Here’s the latest from Pastor Paul

Ponderings for December 3 2018

Greetings, Trinity community. Yesterday was a splendid day together, launching ourselves into Advent and the Christmas season. And next Sunday will be a morning filled with life and joy as Tabitha Hiltner returns with your children to lead us in our fifth annual “Play in a Day.” Another wonderful piece in the preparations for our celebrating the visit of our Savior to our world and our hearts.
 
So, I got to thinking. (Random transition ahead.) Numbers and the Church have always had an awkward relationship. You know, the ministry that is always worried about its numbers and “bottom line” can appear pretty shallow. Sue and I attended a meeting out west several years ago with a number of national Evangelical leaders. The topic of conversation so often was “how many…?” In frustration, Sue and I found ourselves spending the bulk of our time hanging out with the authors and scholars instead of pastors and church leaders. Oh, well…
 
And yet, unapologetically, the Scriptures do not necessarily shy away from numbers. There is even a book of the Bible called Numbers (through which an accountant friend of mine came to faith—no joke!). The Book of Acts makes a point of regularly telling us specific numbers as evidence of the Lord’s working and the effectiveness of this new movement called the Church.
 
Numbers can be important markers (looking back to see what was accomplished and looking forward as goals for which to strive and pray). So, in the spirit of Christmas and to put a few tangible goals before us, here are a couple of numbers for us to work toward and to pray for—that God may use us to generously share the hope of Christ this Advent season.
 
On Saturday we will be giving away Christmas trees again! No strings attached—a symbol of God’s grace to us. Spread the word; let others know about the trees. And let’s pray that the 300 trees all find a good home.
 
Throughout this Advent we are “Making Unseen Heroes.” In big and small ways, we are giving gifts to the most marginalized of the Dalits (untouchables) of India—children and women. Thank you for your part in helping bring dignity and Christ to these dear ones. Let’s pray for 250 stars to be placed on the big tree in the worship center, as they represent gifts of $100 or more.
 
And may the Lord increase his grace and the fruit of his Spirit in our lives as we emulate our Savior—our Hero—this Christmas season.
 
See you on the other side.
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 21 2018

Getting stuff off my plate so I can enjoy a relaxing Thanksgiving without too much vying for my attention. And then comes December! So here goes…with just a wee bit of my tongue stuck to my cheek.
 
1. It’s cold outside! I mean too cold, this soon! Ian Neale just joined our staff from Virginia. I keep telling him this is unusually cold for us. Right?!? Come on, agree with me! I am not sure Ian believes me.
 
2. I will be the youngest person at our Thanksgiving table! Hey, I heard that joke! No, really, it will be quite a collection of vast life experience. Over 270 years of experience between Sue’s parents and my mom! I think I’ll just keep quiet and listen.
 
3. I am preparing a message for Sunday that makes me both excited and nervous. I am entitling it, “Your Inside Voice.” It is about those inner impressions whereby God guides us and even urges us to act or stop acting. It is exciting to experience the Lord’s “prompting” in specific ways. (I don’t like using the phrase “the Lord told me” or saying that “he speaks to us”—too creepy or at least misunderstood.) It makes me nervous when people use those phrases to shirk responsibility or as a trump card to try and get their way. “The Lord told me I’m supposed to work here,” I was once told. “I’ll call you when he tells me,” was my reply.
 
4. One of my former staff members suffers from Alzheimer’s. He was a brilliant man. Now, of course, he is a confused man and (dare I say) something of a burden on his wife who loves and serves him so faithfully. I can only think of the total brokenness of the Fall and the beautiful hope of resurrection when I think of my friend and other dear ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
 
5. Okay, so I have been taking a bit of grief for proclaiming my rejection of turkey on Thanksgiving. I do believe, however, that the Cornish hens Sue is preparing actually identify as turkeys. And the pasta can certainly count as stuffing—very carb-worthy, yet tastier.
 
6. Come to think of it, I think calling this season “autumn” is much more refined than calling it “fall.” Although “fall” may be a better description of the dreary weather conditions that await us. The creation is “groaning” indeed.
 
7. So, the Lord told me to tell you that I am supposed to see you on Sunday…
 
And happy Thanksgiving too!
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 15 2018

So we were talking in our men’s breakfast study this morning about fasting and being quiet before God. And about how difficult it is to do these things in our plugged-in, noisy, always-something-happening world.
 
