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I AM

Dear Church Family,

I’m going to keep this note brief.

At some point today, make sure to read the gospel writers’ accounts of the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. You can find these accounts in Matthew 26:47-27:66, Mark 14:43-15:47, Luke 22:47-23:56, and John 18:3-19:42. In the midst of your day, please spend some time meditating on Jesus Christ’s sacrificial gift of love. 

I’ve always enjoyed these words about Good Friday from Bishop Will Willimon,

“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)

I hope to see you later on tonight at 6:30 p.m. for our Good Friday service. Together we’ll look at the 7 “I AM” statements of Jesus and reflect on the wonder of those words.

I also hope to see you at one of our Easter services this weekend, including our special Sunrise Service, which will be outside on Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. (Make sure to bring a lawn chair!)

Good Friday is only “good” because of what happened on Easter. So, join us as we journey not just to the cross, but to the empty tomb. 

Blessings,
Chris



Easter Egg Hunt Tomorrow! (and then Palm Sunday)

Dear Church Family,

Tomorrow is our Easter Egg Hunt! A huge THANK YOU to those of you who donated candy and/or signed up to volunteer at the event itself. Along with Vacation Bible School and Trunk or Treat, the Easter Egg Hunt is one of our church’s biggest forms of outreach to families in our community. I can’t wait to see all the families God leads to our church tomorrow. By the way, it’s not too late to volunteer. If you’re interested in helping out, make sure to join us tomorrow morning. We’ll start setting up at 8:00 a.m., and the fun starts at 10:00 a.m.!

This last Monday we hosted a new membership class at the building. I’m excited to share that 8 people have decided to join our Motley Crew after attending that class! All 8 of these persons will be joining at our 8:30 a.m. service this Sunday. In addition, 1 of these persons will be baptized into the Christian faith. I’m grateful for the way God continues to bring people to Community of Faith, and for the way our congregation welcomes these individuals with Christian love. At the class, one couple commented, “We felt so at home the moment we walked in the building. Not only were we greeted by the name-taggers and the people passing out bulletins, but the people sitting next to us in service were so kind and hospitable.” So thank you, Community of Faith, for intentionally welcoming visitors and guests who attend our services, and for ensuring that these folks feel right at home. 

As we welcome new members, we also remember that this weekend is Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week. I know I did so in this email last week, but I want to remind us again of the dates and times of our various Holy Week services.

Palm Sunday Weekend (April 13/14) – normal weekend services in the sanctuary

Maundy Thursday (April 18) – special service at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary

Good Friday (April 19) – special service at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary

Easter Sunrise (April 21) – special service at 6:30 a.m. outside by the cross

Easter Weekend (April 20/21) – normal weekend services in the sanctuary

I hope you will join us for as many of these services as possible. Together we will journey with Jesus toward the cross and anticipate the hope and joy of Easter.

Finally, even though this weekend is Palm Sunday, my sermon isn’t going to focus on Palm Sunday, but rather, the events of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, when it seemed like God was silent. I know many of us have had moments in our own lives when we felt the weight of what seemed like God’s silence. So join us this weekend as we explore this tough topic and learn how Jesus responded.

See you soon!

Blessings,

Chris


Easter Egg Hunt Next Saturday (April 13)

Dear Church Family,
We’re more than halfway through our preaching series for Lent called Sunday to Sunday in which we are focusing on the last week of Jesus’ life on earth.  So far, we’ve looked at some of the big events that happened on Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday.
 
This weekend we turn our attention to Holy Thursday, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, celebrated the Last Supper, issued the commandment to love, predicted Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, prayed for his followers’ unity, and agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane. We’ll be examining the last piece of the Holy Thursday story this weekend. The sermon title is “Lessons from Gethsemane.” In the message, we’ll look at several lessons Jesus’ time in Gethsemane teaches us about both suffering and obedience to God.

Since Holy Week is just around the corner, I want to remind of our service times for Holy Week. They are as follows:

  1. Palm Sunday Weekend (April 13/14) – normal weekend services in the sanctuary
  2. Maundy Thursday (April 18) – special service at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary
  3. Good Friday (April 19) – special service at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary
  4. Easter Sunrise (April 21) – special service at 6:30 a.m. outside by the cross
  5. Easter Weekend (April 20/21) – normal weekend services in the sanctuary
Also, don’t forget about our community-wide Easter Egg Hunt on April 13th. We still need more candy donations. So, please, please, please bring a bag of individually wrapped candies when you come to worship this weekend! If you’re not able to attend worship, you can drop off your candy donation at the church building through Wednesday, April 10th. Thank you for your generosity!
 
