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Joyful Waiting

As the saying goes in St. Louis, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait.” We have seen some dramatic examples of that this winter, haven’t we? From below zero to the mid-60s in a matter of days, it has been quite the roller coaster this year. Personally, I’m pretty much done with winter. I am ready for spring to be ushered in, when barren trees become lush and when chirping birds return. I am ready for baseball season, for barbecues, and for pleasant (sans-winter coat) walks in the neighborhood with my family.

 Our recent sermon series in Philippians has me thinking a lot about the age to come. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” As much as we want to speed up the arrival of the renewal of springtime, how much more is the return of Jesus worth offering the yearning of our hearts! The inescapable pain and death of this present life will be purified as we see the Creation restored in ways that we can only imagine. No more cancer. No more failing marriages. No more scarcity. Those sins that so often beset me will no longer plaster me with shame and fear. We will live as God intended us to live, finally.

 So what are we to do in the winter of life if Jesus does not return tomorrow, or in our lifetime? The season of Lent begins in early March this year, and while we do not formally observe it, I think it is a wonderful season to reflect on this question of waiting. With our eyes toward Easter, waiting expectantly to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, how might we warm our hearts during these final days of winter?

 Gratitude. One of the greatest challenges of our lives in this present age is that it is polluted by darkness. The darkness of death, of sickness, and of our sin. It is hard to see rightly in the dark. But if the Lord would give us eyes to see, we would see light penetrating the darkness, even now. Where are you seeing light in your life or in the lives of others, and how can you show gratitude for it? Like a 60-degree day in the dead of winter, gratitude can revive our souls in powerful ways. It allows us to see God at work, even in the midst of pain. It encourages those around us, and gives them strength to carry on through their own trials.

 Repentance. The effects of the fall and of our sin are very real, and pervasive in all the earth. As we wait for Jesus to return, it can be tempting to see the problem as exclusively “out there.” No doubt, there are myriad problems “out there.” But let’s not kid ourselves…there are many problems right here at home, in my heart and in yours. When we repent of our sins with hearts flooded by his powerful and renewing grace, to God and to one another, sunshine comes bursting into the frozen tundra of our lives in profound ways, thawing our hardened hearts and restoring our broken relationships. The enemy of our souls does not want us to repent, because he knows how powerful it is to overcome his evil plans to destroy us. What might you repent of in the days ahead, and how might God use that to breathe restoration into the world through you?

Encouragement. There is no escaping the reality of this present darkness, unfortunately. A stiff upper lip is not going to cut it when real pain and struggle come to winter in our lives. I have the privilege of walking with so many of you through your struggles – struggles that are exceedingly painful for you and for those that you love. In the midst of our struggles, we need to be encouraging one another with the certain hope that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of the throne of God, and he is coming again. When we are down, we need fellow believers in our lives to point us back to this certain hope as we walk together through our pain. Encouraging one another in this way gives us the strength to continue to run the race set before us. 

 As we enter into the month of March (and the end of winter, in theory), we ask the age-old question: will it come in like a lion, and go out like a lamb? And don’t even get me started on our furry little friend, Punxsutawney Phil. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see his shadow this year. Spring feels like a long time coming, and regardless of our favorite cultural superstitions I think we can all agree on that. Within our yearning for springtime we can hear an echo of our yearning for the age to come and Jesus’ triumphant return. Let’s reflect on that glorious truth together in these coming days with gratitude, repentance and encouragement.

Posted by Clay Smith with 7 Comments

The Full View of God's Church

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When I was in seminary, a professor challenged us future pastors to view the church as a hospital rather than a museum.  Too often, he was seeing churches as a place where people go to look and see all the “good” the church had done in the past.  But in a museum, you aren’t allowed to touch anything.  He wanted to challenge his students and future church leaders to view the church more like a hospital - a place where broken sinners need to come to find healing.
 
Through my time in ministry, I’ve appreciated this constant reminder to focus on the lost as Jesus came to seek and save.  However, the teaching needs to expand beyond this: the church can’t just act as a hospital because once someone is healed from their brokenness, their transformed being in Christ needs to know and understand what comes next.  The church needs to embrace its function as a MUSEUM (acknowledged history), HOSPITAL (healing), SCHOOL (teaching, learning, mentoring), and SENDING AGENCY (equipping and sending people).
 
