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June 5 Update from Pastor Clay

Greetings to all of you, dear friends. I pray that each of you are holding up okay during this difficult season. Between the pandemic and now the ongoing unrest across the nation, these are indeed very challenging times for all of us. My heart is heavy and tired. In moments like these, I am so thankful for the core truths of the Gospel. They anchor me in troubled waters.

We preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ each Sunday because we – all of us – are in need of it yet prone to forget it on Monday. This is an uncanny, uncomfortable part of remaining sin dwelling within us. All of creation groans because of the effects of sin. I don’t like to dwell on sin any more than most of you – it’s not exactly a fun topic of conversation and reflection. But if we fail to understand the reality of sin, then the wretched state of this world will overwhelm us. Sin has infected every part of the world, every family, every relationship and system, every person’s heart – including mine. That is why we see so much evil, injustice, destruction and death in so many different areas of our world.

It is painful to see clearly the effects of evil, the symptoms of injustice, the fraying of society and relationships. It is painful, but it is not surprising. We know that the world is profoundly broken because of our sin, and that revealed truth is vital for us to understand. The ravaged state of the world makes no sense without it, frankly. But Jesus came precisely because we have been ravaged by an enemy we cannot conquer. But He can.

God loved us too much to leave us to our sin and its destructive effects on the whole of Creation. He has come to rescue us from it. On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the condemnation and judgment for our sin. In his crucifixion, the reign of evil over us, its power to dominate his people was broken. Yet the story of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God does not stop with Good Friday. Jesus was raised from the dead in victory over sin, destruction and death. He ascended to the throne. Jesus reigns right now. The King of Glory, the Lord of life has been enthroned over sin, evil and death. And even more, from his throne, Jesus and the Father sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The power of Christ indwells the church to fight sin, evil, and injustice in His Name. Let us not forget that we are an empowered people. He will enable us to love and live for our neighbor’s good and God’s glory. In Christ, we are being transformed by the renewing work of Christ in us. This is good news for us eternally, and it is good news for us today – even when times are hard.

It is that Gospel of Kingdom of God that strengthens us to live with hope when times are hard – and they are very hard right now. My heart breaks when I hear again the story of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the senseless killing of Breonna Taylor. My heart cries out when I see the images of the murder of George Floyd. When I see the tears and anguish on the faces of black friends, neighbors, and family members—when I hear it in their voices as they lament still fighting so many of the same injustices present a generation ago —my heart is burdened for change and transformation. Lord, have mercy! Bring us change today!

My heart breaks as I pray for members our own church who are wonderful law enforcement officers, when some officers in our city have been shot, including the killing of Captain David Dorn. I ache for the victims of looting and riots, some of whom have lost their livelihoods as their businesses are completely destroyed. And we still are dealing with COVID. The effects of sin are still painfully here among us.

Naming sin as the root of the world’s disfunction is helpful, but it is incomplete. We must never forget that we are an Easter people, a people given the power of God to change. Further, we are a Pentecost people, strengthened by the Spirit to walk today in the newness of life that is to come. We are a people who confess, pray and believe, that our Father’s “kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” His Spirit will give us courage when we are afraid, strength to stand when we are overwhelmed, and patience when the wait for his answer is long.

What are we to do in His power while we cry out and eagerly await the Lord Jesus’s return to repair our world and make all of these broken things new? There is no easy answer to that, but I do want to offer a few things I hope will be of help to consider in this challenging season:

Prayer. Our Heavenly Father hears our prayer and desires our good and his glory. Because of this, we pray. He hears our cries of lament. He hears our yearning for justice. He hears our desperation for our very own hearts to be made new – free of sin and full of joy. Since the pandemic began, did you know that we are hosting a daily prayer meeting online each weekday at 12 noon? We gather together to read scripture, to share our burdens, and to pray (you can sign up by clicking HERE). I would also like to make you aware our denomination – the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) – has called members of EPC churches to pray, lament and fast this coming Monday, June 8th. We are called to lament the state of our nation and world, and fast and pray for the Lord to intervene and heal.  You can learn more about our denomination’s leadership regarding this topic by clicking HERE. I am grateful for our denomination’s humility to seek to lean on Christ and learn as His disciples, and it will be a special focus for us at our regular noon hour prayer meeting next Monday.

Graciousness. Before 2020 even began, I was bracing at the thought of another election year in our increasingly polarized climate. Our culture seems to have lost the ability to have differences of opinion without being suspicious of and hating each other. And that was true before the pandemic and national unrest. As followers of Jesus’s message and His manner, however, we are called to the fruit of the Spirit, including kindness, gentleness, and patience (Galatians 5). It is a time for many of us to adopt hearts of humble learners, being quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1). Ask a person of color how they are doing in this time; engage with genuine curiosity without assuming how others should or should not feel. Seek to be as gracious with others as Christ as been gracious with us. Cultivate friendship and relationships of give and take with others who are different than you, not out of guilt, nor desiring to manage an image before others. Rather let the graciousness and steadfast love of the Lord compel you into a life of pursuing the good of your neighbor, whether you agree on things or not.

