Tag Archives: Christian worship

Idols hmmmm, really? Tells me to remember who’s really in charge!

I am the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in York, Pa. First Saint Johns (FSJ) was completed in 1875, as you can see from the featured image, the altar, and the rest of the sanctuary are very nice and very reverent.

There are those who I have showed the sanctuary to and felt that there was just “heavens, too much idolatry”. Rather amuses me. I’ve been in a lot of sanctuaries where you might truly wonder what the space is actually used for. By looking at this picture, there should be little doubt what or, better, Who this space is about. It’s all about Jesus and the people who built his sanctuary 140+ years ago knew it.

The altar is especially interesting in that it shows the most important aspects of who and what Jesus is all about. Underneath the flat part, called the mensa, is a lamb, shows that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Next is a crucifix, reminding us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Next is Christ ascending to glory in heaven. The top stained glass window shows Jesus as Lord of all creation, at the right hand of God the Father.

The stained glass windows on the sides have various Christian symbols and at the top is one of the apostles.

People have actually told me how idolatrous this is??? Yet I can go into an old Quaker, Calvinist, etc churches and honestly wonder what’s going on there. I can go into a lot of “community”, “independent”, etc and see no indication that I’m in what purports to be a “Christian” sanctuary. There is a lot of symbology on the altar and on the stained glass at FSJs. A lot of visual reminders of what we believe and Who we hold important. Over the ascending Jesus is the motto “Sola Deo Gloria”, yea wow, “To God only the glory”, yikes that’s a first commandment buster, right?

Why do people really object to this? Why do they prefer to have a “church” that is essentially void of anything that is Christian? I would submit that especially with all the “big-box” non-denominationals, that it’s really more about those in the church preferring to kind of push aside all the Jesus stuff. Yea, they sing about Jesus and kind of preach about Him. But it’s not really about Him, if it was why is there a problem about having a lot of visual reinforcement.

My answer. In the world today it’s all about me, what’s good for me. Well Jesus is good for you, the only and ultimate good. But too many people don’t see it that way. Today’s culture says: I don’t want to be reminded of all that Jesus stuff, if I’m here I’m worshiping what I want, “ooo that gory crucifixion stuff”. Well that’s a whole big subject, and well we just shouldn’t have to do that, just make me happy God. I showed up, I should get the big payoff. Doesn’t work that way folks. It is all about God and not about you. That’s why we have all these reminders to reinforce that in us when we are in true worship, lifting up and praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People who built these great old churches understood that and when I stand in front of the altar here I know exactly what and especially Who it’s all about. It’s why we at First Saint Johns are serious about what we do and why we do it, it’s for Jesus who sacrificed all for us and we will be His for all eternity. So instead of mouthing silly platitudes and not thinking about what is important, let’s all do some serious thinking about what and Who is ultimately important. I have all these beautiful and compelling reminders here, maybe it’s time for you to think about why this is all important.  Sanctuary 140th anniversary

Cathedrals are as important now as ever in Christian witness

First Saint Johns Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown York, Pa. It is an historic and majestic glory to God. Christmas church sanctuaryAnytime I get the chance to show someone the sanctuary, the instant they walk out from under the balcony they inevitably let out a low reverential “wow” and rightly so. OK, I wouldn’t call FSJs (First Saint Johns) a “cathedral” but for a small city like York, Pa., it’s as close as you will get. Keith Anderson in his book “The Digital Cathedral” writes: “…according to Oldenberg’s criteria, cathedrals tend to function as more of a classic third place. Their doors are typically open throughout the day to visitors and pilgrims. People come and go as they wish, remaining anonymous if they choose. They are welcome to admire the architecture, art, or music; participate in worship; or just sit and be present in the space. The experience is not prescribed and there are lower expectations regarding participation and affiliation. As Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, writes, ‘There is clearly something about a cathedral … which breathes an unconditional welcome, allowing people to use its sacred space as they wish.'” (p 136) Well of course use it within reason. But the point is sill the same. FSJs sends an unconditional message of being a Christian church and rightly so. Me and Timothy in worshipI would love for FSJs to be such a cathedral where people could come and go. Add to that our minister of music or our emeritus musician playing the organ on a regular basis would create a magnificent environment of glorifying Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Certainly I would see that as an opportunity to witness to Christ. The building itself is certainly a witness to what the Christian faith community can do to send a very visible witness and message to the community, but when it’s locked up the vast majority of any week, that witness does tend to send a message of isolation and exclusivity. That’s not the message that should be sent.

Having said that, there is the reality that it is in a part of the city that is a little problematic. There have been items that have, well let’s just say grown legs. That would be minimized if we could have regular supervision, but providing that supervision at least 40 hours a week would also be problematic. It certainly would be a tremendous faith statement to leave those doors open without supervision and I’d like to try, but needless to say that’s going to be a tough sell.

