Tag Archives: Body of Jesus

Renewal of a great Christian Church

I’ve been the pastor of First Saint Johns for five years now (wow, I cannot believe FIVE YEARS!) OK, I’m better now, anyway, First Saint Johns really is a great, old downtown, almost cathedral. A place where God is truly glorified and has been for 140 years. It is also the focus on a “Renewal” effort, in order to rebuild a great temple to God.
Due to that I have done a lot of study and experimenting and while this is a message to someone else who is helping on this, I thought I would share this with the blogosphere.
While it might look like First St Johns has been a stuffy, tradition bound church, actually First St Johns “traditions” have been changed considerably in the last five years. While you might assume it has always been a liturgical type of worship, when I started there it was much more a kind of “folksy” as it were, contemporary, really wasn’t feast or fowl. I did not come to First St Johns with an agenda for liturgical worship, but the more I studied and also interacted with other ministries I felt that this is the way we should go. There was a lot of study and thought that went into this, there were no snap decisions and has been handled in a pretty subtle way, partly so that I could learn to do this better (and yea, I have a ways to go). Liturgical worship is not part of my experience, I did not grow up in any particular Christian tradition and my first years were in the United Methodist Church, so it’s not based on an agenda, but in terms of how are we best serving. I certainly could be doing some things in an unconventional way, but there again, I think the repetition of liturgical worship is built in to the worship in order to reinforce the point of the worship for the day. I would agree worship may appear to have a lot “stuffed” in and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go, but I really think a little overkill is more effective and I think it is effective in terms of overcoming years of downplaying Scripture in the church.
There is the issue in terms of using unfamiliar language, I’m not trying to intimidate, with liturgical language. But I think for too long the church has not challenged people, that it has made it easy and not made it something that was something important and God’s glory but that was supposed to be easy and therefore not even worth trying to understand.
I’ve done a couple of worship services, and planning to do it again, that walks through the service and explaining what it was about and why it’s done, something I try to stress for new members also. I really don’t think it’s an issue of “alienating” as much as including people in something that they should come to recognize as something so much bigger, more meaningful, that God does really change lives, His ways are not our ways, be a part of something that is God’s and not something that the church is, again, doing to lower itself into the world, but to raise God’s children above the world.
As I said in my sermon yesterday, worship in a more ancient manner ties us to the ancient church and also as a common factor with Christians around the world. I have seen a lot of current research that finds a desire in people, who, living in a period of such fragility, that we’re in, failure of institutions around us, the desire is for something that is stable, that has survived the centuries, that reaches to a massive number of Christians. Something that is solid, has stood the test of time and will move into the future.
The more we build that, establish that and project that, the more people will realize what they are not getting in their lives right now. During the Pentecost period, we do, mix things up a little. But during the high seasons, I want to emphasize the sacredness of those times and remind people of the important points of Christianity.
The reason why I resist a lot of praise songs is that the emphasis is changed from Jesus to the individual. One of the members of the congregation made an interesting observation (and I’m not really sure he supports liturgical worship), but he said that he’s always counted the number of personal pronouns in “praise music” and the I, me, mine always seem to dominate praise music. Hymns were written to be another way to convey the message of that day’s topic, too much praise music sounds nice, but there seems to be either little teaching or rather superficial teaching. I would very much like to do more with praise music. We’ve been trying to get a First Friday function ramped up to showcase Christian praise, I’d like to do other times of praise music, Erin Bode was at First St Johns a couple of years ago for an evening event. Believe me I love contemporary Christian music music, I have an extensive personal collection.
But it also raises another issue what you and I think of as contemporary Michael Smith, Amy Grant, Michael Card, and what older members think of, Gaither Band, is not what people today think of as contemporary “King and Country” “David Crowder” Modisha, which I also happen to like, but I’m sure you can see that kind of music would not go over big with the majority of people in the congregation. Gaither Band, would not be a big hit with younger members. I really am interested in any suggestions and if it really comes to pass that it would be doable to do a separate contemporary I would certainly consider it.
My reluctance there would be something that other churches have found in doing separate services for awhile, is that it tends to separate the congregation, segment it, instead of bring it together. We may not be able to avoid that since I would very much like to implement a separate Spanish speaking worship, but I honestly believe that at this point, more liturgical worship is what younger people are looking for in terms of stability and other factors that I could go into and would actually unite everyone in one method, vs, doing something that would be more pleasing to one group and would not speak to any other groups.
While I realize that these conclusions are not going to generate a whiz bang. upturn, I do believe that it has stabilized the congregation and given it something that can be shared by everyone and they can bring something that is rather unique into the world as a whole.
One other factor for me is this, I really do have to pick a lane with this church. We have been enormously blessed, and we are in relatively good shape, but we do need to stabilize on a common ground and take that into the world and trust that God is going to use this unified outreach and bless it to His glory and grow His church at First St Johns

Salting and Lighting your world

Salting and Lighting Your World

First ST Johns Feb 9, 2014

We Make our beginning in the Name of God the Father, and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are the salt and the light of the world said… AMEN

Are you the salt of the earth? Reminds me of that great song from Godspell, “You are the salt of the world, but if that salt has lost its flavor, it ain’t got much in it’s favor, you can’t have that fault and be the salt of the earth.” Salt and light were precious commodities back in Jesus’ time. If He was talking to us today He might ask us if we are the petroleum oil and the Amana freezer of our time. Salt and light were valuable, unlike today where, relatively speaking oil and refrigeration are relatively cheap, everyone uses oil in some form and pretty much everyone has a refrigerator/freezer in their home. Tory Borst notes: “Salt is one of those common everyday items we use without thought. We grab the shaker and shake. According to the Salt Institute (www.saltinstitute.org), in the year 2002 over a billion dollars were spent on salt in the United States alone using about 24 ½ million tons of salt.” In Jesus’ time it was more the exception than the rule that you would be able to light your home at night or you would be able to salt your food to preserve it. For the average worker, they would do their work during the day, they would get paid on that day and they would buy what they needed to eat for the rest of that day, they simply didn’t have a way to preserve food for a month, even a few days as most people have today. The phrase “he’s not worth his salt” comes from around that period, Roman soldiers would be paid in salt, if they weren’t performing their jobs properly it was said they weren’t worth the salt they were being paid.

