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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Ponderings for February 6 2020

Time to dust off the old pen…again! It is a joy and a privilege to write these thoughts to you on a regular basis.
 
Sometimes the thoughts don’t come. Or at least they don’t come in an organized or interesting fashion, so I scrap them. You have no idea how many Ponderings I have started only to send them into the trash because they did not meet my criteria of excellence.
 
In all of my work (and life), I live by this mantra: “Be hard on yourself and easy on others.” Hence, there is rarely a job that I do or message that I give or a Pondering that I write that truly meets my satisfaction. Enough leak out as “acceptable” that enable me to have something to show for the effort.
 
Not sure how, but I am feeling that the Ponderings are overdue for a makeover. We’ll see what we come up with.
 
Wow, that was a long explanation as to why no Ponderings have come out lately! 
 
“A house divided against itself will not stand.” Those words from Jesus were part of a passage in the Gospel of Mark which we discussed last Sunday. As an aside, I mentioned that those words were as applicable to America today as they were when Abraham Lincoln applied them to Civil War America. And I truly do fear for this country and the poisonous polarization and partisanship that is rampant in our land. It could be clearly seen Tuesday night during the State of the Union address on both sides of the aisle. I recently read of a study published last year which found that “just over 42 percent of Democrats and Republicans view the opposition as ‘downright evil.’” So uncivil and unhealthy!
 
The house is creaking.
 
For some time now, our leaders are spending time vehemently arguing their positions while persuading no one except the troll-ish colleagues and masses who share the exact same opinions that they do. And the news media is exactly the same. Those on the right and left follow the very same script and formula; they have their narrow talking points, they give their unchallenged and one-sided opinions, and they invite guests in who completely agree with them. Case closed. Occasionally a dissenting person is invited in—not so that insight may be gained, but so that the other side may be ridiculed and shot down. The incivility and unhealthiness grows.
 
The house is trembling.
 
So where does the Church sit in all of this national polarization and incivility? Well, I have seen too many ministries and churches divided by the unhealthy marriage of faith and politics. Not Trinity. And I have heard too many Christ-followers mimic the unhealthy and uncivil discourse they hear on the airwaves and in Washington. Not us. We will indeed “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And we will always appreciate the distinction and allow the latter to inform the former. And we will love and respect those in our body with whom we differ politically yet have a deeper commonality found in the person and Gospel of Christ. 
 
Our house is standing.
 
Remember the painting at the top of this Pondering? To contradict Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” church with its lights off, we will in fact allow our faith to transcend our culture and its politics. We will praise and champion the good wherever we see it. And we will shine the light on the darkness wherever we find it. We will be defined, not by our political alliances nor by the social issues of the day, but by the person of Christ and his Good News for the whole world.
 
Our house is shining.
 
2020 will be a pivotal year. We will pray for our nation and its leaders. And we will focus on Christ—that we might know him more intimately and make him known more clearly.
 
See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for January 9 2020

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
 
And with those abrupt and stunning words, St. Mark begins his famous work relying on the stories and sermons that he heard from the Apostle Peter. And it is this beautiful, fast-paced, and succinct Gospel that will launch us into our 2020, where together we will focus primarily on Christ, seeking to know him and make him known.
 
No one, in the Scriptures or throughout history, has had an authentic encounter with Jesus and remained unchanged. The proud are made humble. The “worthless” gain self-worth and the oppressed find dignity. Choosing to know Christ and follow him leads to beautiful changes in one’s heart and relationships and surroundings. 
 
Here we go! 
 
By the way, how is your reading of Mark coming? You can do it. Sixteen rapid-fire chapters that tell the story of Jesus’ life and authority over all (chapters 1–8) and then his final days and death on behalf of all (chapters 9–16). This Sunday we will look at the first eight verses of chapter 1. I am prayerfully eager to see what the Lord will accomplish in and through us as together we focus our gaze on Jesus all year long.
 
I write you this Ponderings basking in the sun which is streaming through the windows in the Gathering Space. What an addition and gift this room has been! How did we get along without it? And it is so cool to see so many people enjoying it on Sunday and other times as well. So thanks for staying diligent and timely on your pledges for the Gathering Space. We need to see this through. And for those who are newer and have never pledged but are giving towards our Capital Campaign: thank you!  We are discussing how to finish the entire project with the sprucing up of the Worship Center. We’ll keep you posted.
 
Enjoy this sunshine. And the warmer temperatures this weekend. I will see you on Sunday and leave you now with the prayer of fourth-century Church leader Chrysostom. May his prayer be ours as we seek to focus on and follow Christ.
 
I am not worthy, Master and Lord, that you should come beneath the roof of my soul; yet since in your love toward all, you wish to dwell in me, in boldness I come. You command; open the gates, which you alone have made. And you will come in, and enlighten my darkened reasoning. I believe that you will do this; for you did not send away the harlot who came to you with tears, nor cast out the repenting tax-collector, nor reject the thief who acknowledged your kingdom. But you counted all of these as members of your band of friends. You are blessed forevermore. Amen. 
 
I’ll catch you on the other side,
Pastor Paul

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Pondering for December 31 2019

Ring out the old, ring in the new!
 
Are you ready for the new year? Was 2019 kind to you? I wonder what 2020 will hold for each of us. One thing I know for sure: Through all of the challenges and joys we experience this coming year (and every year), the Lord is up to something. He is using all of the stuff of our lives as a palette of paint to compose a beautiful work of art! He is conforming us to the image of his Son.
 
Ring out the old, ring in the new!
 
I’m not sure I completely want to ring out the old. 2019 was a good, exciting year for Trinity Church. So many people and so much growth! And we “moved into” our new and beautiful Gathering Space! How great to see the informal and formal gatherings in there. So much life and fellowship and laughter. This year we also saw our greatest Advent gift giving to date! Food and trees—and a bus! God loves a cheerful giver, so thank you for your cheerful generosity!
 
Ring out the old, ring in the new!
 
Among the new that is coming, I want to mention that Trinity’s overarching theme for 2020 will be “Jesus: Knowing Him and Making Him Known.” Together we are going to spur one another on to keeping the main thing (or, in this case, Person) the main thing. Jesus will be our sermon themes. Jesus will be our spiritual pursuits. Jesus will be the subject of our JTerm. Jesus will be the goal and bar of our spiritual practices. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.
 
Ring out the old, ring in the new!
 
As Jesus is our focus in 2020, he becomes the reason for practicing spiritual disciplines (e.g., praying, meditating, journaling, solitude, singing spiritual songs) and digging a deep well of fresh water for your soul. A good resolution as we start a new year, wouldn’t you say? We ought to start digging long before the stuff of 2020 makes us thirsty. You might want to think about one of the many Bible reading apps available (like this one on YouVersion).
 
Ring out the old, ring in the new!
 
Let’s seal 2019 and commit 2020 with a powerful reminder of our Lord Christ: the focus of 2020 and of our lives. Read these great words from the spiritual giant Dorothy Sayers:
 
The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man… The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: What do you think about Christ? The Church’s answer is categorical and uncompromising, and it is this: That Jesus bar Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God “by Whom all things were made.” His body and brain were those of a common man; His personality was the personality of God… He was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; He was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be “like God”—He was God.
 
I’ll see you on Sunday, as we ring in the new!

 
Happy New Year,
Pastor Paul


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