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God's Kintsugi World

Central was pleased to welcome Rev. Luke Miedema to give a sermon on Philippians 4:1-9 entitled "God’s Kintsugi World,” where he addressed how God is restoring a broken world that is fractured by sin into something that’s brand new and far better than the original. Luke Miedema is the senior pastor at Grace Church of the Roaring Fork Valley in Basalt, CO.

July 18, 2021 | Watch

Together

In the final sermon of our series “How To Be Human (Again),” we explore the priority, practices, and power of Christian community and why we need others in order to become the person God has called and destined us to be.

July 11, 2021 | Watch

The Pressures Are Real

"For most of the time in this letter we have been aware of persecution coming from surrounding non-Christian culture. Part of it will have been unofficial, simply involving ordinary people sneering, criticizing, ostracizing or using occasional violence. Some of it, though, will have been official, as the local authorities took a hand and made life difficult for the Christians. How easy it will have been, as it still is, for the Christians then to demonize their visible, human opponents, to regard them as the real source of the problem. Now at last we see this isn’t the case. There is a real enemy ... This enemy is seriously dangerous, particularly when ignored. Peter, however, uses a more obvious animal as the image to describe the enemy. The enemy is like a roaring lion looking for someone to swallow up. The word Peter uses is far more than simply ‘eat’; it implies that the lion will simply gulp you down in a single mouthful. No time to protest or struggle. You’ll be gone. It’s a terrifying image, and one which alerts us at once to the serious nature of the Christian life. Too many Christians soft-pedal the idea of actual spiritual warfare, of a real confrontation with a real devil. As C. S. Lewis said when writing about his world-famous book The Screwtape Letters, consisting of letters from a senior devil to a junior one on how to tempt people, some people dismiss the idea of a devil by thinking of a ridiculous little person with horns and hooves wearing red tights. They can’t believe in a creature like that, so they decide they can’t believe in the devil. Other people become so fascinated with the devil that they can think of little else, and suppose that every ordinary problem in life, or difficulty in someone else’s personality, is due to direct devilish intervention. Lewis steers a wise path between these two extremes, and so should we. But perhaps, for many of my readers, the danger may be more in ignoring the tempter than in over-dramatizing him.” – N. T. Wright, The Early Christian Letters Purpose To understand the seriousness of spiritual opposition so that Christians find strength in God Discussion Questions 1. How do your ideas of the devil match up with Peter’s picture of the devil (v.8-9)? 2. Much of 1 Peter is about suffering. On what basis can Peter end his letter with the assurance of peace (v.14)? 3. To what circumstances and relationships in your life does the entire letter of 1 Peter speak most directly?

May 16, 2021 | Read

The Leaders We Need

The most common term for church leaders in the New Testament is elders, which was the typical form of leadership in the churches. The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek word presbyteros, which refers to the form of church government that is led by elders. In this passage, Peter reminds the elders of responsibilities that have been entrusted to them, which include shepherding the flock and exercising oversight (v.2). He explains that Jesus himself is the chief Shepherd who will reward those who faithfully serve him as leaders. To the younger members of the congregation, Peter encourages them to subject themselves to the elders and to relate with humility towards one anothers, reminding his readers that God is against the proud, but will lavish his favor upon those who are humble.   Purpose To understand the heart of Christ in leadership Discussion Questions 1. Who are some good leaders you have worked with? What made those people good leaders? 2. What attitudes does Peter say should be in the heart of an elder in the church? 3. How was Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, an example of humility and leadership that served the flock rather than domineered over them?

May 9, 2021 | Read

Mission in a Secular Age: Follow the Pain

Mission in a Secular Age is a lecture series exploring the intersection between Christ, church, and culture. Listen to Jason Harris discuss the unique features of our cultural moment and how they affect the way in which we should approach a Christ-centered mission to the world around us.

November 18, 2020 | Listen

Mission in a Secular Age

Mission in a Secular Age is a lecture series exploring the intersection between Christ, church, and culture. Listen to Jason Harris discuss the unique features of our cultural moment and how they affect the way in which we should approach a Christ-centered mission to the world around us.