I think that you can tell from the pictures (and they frankly don’t do justice) that this is an impressive space and was made that way for a reason, to show that the builders took the church of Jesus Christ very seriously and would sacrifice time, treasure and talent in order to properly celebrate that. Too often such magnificent testimonials are kept locked away. I try to take advantage of every opportunity to at least hold worship, leaving the church open to all who want to attend. All are welcome to worship. OK, if we have the Lord’s Supper you do need to be a Lutheran. There’s a good reason for that and for anyone who wants an explanation I will be glad to provide it. However, worship is important and if you are willing to be flexible, not so dogmatic in terms of feeling you should be able to do whatever you want, you will get a lot out of worship.

“A cathedral is an immersive experience of faith formation, with the images, architecture, people, music and ritual all serving to form those who enter that space.” (Ibid p 166) Yes, faithfulness to those who were motivated by God to build this tribute and the accompanying unique ritual will affect people. We are serious about worship at FSJs, you will get a genuine worship experience in Christ here. We are not about the world, we are about true Christian worship and everything in that sanctuary is a tribute to that. Not just the history, but the faithfulness of today. What too much contemporary worship lacks is any real connection to the rest of the church. It is connection to the rest of the church, all over the world, as well as to the historical church, all down through Christian history that demonstrates true faithfulness. We are here to be a faithful part of the entire church, vertically and horizontally. Someone from the Lutheran Church in Africa (which is growing explosively, there are more Lutherans in Africa than in North America) could come to worship at FSJs and understand what is going on. They may not get the language or small provincial tweeks, but overall they would feel welcome and part of the worship. The same for a Lutheran from 400 years ago. That’s a good thing, not to be denigrated, the church is all about relationship and true worship. Not entertainment and playing to the crowd. “Part of the genius of cathedrals is the way they affect and shape us simply be being inside them. Even as you trace a particular stone carving with your finger, stare up at a certain stained glass window, walk by a labyrinth… the environment itself is shaping you. As Marshall McLuhan reminds us, ‘Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible.’ The space we inhabit (just as the media we use) affect us in ways we don’t always notice.”(Ibid p 166)

The cathedral is always intended to remind us of the ubiquitousness of God, His infinite power and glory and that He focuses all on the individual believer. It’s built to give us the tiniest hint of the glory of God and eternal life in Jesus in the resurrection. Too much of today’s church architecture is made to make people comfortable, a pleasant environment. That’s not what it’s about, it’s about challenging you, wowing you, giving you just the slightest glimpse of the presence of almighty God, Creator, Sustainer, Savior. “That kind of reaction is just what the architects intended… the overall feeling she had was one of weightlessness, as if being lifting heavenward.” (Ibid p 167)

While too many try to emphasize taking over abandoned retail stores for worship, and sure that has its place, too many are also trying to minimize the great monuments to God that can still be maintained and stand as a tribute to the Triune God, to Christ whose church this is, He built the church and as much as possible we should build churches to truly honor Him. My hope and vision is that we can build the ministry of these churches, truly have a cathedral that will be open to any, available to those who want to have worship on Thursday nights at 5pm because they just can’t get to worship any other time. To be a place where people are free to inquire and search and I can be there to help them in that inquiry.

I get the point of Rev Anderson’s book, in this new age we should be a part of all the places where we can reach and connect with people. I have no problem with that and do that to the best of my ability. However, what better place to give people a genuine experience in Christ in a place that was built to honor and glorify Him and genuine discussion and inquiry can happen?

Will God really bless you’re being MIA from the real church?

Since I’ve been in ministry over five years, I think I can make some valid assessments. Especially being in a downtown/inner city church. While it is inner city and there are violent incidents, I can honestly say that there has been very little impact while I have been there. We’ve had a couple of incidents of material vandalism, but these were isolated, no one really even around. A couple of incidents of people who needed to be confronted, one physically removed. But I frankly don’t believe it’s anymore than any other church. We all have our unfortunate incidents, a downtown church is not immune from that. I grew up and lived in a larger city for over thirty years. There’s nothing in York that is really impressively violent. It’s certainly not parts of Boston, Detroit, Baltimore etc. While I can’t give you hard measurements, it seems that if anything, at least for the area surrounding First Saint Johns, things have improved, since I’ve been here.

Another observation I’ve made is the number of “realists” who think that their uninformed opinion and their life in general is just A-J squared away and that they have some compulsion to share it. Part of that is this disregard for the importance of the serious Christian church, especially in the urban area.

At First Saint Johns, there is a faithful group of people, who genuinely want to be part of the community. Now, that has been somewhat stunted because of some negative influences among the membership. More and more that is being pushed aside and the church is more and more being a part of the community.

