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Respond as followers of Jesus Christ

Dear Church Family,
 
Last week’s events have weighed on me, and I’m sure they’ve weighed on you, too.
 
Of course, a huge part of this heaviness is due to the fact that many of our recent mass shootings, including the one in El Paso, TX, are fueled by a growing tide of racism, xenophobia, white nationalism, and white supremacy, all of which are repugnant to us as Christians. Indeed, we worship and follow Jesus, who came among us as a brown-skinned Middle Eastern man and spent his earliest years of life as a refugee in another country (Matthew 2:13-18).
 
I was struggling to think through what I wanted to write in this email, but then I realized I wrote a similar note exactly two years ago in the aftermath of the events that rocked Charlottesville, VA. I share these words again to remind us of our common task not as Republicans, Democrats, Independents or even Americans, but instead, as Christians, followers of Jesus.
 
Blessings,
Chris 
 
 
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. 
 

In our membership vows for joining the United Methodist Church, of which Community of Faith is a part, we are asked this question: 

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression

in whatever forms they present themselves?

We saw evil, injustice, and oppression present themselves in the ugliest of forms this last weekend. We can’t turn a blind eye to these events. To do so would be evil. Instead, we must speak out. We must stand up for justice. We must denounce racism and bigotry in no unclear terms. And we must show ourselves to be an alternative community where all people are loved, honored, and respected. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands no less.
 
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of the classic book Treasure Island, spent his childhood in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 19th century. As a boy, Robert was fascinated by the work of the old lamplighters who went about with a ladder and a torch, setting the streetlights ablaze for the night. One evening, as young Robert stood watching with fascination, his parents asked him, “Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?” With great excitement he exclaimed, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”
 

That’s our task, church – to punch holes in the darkness; to let our love radiate and shine in this world darkened by sin, this world that God so deeply loves.

I close with these words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 NRSV).
 
Blessings,Chris


God’s Economy of Abundance

Dear Church Family,
 
We recently had a person in our Motley Crew who sold off some land and decided to give a portion of the proceeds to the church. While this person had originally determined to give a certain amount of money, she suddenly felt moved to double it up! In other words, she felt the Spirit of God leading her to give twice of what she was planning to give. Since that happened, she shared with me last Sunday, God’s been doing unexpected things in her job—awesome things that she never anticipated. 
 
I hesitated to share this story with you, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression. To be clear, it’s not that when we put God first in our finances, God’s going to suddenly bend to our will and do things we’ve always wanted God to do. God doesn’t work that way! However, what does happen, when we put God first in our finances, is God ultimately provides for our every need. And, not only for our needs, God also supplies for the needs of the kingdom.
 
I’ve shared before that too often we Christians operate from an economy of scarcity rather than an economy of abundance. An economy of scarcity declares there are only so many resources to go around; therefore, we need to hold onto our money as tightly as possible and not give that money over to God. However, an economy of abundance states that, if we give our resources over to God, as God commands us, then God’s going to take those resources and multiply them in ways we never imagined (Ephesians 3:20-21). I’m remined of the gospel story of the young man who gave his loaves and fish over to Jesus. By giving his loaves and fish to Jesus, this young man was essentially giving up his lunch. However, by giving up his lunch, not only was he fed, Jesus fed thousands of others as well (John 6:1-15).
 
So my question is, which economy are you operating from? An economy of scarcity or an economy of abundance? Are you trusting God enough to let go of your money? Just imagine what God can do.
Blessings,
Chris

p.s., Join us for worship this weekend as we launch into part-2 of our 3-part series on Jonah. We’re also going to celebrate an infant baptism at our 10:30am service on Sunday morning. As usual, it’s going to be a great weekend, and I hope to see you there.

 
p.p.s., Don’t forget about our back-to-school drive. If you happened to pick up school supplies this week, you can drop them off either this weekend or next. We’ll have bins set up in the lobby area. Thank you, in advance, for your generosity!


The Final Chapter (of Superhero Summer)

Dear Church Family,

As I write this email, it’s Wednesday afternoon. I recently got done meeting with a family who found our church via the Learning Center. It was nice to visit with this family and hear about the amazing things God’s been doing in their lives. In a few weeks, I’ll be baptizing both the son and the father. I’m so grateful for the way God continues to lead new families to our church and for the chance we have to partner with God in shaping people’s stories. It truly is awesome!

 
This weekend we’re wrapping up our four-part message series called “Superhero Summer.” This has been a fun series that’s given us a chance to explore faith lessons and biblical truth through the lens of some popular DC superheroes. 
 
