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Lent – repentance, fasting, and preparation

If you missed worship last weekend, I preached a stand-alone message entitled “Why Do People Need Community of Faith?” In the message, I focused on what Community of Faith has to offer-what makes our church different and why do we stand out. Yes, God is at work in other churches, but I also believe God has uniquely chosen this church to play a role in his kingdom. You can watch the message here:
 
Here were the 3 basic points I made:
  1. We preach the big picture when it comes to salvation.
  2. We are a motley crew!
  3. We are an outwardly focused church that tries to focus more on the community than we do on ourselves.
 
After the weekend, someone sent me a message and asked me why I felt led to preach this message. There were, of course, a few reasons, some of which I shared. But what I told this person is that I’ve been with the church now for more than a year and a half. My time here has given me a pretty good sense of the characteristics that have come to define Community of Faith over the years. I want to make sure all of us-whether we’re new to the church or we’ve been around since our inception-have an understanding of what those characteristics are. The more committed all of us are to Community of Faith, I believe, the stronger this church will become.

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Available Seating

Dear Community of Faith,

It seems like God continues to have his hand of blessing upon our church. We had another great weekend in worship last Saturday and Sunday with 602 people in attendance-75 more people than this same weekend last year. I am sorry I had to miss out on all the fun. However, I’m thankful to Chet Turk who offered the message, Pastor John Adams who consecrated the elements for Holy Communion, and Betty Wilbur who looked after our two dogs, Teddy and Nala. (It truly does take a village!)

All this new growth is certainly exciting. But with this new growth comes a challenge that I believe all of us can work to address.

When you come to worship, especially if you attend the 10:30 service on Sunday, please make every effort not to sit at the end of the row. I know, I know. That’s normally my preferred spot. But what happens is those who arrive late can’t find anywhere to sit down. Now in truth, there’s normally spots in the middle of the row, but folks-especially if they’re new and don’t know anybody-aren’t always comfortable when it comes to asking someone to move. So, they’ll just stand in the back, not really sure what to do.


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Membership Rewards

Dear COF Family,

We had another great weekend in worship last Saturday and Sunday with just over 600 people in attendance. That number exceeds that of last year by 99 people! There definitely seems to be energy and excitement in the air that’s palpable. It seems that every weekend I encounter folks who are either visiting our church from out of town, or who are new to the area and looking for a church home. I’m confident that we’re going to witness God do some awesome things at Community of Faith in the coming year, especially given the rapid growth the Four Corners is experiencing.

The focus of this weekend’s message ties in well with our desire to see Community Faith draw more and more people to God-namely, Jesus’ command at the end of Matthew’s Gospel to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This command has often been called the Great Commission, and it forms the crux of our mission statement at Community of Faith: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ, who Live by Faith, are Known by Love, and become a Voice of Hope to the world.” Therefore, we’ll spend some time in worship talking about this command and unpacking what following this command might look like for us here.

As of late, I’ve had a few questions from people about the process of joining our church and becoming an official member. To make things easy, I’ve drafted a document that lists the expectations we have of Community of Faith members. These expectations are to be practiced as intentional expressions of Christian commitment rather than read as “rules” to follow or break. You can pick up a sheet of these expectations in the lobby this weekend. Then, if you’re interested in joining, either send me an email (cjones@communityoffaith.org), or drop the sheet off in one of the Joy Boxes with your name and number on it. I’ll contact you back and we’ll set up an appointment.

Why is membership so important?

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Great Attendance

Happy Friday, Church!
 
I want to start this email with some good news.
 
If you were in worship last weekend, you probably felt the influx of people, especially in our Sunday services. Actually, I checked the stats, and with the exception of Easter of 2016, last weekend was our highest attended weekend since I arrived on July 1, 2015. Indeed, we had close to 600 people last week-77 more than we had Super Bowl weekend of the previous year! Our hope and prayer is that the energy and excitement will continue throughout the year as we welcome more and more people into our “motley crew” of Christ-followers. I also would encourage you to go out of your way to say “hi” to people when you’re here. A simple gesture like that can go a long way in making people feel welcome and at peace when they’re here.
 
