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Help My Unbelief

Dear Church Family,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Chris



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.

Blessings,
Chris



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!

Blessings,
Chris



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.

Blessings,
Chris



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.

Blessings,
Chris

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?

Blessings,
Chris

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?

Blessings,
Chris



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!

Blessings,
Chris



Coming Home

Dear Church Family,

It’s Wednesday evening as I write this email. Amanda and I are in the NICU at Nemours Children’s Hospital, which is where we’ll be through tomorrow afternoon. Hannah and Noah are progressing so well that medical team feels they’re ready for discharge. However, prior to discharge, Amanda and I first need to be with the babies for 24 hours straight to make sure we can properly care for them. Hopefully by the time you open this email on Friday, the babies will be home with us. Praise God!

By the way, we can’t wait to bring Hannah and Noah to a worship service at Community of Faith, but that likely won’t happen for at least another six weeks. Their immune systems need adequate time to develop, and the extra time at home will serve to strengthen their bodies. Right now our plan is to introduce Hannah and Noah to the congregation during COF’s 20th Anniversary celebration on April 15, which is also when we’ll baptize them. We’ll keep you posted about that plan as the weeks unfold.

Even in the midst of celebration, there’s sadness. Tenille Weber, who was a dear part of our church family, passed away on January 28. Tenille served COF faithfully as a custodian for 5 years and was active in other areas of the church’s life. On behalf of the Weber family, I’d like to invite you to attend a Celebration of Life service for Tenille on March 5. We’ll gather at 1:00 p.m. in the sanctuary to honor Tenille’s legacy and celebrate her eternal life with Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll make plans to join us.

Finally, I want to end this email by saying that, for a while, I feel God has been placing on my heart the need for our church to provide some sort of venue where we can have heartfelt and robust conversations about the issues that divide our nation. It seems that our country is more divided now than ever before. Therefore, we need an atmosphere where we can come together to discuss controversial subjects in a healthy way. I’m not sure what the end result is going to be, but I’ll keep you posted as I converse with our leadership team to figure something out. If you have any thoughts on this topic, I invite you to email them to me (cjones@communityoffaith.org).

There’s always lots to do at COF, so I invite you to read the rest of this email to find out how you can get more involved and connected.

Take care, and have a great weekend!

Blessings,
Chris



Faith-filled Prayer Compels us to Action

Dear Church Family,

On Wednesday many of us were celebrating Valentine’s Day and observing Ash Wednesday when we got the news of yet another mass shooting-the 18th time a gun has discharged at a school since the start of 2018. I wish I had something profound and meaningful to say right now, but I don’t. My heart breaks and my stomach feels sick. As a new parent, I grieve for the families of these 17 victims. (There may be more, but that’s the current count at the time of this writing.) I find comfort in the truth that God has overcome sin and death in Jesus and that he promises to be with us when tragedy strikes. I also believe in the power of prayer and that we should offer our prayers to those impacted by this senseless act of horror. However, faith-filled prayer is not meant to be a passive act. As James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us, it’s designed to compel us to action (James 2:14-17). My hope is that our prayers offered in faith will lead us to take necessary action to prevent these sorts of tragedies from occurring again in the future. Regardless of our politics, we can all agree enough is enough.

Amanda and I continue to appreciate the prayers you’ve been offering for Noah and Hannah. They’re still in the NICU at Nemours Children’s Hospital at this time. We’re not sure how much longer they’ll be there, but we celebrate the fact that they now weigh over 5 pounds each and that they’re making tremendous progress when it comes to nursing and bottle-feeding. Once they’re able to completely nurse and bottle-feed, they’ll likely come home. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more information from the medical team.

This weekend, we wrap up the message series that we started at the beginning of 2018 called “Actually the Bible Doesn’t Say That.” We’ll look at what is probably the most popular faith cliché of our time – love the sinner, hate the sin. This statement might sound good and virtuous, but it actually has several significant problems. We’ll talk about those problems and why we should scrap this cliché from our faith vocabulary all together. So make plans to attend!

Enjoy your weekend, and I hope to see you either Saturday night or Sunday morning for worship.

Blessings,
Chris



Ash Wednesday is February 14

Dear COF Family,

I write this email to the sound of crying babies, which I’m sure will be a normal sound for Amanda and me during the coming weeks and months. It’s been almost 3 weeks since Hannah and Noah were admitted to the NICU at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, and each day they’re making progress. Indeed, they’re no longer incubated and they’re beginning to gain weight. We’re still not sure how much longer they’ll be here, but we praise God for the outstanding medical care they’re receiving.

Earlier this week, I saw a news segment where a prominent faith leader publicly spoke out against getting flu vaccinations. She explained that, instead of receiving vaccinations, Christians should seek to inoculate themselves from the flu “with the word of God.” I was horrified when I saw this. Medical care shouldn’t be viewed with suspicion, but should be recognized as a gift. Heck, even Luke, whom we believe authored the third Gospel and the book of Acts, was a first-century medical doctor. I think he’d be among the first to point out that God uses all kinds of channels to heal us, including those in line with medicine.

This weekend, I’m back in pulpit, which is where I’ll be preaching the fourth installment of our message series called “Actually the Bible Doesn’t Say That.” The message this weekend is going to debunk a common cliché of faith, namely, God said it. I believe it. That settles it. If you want to know why this cliché misses God’s truth in huge and important ways, then you’ll want to come to COF worship on Saturday or Sunday to find out! By the way, during our Saturday night service, we’re going to be welcoming 2 new members into our Motley Crew. And, during our 8:30 a.m. service on Sunday, we’re going to be assisted by our Boy Scouts. It’s going to be a great weekend all around!


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taking good care

Dear COF Family,

As I write this email, I’m sitting in the family lounge of the NICU at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando. Hannah and Noah came 4-5 weeks earlier than we were expecting, so they’re in the NICU until they get bigger and stronger. I’ve learned that life in the NICU is more of a marathon than a sprint. Basically, in order for Hannah and Noah to be discharged, there are several things they need to do without the help of machines. These include things like regulating their body temperature, gaining consistent weight, and being able to nurse or bottle-feed. The good thing is, they’re making progress each day. We’ll have a better understanding of when they might come home sometime next week.

I want to thank you for giving me space to be with my family. A few weeks ago, I shared in a sermon that when my mom got sick two and a half years ago, I felt guilty about taking time off from COF, especially since I was so new at the time. As I look back, I now see how misplaced those feelings were. COF is a church that prioritizes family, which means it’s expected of me to be with Amanda, Hannah and Noah at this time. You’ll likely see me again in worship not this weekend, but next weekend, which is also when we’ll pick back up on our sermon series called “Actually the Bible Doesn’t Say That.”

Speaking of worship, you don’t want to miss this weekend. My friend, Pastor Mary Downey, will be delivering the message. Mary used to attend COF with her family years back and continues to maintain a close relationship with us. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the Community Hope Center in Kissimmee, which aims to help individuals and families living in poverty get back on their feet. Mary is a gifted preacher and communicator, so you’re definitely going to enjoy her message.

I plan to give you another update about Noah and Hannah next week. In the meantime, please continue to offer your prayers that they will get big and strong. That way mom and dad can bring them home and their COF family can soon meet them.

Blessings,
Chris