Perhaps it’s easy to be gracious and kind to our peer groups – but what about those with whom we disagree about matters that we are so passionate about? Surely it is harder, but remember, we are an Easter and Pentecost people, indwelled and empowered by the living Lord. Yes, there is egregious sin out there. And it should cause us to lament. But for those of us who have received the free gift of forgiving grace from the Lord Jesus, surely, we understand that we have been guilty of much of the same, in thought, word, and deed. When we remember this common thread, it disciples us toward humility.  It helps us to be gracious with others – even and especially when we disagree.

Repentance and Hope. When we hear the loving voice of Jesus reminding us of our own sin, of our own need for mercy and grace, it causes us to turn away from our sin and toward his loving forgiveness. That is what repentance is – a turning away from sin and toward the Lord Jesus, pledging our allegiance to follow Christ our King rather than the pull of our flesh. There is transformational power and hope in repentance. Jesus promises new life and times of refreshing when we call out. Let each of us genuinely ask the Lord to “search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lad me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24). Freely confess and ask the Lord to cleanse where we have given in to sin, to fear, to resentment and suspicions of others, to harsh judgment of others unlike me, to indifference toward the suffering of others, perhaps to hate that no one sees but the Lord.

Because of the bloody cross, empty tomb, and now throne now occupied by the Lord Jesus, we need not be afraid of admitting where we have sinned. We need not be afraid of owning hurts that we have caused. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ! And that gives us the strength we need to repent. So, I ask you: where might you need to repent in your walk with the Lord? With your family? With your co-workers? With people whom you have harbored resentment or even hate? Turn from these sins and turn to the Lord. In this season where everyone seems to be waiving our fingers at one another…how powerful would it be to see repentance flow like a mighty river, tearing down walls of fear and division among us? How powerful would it be for the world to see the church truly lament and grieve injustice and sin, yet do so with a steadfast hope that Jesus is coming again to repair all that is wrong. May that hope for the coming day drive us to action today, the action of repenting from sin, pursuing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.

Friends, I think we all yearn to fix the havoc that is so pervasive in so many areas of the world right now. I wish I had an easy-button for us to use. But I don’t. I know we have hard days ahead. Yet the Lord can give us what we need to live as his peculiar people in this world. Let us recommit ourselves to prayer, to graciousness, and to repentance and hope, and watch the Lord work to renew our broken lives and world in the days ahead. I leave you with one of my favorite benedictions—a good word from God—when I feel overwhelmed. It comes from Romans 15:5-7, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Posted by Clay Smith

Hope Will Not Be Cancelled

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“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

I love this verse because it speaks to God’s ultimate care for us in Christ. We are invited to cast our cares upon Jesus because he cares for us. And as his children who have been loved and cared for well, we care for others as an extension of his love and care.

We are all bruised and broken by the Fall. That doesn’t just mean our sin. Our bodies and our minds are broken as well. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (46.6 million in 2017). Additionally, an estimated 49.5% of adolescents had any mental disorder.

With this brokenness, we sometimes need extra compassion and care. Did you know that Central already has several care and support groups related to mental health issues?  There is a support group for family members who are caring for adult children with mental illness, and another group for moms with younger children struggling with these challenges.

Mental illnesses include many different conditions that vary in degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. Because these issues affect so many and to provide more care and support for the Central community, we are developing a new ministry. Our goal is to provide more support for families dealing with mental illness and educational resources related to these issues.

To help us build an effective ministry, we invite you to take part in a short. You have the option to fill out the survey anonymously or to leave your name and contact information so that a member of this care ministry team can reach out and learn more about how we can best support, serve, and care for you.

Take the Survey

Posted by Charles Godwin

25 Things To Do When You Can't Leave Home

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  1. Invite your extended family onto a FaceTime, Zoom, WebEx, Skype, etc call. By now many of us are “Zoomed out” but for others in your family, it may be a totally new experience. It can be really fun to get multiple generations on a video call together, and just seeing each others’ faces can be very encouraging.

  2. Start (or restart) a Bible reading plan. There are many great plans our there already that will guide you through topical studies, deep-dives into specific books of the Bible, or lead you through an annual reading plan. The website www.bible.com is one resource, or if you would like some assistance in choosing a plan, our pastors would love to help you.

  3. Support local businesses. Buy a gift card. Order carry-out. Support them on social media. Many local businesses are being super creative in finding ways to keep their doors open and their employees paid. Reward their efforts with your patronage. 

