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An Amazing View

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Mesmerizing. That is how I would describe it. Clinking glass. Mechanical harmony. Vintage precision. The potion goes in. A cap inexplicably finds its way tightly atop the glass sculpture. A banner is wrapped around it, artfully proclaiming the goodness inside. As I found myself pressing up against the window, I am not sure who was more entranced – my 6- and 4-year-old children or me. We sat down at our table with mom and baby brother, gleefully sipping on our bottomless glass of Fitz’s root beer.

If you have been to Fitz’s in the Loop, you know this experience quite well. At the back of the restaurant, children from ages 1 through 99 line up to watch the bottle works at work.  It is truly a sight to behold and marvel over. When I pick up a 4-pack of Fitz’s ginger ale or root beer from the local grocer, I never see it the same having watched the production in living color.

In my role at Central, I get a similar view of our ministry “bottle works.” As your Executive Administrator, I get to see first hand on a daily basis all that goes in to the amazing work of our Heavenly Father in and through Central. Every Thursday morning, I get an up close and personal look in a very unique way. That is the day of the week when I review checks going out to make ministry happen. Like every bottle rolling through Fitz’s mechanical wonderland, I get to see how the money that you give to Central is making a huge difference.

This past month, for example, I had the privilege of reviewing our quarterly payments to myriad missionaries and mission agencies around the world. For the fourth time this year, we sent more than $125,000 out to make the gospel known. Representing more than half a million dollars annually, this money is touching lives from France to the Philipines, from Honduras to Hungary, from India to Argentina. More than 50 missionaries worldwide receive support from Central’s annual operating budget. Over 25 local mission agencies receive support as well. We make significant contributions to ministries like Thrive and their ministry to the unborn; Promise Academy and their ministry to the disabled; Mission Gate and their work to restore recently released men and women from jail; Sunshine Ministries, Urban K-Life and so many more. Nationally, we support the Gideons, Emmaus, Lay Renewal and others. As I watch this money go out from our operating budget, I am utterly amazed at how much Central is doing to make the gospel known in so many areas near and far.

When I walk the halls of our church campus, my view is even better. One of my favorite “windows” is our kitchen. Julie Kraus and her band of merry-makers are seemingly always there preparing the next big meal for the next big event. I can barely throw together a bowl of cereal for myself – seriously - so to watch this team do what they do on such a large scale is mind-boggling. Many of you have volunteered with Julie and you see this first-hand. With just a little more than $50,000 from the operating budget each year, Julie is continuously turning water into wine and helping us all to maintain our winter warming weight. It is an inspiring and fruitful ministry.

The other night I needed to find a quiet corner in the church to finish a few bits of paperwork. I sat down outside of the sanctuary and began to type away on my laptop. Yes, I always have my laptop. It’s kind of like a security blanket for me. And just as I did a heavenly chorus quietly and magnetically filled the lobby with the most beautiful sounds. Have you heard our choir recently under the direction of Matt Mazzoni? Truly beautiful, and it is art that stirs the heart of even this task-oriented administrator to places of wonder and awe. Our budget keeps the choir outfitted with the technology and materials needed to help us worship well together.

And then there is that magical wing of our building just through the choir room to the south. I love walking through our nursery and early childhood wing, especially on a Sunday morning. Our children, from the earliest ages, are being fed the word of God from teachers who really care and from curriculum that engages the hearts and minds of these little ones. My family and I were members of Central for a number of years before I joined the staff, and our children have experienced the blessing of this side of Central’s ministry since they were in diapers. I never cease to tear up at home when one of them just randomly rings out a memory verse that they’ve learned. How beautiful and formative is it that our children are having the word of God built into their hearts at these early ages? Whatever we are paying our nursery workers and teachers, it is not nearly enough. Not to mention so many of the faithful and talented volunteers! Speaking from firsthand experience, this is truly one of the most special facets of Central’s ministry.

Two of my children are now school-age, and they both attend Central Christian School – our school – across the street. I cannot speak well enough about the wonderful things that God is doing at our school. I have the pleasure of dropping my kids off each morning, and as I walk out the doors I daily find myself giving thanks and praise to God for all that He is doing in that school. Our children are growing up with a biblical world view, and in an academically excellent way. These young ones will undoubtedly be a force for the gospel in the world no matter where God calls them because of how they are being equipped now. In St. Louis, we like to ask each other where you went to high school because it is a sign of so many things. It is the wrong question, friends. The right question is where did you go to elementary school! That is where our children begin to build on the firm foundation that is theirs in Jesus. Did you know hat Central contributes nearly $300,000 every year to our school in the form of cash, staff resources, and building maintenance? Did you know that the building belongs to the church, and creates a rent and debt free environment that allows us to keep tuition affordable? The root beer that comes out of this machine is some of the finest we make.

In the same way that I could stand in front of Fitz’s window for hours, I could write so much more about what I get to see here through the proverbial “windows” at Central. We have a team of talented and committed staff that pour their hearts and souls into serving you and the broader church. Our student ministry is growing and flourishing in its new building. We are investing in better audio for the sanctuary, website improvements, and new ways to communicate. Evangelism is an area where we are making new investments to be more intentional about making known the gospel to those in our nearby community. We are doing new things to make Central a more welcoming church. We have a new ministry to widows. The list could literally go on and on.

Friends, my view of what you make possible at Central is truly amazing. I see it daily, in living color. Be encouraged. Your generosity to Central has a profound, daily impact for the gospel.

Posted by Tim Page

3 Questions & Answers About Spiritual Formation

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Last summer, my title changed from “Pastor of Worship and Arts” to “Pastor of Spiritual Formation.”  Since that time, some people at Central have asked me some very good questions about the meaning of my new title, and I want to share what I hope are some good answers.

