Past Missives Archive





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Colbert Presbyterian Church

4211 E. Colbert Rd.
Colbert, WA 99005
509-468-9923


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PAST MISSIVES INDEX

 "Strolling Through Rome" - (Jan 2007)
"December Decisions" - (Dec 2006)
"Gratitude" - (Nov 2006)
"Pastor Eric's Summer Reading List" - (Oct 2006)
"Parting Words" - (Sep 2006)
"Growing Up" - (Aug 2006)

"Farewell For Now" - (Jun 2006)
 
"Wisdom and Wonder" - (May 2006)
"Going Through The Gate" - (April 2006)

"Planting For The Future (Take Two)" - (April 2005)

"Kids At The Table
" - (October 2004)
"Room For A View" - (September 2004)
"A Pastor Repents" - (July 2004)
  "Stop. Drop (to your knees), and Pray" - (March 2004)
 "Telling Time" - (October 2003)
"Perspective" - (September 2003)
"Talking Turkey" - (August, 2003)
"Tree Hugger" - (May 2003)
"What's Happening?"  - (April 2003)
"Plowing Under Corn; Raising Up Dreams"  - (March 2003)
"Reflections on Turning 40"   - (February 2003)
"A Call to Prayer and Fasting"
"A.C.T. Sundays"
"A Year With the Bible"
"The Church: Why Bother?"
"The Connectional Church"
"Dusting for Fingerprints"
"Extraordinary People"
"Getting Ready"
"God in the Details"
"Imagine This"
"Pray Constantly"
"Running on Empty"
"Sex in the Church"
"Why I Am a Presbyterian"

(Newsletter Jan 2007)

Strolling Through Rome
 He went up the mountain by himself to pray. ~Matthew 14.23

One of the highlights of my Sabbatical was the slow, circular hike I made around Mt. Rainier. Having visited the summit previously on four separate occasions, I thought I knew the mountain pretty well. I was wrong. Glacier travel is one thing, requiring special equipment, training, and route-finding skills. Trail hiking is quite another thing, providing a clear path so the hiker can take in and enjoy the many gifts presenting themselves along the way. The ecosystems that exist between 5,000 and 6,000 feet are altogether different from what you will find between 10,000 and 14,000 feet. And one of the things that struck me most in mid-August was how the mountain seemed to change several times a day based on my point of view. After 100 miles of hiking over 13 days, I now know the mountain much better.

Rainier is a mighty mountain that has, since boyhood, captured my imagination and which has, in mid-life, resurrected my adventurous spirit. I doubt I will ever grow weary of it or feel like I’ve mastered it. Like a good marriage, a mountain like Rainier only makes its lovers grow in reverence and respect for its mysteries and multi-faceted personalities. And like a good marriage partner, Mt. Rainier is a companion that is always changing. (That’s about as far as I’ll push the analogy!).

Modern Rome, I also learned last summer, is a mighty city which yet contains a number of architectural vestiges of biblical Rome. Prominent among them are the Coliseum, the Pantheon (my hands-down favorite) and the Roman Forum. Joining a long list of cultural, artistic, scholastic, culinary and engineering contributions the city of Rome has given to the world today, and the one I would put at the top of the heap, is a theological one: the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

In much the same way that mountains continually intrigue me and magnetize my soul, I never seem to lose my fascination with the sixty-six sacred texts making up our Bible; in fact, it only grows deeper. How can it be that this Word from the Lord can be so old, yet so new every day? The answer, I’m persuaded, is found within its own pages: "The Word of God is living and active… It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb. 4.12). It’s living. It’s active. God’s Word is alive.

This year I’d like to lead you on a leisurely journey through one of the great, living and active books of all time: The Letter to the Romans. I’m not exactly sure how long it will take, but each week, with a few interruptions and side trips along the way, we will take a short walk, exploring this quintessential theological letter where the Apostle Paul develops a theology that has affected all of us more than we probably realize.

