To The Point for March 24 2020

A Word about the Word 

“Be still and know that I am God…” 

“Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength…”

“The Lord will protect you from all harm…”

 Okay, here’s a little Hebrew lesson during our #StayHomeOhio time. In these days of COVID-19 dizziness, with the kids at home and the job sideways and the stock market tanking—and our collective physical health being threatened—we are in need of words of encouragement. And the Hebrew language has just the words (literally) for a time like this. Long ago, the Jewish people would sing and recite words of encouragement to each other. I want to teach you three Hebrew words to encourage us and give us hope in these crazy days. Bursting with meaning, these words describe God’s faithful dealings with his people. So, here we go:

Rapha: “Be still.” (It is very difficult for me not to make a tennis reference or joke here. One of my favorite players is Rafael Nadal—nicknamed “Rafa.” But I will refrain.)  Psalm 46:10 says: “Rapha, and know that I am God.” Rapha means to relax, to be still, to let a rope go slack. In the story of Psalm 46, everything is going berserk. The earth is trembling. Nations are raging. Kingdoms are toppling. Even the mountains are crumbling into the sea. No time like the present to get busy and do something…anything! But the Lord says to us, “Relax. I know the chaos and uncertainty that you are having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I am your refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. COVID-19 is not the first crisis I have faced with my people. I’ve been caring for them for a very long time. Please, relax, and know that I am God.” 

Qavah (pronounced kava’): “To wait.” In Isaiah 40:31 we read: “Those who qavah in the Lord will renew their strength.” Waiting is a drag! And waiting with no specific end in sight is a huge drag. When will we go back to school? Worship corporately? Be out of the danger zone of catching Coronavirus? Some of your Bibles in Isaiah 40:31 have the word “trust” for qavah. There is a beautiful nuanced truth in that shade of meaning. Because of God’s faithfulness and goodness, waiting on him is not like waiting for a return phone call or for the Browns to win the Super Bowl (insert joke here). Waiting on the Lord is a much more assured thing. His faithfulness is new every morning, his kindness to us is grace upon grace. So as we wait in our homes for normalcy and security to return, we do so expectantly, trusting that he will renew our diminishing strength. We qavah on the Lord!

Shamar: “To watch, protect.” Psalm 121 (which is filled with this word!) begins with this question: “I lift up my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?” His confident answer is found in the beautiful implications of shamar (in both its verb and noun forms). Like the diligent watchdog guarding the house, the powerful bodyguard protecting his VIP, our Lord is our shomer who is always watching over us and will “shamar your coming and going both now and forever.” Rightly so, we are being very diligent to connect with and keep watch over all of our people these days (especially the elderly and vulnerable). And still we know that our God, the one who made heaven and earth, is our sentry protectively on guard watching over all of us.

As we forge through this time of pandemic uncertainty, let’s challenge each other to relax and wait and know that God our Protector is watching over us.

Close to Home

As a staff team we are operating under the mantra, “flatten the curve; shepherd the flock.” The church is a family and connectivity is vital. I have found that delivering Sunday messages via airwaves/livestream is pretty simple. (We did it on Moody Radio for years.) Delivering fellowship and community, however, is a bit more complicated.

  • Using the latest video streaming technology (I should have bought stock in Zoom), we are launching Trinity Check-In. Many in our Trinity family will be having a virtual group experience to connect and pray and be encouraged devotionally in our homes. You should have received an e-mail about this. To learn more or be a part of Trinity Check-In, contact Pastor Ty at tyw@trinitymentor.com.
  • Sunday morning worship continues this Sunday at 9:30am on our Facebook page. Join us. God is knitting us together in ways I didn’t think possible!
  • Did you know that a lot of fun content is happening for students and families in our Trinity NextGen group? You can jump on here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2035586713163903
  • Daily throughout the week, the pastors of Trinity are on Facebook with some timely words…or music. Pastor David will lead us in a bit of interactive worship on Wednesdays at 7:00pm. Be sure to join him!
  • Sue has been spurring some to write a “Silver Lining Journal” during these days. It will great to hear and read the stories when things are back to normal.

The World as It Is

There are a lot of heroes in our world these days. Those in the medical profession are on the top of the list. The hospital personnel and physicians and nurses are working endless hours. Thank you! Thank the ones in our fellowship, please!  

We may not think of this, but those who are working in the financial services industry are heroically bearing the burden of the stock market tanking—and our spirits along with it. Many of them are taking our insecurities and frustrations personally. They want to work for us and are spending long hours trying to “fix” things and give us better news. Thank you!

