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.

Superbowl

Written by Glyn Norman

I realize I am taking my life in my hands by attempting to review a game of a sport about which I probably know less than almost every native-born American, but please be gracious and see if this makes sense.

Rivalry

I find it interesting, for want of a better word, how much apparent hatred certain teams can generate, whether because a particular player that you dislike plays for them, or because there is a history of rivalry between teams. Opposing sports fans often speak in very dramatic and exaggerated ways about their dislike of the opposition's fans... yet fail to recognize that they have something huge in common: a passionate love of this sport. In my sermon this coming Sunday, we're going to explore this concept of how to relate to "the opposition" whether that is to do with sports, sexuality, politics or any other arena in which humans disagree.

Get in the Game

There were long periods in the game on Sunday where one team's Defense or Offense were off the field because of such a long series of plays without a turnover or score. As I was watching, I wondered how true that is of Christians and the church. Have you been out of the game? Was it because of an injury - another Christian said something to you that upset you? Was it because of lack of training - one Sunday, you couldn't be bothered, and one turned into two and two turned into eight... and now you are out of the habit? Is it because you don't know what position to play - have you explored your spiritual gifts, or offered to serve somewhere?

Did you lose the playbook - I have spare Bibles for anyone who needs one!

Whatever the reason, this "game" is too serious to have active participants sidelined. We need everybody in the game. We are in a spiritual battle, and non-combatants get eaten by the enemy.

The Importance of Celebration

American football has plenty of opportunities to celebrate. Hey, you even have professional "celebrators" in the form of cheerleaders. We celebrate touchdowns, turnovers, interceptions, field goals, and final victory. We should celebrate in the church too. Every baptism is a spiritual touchdown, every decision for Christ a symbol of a life "turned over" to him, every brother or sister encouraged to get back on track, an "interception" before things went too far. Final victory is assured, and we get to celebrate that every Sunday at communion when we remember the cross, the winning blow that ensured final victory. Join us this Sunday and we'll celebrate together. Sorry though, no cheerleaders.

Now, where did I put my remote control. There's some English Premier League soccer I've been meaning to watch...

Why It's Important to Share Your Story

Written by Gary Taylor

After my dad passed away in 2012, I inherited several hundred books from his library. Most of them are commentaries on the 66 books of the Bible. To prepare for teaching from Ephesians this weekend, I pulled a number of those books off the shelf. His name - in his own handwriting - is on the first page, just inside the cover, of every book. Before Chapter One, before the copyright info and the Table of Contents, there is a blank page. Well, it was a blank page, but now it's got his name written at the top.

Dad wrote his name in all of his books, at the very beginning of all his books. I suppose it was his way of saying, "Hey, if this gets lost or misplaced, it's mine. I'd love to have it back."

Dad also marked up his books as he read them. Underlining. Scribbling notes in the margins. Using symbols to form categories for easier reference. He was a voracious reader, and a voracious re-reader.

As many of us would do, he used the jacket cover of hardback books to mark his place. One of the commentaries on Ephesians had been put back on his shelf that way, and it remained that way when it was moved from his office to mine. It was while preparing for this sermon that I noticed the bookmarked page. I put my studying on hold to focus on what he had underlined. I began wondering when he last read this very page. Where was he seated? Who was he preparing to speak to? Did he have any idea that it would be the last time he would mark that book? Why did this particular sentence capture his attention? How did it transform his way of thinking? Was it something new that he learned for the first time, or was it a timely reminder of something that he'd forgotten?

Every time I open one his books and see his handwriting, I pause and reflect on my dad - his life and his influence. I may grab the book in search of knowledge, but when I open it I'm reminded of a relationship.

I went on to do my research in Ephesians 1 where Paul talks about God's plans for us - plans and purposes that He set into motion even before we were born.

In other words, before your parents could dream your life's Table of Contents, before you breathed your first breath in Chapter One - on that very first, blank page of your story - God signed His Name. His autograph hints at your purpose.

Wednesday I went to lunch with a new friend. I felt honored that he was, well, an open book. I never told him this, but I should: From the very beginning - from before the very beginning - I knew God's handwriting marked his life. God's signature continues to shape his purpose.

I listened as this guy flipped pages, stories told one after another. I noted meaningful activities and transforming characters and recurring themes, all underlined by God. As he shared his story, I could tell that he himself more clearly recognized God's handwriting in the margins - those seemingly ordinary spaces made sacred by the scribbling breath of the Holy Spirit. Have you noticed that the stuff written in the margins of your life is always more legible when reading through your story a second time?

