Here’s the latest from Pastor Paul

To The Point for May 15 2020

A Word about the Word

By Babylon’s streams, 
   there we sat, oh we wept, 
   when we recalled Zion. 
On the poplars there
   we hung up our lyres.  
For there our captors had asked of us words of songs, 
   and our plunderers—rejoicing:
   “Sing us from Zion’s songs!”
 How can we sing a song of the LORD
   on foreign soil? 
Should I forget you, Jerusalem, 
   may my right hand wither.
 May my tongue cleave to my palate
   if I do not recall you,
   if I do not set Jerusalem above my chief joy!
[Psalm 137:1–6]


Those words were emotionally eked out by a worship leader in the Babylonian captivity. The pain and heartache of trying to live and worship in exile is as clear as the running waters by which he wrote them. 

I have coined this time as our “COVID exile.” The people have been held captive by an invisible virus. In exile, we cannot live or worship or fellowship as we used to. We long for our Lord and our fellowship during this captivity. We make sure we “recall” our God and his Church as we adjust and make connections in new and different ways. 

In Babylon, God’s people didn’t have the temple, yet they were faithful and creative in their remembering the LORD. The prophet Daniel is a great example of this. In New Testament times, the apostle Paul was imprisoned and he very much longed for his friends and churches, so much so that he regularly corresponded with them.

So we, too, in our COVID exile, long for our fellowship with each other and what we share with our God. We miss the Body of Christ, the “where two or three are gathered…” And still, we creatively adapt in a number of ways to stay connected and nourish our souls. On Sunday, May 24, we will creatively and appropriately celebrate Communion in a similar manner as the early, persecuted church did. They practiced “spiritual Communion” as they were in hiding, even away from one another. We will, too.

We make do. And yet, like the psalmist, we honestly lament and reflect, longing for a better time. 

Close to Home in the World as It Is

This Sunday we will examine and discuss the yoke that Christ offers us. Yes, we will literally “discuss” as we try a new way of interacting during the livestream. Jesus calls his yoke “easy” and promises that it will give us our necessary rest. 

On Sunday we will also talk about Trinity’s “re-entry” plan. I cannot tell you how much learning and praying and discussing has been going into the decisions of re-opening our doors. Thanks for your patience and prayers. Here are some wise and timely words from Russell Moore on the topic of churches re-opening their doors (from this article): 

“Some people will want to re-gather immediately and will think their churches are ‘giving in to fear’ if they take longer to re-open than the businesses around them. Some will think that the church is insane for re-opening whenever it does, and will be tempted to say that their leaders don’t care about public health. In almost every case I have seen, though, pastors and leaders in this emergency are exercising wisdom and prudence. They are seeking to do the best they can, to make the best decisions they can. Let’s pray for one another, and impute the best of motives to one another.”
 
This COVID exile time is extending longer than any of us imagined. When we took the break from public worship, we said it would be for three weeks and then we’d evaluate. It seems as if our plane is still in a holding pattern, circling the airport. And just like on our metaphorical plane, I feel that a bit of impatience is setting in and many of our moods are getting somewhat prickly. I can sense it by some emails I am getting, and by general comments I am hearing, and by the hole in my cheek that I am creating instead of giving my first response. Let’s be careful and kind with our words and thoughts.

In one of my first entries of To the Point when this exile began, I charged us not to waste this imposed “Sabbath” from the Lord, but to allow him to use it to make us more like Christ. I mentioned the words of Jeremiah, hoping they would not be true of any of us when it’s all said and done. “The harvest is finished, and the summer is gone,” the people cry, “yet we are not saved!” (Jeremiah 8:20). Am I personally experiencing in this season what God wants me to experience? Am I hearing what he wants me to hear? Am I “being still and knowing that he is God”? Sometimes I wonder.

I piqued some interest with my comments about conspiracy theories last Sunday. Some even said they read the articles that I posted which examine why many Christians are so drawn to believing conspiracy theories and even sharing them as if they were gospel. You can find the articles here. One video that is making the rounds is called “Plandemic,” which accuses Dr. Fauci, pharmaceutical companies, and a slew of others of “planning” the COVID epidemic for their gain. I spoke my peace on the topic last Sunday, so I won’t say any more. But I will point you to a civil and well documented article that interacts with “Plandemic” if you are interested.

Speaking of videos that are making the rounds, I found this one from the UK and totally loved it. Enjoy!

 #CultureNerd

If you are tired of Zoom meetings or not quite sure what all of this Zooming is about, you will get a kick out of this “dogs on zoom.”