Governor Mike DeWine is getting national attention and praise for his bold leadership in trying to keep Ohio ahead of the virus curve. He even makes me think a bit of Winston Churchill in his candid honesty of not sugar-coating the reality, as well as in his tenor of hope being somewhere on the horizon. His medical colleague, Dr. Amy Acton, deserves a lot of kudos as well. Thank you both. Proud to be a Buckeye.

Dr. Francis Collins is head of the National Institutes of Health. The Atlantic published an article profiling his life and the burden he is facing today as leader of the NIH. Grab a tall cup of coffee and read this rather long article that describes his work in light of our present pandemic and his conversion from atheism to Christ. You can find it here: https://bit.ly/PYCollins

#CultureNerd

With all of this extra home time, alone or with family, we asked our Facebook followers last Friday what people are binge watching. Here are some of the answers: Frozen I & II, The Godfather (all 3), The Office, Parks and Rec, Star Wars (new and old), Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Deal or No Deal, Anne with an E, Star Trek: Enterprise, Better Call Saul, Father Brown, and Phineas and Ferb.

Keep watching…but don’t forget to balance it with some good reading as well.

And Then There’s This…

Creating livestream worship is not as easy as you think. Pastor Stephen Beach accidentally set himself on fire filming a worship service from his home. Be careful of the candles! Can I say “holy smokes!” Sorry! Watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55csVSFoXW4

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

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To The Point for March 19 2020

A Word about the Word 

The Lord is good to everyone; his compassion rests on all he has made. [Psalm 145:9]

Give Psalm 145 a read. It is a classic, one of my favorites, and a real encouragement in troubling times.

As COVID-19 is spreading and shutdowns are disrupting and stock markets are crashing, it is good to be reminded of God’s character and of the possibility of our healthy responses. Future generations will even benefit from our responses. After calling us to praise our good God (vv. 1–7), the psalmist tells us why it’s right and healthy to do so: God’s character is so good (vv. 9–13); his care is so kind (vv. 14–16); and his protection is so near (vv. 17–21). How should we respond to this crisis? It ought to be in keeping with the character of our God, reflected in our thinking and in our communicating. The future generations (and the kids) are listening.

Close to Home

I’ll say it—I miss you, Trinity family en masse! While we are trying to navigate ministry adjustments between the two rails of “flattening the curve” and “shepherding the flock,” we are experiencing the withdrawal of personal interaction and fellowship. I wonder if God has suddenly imposed upon us a sort of Sabbath. This moment of confinement and slowdown could well be ordained to be a spiritually centering moment for each of us. As I said on Sunday, “In this time of social distancing, we must also seek to practice spiritual deepening.” And in our alone moments with the Almighty, we may find he is inviting us to substitute busyness and hurry with solitude and silence. I seem to have so much going on in my head, trying to think creatively and industriously about ministry and life in this new normal, that I easily miss God saying, “Be still and know that I am God.” You too?

The World as It Is

I once worked in the restaurant business. I was a valet—which meant I got to park really fancy cars! Penny was a hardworking waitress and single mom. She used a phrase I never forgot: “tip to mouth,” describing how she was living and the importance of her regular wage. It got me thinking about the plight of so many in our community who are part of the food business whose work has suspended. One study I read estimated that 4 million restaurant workers in America have lost or are at risk of losing their jobs. 

File this under “Great Minds Think Alike”: Pastor Ty and I both thought it would be a beautiful way for Trinity to love Lake County by ordering food from local establishments. Here’s the idea: Every Friday night, we encourage you to go out to one of our local Lake County restaurants, order take-out or drive-up service, then enjoy a nice meal in your car or take it home. Snap a picture of your adventure and comment on the relevant post each week on our Facebook page. Every Friday, we will randomly select one of those photos to win a $25 gift card to the restaurant where you ate. Let’s call it “#LakeCountyTakeOut”! Those living tip to mouth will be very grateful.

And Then There’s This…

I close with what has come to be known as the “serenity prayer.” This prayer, which has been amended and perhaps overused to the point of being a bit “vanilla,” was written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr with more depth and, quite frankly, more Christ than the “gift store” versions. Here it is in its entirety:

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is—not as I would have it—trusting that You will make all things right, I surrender to Your will. I do this so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.” 

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

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To The Point for March 11 2020

A Word about the Word

“The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after he is killed, he will rise three days later.” But the disciples did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask him. [Mark 9:31–32]

We are always afraid to talk about death. We ignore it. We send it away. Science has reduced life simply to biology—a brainwave, a heartbeat. Consequently, there is no meaning, no purpose, no eternal significance in life or death. But it is not so for the Christ follower, for our Lord spoke of his death as purposeful (“I give my life a ransom for many”) and as the gateway to his resurrection. His disciples, blinded by the mention of death, missed it. We mustn’t.