All this comes together in a way that reminds me of why it is vital that you and I share our stories with one another.  If all we do is pull a person off the shelf to use them in practical and self-serving ways, we miss the point.  That's because you and I have more than knowledge to pass on to each other. We have an amazing opportunity - if we pay attention and look for it - to see God's handwriting. There may be a chapter of your life that jumps off the page, not because it's exciting or dramatic, but because it's God's way of inspiring me to live my life with purpose. As we open up, we gain a deeper relationship with one another and with our Creator.  Ya see, when I hear your story, I don't just learn about events in your life. Much more, I see underlined moments that highlight your big, God-ordained purpose.

Here's a thought: What if all our conversations began by noticing God's handwriting? I mean noticing to the point that God's handwriting causes you to stop and reflect on His presence and influence in another person's story. We can so easily become speedreaders living life so fast that we overlook God's signature.

Begin by opening to the first page of the book of your own life - the blank page before your life began - and notice God's Name, His signature on your own story. Then share your story. Please. A world needs to hear your story. As you share it, look for God's handwriting in the margins.

If you are currently facing hardships and challenges, this may be difficult for you to believe, but it is true: Even the long, dark chapters are marked and highlighted by God-encounters. When you feel lost or like you are a discarded novel, God's signature says, "You are mine. I'd love to have you back."

Our Youth Need You

Written by Kayla Power

Brene Brown says, "Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, purpose, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone."

Middle School and High School students NEED to know they are not alone in a different way today than they ever have before. They need to know that Jesus reigns, that the Holy Spirit is with them, and that God knows them by name. They need to know that even though adults never really seem to have it all together as much as we like to pretend to, we authentically love and are committed to them. To laugh, sing, dance, and play together creates community in such a thorough way that it opens doors to hard repentant conversations and confusing truth seeking commitments. 

We are taking our Middle Schoolers to an overnight event called Fast Forward that WILL be filled with all these powerful moments, and only a week later will be loading up the vans to take our High Schoolers away to Winter Camp. These are your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, these are the kids who God moved Kyle and I all the way across the country for and we are beyond excited about what He has in store for them. Even more then the NBA basketball game, more than the surf machine, more than laser tag and squid-bee (ultimate frisbee with a dead REAL squid, no, I'm not kidding), we are expecting hard-to-believe-it-really-happened, chain breaking moments between these youth and their Creator. We are expecting their friends to notice a difference in them, we are expecting YOU all to believe in the power of the Holy Spirit a little more when you hear the testimonies of what God did in them at Fast Forward, or at Winter Camp. We are expecting them to KNOW that they are NOT alone. 

Both of these events are brand new for this youth ministry, and we know that we need your partnership for any of these expectations to become reality. This is a family affair, and Central Christian Church, YOU are our family. We need you to pray for the youth, the volunteer leaders, the speakers, the drivers, the game leaders. We need you to encourage and build up the parents who are sending their kids on these trips, that they might come to a deeper understanding of what it means for them to pastor their kids when they come back changed. We need you to invite high schoolers who live on your street to come to Winter Camp with us. We need you to give financially with joy so that we might be able to give scholarships to students whose parents can't manage to send their kids with us.  This really is a family affair, and every one of you reading this has a part to play in the spiritual journey of a teenage student here at Central.

We are honored to laugh with you, sing with you, dance with you, and to get to stand in the gap for these kids as they make new spiritual connections with their Savior, with our leaders, and with each other. I love being on mission with this family and have peace knowing that Kyle and I are covered by you as we stand on the front line for these kids. 

My final words: If you have a Middle Schooler or High Schooler who wants to join us and is not signed up yet, DO IT NOW!

Marriage, Harleys, and Us

Written by Gary Taylor

The first time I sat down with an engaged couple to offer premarital counseling was when I was a bachelor.  Looking back, I kinda feel sorry for Kevin and Maria; it must have been like having a vegan tell them how to barbeque a filet. 

Don't misunderstand me.  I prepared by studying and reading a lot on the subject of marriage, but I had ZERO experience.  Up to that point my longest relationship was with my Harley.

Hopefully they don't look back on it and view it as a total loss.  (Hey, all these years later, they are still married!)  There was, without a doubt, something significant missing in my sessions with them.  Not once could I say to them, "This is us."  There was no "us."  All I had were stories about "This is me."

I still don't know a lot about marriage.  But I can say with certainty that there is a HUGE difference between "me" and "us."  Marriage is most troublesome when it becomes about me.  Conversely, marriage is most fulfilling when we talk about "us".

Ya see, "us" described the oneness and unity God had in mind in that inaugural, Garden marriage.  And the oneness of "us" is still the bulls-eye we are aiming for today.

But sometimes our marriages are off target.  The bulls-eye of oneness eludes even a well-aimed, Cupid-like arrow.  We can easily (and even quietly) slip into This is Me.  Sometimes we need to be reminded of the good and the hope of a This-is-Us marriage.  (And it helps to hear about it from someone other than a naïve bachelor.)

