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Emotions are very real and very powerful. This morning I packed up my church office in preparation for our move from Clayton back to Pittsburgh in just four days from now.  I felt deep emotion as I packed those boxes. In about three hours, the staff is hosting a luncheon for Tacey and me as a kind of final farewell.  It will be for us an emotional luncheon.

I think, too, of the emotions on display after the recent presidential election.  To love our neighbor well we must seek to understand and respect their emotions, even when we may not be able to relate to those

Scripture says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and that includes our capacity for emotions.  The Christian life is more than mere emotion, but not less. God has created us as multi-faceted creatures made in his image. We are emotional (feelings), intellectual (minds), volitional (wills), relational, sexual, vocational, and temporal beings.  What is missing from this list?  Are we not, at our core, spiritual beings as well?

Often the intensity of our emotions reveals the spiritual reality of our hearts.  When I sense anxiety rising in my heart, it often reveals a weakness of my faith.  When I grow angry with my circumstances, that anger often reveals my refusal to accept God’s providence.   Emotions – especially unhealthy ones – are the means by which God reveals to me my heart and my need for the gospel every day.  Emotions are a blessing, but they can also be a cruel taskmaster and an idol.  When they rise to a place of power and control and supersede the lordship of Christ, they must be dethroned.

There is a power greater than emotions, greater than elections, greater than transitions – it is the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  Deep in every human heart there is a trinity of need, a triangle of desire, and a three-fold perpetual hunger for significance, security, and belonging.  We want to believe that our life matters (significance), that we are safe (security), and that we are meaningfully connected to others (belonging).  The gospel provides us with all three, while the world and our flesh pursue imposters. 

Although God is the source of all three, he often grants us to experience all three through his body, his church.  We are the instrumental cause of providing these three essentials while the Lord is the ultimate cause.  I believe the Lord has used us in the life of Central and he has used Central in our lives to affirm the life-giving and life-directing truth that Jesus Christ provides us with ultimate significance (we are his children), security (no one can snatch us from his hand), and belonging (to Christ and his people).

Because our cup is full of his grace and truth, we then reach out, love our neighbor, and by word and deed point them to the only One who is the true source of significance, security, and belonging.  It was been a joy for Tacey and me to be part of this reality at Central Presbyterian Church. 

Thank you for your love and kindness,

Bob and Tacey

Posted by Bob Hopper

Run the Race

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In a previous life (while pastoring a church in Williamsburg, VA) I became a high school coach for girls varsity softball.  It was quite a three year experience, with our daughter Jessie being on the team and our young son Luke serving as the team mascot.  

For our home games it was necessary to line the field before each game, a responsibility that fell to the head coach.  Just before the first game, I dutifully prepared the white spray paint machine and meticulously began my task, starting at home plate and moving to first base.  My eye was very focused on the blurred remains of the previous line and, with head bowed and hand steady, off I stepped into the world of softball-game-line-painting.  When I reached first base I proudly turned back to home plate to see my work of art, only to be shocked to painfully discover a line that must have been painted by a drunken sailor posing as a head softball coach.

For the next game, I figured there simply must be a better way and, happily, there was.  Well beyond first and third bases, in the outfield, were outfield foul polls standing about 12 feet high.  I found that if I stood at home plate with my eye focused on that poll several hundred feet away, walked slowly and not breaking my gaze from  it, that my painted line to first base was straight and true.  Play ball!

The Christian life is something like that, and God tells us in Hebrews 12:1-2 that as we live the Christian life (running the race that is set before us) we are to fix our eyes on Jesus.  What does that mean?  We will be exploring that very question in a 12 week sermon series after Easter called, "Looking Unto Jesus."  I hope you will be blessed by these messages from God's Word, and invite a friend who perhaps has not yet placed their faith in our Lord.  May Jesus be lifted up, and hearts, minds, wills, and emotions be drawn to him.