Okay, I came across this painting of musicians from the Middle Ages. Prophetic? It sure seems to predict the Beatles. Look, three “guitarists” and even the bass player is left-handed! Just wondering…

And Then There’s This…
Jesus’ words for us…for Sunday…for this exile…forever:

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28–30]

I’ll see you on the other side (virtually).
Pastor Paul

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To The Point for May 8 2020

A Word about the Word

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [Hebrews 12:1–2]

44 days and counting. That’s my take for how long Ohio has been in “stay-at-home” mode. Our word for this Sunday, as we seek to follow the way of Christ, is “perseverance.” It’s an appropriate word for Mother’s Day as well. For who is more persevering than our mothers?

Also, notice what the passage above says about “shame.” Trinity does quite a bit of ministry with the Church in India. India is known as a “shame culture.” (We are more of a “guilt culture,” though we do a good bit of shaming as well.) Anyway, we are all aware of the pain and negativity of shame. We avoid it and shouldn’t pass it on. Good strategy. And yet when we look at Jesus, we see that he too “scorned the shame.” But he didn’t avoid it—he accepted it. Our Lord allowed himself to be mocked and publicly humiliated and violently beaten…in essence, to be shamed—for us!

Close to Home

You will be receiving a “re-entry” letter from me soon via snail mail. Thanks for reading it. With Governor DeWine extending the “stay-at-home” order through May 29 and his beginning to reopen Ohio a bit, we are developing our re-entry strategy. We are looking forward to re-opening the doors, knowing full well it will be gradual and quite some time till things are back to “normal.” In the livestream worship service on May 17, we will talk at length about Trinity’s strategy. We are thinking possibly about Sunday, June 7 (or maybe May 31) as the day we open the doors to in-person worship again. Read the letter. And stay tuned!

The World as It Is

Of the 8,105,513 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (345,742 conducted since yesterday), 15.5 percent have come back positive.

If it weren’t for the timely and important updates which Trinity regularly posts on social media, I would pastorally urge you to stop wasting your time on those platforms. Between fear mongers and conspiracy theories and downright hateful rhetoric, there is little redeeming at all on this medium right now.

Speaking of un-redemptive rhetoric, if I have to hear one more sermon or article on how all of this COVID-19 is a sure sign of the end of the world, I will throw my Late, Great Planet Earth out the window. Actually, I already did, years ago—like when Osama bin Laden was killed; or when the Shah of Iran was ousted; or the year Leonid Brezhnev died; or when Henry Kissinger left power; or when Hitler committed suicide, and so on, and so on.

#CultureNerd

Okay, parents, how many of you have experienced this when trying to get a good family picture?

 And Then There’s This…

Maybe the greatest and hardest words ever spoken by a mother:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” [Luke 1:38]

I’ll see you on the other side (virtually).
Pastor Paul

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To The Point for April 29 2020

A Word about the Word and Close to Home 

Hearing Pastor Ty challenge us last Sunday not just to hear Christ’s words but to do them got me thinking—about another Scripture passage and about our responsibility as we move into the future as a post–COVID-19 people and church:

 “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.

 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” [Hebrews 5:11–6:1]

Strong words, I know. But they are essentially a call for each of us to strive for maturity. Who doesn’t want that? And the writer tells us how to move toward maturity: It’s not by constant Bible study or constant sermon-hearing. Maturity comes by intentionally and regularly applying what we are hearing and learning. By being able “to distinguish good from evil.” By hearing God’s Word AND doing it.

According to this passage, then, if you are regularly doing what you are hearing, then it’s time for you to start teaching and leading others. This is how to grow in spiritual maturity. You don’t need to be a biblical know-it-all. You just need to be available and willing.

Let me challenge you with 3 things:

  1. Open up your Bible. Start reading it at least 15 minutes a day. Begin with the Gospel of John. That’s where Trinity will be this summer.
  2. Receive the Scriptures that you are reading as authoritative in your life. Start doing what they say. Maturity comes through obeying and making right choices.
  3. Prayerfully consider joining and/or leading a small group in the future (it can be for adults, teens, or kids). Text LETSGO to 97000 to start the process. The future will be here soon.

As you begin this, you will experience the maturity and joy of Christ’s words: Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

The World as It Is

Just some random numbers and thoughts and quotes in our new world:

More Americans have died of COVID-19 than in the Vietnam War.

Here’s a question about Mother’s Day (coming up on May 10): In a world where hugs and in-person visits are presently ill-advised, how are you planning on celebrating the mom(s) in your life?

