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We are fearfully and wonderfully designed in His image

Dear Church Family,

Like all of you, I watched with fascination and interest the rescue of the soccer players and their coach from the flooded cave in Thailand. As you’re well aware, the entrance to the cave collapsed shortly after the boys and their coach went inside on June 23. Heavy rains along with rising floodwaters exacerbated rescue efforts. I was heartbroken to hear of the death of one of the rescue workers, and I felt relief when the final boy had been pulled from the cave.

I think this story has reminded the whole world of how precious human life is. As the writers of Scripture observe, we have been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), and we are fearfully and wonderfully designed (Psalm 139:14). Therefore, no person on our planet is without value. I praise God for the brave work of the rescue workers and that these boys and their coach will soon be reunited with their families.

This week, we’ve had 28 students at the Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park. We also have 2 young adults from our congregation serving on Team as counselors. Our church has a long history of supporting camp, because we’re convinced God uses the ministry of camp to change lives. I want to thank those who of you who have donated to our 3:16 fund. Because of your generosity, a number of students are able to attend camp and not worry about the cost. Camp is place for these students to discover what it means to live as a child of God and follow Jesus in this world. I am excited to hear about the week they’ve had. 

I hope to see you in worship this weekend as we continue our new series called “Revealed: Ending Misnomers about the End.” In this series, we’re debunking popular misnomers many of us have when it comes to the end of the world and the return of Jesus. Our misnomer this weekend involves the rapture. Is the rapture a teaching rooted in the Bible? That’s the question we’ll be exploring in our worship services, so join us for that! 

We’re also honored to have my friend, Bryant Manning, lead music for us this weekend. Bryant is the Associate Chaplain at Florida Southern College where (among other things) he leads worship on a weekly basis. Bryant is a talented musician, and I know you’ll be blessed by his gifts. 

Make sure to sign-up to volunteer at Vacation Bible School and drop off your donations at the building if you haven’t already done so.

If you’d like to learn more about getting involved in the life of Community of Faith, check out the rest of this email.

See you soon!

Blessings,

Chris


Sanctuary Chairs Reset Today @ 3pm

Dear Church Family,

I hope you enjoyed a fun and safe Independence Day! My dad drove up from Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday and stayed with us for a few hours. We had a great visit, and I know he had fun seeing the babies!

As I mentioned before, this weekend we’re starting a new sermon series called “Revealed: Ending Misnomers about the End.” The series will examine what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about the return of Jesus. In doing so, we’ll bring an end to common misnomers people have about this topic. The misnomer we’ll be clearing up this weekend involves the figure of the antichrist. Who exactly is the antichrist? Join us for worship on Saturday night or Sunday morning to find out!

Hopefully you received a separate email yesterday letting you know that we’ll be setting the sanctuary chairs later today (Friday) at 3:00 p.m. If you can help us in any way, please show up at the building during that time. The more folks we have, the better! 

Enjoy the rest of this email as you seek to find out ways to get involved in the life of Community of Faith. 

Thank you for the privilege of serving as your pastor!

Blessings,

Chris


Fifth Friday – Coalition for the Homeless

Dear Church Family,

I want to start off this email by reminding you about Coalition for the Homeless this afternoon. As many of you know, Coalition for the Homeless is an organization that provides social services for the homeless population of the Orlando area. Every fifth Friday, our church prepares dinner at the Coalition for around 500 homeless people. If you’d like to help, there will be a group of us meeting today at 3:00 p.m. in the Publix parking lot at Berry Town Center (2424 Sand Mine Rd, Davenport, FL 33897). We’ll carpool over together and then prepare and serve the meal. We will arrive back some time later tonight. If you’re not able to assist but would like to do so in the future, our next feeding will be Friday, August 31.

This weekend in our worship services, we’ll be wrapping up our 3-week sermon series called “Mythbusters: Lies We Tell Ourselves about the Church.”In this series, we’ve been busting 3 common (and toxic) lies we Christians like to tell ourselves about the church.

            1. I don’t need the church.

            2. The church is about me.

            3. It’s enough just to “go to” church.

Join us this weekend as we bust that third lie about going to church. Given the sermon topic, it’s also fitting that we’ll be receiving 3 new members into our Motley Crew this weekend!