It really goes back to a very fundamental question that we should be asking ourselves all the time. Henry Blackaby‘s devotional raised the issue and he points out what should be a constant reminder to us, are we salt, are we that preserving agent in a corrupted, degenerating world. “Your life is designed and commissioned by God to enhance a community and to preserve what is good and right.” (Henry Blackaby Experiencing God Day by Day p 51) Origen writes: “As salt preserves meat from decaying, so also do Christ’s disciples, [that’s you and me, not just the 11 guys with Jesus, we are all Christ’s disciples], do Jesus’ disciples have a preservative effect?” That is do we simply decay and degrade along with the environment, or is there something active in us? That being the Holy Spirit. Chrysostom writing again says “The worldly are less like lamps than buckets, lacking in God, they are empty from above but full from below.” Do we want to be stretching toward what’s above instead of wallowing in what’s below? Those around us in the world deserve the same chance following the leading of the Holy Spirit and help those around you to be full from above.

Blackaby points out when we are focused on God and what He is guiding us to do, are we staying in front of God? This may be a digression, but it’s part of being a soldier of the Cross too. Do I go and worship, restrengthened, yes even rearmed in Christ. Have we been in His presence in worship, hearing the preached Word, strengthened by the Body of Christ, our brothers and sisters? If we haven’t been strengthened by the Body and Blood of Christ, can we truly be prepared to be salt to a world, that is decidedly unsalty and very corrupt and degenerate world. We are regenerated through the things that God gives us, baptism, Scripture, the preached Word and the Body and Blood. We are not only salt in the world, but we are also sufficiently armed to face the spiritual challenges that keep pushing back against everything that is Jesus. Worship, discipleship, the things that we do to serve and worship God give us our saltiness.

Blackaby asks: “How do we test the ‘saltiness’ of our life? Look at our family. Are we preserving it from the destructive influences that surround it? Examine our workplace. Are the sinful influences in our work environment being halted because we are there? Observe our community. Is it a better place because we are involved in it? What about our church?” Chromatius tells us: “Those who have been educated for heavenly wisdom ought to remain steadfast so as not to be made tasteless by the devil’s treachery.”

No one is saying that your environment is perfect, we are always going to live in a fallen world. But because of our saltiness, is the world around us being impacted? When I worked in finance and during my time on active duty, people did come to me, and they did kind of expect a little more from me, and they did want to “talk”. I was a light in my environment that people were drawn to. Chromatius again, says: “ Jesus’ disciples are called the light of the world because they are illumined by One who is the true and eternal light.” If we are in Christ, we cannot help but project His light. No, it’s not like a lighthouse, “hey look at Driskell over in his cube, all lit up”, but it’s a supernatural radiance that the Holy Spirit produces in you that people look for guidance like sailors looking at a lighthouse. I’m not saying that I was just all that, but it seems that I did make an impact. Many of us, who expect whiz-bang results, I can’t say my results were whiz-bang, but I can say that God was using me. Let’s make it a constant recheck, are we affecting our environment for Christ in the way the Holy Spirit is leading us to impact?

Kevin Haug, who labels himself a Lutheran preacher in Texas told a story written by Warren Hudson of Ontario, Canada. He writes, “One night at the end of a special Saturday night worship service a thunderstorm unleashed a bolt of lightning that plunged the church into darkness.” With the congregation seated in total darkness, the pastor felt his way to the kitchen to find some candles. The pastor handed out the candles to everyone present. Persons lit their candles in much the same way as many churches do on Christmas Eve, each person lighting the candle of the person next to them. The worshipers then made their way through the church’s winding hallways to the front door.
“Peering out, we could see the rain coming down in sheets,” Warren remembers. With traffic snarled, people were running for the nearest shelter. Looking around they realized that the entire city was in darkness. “There in the darkness we stood,” Warren writes, “a little band of Christians, each clutching a light, not sure whether to venture out into the storm or stay inside the church in hopes that the storm would soon blow over.”
Isn’t this an appropriate analogy for many of us in the church? We know there is a world out there enshrouded in darkness. A world out there that is bland and in need of spice. Yet, what do we do about it? Do we face the storm and shine our light? Do we add some spice to the world?”

You really can light up your environment and make it a lot more interesting, a lot more compelling and yes, a lot more challenging. But once you are hooked on jumping in and challenging, not in an arrogant way, or obnoxious, but in a compelling way and in a loving way, showing to others the love of Christ. It is exhilarating, you can’t see it, but as Jesus tells us: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” This isn’t to brag on yourself, but by letting your light shine, seeing what God does through you, You glorify God and others see you being glorified by God. God initiates, He raises you up to be salt and light, you become that to others and by virtue of what you’ve done God is glorified to all. It truly is amazing that by being salt and light God continues to raise us up, raise others through us and justly and deservedly brings glory to Himself.

Spend some time this week, get out your journal, I know all of you contribute so much to your church, your family, your associates, but do they see how God is taking something so ordinary as salt and light and using it to His glory, by glorifying you and turning others to Him through you? How can you help others to know that the true source of your spiciness and light is our Father in heaven?

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.