First, a big THANK YOU to everyone who was praying for us (and all our valley churches), with last weekends 'event' concerning the Westboro protests. It turned out to be a peaceful weekend, and the Westboro folks were almost wholly ignored, which was our intent. I would say that it was a 'non-event' except for several significant things that likely would not have occurred otherwise.
The relationships between our valley churches were strengthened. Multiple times over the past two weeks various pastors and church leaders met together, called each other, and prayed together that God would be glorified through this event. Our church leadership community was able to strengthen our relationship with the local law enforcement community. I personally witnessed several 'God connections' where people were able to show much needed love and compassion to another person because they were in a place they normally would not have been. Lastly, the presence of Westboro's message of hatred gave rise to many conversations about how we, as followers of Christ, can take the initiative in creating the healthy and redemptive conversations our culture so desperately needs. To sum up this interesting episode, I'm reminded of Joseph's words to his brothers in Genesis 50- "what you intended for evil, God intended for good". I can't speak to the effect of Westboro's activities elsewhere in the country, but as for the Church in this valley, our love for each other is stronger than before they came.
It's an interesting statement, those words of Joseph. "What was intended for evil, God intended for good." In the first three and a half chapters of Romans, Paul focuses on the reality of evil and rebellion against God as the defining characteristic of the heart of mankind. By the time we arrive at verse 9 of chapter three, Paul has completely made his case and he delivers the verdict:
What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one...
That doesn't sound like good news. By itself, this verdict seems to proclaim that evil has won the day. But my friends, where there seems to be only evil and the absence of hope, God has always known His intention for Amazing Good. For even though Romans 3:9-20 seems to be the worst of news, it actually is the best of news, as out of the ashes of humanities spiritual death God proclaims the stunning miracle of a New Creation. And notice this- even within the bad news of 3:9-3:20 (go ahead, read it here), there is the underlying beating heart of God's Grace that turns this verdict into Good News. This is what we will celebrate Sunday- why the bad news of mans total rebellion is actually the good news that sets the stage for God's total redemption.
If you are in town, I sincerely hope you join us! It will be a great day, and I look forward to seeing you then. Where-ever you may be in the country or world, may your weekend be blessed!
Well, I am late getting FirstTracks out this week! It's been an unusual week, and it is going to be an unusual weekend. As a result, I want to spend my space here today with few thoughts about what is likely to happen on Sunday here in the Vail Valley, and to ask you to pray for us!
As you may know, about two weeks ago we were made aware that the "Westboro 'baptist' church'", an abhorrent hate group, intends to hold multiple 'protests' this weekend at several churches here in our Valley. The group sent a formal notification of their intentions to local law enforcement, along with the list of 'apostate' churches they would be protesting. And yes, we have the honor of being on that list.
If you plan to join us for Worship on Sunday (as I sincerely hope you do!), a word about our preparation and how we must essentially respond if they indeed show up.
First, and by far the most important, our response will be to ignore this group and stay as far away from them as possible. Their entire strategy revolves around baiting people into approaching them, and then attempting to file lawsuits claiming infringement of their freedom of speech rights. It is through this strategy that they fund their activities. So, to ALL of us as the Trinity Family, I emphatically request that we not approach this group in any way. The best response is to deny them their greatest desire, which is an audience.
Second, based upon Westboro's own schedule, we do not anticipate them coming to our Edwards service. If they do, Eagle County law enforcement will be present, and they will not be permitted to enter the church property.
Third, if you attend our Beaver Creek service, please do not be afraid to come! We need your presence, and we will be having our service as normal. Westboro has informed the Sheriff's office that they intend to arrive at the Beaver Creek Chapel between 10:30 and 10:45. Our goal is to be completely departed before they arrive. Arrival for our 9:30 start time will be completely unaffected, and IF Westboro has arrived when we are leaving, there will be law enforcement present, and we will escort you to your vehicles as necessary- although I do not expect this to be an issue. Again, if you normally would attend our Beaver Creek service, I sincerely invite you to not be deterred. Preparations have been made, and I personally am at peace that there will be no problems.