But we still have many outside of the church who seem to think that it is all about them (and yes, there certainly is that element in the church), that the church is there solely to meet their needs. It’s as if it’s some kind of social service agency that is just there to meet their needs and then leave them alone.

For those outside of the church, I’ve had many over and over who show up and expect people to just hand over things. People showing up around worship is a regular routine. Apparently the scenario is that I’m too busy to really deal with them, so I’ll just hand over what they want, they seem to think that I don’t want them there to begin with. Seems that they may be a disruption and I don’t want to deal with that. Yea, I’m just not going to rise to that bait. My standard procedure is to tell them to go to worship and then I’ll have time to talk to them afterwards. We have fellowship time after worship and they’re certainly welcome to share. I know that doesn’t go over big with some people in the church, but again I’m not there to play to those who have been there decades and expect that I’m supposed to be on their script. In five years there’s been a couple of people who’ve stayed and it gives me a chance to see a little of what they’re about and, maybe, help them. For the most part, when they see that the their plan isn’t going to play out the way they want, they unceremoniously leave.

When someone like that actually does want to talk, one thing I emphasize is what they’re going to do in order to pull things together. That being a part of a church community is probably one of the few places in our world today that you can build a genuine human face-to-face relationship. I try to impress upon them that people are much more willing to help and help in a meaningful way, if they will make the first step to become part of that community. I have seen it work. Too often, the subject person just won’t give it a legitimate try and walks away in scorn. But for some who have really done it the right way, I have seen them grow and begin to pull a real life together. Not saying it’s perfect, but I think and I’ve been told, that it has made a real change.

This is the more obvious example, but everyone out there needs to build genuine relationships and of course the most vitally important relationship is with Jesus. There is simply no way to build that relationship unless you are in a church body, the Body of Christ, with genuine, faithful, orthodox Christian believers. Sure other non-Christian churches do build personal relationships, but they are not building people to relationships in Christ.

My question is: Does God bless someone when they are MIA (Missing In Action) from his genuine, evangelical, Law and Gospel preaching church? Have to tell you, the answer is a genuine no. I’ve had it happen a few times, most recently when we were doing an outreach, right out in front of the church for a large road race that goes right by the church. A man stops who’s asking me what’s the difference between our church and the local big box church, which of course he thinks is all that and a bag of chips.

I told him, First Saint Johns is genuine worship. We’re not there for entertainment and amusement and feel good Christianity. We are here to be genuine disciples. Jesus tells us in Matthew: [ESV Matthew 7:22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'” And Jesus replies to them: “[ESV Matthew 7:23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Sorry, but there are too many “pastors” out there who are playing to the crowd and too many crowds expecting to be entertained and patted on the head, who both think that what they’re doing is genuine worship. Not only that, but I’ve had this a few times, people who have had nothing to do with a genuine church, but when real life happens (as compared to big-box churches who generally will tell you that everything is just hunky-dory so long as you have faith), they expect a genuine church to swoop in and give them the comfort of Christ in their tragedy. Sorry, but the big-box churches won’t do that, to them, any kind of trial is on the person being subjected to trial, they obviously didn’t have enough faith. But please, showup and tell me about your nice earth toned building that entertain you once a week, or whenever you show up, but does little in terms of growing disciples and genuine outreach to serve those in genuine need.

Let’s look at the Acts church, a genuine church. Now let’s put aside all the charismatic stuff. Because I’m sorry Pentecostal churches, the Acts Church was not dancing around making the Christian life all fun and games and miracles. Yes, there were miracles, but this was the church in its infancy, the Gospels hadn’t been written yet. The moving of the Holy Spirit discipled them, and that’s fine. But for subsequent churches, they were discipled by men who had been genuinely taught and trained and could teach from the writings of the Gospel writers. Faith was based and is based today on what we are taught and led by the Holy Spirit. Not some fatuous, pretentious claim of speaking in tongues, healing, prosperity, but genuine Christian discipleship. There are genuine Christians out there who don’t speak in tongues, who are unhealthy and who are not financially well off. There are too many phoney Christians out there who are pretty sure they know more than everyone, they can buy or work their way to salvation (I refer you to Donald Trump’s recent comments) and that it is according to their script. This ladies and gentlemen, is the Pharisaical philosophy of the big-box church. This was the Corinthian Church as compared to the Acts Church.

The Corinthian church had a bunch of pretty well to do members who were pretty sure it was all about them. They would tolerate gross sexual immorality, they would bring in their big feasts, send the poorer members out to the kitchen to forage what they could, while they enjoyed their big feasts with their fellow Pharisees in the stately dining room, of course befitting their position, opposed to those poor Christians in the kitchen.