Our superhero for this weekend is the Flash, aka the Scarlet Speedster, aka the fastest man alive. Indeed, the Flash’s main superpower is running at an incredible speed. And, believe it or not, the Flash’s story has a lot to teach us when it comes to running the race of faith. That said, I hope to see you on Saturday night (6:30pm) or Sunday morning (8:30am, 10:30am) as we dive into this message and close out the series.
 
Don’t forget that if you’re not able to make it to worship this weekend you can watch the service live on our Facebook page (
facebook.com/cofumc/) or on our website (communityoffaith.org). I’ve had several people message me this week to express gratitude for the livestreaming option.
 
The last thing I want to let you know is that, as part of service, we are going to hear an important word from our Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) chairperson, Ami Sinabaldi. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the SPRC, the committee basically acts as our church’s “HR committee.” In other words, the SPRC deals with personnel matters and serves as a liaison between the pastor and staff and the rest of the congregation. Ami has an important word that she’ll share with us toward the very end of service. So don’t leave after Communion-make sure to hang in there until the very end!
 
Be sure to check out the rest of this email for a sense of what else is happening in the life of our church.
See you this weekend!
 
Blessings,
Chris


Looking Ahead

Dear Church Family,
 
I’m writing this email a few days early because of the 4th of July holiday. By the time you receive this email 4th of July will have already passed. That said, I hope you enjoyed the festivities of yesterday and felt a profound sense of gratitude for the freedom we enjoy here in the United States. We truly are privileged to call this place home.
 
Because of the recent holiday, some of you may be travelling. However, if you’re in town, I hope you’ll join us for what’s sure to be an inspiring time of worship. We’ll worship God through song, and then we’ll launch into part-3 of our 4-part series called “Superhero Summer.” In this series, we are exploring the points of connection between popular DC superheroes and the themes of Scripture. Our superhero for this weekend – the most famous heroine of all – is Wonder Woman! So come to worship and be ready to discover what the story of Wonder Woman can teach us about our faith.
 
I want to end this email by asking you for a favor. 
 
After we conclude “Superhero Summer,” our next series for the summer is going to focus on the Old Testament story of Jonah. We’re calling the series “Deeper Than a Fish Story,” because there’s a lot more to the story of Jonah than most people realize. (You’ll see what I mean by that last statement in a few weeks!) In the meantime, here’s where I need your help. The Worship Design Team and I would like to decorate the sanctuary with props that align with Jonah’s story. Therefore if you have anything fish-related (a paddleboat, a rope fishing net, etc.), please let me know (cjones@communityoffaith.org). I promise that if we can make use of these items, we’ll return them once the series is over.
 
It’s a joy to do ministry with you. Have a great Friday, and I hope to see you either tomorrow or Sunday. 
 
Blessings,
Chris


COF’s newest Superheroes

Dear Church Family,

We had a new members class this past Monday in which 6 people decided to join our Motley Crew. Praise God! While 2 of those people will join a weekend in late July, the other 4 will join this weekend. 

We’re so grateful not only for the way God continues to lead people to Community of Faith, but for the folks who then decide – after much prayer and thoughtful consideration – to make this place their official church home. Our church is only as strong as our staff, leaders, members, and attendees who are invested here and dedicated to our God-given mission of making disciples of Jesus!
This weekend we launch into part-2 of our 4-part sermon series on superheroes. Last week we saw what the comic book hero Superman has to teach us about our faith. Now we turn our attention to Batman, the winged crusader of the night, to discover the spiritual lessons that lie hidden in his story. Batman’s story is fairly dark. However, the lessons we find in his story shine light on our faith. I hope you’ll bring a friend and join us for what’s sure to be an awesome weekend of worship.
Please continue to hold our youth and their leaders in prayer as they head back on Sunday from a mission trip to North Carolina. We definitely look forward to hearing stories about where they saw God on their trip.
To get a sense of what else is happening in the life of our church, check out the rest of this email. 
See you this weekend! 
Blessings,
Chris       
 


Superhero Summer is here!

