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Picnic this weekend!

Dear Church Family,

I hope you’ve had a great week, and that you’re excited about worship this weekend.

We’re continuing in our new series, “You Keep Using that Bible Verse. I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means.” In this series, we’re examining some of Scripture’s most well-known and familiar verses. We’re seeing how oftentimes we rip these from their proper context and misapply them to our lives. If you missed the inaugural message to the series, you can find it here: https://vimeo.com/ 237470703.

This coming weekend, we’re going to look at another famous Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, where the apostle Paul declares, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength” (NLT). I’ve had a lot of fun working on this message and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with you!

Don’t that forget this Sunday is our church-wide picnic at North East Regional Park (50901 US-27, Davenport, FL 33897). The fun begins at noon and lasts until 3:00 p.m. We’ll have a great time of hanging out, enjoying food, and celebrating our awesome staff at Community of Faith.


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inconceivable

Dear Church Family,

I’m not sure where to start.

Three times over the last ten years we’ve been confronted with the news headline, “Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History.” In 2007 there was Virginia Tech. In 2016 there was Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Now there’s Las Vegas. (That’s not even mentioning other horrific shootings like the ones in Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; or in Charleston, South Carolina.)

Of course, our thoughts and prayers immediately go to the victims’ families. But even as we offer these prayers, we’re reminded of the poignant words of the apostle James:

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”-but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:14-17 NLT).

In short, faith-filled prayer is designed to lead to concrete action. It’s been inspiring to watch people step up, give blood, and go out of their way to help those impacted by this tragedy. I also hope that we as a nation-republicans, democrats, and everyone in between-can come together and talk about what we can do to prevent this news headline from appearing again.

This weekend, we launch into a brand-new series of messages partly inspired by the movie Princess Bride. In the movie, there’s a character named Vizzini who continually misuses the word “inconceivable.” Finally, another character rightly points out to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”


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Thanks for another great Be, Go, Do! (and Moore)

Dear Church Family,

I hope you’ve had a great week.

It was hard for me not to be at Be, Go, Do last weekend (I’ll say more about that the end of this email), but I am so proud of the 208 volunteers who showed up to make God’s love real in our community. That number also includes the 21 people who worked extra hard to lead our various teams in service. Of course, lots of different things were done at Be, Go Do, (mulching, paying gratitude to first-responders, helping out at the Community Hope Center and New Beginnings Thrift Store), but one of the many highlights includes the 75 hygiene kits that were assembled for victims of the recent hurricanes. We’ll be sending those hygiene kits, along with 36 more that were assembled before Be, Go, Do (plus 4 flood buckets!), to the Conference office this week. Once again, this church family has embodied servanthood and responded to the biblical call to couple personal faith with concrete action (James 2:14-26).

Like all of you, my heart continues to break for the people of Puerto Rico, where many of our congregants, including those who attend our 12:30 Comunidad de Fé service, have family and friends. There’s no question that the recovery process in Puerto Rico, in the wake of the damage caused by both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, is going to be long-term, and we want to make sure that we’re doing all we can to help. As such, I ask that you give generously to our Voice Hope of Baskets this weekend, because 100% of what you place in those baskets will go to UMCOR, our United Methodist Committee on Relief. You can be confident that UMCOR will use your funds in the best way possible to provide relief where it’s most needed.

I think everyone who’s been in worship the last month or so would agree that our church has been incredibly blessed by the musical talents and gifts of Justin Moore. We’ve only had Justin for a little while, but already he has done a superb job leading the musical side of things at our church. Justin’s wife, Ashley, has also been a blessing, and we hope they’re with us for many years to come.


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Be Go Do 2017

Dear Church Family,

This weekend is Be, Go, Do, which is our yearly opportunity to show the community around us that we’re not some spiritual country club tucked away behind the orange groves; we’re a church family that is committed to serving God’s people in concrete and identifiable ways.

Keep in mind that we will have worship on Saturday night. The service on Saturday will include a different message and music than Sunday morning, so you can come to both services and get a unique experience at each. Then, on Sunday, we’ll gather at 9:00 a.m. for a brief worship service before finally being sent out to serve! As I said last weekend, my dream for Be, Go, Do is to have 100% participation from our congregation, so we hope to see everyone there!

I want to personally thank Annette Reyes-Burnsed, our Voice of Hope banner leader, for all her hard work in getting us organized. Annette, who has a kind heart and generous spirit, does a superb job listening to needs of the community, and then helping us, as a church, address those needs. She embodies what it means to serve like Jesus and our church is stronger for it!

As I close out this note, I also want to encourage us to be in prayer for the people of Puerto Rico and Mexico in the wake of the 2 natural disasters that have affected those places. In the coming weeks, we’ll talk about some ways that we can be of support to them. But for now, please pray that they feel an overwhelming sense of God’s presence and love.

Thank you for the privilege of serving as your pastor. I am excited to serve with you on Sunday!