The Acts Church was nothing like that. In fact Paul was out raising money to support the church in Jerusalem. The church had nothing to speak of, its members had nothing to speak of and basically every one lived hand to mouth. Living not for themselves, but for each other feeding each other, caring for each other, helping each other through the trials. The Corinthians would have pooh-poohed such a pathetic situation. Sound familiar? Now objectively looking at both, which church would you really say demonstrated genuine faith?

Referring back to those Pharisees who come and tell me how everything should be, “I’m going to share with you everything you need to know to do things right” types. (Really I swear these people think I just fell off the tuna trolley.) This type of person is an interesting study, they will tell you how smart they are, yet, not smart enough to know what they’re talking about, or who they’re talking to. They simply don’t let the facts get in their way. I would compare education, life experience, work ethic with any of them, but they simply are not interested in getting the full story, they just want to make sure they know that I know they know it all, and that I’m incredibly naive to think that anyone needs a genuine Law/Gospel, discipling Christian church. Hey, here’s a thought Mister know it all, I might actually know things that will help you, I can give you real ministry, trained, experienced, genuine, doctrine that’s been around for 500 years and has guided millions of people to Christ. You might actually get something out of a genuine Christian church and know what it truly means to be a Christian.

Now this applies to both those who are coming in demanding that I hand over what they want, so they can leave and buy their booze, drugs, sex etc. And to those who are quite sure that because of their blessings that they are all that and a bag of chips and if I were smart like them (heaven forbid) I should listen to them and they’ll get me all straightened out. I submit, that if you would give me the opportunity, you might finally realize that the poorly trained pastor (most barely have a “Bible School” training. The Lutheran Church generally requires a Masters Degree) at your pretty happy-clappy-earth toned theatre, (ya, hardly ever a real church, usually built like a theatre for entertainment versus a genuine sanctuary. And you’re never going to see a crucifix, and probably not any type of cross or other meaningful Christian symbol. Because hey that would just harsh everyone’s buzz). Contrast with the “pastor” who really has no life experience, no real education, thinks that being a Christian (like to much of the world is entertainment and a handful of nice cliches, which are not usually even biblically based), mostly because he/she is immature and has never lived any life yet, but hey at least they make you feel good.

But when you want true Christian ministry, because you are now confronted with genuine crisis, genuine trials and you realize the “churches”, Christian mantras and “feel good”/prosperity prattle really doesn’t help you to cope in life, you may not have a church to come back to. You may find that genuine Christian ministry doesn’t have time for you. Does God really bless and support you when you’ve rejected His real church for decades? That you’ve failed to raise your children in a real church? That you’ve made it all about you and nothing about Jesus who died as a payment for your sins? That you expect an already overworked, extended pastor, who has been doing genuine ministry, for people who have been leading a genuine Christian life, that pastor is going to drop everything and jump through hoops for you? You, a person who expects people to jump through hoops and yet you make little if any sacrifice from your own life? That’s the sin of “simony”, when Peter told the sorcerer Simon that he should perish with his money. Do me and a lot of genuine pastors out there, a favor, keep your money. My integrity is only in Christ and what He did for me. Show some real integrity on your part and start supporting a genuine church of Christ. Are you genuine or do you just talk a good game? I know for most of those people who want to tell me what it’s really all about, they talk a good game, but they wouldn’t know genuine Christian ministry and discipleship if it bit them in the  nose. I’ve seen a lot of types, in different areas of my life, who have managed to do well in life, by doing very little except talk a good game, but not really know what it is to be a new creation in Christ.

Too many out there need to pick the real team, get back in the real game. Great things are happening here at First Saint Johns Church. To be sure God is going to work His blessing, with or without you. For once in your life, listen instead of presuming to know what is really going on. For those who have been truly serving for so long in God’s church, they need others to step up as genuine Christians to begin to do genuine Christian service and ministry, in a place where it really matters. If you’re really all that smart, show us how real Christian ministry can lead others to eternal life in Christ and genuine service in the world, true disciples.

Call me intemperate, over the top, but it’s way past time for many to step up and take real responsibility for their role in Christ’s church and to support genuine ministry and not ministry that is solely about entertainment and tickling your ears. I will be working my butt of supporting genuine ministry to genuine Christians, those who have been there for Jesus’ church through all the trials, tribulation and celebrations. I owe them my time and I will give as much time, talent and treasure as God leads me to do, day or night, 24/7. How do I know that? Because that’s what I’ve been doing. But for those who expect to drop in then drop out, you may not have a place to go. My time, talent resources are genuine, they’ve been given to me by God to use in His service and the priority for those resources are going to be for the benefit of those who have served and been disciples in Christ’s church. For those who think that the church is their for their convenience and just don’t seem to get true ministry, they may well have to wait. Let’s see real Christian men jump into the true fight and not sitting patting each other in your pretty little earth-tone churches.