Dear Church Family,
I can’t wait for this weekend!
As we announced at our Vacation Bible School service last Sunday, 
we’re launching into a new series of sermons for the beginning part of summer called “Superhero Summer.”
 What we’ll be doing in this series is we’ll be exploring Scriptural teaching through lens of 4 different DC superheroes. The superheroes we’ll be looking at are as follows:
  1. Superman (June 22/23)
  2. Batman (June 29/30)
  3. Wonder Woman (July 6/7)
  4. The Flash (July 13/14)
I hope to see you either this Saturday (6:30pm) or Sunday (8:30am, 10:30am) as we discover what the comic book character Superman can teach us about our faith! It should be a fun sermon chock-full of important truths about Jesus.
By the way, don’t forget that 
our United Methodist Women (UMW) are hosting their Game Night later on TONIGHT at the building from 6:30-11:00pm!Everyone is welcome to attend Game Night, including us guys. If you have any questions about this free social event, simply email Diane Abresky (umw@communityoffaith.org) or Kimi Lloyd (knownbylove@communityoffaith.org).  
Finally, I want to let you know that 

our next new members class will take place on Monday June 24th at 6:30pm. That’s this Monday! If you’re somebody who isn’t yet a member of Community of Faith (COF) and you want to make COF your official church home, make plans to attend this class. You’ll learn all about COF’s history, mission, values, and what it means to be a part of our Motley Crew. I hope to see you many of on Monday night. If you’re interested in attending, simply drop me an email (cjones@communityoffaith.org). 

Have a great Friday!

Blessings,

Chris


News from the Florida Annual Conference

Dear Church Family,

As many of you know, I attended Annual Conference in Lakeland last week. Annual Conference, which happens every June, is when United Methodists from around the Florida Conference (which spans from Tallahassee to Key West) gather to discuss the business of our connection. Bishop Ken Carter, our resident bishop, has provided of helpful summary of what took place at Annual Conference. I share this list with you so you can know what we accomplished.

  • The election of our 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegations – led by Alex Shanks and Molly McEntire. (Some of you may remember that Molly McEntire served on staff at Community of Faith years ago as our Director of Children and Families Ministries. In addition, Alejandra Salemi, a recent graduate of the University of Florida who grew up at Community of Faith and still holds her membership here, will be serving as a delegate to Jurisdictional Conference. These are tremendous honors for both Molly and Alejandra.)
  •  The Ordination, Commissioning and Licensing of 52 persons. (Mary Downey, who was mentored by Community of Faith and continues to occasionally preach here, was one of the persons ordained.)
  • Over $37,000 given to the Bishop’s Offering in order to start a new church within the Lowell Correctional Institute in Reddick and the revitalization of FAMU Wesley in Tallahassee. (Community of Faith contributed $1,125 toward this amount!)
  •  We now have 301 Fresh Expressions in Florida and we chartered a new church (Good Samaritan UMC in Tallahassee).
  • Over the last year, 14 new churches became involved in ZOE and over 1,000 children have entered the program.  A new challenge grant of $42,000 will hopefully double the number of children supported by ZOE.
  • Apportionment giving increased last year, and we reduced our 2020 Conference Budget to return more resources to the local churches to make disciples.
  • We enthusiastically approved a new ministry plan for Latino/Latina ministries.
  • We engaged in dialogue about our church’s social teaching and public witness and approved funding for seminary scholarships for the next five years.
 
All in all, it was a great conference. I left Lakeland encouraged by what our churches are doing on mission together.
 
As a reminder, we won’t have our Saturday night service this weekend, nor will we have our 8:30am service on Sunday. Instead we will have 1 combined service on Sunday at 10:30am. Make sure to join us for this special service as we celebrate what our kids learned at Vacation Bible School.
 
See you Sunday!

Blessings,
Chris



Summer Bible Study – Tackling the Taboos

Dear Church Family,
Happy Friday! Hope your week has gone well.
First, I want to remind you that Coalition for the Homeless is this afternoon!If you’re available to help out, please make sure to meet us at the Publix parking lot at Berry Town Center at 3:00pm today. From there, we’ll carpool over to downtown Orlando and feed several hundred hungry people. As I mentioned in an email a few days ago, we’re not expecting our normal number of volunteers given that it’s summer and people are travelling. So please, if you’re available today, make sure to help us out!
Second, I want to let you know about an upcoming study I’ll be leading called “Tackling the Taboos.” In the study, we’ll take a thorough look at different topics that our culture generally considers too “taboo” to discuss! The topics include: 1) the separation of church and state and prayer in public schools; 2) creation and evolution in public schools; 3) abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty; 4) immigration; 5) gun control; and 6) human sexuality. At the beginning of the study, I, along with everyone else, will sign a covenant agreeing to be respectful of, and open to, others’ viewpoints. Above all, the study will explore how Scripture might inform our opinions on these topics. The 6-week study will meet on Thursday evenings (beginning June 13) from 6:15-7:30pm in Room 110. If you’d like to attend, simply send me an email (cjones@communityoffaith.org) or call the church office (407-809-2030).
Third, this weekend in worship we’ll wrap up our current message series called “Including the Excluded” in which we’ve been examining the inclusive ministry of Jesus as presented in Luke’s gospel. (By the way, I hope you’ve been taking the time to read Luke as we’ve been journeying through this series! It truly is an inspiring gospel.) We’ll also be recognizing 5 high school graduates at our 10:30am service on Sunday. All of us, I’m sure, are proud of these students, so let’s celebrate and pray for them as they begin this next stage of their journey.
As I think about these high school graduates, I’m also reminded of our church’s strong commitment to children and youth. That said, I hope you will sign-up to volunteer at Vacation Bible School, which is happening from 9:00am-noon every day from June 10-14. We’re expecting a large number of kids (perhaps larger than previous summers!), and right now our volunteer base isn’t matching the number of kids we’re anticipating. So please sign-up to volunteer when you come to service this weekend or by emailing Kathy Beuttenmuller (kbeuttenmuller@communityoffaith.org).  
That’s all for now. I hope to see you at Coalition for the Homeless this afternoon or in service this weekend!
Blessings,
Chris
 