Blessings,
Chris



After the Storm has Passed

Dear Church Family,

Now that the dust has settled (or, in this case, the storm has passed), I want to offer a few post-Hurricane Irma reflections.

It always seems that when natural disasters strike, there are people out there who like to attribute these sorts of events to God’s handiwork. I read a social media post a few days ago from a popular Christian speaker. In the post, he called hurricanes “manifestations of your [God’s] great might.” I got curious, so I went to read the comment section of the post. One of the commentators wrote this:

“God alone is the maker of all storms in life. He created us to think about what we have done and where we are going. Earthquakes shall come. Famines shall arrive. Floods will enter our homes. God did it all….He is trying to tell us something.”

I want to encourage us to push back at these comments. Granted, there are a few instances in Scripture where God manipulates the forces of nature to accomplish his purposes (e.g., the flood of Noah in Genesis 6-9; the earthquake that freed Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16:26). But these instances are the exception rather than the norm. Furthermore, the scriptural witness makes clear that when God wanted to send a definitive message to humanity about his thoughts, feelings, and attitude toward us, he didn’t send a hurricane, earthquake, or flood. Instead, he took on real flesh and blood in the person of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes that “in him [Jesus] the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19 NRSV). If we want to hear a message from God, we don’t need to look at a hurricane. We need to look at Jesus, who reveals a God of infinite love and compassion, a God who redeems suffering rather than a God who causes suffering.


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Weekend Services Cancelled – Friday Night Special Service

Dear Church Family,

Along with you, I’ve been watching with a great deal of anticipation each of the news updates about the projected path of Hurricane Irma. Already Irma has caused a great deal of damage and heartache for the people of the Caribbean Islands where (as of the time of this writing) at least 9 precious children of God have lost their lives. As a lifelong Floridian, I’m well aware that hurricanes are as dangerous as they are unpredictable, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

That said, we have decided to cancel our regular weekend services for Saturday and Sunday and instead have 1 joint service on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. The service (in true Community of Faith fashion) will be a bit different but still include elements of prayer, music, preaching, and Communion. We hope that if you’re in town, you’ll pass around the word (on social media and in person) and join us.

Last night at our Refuel service we talked about the mystery behind evil and suffering. We also discussed how God’s provision for human beings, in the face of tragedies like Hurricane Irma, is to send others to provide care. Please know that, when all is said and done, Community of Faith will stand ready to offer assistance and do all we can. The gospel of Jesus demands no less.


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New Days, New Lives, New Chances

September 1, 2017

Dear Church Family,

Wow! Where to start?

As I announced in worship last weekend, Amanda and I are going to become parents in March 2018. We prayed that God would bless us with a child, and God – as He so often does – has exceeded our expectations by blessing us with twins! Earlier this week, we were at the doctor’s office where we got to see each baby actively moving on the sonogram screen. As I watched those images, I couldn’t help but think of John the Baptist leaping for joy while in his mother Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41)!

I want to thank you not just for your congratulatory words, but for sharing in our excitement. Amanda and I began our lives together as husband and wife at Community of Faith, and we consider it special that this congregation is also going to see us become parents for the first time. We wouldn’t have it any other way!

I couldn’t be more excited about this weekend because of Justin Moore’s arrival. Justin, as you know, is our new Director of Worship Arts and Discipleship, and he’s going to be leading the music at our contemporary services. (Justin will also attend the traditional service, but he won’t direct choir for a few more weeks.) Make sure to welcome Justin and his wife Ashley to our church family. They hope to be with us for a long time!


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Move on to Perfection

Dear Church Family,

I love being a pastor. Sure, there are days that are challenging; days when I feel lost; days when I wonder what I have gotten myself into! But when it comes down to it, I can’t envision myself doing anything else with my life, because I believe in the ministry of the local church. More to the point, I believe God uses the ministry of local churches, like Community of Faith, to redeem the world and change human lives.

I want to share with you a slightly adapted version of an email I received this week from a couple whose lives have been positively impacted through the ministry of our church. (They gave me permission!) Be encouraged, and know that when you step off the sidelines and support Community of Faith — through your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness — you are playing a role in what you read below.

Hi Pastor Chris,

We wanted to make sure that I let you know how much this church has helped us throughout the past (almost) 2 years. Prior to leaving for Florida we had a falling out with our daughter. We had not seen her, our son-in-law or our 4 grandchildren for over a year. Although we felt we were in the right, we did try to make amends a few times after our move here. We would get angry all over again after our attempts were met with accusations and we could never reconcile. We finally gave up even trying. It ended up being almost 3 years where we did not see or speak with any of them.

I had been so upset and sad over all of this for so long. I prayed and prayed. I felt it was a lost cause. I decided to fill the void by helping others. I donated my time at the horse shelter and we started helping out at the church. This past Christmas I was feeling particularly sad. I filled out a prayer card prior to the sermon. I wrote on it “Please pray that we can reconcile and have resolution with our daughter”.


