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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 6 Comments

Belonging & Believing

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I hope to document my journey of integrating at Central Presbyterian Church as a way to see how God is helping me as the Pastor of Evangelism and Community. It will be a way that I can listen and experience more of what God wants in leading the church to be one that continues to encourage people to come BELONG to his family and church. The church tag line is Know, Be Known and Make Known.  I am called to this church to make sure that we strive for people to come and be known. You have an important part to play in God’s family and church here at Central. The way God has made you and shaped you brings so much to his Kingdom and church. I hope you will be encouraged by my story, and join me in celebrating how God weaves together all of our stories into the deep history of Central. With a strong sense of togetherness and calling from God, I believe God will lead us to go and make known who he is to the community around us.  It will be a challenge to share the good news of Christ to those that we come in contact with, whether in or outside of the church.  I will strive to help us learn what it looks like to trust God in helping people go on that journey to BELIEF.

First Entry – 2/12/18

From 3 to 35 | My First Staff Meeting at Central 

At my last two churches, all-staff meetings were typically 3 or 4 people gathering together. On my first day at Central, this was clearly not the case. No longer a small meeting of a few, but a really big meeting of 30-plus. Was this something completely new and different? Yes. Was it strange to be in a room of people that I just met and learned their names? Definitely. Did I feel uncomfortable in this brand new environment? No, absolutely not!

Personally, I have always wanted staff meetings to be a time for the staff to share and be open with what is going on in our lives and ministries. It is a time to share, pray, and talk. Although the organizational parts of staff meetings will always be important, I have always felt that the most important thing is connecting with each other and knowing each other as we do ministry together.

Entering into my first all-staff meeting with the rest of the Central staff, I felt extremely comfortable where God has placed me. We enjoyed worship and praise together, and Pastor Clay led devotional that was clearly encouraging transparency and openness of what we each were dealing with in ministry. This led to staff members sharing what was sincerely on their hearts, both the positives and challenges in their ministries. This environment is what I was truly hoping for to be able to build relationships with ministry partners, working together as one, to impact the Kingdom.

I’ve been impacted deeply by God’s calling to be here at Central. It isn’t something that was quick, painless, or easy. In fact, it was quite the opposite, seeming more like a long journey that at times was excruciatingly painful (hard saying goodbye to close friends, church members, a context that we were so familiar with). But one thing was for sure, we knew God had called, so we had to trust God by faith and obey and “go," leaving behind our comfort zones. But how reassuring that God has given us a place where we find comfort with Him and God’s people to do His work going forward.

Posted by Ben Tzeng

Message On a Bottle

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Summer in St. Louis is not for the faint of heart when it comes to heat and humidity. It can actually be down right dangerous if you are not careful. Well, I happen to be one of those crazy-types who love the heat and humidity. Don’t get me wrong; air conditioning is a modern-day convenience that I take extreme advantage of throughout the summer. But I love to be out in the heat.

For those of you who know me, you are likely also aware that I love to run in Forest Park. Since moving to St. Louis from Chicago in the late ‘90s (don’t worry, I am NOT a Cubs fan), I have run the Forest Park loop relentlessly. The park is truly a crown jewel of our region, and even after nearly 20 years of running it, I have yet to lose a sense of awe for its historic beauty. Whether it be a snow-covered morning in January or a sultry summer afternoon in July, the grandeur of the park captivates me on every run.

I love the heat, and I love to run. And I love to run in the heat. Take a journey back in time with me to the early summer of 2006. My wife Debbie and I had been married about two years, and we lived in a condo in the DeBaliviere Place neighborhood just north of the park. On one particular steamy afternoon, I decided to go out for a run in the park. It was a classic humid afternoon in St. Louis, and toward the end of the run I was really feeling it. A water fountain could not come soon enough. And just as that thought ran through my head, I turned a bend on the trail and saw a group of people ahead handing out water to runners passing by. This is not uncommon in the park. Many running stores and running groups have water stations set up during the summer. As I approached the group, they looked a little bit like the mirage seen from a cartoon…slightly blurry due to the heat but oh so welcoming a sight! I was curious to know who they might be this time; some of the stores handed out Gatorade and I was selfishly hoping for that. An ice cold Gatorade sounded absolutely amazing. The group had about seven or eight people handing out drinks, which was a little unusual. But they were a joyful bunch, smiling and offering encouragement and greetings to the runners as they came through. When I got to them, they handed me a bottle of water. Rats! No Gatorade. But water would certainly do the trick. I exchanged a few niceties with the group, and went on down the trail toward home…and the air conditioning.

After finishing the water, I was about to throw the bottle into a nearby trash can when I noticed an advertisement on it. Trio? Huh. What’s that? I read a little bit more, and realized that it was an advertisement for a local church. I felt a little tiny tug of the Holy Spirit in me as I read it. You see, Debbie and I had been searching for a church to call home for the entirety of our two years of marriage at that point in time. We were both believers then, and our marriage was generally healthy. But we were thirsty for a church family, and we both knew that the lack of church community was becoming a challenge for our newly married lives together. I took the water bottle home and showed Debbie. We looked up the church online. The following Sunday, we attended our very first worship service at Trio, the 5 pm service of Central Presbyterian Church.

Ten years later in 2016, and it is impossible to imagine life without that providential encounter in Forest Park. To say that Central has changed our lives for the better would be a dramatic understatement. I could write pages upon pages of the myriad ways in which the Lord has used Central to grow our faith, to equip us for ministry, and to provide us with a community that we were in such desperate need of.  Our three wonderful children have been baptized here; two of them now attend Central Christian School. At a very young age, they already have a deep knowledge of who Jesus is and what that means in their lives. Six years after becoming members, I became a staff member of Central. I’m taking classes at Covenant Theological Seminary in response to a sense of call to ordained ministry. Life without Central is impossible to imagine.

Friends, Debbie and I might never have encountered the beauty of Central were it not for a few faithful people that were out in Forest Park on that summer afternoon. They were there trying to reach people like Debbie and me, people searching for more in life and in need of the type of community that is found here in this place. We were people searching for the gospel, and we found it at Central because someone was out there to make it known.

There are spiritually thirsty people all around us, waiting for a proverbial cold bottle of water in Jesus’ name. As Easter approaches, I wonder what we might do to invite them here. Is there a friend or neighbor in your life that could be spiritually thirsty? Invite them to Central this Easter. You never know what the Lord might do as you offer them a cold bottle of water, in Jesus’ name.

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