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Two Motivations for Prayer

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We recently remembered the national tragedy of 9/11. Do you remember where you where when you heard the news? I was leading an off campus staff retreat for a church that I pastored in Pittsburgh. We cut the retreat short and returned to the church campus to be available to those who were in such deep distress. We quickly made a large banner and hung it near the road by our entrance driveway: "We Are Open For Prayer – All Are Welcome".  

It was amazing to see people stop to pray – many of them strangers. We made slides of many Scriptures and just rolled them on our big screen continually. We had soft music of classic hymns playing in the background. People were wrestling with the gravity of the situation. People wept. People prayed.

It was a rare moment in our national and ecclesiastical history. What does it take to motivate people to pray with such fervor? Tragedy is one such motive, but so is opportunity. At Central, the Lord has been pleased to protect us from tragedy and equally pleased to place before us opportunity. This is why we launched the "3 for 30" prayer initiative. The gospel of our Lord calls us to repent of the idolatry of self-reliance and to seek Him at all times, in all circumstances, and for all things.

At this point Central's history, we are praying for our Senior Pastor Search Team, we are praying that the Lord make us a contagiously warm and friendly place on Sunday morning, and we are praying for the peace of St. Louis. We have asked that each gathering of Central folks – any study, event, or meeting – simply pray for those three things. Of course we cannot know how many people have engaged in this prayer initiative, but I imagine it is easily in the hundreds.  

Many people assumed, when those planes struck the twin towers and the Pentagon, that WW III had begun. Of course there was much debate about the cause and consequences of the attack. “Are we really at war, and against whom are we fighting?” There is no debate for the Christian church. We are at war against the devil and all his designs and devices to assault the glory of God and the health and growth of His church.  

Would you "join the war effort" in remembering to "pray without ceasing"?  Would you "support the war effort" with your financial giving to Central?  Would you "participate in the war effort" by looking for new faces on Sunday morning and showing them the love of Christ and by looking for ways to serve our city?

God is answering our prayers.  God has spared us from tragedy.  God has placed before us great opportunity.  May we seize the moment – and pray.  

 - Pastor Bob

What Do We Mean by Evangelism?

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I am not sure how this happened, but I love words. I wasn’t a reader growing up, but something instilled in me the power of the right word. When we are trying to communicate, the choice of a word can make all the difference. In most languages we have a wonderful palate to choose from for whatever concept we want to convey.

Let me give you an example. Take the word “loud.” We hear that word and know that we are most likely referring to a level of volume. But, according to the website thesaurus.com, the word “loud” has 45 synonyms in the English language. Each of these words bring with them different emphasis, sometimes slight, and sometimes quite significant.

Think of the difference when a teacher says, “My students were really loud today,” verses when he says, “my students were really boisterous.” While both words convey high volume, the second version also makes us think and feel energy and activity.

Another example is when the judge comments, “that lawyer was very loud in her closing argument,” verses, “that lawyer was very emphatic in her closing argument.” Again, while both words contain some level of elevated volume, the first example doesn’t portray purpose, where as the second shows the lawyer trying to drive home a point of view or conviction.

Like any writer today, the biblical authors had similar choices to make when they chose words to convey their message. As in English, Greek words often have many synonyms. Sometimes those words have subtle differences, while others carry a significant meaning that would have conveyed a clear message.

We have been talking a lot lately as a church about the word “evangelism” which is derived from the Greek word “euangelion.” We know that this has to do with telling people about Jesus, but have you ever stopped to wonder why the biblical authors chose this word?   They had at least 30 words in the Greek language that had the general meaning of informing people or announcing information. So why did the biblical authors choose euangelion to describe the good news of Jesus?

Euangelion was a common word in Greek society. It meant that someone was sharing “good news”, but this good news wasn’t general good news, it was pretty specific. As the author William Mounce notes, “It referred to an announcement of ‘glad tidings’ regarding a birthday, rise to power, or decree of the emperor that was to herald the fulfillment of hopes for peace and well being in all the world.” This was a word that carried serious social, political, and religious weight. This was meant for news that impacted all of humanity.

Now think of the Gospel of Mark when he writes at the beginning of the letter, “The beginning of the gospel (euangelion) of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” He isn’t just saying, “What I am about to tell you is pretty cool.” No, he is saying, “Pay attention because what I am about to tell you changes everything and impacts everyone. What I am about to tell you will bring ‘the fulfillment of hopes for peace and well being in all the world’”.

We are called to evangelize, to share this good news of Jesus Christ. Some of us are already comfortable with this and some of us are just starting to dip our toe in the water. Regardless of where you are at, I hope you take comfort in the power of the message. It is a message that has the power to change lives, to change societies, and ultimately will bring the fulfillment of peace to this world.

Posted by Todd Denholm

Bob's Blog: Sermon on Homosexuality

This coming Sunday, August 30th, I have the privilege of preaching on Acts 15 – and the subject of homosexuality and the church. I especially want parents of young children to know that this will be addressed, along with circumcision. This will be a “PG” (parental guidance) message but undoubtedly your young children will ask, “What is homosexuality and circumcision?” Therefore, each parents(s) needs to prayerfully discern if this sermon is appropriate for their child(ren). How on earth (not to mention the pulpit) you may say, do you see homosexuality spoken of in Acts 15? Great question, thanks for asking.

Acts 15 addresses a volatile controversy that could have easily split the early church. Certain Jewish believers wanted to impose the requirement of circumcision upon Gentile believers. After much deliberation and debate, the so-called “Jerusalem Council” of church leaders resolved the issue and sent a letter to the Gentile believers regarding their decision.

Acts 15 continues to be a powerfully relevant account for the 21st century church for at least three reasons. First, it is a stunning refutation of legalism and a thunderous affirmation of salvation by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. Second, it speaks volumes about the connectional nature of the church and supports presbyterianism as the biblical form of church government. Third, it presents a Solomonically-wise model for how churches (and denominations) should address controversial issues that threaten its peace, purity, and unity.

What contemporary issue has already been divisive among evangelical Christians and will continue to threaten the peace, purity, and unity of today’s church? Long before the recent SCOTUS decision, Christians have debated this volatile topic among themselves. Is homosexuality a sin that disqualifies someone as a Christian? Should the church welcome or ban homosexuals from its worship, fellowship, membership, ministry, etc.?

Of course like any other pastor, I have both my personal opinions and theological convictions on this matter. Earlier this month, at our session “study meeting” (we conduct no business or pass no motions at these meetings, but explore one topic we believe relevant to the health and future of Central), we had a healthy discussion on this matter and will continue to seek the mind of Christ on it.

What can you do? Thanks for asking! I can think of at least three obvious things.

First, pray for the elders (session) of Central that we would seek the mind of Christ in this matter. We desire to be rooted in the Scripture and led by the Spirit in all things.

Second, pray that the Lord would speak to your own heart and mind and at the same time remove from all of us any prejudicial, circumstantial, emotional, or cultural filters that distort our ability and willingness to see and do the Lord’s will in this matter.

Third, pray that the Lord would advance in us and through us our church vision and mission to know, be known, and make known the gospel of Jesus as we seek to be His transformed people who passionately love His truth (know), transparently pursue the fellowship of His people (be known), and lovingly communicate the grace of His gospel (make known) – all for His glory and the building of His kingdom. May it be so.

Blessings to you all,

Bob

Posted by Bob Hopper

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