The first question is this: “What does spiritual formation mean?”  This is a shorthand phrase to describe the comprehensive work of God to make us the people that he created us to become.  As our Creator, God formed the first human being (Gen. 2:7), and he formed each of us with the same exquisite care (Ps. 139:13–16).  As our Savior, God is undoing all that is de-formed in us by sin and its cursed effects; he is re-forming us by con-forming or trans-forming us into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) by the power of his Spirit, not only in our souls but ultimately in our bodies as well (Phil. 3:21).

“Spiritual formation” is the ultimate purpose for everything that we do as a church.  The goal of our church is not simply to enjoy stirring worship services or to engage one another in classes or small groups or to serve people in need in our city and around the world.  God calls us to those practices of worship, community life, and outreach because they are the means by which we know and love God and through which God transforms us into a people who bear the image of the Son of God and manifest his likeness in our character and actions with increasing maturity and glory.

God’s work in spiritual formation is a lifelong process of growth.  Jesus is not only our sacrifice and priest but also our model, teacher, and guide, and he calls us to be disciples who follow him by submitting to his wise methods of training so that we can be like him (Luke 6:40).  As Pastor of Spiritual Formation, my calling is to help our church to see the full vision of God’s transformative plan for us and to pursue that vision by all the means and methods that God provides for our training in the way, the truth, and the life of God.

A second question often follows the first: “Isn’t this what the church has often called discipleship?”  Yes, it is.  Spiritual formation is simply another term for the process of becoming a full disciple of Jesus.  It describes the life and goal to which Jesus calls his followers and students (disciples). 

And that answer leads naturally to a third: “Why would I choose the phrase “spiritual formation” for my title rather than ‘Pastor of Discipleship’”?   One reason is that the term “discipleship” has become strongly associated inside the church not simply with the overall process of spiritual formation but also with a particular means of pursuing it.  For many people, the term “discipleship” brings to mind classrooms, curriculum, and structured mentoring relationships in which older, knowledgeable Christians teach the basics of the Christian faith to people who are younger or less experienced.  While those are forms that accomplish some aspects of discipleship, the process of becoming a mature disciple of Jesus—the process of spiritual formation—involves far more than that.  Indeed, the most focused forms of spiritual formation do not occur in classes but rather in coffee shops and around dinner tables, in phone calls and emails, in service projects and daily work, and in spiritual conversations saturated in the word of God and prayer shared by close Christian friends.  The revelation of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Gospels shows us clearly that his means of grace and his methods of training and forming us go far beyond anything we can experience in a classroom, a sermon, a lecture, or a workbook.

A second reason why I prefer the phrase “spiritual formation” is that it has the potential to connect with people outside the church.  The word “discipleship” is a very churchy word; one almost never hears the words “disciple” and “discipleship” used outside Christian circles.  While those terms are fine for communication between Christians, the terms “spiritual” and “spirituality” are widely used in American culture to talk about religious beliefs, longings, and practices.  Therefore, referring to the ministry of the church as “spiritual formation” establishes a common ground for communication by using language that many people already use to label their most ultimate concerns and commitments.  One of the fastest growing categories of religious life in America is the set of people who call themselves “spiritual, but not religious.”  Thus, naming the ministry of Jesus as “spiritual formation” presents Christ as the fulfillment of our deepest questions and longings in language that is already culturally familiar.

For some additional resources for understanding spiritual formation, see Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation as a Natural Part of Salvation,” and his books The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God and Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ.

Two Motivations for Prayer

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We recently remembered the national tragedy of 9/11. Do you remember where you where when you heard the news? I was leading an off campus staff retreat for a church that I pastored in Pittsburgh. We cut the retreat short and returned to the church campus to be available to those who were in such deep distress. We quickly made a large banner and hung it near the road by our entrance driveway: "We Are Open For Prayer – All Are Welcome".  

It was amazing to see people stop to pray – many of them strangers. We made slides of many Scriptures and just rolled them on our big screen continually. We had soft music of classic hymns playing in the background. People were wrestling with the gravity of the situation. People wept. People prayed.

It was a rare moment in our national and ecclesiastical history. What does it take to motivate people to pray with such fervor? Tragedy is one such motive, but so is opportunity. At Central, the Lord has been pleased to protect us from tragedy and equally pleased to place before us opportunity. This is why we launched the "3 for 30" prayer initiative. The gospel of our Lord calls us to repent of the idolatry of self-reliance and to seek Him at all times, in all circumstances, and for all things.

At this point Central's history, we are praying for our Senior Pastor Search Team, we are praying that the Lord make us a contagiously warm and friendly place on Sunday morning, and we are praying for the peace of St. Louis. We have asked that each gathering of Central folks – any study, event, or meeting – simply pray for those three things. Of course we cannot know how many people have engaged in this prayer initiative, but I imagine it is easily in the hundreds.  

Many people assumed, when those planes struck the twin towers and the Pentagon, that WW III had begun. Of course there was much debate about the cause and consequences of the attack. “Are we really at war, and against whom are we fighting?” There is no debate for the Christian church. We are at war against the devil and all his designs and devices to assault the glory of God and the health and growth of His church.  

Would you "join the war effort" in remembering to "pray without ceasing"?  Would you "support the war effort" with your financial giving to Central?  Would you "participate in the war effort" by looking for new faces on Sunday morning and showing them the love of Christ and by looking for ways to serve our city?

God is answering our prayers.  God has spared us from tragedy.  God has placed before us great opportunity.  May we seize the moment – and pray.  

 - Pastor Bob