Here’s the latest from Pastor Paul

Ponderings for December 1 2017

Hello, Trinity, it’s me again!  🙂

One more Pondering this week. Actually, it’s less of a Pondering and more of a bulletin board. (I’m really supposed to be in India and don’t quite know what to do with myself, being stateside after Thanksgiving.)

So here goes:
I love it that we are consistently loving on Lake County (#WeLOVELakeCounty)! Please pray for the Christmas tree giveaway Saturday morning. May the Lord use these trees and the faithful hearts of Trinity people to bless and bring a little joy in the Christmas season to 200 families. And may the Holy Spirit help them connect the dots from the free gift of a tree to the free gift of Christ. Thanks for praying.

Though I’ve broken my annual rhythm of being in India this time of year, my heart is still with that great ministry and the people whom we serve there. This Sunday, our Dalit ministry is “open for business.” There are a number of ways to give a gift in our “Hope for Dalit Women” project. You can check it out Sunday in our new “cafĂ©” (the recently refurbished Room 100—designed to meet guests and introduce new people to Trinity after worship services). Thanks for participating in this vital ministry.

In case you haven’t noticed, our second service has been pretty crowded lately. We are going to do a couple of things to help balance the worship service attendance and assist guests and latecomers in finding seats:

1. We are going to be roping off the last two rows of each section until after the service starts. Thanks for respecting the rope as this is for those who are new or came in late and need to quickly find a seat. And thanks (in advance) for sitting up closer to the front and for being on time.

2. In January, we are going to return to our worship service times of 9:30 and 11:00AM. We hope that this may make the early service a bit more attractive to some (and to guests). Thanks for adjusting with us and letting others know of the service time changes in January.

I look forward to worshiping our Lord with you in a few days on this first Sunday of Advent. I have been plumbing the depths of John’s prologue all week (“In the beginning was the Word…”) and hope to clearly present his profound exposition of the eternality of our Lord Christ. And believe me, it has a great effect on how we live today.

That’s all for this week. I promise.

Oh, and GO CARDS!

See you Sunday,

Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 28 2017

2-Part Pondering
Part 1
Let’s face it—we are primarily creatures of habit. Whether it’s what we order at our favorite restaurant, or the route we take to get there, we usually do the same thing. Maybe it gives us security or even a sense of identity. That’s who I am and that’s what I do. We don’t say that, but perhaps it lurks somewhere in the nooks and crannies of our psyche.

Even where we sit for worship in church…pretty much always the same spot, isn’t it? That’s how I can tell if you are absent on a given Sunday: you are not in your “assigned” seat. (Just kidding!) 

Now, when we start speaking of habits and routines in the church setting, our terminology switches and we call it “tradition.” For some, that is a sacred word. Just ask Tevye. (That’s from Fiddler on the Roof, if you’re not aware of this timeless and delightful story and movie.) For others, like us “Free Church Protestant” people (read Evangelicals or even Baptists), tradition is quite taboo and spiritually stifling. It is what “they” do, those who continue in their rote and almost-dead religion. 

Not so, I contend. Traditions can be life-giving memories and practices that call to mind the activity and faithfulness of God among his people. As a matter of fact, the Lord himself instituted not a few traditions for his people to practice on a regular basis to remind them of the story of Redemption. Think of the Passover meals, the baptism of new converts, and the Communion table, just to a name a few.

Now certainly, religious practices can devolve into meaningless rote activities. But it behooves the faithful to not allow that to happen. It takes deliberate thought and action to make the traditions of the faith meaningful to each generation.“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”  Christian historian Jaroslav Pelikan hits the nail on the head.

So, with that in mind, I give you the Tradition of Advent. Never meant to fall into the category of “traditionalism” but instead, if you choose, it can become a living part of your personal and family Christmas practices, for generations to come. 

As a reminder: Advent comes from a Latin term meaning “arrival” or “coming.” Christians have observed Advent for thirteen hundred years as a time of thoughtful preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ “arrival.” The Advent tradition honors the birth of Christ and recognizes the impact of his life and love throughout history and into the future. The specific practices of the Advent tradition (lighting of candles, etc.) have been experienced in church worship settings and privately in family homes.

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas—so, this coming Sunday. Each week is marked with a new candle that is lit every day. As each candle is added, it is lit with the candles from the previous week. The five candles in an advent wreath represent prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, angels, and Christ.