MUSEUM – I just celebrated the 40th anniversary of Wheaton Chinese Alliance Church where I had the privilege to serve while I was in Chicago.  St Louis Chinese Gospel Church, where I served prior to coming to Central, recently celebrated 90 years of God’s faithfulness.  Now, I come to Central Presbyterian Church, going strong with 174 years of history.  In church membership class, the material had this quote, “the more we know about who we were, the better we can understand who we are and where we are going”.  Although it is important to know our past, it is even more significant to commemorate how God is always present, no matter the circumstance.  We honor and cherish God’s consistent faithfulness to us and therefore, can hold secure knowing He will continue to be there through all circumstances.  As in times of crisis, we also remember the many blessings that God has given us.  It is not to say hardships are lessened, ignored or forgotten, but rather how they have built us up and challenged us to seek, to change what is not working. God never changes but how can we make sure we are faithful and also communicate God’s constancy in ways the changing world can understand and know.
 
HOSPITAL – Churches need to be seriously challenged with the ability to love people and help them find healing and new life in Christ’s sacrifice.  I have been in beautiful churches, but it becomes all too easy to prioritize “prettiness.”  God reminds us that it is not the building but His people that make the church.  And to also remember, as Ravi Zaccharias shares, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but dead people alive.”  The church needs to help the lost and broken realize the spiritual death that is in their lives, through practical needs then spiritual ones.

SCHOOL – When I say school, I know people have different reactions.  I hope what comes to mind is a place for intentional teaching, learning, and mentoring. In this, there is an emphasis of practical application and fully internalizing God’s Word where it is lived out in our lives.  It also has to be a place where there is true mentorship where we walk along with the next generation to help them grow and learn from life experience but also realize how much we, ourselves, can learn from them.
 
SENDING AGENCY – I remember preaching a series on the Great Commission and by the exit doors it said, “You are now entering into the Mission Field”.  The church needs to see itself as sending God’s people into the world to share the Gospel through word and deed.  I recall hearing of churches that would commission all professions to go from the church and be God’s light as teachers, lawyers, doctors, and stay at home moms.  Can we continue to be a church that sends people well, not just missionaries to many parts of the lost world abroad, but also right here in our community?
 
One last important thing: there will be different seasons in the church when each of these things are emphasized more than others.  However for the church to be healthy, we must never neglect being the HOSPITAL.  The church needs to be a place for the broken to find healing in God.  When people are hurting, people need to know that the church is a place where they can come and find healing … A sanctuary, where we dispel “prayer gossip”, self-righteousness and judgement. A place people wantto come because they know they will be loved and cared for. May God continue to humble us and guide us.

Posted by Ben Tzeng

Four Services, One Story

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When Jews celebrate the Passover meal, the youngest child asks the question, “Why does this night differ from all other nights?” Since we will soon celebrate Jesus’ fulfillment of Passover during Holy Week, it is good for us to ask a similar question: “How does this week differ from all other weeks?”

Central celebrates four worship services during Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. All four services link together to tell a single story: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation. These four services, however, are not the same; rather, each highlights a unique aspect of Jesus’ saving work and a distinct aspect of his gifts and calling to us. Therefore, each service will have some special elements that differ from our normal worship services.

On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ final triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the loud praise of large crowds lining his way, and we will also have our own procession of praise with a children’s choir singing and carrying palms. Jesus’ apparent triumph, however, turned to tragedy. Jesus willingly entered into conflict with the leaders who would put him to death in just a few days, and thus we will leave the service praying for the same courage and faithfulness from Jesus with a song about his turn from triumph to death for us.

On Holy Thursday, we commemorate the first Lord’s Supper, which Jesus shared with his disciples when he was preparing them for his imminent death. In the midst of that night of pain and fear, Jesus comforted his disciples by loving them and teaching them to love one another, and we will receive that same love from Jesus in his words from that night and in the Supper that he continues to share with us. After that first Supper, Jesus sang a psalm with his disciples and went to a garden to pray in anguish as he began to be stripped of every comfort, and we will finish the service by praying about our anguish with a psalm and turning our hearts toward the cross as the communion table is stripped bare.

Good Friday is the day we remember Jesus’ suffering and death as the ultimate sacrifice for our sin. In a service of readings and song, we will hear and sing the story of Jesus loving us to the point of death in our place, and we experience the extinguishing of light until we end the service in darkness and silence to contemplate the depths of sin and wrath that Jesus endured for us in love.

Holy Week ends not in tragedy but in the greatest triumph of all, the death of death and sin in the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, this will be our greatest day of praise! We will begin with the sunrise service with a choir at 7:30 a.m. in Forest Park, and then more choir and brass with services of extreme joy and praise at the church at 9:00 and 10:45 a.m. 

We hope that you will set aside time for each unique service during Holy Week. As each service links to the next, we can live the story together in a powerful way and experience the love of God afresh in the death and life of our living Lord!

Click here for more information on all of Central's Holy Week services.

           

Posted by Mike Farley

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