“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.” [Queen Elizabeth, speaking recently to the British people]

I learned a new phrase that is connected to these pandemic days: ”excarnational living.” It’s obviously the opposite of incarnational living that Christ modeled and called us to. The world of Zoom meetings and quarantine has necessarily spawned “excarnational” living. But I must say that I am getting a bit tired of this “defleshing” of life. We are all longing for incarnational interaction and relationships again.

”Face coverings will be needed at large gatherings after states reopen.” [Dr. Birx]

#CultureNerd

During this season, many of us are watching movies, going on long nature hikes, listening to our favorite music, and taking pictures of beautiful skies and sunsets over the lake. Innately, we have a longing to interact with God’s creation, with beauty, and with art.

Especially at a time like this, when so much is out of our control and irregular, the need for a transcendent experience—one that is not utilitarian or contributing to the “bottom line”—is truly vital. When our minds can take no more of the juggling and uncertainty, when our psyches are on overload with stress and concerns, we need to turn to that which feeds the “soul” and pleases the eye.

Augustine put it this way: “Please do not be ungrateful to the one who made you able to see; this is why you are able to believe what you are not yet able to see. God gave you eyes in your head, reason in your heart. Arouse the reason in your heart, get the inner inhabitant behind your inner eyes on his feet, let him take to his windows, let him inspect God’s creation.”

Here is a splendid article that expounds on this thought. https://tifwe.org/works-of-art-tangible-evidence-of-gods-beauty-glory/

And Then There’s This…

The other day, my iPod (am I old?) was on shuffle and lyrics by that great theologian, Elton John, came on: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Why is it that most people, even Christian people, find it so hard to put up their hands and simply say, “Sorry, I blew that”?

Especially in this time of potential relational tensions, “sorry” is a must in our vocabularies and hearts! I am not sure why Sir Elton is so right, but he is spot on, isn’t he? Is it simply old-fashioned pride? Having to admit that I am wrong puts a knot in my stomach. It hurts. And yet, better to swallow my pride and say “sorry” than the devilish alternative. It was pride, after all, that reduced God’s glorious angel to the prince of demons.

So, as hard a word as it is to say, let it be part of our vocabulary: “Sorry.”

I’ll see you on Sunday (virtually).
Pastor Paul

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To The Point for April 22 2020

A Word about the Word

The body is a unit…So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given one Spirit to drink. [1 Corinthians 12:12–13]

If you know anything about the Corinthian church to whom the above words were written, you know that it was ripped apart by factions and divisiveness. And if you know anything about people—our time in isolation together, our season of stress, even our not being together physically as a body—you know that this season could also produce strife and discord. Don’t let it! In his caution to the church, Paul’s emphasis is that there is but one Holy Spirit and that he is the Spirit of unity. Repeatedly the Apostle urges unity by reinforcing their common bond who is “the one Spirit,” and “the same Spirit.” We have that Spirit and calling today. Let’s be sure we are staying in step with the Spirit who will strengthen our unity.

Close to Home

“So, when can Trinity do church in person again?” We are still very much “doing church” these days, but I get the drift of the question. We are all eager to return and resume our in-person fellowship with the Trinity family. And we also want to ensure everyone’s health and safety when we do. We are listening to our civil leaders and following the guidelines that they are issuing. As we all heard, on May 1, Ohio cracks the door open just a wee bit. And the President’s three-phase plan allows for religious gatherings in Phase 1, if those gatherings follow strict social distancing protocol and good hygiene. Is that a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel?

“Could we meet sometime in mid-May?” Maybe. But I don’t want to get fixated on a date that is impossible to predict at this time. Just as Ohio will have to take steps to return back to “normal,” so we should all anticipate that corporate gatherings will also need to take gradual steps back to “normal.” So, what I can tell you is that when we do re-open for worship, there will be clear social distancing measures in place and families will be in worship together (i.e., we will not immediately have children’s Sunday classes). We will also continue to support and emphasize our livestream worship on Facebook. Other ministries will restart when deemed appropriate.

Now, my mentioning of mid-May is not just because it seems possible that may be where Ohio is headed, but that is also when our Worship Center will be “ready.” Before this pandemic invaded us, we drew up plans for renovation and a number of generous people gave specifically for our worship space to be beautifully redone. So the good news is that when we do re-open, we will enjoy the freshness of a nice, new space! 

The World as It Is

One of the issues that this quarantine has highlighted is the preoccupation that our culture has with food. For some, it is just that: a preoccupation. “I’m just a foodie,” I hear people say. For others, eating is a source of delight and fellowship. “I’m Italian,” others might declare. 🙂 And still for others, it is a serious problem of control and addiction. I used to do some counseling in this area.

