pastor’s corner


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! 



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.


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!


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.


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:

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!


20th Anniversary Celebration

Dear Church Family,

I first heard of Community of Faith while serving as a counselor at the Warren Willis United Methodist Camp in Fruitland Park. I recall meeting some of the youth and hearing stories about their church’s impact in the Four Corners area of Florida. I always had a lot of respect for this congregation, but I never dreamed that one day I’d come to lead this congregation as the pastor. What’s more, I never thought that I’d be with COF as we celebrate such a remarkable milestone-twenty years of ministry!

For twenty years now, COF has existed to make disciples of Jesus Christ who Live by Faith, are Known by love, and Become a Voice of Hope to the world. And we’ve fulfilled this mission in countless ways.

We’ve proclaimed the gospel in down-to-earth, relatable and practical ways. We’ve introduced people to Jesus. We’ve baptized children, youth, and adults into the Christian faith. We’ve confirmed students. We’ve welcomed new members. We’ve presided over weddings. We’ve said goodbye at funerals. We’ve hosted Bible studies and youth programs and Children’s Church and Trunk or Treats and Easter Egg Hunts and Vacation Bible Schools. We’ve fed the hungry. We’ve clothed the naked. We’ve visited the sick and homebound. We’ve passed out cans of soda and bottles of water with no strings attached. We’ve handed out backpacks and school supplies. We’ve collected money for noteworthy causes. We’ve built a building. We’ve put together a learning center. We’ve sent congregants off to seminary. We’ve worshipped. We’ve learned. We’ve cried. We’ve prayed. We’ve grown. We’ve been challenged. And, through it all, God has been with us.

I want to invite you to attend our 20th Anniversary Celebration this weekend. First, we’ll gather at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 14, for a pot-luck style dinner. The church will provide the entrée, silverware, napkins and drinks. All we ask is that you bring a dessert or a side dish to share. After dinner, there will be an informal program in which we’ll remember the past and share our dreams for the future. Then, on Sunday April 15, we’ll gather for one joint service at 10:00 a.m. (all of our other weekend services have been cancelled). During this joint service, we’ll worship God with inspiring music and a hope-filled message. And, as always, we’ll feast at the Table of Holy Communion. It’s going to be an incredible weekend that you definitely don’t want to miss.

In Philippians 1:6, the apostle Paul writes, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (NLT).

God began the good work in COF when he called this congregation into existence twenty years ago. However, the good work is not yet finished. There’s more to be done! So, join us this weekend as we look back on the past, look ahead at the future, and place ourselves in the grip of God who holds all time in his hands.


When Doubt Interrupts Faith

Dear Church Family,

Wow! What a great time we had last weekend as celebrated the resurrection of our Lord from the dead.

On Monday of this last week, somebody asked me what I was doing in the office. This person was surprised to see me around the building since she assumed I’d be too tired to do anything. I told this person that, instead of feeling exhausted, I felt unusually energized due to the excitement of our Easter services. Today is Thursday as I write this email, and I am still feeling that same energy and excitement!

I want to let you know that we had 1,059 people attend all of our Holy Week and Easter services and 82 kids attend Children’s Church! In addition, we had the privilege of confirming 2 students, Parker Beuttenmuller and Ben Gamache, into the Christian faith. I am so proud of the work our church is doing to intentionally reach people and share the good news of Jesus in down-to-earth and practical ways. We’re a Motley Crew whom God is using to make a difference in the world. Praise God!

There’s so many other things happening in the life of our church. Let me highlight just 3 of them.

First, I am excited about my sermon this weekend, which is going to be stand-alone message called “When Doubt Interrupts Faith.” The sermon is going to focus on the disciple Thomas who doubted the resurrection of Jesus (John 20:24-29). Even today, there are those among us who struggle with doubts and questions concerning our faith in God. We’re going to see how Thomas’ story addresses these struggles. If you’ve ever wrestled with faith, this is a message you don’t want to miss! We’re also going to welcome 2 new members into our church family at our Saturday night service. It’s going to be a great weekend all-around.

Second, make sure to attend Community of Faith’s 20th Anniversary Celebration the weekend of April 14 and 15. On Saturday, April 14, we’ll gather at the building for a potluck-style dinner. We’ll provide the entrée, plates, napkins, silverware and drinks. We’re asking that you bring a side dish or dessert to share. Then, on Sunday, April 15, we’ll gather for 1 combined service at 10:00 a.m. We’ll celebrate what God has done at COF for the past 20 years and we’ll anticipate what God is going to do in the future. This will be a high-energy service that’s sure to inspire all of us and move us to gratitude for the ministry of this church.

Third, we’re going to kick-off our “Help My Belief” preaching series the weekend of April 21/22. This series – which has been inspired by questions I’ve received from people in the congregation – is going to address topics that tend to act as a barrier to faith. My plan is to give more information about the series in next week’s email, so be on the lookout for that!

I want close this note by thanking our staff, leaders, and volunteers for doing such a tremendous job at orchestrating ministry here. It truly takes a village, and I’m privileged to be a part of this village.

