Here’s the latest from Pastor Paul

Ponderings for November 27 2019

So what’s the big deal about Thanksgiving? I mean, think about it: Most people are generally very stoked about this holiday. We talk about Thanksgiving long before it’s here. The highways and airports are jam-packed with delays everywhere. We rehearse what we are eating, who is coming, when your dad will loosen his belt at the table. So much hype. And, to be honest, I am just not sure why.
 
Are we that interested in the culinary practices of bunch of Pilgrims from 400 years ago? I have my doubts.
 
Is it the football games? (Maybe the Dallas Cowboys a little. Certainly not the Lions, right?)
 
The turkey?! Really? Come on, be honest—you’re not that crazy about turkey, are you? Now, if the traditional fare was Alaskan King Crab legs or filet mignon, then let’s go! Even lasagna or baby back ribs, but turkey?
 
And, of course, the pies…ahh, the pies. But I digress.
 
I do think that the break from the normal routines and habits of family (even extended) are key to the popularity of this day. With us all sitting down to a slow meal together; perhaps even carrying on meaningful table conversation; and thinking through and even saying aloud the specific things that we are each thankful for: We seldom do these important and healthy things together. And the fact that we set aside a national holiday to attempt these significant rituals speaks of their latent importance to us. It is good and healthy to give thanks. And it is right and good to slow down and share a meal with loved ones and have thoughtful discussions. Deep down, that is what makes Thanksgiving so popular, in my opinion. (That and the pies. Especially the coconut cream. 🙂
 
We’ll see you on Sunday when we begin Advent by worshiping together, reminding ourselves that Love is the best while we also light a candle to begin the Christmas season. (We’ll celebrate the Lord’s Table on the 22nd of December.)
 
Happy Thanksgiving, beloveds.
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 25 2019

Are you ready for a short week? Probably lots of family…and food! That will be true for me and Sue as well. 
 
Coming right on the heels of Thanksgiving this year is the beginning of Advent. Our church, like the historical church, makes a big deal out of Advent. I learned recently that the observing of Advent is a commemorating of the three “Comings” of Christ. (You will see a video on Facebook this Saturday where a friend and I discuss this at length.) 
 
 
Our practices during Advent are meant to remind us of the Lord’s First Coming in Bethlehem; his Personal Coming into our lives by faith; and his Second Coming at the end of the age. These “Comings” act as perspectives in light of which we live our lives: Because of the Coming of Christ, I believe and behave differently.
 
As I mentioned in the worship services yesterday, this Advent at Trinity we are being called to act Christ-like and lovingly in three ways: personally, locally, and globally.
 
Personally: Your church staff has come up with 25 deliberate acts of kindness and love that you can choose to do throughout the month of December. Already yesterday several have told me what they intend to do from the roster of ideas that we provided.
 
Locally: We are called to reach out to our community (#WeLOVELakeCounty) by providing food to students in need in our area. Through December 15, we will be collecting food items (no perishable food) and food gift cards that will benefit those who will not have access to their school cafeteria while on break.
 
Globally: We are buying a bus in India! This bus is to transport the children of women trapped in temple prostitution and sex trade (they are called Jogini or devadasi). Providing these children with a Christ-centered education (and the means of getting to school) is crucial in getting them out of this system. “$40K for 40 Kids” is what we are calling this project (as the bus with a capacity of 40 seats costs $40,000). To learn more about these children, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qq6V9d9rw4
 
Our theme this Christmas season is Love Came Down. This is a call to embrace and emulate the love of God on display for us in the Coming of Christ. These three areas of action represent Trinity’s plan for our active and loving Advent season.
 
That’s it for now,
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 19 2019

Blessed are the feet that bring Good News…
 
As the holidays approach, we will all have numerous opportunities to engage people in spiritual conversations and Christian “experiences” (like receiving a free tree or hearing some sacred music). Whether it’s interacting with people at your office or in your neighborhood or taking advantage of the outreaching nature of so many of Trinity’s December activities, our hope is that many of us here will broach the subject of Christ or God with others in the coming season.
 
