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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

Emotions

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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.

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