A quick word about this on a spiritual level. This Sunday (when we will also be celebrating communion), we are in our fourth week into the Book of Romans. Up to this point, Paul has focused on laying the groundwork for the truly miraculous truth of the Gospel- Salvation and New Life that is by Faith, and Faith alone, through God's Amazing Grace! To make the case for just how incredbily GOOD this news is, Paul first has taken us through the reality of sin, and why none of our own efforts will ever bring us to God. With this in mind- and this is only possible through the Holy Spirit- may we respond in our hearts to this group not with anger or hatred of our own, but with humility and prayer. The leaders of this group are deceivers, but most of their 'members' are people who have been deceived. It is up to God to Judge (last Sunday's message), and it our calling to Trust in our Sovereign God and express His Love and Nature not just to people like those in the Westboro 'church', but to everyone. May this Sunday's events remind us all the more of the desperate need of our culture to learn how to Love, to Listen, and to honor one another before God, especially when we disagree with each other. In Christ, may this begin with us.
SO, I hope to see you Sunday if you are in town! We will wrap up Romans chapter two, seeing how God is not after legalistic adherence to rules or tradition, but is after our hearts. Pray for God to be Glorified in our Valley, and keep praying for rain!
Love you all,
A person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. Romans 2:29
Have you ever played the 'Desert Island' game? It's a common 'ice-breaker' discussion where you share what you would most want if stranded on a desert Island for a year, with your possessions limited to the space of a backpack, and you could only have one of each kind of item (one book, one CD, etc). Not counting food and a global communications device, what would you you most want to have with you?
As a pastor, I know my book choice has to be the Bible (smile). And honestly, it would be. But lets assume the Gideon's had already put a Bible on your desert Island. So, what would your book be? For me, the answer is easy... J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I know, I'm cheating and making all three books count as one. So sue me. Yes, I am a Tolkien geek, and not ashamed of it. I've read the LOTR books at least 8 times, and these stories are etched in my memory. So, here's a scenario to consider. Lets say that we are stranded on that island together (horror, I know) and somehow you only knew the very basic concept and characters of the LOTR. Given that we had lots of time for conversation, I decided to give you the detailed version. But, instead of walking you through the entire narrative, I just jumped in at a random part of the story...
"So, here we find Sam and Frodo dressed as orcs, walking with other orcs across Mordor." What? Sam and Frodo became orcs? "No, of course not." Then why are the dressed as orcs? "Um, okay, I guess you need to know more of the story."
Or... "Then there's the time where Boromir died trying to protect Merry and Pippin (these are Hobbits for you non-Tolkien types)" Wait, what? I thought Boromir was selfish, suspicious, and tried to steal the ring from Frodo! What happened? "Yes, you're right, I guess you need to know more of the story."
Or... "And in the end, it was Gollum who finally cast the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom." WHAT? After everything Frodo and Sam went through, it was Gollum who destroyed the ring? Who wrote this anyway!!" "Sigh... Okay, lets start at the beginning. You have to know the whole story!"
If you are a fan of storytelling at all, you know that there are few things as frustrating as only hearing an excerpt that is totally confusing outside of the larger story. It's like walking through a room with a movie on, and the 10 seconds you see make no sense at all.
Here's where I'm going with this (you're asking, 'where is he going with this!') If this scattered approach to stories would drive us crazy in any other context, why do we do this so often with the Bible? I love quotes, and there are some awesome quotes from the Lord of the Rings, but it's unimaginable to know anything about that story from just a few good one-liners. This is even more true of the Bible, and it is the most 'one-liner' quoted book in history. As we discussed a few weeks back, it is essential for us- as people who profess to love God's Word- to get beyond the 'one-liner' approach and start to read and understand larger passages, within the crucially important framework of context.
As we take our next step into Romans, this idea of whole story context is more important than ever. If you were to read the first half of Romans chapter 2 (our text this Sunday) in isolation, it wouldn't just not make sense, it would raise all sorts of troubling questions about the nature of God and Salvation as we understand them from a Christian worldview.