Like the 93-mile Wonderland Trail that encircles Mt. Rainier, giving the traveler new vantage points and ever-new opportunities to know that great mountain, the 16 chapters that make up the book of Romans will lead us on a pilgrimage of our own, a book which has as its focal point my favorite Mountain Climber of all time.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 


(Newsletter Dec 2006)

December Decisions
"Holidays always
depress me."
--Charlie Brown

    Here’s a confession for you: about this time of year I start looking forward to turning the calendar over to January 1. If I had my way I would leap-frog over most of December, Christmas included. Christmas especially.
    The reason isn’t related to some traumatic Yule-tide incident in my early childhood, and it’s not because I’m a killjoy. I used to really enjoy the Christmas season and always looked forward to it. But that changed about the time I became a pastor. Since being set apart as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I have found Christmas joy to be elusive, at best, and I have struggled – and increasingly so, year by year – to simply survive Advent and Christmas with my soul intact.
    The reason my middle name changes from Eugene to Ebenezer every December is that I always feel as if I am thrust into a massive contest that I am doomed to lose. Every year I want to immerse myself and all of you in texts that alert us to the ways Almighty God took a most ridiculous risk by becoming one of us. I want to attend with you the great stories that speak of the miracle of the Incarnation and the wonder of Salvation. I long to integrate these cosmic God-realities into our living, breathing existence in order to more fully discover what it means and what it looks and feels like to be the children of God. But the competition is fierce. Consider what I’m up against:
    • Unrelenting commercial advertisements that bombard us with slick, compelling messages that are   mostly at odds with the biblical message.
    • Santa images that promise children (and the child in us) to fantasize about "what we want" when we already have more than we need.
    • The cultural pressure to give just the right gift and the underlying assumption that the price we pay is proportionate to the measure of our love.
    • The bizarre and confusing mixture of the primary icons – Santa and Jesus – making us wonder whose birthday we’re really celebrating after all.
    • Already overscheduled families who have the additional pressure to attend parties and concerts, creating increased levels of stress.
    •  The anxiety of being over-extended financially, going into debt in order to fulfill the consumer’s credo – "I am what I buy."
    By contrast, I am reminded that Jesus arrived on this earth in a very simple and most unglamorous way – in an un-mucked stall with no low-voltage lights, and not a hint of tinsel or egg-nog to be found anywhere around Greater Bethlehem.
    I know that by making this confession to you I run the risk of dampening our corporate Christmas celebration; and that’s actually one of the very last things I want to do. What I hope, rather, is that we can encourage one another to make choices this month that more closely align with what God considers truly valuable.
    For starters, I’ve decided to have a good attitude this year. I have resolved not to cave in to cynicism and to additionally insulate myself from the kinds of seasonally extra activities that are not life-giving. By saying Yes to Voluntary Simplicity I will be saying No to such things as overindulgence, busy-ness, and Christmas credit card debt.
    Use great care in making your decisions this month. Numerous choices will be courting you for your attention, your allegiance, your time and your money. But only a handful of the choices will bring you peace and lead you down paths of righteousness. May God grant us both the wisdom and the guts to choose well.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 


(Newsletter Nov 2006)

Gratitude

    It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gifts of God] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.
    Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation, 1863

    It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t a surprise either. My post-Sabbatical re-entry into life and ministry with you has been accompanied by a resurgent and comprehensive, visceral and unshakeable experience of gratitude.
    Looking back, I noticed it started bubbling up in the high desert of New Mexico back in June. Christ in the Desert Monastery provided an oasis for my soul as I took a deep, extended plunge into silence and solitude. The spacious days of praying with the monks, reading in my cell, and walking along the Chama River planted a seed of gratitude that grew throughout the summer.
    Something ripened in a big way while I took a long, late-summer hike around Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland Trail. There I experienced a geyser of gratitude as I began to recognize and then considered the convergence of the multitude of blessings that have come to both characterize and define my life. The rigorous, beautiful, meditative trek on that mighty mountain left me, to put it simply, overwhelmed with gratitude.
    But it wasn’t my experience alone. Nancy Goodwin expressed it in a variety of ways as well as she reflected on her own summer among us. And Andrea Le Roy noticed it as a recurring theme during the Sunday evening prayer services as many of you gathered to discern how the Spirit of God might be prompting us in the days ahead.
    As I’ve continued to live with this, trying to understand this developmental stage for myself and for my beloved congregation, I am growing in the conviction that it’s not so much about what we "do" next, but "how" we do it. We have no shortage of ideas of things that we could do in response to the grace God has poured upon us; there are myriad opportunities to live out our lives – named, as they are, in the Triune Name, drenched, as they are, in baptismal waters. But the way we proceed may be of even greater significance than what exactly we end up doing in the years ahead. Whatever we do, it will, I am confident, emerge from a posture, nay, an eruption, of thankfulness.
    The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart once said, "If you only say one prayer in your life, ‘Thank you’ will suffice." For me it conjures memories of my paternal grandmother – a charismatic Christian, a Pentecostal preacher, a saint. When she led worship the prayers she offered, often mixed with her gift of tongues, were magnificently moving. But when I overheard her praying at home as she was making a salad dressing or hanging out some clothes to dry it sounded simply like this: "Thank you, Jesus." It was the prayer she said most often, becoming as regular and rhythmic as her breathing. In fact, even as Alzheimer’s Disease progressed in her later years, eroding her cognitive abilities, she could still pray without compromise. Whatever that part of us that prays, whatever part of our humanity connects with Divinity, right up to the end, it was that part of her that alone remained intact, sane, whole. On the days when she was too confused to dress herself she was still able to say "Thank you, Jesus." And it was enough.
    It’s the prayer I have inherited from a rich family legacy. It is a prayer which I am continuing to offer now with the most grateful of hearts.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric
 