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Light of the World, a city on a hill

I never met my grandfather. He died in 1969 in an automobile accident when my mom was only 14. When I was young, my mom was upset that my siblings and I would never personally know her father. So she made a point to tell us stories about him, including how he had fought in World War II.

It’s disheartening to think that the ideals my grandfather and others like him fought to preserve and protect are under attack right now in America. As you know, last weekend, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and white nationalists showed up at an alt-right gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia to spew messages of hate, bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance. The tragic aftermath of that gathering resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was killed when a car driven by a man from Ohio plowed into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the rally.

How are we as a church to respond to these events?

To begin with, we don’t respond as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. We don’t even respond as Americans (as much as we value our citizenship in this country). Instead, we respond as followers of Jesus Christ, as people whose primary allegiance is not to a flag or a country, but to the King and His Kingdom.

The first page of the Bible-the book of the Church-tells us that all people, regardless of skin color, have been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27); therefore, all people possess intrinsic worth and value. Furthermore, when Jesus came, he came for everybody. And when Jesus died, he died for everybody. In the book of Revelation, John of Patmos paints a vision of heaven that includes people from every tribe, nation, and language worshipping at the throne of God (Revelation 7:9).

Given the inclusive nature of God, for us as Christians to say that racism is wrong or bad doesn’t even begin to get at it. It’s disgusting. It’s repulsive. It’s abhorrent. It’s repugnant. It’s evil in every sense of the term.


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Telling Stories and Back to School!

Dear Church Family,

Last weekend, we started a brand-new message series on the parables of Jesus called “Stories Jesus Told.” We are taking a closer look at these ancient stories — told by Jesus in order to express truths to us about God and the kingdom of God — in a whole new way. If you missed the message last weekend (based on the Parable of the Vineyard Workers in Matthew 20:1-16), you can find it here: https://vimeo.com/228979959.

Join us this weekend as I walk us through what might be the most misunderstood (or, at the very least, watered-down) story of Jesus, which the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I realize that’s a strong statement, so let me explain.

See, in my experience, most of us assume the Parable of the Good Samaritan is simply an ethical story designed to encourage us to help people in need. However, there’s more going on in this story than this reading suggests. I have the sense that, after this weekend, many of us will never look at this parable the same way again. So, don’t miss out!

Also, don’t forget that we’re blessing backpacks at the Saturday night service in addition to the 10:30 service on Sunday. What this means is that if you’re a student, parent, or school-worker, you’re invited to join us up at the front of the sanctuary (just before the sermon) for a special prayer of blessing as we begin another school-year.


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New faces and old stories

Dear Church Family,

If you missed worship last weekend, we announced that our next Director of Worship Arts and Discipleship is going to be Justin Moore. Justin comes to us from Piqua, Ohio, which is located about 30 minutes from Dayton. He currently serves on staff at Grace United Methodist Church, where he’s been the worship leader for the last several years. When Justin arrived at Grace, his position was part-time. However, as the church grew, so did his position, which is now full-time. Justin was by far our top candidate, and he comes with a wide array of skills, including instrumental and vocal abilities as well as excellent leadership gifts. More importantly, Justin is personable, which means he’ll connect well with his volunteer base as well as with the rest of our church.

Justin is married to Ashley, and two of them recently celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary. Ashley’s a “PK” (Pastor’s Kid), which means she literally grew up in church and is well-acquainted with the joys and challenges of full-time ministry. Ashley’s passion involves working with children, and she’s already expressed an interest in joining our volunteers in Children’s Church.

As I mentioned last week, Justin’s first weekend will be September 2nd and 3rd. Make sure to join us that weekend as we celebrate the arrival of the Moores to our church.


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Putting the pieces together

Dear Church Family,

I hope you had a great week.

This weekend, we’re going to wrap up our current message series, “Revival: The Faith of John and Charles Wesley.” We’ll focus on Methodism’s historic emphasis on the whole gospel, which includes growing in our personal faith and addressing social ills. Sometimes churches tend to emphasize one of these sides of the gospel to the exclusion of the other. However, Methodists have always resisted this tendency. Given the topic, it seems appropriate that we’ll be taking up a special offering for our Florida United Methodist Children’s Home (which began out of Methodism’s concern for vulnerable children).

As I mentioned last week, we’ll also be announcing the person who is set to become the next Director of Worship Arts and Discipleship at Community of Faith. This person’s background, skills, and experience make him the ideal fit for the position. I’ve asked this person to put together a short video introducing he and his wife to us, which he’s done. We’ll play that video toward the end of services this weekend. This person’s first weekend in worship with us will be September 2nd and 3rd. (Yes, that’s Labor Day weekend…all the more reason not to travel, and instead, be in worship!)

In a few weeks, I’m going to be meeting with our Committee on Nominations and Leadership Development to prayerfully consider new members and leaders for our various committees. People often ask me what kind of criteria we look for when it comes to selecting committee members and leaders. Generally speaking, these are the questions we ask:


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