This past Sunday, in the second half of Romans 1, Paul laid down the gauntlet as he presented the evidence of humanities rebellion against God. In the closing line of what is the opening statement of his case for the Gospel, Paul argues that "although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." In the beginning of Chapter 2, Paul takes his second step into the argument by clarifying who he is talking to... and that would be me. And you. All of us. So no finger pointing! If you then continue down through verse 16, and stop there, it's easy to conclude that Paul has already forgotten what he said in 1:16-17 (God's righteousness by faith), and that we are in serious trouble. OR... just maybe... there's more to the story. And my friends, there is! This Sunday we will place these paragraphs into the larger context of Paul's entire case, and see how what seems to make no sense in light of God's mercy is actually the necessary prelude to Roman's majestic proclamation of God's Amazing Grace. It's a story you don't want to miss!
If you are in town, I sincerely hope to see you Sunday, and wherever you may be, I pray that you have a wonderful weekend.
Learning the Story with you, Pastor Ethan
"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."
“The Dark Lord has Nine. But we have One, mightier than they: the White Rider. He has passed through the fire and the abyss, and they shall fear him. We will go where he leads.”
Aragorn, from "The Two Towers"
It's a running joke I have with my sister. When we get the chance to visit, she will occasionally ask me what I've been preaching on lately. My answer? "Sin, and hell!" We both get a good laugh, not because I don't take these topics seriously (because scripture does), but because in our childhood church environment these were often the dominant topics of any given sermon. Our church had a strong focus on both evangelism and how we lived as Christians, but the predominant motivation behind evangelism was fear of hell, and the predominant motivation for how we lived was fear and guilt associated with sin. If you had to sum up the general thrust of daily life as we were taught, it could be with the two words "sin awareness." Or, as one author described the weekly teaching he received growing up, "God is good, you are bad, try harder!"
Then, in my own testimony, came the soul awakening revelation that the Christian life didn't have to be centered on sin. In my early thirties I had the gift of being shown the revolutionary New Covenant truths of New Life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20), our identity in Christ (Colossians 3:1-4), and our union with Christ (Colossians 1:27, John 14:19-20, Romans 6:5-7). Alongside many other scriptures, and with the backdrop of the entire New Testament, there emerged the miraculous way of daily life that could be summed up with the two words "Christ awareness." Or as we see in Romans 7, "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." In Romans 6 Paul puts it this way- "You have been set free from sin (a life characterized by sin awareness) and have become slaves to righteousness (a life characterized by Christ awareness). Friends, that is Good News!
But here's the deal. Just as religion obsessed with sin leads to a joyless life of guilt and performance, so also Christian spirituality that ignores the reality of sin will lead to a powerless life of passivity and moral laxness. While these two paths may seem diametrically opposed to each other, they in fact both lead to the same destination, which is bondage, not freedom.
This Sunday we take our second step into Romans, and after introducing himself and declaring the miracle of Righteousness by Faith, Paul rips off the bandage and cuts to the core issue of why mankind so desperately needs the Gospel. With scalpel like precision, Paul lays out the case of humanity's very real and very fatal disease that Scripture calls SIN.
Church, there's no way around it- this Sunday's message is going to be challenging. We don't like to face the reality of sin, unless of course, we are pointing it out in someone else. This is often what we like to do with the second half of Romans 1, using it as a lens to focus on the sin of society, rather than a necessary diagnosis of our own need of God. And unless we allow the diagnosis, we will never enter into the redemption, freedom and fullness of Life that Paul will spend rest of Romans unpacking. And herein lies the blessed irony: for all the intensity with which Paul addresses sin in Romans chapters 1 through 3, the result is not an emphasis on sin, but a revelation of the only way to experience freedom from sin and the suffering it inevitably brings. And church, that is Good News!
If you have arrived in the valley, I can't wait to see you at our Sunday service! But wherever you may be in our country or world, I pray that your are blessed by gathering together with other believers as we are mutually encouraged by each others faith. Love you all!
Growing with you, Pastor Ethan
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people...