I am excited about a new sermon series we’re beginning next weekend (July 7/8) called “Revealed: Ending Misnomers about the End.” The series will put to rest popular misconceptions about the end of the world in general and the book of Revelation in particular. Some of these misnomers include the identity of the antichrist, the rapture, and what the mark of the beast is. I’ll try to say more about this new series in my email for next week. Suffice it to say, we’re going to learn a lot in these messages, and we’ll walk away with a better understanding of what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about the end of the world.

Don’t forget to sign up to volunteer at Vacation Bible School if you haven’t already done so. VBS is July 23-28, and we need all hands-on deck for this event! 

Please enjoy the rest of this email as you find out more ways to get involved in the life of Community of Faith.

Blessings,
Chris



What are you reading this summer? 

Dear Church Family,

What are you reading this summer? 

Things at the church normally slow down for the summer, so I try to use this time to catch up on some reading. In the last month, I’ve finished 2 books, The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns and Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. 

In The Bible Tells Me So, Bible scholar Peter Enns discusses troubling passages in the Bible (such as the Israelite conquest of Canaan). Further, he explains why the tendency among some Christians to “defend” these passages or “explain them away” has made us unable to read them. Enns encourages readers to embrace God’s Word as it is actually written, and he does so by chronicling his own spiritual pilgrimage. I’ll admit, I didn’t agree with everything (a lot of things?) Enns wrote in the book! However, I did appreciate his honesty and insights.

In Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler, who teaches American Christianity courses at Duke Divinity School, talks about her diagnosis of stage-4 colon cancer at the age of 35 and how, in the wake of that diagnosis, she received unhelpful comments from well-intentioned people who tried to make sense of her suffering. For the most part, these comments were built on the assumption that everything happens for a reason. Throughout the book, Bowler talks openly and candidly about her journey with cancer, and she explains how, even in the midst of suffering, life is beautiful. I’d recommend this book to anybody looking to understand God’s presence in terrible times. 

The book I’m working on right now is Leading Beyond the Walls by Adam Hamilton, which is a book about pastoral leadership, an area in which I am constantly looking to improve. 

I enjoy reading. To me, books are conversation partners designed to challenge my thinking and they help me to grow. 

So, let me get back to my original question.

What are you reading this summer?

Blessings,
Chris

 


Mythbusters: Lies We Tell Ourselves about the Church

Dear Church Family,

Happy Friday! I hope you’ve had a great week.

After taking a 2-week break, I’m back in the pulpit this weekend, which is where I’ll be kicking-off a new series of sermons titled “Mythbusters: Lies We Tell Ourselves about the Church.” Inspired by the hit TV show Mythbusters, the series will debunk three common and destructive lies about the Church that many of us hold to be true:

1. I don’t need the church.

2. The church is about me.

3. It’s enough just to “go to” church.

Join us for worship these next few weeks as we expose these lies and look for the deeper truths behind them.

Second, I again want to lift up our Wednesday evening study called “Making Sense of the Bible.” In this study, we’re exploring the nature and character of Scripture as well as how to interpret difficult passages in the biblical text. We had 39 people in attendance at our first session, and there’s still room for more. If you’d like to attend the study, please email me so I can order a copy of the book for you (cjones@communityoffaith.org). Then join us on Wednesday evenings from 6:00-7:30 p.m. in Room 110.

Third, I want to thank you for your generosity regarding the special offering we took up a few weekends ago in preparation for Annual Conference.Because of your generosity, we raised just over $1100 for two noteworthy causes: 1) Zoe Ministries, an organization that helps children in developing countries, and 2) a special fund to support lay and clergy members of local churches who want to engage in creative forms of evangelism.

Finally, I am proud of our youth who will be travelling to Charleston, South Carolina this weekend for a week-long mission trip. They leave on Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m., so we’re going to say a special blessing over them at our Saturday night service. Please hold these students and their leaders in your prayers as they engage in this important work.

Feel free to read the rest of this email to find out what else is happening in the life of our church. There’s always lots of ways to get involved at Community of Faith.

I hope to see you in worship this weekend!

Blessings,
Chris 



How would Jesus travel? 

Dear Church Family,

How would Jesus travel? 

That’s the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind this week. And, if you’re wondering why, let me explain.

