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Pastor Ethan's Blog
Wednesday, March 28 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).

I'm in a car with about six other people, blowing down an insanely crowded street in Amedabad, India.  Our driver must have woke that morning and made a vow that, live or die, he would never take his hand off the horn, and never decelerate... at all. Unless of course it was to slam on the brakes and skid to a stop to avoid being crushed by an elephant. I'm not exaggerating. In fact, the conversation in the car (between gasps) revolved around how impossible it was going to be to even remotely describe the experience to anyone once we got home.  How do you capture a moment in time that includes a dense, incomprehensibly shifting mass of brightly colored trucks, motorized rickshaws, non-motorized rickshaws, countless mopeds carrying six people each, and over-capacity cars such as ours all flowing like high pressure water around the lazily moving obstacles of elephants, cows, and elderly women carrying huge bundles on their backs, like boulders being slowly rolled by a rushing current? For the soundtrack, imagine every car in the parking lot at a Bronco's game all hitting their horns as rapidly as they can, and never stopping.  Ever.  Trying to even take this all in, a member of our team suggested "we could tell our friends to think of the craziest, loudest, most insane traffic they can possibly imagine, throw in a liberal dose of cows and elephants in the middle of everything... and then double it. Twice."  That might start to scratch the surface.

I have a point here (smile).  How do we describe something to others that is beyond our ability to even comprehend ourselves?  On that first day of plowing through the traffic in Ahmedabad, I was thinking "I see all this around me, I know must be real, but my brain is having a tough time even processing that it is real."  Friends, at least at this point in my life, this is how I think about Resurrection. As I just remarked to a friend, "I feel like a toddler trying to describe Mt. Everest."  It's really, really, really, really-really big!  Not even close.

Resurrection.  The scope of this concept- when trying to grasp it through the lens of the New Covenant- defies full comprehension. I'm not just talking about a historical event where Jesus rose from the dead.  That's mind-bending enough.  For the last 2000 years the overwhelming historical evidence of Jesus' resurrection has filled rationalists with all measures of cognitive dissonance.  But I'm not just talking about that. If we think of the literal, life-conquering-death resurrection of Jesus as a stone thrown into the lake of history, I'm talking about the ripples that continue in all directions, for all eternity, carrying us along with them.  It's beyond our ability to fully comprehend.  Resurrection, my friends, is the defining reality of all that will be history, it is the aching desire of all creation, it is the ultimate hope-beyond-hope of humanity.  And, except for the one calendar day a year we evangelicals set aside for it, its something to which most of us give little thought in the day to day reality of life as we know it.

This Resurrection day ("Easter" is really such a culturally compromised term) we will do our best to do better.  This Sunday, by the Grace of God in which we stand, we will ask God to transform our hearts by the renewing of our minds so that we can even begin to comprehend how wide, long, high, and deep is the life-pouring miracle of God's Love, made manifest in the cosmos transforming reality of Resurrection.  And as dramatic as that last sentence tried to be, I'm still like a toddler trying to describe Mt. Everest.

I'll end with this.  When I think of the most intimate, personal thought of Resurrection day in my own life, it's Keith Green's "Easter Song".  For a little context, it's about 3:30 in the morning on Easter Sunday, any number of years when Caleb was still here in school.  We are headed into Vail for the mountain-top sunrise service, and as was our tradition, along with lots of coffee, we would play this song to awaken our minds and set alight our spirits.  The music is clearly from the 70's, but with absolute exultation, in his clear and soaring voice, Keith Green cried out to anyone in our broken world that may be listening...

Hear the bells ringing, they're singing that we can be born again!
Hear the bells ringing, they're singing Christ is risen from the dead!
The angles, upon the tombstone, say He has risen, just as he said,
Quickly now, reach out and receive it, for Jesus Christ is no longer dead!

Joy to the world! He is Risen!  Hallelujah! He's Risen! Hallelujah!
He's Risen! Halle-lu-jah! Hallelujah!

The angles, they all surround us, and they are ministering Jesus' power!
Quickly now, reach out and receive it, for this could be your glorious hour!

Joy to the world! He is Risen! Hallelujah!
He's Risen! Hallelujah!
He's Risen! Halle-lu-jah! Hallelujah!

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!"

I love you Trinity, and compared to Christ's love for us, my love is like a toddler trying to describe Mt. Everest. It gives me great joy knowing that the journey of discovering this mountain is made alongside you.

