Pastor Ethan's Blog
Thursday, 19 April 2018
A few years ago we (here at Trinity) went through a study by Andy Stanley in which he would repeat a central thought- "there are things that people resist about Christianity, that Christians themselves should resist." It's a good and pretty straightforward thought: there are things about Christian culture that drive people away, that themselves are counter to or not consistent with what being a disciple of Jesus really is about. Examples are easy and numerous, such as legalism, judgmental attitudes, politics, fear of people who are different, moral inconsistency, and a tendency to self-segregate ourselves from the 'bad sinful world.' Indeed, these are traits of Christian culture that should be resisted, as they are offensive both to the Gospel and the unbelieving world around us. But there's a reality that Stanley didn't acknowledge (and in fairness, it wasn't his point): as offensive as these things are, they are NOT what is most offensive about Christianity.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable,
Thursday, 05 April 2018
WHEW! We made it through Easter!
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Hello everyone! Wherever you may be around the country and world, I pray that your week is going well. It's the Wednesday before Easter, and I'm going to start my essay here with a story that's a little bizarre. Bear with me (smile).
Hear the bells ringing, they're singing that we can be born again!
As my dear friend Father Brooks taught me to exclaim, "Hallelujah, Christ is Risen!" And may we all, from the depths of our hearts, longing to grasp the insurmountable joy of this miracle, respond in the unique voice that God has created within each of us, "The Lord is Risen indeed, Hallelujah!"
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him
Thursday, 22 March 2018
It's a vivid childhood memory.
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! OH (big emphasis here) precious is the flow, that makes me white as sno-ow (hold the note!!)... NO other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus!
That's a powerful image. It's quickly joined by memories of it's musical sisters, 'Alas and did my savior bleed', 'There is power in the blood', 'There is a fountain (filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins)', and my favorite, 'Are you washed in the blood.' Think about those images for a second if you are a six year old boy! Have I been washed in a fountain filled with blood drawn from somebody named Immanuel's veins? Are we vampires here? Hey! Time for lunch!
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:3 NIV
...Because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Romans 6:7 NIV
Friday, 16 March 2018
One of the more interesting plot devices from the Harry Potter stories is found in the book The Sorcerer’s Stone, where Harry discovers the mysterious Mirror of Erised. The mirror, it turns out, reflects not the truth, but rather a person’s “deepest, most desperate desires.” For Harry, this desperate desire is to have his dead parents back, and in the mirror he sees himself standing with them. The mirror quickly becomes a tempting addiction for Harry, for what he sees reflected in the glass is more desirable than his life as he knows it. But therein lies the problem- while the mirror shows Harry a life he wishes were true, it is not. It isn’t real. Finally, the kind wizard Dumbledore gives Harry the advice the entire narrative has been leading to- “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” That’s good advice. To put words in the mouth of a fictional character, Dumbledore could have added “the source of real life- the power to truly live- is always found in what is actually true.”
This Sunday we will bring to conclusion our study series “God’s Mirror: Reflecting Jesus in Everyday Life.” Through this 10 week journey, our scriptural foundation has been 1 Corinthians chapter 13 (the “Love chapter”), and 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. In these two remarkable passages, the apostle Paul describes another ancient and mysterious mirror. This mirror’s unique power is that when placed in front of a disciple of Jesus, it doesn’t just reflect what appears to be true, but rather reflects the deepest reality of what is ultimately actually true. Let me unpack this just a bit. In Paul’s day, mirror technology had a long way to go, being made of polished metal or glass of low purity. In such a mirror, you would see what appears to be you, but a dim reflection, as the impurities in the surface clouded and distorted the image. But Paul’s mirror, the mirror of the New Covenant, was different. This ancient mirror dates back to the founding of creation itself, when God looked at what he had created in his own image, and proclaimed “It is Good!” Paul looked intently into this mirror when writing his letters, and we are able to contemplate it ourselves today. When we do, the image at first is indeed cloudy, dim. But, if we look closely… intently… a different image becomes increasingly clear. It is us, but not just as we appear today. What we see, what we behold is not just who we already are, it is the image of who we are becoming. It is the image, as unlikely as it may seem, of the Glory of God.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,