I know that can seem scary or forced, but it doesn’t have to be. Many of us feel unprepared to simply “give the answer to the hope” that we have in Christ. That is why I thought the words of Professor Rick Richardson from Wheaton College are so timely today. He writes that the way to have meaningful spiritual conversations with others is to learn “to ask good questions of people about God, and good questions to God about people.” Here are Dr. Richardson’s suggestions:
  • Questions to Ask People: 1) Do you have any religious background and does it mean anything to you today? 2) Have you ever had what you would consider a spiritual experience? What was that like? 3) Do you think there is a God, and what do you think God is like? and 4) Would you say you ever pray? And what do you think that does?
  • Questions to Ask God: 1) Jesus, where are you already at work? Please lead me to those who are receptive. 2) Is there someone you want me to talk to, or care for, or pray with? Is there someone here who is hurting? And what are you doing? and 3) Do I notice anything about this person that you might notice? What might you say to them in this moment?
 
Let’s pray for each other about these conversations during the holiday season. And let’s pray that Trinity’s ministries this Advent are used by God to introduce many people to the Gospel and the beautiful person of Jesus Christ.
 
It is a joy and privilege to lead and pastor you in the things of God.
 
See you down the road.
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 14 2019

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good… (Psalm 136:1)
 
These words remind me that the object of my thanks is not my circumstances or my stuff—it is the character of God. That seems to imply that the nature of thanksgiving is trust (in a good God despite my sometimes-crummy circumstances), driven not by my senses (my eyes and ears may experience a lot of noise and pain) but by faith. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. For most of us, listing all the “things” we have to be grateful for would be a good exercise. And for all of us, remembering all of the good character qualities of God (start with a reading of Psalm 119) will help us focus on the permanent reasons to be thankful this year.
 
And speaking of Thanksgiving, Christmas is only seven weeks away!! Wow. Along with the personal activities and reflections (don’t forget to take time to reflect), Trinity has a number of things to take note of. How great it is to be a part of a church that desires to bless its community by giving away Christmas trees—for free! To help make our friends’ Christmas a bit more special, we will be giving away lights and ornaments alongside those trees on December 6 and 7. The next couple of Sundays, we will be collecting those items in the Gathering Space. Thanks in advance for your generosity! On December 8, our services will swell with relatives and friends here to see the kids lead us in our annual Play in a Day performances. Thanks for welcoming all of our guests on that day. And on Christmas Eve, we will be offering three beautiful Christmas concerts at 3:00pm, 4:30pm, and 6:30pm. Please invite your co-workers and neighbors and friends. A fun and meaningful time will be had by all. Finally, and coming a bit sooner, on Sunday, November 24, be on the lookout for our Advent suggestions and ideas. We will be providing opportunities and possibilities for all of us to practice acts of kindness and read words of thoughtfulness throughout the month of December.
 
We started the fall with prayer (remember Pray WITH Trinity?). Now, more than ever, we need to pray the headlines—for peace in Hong Kong and Israel; for the political climate and vast polarization in our day; not to mention for the ugly way everything gets politicized in this country (from California fires to pro sports to the weather). May the Lord use the words and especially the deeds of Christ-followers to bring about a modicum of peace as we head into the holidays. Every Sunday morning there is prayer going on in my office during the 9:30am service; won’t you come and join in?
 
And speaking of prayer, I leave us with this very meaningful one:
 
God, I want your guidance and direction in all I do. Let your wisdom counsel me, your hand lead me, and your arm support me. I put myself into your hands. Breathe into my soul holy and heavenly desires. Conform me to your own image. Make me like my Savior. Enable me in some measure to live here on earth as he lived, and to act in all things as he would have acted. Ashton Oxeden (1808–1892)
 
I’ll see you on the other side.
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for November 8 2019

It happened again. Another Christian leader falls morally, like so many snowflakes in the winter. This time it was John Crist. You probably know of him, the famous and poignant comedian beloved by so many Christ-followers and churches. Trinity recently showed a very humorous video of his on prayer. Crist was guilty of sexual misconduct and harassment and impropriety against at least seven women.
 
Add him to the ever-growing roster of Christian leaders and pastors who have succumbed to the powerful temptation of sexual immorality.
 
No—that sentence is incomplete, not correct. Even a copout.
 
For by saying the Crists and Hybels and Tchividjians and Swaggarts (and King Davids) have simply succumbed to the challenges of sexual temptation makes them the victims of their sordid story when instead they are the perpetrators, the power brokers of these all-too-common episodes. As spiritual leaders and men in the spotlight who are looked up to, they bear the culpability of not only sexual misconduct but also of abuse of power. The women in all of these stories are the victims, the ones without the power.
 
