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Belonging & Believing

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I hope to document my journey of integrating at Central Presbyterian Church as a way to see how God is helping me as the Pastor of Evangelism and Community. It will be a way that I can listen and experience more of what God wants in leading the church to be one that continues to encourage people to come BELONG to his family and church. The church tag line is Know, Be Known and Make Known.  I am called to this church to make sure that we strive for people to come and be known. You have an important part to play in God’s family and church here at Central. The way God has made you and shaped you brings so much to his Kingdom and church. I hope you will be encouraged by my story, and join me in celebrating how God weaves together all of our stories into the deep history of Central. With a strong sense of togetherness and calling from God, I believe God will lead us to go and make known who he is to the community around us.  It will be a challenge to share the good news of Christ to those that we come in contact with, whether in or outside of the church.  I will strive to help us learn what it looks like to trust God in helping people go on that journey to BELIEF.

First Entry – 2/12/18

From 3 to 35 | My First Staff Meeting at Central 

At my last two churches, all-staff meetings were typically 3 or 4 people gathering together. On my first day at Central, this was clearly not the case. No longer a small meeting of a few, but a really big meeting of 30-plus. Was this something completely new and different? Yes. Was it strange to be in a room of people that I just met and learned their names? Definitely. Did I feel uncomfortable in this brand new environment? No, absolutely not!

Personally, I have always wanted staff meetings to be a time for the staff to share and be open with what is going on in our lives and ministries. It is a time to share, pray, and talk. Although the organizational parts of staff meetings will always be important, I have always felt that the most important thing is connecting with each other and knowing each other as we do ministry together.

Entering into my first all-staff meeting with the rest of the Central staff, I felt extremely comfortable where God has placed me. We enjoyed worship and praise together, and Pastor Clay led devotional that was clearly encouraging transparency and openness of what we each were dealing with in ministry. This led to staff members sharing what was sincerely on their hearts, both the positives and challenges in their ministries. This environment is what I was truly hoping for to be able to build relationships with ministry partners, working together as one, to impact the Kingdom.

I’ve been impacted deeply by God’s calling to be here at Central. It isn’t something that was quick, painless, or easy. In fact, it was quite the opposite, seeming more like a long journey that at times was excruciatingly painful (hard saying goodbye to close friends, church members, a context that we were so familiar with). But one thing was for sure, we knew God had called, so we had to trust God by faith and obey and “go," leaving behind our comfort zones. But how reassuring that God has given us a place where we find comfort with Him and God’s people to do His work going forward.

Posted by Ben Tzeng

Message On a Bottle

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Summer in St. Louis is not for the faint of heart when it comes to heat and humidity. It can actually be down right dangerous if you are not careful. Well, I happen to be one of those crazy-types who love the heat and humidity. Don’t get me wrong; air conditioning is a modern-day convenience that I take extreme advantage of throughout the summer. But I love to be out in the heat.

For those of you who know me, you are likely also aware that I love to run in Forest Park. Since moving to St. Louis from Chicago in the late ‘90s (don’t worry, I am NOT a Cubs fan), I have run the Forest Park loop relentlessly. The park is truly a crown jewel of our region, and even after nearly 20 years of running it, I have yet to lose a sense of awe for its historic beauty. Whether it be a snow-covered morning in January or a sultry summer afternoon in July, the grandeur of the park captivates me on every run.

I love the heat, and I love to run. And I love to run in the heat. Take a journey back in time with me to the early summer of 2006. My wife Debbie and I had been married about two years, and we lived in a condo in the DeBaliviere Place neighborhood just north of the park. On one particular steamy afternoon, I decided to go out for a run in the park. It was a classic humid afternoon in St. Louis, and toward the end of the run I was really feeling it. A water fountain could not come soon enough. And just as that thought ran through my head, I turned a bend on the trail and saw a group of people ahead handing out water to runners passing by. This is not uncommon in the park. Many running stores and running groups have water stations set up during the summer. As I approached the group, they looked a little bit like the mirage seen from a cartoon…slightly blurry due to the heat but oh so welcoming a sight! I was curious to know who they might be this time; some of the stores handed out Gatorade and I was selfishly hoping for that. An ice cold Gatorade sounded absolutely amazing. The group had about seven or eight people handing out drinks, which was a little unusual. But they were a joyful bunch, smiling and offering encouragement and greetings to the runners as they came through. When I got to them, they handed me a bottle of water. Rats! No Gatorade. But water would certainly do the trick. I exchanged a few niceties with the group, and went on down the trail toward home…and the air conditioning.