Where have you seen God moving at Community of Faith?

Dear Motley Crew,
Every month, we begin our Administrative Council (church board) meeting by asking the question, 
“Where have you seen God moving at Community of Faith?” 
This question is important as it reminds us that even as we look to the future, God is still working in our church in the present. We might have our challenges and growing edges, but that doesn’t stop God from using our congregation to bless others.
We heard a number of great responses to this question during a recent meeting we had a few days ago. One person celebrated how many sign-ups we’ve already had for Vacation Bible School. A second person commented on the number of hungry people we’ve fed in the last month. A third person acknowledged the recent baccalaureate service we hosted for Four Corners Upper School.  
Of course, I can never resist sharing during this time because my role gives me a front-row seat into how God is using our church to touch others. That said, I shared an email I received last week from a couple who visited our congregation in January. Since visiting our church, this couple has been receiving email updates from us, including the Midweek Reflections, which we send out every Tuesday or Wednesday. This couple has been forwarding the Midweek Reflections to their son who’s incarcerated.
Check out what they said. (By the way, I’ve edited parts of this email for privacy’s sake.)
Dear Chris,
 
I have been receiving the Midweek Reflections and have forwarded many of them to my son, and he’s shared them with the inmates around him. Your church is blessed to have such an excellent team of writers and I would like them to know they are blessing some inmates with their words of encouragement in response to your words of encouragement. The guys appreciate and hunger for God’s word…Thank you again for your ministry. I hold you in my prayers.
This person is absolutely right–we are blessed to have a team of such talented writers whose gifts are extending beyond the confines of our community. As this person shared, God is using the words of our Midweek Reflection writers to bless others. To me, that’s a sign of God’s movement in our church!
So, I’ll ask you, 

where have you seen God moving at Community of Faith?

Blessings,
Chris
 
p.s. I realize it’s a holiday weekend, but don’t let that stop you from coming to worship this Saturday or Sunday. We’ll be continuing in our series called Including the Excluded where we are focusing on Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of Luke. This weekend, we’ll be looking at Jesus’ restoration of a demon-possessed man in Luke 8:26-39. During services, we’ll be also announcing some new banner team leaders as well as hearing a testimony from one of our youth. All in all, it’s going to be a great weekend, so don’t miss out!


not just passing through

Dear Motley Crew,
 
I like people and enjoy being around others. However, by nature, I’m also a task-oriented person who enjoys a small feeling of accomplishment when I get something done-when I write a sermon, respond to an email, lead a Bible study, or finish a meeting. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with tasks or wanting to get things done, but if I’m not careful, my obsession with tasks can make me miss great opportunities for ministry.  
 
This week was a busy week (as most of them tend to be!). But along the way two different people approached me, while I was working on tasks, to ask for prayer and counsel because of some personal challenges they’re facing. These Spirit-filled conversations ended up becoming my two favorite moments this week. It’s funny. I’ll eventually forget what tasks I was working on when these two people approached me, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget these conversations.
 
When I survey the gospels, I’m reminded of how Jesus created space for interruptions and never allowed tasks to get in the way of people.
 
One of my favorite stories in Luke (the gospel we’re focusing on in our current preaching series) is when Jesus offers ministry to a wayward tax-collector named Zacchaeus. At the beginning of the Zacchaeus story, Luke notes,  “He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through it” (Luke 19:1). Notice that phrase “passing through it.”
 
In other words, Jericho (Zacchaeus’ home village) was not Jesus’ final destination. Jesus was just passing through the area on his way somewhere else. Still, the fact that he was passing through didn’t stop the Son of God from recognizing Zacchaeus and offering the broken man grace-based acceptance and ministry. Indeed, as Luke reminds us, Jesus cleared his schedule that day and stayed at Zacchaeus’ home (Luke 19:5). A trip to somebody’s home wasn’t on the agenda, but Jesus made time for it. Had Jesus been too consumed with what he was doing, he likely would have missed that opportunity for ministry.
 