October 15, 2020 | Listen

A Christian Denunciation of Racism

Central Presbyterian Church and the denomination to which we belong, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, denounce in the strongest terms the tragic and wrongful killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor as well as the persistent evil of racism and racial injustice. It grieves us that we should have to write the following words because they should be embraced without having to be expressed. But in light of the urgency of the moment, let us state clearly that the idea that one race is superior to another is directly opposed by God who created all men and women in his image and has imbued each one with equal worth and dignity (Genesis 1.27-28). All people possess a basic human right, given by God, to be treated with respect (Psalm 82.3). Racism in all its forms is an abomination to God because it distorts, diminishes, defames, and destroys those whom God has created in his image (Psalm 8.5). Racism is not only a blight upon our society, but antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus ushered into existence the kingdom of God in order to establish true justice, righteousness, and peace (Romans 14.17). By his work on the cross, Jesus has torn down the dividing wall of hostility and hatred that may have once existed between peoples of different races and ethnicities. Through Jesus Christ, we are no longer enemies of God or of one another (Ephesians 2.11-18). In Christ, we are one family (Galatians 3.27-28). As a result, the church and all its members are tasked with a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.11-20). We are called not only to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ but to join Jesus in his mission to proclaim good news to the poor and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4.18). The God of the Bible is committed to setting things right, and God likewise commands his people to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God (Micah 6.8). We, therefore, affirm the right to peaceful protest, and we support those calling out for change that will bring an end to the unequal treatment of African Americans and all people of color within our society. How long, O Lord, must this evil persist? We call all individuals, groups, and institutions that endorse and perpetuate racism to repent and make amends (Galatians 2.14). Each one of us must also examine our own hearts in order to root out and confess all forms of implicit and explicit racial bias and ask God for forgiveness and deliverance from this heinous sin (Psalm 139.23-24).  We likewise denounce all forms of violence and vengeance (Matthew 5.38-39). Some may advocate the use of violence because they believe that all non-violent attempts to eradicate systemic racism have stumbled or failed. We realize others may take advantage of the present crisis in order to sow seeds of discord or to steal, kill, and destroy with impunity. Regardless of the motivation or purpose, we lament the death, injury, and destruction of property that has been carried out in recent days, and the asymmetrical toll it places on disadvantaged communities. We call for an end to brutality and violence, no matter who the perpetrator may be, and we affirm that the only way to overcome evil is with good (Romans 12.17-21). Lament is a form of Christian prayer that is often overlooked, but it is perhaps greatly needed during this time of crisis. Through prayers of lament, which are in ample supply in the Psalms, we express not only our frustration and sorrow but also our sheer inability to understand the suffering and pain we experience in a deeply broken and divided world. We direct our lament to the God who knows and loves us in the sure and certain hope that he will heal us and renew our world. We take comfort in the fact that God is not immune to our pain but joins us in our grief (Genesis 6.6; John 11.35), and we praise God that he is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3.20). Prayer can only represent a beginning, but let it serve as a beginning rather than an end. Let us use this time as an opportunity to grow and learn from one another. God’s chosen instrument for bringing his kingdom to bear on earth as it is in heaven is the church. The church is meant to be a model to the world of how people from different races and ethnicities can learn to love and serve one another for Jesus’ sake. The church must lead during this time of crisis. Speaking personally, I wrote this message with some fear and trepidation. At times, I struggle to find the right words to express my thoughts, feelings and questions as it relates to issues of race. But a friend reminded me that home is the place where one should be able to speak freely, and Central is our home. Within our community, we can speak and listen to one another on sensitive topics knowing that we have the power to extend grace and forgive one another for any words that do not come out quite right. I hope that you will offer that gift to me in this instance, if required. As we seek to live together as a church family with all the differences of race, ethnicity, and culture that exist among us, we have the opportunity to learn from one another in a context of mutual love and care. We may make some mistakes along the way, but any effort we put towards the goal of racial reconciliation should inspire us and fill us with hope. As brothers and sisters living together in New York City, we have been granted a rare gift to be able to celebrate and enjoy our differences. It is only together that we reflect the fullness of God’s image in us. It is only together that we grow into the fullness of Christ. For my part, I had previously developed a summer reading list of African American authors to help me better understand the African American experience and to learn how these authors used their words to express themselves. I’m all the more committed to this personal reading plan in light of recent events. In addition, I have initiated a new sermon series focused on the Life of Moses. One of the many reasons why I chose this theme for the summer is that the Exodus story has long provided the African American church with a framework for understanding how God would lead them out of their own Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the land of promise. My hope is that we will all gain new insight about what it means to be the children of God and the objects of his love and deliverance. It should go without saying, but let me add that I would heartily welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with you more personally. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of our staff members or officers if you would like to further the conversation. Let us give voice to our lament.  Let us humble ourselves and pray that God would heal the divisions in our country, lead us to repent of the sin of racism, and establish justice for all people without exception. Let us make a start.