(Newsletter Oct 2006)
 

Pastor Eric's Summer Reading List
(Since some people were wondering)

Among the many gifts of my Sabbatical was the spacious time to read. At 7,000 feet above sea level, the monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico is where, for ten days, I befriended deep silence, prayed, journaled, walked and savored seven contemplative books. They included:

¨ The Wisdom of the Desert. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, translates from this wealth of wisdom born of desert solitude and asceticism by the so-called Abbas and Ammas - Spiritual Fathers and Mothers of the desert.

¨ The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, Penguin. More of the same.

¨ Man of Blessing, Butcher. A biography of the founder of the Benedictine Order. Joseph Ratzinger is the 16th pope to assume a papal name from St. Benedict.

¨ Out Walking, Leax. The author is an astute observer and celebrates nature without sentimentality.

¨ Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Muller. The title pretty much describes the content. A good antidote to margin-less lives.

¨ Meditations, Moore. A former monk reflects on how ordinary people can integrate monastic disciplines into their lives.

¨ Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. A Jesuit priest and my favorite poet for the ways he observes and celebrates the created order wonder-fully and theologically.

    The 40 days and nights in Europe included a more eclectic reading list. When I wasn't studying Italian or Greek phrase books I enjoyed:

¨ A River Runs Through It, Maclean. I first saw the movie, then read the book, then read it again in Florence. I identify with the older son of a Presbyterian minister and I love the geography of Montana.

¨ Cry, The Beloved Country, Paton. Kevin Brown recommended this powerful book to me, a novel about South African apartheid. A "must read."

¨ Basilica, Scotti. A scholarly, yet accessible description chronicling the construction of St. Peter's Church. I read it in Rome around the time we visited the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's itself. Enlightening. The light it shed, however, was not altogether favorable. I returned with a renewed appreciation for the 16th Century Protestant Reformation and the value we place in Voluntary Simplicity.

¨ The River Why, Duncan. A great read revolving around a fly-fishing obsession, and so much more.

¨ Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog, Grogan. Patty Sledge-Rabe gave this to our family. A fun book, for anyone who has ever owned a large-breed dog.

¨ An Intimate History of Humanity, Zeldon. I picked this one up at the Atlantis Bookstore on the Greek Island of Santorini. An important book, comprehensive in scope and brilliant with insights and implications, I'm still chewing on this one.

¨ Testimony: Talking Ourselves Into Being Christian, Long. Sent to me by my dad, and written by my seminary preaching professor, this is a very good discussion about how we talk about our faith and integrate our beliefs into our non-church-related lives. I'll bequeath it to our church library. Look for it. Read it.

Undaunted Courage, Ambrose. An engaging biography of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lynn gave me this one to read while I was on my own Northwest trek, encircling Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland Trail. I paced myself to make it last 11 nights as I read it by flashlight in my cozy sleeping bag. It was well worth the extra weight.

So now I'm out of books. Any suggestions?

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 

 

 

(Newsletter Sep 2006)
 

Parting Words -  Sabbatical Pastor
 

Three months is a really short time. I guess it's not a short time if you're spending three months sea kayaking. Or living in an igloo. Or taking care of someone else's toddlers. But in the case of getting to know and ministering to and with a congregation—three months is a really short time. That's what I'm thinking now, that I'm coming to the end of my summer at Colbert.

As I write my last newsletter article, all I've thought about writing to you is a huge THANK YOU.' Thank you for receiving me as your pastor even though you didn't know who I was or what the summer was going to be like. Thank you for your grace as I stumbled around learning the ropes. Thank you for ministering to me with your encouraging words and smiles.

In both his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians; Paul says something like, "whenever I think of you I thank God for you" and that's certainly been the case i for me when I think of Colbert Presbyterian Church. I thank God for you and there are also specific ways I'm going to be praying for you from afar. 1 thought I'd let you in on some of the ways I'll be praying.