Jesse Duplantis is a Louisiana pastor and televangelist who travels around the world engaging in preaching tours. Duplantis caused a lot of buzz on social media this week after he announced plans to purchase a Dassault Falcoln 7X, a private jet estimated to cost 54 million dollars, and then asked supporters to help raise the funds. Duplantis admitted that he was hesitant about the purchase at first given the high cost. However, he felt God say to him, “I didn’t ask you to pay for it. I asked you to believe for it.” Duplantis went on to say that if Jesus were physically on earth today, “he wouldn’t be riding a donkey. He’d be in an airplane flying all over the world.”

As you can imagine, Duplantis has received his fair share of criticism this week, much of which, in my opinion, is justified. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and taking the message of Jesus into the farthest reaches of the earth. But I also believe there are better and more faithful ways to fulfill the Great Commission, none of which involve the purchase of a luxury jet. 

Duplantis may have a point. If Jesus were physically on earth today, he may not ride a donkey. (After all, animals don’t tend to be the preferred method of transportation nowadays.) But if Jesus were on an airplane, I imagine he’d stay far away from a private jet and fly coach instead. Along the way, he’d engage in meaningful conversations with the people on the flight. I can even picture Jesus standing by the cockpit, multiplying bags of peanuts and ministering to the flight crew as they go about their work.

Fulfilling a mission like the one to which Duplantis feels called is important. However, what’s equally important is how we get to that mission and the people whom we engage along the way. Even when Jesus was journeying to Jerusalem to die on the cross, he didn’t avoid people as he travelled to the holy city. Instead, he fully engaged them. For example, he healed ten lepers in Luke 17. Then, later in Luke 19, Jesus stayed at the home of the notorious tax-collector Zacchaeus. Instances like these wouldn’t have happened if Jesus were on a private jet.

I don’t mean to pick on Jesse Duplantis, but the public nature of his comments opens them up to scrutiny. More importantly, those comments give us an opportunity as 21st century Christians to think more deeply about the life of Jesus and how our lives are called to reflect His.

How are you reflecting Jesus today?

Blessings,

Chris


Why didn’t God save my loved one from dying?

Dear Church Family,

Tomorrow marks the start of Memorial Day weekend when we remember the women and men who died in active military service, thereby paving the way to the freedom we now enjoy in this country. We’ll be sure to honor fallen soldiers in our services this weekend. If you’re not travelling or out-of-town, I hope you’ll join us for weekend worship.

I’ll be honest, however. The sermon topic isn’t going to be easy. Still, it involves an important question with which we’ve all wrestled: Why didn’t God save my loved one from dying? A main reason plenty of people — including many Christians — struggle with faith is they have a hard time trusting God when they’ve lost someone they’ve loved. If this statement doesn’t ring true for you, there’s a good chance it rings true for somebody you know. So, join us for weekend worship as we explore this question together. And, if you’re interested, the Sermon Notes section of the Bulletin will include the names of several books that will help you explore this question with greater depth and attention.

I also want to let you know about a new study I’ll be leading on Wednesday nights beginning June 13. The study’s called “Making Sense of the Bible” and it’s based on the book of the same name by Pastor Adam Hamilton. The study will explore the nature and character of the Bible, answering such questions as: Where did the Bible come from? What’s the Old Testament about? What’s the New Testament about? Why did certain books make it into the Bible while other books didn’t? Is the Bible anti-science? Why does God seem so violent in the Old Testament but loving in the New Testament? What does the Bible have to say about sexuality and human relationships? 

If you’re a lifelong Bible student, or if you’re just beginning to plunge the depth of Scripture, join us for the study either way. By the way, if you do plan on attending, please let me know so I can order you a copy of the book, which costs ten dollars cjones@communityoffaith.org

If you’d like to see what else is happening in the life of COF, feel free to check out the rest of this email. 

Hope to see you this weekend! 

Blessings,

Chris


Graaduation and Pentecost Sunday

Dear Church Family,

I hope this email finds you well as the workweek comes to an end and we head into the weekend. As always, there’s lots happening in the life of COF. Let me highlight just a few things.