Have a great Friday, and I hope to see you in worship either tomorrow night or Sunday morning!


Thank God It’s Friday

Dear Church Family,

Today’s Good Friday on the Church’s calendar. Of course, I realize the irony of calling Good Friday “good” in view of what this day commemorates – the crucifixion of God’s own Son. However, the only reason we call Good Friday “good” is because of what happened on Easter – the resurrection of God’s Son from the dead.

If you’re in town, I hope you’ll join us for our Good Friday service tonight at 6:30 p.m. We’ll sing songs, reflect on the 7 last words/phrases of Jesus from the cross, and then celebrate Holy Communion. We’ll depart from the service in silence to appreciate the somberness of the day.

As I was preparing my Good Friday meditation for tonight’s service, I came across this quote from Will Willimon that I invite you to check out. He writes,

“Despite our earnest efforts, we couldn’t climb all the way up to God. So what did God do? In an amazing act of condescension, on Good Friday, God climbed down to us, became one with us. The story of divine condescension begins on Christmas and ends on Good Friday. We thought, if there is to be business between us and God, we must somehow get up to God. Then God came down, down to the level of the cross, all the way down to the depths of hell. He who knew not sin took on our sin so that we might be free of it. God still stoops, in your life and mine, condescends.”

(Will Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday, p. 58)

The story of Good Friday, at its core, is a love story. It’s a story of God who will stop at nothing to be with us, even if that means going to the cross and taking the weight of human sin upon his own body.

After tonight’s Good Friday service, we’ll start preparing for our Easter services on Saturday night and Sunday morning. As a reminder, all of our services this weekend will be at their normal scheduled times. The only exception is the addition of our Sunrise Service, which will be at 6:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday in our parking lot. (Make sure to bring a lawn chair!) The music and message for Sunrise will be different than for our other services, so if you join us for Sunrise, make sure to come back for one of our other gatherings. By the way, regardless of which gathering(s) you attend, make sure to bring somebody with you, especially someone without a church home!

Easter marks the greatest event in human history. It’s the reason Community of Faith – and indeed all churches – exists. Don’t miss out on the power of this weekend. It could change your life and even your eternity.


Holy Week 2018

Dear Church Family,

This weekend marks the start of Holy week.

Holy Week is the culmination of the Lenten season. It’s a time for us to relive the last week of Jesus’ life on earth and the events that took place therein. Holy week begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday. It doesn’t technically include Easter, but it does lead us into Easter.

If you’re in town, I hope you’ll join us for as many of our Holy Week services as possible.

First, we have our Easter Egg Hunt tomorrow for kids and families from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. This event is free and open to the public. If you’re able to volunteer, just show up and we’ll put you to work!

We also have our Palm Sunday services this weekend at their normal scheduled times. Palm Sunday marks the occasion of when Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people strewed palm branches before him and shouted, “Hosanna!” The sermon won’t focus so much on Palm Sunday, though. Instead, it’ll look at the unnamed Roman soldier who stood at the cross and declared Jesus to be the Son of God (Mark 15:39). This unnamed Roman soldier is a largely overlooked character in the Holy Week story, but what he says is extremely important. You’ll see what I mean when you come to worship this weekend.

On Thursday, we have our Maundy Thursday service at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. Maundy comes from the Latin word for “mandate.” On Maundy Thursday, we remember how, at the Last Supper, Jesus gave the disciples a new mandate “to love one another” (John 13:34). Our Maundy service will include music, a message, and Holy Communion. It’ll be very meaningful.

Finally, we have our Good Friday service at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. Like last year, the service will focus on the 7 last phrases of Jesus from the cross with brief reflections from 7 different speakers. This is definitely a service you don’t want to miss.

I plan to include more details about our Easter services in my email for next week. For now, I invite you to experience Holy Week with your COF family. Trust me…you’ll be glad you did.


p.s. As many of you know, we lost a very dear member of our church a few weeks ago. Harriet Schondel passed away on February 27. Harriet’s Celebration of Life service is happening later on today at 2:00 p.m. We invite you to attend this service as we celebrate Harriet’s life on earth and her new life in Jesus Christ. Please be sure to keep Harriet’s family, especially her husband Dick, in your prayers.

Dear Church Family,

I came across a news story the other day that I had a hard time believing was true at first. However, when I verified it through several sources, I found that it was, in fact, true.

Scientists discovered what they believe to be the world’s oldest vertebrae.

Greenland Sharks inhabit the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean where the frigid temperatures slow down metabolism and delay maturation, allowing these creatures to live for centuries at a time. One shark is believed to be anywhere from 272 to 500 years-old, meaning it’s possible that this creatures was alive when William Shakespeare walked our planet.

However, what interested me most about the article was not the age of the shark (as fascinating as that is), but the writer’s speculation if the science behind the shark’s longevity could be applied toward human beings so we could one day enjoy a similar long lifespan.