just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB
Friday, 09 March 2018
This past Sunday I put on my ‘amateur history nerd’ hat and told a story from the earlier days of the Roman Republic. It was a compelling story to me when I first heard it, and in the past few days it has come back up in several conversations. So in case you missed it…
The year is 2016 BCE. For over a year, the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal has been rampaging over Italy, after his famous crossing of the Alps (elephants and all). Finally, after almost two years of desperately trying to avoid a direct confrontation with Hannibal, the Romans have had enough, and field what was almost certainly the largest single army they had ever assembled. In what would come to be known as the battle of Cannae, on August the 2nd 216 BCE, the Romans were about to have their revenge. Significantly outnumbering the Carthaginians, and confident that they finally had Hannibal where they wanted him, the battle was joined. For generations historians have studied this decisive day, trying to understand what happened, for it seems like an impossibility. Rather than succumbing to the apparent odds that were stacked against him, Hannibal led his forces to absolutely shatter the Roman army. Of the ninety thousand Romans that took the field that morning, less than twenty thousand survived. It was quite possibly the single most deadly and bloody day in the history of humanity prior to the advent of gunpowder. Add to this the fact that Hannibal had already won two other decisive victories over the Romans in the previous two years, and the evidence was clear. Rome was finished. Anyone alive with any ability to understand what had happened would have instantly come to that conclusion. There was absolutely no reason for hope. The Roman experiment was done, laid waste of the fields of Cannae. No one would have held out any hope for Rome to survive. No one, that is, except the Romans.
In the aftermath of what would come to be known as the second Punic war, a famous historical saying arose about what happened after Cannae. It is credited to Quintus Ennius, the Roman poet who himself served in the second Punic war. In the midst of what should have been the inevitable doom of the Roman Republic, Ennius is to have famously said “The victor is not victorious if the vanquished does not consider himself so.” In other words, you haven’t won the war unless your enemy admits- to himself - that he is defeated. To put this from the perspective of the supposedly vanquished, “we are never truly defeated until we believe that we are defeated.” And, it turns out, the Romans refused to believed that they were defeated. In the face immense fear and a tidal wave of evidence about their impending doom, the Romans refused to admit defeat. They had no army. No allies. No wealth. Few surviving leaders. They Romans had only one asset, but it was the only asset that ultimately mattered. Hope. One day at a time, the Romans simply never gave up. Within a generation, at the end of the third Punic war, Rome would not only have prevailed, but the Carthaginian empire would itself be totally destroyed, and Rome had emerged as the dominant military, financial, and cultural super power of its day.
When Paul wrote his famous “Love is” paragraph in 1 Corinthians 13, his last three attributes of love all point to the same powerful reality. Love always hopes, it always perseveres, and it never fails. Even in the face of overwhelming odds. The most common English translation of the end of verse seven puts it succinctly: Love endures. Always. Always always. All the time, in every circumstance, in every way, Agape panta hypomenei. Love always endures. As an educated man and Roman citizen, it is very possible that Paul was familiar with the story of Cannae. After all, it wasn’t much further back for him than the American Revolution is for us. Now, I doubt Paul would have ever used the Roman empire in an analogy about love. But I wonder, as Paul listened to the Holy Spirit direct his words, if this story might have come to mind. A story where absolute defeat gave way to victory, essentially because a generation of people refused to give up hope.
Growing with you in the Love of Christ,
Love… endures all things
1 Corinthians 13:7 (NASB)
Thursday, 01 March 2018
I’m having a hard time knowing where to go with this. We’ve been plowing deep soil through the ‘love chapter’ of 1 Corinthians 13, and while very challenging, everything up to this point has made sense. It has resonated as deep truth. Yes, love is patient. Yes, love is kind, it is humble, it loves truth, and it does what is best for another person. Convicting? You bet. Confusing? Not really. Until now.
Love… always trusts, always hopes. And as we discussed last week, by ‘always’, Paul means ‘always always.’
“Always trusts” is from the NIV. The phrase is also translated “never loses faith”, with the most common rendering being “believes all things.”