First, we’re coming to the end of our message series called “Help My Unbelief.” For more than a month now, we’ve been using this series to tackle tough questions of faith. So far, we’ve dealt with questions related to Christian hypocrisy, free will and suffering, the truthfulness of the Bible, and other religions. This weekend’s question will be about prayer. The question goes like this: Why would an all-powerful God require prayer? Think about it. If God already knows what we need, why do we bother telling God what we need through prayer? And if God is supposedly concerned about us, what’s the point of telling God to intervene in our lives and circumstances? Shouldn’t God already want to intervene? If you’ve ever struggled to understand the purpose of prayer, this is definitely a message you don’t want to miss. 

Second, this weekend is Pentecost, when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church (Acts 2). Pentecost is a holy day that we’ll be sure to acknowledge in all of our weekend services. Even though the sermon won’t directly tie in with Pentecost, we’ll certainly celebrate the gift God has given us through the sending of his Spirit. As the apostle Paul reminds us, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from dead is alive in each of us as Christ-followers (Romans 8:11). What I’d ask from each of us is that we wear red when we come to worship. Red symbolizes the Spirit’s activity and power.

Finally, this weekend includes Graduation Sunday, when we’ll recognize the high school graduates in our congregation. We have 6 students among us who just finished high school: Ashleigh DeYoung, Garrett Gould, David Hill, Jacob Petras, Kyle Pease, and Krista Sinibaldi. If your plan is to join us for our 10:30 am service on Sunday, then you can help us celebrate this important milestone with these students. We’re so proud of their accomplishments, and we know that God has great things in mind for their futures. 

If you’d like to learn more about what else is going on at COF, then I invite you to check out the rest of this email.

Have a great weekend, and I will hopefully see you soon! 

Blessings,

Chris


Jesus Wept

Dear Church Family,

Over the last month, I’ve been reading through an excellent book titled The Will of God: Answering the Hard Questions. The book was written by James Howell, who serves as the senior pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Throughout the book-which I highly recommend to anyone who’s spiritually hungry-Howell wrestles with the tough questions related to God’s will. For example, who is God? How does God work in the world? Why doesn’t God intervene when tragedy strikes? Does God know and care about our suffering? Why do some people seem to experience miracles from God, while other people don’t?

In one of the chapters, Howell shares an excerpt from a sermon by William Sloane Coffin, whose 24-year-old son, Alex, died when his car plummeted into Boston Harbor. In the sermon, Coffin reveals the one thing that should never be said in the wake of immense tragedy.

When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said. The night after Alex died, a woman came by carrying quiches. She shook her head, saying sadly, “I just don’t understand the will of God.” Instantly I swarmed all over her. “I’ll say you don’t, lady! Do you think it was the will of God that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper, that he was probably driving too fast in a storm? Do you think it was God’s will that there are no streetlights along that stretch of road?”

Nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is, “It is the will of God.” My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

When bad things happen, there’s this temptation – perhaps because we’re confused and trying to make sense of it all – to pin the blame on God. But, as Coffin reveals, God doesn’t go around orchestrating tragedy. That simply isn’t how God, whom the Bible says is pure love (1 John 4:16), operates.

So, where then is God when bad things happen? God is right there in the midst of our mess, crying as we cry, suffering as we suffer, hurting as we hurt. God isn’t aloof to our pain and brokenness; God is attentive and present. The shortest verse in the Bible reveals this truth: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). You can’t weep if you don’t care; God cares. And, not only does God care, he redeems our sorrows and turns them into joy.

My prayer for you today, especially if you’re going through a hard season, is that you will know the abiding presence and comforting love of God.

Blessings,
Chris



How to be a welcoming congregation

Dear Church Family,

Over the last few weekends, we’ve had visitors at Community of Faith who’ve reminded me of the importance of our ministry here.

For example, two weekends ago, a gentleman came through our doors ten minutes or so after our 10:30 am service had started. I was taking a sip of water from the water fountain and getting ready to preach when he approached me and said, “I haven’t been to church in a long time. I’m not from this area. I live somewhere else, but my work assigned me here for the next few weeks. I got a call last night that both of my parents had been killed in a car accident. I don’t know what to do. I miss them both so much. I didn’t know where else to turn, so I went online to find the closest church. That led me here. I hope it’s okay that I came.” I talked briefly with the man and then invited him to stay afterwards for prayer. To be honest, I can’t even tell you his name. (We never got that far in the conversation.) But I’m so glad the Holy Spirit led him to our church-if just for that morning.