The first way has to do with an "epiphany" that happened a couple of Sundays ago. I was sitting in the front row listening to Lisa Marcum play an amazingly beautiful piece for the offertory. Listening to her share this piece with us, it occurred to me that just as Lisa overflows with gifts that bless us, I just know there are many others with huge gifts that have yet to be discovered. Or maybe their gifts have been discovered, but they have yet to put them to use. My prayer is that everyone at Colbert Pres. will be on an ongoing quest to discover how God wants to use them in this wonderful place, and that the congregation will be blessed with escalating joy because of it.

Another prayer I have for Colbert Presbyterian Church is that everyone will take advantage of opportunities to get connected with each other. Our study of Ephesians this summer has made me aware of the ways God created the church to be a family. We are called to love each other and bear with one another in ways that are radically different from our usual individualistic ways of doing things. So in an effort to truly be Christ's Body which builds itself up in love, let's really try to get to know each other beyond the usual "Hi" and "Bye" of Sunday mornings. Will it mean joining a small group? Will it mean committing to attend a Sunday School class? Will it mean praying with others at the Evening Prayer Service each month? Think and pray about which area of fellowship would best fill you up and help you to grow and to give within the Body.

A third way I'll be praying for you has to do with God's faithfulness. If there's one thing I've learned this summer it is that GOD IS FAITHFUL. Before I took Eric's place this summer my mind was plagued with questions like, "Can I really do this?" "Will I be a failure?" "Will it be too much for my family?" Basically ail these questions centered upon this larger question: "Is God really going to take care of me as I step out in faith?" And the answer is, YES. God has taken care of me and God has taken care of us. I don't know about you, but what I see as the theme for Colbert's Sabbatical Summer involves the truth that God takes care of God's people. And it's not in a "Phew! We made it!" kind of way, but in an extravagant, abundant, "God is so good!" kind of way. It is through understanding this truth of God's faithfulness that we are able to be The Church in the creative, spontaneous, and sometimes risky ways God calls us to be.

When I think of Colbert Presbyterian Church, I am filled with gratitude and joy. God works mightily through you—I can testify to that as I think of all the ways I've been blessed by knowing you. I'm excited to see the continuing ways God will use this unique community of faith to shine God's light in the world.

Thanks again to Pastor Eric, the Session and to all of you for allowing me to enter your lives as your pastor for the summer. I truly believe that I'm a better person and pastor today because of the three months I've spent with you.

I'm going to leave you with Paul's prayer for the churches as found in Ephesians 4:14-21 (I think it's the best prayer ever, and it says just what I want to pray!):

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

God bless you all!

Nancy

(Newsletter Sep 2006)
 

Growing Up by Nancy Goodwin -  Sabbatical Pastor

I have a secret. I turned 40 today (July 14). And even though friends approach me with concerned faces and ask how I'm doing with it, I can honestly say I'm fine. Actually, I'm jubilant, enthusiastic and rejoicing with glee. Because I have a theory about turning 40, and all of you 40-somethings will have to tell me if my theory is correct. The theory is, at 40 I will finally "arrive."

My thinking is that at 40, I'll reach that peaceful stage in life where I can truly be myself and be happy about it. I won't worry about petty things or be concerned about others' opinions about me. I'll be 40, and that means I'll finally have it all figured out.

Wouldn't it be great if it were that simple? Wouldn't it be great if we just woke up on our 40lh birthday and were suddenly mature? The things that bothered us before wouldn't matter anymore. We'd put an end to frivolous pursuits and would now focus our attention on things that are truly important.

But we all know that is not what happens. The lines on our faces make us look mature, but they don't help us grow up on the inside. So what does help us mature and more specifically, how do we grow up in our faith?

Paul gives a surprising answer to that question in the fourth chapter of Ephesians. You'd think he'd say, "try really hard to be spiritual!" or "read your bible every day!" but instead he says becoming mature in Christ is a community effort. It's not something we strive for on our own, but from within the body of Christ.

Read what he says in Ephesians 4:15-16: ... speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

It sounds like all of us have a part to play in building up the body so that its members become mature in their faith.

Just yesterday I went on a mini-retreat with some women from the women's bible study. I told the women how "some pastor friends of mine are so impressed by Colbert's vegetable garden. And the women said, "Oh, that was Janis and Esther's thought." And Janis and Esther chimed in, "It was Randy and Ryan's thought." And all I could say was, "Well, it certainly wasn't my thought!"