  4. Redo your space. Working from home may be totally new for you. Chances are by now the newness has worn off, and with it, the fun and adventure are gone. Make your workspace more inviting with a coat of paint, a new desk lamp, or maybe a new wall hanging. Simply rearrange the furniture. Making your space more comfortable and enjoyable can make a world of difference.

  5. Learn something new. Download Duolingo or Rosetta Stone and start learning a new language. That guitar in your closet gathering dust? Now is a great time to use YouTube to learn a few chords. Chances are your phone has a terrific camera built in. Use that to experiment with photos of your garden, kids, or family pet. Paint, build, write…the options are endless.

  6. Embrace rest. This can be the hardest “new” thing for many of us. Intentionally schedule some time in your day where you can enjoy some quiet. For you, maybe it’s just going to bed a little earlier or sleeping a little later. Set firm boundaries on your work and protect your “me time.”

  7. Play board games. It may sound old fashioned, but gathering around a game board can be a wonderful environment for conversation and laughter. Stuck at home by yourself? Get some friends together on a video call and play virtually. Brace yourself for the hilarity that can ensue.

  8. Read that (those?) books you’ve been meaning to get though. Many of us have more than a couple books that people have recommended to us but we just haven’t read yet. After you have done read them, it’s a great reason to reach out to that person and get caught up.

  9. Likewise, there are probably some movies people have been saying you “have” to watch. Give them a try!

  10. Begin journaling, or create a blog or vlog. No one has to ever read it except you, so just begin the practice of getting your thoughts down. It can be incredibly therapeutic. 

  11. Encourage a missionary. Central supports many missionaries locally and around the world. You can find a list here. Regardless of where they live, they are dealing with the impact of the coronavirus too. Send an email and let them know you are praying for them.

  12. Listen to more music. Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and other sources offer vast libraries of music no matter what your preference might be. Rediscover some old faves from your teen years or give a listen to something new. Many artists are also doing live performances from their kitchens, living rooms, or home studios that are broadcast on social media. You can also check out some past Central concerts on our Vimeo page!

  13. Clean out a closet. Talk about therapy! One method is to take ALL of your clothes out, and if you haven’t worn an item in the past six months/year/“whatever time frame you choose,” it doesn’t go back into your closet. Donate those items you no longer wear to a local charity.

  14. Exercise. Walk your dog around the block. Look up a “couch to 5K” program online and give running a try. Planet Fitness and some other gyms are offering no-cost, equipment-free workouts online. Set a new steps goal on your smart watch. Download a new fitness app. Just remember it’s not a competition, the goal is to just move more so be kind to yourself.

  15. Go camping. In the backyard or basement, kids always love sleeping in a tent.

  16. Reach out to one different person each day. Send an email. Mail a hand-written note. Call or FaceTime them. You don’t have to have a long conversation. Just a simple, unexpected “hi, how are you?” can make someone’s entire week.

  17. Start a devotional. There are SO MANY great devotionals out there. If you aren’t sure where to begin or how to choose one, ask a friend or Central’s pastors would love to help. You can also check out the daily devotional videos the church has been sending out. If you haven’t been receiving a daily email about these, let us know!

  18. Find a way to serve someone else. Even with the current stay-at-home orders in effect, there are still plenty of opportunities to help others. Donate to a local food bank. Pick up groceries (if you feel comfortable going out) for your neighbor, or just move their newspaper from driveway to their front porch. Make masks and donate them. You don’t have to put yourself at risk in order to bless others.

  19. Discover podcasts. These can be great companions for your walks. Whether you want to be entertained or learn something new, there are many great podcasts available on just about any topic you might be interested in.

  20. Really talk with your family/friends more. Remove distractions. Ask questions. Learn something new about them. Share some of your favorite memories or stories from childhood. Need help? A quick online search for conversation starters will give you plenty of great ideas.

  21. Ask for help. This can be even harder than resting, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the church or those around you if you are struggling. Maybe it’s something as simple as needing to get your grass cut, or something much more serious you are dealing with. Regardless, you are loved and help is available.

  22. Fix something. Sew some buttons back on or clean out that junk drawer. Organize files on your computer. Even improving a small thing can make a big difference.

  23. Look for beauty. Spring is here, and the flowers and trees are starting to bloom. Take a walk (even in your own yard) and look for the beauty of what God has created. If the weather is bad, research your favorite artist or photographer (or discover a new one!) online.

  24. Practice gratitude. There are so many reasons for frustration and even fear right now. Begin the practice of noting what you are grateful for each day. Keep a log or journal, and offer praise for how the Lord has blessed you, even in these difficult times.

  25. Pray. The more we pray, the closer we grow towards God. Take time to lament, praise, repent, petition, and just be in his presence. Pray through scripture. Pray during your regular daily rhythms. Central’s daily prayer guides can be a great starting point if you need help building a routine.