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 ( 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

"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


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.


Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pack Some Advil

Written by Gary Taylor

I'm nervous.

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

Advil tops my list of "what to pack."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future is Bright

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Helping Hurts

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Camp Experience

Written by Kyle Power

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Independence Day

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm here. Almost"

Written by Gary Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times and Turtles

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are Jonah

Written by Gary Taylor

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

"Feet, Fish and Boats." 

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

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

Church, Works, and Disappointment? 

Addiction, Recovery, and Relapse?

School, Work, and Pleasure?

Friendship, Fights, and Trust?

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

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

Some More. Some Less.

Written by Gary Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, it is good.

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

Climb DOWN a Tree

Written by Gary Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Zacchaeus, may we have a change of perspective.

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

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

Summer Camps Are Coming

Written by Kyle Power

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

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

How can you pray specifically for camp?

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

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

Baptism and Membership

Written by Glyn Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you church.  Glyn

All Because of One Week

Written by Kristin Potter

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

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

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

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

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

All because of one week.  

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

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

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

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


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.