The fact is I am not a gardener. The thought would never occur to me to use extra church land to grow vegetables that we can give away to the food bank. But what a fabulous idea! It's a creative way to use our resources to give to others in need and that's exactly what we're called to do. So not only have Janis, Esther, Randy, Ryan and others built a garden, they've also "built" up my faith, because they taught me a new way to use the blessings God has given us to bless others.

I remember something that happened at the June prayer service. Bud Gibson prayed the most simple, beautiful prayer, expressing his heart-felt thanks to God for bringing him to faith in Christ. And I thought to myself, how wonderful it is to have Bud, a new Christian, in our midst to remind us of the joys and wonder of knowing Jesus. Bud has a perspective on the Christian life that is fresh and new and filled with gratitude. After hearing Bud pray like that, all of us were filled with gratitude too.

In a couple of days I leave for a family reunion week in Northern California. By the time you read this, David Haslet will have already preached July 23, the Sunday I will be gone. Kay White and Sarah Seidel will have already helped lead worship that day. And I have to miss it! But I am so grateful for David, Kay and Sarah's willingness to serve. The Ephesians passage above reminds us that we need them — not just to handle the service, but because as they share their particular gifts, the whole church is built up.

Okay, I'll admit it. I may be 40, but I still have a lot of growing up to do. I'm thankful that it's not a pursuit I have to figure out on my own, but God has given us the church. God has given us each other! That means all of us have an important role to play in building each other up with the faith we have received in Christ.

Let's be attentive to the particular ways God is calling us to be encouragers and equippers for one another as we "grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ."

Blessings,

Nancy

 

 

(Newsletter  Sep 2006)
 

Farewell For Now

After leaving them he went up on a mountainside to pray - Mark 6:46

I'm gone. By the time you read this I should, God willing, weather permitting, and airline allowing, be hunkered down in a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico, adopting the monks' rhythms as my own, praying, studying, reflecting, filling pages of my journal, taking long walks in the austere beauty of the high desert.

Breathing deeply. Deeply breathing.

Left behind are my wristwatch, my cell phone, my appointment calendar and my laptop computer. I'm unplugged, disconnected, and if expectations are being met, gradually unwinding, recovering parts of myself that have been neglected, being renewed in body and mind and spirit. Thank you for your gracious send-off and for the generous ways you have affirmed the wisdom of this Sabbatical Summer. You are an extraordinarily gracious congregation and as your pastor I consider myself to be uncommonly and deeply blessed.

Later this month our plan is to fly to Venice, working our way south through Italy until we reach Rome. Most of July will be spent leisurely meandering around Greece, island-hopping, beach combing, enjoying a Mediterranean diet, being together as a family with a very loose itinerary, practicing spontaneity.

Then during the week in August when our three kids are at Senior High Camp together (when did this happen?), Lynn and I will be paddling kayaks around glacial-melt Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park (one of our favorite places) and taking some day hikes here and there. A bit later in the month will find me making a clockwise solo journey around Mt. Rainier on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail. In ways that I can't adequately explain, Rainier is a mountain that has escorted me into the presence of Almighty God and nurtured me in Fear-of-the-Lord-Wonder. For 12 days my only goal will be to listen to the Mountain. If, by then, I haven't forgotten how, I plan to lead you in worship again next on September 10th.

It would please me to no end to find out, upon my return, that you have been attending to God and the

things of God in deliberate, disciplined ways through weekly worship, daily prayer and scripture reading and offering your lives in service to the Kingdom. I feel so good, so confident about leaving you in the care of Nancy Goodwin; she brings rich spiritual gifts and a vibrant personality to this community. I also hope that you find time to rest and play and listen and enjoy creation. An insert in this newsletter outlines some of the ways we are, as a congregation, spending the summer praying for God's future direction for our life and ministry together. Fundamentally, we're asking the "What's Next?" question. The answer may affirm something quite similar to what we've experienced in the past, but we also want to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit is blowing us in a new direction or, at the least, correcting us for drift.

By the time Labor Day rolls around we should all have some stories to tell, some insights to share, a picture or two to pass around. Until then, I pray that you all will have a most blessed Sabbath-filled summer. My love remains with you.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric


(Newsletter  May 2006)

WISDOM AND WONDER

I first met her through one of her pies. Lynn and I were planning our wedding 20 years ago this month and one of Lynn's dormitory friends volunteered her mother to bake the communion bread for our wedding and some pies for the reception. It wasn't even until after the honeymoon that we actually met Sharon Clegg face-to-face. Over the years we have double-dated with Doug and Sharon on huckleberry-picking outings, joining them at their time-share on Lake Pend Oreille, enjoying their festive hospitality on Thanksgiving and skating around their homemade backyard ice rink. We've laughed a lot together over two decades. We've also shared a considerable amount of one another's pain. But that's what friends do. Even though Sharon is twenty-some years my senior, she has been a wonderful friend. And over the years I have come to most appreciate in Sharon the qualities of wisdom and wonder.

