Tuesday, July 07, 2009

June Newsletter Article

My mentor Dr. Len Sweet says that as we mature in faith we have to “put down the fork and put on an apron.” I have thought about that concept a lot. John Wesley discovered that when he was doing missionary work, he was transformed by God even more than the people he was serving. Service does a great deal to transform us. There is a guy that I have been talking to lately named James Zinkand. James is a great guy and is bicycling through Africa with his friend J.P. James was telling me that they are riding through Africa to raise money for some charities and to help everyone they see that they can help. This is an amazing thing to do and these guys have tremendous hearts. Through the service that James is doing, he is thinking about God more and we were talking about that a little bit. When we love other people and have a heart of service, God becomes clearer to us. Although James doesn’t know what to think of faith and religion at the moment, he is exploring the idea of who God is in his life and would love it if we could all pray for him and his friend as they take this journey through Africa on bicycles. In my sermon last week, I talked about how God works though the little things that we do and I have no doubt that God is going to be working through James and JP as they journey into Africa doing whatever they can to serve as many people there as they can.
This last conversation I had with James caused me to start thinking about worship. We worship God in lots of different ways and we are in the midst of starting a new worship service. Often when I go to worship, I automatically am in the mode of going for myself. I want to see what I can get out of it and if I like it or not. When I became a pastor, I began to realize what it really meant to go to a worship service for others, to make their experience better and to be on a journey with God and them. Building relationships with others and having a heart of service in worship makes all the difference in the world. I have been struggling with just how to run the new Saturday night service because I think of all the different people that might have different feelings about what we do. There is no way to make everyone happy and our strategy of making each worship service unique is so that we can focus on different groups of people, or what they call in the new church world, “mission fields.” The Saturday night service is going to be more experiential and participatory. The mission field that it is intended for is people that are outside of the church and people that are seeking a community of faith and a relationship with God, people like James. My hope is that there are people coming to this service that have had a negative perception of church and who may not be aware of any relationship they have with God. We should want these kind of people to come to every worship service we have, but the truth is that worship services become about what touches the people that are already there, not about the people that are outside the church. All of these kinds of services are very important, but this one will be different because we will always try to keep the people in mind that aren’t there yet, what their needs are and what they like. In order to get a service like this going, there need to be at least 50 - 100 people that commit to coming every time they can, for the first 6 months or a year. Normally, I would get people’s names down on paper, and I still might do that, but I am trusting that there are enough people in this church with servant’s hearts that will come to this service, not because it is for them, but because they care about people outside of the church. We may talk about something you already know, or things may come up that make you uncomfortable, but if we always remember that we are there to be in community with others that come from a very different place than us, we can have a successful ministry through this service. Thanks for being such a great church and let’s put the “service” in Worship Service.
--rev. todd

Monday, June 15, 2009

May Newsletter Article

An old Chinese Proverb says, "A bird does not sing because it has an answer--it sings because it has a song." Last month I wrote about one reason that some people do not trust the church is because their lack of trust in business carries over. In order to address this for people outside of the church, I try to have meetings with people in various places throughout the community. The last time I met with someone at the church building one-on-one, they told me it felt like they were going to an interview. The conversation we had was affected greatly by the environment. There are still definite times that I meet with people at the church building for convenience, if I don’t know them, or if it is someone from the church that is used to meeting there. If we are serious about bridging the gap between people in the church and people outside of the church, we must take their feelings into account about how we do ministry. I have gone to many conferences that have pastors telling us why people don’t like church, but I prefer to ask people that don’t go to church why they don’t. There are many easy things we can do to take barriers away between people and the church. I believe very strongly that the church is God’s hands and feet in this world, the body of Christ. The church is very important to the Kingdom of God and it is important to me to make it as easily accessible to all kinds of people as it can be. We have the unusual and unique blessing of having three different pastors at St. John’s with different passions and from three different generations. We all do different things and respond to God in different ways so that we can maximize how St. John’s is participating in the Kingdom of God. We are also leading the church in different areas and in different ways so that St. John’s can be a church that God is using to transform lives abundantly, including our own.
People’s schedules are another barrier between themselves and church sometimes. One of our core values at St. John’s is to worship together weekly. If your lifestyle prevents you from being at the church building from anytime between 8 and 11 on Sunday mornings, then this is going to be very difficult for you. When we invite people to come to church, we are telling them that their lifestyle has to fit our schedule first... and then they can come to church and be transformed. People have to already be dedicated enough to church to change their job schedule or other things around in order to come to church. Does that sound backwards to anyone besides me?  We want them to come and experience God in our worship services, but often it doesn’t fit in to the lifestyle they already have. This is a major issue that I have been working on in various ways. The first and most obvious way is that we are starting a “Contemporary” Saturday evening service in the Fall. Our first services will begin at 6pm in the Summer on June 20th, July 11th, and August 8th. They will begin weekly in September. It is very important that we have a good group of people that are committed to coming to these for the first year so that we will always have “critical mass.” If you can commit to being there regularly, please let me know. The service will be similar to our 9:30am Sunday service, but will be more family oriented and more edgy at the same time. We hope that this service will appeal to people that don’t currently have a church community that they are a part of and much of what we do will have these kinds of people in mind. This is an amazing way that St. John’s is sharing the love of Christ with an increasing amount of people. I have other things up my sleeve as well that you will be hearing about in the next couple of months. Shalom!