This weekend, we’ll continue our “Sacramentum” message series by talking about Communion. (If you missed the message on Baptism last week, you can find it by clicking here: https://vimeo.com/202829758.) We’ll explore questions involving the presence of Jesus in Communion, and how God uses Communion to transform us. I’ll also contend why I think it’s appropriate for children to receive the Sacrament, because as a pastor, I often get asked that question. Finally, at our Contemporary Services, we’ll have some Q&A time after the message where I’ll address any lingering questions or thoughts.
 
It’s going to be a great weekend, so make sure to bring a friend. I look forward to being with you soon.
 
Blessings,
Chris


Taking an oath to Jesus

Dear COF Family,

I trust you had a great week. I look forward to seeing you in worship this weekend as we launch into a new message series.

The series that we’re starting is called “Sacramentum,” which is the Latin word for “oath.” In ancient Rome, when soldiers prepared for war, they made a sacramentum to the Empire; that is, they pledged to be loyal to the Empire no matter what. (The movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe illustrates this concept.) The early Christians came to associate this word with the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Through the Sacraments, we pledge our loyalty not to the Roman Empire, but to Jesus Christ, who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet the sacraments are more than an oath of loyalty. They’re also a means of grace. They’re channels through which God makes his grace and presence known.

This series will last for two weekends and explore the significance behind the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. The focus this weekend will be Baptism. We’ll explore such questions as “What does baptism signify?” and “Why do we baptize babies?” If you’ve ever wondered why the Sacraments play such a central role in our church’s life, you’re not going to want to miss this series.

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Coffee, Tea, and God

You’re reading this on Friday, but it’s Monday afternoon on my end. I am getting ready to head out to the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, which is an hour or so north of here (right across the street from the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp). I’ll be there until Friday as the Board of Ordained Ministry meets. The Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM, for short) is a group that interviews candidates for licensed and ordained ministry in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. I had to appear before the BOOM twice in my journey toward becoming a pastor-first as a provisional elder, and then second, for full connection (ordination). It’s a huge honor to sit on the other end of the table as an interviewer. I look forward to the candidates I’ll meet as well as the stories I’ll hear. It’s not a perfect process, but I am proud that we have a system for credentialing clergy. It’s holy work that pastors do, which is why we have this channel for examination and preparation.

Two things are happening tomorrow that I am excited about. The first is the Women’s Tea, at which (God willing) I plan to make an appearance! The second is the launch of our new Saturday night service. As we said, the room will be rearranged, the music will be acoustic, the lights will be different, and the coffee will be overflowing. Yes, the message will be the same, but hopefully these other changes will foster a more inviting atmosphere to those we’re not currently reaching.

I want to leave you with one more thought before I end this post.

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Disappointment and Dark Nights

Dear COF Family,

Last Sunday, after our 10:30 a.m. service, somebody came up to me and asked a question about the message. As you know, we’re in a series right now called “Disappointment with God” where we are exploring our common disappointments with God. Our topic last weekend dealt with the silence of God. As part of that message, I explained there will be seasons when it’s difficult to hear the voice of God or to sense the presence of God in our lives. St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic who lived during the 16th century, called this season the Dark Night of the Soul.

What do we do when we go through this season? That’s the question that was posed to me last Sunday.

It made me wonder if other people had this question. As such, what I’ve included below is an excerpt from a message I preached last October. In that message, I tried to tackle that question. I hope you find it helpful.

Blessings,

Chris

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The Dark Night of the Soul can happen to all of us.
Sometimes the Dark Night of the Soul can happen because of an event. We lose a job. We get divorced. Somebody we love suffers and dies. We go to the doctor’s office and receive a horrible diagnosis.