4 Things We Can Learn from Apple

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I have a confession to make. I am writing this on my MacBook Pro, while my iPhone rests next to me. At home, my wife is probably working on her Mac. Maybe I’ll dial her iPhone when I’m finished. All told, our family has several iPods, an iTouch, five iPhones (six if you count the broken one that’s in a drawer), three MacBooks, 2 iPads, and a partridge in a pear tree. Or something like that. So far, our dog Joy is Apple-free, but give me time.

So, yes, I am biased. It didn’t used to be this way. In fact, as a Cisco and Microsoft guy, I was openly derisive of the “cult of Apple.” But I was won over and now I readily drink the Kool-Aid and find my thirst well-satisfied. But this isn’t about the merits of OS X vs. Windows, or Android vs. iOS. Whether you are pro- or anti-Apple, there’s little disputing they are good at what they do. Very good.  A few recent interactions with Apple made me realize there is much that we as Christians can learn from the folks who work at Apple.

Be Accessible

Apple stores are brilliantly designed, transparent both literally and figuratively. The prominent use of glass creates a very open atmosphere. The products are front and center, and readily available to try out, and they don’t limit you to a prescribed “demo” either. Want to check your email or perform some other on-line task? Go right ahead. They make no apologies for who they are (or are not), don’t try to hide in a carefully-controlled environment, and don’t make you enter their own specialized “world.” Rather, they basically say, “We’re Apple. Come check us out for yourself."

How refreshing would it be if the church was like this? Are we making the gospel as easily accessible as possible for our guests, or are we putting up barriers? Are we using unecessary insider jargon (narthex), when simple words everyone understands would suffice (lobby)? Do we spend more time on guests conforming to our needs (“You need to check your child in over at that kiosk"), rather than meeting theirs (“Welcome. How can I help you this morning?)?

Be Authentic

I have heard a few people say they are put off by the casual appearance of Apple employees in their stores. It can be very difficult to distinguish a worker from a shopper. Still, almost without exception they are knowldegeable, generous with their time, and patient. It is immediately apparent they enjoy talking about Apple. They believe in the product, and trust in its ability to perform. They share their experiences using Apple devices, and you get the impression they would still use them even if it wasn’t how they earned a living.

Seems like a pretty good example for us. When we share the gospel, we do more damage than good if we pretend to know all the answers, or pretend to be anything other than who God has made us to be. Be yourself and just share with them how you have experienced the love of Christ in your own life.

Be Relational

Next time you have the opportunity, look through the window of an Apple store. You will see people of all descriptions: Teens who have literally grown up with technology all around them, and retirees buying their first smart phones. You will see I.T. pros and people unsure of how to turn a computer on. It doesn’t matter. With the I.T. person, Apple is happy to talk “speeds and feeds,” while with grandma, they will keep things really simple. In short, they relate to the individual they are working with, and meet them at their level.

The next time you have the opportunity to speak with a non-believer, try the Apple model. Listen to the other person to learn what is going on in their life and where they might be spiritually. Then meet them where they are. You shouldn't try to recite everything you have ever learned in Sunday school. Save the canned spiel and just have a conversation.

Be Passionate

I was recently in one of their stores to upgrade my phone. While one salesperson helped me, another approached my daughter, who was at the next table over. She was exploring the new camera features. When he asked if she had seen the new slo-mo option, she replied “oh, I’m just playing with it. I’m not buying anything.” His reply was awesome. “So what, it’s really cool! I’m going to run in place and you film me!” Which he did, right in the middle of the very busy store.  No sale resulted, but he definitely got her attention and created a ton of interest.

As Christians, we have the opportunity to share the greatest story. Ever. Are we passionate about telling others about it? Are we ready to share it at every opportunity, even when a “sale” doesn’t seem likely? How much do we really trust our story, or more importantly, the Author? We should be thrilled to share even a part of Christ’s love for us. After all, it's a whole lot cooler than slo-mo.

Posted by Jeff Brown