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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Ponderings for September 10 2019

I was driving down a beautiful winding road the other day and I actually saw the beginnings of autumn color changes in the leaves. One day soon, they will be a vast array of amazing oranges and reds and yellows. Right now, though, it’s sort of like: “Really? I’m not ready for the fall!”
 
Our lives and families can be like that as well. The kids are going back to school; everybody’s back from the summer and the load at the office is already piling up; church life is in full swing; and the Browns are playing again and—well, never mind!
 
Trinity, too! Like Baker Mayfield, who is now presented with so many talented receivers (see, I haven’t given up on them!), the fall has arrived and our church calendar is full with many ministries starting back up again. Our teenagers look forward to a new year full of fun and meaningful expectations. Moms and their “tots” expect a strong, new season. We’re introducing an exciting new paradigm for Sunday morning and children’s classes. The women have great options of discipleship and a retreat. I hear there is a race coming to our campus, too! And there are many other colors and many other leaves. Choose wisely. Choose purposefully. Choose spiritually.
 
And keep praying!
 
We have introduced the fall with our family theme of prayer. It’s basic, necessary, and…maybe even overlooked? Are you praying WITH Trinity this month? It’s a good discipline as we face the future and seek God’s pleasure in what we do.
 
I know life is busy and it’s tough to find the space to pray…sort of. And that got me thinking of that lame excuse I sometimes use for not praying. See if this sounds familiar:
 
“I am just too busy to pray.”
 
We live at a crazy pace. In our work or our play, we’re always “on” and then moving to the next thing. And when we’re not “on,” we’re on our phones or our computers or we’re watching sports. Little time to think or meditate. Little space to ponder or pray.
 
Really, Paul?! I say prayer is vital, absolutely important, and yet…I’m too busy?!?
 
My son-in-law drives a Tesla (an electric car). On our trip this summer, I never heard him say, “I’m too busy to stop at the charging station.” He is not foolish enough to skip the necessary charge that he needs to reach his destination. And yet, how often do I do just that in the journey of my Christian living? I am just way too busy to slow down and stop for energy. Sounds rather foolish, doesn’t it?
 
Jesus spoke of my excuse of busyness as he corrected the busy Martha while praising the meditative Mary: “Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:38–42). This was not necessarily a rebuke to industrious activity but rather a caution not to act without praying and spending time at “Jesus’ feet.”
 
Enjoy all the things coming at you this fall. Be active. Don’t hold back. Choose well as you participate in the great things that Trinity is offering at the start of this year. And don’t forget to pray WITH Trinity.
 
I’ll see you around the corner. Pastor Paul

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Ponderings for August 29 2019

Random thoughts while Sue and I put the finishing touches on an anniversary trip to New York City:
 
Forty years…whoa! I know it’s cliché, but wow, did the years fly by at warp speed. Good years. Hard years. Those years can be mean and, if you’re not careful, you can grow hard with them. Don’t. If you’re married—keep at it. It’s worth the hard work. If you’re not married—don’t turn it into an idol you just have to have, but, on the other hand, let me tell you it can be a wonderful gift from God.
 
Don’t believe stereotypes like all New Yorkers are unfriendly. Not so! Sue and I didn’t meet one unfriendly person here. We got lost, we asked directions, we were blocking traffic while reading maps and guidebooks. And they were as friendly as can be! Don’t believe stereotypes (about any person or people group). They’re all made in the image of God and deserve dignity and our respect.
 
Art—everywhere, art. So many museums in New York! So much beauty and so many famous works (paintings, architecture, statues) all in one city! Not really into art? Ponder these words: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—think on these things (Phil 4:8). A good grid to evaluate the art you experience.
 
Mortality—that, too, was part of our New York trip. Not only because Sue and I have been at this marriage thing for forty years and the clock is ticking, but because mortality was here in other ways, too. We went to The Dakota, John Lennon’s home in New York. We stood right at the apartment entryway where he was murdered in cold blood. We visited the 9/11 Memorial. Two huge reflective pools are there, honoring the 2,753 who died in the World Trade Center attacks. Mortality. I am grateful for and believe more firmly than ever that our Lord Christ vanquished mortality by his death and resurrection. And he freely offers eternal life to all who would trust in him. “O death, where is your sting?”
 
This Sunday we begin our next sermon series, Pray WITH Trinity. We will all be choosing one day a week in September to commit to prayer. Watch social media and come on Sunday prepared to pray WITH Trinity.
 
See you in a few.
Pastor Paul

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