I encourage you and your family to set aside a special time each day for lighting the Advent candles, accompanied by family prayers and the daily reading (Trinity has made books available). Traditionally, the Advent candles consist of three purple and one pink candle with a larger white candle placed in their center of the wreath. During the first week, light the first candle each day; during the second week, light the first two candles; and so on, for the full four weeks. Parents, you can best judge how your children are able to participate, but keep in mind that children learn best by doing (and the Journey to the Manger book provides great ideas here).

The traditions of Advent can provide a shelter of meaning and rest for you and your family amid the hectic pace of this season. And, as I watch my granddaughter looking though her Advent book, I am reminded that Advent, like all good traditions, are meant to be passed on from generation to generation. 

It will be quite a joy sharing the traditions and meaning of Christmas with you this holiday season. 
 
Part 2
Wow! My e-mail box is getting blasted by a million non-profits to give to them today because it’s “Giving Tuesday”! Now, I may endorse and even support the mission of many of them. But I am getting a little overwhelmed by the bombardment of requests today.

So I thought I’d write to you, the Trinity Church community, and (firstly) thank you for your generous regular giving. And (secondly) give you three reasons NOT to give to Trinity on Giving Tuesday:

  1. Because it’s a hyped-up day called “Giving Tuesday.”
  2. Because you want to be part of the trendy people who are giving today.
  3. Because you feel guilty for not giving a gift on Giving Tuesday.

This is not to say that your church does not need all of our regular tithes and offerings. Or that your giving is not a huge part of changed lives and beautiful ministries. Or even that December is not a good time to give so you can take advantage of a year-end tax break. But it is to say that the giving of our hard-earned money to the Lord’s work is meant to be a thoughtful act of worship and not a knee-jerk reaction to some trendy, impassioned plea like “Giving Tuesday.”

So indeed, give generously to Trinity and the work of the Lord here at your church. And here are three good reasons:

  1. Because it is an act of worship and obedience to the Lord who calls us to support his work in the fellowship we call home.
  2. Because it enables your ministry leaders to prayerfully plan and even dream about ministries that will present the life-changing Good News in word and action to many people.
  3. Because you are allowing the Lord to develop in you a generous spirit as you cheerfully give back to him a portion of what he has entrusted to you for his eternal purposes.

Again, thank you for giving of your tithes and offerings to Trinity—not because it’s “Giving Tuesday,” but because you love Christ and the Body he has placed you in at this time.

I’ll see you Sunday.
Pastor Paul
 
 

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Ponderings for November 21 2017

A few years ago, I took Sue for our anniversary dinner to the Oasis gas station in Ashland right off I-71. I had a Taco Bell burrito; Sue had a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. I am not proud of that fact. 😊

Somehow, the occasion was lacking in class…to say the least.

Celebrating the many years of marriage and intimacy calls for a bit of forethought and joyful consideration. And a touch of class.

So too, all that surrounds and encompasses another important occasion and Meal: the celebration of the Lord’s Table. “The body and blood of Christ, given for you…” An intimate promise and holy rite that calls for forethought and joyful consideration as well. And just a bit of class.

This Sunday we will be celebrating Communion. A number of preparations will be made (externally and internally) to give the occasion its proper due. A team of deacons will prepare the tables (with proper tablecloths and trays). Loaves of bread will be lovingly and prayerfully baked for the occasion. The entire worship service will be a prelude to the receiving of the symbols of Christ’s body and blood. 

But there must be internal preparations for the taking of the Bread and Cup as well. Christian people are told to “examine themselves” prior to their partaking of the Sacraments. This is a “self-examination” whereby we each do some soul searching to slow ourselves down and to apply Christ’s grace to our revealed sin. We are then prepared to approach the table rightly with joy and gratitude.

On this Sunday after Thanksgiving, how good it is to celebrate the “Eucharist” of the Lord.

Eucharist is one of several designations used for the Lord’s Table and it depicts the joy and gratitude that we express to the Lord for Christ and his eternal provision for us!  â€śJesus took the bread [and the cup] and he gave thanks…”

And we will too. With joy and forethought…and a touch of class.

Here’s hoping you and your family and friends have a happy and meaningful Thanksgiving.  

See you Sunday.
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 17 2017

Hello Trinity friends. I trust this note finds you well and staying warm in these cold damp ays. Take a seat or grab a snack—I am afraid this Pondering went a little long.