After finishing the water, I was about to throw the bottle into a nearby trash can when I noticed an advertisement on it. Trio? Huh. What’s that? I read a little bit more, and realized that it was an advertisement for a local church. I felt a little tiny tug of the Holy Spirit in me as I read it. You see, Debbie and I had been searching for a church to call home for the entirety of our two years of marriage at that point in time. We were both believers then, and our marriage was generally healthy. But we were thirsty for a church family, and we both knew that the lack of church community was becoming a challenge for our newly married lives together. I took the water bottle home and showed Debbie. We looked up the church online. The following Sunday, we attended our very first worship service at Trio, the 5 pm service of Central Presbyterian Church.

Ten years later in 2016, and it is impossible to imagine life without that providential encounter in Forest Park. To say that Central has changed our lives for the better would be a dramatic understatement. I could write pages upon pages of the myriad ways in which the Lord has used Central to grow our faith, to equip us for ministry, and to provide us with a community that we were in such desperate need of.  Our three wonderful children have been baptized here; two of them now attend Central Christian School. At a very young age, they already have a deep knowledge of who Jesus is and what that means in their lives. Six years after becoming members, I became a staff member of Central. I’m taking classes at Covenant Theological Seminary in response to a sense of call to ordained ministry. Life without Central is impossible to imagine.

Friends, Debbie and I might never have encountered the beauty of Central were it not for a few faithful people that were out in Forest Park on that summer afternoon. They were there trying to reach people like Debbie and me, people searching for more in life and in need of the type of community that is found here in this place. We were people searching for the gospel, and we found it at Central because someone was out there to make it known.

There are spiritually thirsty people all around us, waiting for a proverbial cold bottle of water in Jesus’ name. As Easter approaches, I wonder what we might do to invite them here. Is there a friend or neighbor in your life that could be spiritually thirsty? Invite them to Central this Easter. You never know what the Lord might do as you offer them a cold bottle of water, in Jesus’ name.

What Do We Mean by Evangelism?

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I am not sure how this happened, but I love words. I wasn’t a reader growing up, but something instilled in me the power of the right word. When we are trying to communicate, the choice of a word can make all the difference. In most languages we have a wonderful palate to choose from for whatever concept we want to convey.

Let me give you an example. Take the word “loud.” We hear that word and know that we are most likely referring to a level of volume. But, according to the website thesaurus.com, the word “loud” has 45 synonyms in the English language. Each of these words bring with them different emphasis, sometimes slight, and sometimes quite significant.

Think of the difference when a teacher says, “My students were really loud today,” verses when he says, “my students were really boisterous.” While both words convey high volume, the second version also makes us think and feel energy and activity.

Another example is when the judge comments, “that lawyer was very loud in her closing argument,” verses, “that lawyer was very emphatic in her closing argument.” Again, while both words contain some level of elevated volume, the first example doesn’t portray purpose, where as the second shows the lawyer trying to drive home a point of view or conviction.

Like any writer today, the biblical authors had similar choices to make when they chose words to convey their message. As in English, Greek words often have many synonyms. Sometimes those words have subtle differences, while others carry a significant meaning that would have conveyed a clear message.

We have been talking a lot lately as a church about the word “evangelism” which is derived from the Greek word “euangelion.” We know that this has to do with telling people about Jesus, but have you ever stopped to wonder why the biblical authors chose this word?   They had at least 30 words in the Greek language that had the general meaning of informing people or announcing information. So why did the biblical authors choose euangelion to describe the good news of Jesus?

Euangelion was a common word in Greek society. It meant that someone was sharing “good news”, but this good news wasn’t general good news, it was pretty specific. As the author William Mounce notes, “It referred to an announcement of ‘glad tidings’ regarding a birthday, rise to power, or decree of the emperor that was to herald the fulfillment of hopes for peace and well being in all the world.” This was a word that carried serious social, political, and religious weight. This was meant for news that impacted all of humanity.

Now think of the Gospel of Mark when he writes at the beginning of the letter, “The beginning of the gospel (euangelion) of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” He isn’t just saying, “What I am about to tell you is pretty cool.” No, he is saying, “Pay attention because what I am about to tell you changes everything and impacts everyone. What I am about to tell you will bring ‘the fulfillment of hopes for peace and well being in all the world’”.

We are called to evangelize, to share this good news of Jesus Christ. Some of us are already comfortable with this and some of us are just starting to dip our toe in the water. Regardless of where you are at, I hope you take comfort in the power of the message. It is a message that has the power to change lives, to change societies, and ultimately will bring the fulfillment of peace to this world.

Posted by Todd Denholm

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