Our United Methodist Women (UMW) also need help folding palms into crosses for Palm Sunday and preparing candy bags for the Easter Egg Hunt. If you’d like to help the UMW with these projects, you can join them on Thursday, April 12th from 11:00am – 3:30pm & 6:30-8:00 p.m. or Friday, April 13th from 9:30-11:30 a.m.  I know they’d appreciate the help!  
Finally, don’t forget about our upcoming new membership class on Monday, April 8th at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. If you’re interested in becoming a member of Community of Faith, make sure to attend the class. You can let me know of your plans to attend by emailing me at cjones@communityoffaith.org, or by filling out a Connect Card in worship this weekend and indicating on the back of the card that you’re interested in membership. You can then place the Connect Card in one of our two Joy Boxes. (Woohoo!)

I invite you to check out the rest of this email to get a sense of what else is happening in the life of Community of Faith–especially during this busy time of the year! 

See you this weekend!

 
Blessings,
Chris 
 


Easter egg hunt candy donations needed

Dear Church Family,

This weekend Justin Moore is out of town, so we’re privileged to welcome Joel (pronounced Jo-el) Mota as our guest worship leader. Joel attends Discovery Church in Orlando where he also volunteers in the worship band. Joel will be leading us from guitar at both of our contemporary services this weekend. I trust you will give Joel a very warm welcome as he shares his gifts with us. 

We’ll also be continuing our current series, Sunday to Sunday, in which we are focusing on the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Our passage will be Mark 14:3-11, where the gospel writer tells us about a woman who anoints Jesus, and Judas’ decision betray Jesus. As my sermon title suggests, this passage involves a contrast of biblical proportions that’s definitely worth exploring. By the way, I’m also going to be baptizing one of our youth at our 10:30 AM service, so it’s going to be a great weekend. 

I’ve got a few other important things to share with you before I sign off on this email.

First, TODAY (Friday) IS COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS! If you’re interested in helping us feed the homeless in downtown Orlando tonight, make sure to join us at 3:00 p.m. at the Publix parking lot at Berry Town Center. We’ll carpool over together and then prepare and serve the meal.

Second, our candy donations for the upcoming Easter Egg Hunt is down from where it needs to be. That said, please bring at least 1 bag of individually wrapped candies when you come to worship this weekend. The Easter Egg Hunt is only 2 weeks away, which means this weekend and next weekend will be our last opportunities to donate. Thank you so much for your donations! 

Third, our next new membership class is scheduled for Monday, April 8th at 6:30 p.m. If you’re somebody who’s not yet a member of Community of Faith and you’re interested in church membership, make sure to attend the class. You can let us know of your plans to attend by filling out a Connect Card in worship this weekend and indicating on there that you’re interested in membership. Make sure to drop off the Connect Card in one of our 2 Joy Boxes (Woohoo!)

That’s all for now. Check out the rest of this email to see what else is happening at Community of Faith.

See you this weekend!

Blessings,
Chris



He leaves the ninety-nine

Dear Church Family,

A few weeks ago, we were singing the song “Reckless Love” in our contemporary services when two different people – one on Saturday night and then another on Sunday morning – approached me with a question about this line:

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine.
“What’s that line about leaving the ninety-nine all about?” each person asked me.

It occurred to me that oftentimes we sing songs in worship without knowing the meaning behind certain lyrics.

That line, in case you’re wondering, is taken from my all-time favorite parable of Jesus, the parable of the Searching Shepherd, which is found in both Matthew and Luke. However, I prefer the way Luke tells it:

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him [Jesus]. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
 
Luke 15:1-7 (NRSV emphasis mine)
 

This parable means so much to me that on my desk at the church office is a small wooden statue of an Israelite shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders. The shepherd appears relieved to have found his missing sheep.

I want us to recognize a few things about this parable. The first thing is the irony. The religious leaders in verses 1-2 accuse Jesus of welcoming and eating with sinners. But then Jesus launches into a story not about welcoming something, but about searching for something. It’s as if Jesus is saying to the religious leaders, “You think it’s offensive that I welcome sinners? I’ve got news for you–I don’t just welcome them…I actively seek them out!” 