June 16, 2020 | Read

Meaning or Absurdity During the Plague

In the midst of all this disruption to our normal lives, we may find ourselves feeling a bit aimless. What meaning can we find in the face of all this devastation?   This was the very question that Albert Camus sought to answer in 1947 when he published a novel entitled The Plague. Camus intended this book to be read on multiple levels. If you read it, you will see it’s a bit uncanny how much this novel resonates with our own experience today.   The story takes place in the port city of Oran in Algeria, and the main character is a doctor named Bernard Rieux who notices that rats—oddly enough—are dying openly in the streets all over the city. After the concierge of his building dies of a strange fever, he consults with his friend, Dr. Castel, who has come to the conclusion that a plague is sweeping through the town. Together they must convince the authorities to take decisive steps instead of denying that there is a problem or wasting any more precious time. Once the daily death toll spikes the whole city is quarantined. The gates are shut. Travel is prohibited. All communications are restricted.   Camus describes the effect of this shutdown on the general public. It felt like living in exile. He writes: “Once the town gates were shut, every one of us realized that all, the narrator included, were, so to speak, in the same boat, and each would have to adapt himself to the new conditions of life.” They reluctantly conclude that they were “all in this together.”   Previously each person might have thought that his or her own struggle was unique compared to the common suffering of others, but now they realize that they are all experiencing the same intense longing for loved ones. “All these people found themselves, without the least warning, hopelessly cut off, prevented from seeing one another again.”   During the epidemic, Camus seeks to show the various ways in which people respond to their feelings of exile. Some devise plans to try to escape the city. Others find ways to get rich by making money on the black market during the crisis. But Camus reserves perhaps one of his sharpest critiques for the local priest. At the onset of the health threat, the priest delivers a sermon to a packed-out church in which he tries to provide a straightforward explanation for why this is happening. What does the priest do? He blames the residents of Oran for the epidemic. Rather than lamenting the fact that we live in a broken world where we may experience otherwise inexplicable sickness and suffering, the priest tries to rationalize the outbreak. The priest reaches for the most tired and simplistic explanation for any tragedy. Why did this calamity come upon them? Because they deserved it. The priest calls the plague a punishment for their sins—but, of course, it’s not a punishment for any of his own.   In contrast to these negative and inadequate responses to the epidemic, Camus lifts up the example of Dr. Rieux and a few of his friends who focus on treating patients and creating a volunteer team to assist in the city’s sanitation efforts. As the months go by, the situation worsens. People begin to view one another with suspicion. Everyone is at risk of infection, and everyone is a potential carrier. Eventually, the authorities must declare martial law and impose a curfew to prevent people from trying to escape the city. As the number of people succumbing to the disease increases, the emergency rooms are filled to capacity. Houses and hotels are turned into make-shift hospitals and isolation wards. The number of people dying becomes so great that funerals are conducted with less ceremony and greater speed. Little concern is shown for the feelings of the surviving family members.   What makes matters worse is that, in time, it becomes abundantly clear that the anti-plague efforts of Dr. Rieux and his friends do not seem to make much of a difference at all. All their efforts are futile. People keep dying all the same and there is no rhyme or reason to it. The plague is said to deliver “impartial justice” because its victims occupy all levels of the social ladder. It doesn’t matter if you're rich or poor, young or old. Everyone faces the same threat. Some die from the plague, and some die from other causes. Dr. Rieux and his colleagues know that the plague is an airborne contagion, and therefore they increase their chances of infection by fighting against it. But they also know that they could die by doing nothing at all. They choose action in the face of death.   After several months have passed, the epidemic finally begins to break. The gates are reopened. The city is filled with joy, and everyone tries to return to normal life. Towards the end of the novel, Dr. Rieux begins to reflect on what could be learned from this epidemic and what meaning could be found during this long period of exile—which he refers to as a cruel leisure.   “Yes, they had suffered together, in body no less than in soul, from a cruel leisure, exile without redress, thirst that was never slaked. Among the heaps of corpses, the clanging bells of ambulances…among unremitting waves of fear…always a great voice had been ringing in the ears of these forlorn, panicked people, a voice calling them back…And it was to this…toward happiness, they longed to return…As to what that exile and that longing for reunion meant, Rieux had no idea. But…he was thinking it has no importance whether such things have or have not a meaning; all we need consider is the answer given to men's hope. Henceforth he knew the answer…If there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love. But for those others who aspired beyond and above the human individual toward something they could not even imagine, there had been no answer…”   In other words, the best that we can ever hope for and sometimes attain