More than a handful of times she has been the "wise counsel" I have sought out both personally and professionally. We haven't always agreed on every issue we've discussed, but we've always been able to maintain an honesty and openness and an unfaltering mutual respect for each other. As the senior (in every sense of the word!) staff member at CPC she has functioned almost like an associate pastor, and she has earned my implicit trust. She has been educated in both formal and informal ways, both of which have contributed to her possession of the kind of wisdom that I have come to both admire and rely on. Her "senior advisor" status in my life is something I will always be grateful for.

Additionally, Sharon is one of those unique people in that the accumulation of years have not had an eroding effect on her sense of wonder. Her quick, unrestrained laughter, her child-like faith and the pure, exuberant joy that spill out of her keep the waters of faith from stagnation. She may be a grandmother, but her faith has that living, growing, learning quality about it that I have come to so admire and appreciate among disciples of Jesus Christ. She knows that she hasn't "arrived" until the day her baptism is completed. And so until that day, she continues to "work out her salvation," responding creatively to promptings from the Holy Spirit and the normal challenges of life. I fully expect that, even in retirement, Sharon's life will be dominated by that same vitality and enthusiasm in matters of life and faith.

Sharon has founded a ministry among us that has established - and will for years to come influence - the eternal destiny of children. For that I will be forever grateful, and I know that I'm not alone. And so I hope you will plan to join me on Sunday, May 21 after the second service for a time to celebrate Sharon's ministry among us these eight years. Details are being planned by a committee led by Leesa Birdsall and more information will be coming your way shortly through the Sunday bulletin. It will be a good time to celebrate Sharon's sage-like wisdom and child-like wonder.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 

(Newsletter  Apr 2006)

Going through the gate

This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. (Psalm 118:20}

I learned how to preach from a farmer. Admittedly, he was a Presbyterian-pastor-gentleman-farmer, but his theological credentials had nothing to do with what he taught me about the Ministry of Word. The classroom was a pasture and the lesson he taught me - as far as I can tell - happened without him even knowing about it.

Some years later 1 went to an ivy-covered seminary, taking courses in preaching from one of the great preachers of our day, reading masterful books on homi-letics and practicing the sermon craft before peers in chapel and classroom alike. I was fascinated with, intrigued and frightened by the preaching event, and I gave it much thought, study and attention; in fact, my senior concentration in seminary was "preaching." But I learned more about how to preach by a chance event on a farm in rural Pennsylvania than all the hours I spent studying it in Princeton.

It was one of those typically hot, humid summer days when we were trying to get a herd of about 30 head of cattle from a confined pen to a wide-open pasture. Jeffrey had a long rod that he was holding horizontally, making a wide guide for directing the cattle. He moved slowly, deliberately, gently steering the animals in the direction of a corner gate, just wide enough for maybe two cattle to pass through at a time. I stood with my arms out, flanking the herd, to deter any cattle thinking about making a U-turn. But here's the thing I noticed: Just as the first cow was approaching the open gate, Jeffrey stopped, and actually - if memory serves - took a slight step backward. The cattle proceeded, all by themselves, to file through the gate into the open pasture to spend a leisurely day of grazing and cud-chewing.

When the last cow had made the transition from pen to pasture, I closed the gate behind them and then turned to Jeffrey with a quizzical look. He didn't need me to frame the question; he knew what I was wondering. And I shall never forget his words. "Cows will allow themselves to be herded," he said, "but they will often panic and bolt if, as they're approaching a confined place, they feel pressured. But if you can lead them in the right direction and then back off as they approach the gate, they'll go right on through all by themselves."

(Astute readers already see where I'm going with this.)

Some preachers want to take each person by a lead of some kind and direct them precisely through that gate, showing them exactly where to "step" and where to "start eating." I guess I'm just not sure enough about precisely where God is leading each one of you to be that confident as to be specific with "you shall live thus" language.

What I do confidently know is that the Word of God takes us from the smallness and the immediacy of our individual lives to wide-open fields expansive with God's glory. The sermon is a gate that gets us to these lush, green pastures. But the new world it leads us to is enormous and has enough room for each of us to roam and explore and experience unique facets of both Creation and Salvation.

