse.  See them for who they really are to you, instead of just your kids' mom or dad.  Sometimes, I forget to see Josh as the sweet guy, sitting in the booth, patiently waiting for me with a drink. Instead I see him as the guy who leaves his shoes everywhere EXCEPT the closet.  Choose to draw near to your spouse... choose to get to know them again.  Choose to have a conversation that's not about work, or about the kids. Choose to set aside time just for each other, away from the distractions that can so easily pull you both in two separate directions.  God created you both to be a help to each other, so....be just that! 

Married People, we are FOR your marriage here at Central.  God can use couples in amazing, life changing ways to further His kingdom.  We want to help you make time for each other, so you both can discover what God wants to do in you and through you as a team.  That's why we've declared March 11th as YOUR date night. Pick your favorite restaurant or coffee shop, pack up the kids if you got 'em and swing by Central.  We'll trade you one Date Box for your kiddos - just for three hours.  :)  Hurry and register here (insert event link) to reserve your spot! 

One date can change everything. Even if it's "the bottom of the ninth inning" for you and your spouse and it doesn't look good... one "swing" can turn the game around.  It did for Travis Ishikawa... and it did for me. 

Pray

Written by Gary Taylor

For many people, the thought of praying - especially out loud - is paralyzing.

Know that prayer doesn't come natural for any of us - really. If you hear people who make praying sound "natural," it didn't start that way for them. I think that most people expect too much of their prayers and too little from their prayer life.  It's easy to put too much emphasis on how our prayers sound, and not enough faith in the God who hears our prayers.

Think of it in this way: When you hear someone in a conversation "talking naturally" (which is most of us by adulthood), growing to that point required a long season that began with learning, listening, and jabbering until something started to make sense as the sounds spilled out of their mouth. No baby is born having mastered a language, and none of us reborn into a life with Christ should expect that we could immediately master prayer, which is simply conversing with God. In fact, you'd be foolish (or a Pharisee) to think that you could ever "master" prayer.

Although prayer is not to be mastered, it can be learned.  And the learning process begins by humbly praying, "Jesus, teach me to pray."

This Sunday we will look at an intercessory prayer the Apostle Paul prayed for his Christian friends in Ephesus.  In preparation for this weekend's service, you can read it in Ephesians 3:14-21.

Maybe - and I certainly hope this is so - God is less concerned with our prayers being theologically accurate, while accepting our prayers are authentic and heartfelt. If my daughter was, for example, injured from falling off her bike, do you think I would care if she expressed her pain with proper grammar or if she addressed me with the respect due to me as her dad?  Of course not!  I'd simply be glad she knew she could come to me in a time of need, confident of my love for her.

When you fall and get cut and bruised by life, cry out to Jesus. He is honored when you run to Him in your time of need, recognizing that you will be met with love. Even if you don't have any idea what to say, approach Him on your knees with reverence and humility.

Jesus, teach us to pray.

Making an Impact

Written by Gary Taylor

Each time I sat down with her, I noticed she leaned forward. No, it was not a symptom of back problems. She leaned forward in a way that her physical posture spoke a language of care and personal interest. Leaning forward is a hallmark of great listeners.

It is natural to reflect on someone’s life and the way that their words impacted you for the better. But what stands out to me is what she did NOT say. And by that, I mean that there were numerous times in my conversations with her in which she allowed space for silence. As a great listener she created space for others to hear God’s Voice. It was like she knew that God had something to say to us, and she didn’t want her words to get in the way.

She created that space, paradoxically, by leaning in closer.

The last few visits I had with her in the hospital, she was thirsty. She motioned for ice chips in the paper cup beside her bed. I’m sure she wanted to chug a tall glass of water. But she was limited to small amounts of ice.

Truth be told, she lived her entire life thirsty. Her relationship with Jesus quenched and satisfied in ways that nothing else - or no one else - could.

Her day began in a chair by the fireplace, Bible open and journal nearby. Then she’d chewed on those Scriptures all throughout the day, like ice chips soothing a dry and parched throat.

She herself was a cup of ice chips. Many people - myself included - tasted Living Water through time with her.

Psalm 42:1-2 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Did you catch that closing question? “When shall I come and appear before God?“ I don’t know when “the day” will be for me when I leave this earth and appear before God. I don’t know when that will be for you either. But for her - my thirsty, leaning-forward-friend - she appeared before God on January 27”.   And when she entered heaven, I bet I know what God did...

He leaned forward.

Yes. The two of them, leaning in towards one another. It’s what great listeners do.