We interact with food many times a day and yet it can be the cause of a lot of stress and even guilt, especially during these days of quarantine. And we read endless advice on how we should diet and eat properly, what’s okay and what’s not…ad nauseum! Diane Summers of the Hope Nutrition Center says this: “Diet culture is the nearly–70 billion-dollar industry that is preying on all of us and promoting this sense of inadequacy that we must strive for another body.” To desire to eat healthily is one thing. To base our self-worth on our body image is another. And it is unwise and quite hurtful. It is not what God desires for us at all.

We have all heard about the dreaded “Quarantine 15”. Yes, let’s be careful that we don’t mindlessly overeat during this time. But let’s also not shame ourselves for desiring and enjoying that delicious meal or that wonderful ice cream. God gave us taste buds that we might truly experience and enjoy food. May this season improve all of our relationships with food.

A couple words from the Scriptures and then I’ll leave it at that:

I know that there is nothing better for people than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts. [Ecclesiastes 3:12–13]

Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. [1 Corinthians 10:31]

 #CultureNerd

Okay, on a significantly lighter note check this out.

And here’s the Isaac Newton “year of wonders” video I described on Sunday. Talk about a productive quarantine period! Not just gravity, but calculus and optic theories! What an overachiever! I do feel like a lug. Where’s that quart of Mitchell’s? Just kidding.

And Then There’s This…

A prayer for our day from Clement of Rome (first century):

We beseech You, Master, to be our helper and protector.
Save the afflicted among us; have mercy on the lowly;
Raise up the fallen; appear to the needy; heal the ungodly;
Restore the wanderers of Your people;
Feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners;
Raise up the sick; comfort the faint-hearted.

I’ll see you on Sunday (virtually).
Paul

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To The Point for April 17 2020

A Word about the Word

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he got up, went out, and made his way to a deserted place; and there he was praying. Simon and his companions searched for him, and when they found him they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” [Mark 1:35–37]

This Sunday morning, I will remind us of Jesus’ example of choosing to find strength in solitude, even when people and their needs are all around us. It seems counterintuitive, since the Christian life is all about caring for the Other. But in order to offer our best, we must be at our best. And that means taking care of ourselves, spiritually and otherwise, so that we can best love and tend to others. I am excited for Sunday as we start the timely message series “This Is the Way: Seeking Christ in Times of Chaos.”

Close to Home

Trinity leaders have begun “Operation Phone Call” to connect and have phone conversations with the entire Trinity family. Talk about a throwback! Actual phone calls! Alexander Graham Bell is in his glory! I have already enjoyed talking with and praying for a number of you.

Easter was the Bible app’s biggest day ever! During the locked-down holiday, 40.6 million people read Scripture on the popular app. Like churches all over the world, Trinity’s Easter service was online via Facebook Live. I want to pass along the wonderful concluding worship song so many of our musicians put together. It was clearly the hit of our Resurrection service! Check it out here

It is interesting to see so many articles in the mainstream media about the Church or Christianity. I am glad to see they are often written by Evangelicals (e.g., N. T. Wright, Tim Keller, Phillip Yancey, etc.). Newsweek published an article by Pastor Greg Laurie. In it, he observes a rise of interest in spiritual things in these Coronavirus days. I hear hopes of a coming revival in America. Maybe. But, not to be a pessimist, I frankly don’t see it. The telltale elements present in past revivals (e.g., prayer and repentance) are not very evident. I guess I see more prayer occurring these days, but there is no real indication of repentance. Quite the opposite, I am afraid.  

With both Governor DeWine’s target of May 1 and President Trump’s plan to reopen America, Trinity leaders have begun in earnest talking about our re-entry plan. Stay tuned.

The World as It Is

With everyone having more time on their hands and with everything being so politically polarized these days (even during this pandemic), I find the unkind, outrage culture only getting worse. Especially on social media. And the sad thing to me is that it is often Christian people who fuel the poisonous rhetoric. Please don’t! Our Christian calling to be citizens of a “better kingdom” means we are to display the ethics and character of Christ right here and right now. And not to put our ultimate hope in the kingdoms of man. I just read an intriguing article that reminds us of this very idea. Find it here. My favorite line in the article is “Partisan politics today among Christians is like a fistfight on the Titanic.”

 #CultureNerd

Tonight is our next edition of #LakeCountyTakeOut. Sue and I are going to Pranzo (thanks to a generous friend). How about you?

Someone alerted me of this article—entertainment for the whole family during quarantine!