I look forward to our being together this Sunday. We will worship our Lord with one voice and prepare for the coming Thanksgiving holiday by studying Psalm 103 together and “not forgetting all our Lord’s benefits.” We will also celebrate the baptism of six of our friends as they publicly declare their devotion to Christ.

It is a joy and a challenge leading and shepherding the body of Christ. Thank you for your encouragement and faithfulness as, in these days, we seek to be the body of Christ together in Lake County.

Now, the joy comes from watching people “get it” (by God’s grace) in how love others, do good deeds, improve their marriages, and become better students and parents as they learn and apply the Scriptures to their hearts and lives. 

Challenges? Sure, there are. As you know, there are always challenges in your life and work. But ultimately for me, my challenge is me. Call it a holy discontentment or an unholy dissatisfaction; my spirit is never fully settled. (In my mind) I can always do better; we can always disciple more; we ought to have a greater attendance in worship; I wish we prayed more; the rooms need a paint job; blah, blah, blah…you get the idea. 

So, I am talking to a younger pastor who sought me out the other day and wondered if he should still be in the ministry. He doesn’t feel “successful.” “Spell it,” I asked him. Huh? Spell success in church ministry?! He could not define or “spell” what he meant by ministry “success.” He thought that since I had led a mega-church and had a radio ministry and blah, blah, blah, maybe I could enlighten him. (Interesting to see what my young friend associated with success in pastoral ministry.)

So it got me thinking. (I told you this was going to be a long Pondering.) There are a number of new trends and styles that make “success” in church ministry look more like the latest fad or most recent newscast. 

Some pastors and churches are chasing after the latest “key to success” like Don Quixote and his windmills. To attract more people, pastors give into a self-affirming pursuit of fun and felt needs. And so they equate success with sermons and topics that draw large crowds as they hear superficial answers to the day’s hot issues. 

And then we wonder why there is no spiritual depth.

Others have leaned into the social changes and angry political noise of the day and have gravitated to voices and judgments that sound more like the cable news networks. These leaders and churches take sides and blindly follow whichever political leader is on their side regardless of lifestyle or demeanor. “Success” is being as polemic and hostile as possible to others in our society.

And then we wonder why “Evangelical” has become a tag of moral inconsistencies and situational ethics. The king is wearing no clothes.

Maybe that’s why my friend felt unsuccessful. He’s not sure he fits these trends or models.

I am glad he doesn’t.

I don’t either. 

Here’s an alternative description of success. I find it in the Apostle Paul’s closing words in 2 Timothy. He watched with concern as the church in Ephesus was being swayed by alluring opinions and strange ideas. So he concluded his letter by describing a clear picture of success for young pastors. It has little to do with being attractional or political; with size or numbers; with being trendy or angry. But it does have everything to do with exalting Christ and His Word and being faithful in loving believers and the unchurched alike.

Here are Paul’s words to Timothy (and my young friend—and, quite frankly, to me and all of us today) on ministry success:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1–5).

  • Preach the Word: The goal is life change from the inside out. That comes not from catchy topics or political diatribes nor because of beautiful rhetoric and great oratory. The Scriptures proclaimed accurately that the power of the Holy Spirit brings about real change! Having led a mega-church, I learned that “success” is not defined by the size of the congregation but by the depth of hearing and applying the Scriptures.
  • Be prepared to say the hard things at times—when you correct and rebuke, you run the risk of losing people as you call out sin and hard hearts. Be lovingly truthful nonetheless. And don’t forget to encourage as well. There’s no room for grouchy pastors.
  • Keep your head: Great advice! Quit searching for and falling in love with the next trend and latest fad. They can be so dizzying! And though the world and its morals seem to be going absolutely mad these days, don’t lose your head or your way. It was never your job to be the moral police anyway. 
  • Do the work of an evangelist: Share the Gospel in word and deed. That’s what the church does. It consistently embodies the hope and the peace of the Good News to its society. I am afraid the American church is quickly becoming the church in Van Gogh’s painting at the top of these Ponderings—in the midst of a dark culture with no lights on. Yuck! Not so Trinity! We must be the light and love of Christ to Lake County and the world.
  • Discharge all your duties and by God’s grace you will be “successful” as you shepherd the flock in all humility and joy.