Second, when Jesus asks the question in verse 4, “Which one of you shepherds would do this?” he knew the response would be, “None of us would do that!”No shepherd in his right mind would leave behind ninety-nine sheep in search of one missing sheep. Economically it doesn’t make sense. But that’s the beautiful thing about this parable. Jesus didn’t tell us this story to teach us about economics, nor did he tell us this story to teach us about ourselves. Instead he told us this story to teach us about God. 

God is “reckless” enough to leave behind everything to chase after us. Indeed, that’s what God did when God came to us in the person of Jesus-God left the comforts of heaven to search for us as a shepherd searches for his lost sheep. He chased after us all the way to the cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

The third and final thing I want us to see in this parable is the word “until.”Notice Jesus doesn’t say the shepherd searched “until he got tired” or “until it got dark” or “until he decided to go home.” Jesus is clear the shepherd will continue to search for the missing sheep “until he finds it.”

That indeed is reckless love-a love that will never give up, a love that will never stop chasing, a love that doesn’t make sense, but that God displays anyway.

So take comfort today knowing that you are loved by God in a way you will never fully grasp. 

Blessings,
Chris

p.s., I hope you will join us in worship this weekend as we continue in our series, Sunday to Sunday, in which we are looking at the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Our focus this weekend will be on Jesus’ conversation with the religious leaders about paying taxes to Rome (Luke 20:20-26). So join us on Saturday night or Sunday morning and be ready to see this passage in a new way. Also make sure to bring a bag or two of candy to help us with the upcoming Easter Egg Hunt (and sign up to volunteer!). 

p.p.s., If you’re interested in learning more about membership at Community of Faith, I hope you will join Lori Austin (Lay Leader) and me for our next new membership class on Monday, April 8th at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. We will answer all your questions about church membership. Anyone who is not yet a member of Community of Faith is welcome to attend.


Sunday to Sunday – Lenten Sermon Series

Dear Church Family,

As you know, we kicked-off a new preaching series in worship last weekend titled Sunday to Sunday. Since I’ve been at Community of Faith over the past 4 years, it’s been my custom to preach through a series of sermons during Lent focusing on the life of Jesus. This year is no different! What we are doing in this series is taking a closer look at the very last week of Jesus’ life on earth-from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. This weekend’s sermon is going to focus on the events of Holy Monday, when Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleansed the Jerusalem Temple (Mark 11:11-19). That said, I hope you’ll join us for what’s sure to be an inspiring weekend of worship.

I also want to let you know about a few other things.

First, Coffee with the Pastor (which had been suspended for well over a year) begins again this coming Wednesday (March 20th)! You’re invited to join me at the Starbucks on Cagan View Road in Clermont every Wednesday evening from 5:00-6:15 p.m. for coffee and informal conversation.

Second, we need candy and volunteers for our Community of Faith Easter Egg Hunt! The Easter Egg Hunt is set for April 13th , and we’re in desperate need of both candy and volunteers. So please, please make sure to bring a bag (or 2 or 3 or 4) of candy when you come to worship this weekend and then sign up to volunteer at the information table. In our most recent Midweek Reflection, Kimi Lloyd shared that she and her family began attending Community of Faith because of the Easter Egg Hunt, so there is no question that this is an event that God uses to lead families to our church.

Third, Coalition for the Homeless is on Friday, March 29th. Every 5th Friday our church has the opportunity to feed the homeless in downtown Orlando.  If you’re interested in helping out, you’ll hear details about how to do so in worship this weekend.

Finally, as part of our services this weekend, we’re going to hear an important word from our Staff-Parish Relations Committee Chairperson, Ami Sinibaldi. So please make sure to keep your ears peeled for Ami’s announcement! 

I invite you to scan the rest of this email to get a better picture as to what is happening in the life of our church.

See you this weekend!

Blessings,

Chris


Happy Lent

Dear Church Family, 

Happy Lent!

Wait. That doesn’t sound right. Lent is not supposed to be happy. Lent is supposed to be somber and serious.

Even so, I do hope your Lent is happy in the sense that it encourages you to both connect with God on a deeper level and reflect on the wonder of his great love that was revealed in Jesus.

As you likely know, it’s customary to give something up during Lent. The purpose of this practice is to replicate the sacrifice Jesus made when he was in the desert being tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). I decided to give up social media for Lent (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), which is a good thing because I spend way too much time on there anyway! Seriously, I believe God will use this practice (or lack thereof) to grow me and help me to be more present with my family and the people around me. So I’ll ask, what are you giving up for Lent? Don’t forget, when it comes to giving something up, you’re allowed to enjoy that habit on Sunday since Sundays aren’t a part of the 40 days of Lent. (Sundays are considered to be a mini-Easter!) 