We live in a death-defying culture, don’t we? We’ll go to whatever lengths we can to avoid our own mortality, even if it means splicing shark DNA. Of course, I know I’m being facetious, but I’m doing so to make a point. Death is an unpopular topic that we’d rather not consider.

On the other hand, the Psalmist asked to be reminded of his own mortality so he could reorient his life toward God.

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered-
how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.

We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.

Psalm 39:4-7 (NLT)

For people without faith, death is a hard pill to swallow and it can be tempting to use unorthodox methods to extend life. However, for those who trust in God, death is a reminder of our victory in Christ.

Lent is a season that calls us to be honest with ourselves. Yes, we’re finite. Yes, we’re mortal. But we’re also deeply loved by God who refuses to let death have the last word. Therefore, in Jesus Christ, God entered into death and now invites us to know the power of the cross and the hope of the resurrection.

How are you experiencing new life today?


p.s., Join us for worship this weekend as we launch into the 3rd installment of our preaching series, “Behind the Cross.” We’ll be looking at Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who presided over the civil trial that led to Jesus’ death. We’ll also be welcoming 4 new members at our Saturday night service. Finally, don’t forget that Holy Week is just around the corner. The dates and times for our Holy Week services are included in this email. Be sure to check them out and join us for as many services as possible.

Praying with your legs

Dear Church Family,

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the relationship between prayer and action as of late. I came across this great quote from Fredrick Douglas that I haven’t been able to put out of my mind. Douglas says, “I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

As Douglas reminds us, it’s all well and good to pray, but oftentimes God’s answer to prayer is found when we engage in concrete action. Indeed, prayer and action aren’t separable acts–they’re two sides of the same coin.

The Israelites prayed for deliverance from slavery, but they also left Egypt and followed Moses’ direction.

David prayed for deliverance from Saul, but he also avoided Saul and took the proper precautions.

Esther prayed for King Xerxes to have a change of heart and spare God’s people from their annihilation, but she also entered the courts of the King and pleaded for mercy.

Jesus prayed to be spared from the cross, but he also went willingly to the cross when he understood it was God’s will.

Paul prayed for others to know Christ, but he also preached Christ and travelled extensively around the Mediterranean world as a missionary.

You get my point. Prayer and action weren’t seen as separate acts for the people in Scripture, and they shouldn’t be seen as separate acts for us either.

We can pray to God for healing when we’re sick, but we can also go to the doctor’s and take the proper medicine.

We can pray to God to heal our broken marriage, but we can also pursue counseling and other forms of restoration.

We can pray to God for better finances, but we can also make wiser financial decisions.

We can pray to God for an end to poverty, but we can also share our resources and empower others.

We can pray to God for greater spiritual growth, but we can also step out of our comfort zones and do something beyond our perceived skill set.

Action without prayer is misdirected, but prayer devoid of action is incomplete. As James, the brother of Jesus asks, “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?” (James 2:14) Faith-filled prayer–the kind that honors God–is meant to engage both our hearts and our bodies.

How are you praying with your legs today?


Celebrations of Life

Dear Church Family,

This has been a rough week. On Tuesday, we lost 2 beloved members of our church family, Harriet Schondel and Marty Arteche. Harriet and Marty – who passed away within hours of each other – were active members of Community of Faith where they served in leadership. Harriet was a member of our Staff Parish Relations Committee, and Marty was a part of our Finance Committee. They leave behind their respective spouses, Dick and Bernice, as well as countless family members and friends.

Harriet and Marty’s passing certainly marks a great loss to those of us who knew them well. However, as the apostle Paul reminds us, we don’t grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Harriet and Marty were people of deep faith, and we believe they are more alive now than they’ve ever been before. Indeed, our confidence in the resurrection gives us assurance that there will come a day when we will see them again. Thanks be to God! We will be celebrating Marty’s life this Saturday (tomorrow), March 3, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. with a Memorial service with his family here at the building. Everyone is welcome to attend. More information will follow in regards to plans for a service for Harriet.

I’m grateful for the time away I had last week to adjust to life at home with Hannah and Noah, but I’m excited to be back in worship this weekend, where I’ll be kicking off a brand-new message series called “Behind the Cross.” Inspired by the popular TV show Behind the Music, the new series will profile 5 of the more prominent characters of Holy Week (the last week of Jesus’ life). The first character we’ll be looking at is Caiaphas, the man responsible for presiding over the religious trial that resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion. Who was Caiaphas, why was he so determined to see Jesus killed, and what sort of lessons can we learn from his life? We’ll be exploring those questions in worship this weekend.

Don’t forget that Tenille Weber’s Celebration of Life service is this Monday afternoon (March 5) at 1:00 p.m. Tenille was a special person who served our church faithfully as a custodian for 5 years. Everyone is welcome to attend this service as we celebrate both Tenille’s life on earth and her new life in Jesus Christ.

There’s lots more going on in the life of Community of Faith, so I invite you to read the rest of this email to find out how you can get involved. And I hope to see you this weekend!