Think on that for a moment. Love (the Love of God alive and working in us), always (at all times, in all circumstances), trusts. Believes. Keeps faith. Really? I don’t know about you, but that flies in the face of human experience. If there is anything life teaches us, it’s that human beings (including myself), are often untrustworthy and unfaithful. Every single one of us has been let down by someone else, and we have let people down ourselves. Now remember (we talked about this a few weeks ago), trust and hope in this context doesn’t refer primarily to our trust and hope in God, but in each other. It’s worth noting that these two verbs (trusts, hopes) are in the same sentence- the same thought- as last week’s verb. You could paraphrase this as “Just as love always does what is best for the other person, love also always trusts and hopes in the other person.”
Let’s set aside ‘hopes’ for just a moment, and focus on “Love always trusts. Believes.” Let’s say your cousin is a financial advisor who happens to be under investigation for fraud. Based on your family experience, you have good reason to think he is guilty as charged. Now, you may care for your cousin. You may love him. You may sincerely desire what is best for him. But it is highly unlikely you are going to trust him with your money. When we think of what it means to trust in, to believe in, another person, we think of taking something precious to us (our possessions, our reputation, our children, our hearts), and placing them in that person’s hands. Unless we are naïve, we don’t lightly do this, often wisely so. Love also protects, and scripture is replete with teaching about wisdom, discernment, and good judgement.
So what is God saying? When it comes to how we reflect Jesus in everyday life, what does it mean that Love always trusts? There has to be something bigger, deeper, going on here!
Friends, there is. In these two attributes of trust and hope, God is opening the door into the most profound practical reality of love we have yet to encounter. Paul will go on to proclaim that love never fails, and the reason it never fails is because it never gives up on trust and hope. There is something here that points to the intrinsic and precious value God has instilled in every human soul, something that Love recognizes, holds up, and never lets go. Faced with the brokenness of our world and our own lives, Love possesses an unrelenting hope, belief, and trust that God can take any situation, any person, and bring about the miracle of redemption. Redemption may look different from how we thought things would work out. It almost always does. But Love never loses hope that somehow, in some way, God is causing all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Growing with you in the Hope of Christ,
Love… never loses faith, is always hopeful
1 Corinthians 13:7 (NLT)
Thursday, 22 February 2018
It’s a story we hear every Olympic games. A true story heard anytime a successful athlete, artist, musician, (or just about any person who has accomplished anything) is asked about how they got here. It’s the story of the people they couldn’t have ‘done this without’. “I wouldn’t be here without the support of my parents.” “I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my coach.” “I can’t imagine this day without the amazing, sacrificial love of my family over all these years.”
They are compelling stories! Can you imagine getting up at 4:00 am every morning for years, to drive your child to the morning practice at the ice rink? The untold financial sacrifice to provide your child with the training, the equipment, the medical bills... so they have an opportunity to develop a gift into a skill capable of competing at such a high level? The tears, heartbreak, fear, and sheer emotional exhaustion when failure and injury inevitably happen? All of that, and more, for years. What would motivate a person to sustain that level of self-sacrifice?
The answer, of course, is easy. It’s Love. This is what love does. And we don’t just see it in sports. Any place we see a person serving, giving, supporting, cheering, sacrificing, working their tail end off… for the benefit of someone else- that is Love!
This Sunday we will take an in-depth look at one of the most profound attributes of Love described in 1 Corinthians 13. The NIV says it this way: “Love protects. Always.” Love sincerely cares about the well-being of others, and acts on it, even sacrificially. But the idea we see here in verse seven is even stronger than what the NIV translates. The verb ‘protects’ is rendered across different translations as ‘bears up under’, ‘covers over’, ‘never gives up’, ‘accepts all things’, ‘puts up with all things’, ‘is supportive’. The Greek word ‘stegei’ has a connotation of building a roof, a covering over something, or providing a support underneath. That’s an image! Love builds a roof. Love lays a foundation. And inseparable from this is the powerful Greek adjective ‘panta.’ ‘Always… in all things’. To take a shot at my own paraphrase: In all things, at all times, in every circumstance, with every person.. love sacrificially gives of itself to bring life, healing, patience, protection, acceptance, support, security, encouragement… to another person.
That’s what love does.