rev. todd

April Newsletter Article 2009

Throughout different times, the church has been influenced by various sources. One major influence on the American church in the last hundred years has been business. It makes a lot of sense that business has been such a major influence on the church because throughout history culture has always had a major influence on the church. Business has been a fundamental part of the American spirit and our capitalist system throughout our country’s history, so it is only natural and normal that the business world seems into the identity of the church. The church will never be able to avoid its surrounding culture, so I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. There are lots of great things about every culture, and specifically about business that have been embraced by the church. It is easy to say that we are different from culture and that we are set apart, but our culture is a large part of who we all are. If we are aware of the good things about our culture, we can identify the ways that the church has grown and developed in very positive ways in the last 100 years in the United States. Evidence of this influence includes the church offices, Human Resource departments (SPRC), similar staff positions to offices, advertising techniques, etc. These are great resources

Along with all of the benefits that the church has experienced because of American culture, and specifically the business world, there are also things that creep into our church culture that aren’t as helpful, sometimes even harmful. If we can promote the Kingdom of God with business techniques and principles, let’s do it. However, elements that we find inside of the business world can distract us from the Kingdom of God. There are obvious things like greed and the primary concern for the bottom line, which are obviously contrary to the Gospel, but there are two less obvious elements that have impacted the church and how people in American culture react and respond to the church. I just want to bring up a couple thoughts, with this in mind, that may help us begin to understand the increasing negative reaction that the general public seems to be having towards the institutional church. 1. We have created and encouraged a consumer mindset in the church. Many people ask, “What’s in it for me?” when they walk into a church. This is a reality and churches want to provide as many services as possible so that people will want to come to their church to consume these services. Churches have had a tendency to attempt to attract people to their church and have lost sight of God’s mission for the church. Again, this kind of thing has happened throughout history and is not something that any of us have to beat ourselves up about. This is a normal progression of the church and we need to be aware of our situation so that we can explore ways to get back on track.

2. The more the church looks like a business, the less trust people have in it. Trust is one of the most important commodities that the church has, and actions in the business world destroy the trust that people have for the church. When we think of Enron, or AIG or many other companies that we have had bad experiences with, it doesn’t give us very good feelings. Think about all the times you have complained or heard someone complain about a company that treated us badly or ripped us off. The more the church looks like a business, the more people associate those feelings with the church as well as with business. Things in our culture are changing and many businesses are even changing their philosophies in an attempt to be successful. We should be aware of these trends and see not just what people feel, but why they feel it. Those of us inside the church know that it is very different from a business, but the people outside the church don’t see the difference.