"This is us" is the name of our Marriage Conference here at Central.  It's the evening of Friday, February 10 and during the day on Saturday the 11th.  We titled it "This is Us" mainly to acknowledge that we each find ourselves at different stages of oneness and us-ness in marriage.  We intend for this 2-day marriage experience to meet you where you are, whether you are your "best us" or your "worst us."

At the conference you can expect a relaxed, fun, and immensely inspiring experience.  We are intentionally creating a man-friendly (and woman-friendly) atmosphere.  Instead of cheesy and sappy, we are striving for real and honest.  Even gritty, at times.  A place where you will be invited to wade in only as deep as you choose to wade in (or dive in). A comfortable place for you to acknowledge, "This is Us."

Register right now via this link: This Is Us

If you have questions, you can also find me this Sunday at the Next Steps Table.

By the way, remember me saying I was in a long-term relationship with my motorcycle?  When Beth and I had engagement photos taken, she gave a thumbs-up for including the Harley.  Because "This is Us".

How 2016 was the Most Transformational Year of My Life

Written by Gary Taylor

The following is the record of my non-surgical journey from 48-year old white guy to middle-aged Asian woman.

This remarkable transformation was first brought to my attention when traveling through the Spokane airport. Like everyone else shuffling slowly through security checkpoint, I handed over my boarding pass and driver's license for TSA to look over, scribble something, and say, "Next in line."

But that's not how it played out. After scanning my driver's license, the panicked TSA guy radioed for "Mike."

"Mike, I need you to come here right away." Within minutes Mike - and several armed security - surrounded me. An interrogation began with questions about my travel: where I've been, where I'm going, why I'm going. I explained that I was a pastor (yes...I pulled the Pastor Card) and had attended a Discipleship Conference.

As I responded to their questions, TSA employees huddled around my driver's license and called the California DMV.

Eventually they explained to me what was happening. My California Driver's license should have 3 pictures of me. One clearly visible on the left, a slightly obscured picture on the bottom right, and a third picture in the upper right - a photo only visible under blacklight.

They slid my license under the blacklight and there it was - in the upper righthand corner of my license - a picture of a middle-aged Asian woman.

Crazy, huh?

Glyn laughed at all that was taking place. I made my flight, and soon began to see the humor in it all, although no one was able to explain why or how my license displayed an Asian lady's picture. I wonder if there is an Asian woman with a pasty white guy's picture on her license. Lord, help her.

The irony of this experience hit me when I considered the primary focus of the conference I had attended. A disciple is a person who is following Jesus and who is being changed - transformed - by Jesus. I called the conference leaders to let them know how impactful their conference was for me: It was so transformational that I started as an older white guy but came back as a young Asian woman.

I want to leave you with 3 basic truths about transformation, especially for those of you hoping to make changes in 2017.

One: Before lasting changes are visible to those around us, a work must take place in us. Unless there is a change within you, you are simply carrying around a fake ID, wearing yourself out while acting like someone you are not. My experience with this type of change is that it takes place very slowly - a lot like the line at the DMV.

Two: God's Word, not a mirror, reveals your identity. Part of the transforming process is learning to see yourself as God sees you. God always sees the real you - the heart He created, the soul He loves - even when it's not readily visible in your speech and actions. He knows the ongoing work He is doing within you, the inner transformation that has yet to consistently surface for others to see. Reading Ephesians chapters 1-3 could be your blacklight, revealing the "you" that exists because of what Christ has done for you. I've found that meditating on this passage is a helpful Spiritual Practice, especially in a sinful season when I'm not living according to my saintly identity. Spend less time looking in the mirror, and more time reading the Bible.

Three: When people catch a glimpse of "the you" who is visible beneath the surface of clothes and skin, expect them to stop you and ask you a bunch of questions. Why? Because the world is intrigued by a transformed soul. People will want to know your story - where you've been, where you're going, why you are who you are. I once was an ugly white guy, now I'm a photogenic Asian girl. I once was blind, now I see. I once was a slave to depraved passions and roiling emotions, now I'm beginning to taste freedom and grace.

When it comes to transformation, I still have a very, very long way to go. But here's how I see it: With each new day of 2017, it's another day for God to continue His life-changing work in me.

Glyn made one of the funnier comments regarding my airport ordeal; he said that I put the Asian in Caucasian. In a strange way, it has shaped my prayer for 2017: God, put more of Christ in this Christian.

PS - If you want to walk with me on this transformational journey, consider subscribing to my blog. www.GarysJournal.com.  I'm currently posting every Monday, hoping that my transformational breakthroughs help put more of Christ in you as a Christian.