And about how, despite how crazy the world is and how something is always vying for our attention, we still need to “be still and know” he is God and who we are…
 
Do you ever feel like you have so much going on you don’t have time for what’s really important? Deadlines to meet, decisions to make, people to see, places to run…
 
“Be still and know…”
 
Or how about this convicting verse of Scripture: “This one thing I do…”
 
ONE thing!?! How about these 37 things I dabble in and don’t do any of them very well! And still, the Lord is right there, saying, “Be still and know that I am God.”
 
It reminds of the movie City Slickers. Remember that one? Billy Crystal plays a hard-charging professional who sees life passing him by. No time to do the important things. Then there’s crusty old Jack. Jack is the experienced and wise cowboy who asks the Crystal if he would like to know the secret of life. Uh, yes! “It’s this,” Jack says, holding up one finger (I love this line). “The secret to life is your finger?” Crystal asks. “No, it’s one thing. The secret of life is pursuing one thing,” Jack emphatically states. “So what is that one thing?” Crystal asks eagerly. “You have to find it yourself,” Jack wisely replies.
 
That is what being still does for us. It enables us to clear out the clutter and allow the Spirit of God to clarify the “one thing.”
 
Greg McKeown has written a book called Essentialism (The Disciplined Pursuit of Less). His brief summary makes his case: “The Way of the Essentialist involves doing less, but better, so you can make the highest possible contribution.” McKeown writes to encourage us to pursue the one thing, the essential thing. Here’s how he closes his book:
 
“Once you become an Essentialist, you will find that you aren’t like everybody else: when other people are saying yes, you will find yourself saying no; when other people are doing, you will find yourself thinking; when other people are speaking, you will find yourself thinking; when other people are in the spotlight, vying for attention, you will find yourself waiting on the sidelines until it is time to shine; while other people are padding their resumes and building out their LinkedIn profiles, you will be building a career of meaning; while other people are complaining (read: bragging) about how busy they are, you will just be smiling sympathetically, unable to relate; while other people are living a life of stress and chaos, you will be living a life of impact and fulfillment.
 
“In many ways, to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.”
 
As followers of the One who said “be still”; as a body of Christian people seeking to love Lake County and be a light in a dark community; as people about to enter a hectic, commercially overloaded season, I say—let’s join that revolution!
 
See you around the corner,
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 9 2018

Greetings, Trinity friends and family. I hope this note finds you well and that your week has been a positive and productive one.
 
A friend just alerted me of an article by Judith Shulevitz entitled, “Alexa, Should We Trust You?” I believe he called it sobering. I think she is writing to warn us of both the privacy that we are increasingly losing and also of the dangers of the instantaneous consumers which we are becoming. It’s too easy to want something (the latest book by Tim Keller or the newly reproduced White Album from the Beatles) and have my wants immediately fulfilled simply by a command to Alexa.
 
I’m sorry; some of you might not be sure to what I am referring. Some time ago, I received an “Alexa” from Amazon. Alexa is a technological gadget that I can order around with my voice, telling “her” to play my favorite song by Andrea Bocelli or describe Mentor’s upcoming weather or update me on the score of the Cavs game (I bet they’re losing). Amazing technological advancements, right?! Not sure. Hence the article by Shulevitz.
 
Anyway, let me read the article and then get back to you soon in another Ponderings about it. I have a feeling there will be some good life and spiritual lessons and cautions for us. But until then, this is but another reminder of how “delicate” our lives and relationships are in these days.
 
Many of you have reported the encouragement you’ve received from our talk Sunday about the prodigals in our lives. Hope and patience are among the key words I keep hearing. And every day, at 1:00pm, the phone alarm goes off. I am cheating—I am now up to four wayward “kids” (and one prodigal spouse) for whom I am praying. I am eager to hear how God is answering our hundreds of prayers. (If you did not hear: On Sunday, I challenged us all to pray for one prodigal once a day at one o’clock until Christmas. Join us!)
 
This Sunday, as we continue our “Delicate” series, we will look at the very human emotion of shame: a real experience of so many that devalues our very sense of identity. Dr. Linda Dakwar will join me as we delve into this topic, describing shame’s manifestations and its eventual shrinking amid the presence of Christ’s love and that of his community.
 
Speaking of those who need love and the healing touch of our Lord and people—our Surviving the Holidays events (on November 15 for divorce victims and November 16 for those who have lost someone) can be a great opportunity to introduce God’s love and healing. If you know someone who could benefit, please invite them. Better yet, accompany them to Trinity on that evening.
 
A couple of Did you knows and then I’ll stop typing: Did you know that Ian and Brooke Neale will be here in the middle of November? As you may know, we have called Ian to be Trinity’s NextGen (Youth-Plus) Director. You will soon be hearing and seeing them a lot. At the right time, we will have an all-church welcome for the Neales. We’ll keep you posted.
 