In the life-pouring hope of Resurrection,
Ethan

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him
in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus
Ephesians 2:6

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God
Colossians 3:1

Posted by: Pastor Ethan AT 11:34 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 22 2018

It's a vivid childhood memory.
I'm a young boy, standing behind a wooden pew in the First Baptist Church of Blanco, Texas.  It's either Easter or one of the close preceding Sundays, and our music director (we didn't call them "Worship Pastors" back then), is giving it all he's got as we hang on the last climatic high note of the traditional hymn.  This is one of those three dimensional memories where I can feel the old wood of the pew, hear the congregation singing, and smell the promise of the Easter potluck beckoning from the nearby fellowship hall.  But the clearest part of this memory, for which everything else is just context, is the hymn itself.  A traditional classic, one of a group of hymns we would smilingly refer to as the Blood songs...

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!

All joking aside, these classic hymns are wonderful, and they celebrate the history defining event of Jesus sacrifice on the cross.  As Paul proclaims in Ephesians 2, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."  For me, the most powerful image of Jesus' blood is when He Himself lifted the Passover cup before His disciples, saying "This cup is the New Covenant in My Blood... so drink!"

These old hymns are etched in my mind, and I truly love them.  And yet, almost 50 years of perspective has led me (and others) to notice something they all share in common. Something very one-dimensional. With almost no exception, they proclaim the message that the reason Christ died was to save me from my sins.  Add in the image of Christs blood, and the clear picture emerges of Christ bleeding, suffering,  and dying so that I could be forgiven.  Taken as a whole, these images distill the cross down to two big concepts: Christ's suffering/death, and forgiveness.  And, at the center of both is my sin. Now don't hear what I'm not saying. Christ did suffer. With His death He did pay the atonement for my sin, and yours... which is something we never could do.  But, given the majestic Biblical scope of the Cross, does it all really just come down to our sin?  Or, is there more?

This Sunday we begin a seven week series taking a broad and in-depth look at the Miracle of Resurrection. And to talk about Resurrection we must begin with the Cross, because the universal law of Resurrection is that for something to be raised from the dead, if first has to die. And so, if we ask the New Testament "Why did Jesus have to die", the answer isn't just to pay the penalty for our sin, but to set the stage for Resurrection- and not just Jesus', but our own, and ultimately all creation.  You see, Jesus went to the cross so He could take us there with Him.  And friends, that isn't just abstract theology.  It is the foundation of freedom upon which we are continually built up In Christ, and it becomes very practical in the reality of daily life.
 
With you on the journey,
Pastor Ethan

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
Posted by: Pastor Ethan AT 10:29 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 16 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.
 
Does this seem like a contradiction? On the one hand, there is much in my life that is still a great mess!  But on the other hand, as a follower of Christ, scripture proclaims that I am forgiven, a new creation, a brother of Jesus, holy and dearly loved, already seated with Christ in Heaven, and a growing reflection of the Glory of God.  How can these both be true at the same time?  Friends, it is here that God’s mirror- the mirror that reflects the reality of the New Covenant- is so important.  You see, Harry Potter’s mirror reflected the deepest desire of self- even when untrue- and it led to bondage.  The mirror of the New Covenant reflects the deep desire of God, and what absolutely is true, even though not fully realized.
 
And so, what changes as the already of who I am in Christ transforms into the not yet of God’s Glory through my life?  The answer, quite simply, is Love.  We are increasingly transformed into the image of God’s Glory, one day at a time, as we express His Love to our ‘others’. As we are patient. As we are Kind.  As we let go of pride, envy, anger, self-promotion, and grudges.  As we rejoice in truth, shun evil, and in all things seek to protect, to trust, to hope, and endure.  We do this not when we finally generate the strength of self will to do so, but when we finally give way to the blessed freedom of a life fully surrendered to Christ.  As we daily trade the old for the new, the temporary for the eternal.  As we fall deeper into the Love of Christ for us, and make the conscious daily choice to express this love to those around us.  To our others.  For with each practical expression of Christ’s love through us, the mirror of our heart becomes a little bit clearer, and those who look will see a little brighter reflection of the Glory of God.  And that, my friends, is to fully live.
 
With you on the journey,
 
Pastor Ethan

 
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
Posted by: Pastor Ethan AT 10:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 09 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,

Ethan

Love… endures all things

1 Corinthians 13:7 (NASB)

Posted by: Pastor Ethan AT 11:08 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 01 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.

 

Trust me.

 

Growing with you in the Hope of Christ,

Ethan

Love… never loses faith, is always hopeful

1 Corinthians 13:7 (NLT)

Posted by: Pastor Ethan AT 11:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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