Close to Home
Recently, comedian Jim Carrey joked, “In the near future, we’ll only be able to communicate through devices. Actual human contact will be outlawed by the Apple iCourt.” 

Wow, if that doesn’t hit home. 

In Israel, we experienced Trinity’s worship service live on our tour bus. How fun! Listening to the sermon, our guide was impressed with the relevancy of Pastor Ty’s message. 

How convenient technology can be—and yet, as Carrey cautions us, how potentially impersonal and harmful…I think. There are virtual churches all over the place now. More effective, they say. Reach more people. There are people who may never go to a physical church, but they will watch a video. Churches are creating “venues” where people can watch their pastor in the convenience of their home or at Starbucks or wherever. And yet at what cost?

I am not trying to sound old here. Yes, I grew up with phone lines and snail mail and Trip-Tiks from AAA (ask someone; it’s the Stone Age GPS). And I love that we connected with Trinity’s worship service when we were halfway around the world. But the key word there was connect. Church is about connecting relationally with others. The digital world is about individualism. Ministry is about the slow process of spiritual formation and maturity. Technology is about speed and instantaneousness. 

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but let’s be wise. May I remind all of us that Christianity is first and foremost “incarnational.” Christ, the Eternal Son, joined us down here—really, not virtually. Trinity must be about community and presence and participation when we share the Word and the sacraments and our lives. Connect. We must. 

That’s why we do church and small groups. To connect—really and meaningfully.

The World as It Is
With COVID-19/Coronavirus hitting close to home, our workplaces and schools affected and taking strict measures, I want to assure you that Trinity is prayerfully and thoughtfully taking steps to ensure the health and physical wellbeing of our church family. From doubling up on cleaning and disinfecting all hard services, to warmly greeting with smiles and waves instead of handshakes, to serving pre-packaged communion elements when the time comes—we want everyone to have health confidence when coming to the Trinity campus.

As Christ followers, let us neither panic nor be dismissive in this moment. For such a time as this Christ has called us to shine as a light in a dark society. With our hope in Christ, let’s pray for the health workers, for our neighbors, and for the elderly and weaker among us. And, as opportunity allows, let’s let our light so shine before others that they see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Did you know that the early Church made quite a reputation for themselves because of their care for the sick and diseased? Those Christians risked infection and even death caring for the sick among them. Roman Emperor Julian, no friend of the Christian Church, frustratingly described how many of his people were being led away from their devotion to the Roman gods by the caring witness of the Christians:

“Atheism [Julian’s slur against the Christian faith] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans [that would be the Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”  

Lord, compel your Church today to act similarly in the face of this Coronavirus!

#CultureNerd
Alright, this exhibit looks really cool (and not just because it includes some Beatles pics). Check it out here.
 
And Then There’s This…
Presently in Cincinnati the courts are arguing over the legality of aborting a child simply because it has Down syndrome. How sad! It makes me think of Brian, a young boy with DS that I met early in my ministry. I was his hero. And he mine.
I’ll see you on the other side.
Paul

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To The Point for March 5 2020

I have always been inclined to routinely change things up. Whether it’s tennis racquets or eyeglasses or the watch I wear, I like to change things regularly. It keeps me interested and freshens things up. Don’t get nervous—this doesn’t apply to marriage (Sue and I recently celebrated our 40th anniversary) or to faith (though sometimes dusty old traditions could use altering). So as promised, my propensity to change now applies to the Ponderings. For over four years, the format of my thoughts and ramblings has stayed pretty much the same. To freshen things up, win back your attention (and maybe mine), and create a communique that reflects my thoughts and observations for the mind and tone of Trinity, I give you the new Ponderings. Or, as we’ll call it: To the Point.

A Word about the WordPeter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us set up three shelters: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—because he did not know what to say. [Mark 9:5–6]

I love that! After experiencing the beauty and glory of Christ being transfigured, instead of just taking it in and basking in the absolute profundity of the moment, Peter felt the need to open his trap. “Having nothing to say, Peter said…” Not just a few of us are actually rather good at that very thing. Being uncomfortable with a bit of silence, we fill the air with the noise of our voice. Not knowing what to say to the friend in pain, we conjure up a meaningless cliché. Whether in person or on social, we so often talk and talk and talk without really saying anything. I wonder what it would be like to truly practice living in the presence of God and make our words be few.