As we begin Lent, we have a new sermon series that we’re starting this weekend called Sunday to Sunday. The series will focus on the last 7 days of Jesus’ life-from Palm Sunday when Jesus came into Jerusalem to Easter Sunday when he rose from the dead. A lot can happen in a week. And the last 7 days of Jesus’ life changed history forever. Make sure to join us this weekend as we look at the events of Palm Sunday. If you’d like a jump start on the message, make sure to read John 12:12-19, which is the passage I’ll be preaching from.

The last thing I’ll mention before signing off is that our Community of Faith Town Hall Meeting is this Wednesday, March 13, at 6:30 p.m. The purpose of this meeting is to debrief the events of the Special Session of General Conference. So whatever your convictions or opinions–we invite you to come, keep an open mind, and be willing to listen to one another (James 1:19).

That’s all I’ve got. If you’d like to learn what else is happening in the life of our church, check out the rest of this email.

See you soon.

Blessings,

Chris


COF – Still the same church

Dear Church Family,

This is a tough email to write.

 

Read more...

God’s love and light

Dear Church Family,

Hope your week is going well. 

I first want to encourage you to be in prayer for our upcoming General Conference, which will begin tomorrow morning in St. Louis, MO. The General Conference is the legislative body of the United Methodist Church. Only the General Conference has the authority to make decisions that impact the entire denomination. 864 delegates (half clergy, half lay) will gather in St. Louis to receive and act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward. The 32-member Commission was authorized by General Conference 2016 and appointed by the Council of Bishops to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline (our denomination’s law and doctrine book) concerning human sexuality and exploring options to strengthen the unity of the church. If you would like to watch General Conference on livestream, you can do so by following this link: http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/general-conference-2019-live-video-stream-english. The first session will take place tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.

While none of us can be sure what decisions General Conference will make, I can assure you that, no matter what happens, the great work of Community of Faith will continue. We’ll continue to be a beacon of God’s love and light in our community, and we’ll continue to fulfill our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ who live by faith, are known by love, and become a voice of hope to the world. Community of Faith is a great church (not a perfect church, but a great church!) with a rich history of making a difference. God’s work among us will go on!

Speaking of God’s work, I’m excited that our Vision Committee is going to begin meeting again. The Vision Committee was authorized by our Administrative Council several years ago to discern God’s vision for our church’s future. The Vision Committee took a break when Hannah and Noah were born (for which I’m grateful!), but we’re going to begin meeting again to prayerfully consider where God is leading our congregation. We don’t want to just go week-to-week. Instead we want to discern God’s preferred future and then set goals to help us live into that future as faithfully as possible. We’ll keep you posted as the Committee meets. In fact, I hope to have something to share with you later in the year. 

I want to close this note by saying YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS WORSHIP THIS WEEKEND! We have a special treat that I know you’re going to enjoy. So with that said, I’ll see you this weekend!

Blessings,

Chris


Here We Grow Again

Dear Church Family,

I want to start by sharing that we had a great new membership class last Monday night. 10 people have decided to join our church family. 7 of them will be joining this weekend, while the other 3 will be joining the weekend of March 3rd. I enjoyed hearing the stories of these new members, which included learning what brought them to our church. While a few of these folks found us online, most of them were invited by someone in the congregation. So a big THANK YOU to those of you who continue to invite your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members to Community of Faith! Your ministry is a blessing not only to these individuals, but to our church as a whole. I’m excited to have all these new members. Their combined passion for our mission and ministry will strengthen our Motley Crew and serve us well into the future. 

This weekend, we’re going to wrap up our 5-part message series called Elephants in the Room. We’ve tackled a number of difficult topics in this series, including forgiveness, mental health, suicide, and domestic violence. Our message this weekend is entitled “Sexploitation” and will focus on God’s view of sex. I want to let our parents know that the message will, at times, be graphic, so Children’s Church is available at our contemporary services. However, that said, if you choose to have your child listen to the message, that’s totally OK. We just want to give you a heads-up so you can decide what’s best for your family.