Success? It is wrapped in these simple, down-to-earth words. These are what matter in the long run. That’s my heart for my young friend. And for us at Trinity.

See you Sunday.
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 3 2017

Don’t forget to turn your clocks back on Saturday evening. If you don’t, you can join the worship team and band for rehearsal.

We are entering into a holiday season where family occasions and workplace activities and church calendars fill up. Time is a peculiar thing. We need more of it. We try to take it now and again and we need to make it. Time. Time. Time.

We have only one word for time in the English language, but it has multiple meanings and usages. In the Classical Greek language, there were two distinct words for time. The Greeks, loving to personify everything, had two characters that depicted time: Chronos (a grouchy, demanding, old fellow) and Kairos (a young lad full of life and joy).

Chronos is all about clocks and deadlines and calendars and itineraries and planners and alarms. We need Chronos to stay on (well) time. Schedules are a necessary part of life. But if we are not careful, Chronos can run our lives. And before we know it, we are pretty much just marking time—with our kids, in our marriages, at work or at school. There is nothing worse than simply putting in the time. Where did the time go?

Kairos is “in between time”, it is transcendent; when something special occurs in quiet or with a friend or with the Lord.  Kairos is not measured by the clock. “We had the time of our lives.” We are describing quality time, meaningfulness, joy, passion, love, Holy time. Kairos is about intimacy in the moment with the Lord or others. It is breathing.  Kairos is creative time and recreating time. Kairos is the best of times. 

We live in Chronos. It is necessary. We need Kairos. It gives life. We must balance our “time.” Chronos calls for speed and precision so that time is not wasted. Kairos calls from the quiet places and needs space so that time might be relished and savored. “Doing” takes place in Chronos. “Being” is reserved for Kairos. 

“Redeem your time, for the days are evil.” (Apostle Paul). A wise life is a balance between Chronos and Kairos.

See you Sunday.  At the right time.
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for October 26 2017

Hello, Trinity family and friends. Time to dust off my trusty pen. I trust you are well as we watch the warm days finally succumb to the inevitable cold and dampness that is fall in northeast Ohio.

Today I’m pondering about church attendance and culture and excited about this Sunday.

Sunday is coming. For many, that means attending a church worship service. And yet, in the latest trends, it may not be as many as we might think. I recently read that the regular churchgoer now attends weekend services about 1.7 times per month. Recent Pew Research data tells us that roughly 50% of Americans attend church (but it seems like less than that some of the time). In the busyness of lives and family schedules, and with the many cultural options and distractions, many are too busy or disinterested to come or attend regularly. 

And yet, we still must compel each other to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” And we must be a church community that longs to reach “unchurched” or “de-churched” people. In order to do that, we must continue to work on our Sunday morning culture and become even better inviters.

Let’s face it: The church attendance statistics are neither new nor surprising. But they should make us take notice. Like most evangelical churches, we are not atypical on a Sunday morning. We love Christ and his Word and his people, and we try to express that. Hopefully our joy is contagious and our message compelling. 

And still, we also need to be mindful and very deliberate in what we do on Sunday (like other churches). It is easy to become “routine” and even stale with predictable church lingo and culture. And it is easy to not notice guests who have nervously “tried us out.” Or maybe we do notice them as they embarrassingly have to find a place toward the front and end up sitting in spots that most of us avoid. Sometimes it seems like the first three rows have the appearance of reserved seating. But I digress.

All that to say: I want us to be the best Trinity we can be on Sundays—for the Lord (he deserves it) and for guests and newcomers (they need it). That means being very friendly and gracious. Welcoming guests and making it easy for them to not stand out. It also means arriving on time and sitting up near the front. (I’d rather have those seats “reserved” for members and regular attenders than for guests.) As we worship and pray and hear the Scriptures taught, God is our audience and he solicits all of us as his church to be his open arms to all.

Now on to this Sunday. Along with being Reformation Sunday and including an exposition of “Christ Alone,” we will hear a few opportunities of how #WeLOVELakeCounty in these days. We will be commissioning our friends John and Ruth Bollman as we send them to their next ministry assignment. And we will be hearing from Erika Tello (one of our Trinity-supported missionaries in Italy—check out the video we just posted on Trinity’s Facebook page). Erika will be sharing how the Lord is using the Gospel and their ministry to rescue ladies from the evils of human trafficking.  

See you Sunday as we celebrate Christ as the great Mediator!

Pastor Paul

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