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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

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

Understanding Anxiety

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I’ll never forget the day I thought our 3 year-old was missing. 

We searched, called her name, and even drove around the block.  “What if someone took her? What if she’s hurt?… “ Those thoughts closed my throat and chilled my veins. After what seemed an eternity, I finally found her crouched down in the back of her closet. When I asked why she didn’t come when I called, she said, “I was playing hide-and-seek.” Our weak laughter was all nerves and we’ve never hugged her  - or each other – so tightly.

I’m sure most parents have a story like this one; an incident we can point to and remember the pounding heart, heightened focus, and muscle tension that we all feel in moments of crisis – even if many years have past. This short-lived, acute anxiety is normal, and even good for us.  When we might need to fight, escape, or yell for someone’s life, the physiological symptoms are actually helpful, necessary, and by design. 

However, we weren’t meant to live like that. Our body and mind suffer when we live in a heightened state and anxiety becomes chronic. Chronic anxiety is difficult to diagnose. Often, there isn’t one thing we can point to as the source of our stress, or one thing that’s clearly wrong.  It’s a quiet disease that sneaks into our system, takes many forms, and causes a slow-drain of our energy, confidence, and joy. 

Sound familiar? Chances are, this describes you or someone in your family. Chronic anxiety is an epidemic. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 25% of all kids between 13 and 18 are affected by anxiety disorders. This alarming trend reveals our growing need to recognize and respond to the chronic anxiety that’s taking a toll on our families.

We’ve invited Margaret Kileen to help us do just that. Margaret is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with teens and adults to deal with anxiety issues and depression. In her experience, Margaret believes chronic anxiety breeds avoidance and it takes faith and courage to enter into what is difficult and fight it head on. We are so grateful for Margaret’s expertise and for her willingness to guide us during a three-part seminar on Jan 11, Feb 8, and March 8 from 6:30 – 8pm in the Student Center. There is no cost, but your donations are appreciated. Parent and grandparents will have the opportunity to hear from Margaret and pose specific questions.  We’ll learn calming strategies for ourselves and our children, and how to know when to seek professional help.

Mark your calendars today and invite a friend. And please register HERE so we know how many to expect (this eases our anxiety, you know… ).

Let’s take this step together toward a healthier, more-joyful New Year.

Posted by Karen Brown

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