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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Ponderings for December 18 2019

I sit in the Gathering Space trying to write something meaningful and creative to you, my Trinity friends and spiritual family.
 
I am in here because the room is so nice. And because I just needed a change of venue. From now till Christmas my office (and my to-do list) is a dungeon of duties that must get done! 
 
Full. That is the status of my mind and calendar and the horizon as I look to the New Year. That’s pretty common among the staff team here and probably you, too.
 
It seems only right, but I just read that the most downloaded Bible verse among YouVersion’s 400 million users this year is Philippians 4:6: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Draw your own conclusions.
 
Full of anxiety everywhere. Tornadoes and fatalities in New Orleans. Not to mention now a major cyber attack on that beautiful city. Anxiety indeed. The House voting to impeach. Israel can’t form a government. Hong Kong and France have massive rioting and violence. I could go on (about India, North Korea, Brexit, and more) but I won’t. And still: “Be anxious for nothing…”
 
By the way, I am also full of joy and pride as our entire church community has been so kind and generous this season. Christmas trees and ornaments; food and extras for those in need; and oh, yeah—we are buying a BUS! More than just a bus; we now have the means to pay for the driver and annual maintenance. And we still have one Sunday and three Christmas Eve services to go! I love what happens when we all pray, “Lord, make me a more loving person.” 
 
Speaking of Christmas Eve, I am eager to be a part of this musical celebration of our Savior. Have you chosen which of the three services you will attend? I am also looking forward to seeing you and many of our friends and relatives and neighbors who don’t normally frequent our church home. Part of the fun of Christmas Eve here will include a photo “booth” that we have set up in the Gathering Space. You and yours can be at your photogenic best as you experience this festive addition.
 
So anyway, I was just finishing up my J Term notes on the uniqueness of Christ. Beautiful and heavy stuff. The entire J Term will be a great way to launch Trinity into 2020, where our prime focus as a church will be our Lord Jesus—knowing him and making him known.
 
Let these words from one of my favorite theologians (Don Carson) fill your heart and mind. They are a good preparation for the year ahead and for the Person of Christmas we are about to celebrate. 
 
Do you want to know what the character of God is like? Study Jesus. Do you want to know what the holiness of God is like? Study Jesus. Do you want to know what the wrath of God is like? Study Jesus. Do you want to know what the forgiveness of God is like? Study Jesus. Do you want to know what the glory of God is like? Study Jesus all the way to that wretched cross. Study Jesus.
 
I’ll catch you on the other side,
Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for December 11 2019

I have always been intrigued by the Apostle Paul’s words highly commending the believers in Macedonia for the outward display of their faith and their genuine generosity. He is almost proud, boasting about his association with them:
 
“We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia: During a severe trial brought about by affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. I can testify that, according to their ability and even beyond their ability, of their own accord, they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:1–3).
 
Powerful words. A powerful example.
 
I recently read something from Tim Keller (a writer and pastor that I admire) which resonated with my experiences: “In 2,000 years, we’ve never learned how to do mission in a place that was post-Christian rather than pre-Christian.”
 
When I am in somewhat “pre-Christian” places (like parts of Africa or India), I see the power of the Gospel in abundance and the movement of the Spirit at almost breakneck speed. As a guest there, it’s almost impossible to keep up. The stories of Christ changing lives and the massive numbers of brand-new churches cropping up everywhere is so exhilarating. 
 
While here in the West, both in America and in Europe (the “post-Christian” world), there is almost a “been there, done that” mentality toward Christ and his Church and the Gospel. So much of ministry and leading the church and even being an effective Christ-follower is trying to figure out how to overcome this spiritual “malaise” and effectively tell the Story, reflect the love of the Savior, and portray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
 
Which is why I regularly remind us at Trinity of The Starry Night painting by Vincent van Gogh (at the top of this Pondering). Our urgent calling is to make sure our light is never off in the darkness of our community and society.
 
Which is why we are thinking through and reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13 throughout Advent. My prayer and charge for Trinity is that we are a body of believers who regularly live out the characteristics and actions of love depicted in the “Love” chapter.
 
Which is why I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s pride that he expressed toward the Macedonian Christians. A similar pride wells up in me as I see the Trinity family pour out their love in such tangible and generous portions. This past weekend we gave away 150 Christmas trees to those in our area. The generosity and hard work of the team who gave the trees away made me so proud. And so many gave tree lights, bulbs, and other holiday items for our friends to have! Thank you!
 
And so much pride wells up in me as I see us give so generously to buy a school bus to transport Indian children out of the cesspool of trafficking and temple prostitution. “$40K for 40 Kids” was nothing short of an ambitious, faith-stretching project. After the second week of this initiative, we have already secured 35 “seats on the bus”! Wow! We are rushing headlong toward the finish line of buying that bus! Thank you. The young lives that will be changed through our love and through receiving a Christ-centered education are a wonderful gift!
 
So, pride? Yes—in my friends and “flock” who express their love and faith so abundantly and generously. Figuring out how minister in our “post-Christian” day? Indeed! And working very hard and creatively so that our light shines before others that they see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven. Proud indeed! And grateful!
 
See you on the other side,
Pastor Paul

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