If you didn’t see the Andrea Bocelli mini-concert on Easter, give it a listen. Don’t miss his rendition of “Amazing Grace” toward the end (at the 18:45 mark). And take a look—the church where Bocelli is singing is Sue’s and my favorite, the Cathedral of Milan (“Duomo”)! We’ve been in that one as much as any church we have ever served with.

 And Then There’s This…

A prayer for your weekend:

May God the Father bless us,
may Christ take care of us,
the Holy Ghost enlighten us all the days of our life.
The Lord be our defender and keeper of body and soul,
both now and forever, to the ages of ages.

[St. Ethelwold, c. 904–984]

I’ll see you in a couple of days (virtually).
Paul


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To The Point for April 14 2020

A Word about the Word 

 During those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God. When daylight came, he summoned his disciples, and he chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles. [Luke 6:12–13]

We sure have a lot of “inside time” these days. We have to believe that part of this inside time is also meant for the inside of ourselves. We will need to use some of our down time to develop inner strength and wisdom from the Lord. This “soul-work” will provide the spiritual resources we need both now and later, when this quarantine season subsides and we have big decisions to make and important plans to plan. Early in his ministry, our Lord spent an entire night in solitude praying. He had some major decisions weighing on his mind. The following day he chose his twelve Apostles.

Close to Home

These are disorienting days. We are all sailing in unchartered waters—physically, socially, and psychologically. How do we respond? Just as our kids may be acting out at times, so we are, too; though we may be trying to carry on like business as usual, we sense a bit of irritation, quarantine fatigue, anger, and perhaps even depression. I believe all of this is normal, even though we are not exactly sure how to respond to our unusual stress in a manner that feels appropriate. To help us with this, I have asked our friend Dr. Linda Dakwar to give us sound counsel. As a licensed therapist, Dr. Dakwar—through videos made available on our social channels—will give us timely advice on maintaining our mental health in these stressful days. Be looking for these.

The World as It Is

Not sure if it was hyperbole or speculation or hypothesis, but on Monday I heard a medical expert suggest that we may all be wearing masks a year from now. Now, I am grateful for scientific data upon which public decisions and policies are being made. And I pray for containment and ultimately for a vaccine to put a stop to this menacing enemy. I also pray that we will not let fear win the day and our social distancing become the norm in the seasons ahead.

When we are confidently told that COVID-19 is contained, will we courageously return to eating out and going to ballgames? I sure hope so. Don’t get me wrong: I know there will be a time of tentative re-entry into social life. And there will be some permanent changes. But our schools and colleges can’t become socially distant, online learning institutions just because that might be efficient and safe. And shopping online is quite convenient, but I’m pretty sure we don’t want Amazon Prime to completely replace our own going to local stores and interacting with other shoppers and store clerks. Certainly, we are gaining benefits from our online communities. But there is no replacing our real, physical interaction with other people.

The church, too. We are just starting to discuss and pray for wisdom as we seek a “re-entry” plan. We will want to offer appropriate venues of meeting when we begin receiving the gradual green lights from the authorities. We realize that there will be a transition period and that we may even keep some of the “Zoom” options that we feel are beneficial in the long run. But we are still a community of people who need to be with other people in real and physical ways. We long for that.  We promise to be patient and wise. But oh, how we all pine for the day when we can take Communion together and sit in home groups with our peers and hear the laughter and learning of children in our classrooms. We will carry out the admonition in the Book of Hebrews which tells us to “not neglect our meeting together, as is the habit of some, but be encouraging to one another…” And we promise to lead the way there, wisely, with all the best data, and not by fear.

#CultureNerd

What movies are you watching in quarantine? Sue and I have recently been watching some oldies but goodies. Try these if you like: Casablanca (perhaps my favorite movie of all time!); Gandhi (really long, but Ben Kingsley does an amazing acting job portraying this brilliantly humble yet powerful man); and Swing Kids (a riveting story of the Hitler Youth and the choice of some not to conform).

Movies and shows friends have suggested range from The Mandalorian (watch for a direct allusion to that show this Sunday in our next message series) to Ford vs. Ferrari (great for us car geeks) to The Shack (an intriguing parable of the triune God and his comfort of the grieving).

If you’re really ambitious (or bored) watch this (a 1903 silent on the life and passion of Christ). https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/life-and-passion-of-christ-1903?fbclid=IwAR15FVzOprTGO3FWiUAL835qexLuJwyMioXElcIxj0S1kY9JRSbIS_Z9ZCA

I’ll see you on the other side (virtually).
Paul

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