I am very impressed at the way that many people including the staff at St. John’s does ministry with the mission of God in mind. Everyone get caught up in the consumer mindset at times, but I am working to change the way that people feel about the church and going to where they are in order to do it. Each month I will have some stories, thoughts and observations to share. Until next month…

rev. todd

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Product Review: EYEGHOSTS

out of 5

If you are looking for something to keep your ipod or iphone protected from scratches but don't want to add any bulk to it, EYEGHOSTS are for you. You can check them out here http://www.eyeghost.com I have been using this product for a while and it really works great! It won't protect anything if you drop it or put it in the Washer and Dryer (Jason), but it will keep your machine from being scratched up at all and you reap all the benefits of the small size without adding anything to it. EYEGHOSTS are basically hard plastic wraps that go around your ipod or iphone and do not affect the operation of it whatsoever. It is not for everyone, but it may be for you!

Bad Idea - drumFunny.com

One reason not to set up a moment... these things always seem to work better when they are spontaneous it seems.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Monday, February 02, 2009

The best "...nation" in the world

According to a Gossip column in the NY Daily News, Matt Cassel was urinated on in the bathroom during the Super Bowl.
An intoxicated man allegedly tried to cut in front of Cassel at the Raymond James Stadium urinals. After Cassel told the drunk to wait his turn, the man "barged in and proceeded to purposefully pee directly" on Cassel's leg. Security tossed the liquored-up individual, but Cassel was forced to return to his seats with smelly wet pants.

Wow... poor Matt had a worse Super Bowl than Kurt Warner!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Music Review: Zendher "Moving Up"

out of 5

I listened to this cd quite a few times as I have been thinking about reviewing it. Being a musician, I am probably more sensitive and gracious about music reviews than I am about other things. The first thing that I want to say about this band is that I admire their talent. For the most part, it is clear and obvious that they are very good at what they do. Unfortunately, as hard as I try, that's about the only good thing that I can come up with to say. I should lay out a few prejudices before I go any further, because I'm sure they will affect this review.

Prejudice #1
I really don't like Christian music. Some of it is ok, some of it is even good, but most of it that I have heard is pretty terrible from a musical point of view as well as a theological one. I'm not going to get into too much of this right now, but I have spent a lot of time in the "Christian" music scene as well as the "non-christian" (I guess) music scene. What I have learned is that there is not always much difference between the two scenes and "Christian" Bands are profiting on the perception that there is a difference. I also just disagree with using the word "Christian" as an adjective, especially when it comes to music.

Prejudice #2
I have spent a lot of time analyzing, writing, and recording music. There are things that are very important to me when it comes to music that are not found on this cd. They are: a solid grove and consistency within a song and over the space of an album. Problems in these areas stand out to me and bug me a lot.

With all this said, this band "Zendher" had the cards stacked against them from the beginning with me. The style of music is pretty inconsistent and it is definitely Christian music. I do have to say that theologically, it seemed fine and didn't bug me like most Christian music does. The talent and this pleasant surprise earned the second star in the rating. Now the stuff I didn't like...

The songs seemed to change styles in the middle and the groove was completely altered in the middle of a song at times. The vocals seemed silly at times and didn't sound authentic. This could have been a problem in the mix or whatever, it just had a very fake sound at times. The band had a kind of African and reggae feel at times and reminded me of Paul Simon sometimes, Bob Marley, and the Dave Matthews band at others. The problem is that there is no way that they even came close to emulating those amazing artists. It is a problem when it sounds so much like people that I think of them and comparison is inevitable. It kind of sounded like a cheaper rip off of these brilliant artists. It was way too much like those influences way too often. I am also very sensitive to Christian stuff being like second class secular stuff, but we are supposed to appreciate it because it is "Christian." Excellence is an important value that we must appreciate. The album itself was so inconsistent that it could have been a compilation of many bands and it would not have shocked me. It didn't establish a genre and nothing seemed to fit. There was no strong groove or hook in any song that did anything for me. I just couldn't see using this in worship or listening to it for pleasure. I even let other people that were into Christian music hear it and they didn't like it either.

I hate giving a negative review of a band and I appreciate the uniqueness and talent of Zendher. I think they just need to work some more on songwriting and their identity before recording another album. After listening, I am more confused about who this band is than before I heard them. I hate to anger the music gods when I have stuff coming out soon myself, but I gotta call it like I see it!