In the bulletin last weekend, you likely saw an insert about the 2019 special session of the General Conference. The General Conference is the United Methodist Church’s top legislative body for all matters affecting the denomination. Only the General Conference has the authority to speak for the whole church in an official way. This special session will take place in St. Louis, MO from February 23-26. The purpose of the special session is to receive and act on a report involving our views on human sexuality, specifically homosexuality. Currently our Book of Discipline

 states that, while all people have sacred worth and value, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” For many years there has been talk in our denomination about removing or modifying that language, because of the deep pain it causes our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. These debates have led us to where we are now with the special session.
You’ll likely see (if you haven’t already) conversation in the media about the upcoming General Conference. I would encourage you to make sure you’re getting your information from a reputable source. Further, I realize that some of you probably have questions about all this. For that reason, I plan to be in the sanctuary this coming Wednesday (February 20) beginning at 6:00 PM for anybody who might want to drop in and have their questions answered.I’m not going to have an agenda or a prepared topic of conversation. I’ll simply be there to answer questions, dialogue, and even explore Scripture with you.

Check out the rest of this email for a list of other things that are going on in the life of our church. And I hope to see you this weekend.

Blessings,
Chris

p.s. If you’re going to be travelling this weekend, make sure to watch one of our services online live through our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/cofumc/

)!


Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love

Dear Church Family,

As you know, we’ve been dealing with difficult topics in our current sermon series on Elephants in the Room. Last weekend’s sermon was about suicide, probably the most difficult topic we’ve dealt with so far. However, I’m reminded that, even in the difficult conversations, God offers grace and healing. 

Last weekend after worship, somebody came up to me and shared that his mom had committed suicide many years ago. This gentleman went on to say that, for a long time, he feared his mom was in hell, because he had been told (as many of us have) that is where victims of suicide automatically go. “My mom was a Christian,” he said, “who loved God with all she had and supported the church. But she also battled severe depression, which tragically led her to take her own life. I wanted to hold out hope that I would see my mom again, but I wasn’t sure until I heard the sermon.” During the sermon, we exposed the teaching that victims of suicide go to hell as toxic, harmful, and unsupported by Scripture. Indeed, while God NEVER wants us to commit suicide, Scripture teaches that NOTHING can ever separate us from God’s love, not even death, including death by suicide (Romans 8:38-39).

I share all this simply to remind us why these difficult conversations are necessary and important, and how God can use them to bring hope and healing. That said, I hope you’ll join us this weekend for a sermon on domestic violence and abuse.

By the way, if you’re interested in becoming a member of Community of Faith, don’t forget about the info session for church membership on Monday, February 11th. We’ll meet at 6:30 PM in the sanctuary for about an hour. You can sign up to attend by filling out a Connect Card this weekend and indicating on there that you’re interested in membership, or by emailing me at cjones@communityoffaith.org.

Have a great Friday, and I hope to see you soon.

Blessings,
Chris



Some Winter Notes

Dear Church Family,

Happy Friday! Hope your week has gone well.

I want to begin by inviting you to attend a Celebration of Life Service for Vince Moffett, which will be on Sunday, February 3rd at 2:00 PM in the sanctuary. Vince was the husband of Community of Faith member Lori Moffett and the grandfather of Shawn, Andrew, and Joshua Klein, who were once a part of our youth group when they were students in school. Vince was a loving, kindhearted man as well as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, who even now is enjoying God’s presence. If you’re not able to attend the service, I would ask that you keep Vince’s family in your prayers.

This weekend in worship, we’re continuing our message series, Elephants in the Room, in which we are examining topics that far too often we in the Church fail to discuss. The first “elephant” we looked at was forgiveness and the second was mental health. This weekend’s message, in many ways, is going to be a continuation of last week’s message, because we’re going to be talking about suicide. In preparation for the message, I looked at several studies this week, and every single one of them without exception indicated that suicide rates are on the rise here in the United States, which means we need to talk about this issue. So I hope to see you in worship this weekend for what’s sure to be a hard, but necessary and hopefully life-giving, conversation.

The last 2 things I want to end on are winter classes and church membership.First, winter classes are starting up soon. We’re offering 9 different classes covering a variety of topics, and every single day of the week there is at least one class being offered. You can find more information in your bulletin this weekend as well as at the registration table in the lobby area. Second, if you’re interested in becoming a member at Community of Faith, I’m going to be holding a membership meeting on Monday, February 11th at 6:30pm in the sanctuary. Anyone wishing to join Community of Faith is welcome to attend. And if for some reason you can’t make the meeting but you still want to become a member, just send me an email atcjones@communityoffaith.org, and we’ll find another time to chat.

That’s all for now. I look forward to seeing you in worship this weekend. Don’t forget that if you’re out of town, you can watch the service live on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/cofumc/)!

Blessings,
Chris