Give Hope

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Written by Marshall Commons

I asked my colleagues at work what they think of when they hear the word "Christmas". These were their responses: presents, trees, winter, weight gain, scotch tape, temporary satisfaction, Santa, ham, ornaments, snow and reindeer. I wonder how many of these same words come to mind when you hear "Christmas". When you clear away the ribbons and wrappings, the cookie crumbs and receipts, what is at the heart of Christmas?

If you look carefully, I believe that you will find the most famous verse of scripture known to believers and non-believers alike...John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son..." Jesus-God's greatest gift, sent to "seek and save the lost". A missionary from heaven sent into a dark world to not just bring light, but to actually be the light of salvation. Knowing what lay ahead, the Father's passion for us outweighed the pain He would feel.

Sharing the Father's passion for the lost and having His heart for His children is the mission of the church and what I love most about Central. As a newly baptized, young believer I came here with my family in 1974. I was discipled by Jim Yost and later guided into mission work by him. I had the privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with some great, godly men and women while serving together on our Missions Committee and later being served by them as a missionary myself.  Dot Isbell, Jewel Yost, Hope Ingraham, Don Hart, Jon Ottinger and Veltie Jessup. They were the links between those serving on the field and us at home. The missionaries were their friends, their family and their teammates. We supported them with our finances, our prayers and often-our tears as we shared in their struggles.

I believe Central has been blessed by God because we share His heart. Sending out missionaries around the world to bring the good news is like having Christmas year-round. A gift with no receipt-although it cost the Father everything, it is free to those who will receive it.

Like most of you, I just put up lights on our home. Plugging them in at 4:00 pm did not have much of an impact. I could barely tell that they were even on. However, they look pretty great at night. Where will you let your light shine this Christmas? Will it just be absorbed by all of the other light around or will it stand out as a beacon of hope in the midst of darkness?

God is the God of Mission. He sent His word, His law, His prophets, and above all He sent His Son. This Christmas, take a moment to stop by our wall of missionaries (it's in the lobby of the auditorium, in case you are wondering).  Look at their pictures, and thank God for them. Pray for them. Send them a note of encouragement.

A few weeks ago, we heard from our missionaries Harold and Connie Knepper about their expansion program for the Hope of the Nations Bible College. Last week Scott Pernice from City Team shared about their desire to redo the courtyard of the Men's Recovery Ministry facility making it a safe and fun environment for kids to connect with their Dads. Won't you consider partnering with these and with us as a family?

This Christmas let's Give Hope! 

Empty Plates

Written by Gary Taylor

Every plate was, as they say, licked clean.

Jon brought it to my attention.  We sat around the Thanksgiving table - actually two tables end to end - 13 of us in total.  After a 20-minute feeding frenzy, a drizzle of gravy or a dab of cranberry sauce were the only things left on the plates.  Thirteen hungry people sat down to eat.  Thirteen people with an appetite for turkey and stuffing and ham and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.

After we ate it, we sat and talked about what we ate.  The food was that good.

The image of a cleaned plate symbolizes what I would love to see happen at Central in 2018.  I'd love for everyone to develop a voracious appetite for the Word, a hunger for Scripture.  And by the end of 2018, like a 365-day meal, we devoured it all.  There's nothing left unread.  We licked the pages clean.

And in 2019 we go back for seconds.

I want to let you know that we are rolling out a great Bible Reading Plan for this upcoming year.  It's broken into bitesize readings, and you have the option to include accountability with your friends; friends with whom you can sit around and talk about it after you read it.  The Bible is that good.

As a warmup, of sorts, we found a 25-Day plan specifically for Christmas.  It highlights Christmas Carols (a major theme of our Sunday sermon series), and includes Scripture verses pointing to the birth of Jesus.  In the craziness and distractions of this season, it's a great way to press pause and remember the reason.  

If you have our church app then this Christmas Reading Plan is already on its way to your phone.  Don't have our new church app?  Give yourself an early Christmas present by texting "CENTRALSJAPP" to 77977.  Or you can download the YouVersion Bible and search "Carols: A Christmas Devotional."

Heavenly Father, we are hungry.  In this special season, we thank you for sending us the Bread of Life.

NASCAR - Return

Written by Gary Taylor

I've only been to one NASCAR race.  Talladega.  I went with some great friends who love racing, and who also love to "people watch."  As you might guess, Talladega Raceway is an AWESOME place to people watch.  The shirtless guy who wears a car tire like a skirt...priceless (and disturbing).

