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

Read more...

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

Read more...

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

Read more...

Ponderings for October 12 2017

As a child, I always was a bit afraid of Alice in Wonderland. That fanciful book had some pretty wild tales, and falling down a hole seemed like a pretty scary ordeal. The fairly recent film adaptation was very entertaining, I thought. And Johnny Depp playing the Mad Hatter was quite brilliant. 

Among the unusual things and lines in the movie, one that always amused me was when Alice tells the Hatter, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” And, of course, the Mad Hatter thinks that is an “excellent practice.”

Now, Christianity and the church is nothing if not about belief. We must be about the business of encouraging and developing each others’ faith. That which we are called to believe may seem to the natural mind quite impossible. After all—resurrecting from the dead; somebody being completely God and man at once; or even a holy God not only forgiving a slimy me but also giving me the status of being His child with all the rights and privileges therein—these are, on first glance, seemingly rather impossible things.

“With God all things are possible.” So believe them we must! And more.

This Sunday in our “Sola” message series we will be examining sola fide—the call to faith and faith alone in Christ for our hope and salvation. Faith is not a virtue or work that God rewards, but a necessary response that we are each called to make.

Before I leave you with some words on faith to ponder, let me say a couple of things:

  • Thank you for praying for my mother and her broken hip. She is presently in a rehabilitation center. Thanks for your continued prayers for her recovery and our wisdom on next steps (no pun intended). 
  • Also, I am excited for 16 prospective new members joining me in a class this Saturday.  Grateful to the Lord for his adding to our fellowship. 
  • Finally, I am hearing stories and ideas as they relate to #WeLOVELakeCounty. I know the Lord will bless our efforts and our neighbors as we prayerfully and creatively choose to tangibly bring the love of Christ to our community.
Now, as promised:  “[Faith is] a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit”  (John Calvin).
 
See you Sunday, faithful ones,
Pastor Paul

Read more...

Ponderings for September 26 2017

Do you know what October 31 is?

Halloween, right?

 Yeah, what else?

The day before All Saints Day, I think.

 What’s that? 

I don’t know; I heard it somewhere. I think I saw it on my calendar.

 Okay, let me clue you in. October 31 will be the 500th anniversary of the “Protestant Reformation.” 

That has something to do with Martin Luther, right?

 Yes, and a lot to do with you as well.

Pray tell.

 Okay, here is the short version. In 1517, Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic monk and university professor in Wittenberg, Germany. Fed up with some of the extravagances and biblical inconsistencies of the Roman Catholic church, he communicated his formal protest by posting his 95 grievances on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. After much debate and intense trials, Luther was eventually tossed out of the church. Though never meaning to start a new “movement,” that’s just what occurred. With a renewed emphasis on God’s grace and the sufficiency of the Scriptures, this biblical and “evangelical” awakening spread from Germany to Switzerland to England and eventually to Lake County. (Okay, that last part is a bit of a shortening of the timeline, but you get the idea.)

Of course, today, things have changed a bit and there is much more a spirit of friendship and cooperation between Catholics and Protestants (one of my better friends in ministry is a priest). And yet differences still exist between us (doctrinal and otherwise).

So in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we will spend the Sundays of October biblically and historically examining the distinctives of the Reformation as they relate to our lives and faith today. Along with my message series, our Transitions Life Group will be studying the specifics of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther. If you would like to go more in depth on this great subject, I recommend you attend this class (taught by David Durkee) starting this Sunday, October 1 at 10:45am. 

We owe so much of our faith and spiritual heritage to what Luther began 500 years ago. May the month of October be a season of gratitude and appreciation to the Lord for what he did and continues to do in our lives through his grace and truth.  

That’s all for now.
Pastor Paul

Read more...