Well, the official first day of summer isn't until June 21st, but summer has arrived to the mountains! I hope the weather in your home community is as beautiful as it is here, but even more, I hope you will soon be experiencing our weather here in the Valley with us!
Speaking of summer, I'm reminded of one of my favorite childhood summer memories, when my mom would load a bunch of us kids up in our van and make the hour long country road drive to the nearest public swimming pool, just outside of Fredericksburg, Texas. The pool was shaped like a giant 'L', with the long section being the most popular with us younger kids, because it was the shallow end of the pool. You remember the shallow end of the pool, right? It's the area where you can pretend that you are swimming, but if things get a little uncomfortable, you can just stand up and be in control. The shallow end was really awesome because the water was lots of fun, but it didn't require any effort. You could hang out there all day (which we did), without worry of the water doing anything to you, apart from getting all wrinkly.
The deep end of the pool, however, was something different altogether. It was the short end of the 'L', and wasn't nearly as crowded. Sometimes we would venture on our tiptoes up to the floating boundary rope, looking curiously at the brave souls bobbing around in the deep until we turned back to the security of the shallow water. In the deep end there was no longer the security of standing on your own. To venture into the deep end you had to learn to swim. In the deep end, the water had power.
You see where I'm going here? As Christians, its all to easy for us to stay in the shallow end of the pool. Where we enjoy all the warm easy blessings of religion without ever really being challenged. Where we don't have to leave the security of our own control and can have fun with as much truth and obedience as we want, but back away when it gets a bit uncomfortable. In the shallow end we can hang out in Christian culture our whole life, without worry of anything really happening to us, apart from eventually getting all wrinkly.
In the deep end however, the water has power. This is where the Truth is all around us, and we no longer have the control of standing on our own. In the deep water, staying afloat requires effort, learning, and most importantly, is only possible through faith. When we swim in the deep end of the pool, we will be changed. To be sure, the deep water can be intimidating at times, but it is good! This is where we are stretched, where we grow, where Life is so much bigger than we are, where Trusting God is the only option, and where we learn to truly live.
Here at Trinity this Sunday we are taking off the floaties and jumping into the deep end of the pool. The deep end of God's Word that history has come to know as the book of Romans. It will be challenging, we will be stretched, and if you decide go there with us, it will require some effort! But it will be good, it will be freeing, and it will draw us deeper into the richness of God's Truth that invites us to truly live.
Last Sunday I dared our church to read Romans in it's entirety- not pausing for the countless questions you may have, but just taking it in like an all you can eat buffet when someone else paid the bill. That dare still stands! For this Sunday, if you will be in town or listen to my messages online, my challenge is simpler- read Romans chapter one, verses 1-17. Twice. Then read verses 16-17 two more times. Then ask yourself, what does it mean to say- and mean it- "I am not ashamed of the Gospel."
Are you ready to dive in? I hope to see you this summer, and as Delmar said in "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou", Come on in, the water's fine!
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ, and let us press on to maturity...
Hebrews 6:1a (NIV,NASB)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)
I'm not big on flying. Yes, airplanes are one of the marvels of modern life, but the mystique of air travel gets lost on me after the first 30 minutes of the TSA security line. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm about to travel in 3 to 4 hours what two generations ago took MONTHS! As a current comedian put it "why are you whining! You are flying through the air in a giant steel tube! This trip would have taken your great grandparents months, and not all of them would have survived!" But I digress.
So, last Friday I'm standing in the line of fellow travelers waiting to board our giant flying steel tube, when I struck up a conversation with the man behind me. He was returning home to Colorado as I was, and we exchanged the usual pleasantries of "what is your town", and "what do you do." When I told him I was the pastor of a church up in the mountains (always interesting to see what happens when I say that), he replied "well, I used to go to church, but as of late my views on religion have become really inclusive. I mean, if what somebody believes helps them and doesn't hurt me, then what difference does it make?" The response in my mind was "it makes all the difference in the world", but all I managed was a smile as the line finally began to move.
The gentleman's assertion is of course the increasingly held, politically correct view regarding religion. The problem is that this 'tolerant sounding' assertion has two fundamental assumptions that most holding this view have not thought through. The first is that if all (or even some) faith/belief systems are equally 'true', then there can be no such thing as spiritual truth. If all streams of spiritual belief are equally valid, then it means that these belief systems are nothing more than moral coping mechanisms, untethered to any greater truth, because virtually all world religions contain teaching that diverge significantly from others. For example, the Hindu and Christian doctrines of the nature of mankind (as significant to God) are virtually diametrically opposed. As has been said, to believe that all faiths are true is the same as believing that no faiths are true. It is to abandon the concept of spiritual truth itself. The second assumption is that faith/religion is centered on 'the me' and what a person (or people group) believes to be true about God has no ultimate consequence, either in this life or after this life. If everything is true, then nothing is true, and therefore I am accountable to nothing other than myself.