Go ahead and call me crazy, but I actually think there is some spiritual danger in having a fill-in-the-blank outline in the Sunday bulletin. It reduces the Gospel to something apparently manageable and it gives the false impression (making it an illusion) that we understand the mysterious ways of God and have things under control. A fully understood and controllable God, however, is necessarily a small God.

The Spirit, I have learned, has a marvelous way of speaking to a variety of people presenting a variety of needs in a customized way. I dare not interfere with that mystery with too much direction or precision from the pulpit. Rather, I want, John-the-Baptist-like, to point out the truth and to direct people to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and Life.

I trust you to think. I trust you to work and to engage and wrestle with the living Word of God each Sunday, listening for the implications, drawing your own conclusions, responding creatively to the text's calls to repentance and the calls to discipleship. Even more significant is that God trusts you to work out your salvation by living out your baptism, as the image of God is revealed in you day by day. There is no precise, one-size-fits-all-template for discipleship. Even so, there is ultimately only one Way that leads to God.

Jesus said, "I am the Gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved." When we enter the sanctuary each Sunday morning, we do so with the promise that we will be met by our self-revealing God. The standing invitation before us is to enter the Kingdom of God either through a tentative step or a reckless plunge. Either way, and anything in between, our entrance into the vastness of the Kingdom is through - and exclusively so -The Christ-Gate. As a preacher, I'm simply doing what I can to point you in his general direction; he'll take you the rest of the way.

Thanks, Jeffrey, for showing me how to herd cattle. Much more importantly, thank you for teaching me how to lead such a fine congregation of people who think well and want to faithfully follow Jesus, the Great Shepherd.

Grace and peace, Pastor Eric

 


(Newsletter  Apr 2005)

Planting For The Future (Take Two)

"Planting For The Future" was the title of last month's article, inviting you to our tree-planting party on April 4, and reflecting a bit on the similarities between the slow, steady growth of trees and our lives which are rooted in Christ. The Bible describes this variously as our lives "hidden in" or "buried with" Christ. Such images suggest that, as seeds need to die and be planted in soil in order to grow up and bear fruit, so also our selves need to die to their old nature and be buried in baptism with Christ so that we can grow up as the children of God. Organic biology and spiritual theology often enjoy striking parallels, and so here for your consideration is another way we will be planting the seeds of faith for future generations.

At its March meeting the Session acted on, with unanimous approval, a recommendation from the Children's Ministry to offer a Christian Preschool at our church. While this may at first sound like a big and sudden decision, it was preceded by a significant amount of planning, conversation and prayer. The proposal also included the hiring of Jana Beilstein as the Preschool Director, who is already at work attending to the administrative details so that we can open our first classes in September.

I wanted to relate to you a couple of observations about what 1 saw and experienced through this process.

First, I was curious to see how our Session would respond to such a large and significant proposal with very little forewarning. They could have discerned that such a ministry was not consistent with our mission and said no. They also could have indicated their need for more information and more time in order to make a wise decision. Either of those would have been appropriate responses. Instead, as a body, they recognized this vision as (in the words of Joan Brown, our Elder for Mission) "a God thing," and blessed it. This, despite the fact that there are numerous details that we have yet to work out, tells me that this congregation is being led by servant leaders who are spiritually intuitive, faithfully obedient to the Spirit's guidance, and who are willing to take risks. It also reveals that we enjoy among ourselves a fundamental culture of trust: we trust one another to "work out the details" in a responsible, God-honoring way. It pleases me that such spiritual sensitivity and mutual trust allows us to be nimble—acting responsively to God's grace as we share this journey together.

The other thing I was reminded of is something that I have consistently observed in this church's nearly eight-year ministry, namely, that when God calls us to do something, he also provides the means to do it. With the completion of our Education Wing we have a near ideal environment to host a preschool. And while the idea of a preschool has been a part of our discussion from earliest days, I don't believe it actually ever came up as we were planning for and designing the addition. Only minor changes will need to be made to the building to create a perfect preschool setting. Additionally, we have in both Sharon Clegg and Jana Beil-stein, experienced and educated women who both have started from scratch and directed Christian preschools of their own. It would seem that, in abundant measure, the physical, the spiritual and the human resources have been dropped in our ecclesiastical lap in order for us to make an old dream come alive. Which brings me to one final observation that none of us has actually seen except as a vision. Picture this, in your mind's eye, if you can:

> Little boys and girls being welcomed here with the bright smiles and warm hugs of the Preschool staff who will make them feel loved and special simply because they are children of God.