Unfortunately, this miracle of love seems to be fading in our culture. Maybe that’s why we love to hear these stories when we watch the Olympics, or any similar event. We want to be reminded of what sacrificial love can do, because so often we see the opposite. More and more, it seems like these stories could move from the Olympics channel to the National Geographic channel, as an explorer searches the depths of western culture for the incredible, rare, endangered heart that does what’s best for the other person.
Church, this should be our heart, it must be our heart, because it is the heart of Christ within us! As we’ve discussed multiple times in this series, we all are on a journey, we all have our brokenness, and God’s purpose through His word is always about conviction and redemption, never about condemnation. If we struggle with being self-serving, self-promoting, and self-protecting, it’s because we come by it honest. These are the core traits of fallen humanity into which we were born. But In Christ, this is no longer who we are! We have been reborn, set free, and given a new nature in which we will increasingly see every day the glimpses of Love we occasionally see in the best of humanity. Agape Panta Stegei. The Love of God, in all things, bears up and covers over. This is who God is! And friends, as we daily grow in our relationship with Christ, this is who we are as well.
Alive In Christ with you,
Love patiently accepts all things
1 Corinthians 13:6 (new century version)
Wednesday, 14 February 2018
Hello Trinity! Happy Valentine’s Day!
This Sunday is week SIX of our ‘Reflecting Jesus’ series, in which we have walked through the ‘Love passage’ of 1 Corinthians 13, one adjective at a time. By this point, some of you may be thinking, “Six weeks?! How can you spend six weeks in a passage that is only 4 verses long, and still not be done!” “I mean, sure, it’s a great passage, and we’ve all heard is a millions times… ‘Love is patient, love is kind, blah blah blah…’ I think we get it!”
Have you thought that, just maybe? Do we really need to take what will end up being TEN weeks talking about these different descriptive words that follow the almost cliché phrase, “Love is…?” It has struck me in my own study for this series (and in conversations with some of you) that what on its face may be one of the most rote passages in the New Testament is actually one of the most intensely practical and profoundly challenging statements in Scripture for how we actually live. That is, IF we stop and take the time to actually consider the bombshells Paul drops here, one descriptive phrase at a time.
I make this point because in this week’s phrase, Paul (God writing through Paul) takes his description of Love to a whole new level.
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.
I’m going to skip the ‘delight in evil’ part for now, and cut straight to the statement that will keep you up tonight if you really take it seriously. Love rejoices with the truth. Really? In our society today, we seem to be terrified of the truth. I once saw a cartoon where there were two booths (think Lucy’s counseling booth from ‘Peanuts’), with one labeled ‘difficult truths’, and the other ‘comforting lies’. Care to guess which booth had a long line of people? Any entry level human psychology course will tell you about the incredible delusional tools of our own consciousness to protect us from the truth. My favorite of these is called the fundamental attribution error, by which we convince ourselves that what is inexcusable and immoral for another person is justified for ourselves. We all do it. If you look at our culture (and ourselves) with any level of scrutiny, it seems that truth is something to hide from, not rejoice in seeing. You don’t have to look too far to find supposedly credible voices telling us that deception (at least subtly) is actually an expression of love, as who would want to always be told the truth about their actions, appearance, and perspective? NOW, as good Christians, we may tell ourselves that truth is always best, but be honest! If there were such a thing as a ‘Truth Flashlight”, I guarantee that we would want to be the one holding it! It’s just a human reality (including Christians) that there are few people who don’t utilize some scale of deception to protect themselves, protect others (at least we tell ourselves this), avoid conflict, or just smooth over things that would be hard to deal with. I recently heard a commentator who said ‘deception is the lubricant that makes the gears of society run smoothly’. Or, as ‘The Fonz’ said in a classic 1974 episode of ‘Happy Days’, “Bull makes the world go round”.
In contrast stands the audacious claim from the heart of God, that Love rejoices with the truth! In Colossians 3, when Paul proclaims that In Christ we have taken off our old self, and put on the New Self which increasingly reveals the image of our creator, what characteristic does Paul choose to describe how the New Self is so different? We don’t lie to each other.