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Holy Grounds

Earlier this week, I was at a conference with other United Methodist pastors in our district. I don’t remember everything the speaker said, but one thing she spoke about resonated with me. She was discussing how research shows that churches which are more adaptive to change and trying new things (even if they don’t work out), tend to do better than churches which always do things the same way. It made me grateful for Community of Faith. Maybe it’s because we’re still relatively new when compared to most other churches (we’re not even twenty years old yet), but nobody in this congregation has ever said to me, “We’ve never done it that way here before.”
 
I’m trusting that you’ll hold onto that spirit of flexibility as I share with you a new change we’d like to introduce on Saturday night. 
I’m told that in the past Saturday night used to have a different flavor than our 10:30 Sunday morning service. But over the years, the two services have come to mirror each other, with the exception of a smaller crowd on Saturday (anywhere from 50 to 110 people). What we’d like to do is give that service its own identity again.

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New Year – 2017

Happy New Year, everyone!

I want to start by thanking Pastor Bill Anderson for preaching for me while I was gone last weekend. Amanda and I went away to Savannah for a few days where we had the pleasure of bringing in the New Year (along with the thousands of other people who filled the streets!). Amanda had been to Savannah in the past, but I never had. I definitely enjoyed visiting a few of the historical places. In fact, one of our stops was at Christ Church Episcopal, a historic congregation that John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist movement) once served. All in all, it was a great trip. But at the same time, we’re glad to be back in town.

Part of what I am looking forward to most about this weekend is the fact that we’re starting a new series of messages called, “Disappointment with God.”

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The Wesley Covenant Prayer

During this time last year, I mentioned to you a prayer I committed to memory years ago called “The Wesley Covenant Prayer.” The prayer was adapted by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and used by the early Methodists in their worship services, especially as they sought to renew their covenant with God. This prayer is appropriate to recite as we find ourselves on the brink of another year. It goes like this:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

May we live into the words of this prayer as we seek to submit ourselves-all of who we are-to God not only in 2017, but in every year that’s afforded to us.

Blessings,
Chris



Chris’ Christmas poem

“Twas the day before Christmas Eve, when all through the church, bulletins were being printed, and messages were being rehearsed. The decorations all placed in the sanctuary with care, with hopes that the worshipers soon would be there.”

That’s my attempt at poetry, which isn’t very good. Still, if you’re in town, I hope you and your family will join us at one of our 3 worship services tomorrow night-6:00 p.m. (Family), 8:15 p.m. (Contemporary), and 11:00 p.m. (Traditional). Christmas Eve marks the end of Advent, and so in addition to wrapping up our “Christmas at the Movies” series, we’ll finish our Advent collection for UMCOR (The United Methodist Committee on Relief). Let me remind you that we shifted our focus to UMCOR once we reached our $5,000 goal for World Bicycle Relief, which happened two and a half weeks into Advent. This means that all the money we collect in our Voice of Hope baskets tomorrow night will go to victims of various tragedies such as Hurricane Matthew, the Louisiana floods, and the Gatlinburg fires.

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a note from pastor chris

Dear COF Family,

I want to send a brief note to let you know about some upcoming opportunities for you and your family as we head into Christmas.

This Wednesday is December 21st, which is the longest night of the year for us in the Northern Hemisphere. Dawn will begin late on that day, and sunset will begin early. The day will be short, and the night will be long. I think it’s appropriate that Christmas should fall so close to this occasion, because we are physically reminded that Christ has come to pierce the darkness and draw us into new life (John 1:5). Still, for number of us, the darkness is heavy. We think of loved ones who are no longer with us. We call to mind missed opportunities, financial hardships, and failed relationships. The truth is, the Christmas season can be painful for a lot of people. So, with that in mind, I am going to be in the sanctuary beginning at 6:00 p.m. on December 21st for anyone who might want to drop by and have prayer and Communion with me. My hope is that those of you who come will find this time to be meaningful to your spiritual journey.

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