May none of us be so consumed with what we’re doing that we miss the people around us — people who are hurting and broken — and fail to minister to them!
 
How are you making space for interruptions today?
 
Blessings,
Chris
 
p.s., See you in worship this weekend as we continue our journey through Luke that we’re calling Including the Excluded. We’ll be looking at one of the most controversial passages in the gospels-Jesus’ ministry with an “immoral” woman in Luke 7:36-50. Check out this story and then come to worship on Saturday or Sunday as we explore it together! 


Bishop’s Offering (and VBS news!!)

Dear Church Family,
In a few weeks, I’ll be leaving for Annual Conference (AC). During AC, United Methodist pastors and lay leaders from around the connection meet to pray, worship, hear reports, and discuss the business of our church.
The Bishop’s Offering for AC this year will go to 2 important causes.
1.       

Lowell Correctional Institution

The Florida Conference is joining a trend in the US by placing a United Methodist church inside a state prison. A pastor will be assigned to serve at Lowell Correctional Institution for women in Reddick, Florida. The idea to partner with Prison Congregations of America, a consulting group that helps denominations establish worshiping congregations in prisons, came after Bishop Carter heard about a church based in a prison in Tennessee. Currently there are 34 prison-based churches in the United States, including two UMC prison churches in Tennessee and Iowa. Conference officials chose Lowell because it houses the most women (3,054) in a correctional institution in the United States, including three on death row.

2.       Impact at Florida A&M University Wesley Foundation

Part of our vision for IMPACT@FAMU Wesley Foundation is to create a “home away from home” for our students, an office/pastoral care area for the Executive Director, and a place to worship, gather, learn, play, and pray for the FAMU campus at large. We call this space the IMPACT House, a spiritual Living & Learning Experience for our IMPACT FAMUly. The money collected via this offering will help to make this vision a reality.
I’ll share more about the Bishop’s Offering during my Pastoral Challenge this weekend. (There’ll also be a bulletin insert with this information.) However, right now I invite you to prayerfully consider giving towards these causes. If you choose to give, you can do so by placing your donation (cash or check) in one of our 2 Voice of Hope baskets either this weekend or next.
This weekend we’ll also be continuing our new sermon series called Including the Excluded in which we are focusing on Jesus’ ministry in Luke’s gospel. As we said last week, Luke draws attention to Jesus’ ministry with outsiders more so than any other gospel writer. Our sermon this weekend will look at Jesus’ healing of a man infected by leprosy. I hope you’ll take the time to check out this incredible story (Luke 5:12-15) in preparation for the sermon. Indeed, there’s lots in here worth discussing. 

The last thing I’ll mention is please make sure to sign-up to volunteer at Vacation Bible School (VBS) and share this registration link with everyone you know: http://www.communityoffaith.org/2019-vacation-bible-school/

. The dates for VBS are June 10-14 from 9:00-noon, and we want as many kids as possible!
 
That’s all for now. Hope to see you this weekend!
 
Blessings,
Chris


Including the Excluded

Dear Church Family,
I’m grateful for the time away I had last week, but I’m excited to be back in worship with you this weekend.
 
We’re kicking-off a new series of sermons called Including the Excluded.
 The series is going to focus on Jesus’ ministry in Luke, where more than in any other gospel special attention is paid to outsiders. I imagine we’ve all had times in our lives when we felt like an outsider. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that he made space for outsiders and gave them a place to belong. 
 
My sermon this weekend is going to examine the events surrounding Jesus’ birth where God used several kinds of outsiders to welcome his Son into the world. So join us for what’s sure to be an inspiring time of worship.
 
I’d also encourage you to take home the Sermon Notes section of the bulletin when you leave worship.
 The purpose of the Sermon Notes is to encourage you to reflect on what we talk about in service and to engage Scripture throughout the week. My hope is that the sermon becomes a launching point for further study, which can only happen when we read the Bible for ourselves. On this note, I’m incredibly grateful for our Midweek Reflection writers who do a great job helping us engage what we discuss in service on a deeper level.  
 
The last thing I want to share with you is that our Vision Committee met earlier this week to help us chart a path to lead Community of Faith forward into God’s preferred future.
 I’m excited for the work of this group and I can’t wait to share with you what we’ve discussed in our meetings.   
 
Have a great Friday, and I look forward to being with you this weekend!
Blessings,
Chris