Then, last weekend, somebody approached me who had unfortunately experienced rejection at her last church. She said to me, “I really like the atmosphere here, but I want to know…will the people accept me?” I said, “I know the people here. They’ll welcome you with open arms!”

These two encounters reminded me that we never know who will come through our doors on a given weekend, nor do we know what kind of challenges they’re dealing with. But, regardless, we have an opportunity to connect them with God.

So, here’s my question. What are you doing each and every weekend at COF to help connect people with God?

Are you standing at the door greeting folks? Are you passing out nametags or bulletins? Are you offering Communion or prayer? Are you going out of your comfort zone just to say “hello”? Because God uses these encounters to minister to people, people whom he deeply loves, whom we’re called to reach.

Thank you for what you do to make COF a welcoming congregation, a congregation where all people can connect with God!

Blessings,
Chris



Is Free Will Worth all the Suffering?

Dear Church Family,

Last weekend we kicked-off a new preaching series called “Help My Unbelief.” In this series, we’re seeking to answer tough questions of faith. Last weekend’s message focused on the hypocrisy of Christians. This weekend’s message isn’t going to be much easier. If anything, this weekend’s message is going to address one of the toughest spiritual questions I’ve ever been asked-Is free will worth it in a world of suffering?

Think about it. Adolf Hitler had free will when he orchestrated the Holocaust, taking the lives of more than 6 million Jews. Joseph Stalin had free will when he led Soviet Russia, killing even more people than Hitler did. Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson had free will when they became 2 of the most infamous serial killers in American history. Timothy McVeigh had free will when he planned the Oklahoma City bombing. Osama bin Laden had free will when he became the mastermind behind 9/11. Nikolas Cruz had free will when he entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day of this year. I could provide more examples, but you get my point.

In a world where human beings insist on harming – and killing – others, is free will even worth it? Did God know what he was doing when he gave us free will? Why doesn’t God remove our capacity for evil, thereby sparing the lives of millions of people? Or why doesn’t God simply not create those whom he knows will inflict harm?

Again, this is a hard a topic, but the questions – which serve as an obstacle to faith for some of us – are worth exploring. I hope you’ll join us for worship this weekend as we explore these questions together.

As always, I encourage you to read the rest of this email to learn more about what’s happening in the life of COF. Have a great Friday, and I’ll see you on Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Blessings,
Chris



Help My Unbelief

Dear Church Family,

We had a wonderful time last weekend celebrating Community of Faith’s 20th Anniversary. On Saturday, we enjoyed a potluck-style dinner and shared memories from our time at COF as well as our hopes and dreams for the future of this church. Then, on Sunday we gathered for our joint worship service and gave praise to God for his work among us the past twenty years. If you missed service, you can watch the entirety of it online by clicking this link: https://vimeo.com/265166524.

This weekend, we start a brand-new sermon series called “Help My Unbelief.” The aim of the series is to help the unbelief of those who might be on the fence when it comes to Christianity. Last month I polled the congregation and asked for anonymous objections to becoming a Christian. This is important because the mission of COF is to make disciples of Jesus. Therefore, if there’s an objection that’s preventing someone from making a leap of faith and becoming a disciple, we have a sense of duty to address that person’s objection as best we can. The sermon topics we’ll tackle will be as follows:

  1. Why are Christians hypocrites? (April 21/22)
  2. Is free will worth all the suffering? (April 28/29)
  3. Isn’t the Bible full of myths? (May 5/6)
  4. How does a Christian make sense of other religions? (May 12/13)
  5. Why would an all-powerful God require prayer? (May 19/20)
  6. Why didn’t God spare my loved one? (May 26/27)

I hope that you’ll invite a friend (especially someone who’s unsure about Christianity) and join us for the new series! If you’re out of town, you can follow the series on our Vimeo page.

Finally, I want to thank those of you who gave to our special offering last weekend for sprucing up the Memorial Garden and purchasing a drum cage. This offering went along with the theme of our anniversary celebration to honor the past (the Memorial Garden) and look ahead toward the future (the drum cage). Our goal was to collect $3,000 and we brought in $1,615. However, we know that not everyone was prepared to give to the special offering. Therefore, we’ll provide another opportunity for you to give this weekend. All the monies we collect in our Voice of Hope baskets will go toward these ends.

Have a great weekend, and I hope to see you in worship on Saturday night or Sunday morning!

Blessings,
Chris