I hope you are able to be with us Sunday as we push deeply into this profound, practical, and ultimately freeing truth. Until then, here’s the challenge. Starting with the rest of today, and then the rest of the week, sincerely ask the Holy Spirit to show you the ways you might be using deception as a means of getting through the day. Then ask, “why do I do this?” “What is going on in my heart and my mind that leads me to lie?” What would happen if you told the truth? What is our motivation for telling the truth? What about when we sincerely believe that ‘the truth’ would hurt someone? Are somethings better left unsaid? What is the balance between ‘all truth all the time’ and good judgment? If this is even valid, how do we make those judgment calls? What is the consequence when we do this? (Convince ourselves it’s ok to lie) Is this just rationalization? Can being a ‘truth teller’ veer into legalism? How does LOVE play into all of this? What does it really mean, in our actual daily lives, to rejoice with the Truth?
If we are honest, it turns out that living in truth might be a little more complicated that it first seems. Or is it?
Trinity, I love you all… and that is the truth!
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
1 Corinthians 13:6
If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said
Thursday, 08 February 2018
Last Sunday I asked the question “do we really believe that how we live out the Love of Christ- in our daily lives- has the power to change things? Simply put, do we have the power to influence people in a way that makes their lives better? It’s not just a rhetorical question, because life often can lead us to be pessimistic about this… that few people really change, and that we really don’t have much ability to fight against the darkness in our culture, our own community, and sometimes in our own homes. Yesterday, this seeming power of darkness asserted itself again in the suicide death of a young person in our community. 2017 saw an almost record number of suicides in Eagle County, but this one hits closer to home, as the young person was well known to multiple people in our church family. Just weeks ago another member of our church family lost a life-long friend through still not fully known circumstances, again right here in our valley. If this valley is your permanent home, you almost certainly saw the news story about two weeks ago when a local resident- a believer who was an active member of one of our sister churches here in the valley- was murdered in her own home.
How do we fight against the darkness? Do we really have a chance to make a difference? Friends, there are two opposing answers to this question, and one is a lie straight from hell. This is the enemies accusatory lie that we can’t make a difference. C’mon. People don’t change. Get real. Who are you, and who are we as Christian hypocrites burdened with our own behavioral and emotional issues to make a difference in the lives of others? Church, this is a lie. We can make a difference, and the love of Christ- when really lived out in the lives of ordinary believers- changes lives every day. May we never doubt that this is true.
There’s another answer we hear, and this is the voice of what actually is. It’s the reality that while people can change, and the Love of Jesus is powerful to make a difference, that many people in fact don’t change, don’t forgive, and don’t emotionally and spiritually mature. While not as discouraging as Satan’s lie, this perspective offers little in the way of hope, it’s pessimistic by nature, and still part of the enemies desire to deceive us. Could things get better? Sure. Will they? Probably not.
Then there’s the Truth – not of what is, but of what may be. This is the answer of Hope, of optimism, and of scripture. It is the voice of the Spirit calling us to not just to know what is possible through God, but to base our lives-our choices and actions- upon what God has said He plans to do. And friends, what God has said He plans to do is nothing short of the redemption of the world. As we have explored through the past five weeks of our current message focus, God is working to reveal His Glory to His world through His Children. Through His Disciples. Through US. Christ one day WILL return, and in the words of N.T. Wright “put all things to rights.” AND until then, we- the Church- are called to be preparing the way, by how we live! Right now. We are agents of the future, called to bring about on earth (starting with our own little piece of earth) that which is already true in Heaven.
Church, may we never shirk back from our present Hope of Resurrection, and the Truth that through us God will continue His work of redeeming this world! And here’s the deal. If we DO believe this, it will get really practical, really quick. It will influence how we spend our time. Where we spend our money. It will make us people who really want to listen. It will open our eyes to the pain of those around us, and open our hearts to extend compassion. Wisdom in how to respond? Yes, of course. Willful blindness to people’s desperate need for real Hope? May it never be!
Friends, the Love of Christ we have been exploring will lead us to be patient, kind, humble, and to always push against the darkness of anger, pride, dis-honor, and grudges. It will lead us to be sharer’s of the Gospel of Forgiveness, Hope, Freedom, and New Life in Christ. It will lead us to grow in our own spiritual and emotional health. It will lead us into Freedom and Joy, and in all things, God’s Glory will be seen. Though you and I. Today.
Walking with you as we increasingly Love God, Love People, and Live Free,
The disciples… said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”