Did you know that the apron of the exit in the parking is being finished? A nice, smooth departure is at hand! (We all want that!) Anyway, on Sunday we will use the entrance only to drive in and out. A video will be posted on Facebook with a few more details—look for it later today.
 
That’s all for now.
Alexa, say goodbye to my friends!
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 1 2018

Someone once said that the best movies begin as you walk out of the theater. I like that.
 
When Sue and I are talking about last night’s film the next morning, we know it was a pretty good one.
 
That’s probably true about a lot of things. The book you are reading. The sermon you just heard. That song…
 
And maybe that should be true about life and the things that come at us as well. Instead of just giving immediate, knee-jerk responses, I ought to allow the events of life to marinate in my soul and start me thinking more profoundly and spiritually.
 
A lot of minor key things have been fogging up my windshield lately. It will do me good to talk about them even as I walk out of the theater.
 
I just heard that an old friend has passed away. She and her husband and Sue and I have been colleagues and friends for many years. Cancer won the physical battle. But she certainly won the spiritual one. The legacy she leaves is of family and ministry, of love and mercy (always looking out for the underdog)—so many live were impacted by hers.
 
They have begun the funerals for the eleven shooting victims from the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Sara went to school right there. Did you know that was Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood? What irony! Hate and antisemitism are making a comeback. It makes you want to run away or curse the darkness. But it’s better to light a candle. That’s what Fred Rogers would do. That’s what Rabbi Jesus did.
 
If I talk with one more parent who is grieved or panicked by their adult child’s drift or (in some cases) sprint from the Lord and the values they were raised with…I’m running out of words to say; paradigms to shift; tears to shed; prayers to pray. This Sunday we will dip our toe in that frigid pond as we examine the issue of prodigals and their parents in our “Delicate” message series.
 
My heart was saddened when I heard that Eugene Peterson passed away. (He wrote The Message and many other impactful books that kept me thinking long after I “walked out of the theater.”) He was a pastor’s pastor. In his books, Peterson often reminds me that life and ministry is long and hard. And that many churches and Christians and pastors look for shortcuts and shallow schemes that sugarcoat the pains and try to attract the many. Not wise. Peterson wanted to make his church a place for spirituality. Programs and activities were necessary, but, in the end, he wanted those in his flock to grow deep spiritually, in reflection, in Christ. That is how we handle and even grow from life’s hardness and pain.
 
That’s what I want for us. For Trinity. A place where we face life as it comes and spiritually ruminate on it long after we’ve left the theater.
 
I’ll see you on the other side.
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for October 25 2018

Greetings, Trinity family and friends! It’s been a little while since I’ve “pondered” with you. My pen was lacking ink. 🙂
Let’s see if I can still do this.
 
If you are out of shape physically, you may be flabby.
If you are out of shape mentally, you may be forgetful.
If you are out of shape spiritually, you may be shallow.
 
If you are out of shape relationally…you may be lonely.
 
Loneliness is an ominous word—a desolate, painful, personal pain which plays no favorites. It leaves us feeling isolated and neglected and excluded and, well…alone. Loneliness is indeed an age-old problem, but it’s one that is clearly on the rise in our society. With the aging of us all and the omnipresence of our virtual world and technology, we are getting lonelier and lonelier. I am afraid we are becoming less connected to each other. While we are busy texting and getting likes on Facebook and followers on Instagram, are we forgetting how to have real flesh-and-blood interaction?
 
Virtual connectivity cannot replace real connectivity.
 
God has a good plan for our loneliness: “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). Yes! How kind of the transcendent God of the universe to design us not only to need personal contact but to provide people and families and fellowships to meet the relational voids we so readily feel?!
 
And yet…how easy it is to let our busyness or our technology build a wall between us.
 
So, whether you are feeling lonely or not, why not put the phone down and step out and go see someone? Love initiates. Make a real connection with someone. The lonely bubble you are piercing may be yours or may belong to someone as lonely as you.
 
If you are struggling with your own loneliness or you know someone who is, consider attending or inviting someone to our Surviving the Holidays events on November 15 and 16. You can find out more on the events page on Trinity’s website.
 
This Sunday we continue the “Delicate” series with the message Solo: Treading Purposefully on a Lonely Road. To prepare, give 2 Timothy 4:9–18 a read. And the two articles below—one on the public health hazard of loneliness and the other on the propensity of Facebook to make us lonely—are quite informative and have helped me prepare for this universal theme of loneliness.
 
See you around the corner,
Pastor Paul
 

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