When leadership and “fame” are in play, we are not talking “ordinary” adultery and sexual misadventures; we are in the arena of power with assault and abuse as key components. The story of King David and Bathsheba is the clear biblical example here (see 2 Samuel 11 and 12). David, the powerful king, sees Bathsheba bathing, wants her, summons a servant to retrieve her, “lays with her,” has her husband killed, and marries her. David used his power to take what he wanted. Bathsheba had no choice. The narrator purposely renders her silent. This was her king; she couldn’t refuse. This is no story of an extramarital affair—this is sexual assault and abuse of power. And to prove this point, Nathan, the prophet, when coming to confront the king of his sin, tells him a story not about sexual infidelity but about the abuse of power between a rich man and a poor man. God tells this tragic story because his anointed servant soiled the power that he had been given to lead God’s people.  And David practically brought down a nation in doing so.
 
The Christian Church and American Evangelicalism is also in peril today, not simply because of rampant sexual immorality at the top but because of the unchecked abuse of power that its leaders keep committing over and over again. And we are seeing this power abuse now outside the sexual realm in pastor-leaders such as James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll bullying their staff and leaders and abusing their power. And when they are called to account, they ignore their spiritual elders, dig in their heels, and then take their proverbial balls elsewhere to do it all over again. What a sham. This must not be. But unfortunately, it is. And it is not infrequent.
 
The prophet Nathan shows us the way. He holds the leader accountable. The king had all the power, all the money, all the fame. Nathan had only his character and a word from God. “You are the man,” he told his king. The behavior of the powerful one is wrong and must be held to account. And Nathan stands with and defends the powerless as Bathsheba’s voice and defender. As injustice occurs, the way of God is to empower the victim.
 
These contemporary stories hit a nerve with me not only as a pastor and Christian leader, but also, as a mega-church pastor and radio “celebrity,” I have not infrequently rubbed shoulders with men displaying such uncouthness and abuse of power. This culture is so contrary to the right way of the Church and especially of the Lord, who called us to and models humility over power.
 
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
 
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who,
existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father

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Ponderings for October 25 2019

Wow, its been a while since I “pondered.” Or, at least, since I jotted down a Ponderings to the Trinity community. It just wouldn’t come. I would go to write something and then it was too blah, or too obtuse, or nothing at all. Then life happens and a week goes by, and then another week. Writing a Ponderings is like working out; you get out of the routine and then before you know it, you’ve missed a few weeks and it’s really hard to get started again. But you have to! That’s true with any number of personal habits, isn’t it?
 
So here goes…
 
“Blessed to be a blessing.” That has been God’s M.O. for blessing and tangibly loving the world and the needy for thousands of years (check out Genesis 12). For me and for us, that means God blesses us with so much (materially and spiritually) not just to enjoy or hoard but to share with and “bless” others. To live “Christianly” and to carry out a vital core value of Trinity Church is to consistently look outward when “counting one’s blessings.”
 
This Sunday we will be modeling this as we introduce and welcome our new partner church, International Fellowship Church. We seek to bless this primarily Nepalese congregation (think the Himalayas and Mount Everest) as they seek to bless the international/refugee population of Cleveland with the Gospel. I am eager for us to experience on Sunday a deep spiritual time of worship as we participate together in the fellowship of communion and baptism!
 
It won’t be long until our society announces the coming of Christmas and the holiday season with the scheduling of office parties and gift exchanges and the buying of presents. Not to be outdone, our church has already begun preparations with musical rehearsals and fun children’s plays and all things joyful. Let’s go!
 
But let’s also not forget that for many, this season is the opposite of joy. With the memories of lost loved ones or the pain of fractured families, this is not an easy time for some. What can we do to tangibly bring the love and peace of Christ to our neighbors and friends who are dreading this coming Christmas season? Maybe your small group or fellowship–or you and your family–can devise a plan to reach out and “bless” someone this season. Let’s go!
 
On November 1 and 2, we will be hosting “Surviving the Holidays,” a ministry of hope and support for those dealing with sorrow and grief through divorce or the loss of a loved one. Consider inviting someone who needs it. Or come yourself if you need it.
 
Whew. That was hard work getting back in the Ponderings routine.
 
See you Sunday!
Pastor Paul

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