To those of us who know very little of the sport, NASCAR may seem like little more than mashing the accelerator and turning left.  A series of left turns at Talladega bring them back to where they started, over and over again.  I was seated at the start/finish line, a mere 3 rows removed from the protective fencing.  The roar of the cars shook my chest like nothing I'd ever experienced.  At 200mph, the cars whooshed! past with tornado-force. 

There I sat watching guys (and Danika Patrick) return, over and over again, to the place where they started.

This past Sunday we learned about another church that began well, but the people of that church needed to make a couple more lefts in order to return to that good place where they had started.  For those of us prone to driving off in the wrong direction, God calls us to repentance: a series of lefts, so to speak, designed to bring us back to the starting line of Garden-like union with Creator God.

What if our church had so many repenting Christians that the world showed up to "people watch"?  What if repentance was like a Holy Roar and whoosh! of hearts speedily returning to Jesus?  What if there was such a drastic change in us - a series of turns towards stunning Christlikeness - that it captured the attention and the hearts of our city?  What if???

Ears to Hear

Written by Gary Taylor

When I made my grand entrance into the world, my ears were sticking out, folded forward.  I suppose it was because I positioned myself in the womb in such a way that the cartilage grew funny. To remedy this unfortunate predicament, my parents taped my ears back for a week or so. Really. Some people have bad hair days; I was born with bad ear days.

And I was bald. My ears stuck out, and I was bald. Picture a VW Beetle with the doors open.

It was a rough start for me. I eventually grew some hair, and - thanks to yards of Scotch tape - my ears now lay a little flatter against the sides of my skull. All these years later I don't have the most aerodynamic head, but the ears are closer to where they belong.

In Revelation 2 and 3, a certain phrase is repeated near the conclusion of each letter to the seven churches: "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Jesus was saying, "Listen up!  I'm calling attention to the particular, significant way your life needs to change."

Because it's such a funny story, I've often told people about my parents taping my ears to my head.  And most every time the person pauses to look at my ears, and then comments, "It doesn't look like your ears stick out to me."  To which I say, "Correct.  BECAUSE MY PARENTS TAPED THEM TO MY HEAD WHEN I WAS A BABY."

I was born with something that needed to change - ears whose natural bent was in the wrong direction.  So the problem was addressed, in this case, with tape.

We are all born with a natural-yet-ugly bent towards sin.  Each of us. As you know, it takes more than tape to redirect our wayward bent towards sin.  Throughout our life, Jesus calls out to us - each of us with ears to hear - calling us to repentance.

Earlier this week I was listening to someone share their story.  She didn't give the gory details, but did divulge the ugly, wayward bent of her life back in her teenage years.  I was completely surprised to learn that about her.  In fact, my comment was, "I would have never guessed that about you."  I may as well have said, "It doesn't look like your ears stick out." 

And this person responded in her own way of saying, "Correct!  The change in my life is because of what my Father has done for me."

She acknowledges that those changes took more than yards of tape.  She had ears that heard Jesus calling her to obedience and new ways of living.  And to this day, she acknowledges her daily need for the stretched-out arms of Jesus - forgiving arms stretched out on a cross, loving arms stretched towards her for companionship.

This Sunday we look at two more examples of Jesus saying, "Anyone who has ears to hear..."  Metaphorically, maybe your ears stick out, or you've got a friend who has ears that stick out.  Invite them to come to our church - a gathering of people -acknowledging that we have sins that still stick out, but Jesus offers life-change through repentance.

I hope to see you at 9 or 11.  And if you own a VW Beetle, think of me when you open the doors.

Monuments and Footprints

Written by Gary Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Ireland

Written by Kayla Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper Towels, Mercy, and Grace

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Written by Gary Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern California Wildfires

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Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Heartbeat Away From Eternity

Written by Chip Kirk

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

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

Houston Relief Efforts

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Love. Camping.

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Written by Kristin Potter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Harvey - How You Can Help

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your generosity to those in need.

 

The Life So Short

Written by Cathleen Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vocare_Work As Calling

Written by Glyn Norman

Fun Quiz:

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

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

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

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

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


Quiz Answers:

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

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

Written by Glyn Norman

eclipse.jpg

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

10:15 am  Eclipse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, some questions for self-examination:

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

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

Bike Rides and Bright Futures

Written by Gary Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metamorphosis

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pack Some Advil

Written by Gary Taylor

I'm nervous.

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

Advil tops my list of "what to pack."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future is Bright

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Helping Hurts

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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