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New Year. New Vision. Same Jesus.

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Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

And here we are on the cusp of 2020, ushering in a new year and a new decade, and another round of resolutions that can start to feel a bit like “insanity.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like a good resolution. I like this time of year and the idea of a fresh start, a chance to grow and improve.

But the gusto of our new year’s resolutions, in spite of our good intentions, tend to fade and fall flat by the time February gets here…if not sooner. As a pastor, I am intrigued by the human dynamics that unfold within us as we seek to improve ourselves through these annual resolutions. While I’m sure that there are one or two of you (maybe?) out there who can point back to your resolutions of 2019 and see tremendous growth and change, most of us cannot. Most of us find ourselves right back where we started, wondering where we can find the power to grow and change.

Power to grow and change, to be transformed, comes from Jesus. Many of you are familiar with Jesus’ mustard seed exhortation in Matthew 17, “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Taken out of context, this is a maddening verse, especially at this time of year. It might seem that Jesus is telling us to just try harder, just have a little more faith, and the proverbial mountains of our lives will be moved. But the verses preceding this exhortation are essential. This exhortation comes on the heels of a father’s plea on behalf of his son, whom Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal. Jesus heals the son, leaving the disciples perplexed as to why they were unable to do the same. In brief, it comes down to this: Jesus has the power to transform, and we don’t. We cannot experience transformation without the renewing power of Jesus. To try is, well, insanity.

A desire for genuine transformation is at the heart of the new vision statement that we presented at our Town Hall meeting last October:

“Central Presbyterian Church seeks the transformation of our lives, our communities, and the world through the renewing work of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God.”

By design, this statement is an aspirational reminder of the only source that has the power to transform: the Lord. It paints a picture of what we desire to increasingly experience.

As your pastor, I have a deep desire to see transformation in our lives, our church and the world. I think at some level, we all want those things. Our vision statement is an exhortation to all of us that we can only experience those things through the renewing power of Jesus. It is so tempting to think that we are smart enough to plan transformation on our own. If we just work hard enough, and smart enough, maybe make the right resolutions this year, then we will see transformation occur, right? FALSE!  The real challenge in transformation is remembering that Jesus and Jesus alone has the power to transform. Our best plans from our brightest people will fail every time without Jesus as the power source. This is the foundation of our vision statement and the only hope of a fruitful future for our church.

In the coming weeks, I will be writing more to you about this new vision and our future direction as a church. It’s an exciting time, and I’m so thankful that each of you are a part of it. 

Happy New Year, dear friends. I pray that in 2020 we will continue to see Jesus doing a powerful work of transformation in us, and through us, all to his glory.

Posted by Clay Smith with 2 Comments

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

Loving & Seeking the Lost

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You may notice two lovable-yet-mischievous guests in the backyard of the missions house. Those are our dogs, Tory and Reggie. If you are a dog lover, you know they become part of your family once they enter your home, and these particular two hold a special place in our hearts. Whether they are on their best behavior or getting into mischief, our love for them runs deep and is unconditional. Mostly.

Reggie is a Brittany Spaniel and our resident “Houdini,” seemingly able to find his way into or out of just about anywhere. Monday evening he somehow managed to push and climb his way out of the backyard and disappeared into the Davis Place neighborhood. Our family began a desperate search, but after several hours and no Reggie, we gave up for the night, but continued to pray the Lord would bring him back to his family. Was he ok? Will we ever see him again? Our hearts were broken, and it was a difficult night.

It occurs to me that this is a powerful picture of how our heavenly Father feels when we go astray. We are precious to him, dear members of his  family. When we run away it breaks his heart, but he will not stop his relentless pursuit to bring us back home. He is the faithful Shepherd.

This week I begin serving as your Senior Pastor, and we’re beginning a study of  Isaiah. Isaiah offers a snapshot of God’s never-ending pursuit of us as our Father and our Shepherd. Time and again, the people of Israel turned their backs against the Lord, but time and again, the Lord pursued them and called them to relationship. We may climb our way out of God’s proverbial yard, and think we have found the good life in our new found “freedom.” But in reality, we put ourselves in grave danger when we do so.

Isaiah also boldly reminds us that the Lord calls us back for a purpose. God wants to save and protect us, but he also calls us to be part of his mission to rescue a lost world. He invites us to sense the burden he feels for a world that is full of pain and in rebellion against him, as we once were. This is God’s mission, and I wonder what role that he has for Central to play in it in the years ahead? As we begin this new chapter of ministry together, I am overjoyed and full of anticipation as to what God has in store for us.

It is a great relief to share with you that a “good shepherd” found Reggie and brought him to a local shelter, safe and sound. He is home again, and we could not be happier. The Lord God Almighty rejoices over us, and we can only imagine his great joy when we return to him. May that joy be our strength as we join him in the mission that he has for us in the years ahead.

With humble gratitude for each of you,

Pastor Clay

Posted by Clay Smith