Close to Home
Did you know? Our Worship Center is getting a facelift. Work will begin right after Easter, finishing “For Those Still to Come” and making our Big Room match the freshness of the Gathering Space. It will be excellent and simple and nice and Trinity…and inconvenient for a month or so. More on that forthcoming. And thanks to those who generously gave to make this happen!
 
The World as It Is
How did I miss this? The sexual ethics of our day are like a rushing river with no banks—they flow everywhere! The Utah Senate recently voted unanimously to decriminalize polygamy (or polyamory as it is now euphemistically called). Are they going back to their roots in Utah? What is polyamory anyway? I had to look it up. Here is what I found:

/ˌpälēˈamərē/ (n.) “the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved.” 

No one seems to care about social norms or about messy and dire consequences when it comes to sexual practices anymore. Sure, why not! As Ty Waardenburg said when I showed him the BBC article: “There is no logical argument against it anymore.”

#CultureNerd
While we were recently in Israel, a number of us discussed some of the strongest Holocaust movies we have watched (spurred on by our visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum). My favorite is Schindler’s List. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. (Not suitable for children, though.) Speaking of children, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Book Thief are quite good and appropriate for the young ones. The Italian film Life Is Beautiful is a splendid film that will make you laugh and cry. Don’t be afraid of the subtitles or to have your teens watch it with you. Oscar-nominated film Jojo Rabbit is in the same vein (a light façade with a serious message) and worth watching.

And Then There’s This…
I just read that because of the coronavirus, public greetings in Italy by kissing are being discouraged. Now we know this is getting really serious.

I’ll catch you on the other side.
Paul

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Ponderings for February 20 2020

Greetings, Trinity family! How is your week going?
 
We are coming down the home stretch with these Ponderings and this format. A new and improved template of my regular communique is forthcoming. I know you are anticipating it with bated breath! 🙂
 
So, next Wednesday is what is traditionally known as “Ash Wednesday.” This launches the Christian Church into the season of Lent—the forty-day period between Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday that brings us to Good Friday and then Resurrection Sunday (Easter). Christ-followers often dedicate this time for unique prayers, times of repentance, reflection, and even self-denial. Nothing is earned and no divine “brownie points” are bestowed, but the added disciplines are done with the hope that there may be an increased sensitivity and appreciation for the suffering and death of Christ. We have prepared a resource sheet with plenty of ideas and suggestions to help make this time a meaningful one. They will be available starting with our Lenten Journey service on February 26.
 
Many of us reading this Pondering are of the Evangelical/Protestant ilk and have not really considered Ash Wednesday anything more than a foreign religious ritual offering little in the way of spiritual meaning. “It’s a Catholic thing.” Nay, nay. Some years ago, I shook off my prejudices and found something very meaningful in starting the Easter season this way. I urge you to come and be part of this profound service. Many at Trinity did last year and were greatly impacted. 
 
Here is a brief primer on Ash Wednesday that should help explain the importance of this evening of reflection we have planned.
 
WHAT? What is the meaning of Ash Wednesday?
It was first observed around the year 1000 A.D. Though not biblically mandated, it does carry significant biblical overtones. In the Old Testament, the people practiced putting ashes on their heads as a symbol of repentance (e.g., Job “repented in dust and ashes” [42:6]). The New Testament Church borrowed this ritual by putting ashes on one’s forehead in the shape of a cross, signifying both our sin and the redemption that Christ secured on Good Friday. The ashes were also meant to be a solemn and necessary reminder of our mortality. Though we try to ignore it, death is a reality that we all must face. The ashes of Ash Wednesday are meant to point us to the hope in our mortality: Christ.
 
WHY? Why should we observe Ash Wednesday?
After all, it seems kind of weird and “unevangelical.” Yes, there is no specific biblical commandment calling us to observe Ash Wednesday, but there isn’t one for observing Christmas or Easter either, is there? Let’s call it an “elective.” And if you want to reflect on the suffering Christ experienced on your behalf and if you want to ponder the meaning of your own mortality in light of the hope of Christ’s gift of immortality, then Ash Wednesday will be a powerful, even spiritually forming elective!. And you don’t even have to have ashes put on your forehead if you don’t want.
 
WHEN? When is our Ash Wednesday service?
Join us February 26 at 6:30pm in Trinity’s Worship Center. I encourage you to come with your family to this service. We are calling it the Lenten Journey service for it will direct our hearts towards Christ at the start of Lent. It will give us the opportunity to pause and begin our preparations for Good Friday and Easter when Christ defeated sin and death and opened the way for eternal life.
 
Catch you on the other side,
Pastor Paul

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