In great contrast, the Biblical Worldview holds that there is such a thing as Spiritual Truth. Make no mistake- the popular notion that all 'truths' are equal is fundamentally incompatible with a Biblical Worldview. As followers of Christ, we hold that God revealed Himself to mankind through His Word, that the Truth in His Word holds inestimable current and eternal consequence, it is authoritative, applicable, and most importantly, that God's Truth to mankind, in every sense possible, at all times, is good. Hard to understand in places? Yes. Misunderstood at times? You bet. Requiring thoughtful interpretation that can be just plain difficult? Absolutely. Life giving and Good? Always!
It is in this conviction that we are launching ourselves into an in-depth journey through the majestic Biblical book of Romans. This new series will officially begin on Sunday, June 3rd, and this coming Sunday the 27th will be a 'preview to the intro' where we explore the essential principles by which we engage ourselves with this ancient text we know as Scripture. I promise that you will be blessed as you join with us in this journey, and this Sunday's talk will be foundational to how we approach Romans in the weeks and months to come. If you aren't in town, I sincerely invite you to listen to the message when I post it online Sunday afternoon.
Ts with a sense of excitement and yet 'fear and trembling' that I prepare to lead us through this study. I value your prayers, but most of all I anticipate growing with you as we open our hearts and minds to this amazing gift of God's Word.
Summer is here, and I am truly looking forward to seeing many of you as you come into the valley!
In Christ and to His Glory, Pastor Ethan
But these are written that you may believethat Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
About sixteen years ago Lisa and I loaded up our family for what would be a very memorable camping trip. It was one of those trips that years later stands out in my memory for multiple reasons, one specifically that came to mind as I was thinking through my last message in our series focused on Resurrection.
The trip was to Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Alamosa in Southern Colorado. Lisa and the kids had arrived with another family earlier in the day, and my friend David and I drove later that evening, after work. It was our first time to the dunes, and by the time we arrived it was pitch dark. As we drove into the campground there was just enough moonlight to make out the faint outline of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range in the distance. We knew the dunes were there, but in the darkness they couldn't be seen. We quickly collapsed into our sleeping bags for a good nights rest.
The next morning I woke a bit late, and crawled out of our tent into full sunlight. Standing and looking toward the sand dunes, I was stunned. They were huge. Massive! I had seen a few pictures, but in real life these were far bigger than I imagined, and right on top of us. In fact, what I had perceived the night before to be the Sangre De Cristo mountains in the distance had in fact been the Dunes themselves, less than a quarter mile away.
Here's the point: As western evangelical Christians, our concept of "heaven when we die" is often analogous to those sand dunes when I came up on them in the dark. Little more than a dim outline in the distance, with even that outline being confused for what it really is. There are plenty caricatures of Heaven, such as wearing a robe while playing a harp while floating on a cloud. A common idea is the one-dimensional concept of heaven as a place Jesus will come and take us to, while delivering us from this evil world, with the implication of Heaven being a place infinitely far away. And, in comparison to this world, Heaven of course would be, well, heavenly. But at times we even hedge on that, saying things like "I really hope there is Bar-B-Q in Heaven, because if not, I'm not sure it will be that great!" (I grew up in Texas-smile. You could substitute 'sking', 'beaches', 'ice cream', or anything else you really hope makes it through from this earth to the next). At times the main point of heaven almost seemed to be that it wasn't hell, and as long as we avoided that, well, then anything would be really good.
But then, when we slow down to closely look at what scripture actually has to say, these distant and confused outlines start to change into the view of the sand dunes I was confronted with in the full light of morning. Stunning. Breathtaking. And a lot closer than thought. I wasn't in the dunes yet, but there they were, dominating the horizon, tantalizing us with the pending excitement of launching into their midst. Likewise, while Scriptural references to the great Hope of Eternity are like (to quote N.T. Wright once again), "Signposts pointing into a bright mist", this mist is far clearer than we may think. There is of course so much we don't know, but what Scripture does show us is stunning, breathtaking, a great mountain of hope that is so much closer than we think. Far from the caricatures of clouds, robes, and harps, the New Testament vision of Eternity is one of a physical, relational, social, and culturally active dynamic, freed at last from the ravages of sin and death, where God's Glory is evidenced in all things, and He is at the center of all things. As the famous song proclaims, we can only imagine, but God has graced our imagination with glimpses of Eternity from the goodness of His Word.
It is into this bright mist of eternal hope that we will fix our eyes this Sunday here at Trinity. If this topic may be encouraging to you, I invite you to give this Sunday's message a listen. As always, I sincerely value your prayers for us here as we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus and express Him to the people of the Vail Valley. Know that we are praying the same for you in your home communities.
By the way, I'm pretty certain there will be Bar-B-Q in heaven. (Smile!)
In the Hope of Eternity, Pastor Ethan
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
Revelation 21:3-4 (NIV)
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)