in the midst of an epidemic is an experience of human love, but beyond that, there is no answer to the question of whether our life means anything. In the final pages, Dr. Rieux reveals he is the narrator of this story, and this is how Camus concludes the novel:   “Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle…to state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise. Nonetheless, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory…As he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague…never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when…it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”   The Plague is meant to serve as an allegory for the human condition. Camus rejected belief in God and held that human life was absurd because we all live under the sentence of death. Whether we die during an epidemic or from some other cause doesn’t really matter. Sooner or later, one way or another, we are all going to die—and all our attempts to resist death are ultimately futile. Our life is one prolonged period of exile in which we feel cut off from the possibility of lasting happiness. In the end, everything that matters to us—ourselves included—will be obliterated. Therefore, for Camus, life is utterly irrational and absurd. There is no meaning to our existence. But even if death renders our lives meaningless, Camus believed that it is more noble to fight against suffering and death than to simply give in and resign ourselves to it. There’s something to that, of course. We have seen for ourselves how an epidemic can draw out the best in people. This is what leads Camus to say: “in a time of pestilence…there are more things to admire in men than to despise.”   In the final analysis, however, Camus believes that the most that you can hope for in this life is an experience of human love. That is our only shot at happiness. Camus will admit that even that is still nothing more than a consolation prize because eventually, death will strip you of the ones you care for the most. That’s why Camus concludes the novel by saying that our JOY is always imperiled because the plague – representing the ultimate nothingness of death—never dies or disappears for good. It can lie dormant for years and years—but eventually, it will resurface and take away everything you love.   I admit that’s a little depressing, but that’s French philosophy for you. And as far as atheist philosophers go, Camus is probably a bit more upbeat than most. But let’s be honest, that’s about as good as it gets without God. As a contemporary philosopher puts it: “In the absence of God, all there is left to human life is human action and interaction…and the only meaning any of it has is the meaning we manage to give it. Our existence is thus one long walk on a tightrope over a yawning abyss and there is nothing to catch us should we fall into meaninglessness or isolation or even mere ordinariness” (Anthony Simon Laden, Philosophers Without Gods).   The only meaning in life is the meaning we manage to give it. That might sound exhilarating or inspiring to some. But to me, it seems like little more than a game of pretend. It reminds me of people who struggle with being on time so they deliberately set their watch fast by five minutes. I actually tried doing this once, but it didn't work because I knew that even if the watch said 11:00 am, I knew it was really 10:55am. In other words, I knew I was lying to myself. And here's the point, we can't just imagine that our life means something if it doesn’t. Let’s confront the brutal facts: either life has meaning that death can’t take away or it doesn’t.   And that is why Christianity offers us something far better.   It’s so easy to assume that Jesus’ death was nothing more than a senseless tragedy. Yet another young man sent to an untimely grave. And if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then Camus is right. Our life is absurd and there isn’t any meaning to it all.   But if Jesus has been raised, then it means that death does not get the last word. Therefore, this life is not absurd, but everything takes on new meaning because this life does not come to a pointless end but lasts into God’s promised future.   If the only meaning to our existence is the meaning we create for ourselves then that is like building sandcastles on the seashore. Everything we are, everything we have ever accomplished, and everyone we have ever loved will be washed away by the waves of time.   But if, on the other hand, God is bringing about a new creation, then everything we do now based on the hope we have in Jesus matters. Everything from the most trivial and mundane tasks to the most important and monumental achievements will be preserved if nothing else in the memory of God and become part of the building blocks of the new creation.   Christians do the good that they can with the time that they have because they know that God will take whatever we have to offer and weave it all together into the tapestry of the new world he is bringing about.   That’s why at the end of his famous chapter about the resurrection of Jesus in his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul does not conclude by telling us to sit back and relax because Jesus has been raised from the dead. No, he tells us to get to work!   He writes: “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding the in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” If Jesus has been raised from the dead, then nothing you ever do for Jesus will ever be in vain. Nothing will be lost. Nothing will be wasted. Everything counts. Everything matters because everything will last. Your life is not irrational or absurd. Because of Jesus, it matters far more than you even know.   This blog post is an excerpt from the sermon preached on April 19, 2020. Cilck here to view the full sermon.

April 21, 2020 | Read