> Kids learning biblical stories and songs of faith alongside learning the alphabet and table manners.

> Little ones bringing prayer back into their homes, and bringing their parents back into the Church for worship, meeting and being met by Almighty God.

> Otherwise vacant classrooms being filled and used during the week to the glory of God.

In my own vocabulary, 1 have found that the word "coincidence" has been gradually overtaken by the word "providence."' It is, I believe, no surprise that the planting of hundreds of young trees on this holy ground will occur the same year that we begin to plant seeds of faith in the fertile ground of dozens of young hearts and minds. Like the trees being planted on April 4th, it may not at first look like much should you pay a visit to the new Preschool next Fall, but in both cases, God generally - almost always - starts small. And with a little cooperation, a little participation and a lot of patience on our parts, something quite magnificent, quite miraculous emerges and matures. Whether we witness that formation in the shape of trees or of souls, we will experience the joy of both planting and watching these seeds grow. It is, in the best sense of the phrase, an investment in the future.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 

(Newsletter  Oct 2004)

Kids At The Table

Maybe it's the way I was raised, and maybe it's because I'm a parent myself, but whoever said that children should be seen and not heard should be taken out to the woodshed for a good old-fashioned exercise in discipline, reproof and correction in righteousness. It's an archaic, and fortunately fading, way of thinking based on a previous failure to recognize that children were anything more than little adults who didn't have special developmental needs. It's thinking that couldn't be more wrong.

In the last 150 years or so we have gradually come to a fuller understanding of this stage in life called "childhood," and as a result we have created wider margins which allow kids to be kids. We've also made significant progress in ensuring that their basic human rights are not violated. The Church and the State both have worked to protect children from violence, neglect and other forms of abuse. Recognizing the cause and effect relationship between the tender years of childhood and the ability of people to adjust to adulthood, we have taken greater care to insulate children from trauma, and we intervene when the primary caregivers let them down. It's not a coincidence that much of the work done by mental health professionals these days centers around the healing of childhood-related experiences and memories. Hearts are fragile indeed.

Jesus was the first child advocate on record. Way ahead of his time, he still has much to teach us about the way we relate to, care for and treat young ones.

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it" (Luke 18:15-17).

Following that lead, when it comes to the children at Colbert Presbyterian Church, they are given priority attention. Sharon Clegg, our Director of Children's Ministry, does an outstanding job of overseeing a cutting-edge program for children right through the 6th Grade. Extensive procedural policies are in place and enforced to ensure child safety. Six new classrooms are presently under construction to create much-needed educational space. But we don't just want to protect them, we want to nurture them as well. And worship is one of the places that we want to make sure our kids are fully included. Our Directory for Worship, which is common to all Presbyterians, puts it this way:

Children bring special gifts to worship and grow in the faith through their regular inclusion and participation in the worship of the congregation. Those responsible for planning and leading the participation of children in worship should consider the children's level of understanding and ability to respond, and should avoid both excessive formality and condescension. The session should ensure that regular programs of the church do not prevent children's full participation with the whole congregation in worship, in Word and Sacrament, on the Lord's Day (my emphasis).

We love welcoming kids into the sanctuary for worship, and we always make special allowances for a bit of extra noise to accommodate them; it just goes with the territory when you're a part of a multi-generational family of God. Some of them will be coloring, while others will be trying to follow along in the songs or the scripture readings. But all of them, I can assure you, are being shaped in soul and in character by simply being in that holy environment week after week; they're absorbing more than you might realize.

Additionally, we are pleased to welcome children, at their parents' discretion, to the Lord's Table when we celebrate Holy Communion. They may not fully understand all that is going on in the Sacrament - there is more marvel-ous mystery contained in that meal for any of us to fully grasp - but when was the last time that a child's lack of understanding about a topic of conversation precluded them from sitting down to the dinner table with you? It's where they belong, and in that table experience they grow to understand more fully to Whom they truly Belong. It's true at the dinner table. And it's true at the Lord's Table.

We leave the discernment up to parents as to when their child is ready to receive the Bread and Cup. All we ask is that they have a basic understanding of the reverence of the meal and are clear that it's not merely a special "snack time." For those children whose parents have decided they're not ready, they are still welcome to come forward at the time of Communion to receive a special blessing from one of the elders or myself. This can be an important way of helping them to feel included while also helping to prepare them for full participation in the Sacrament.

This Sunday, October 3*, is World Communion where churches around the globe, of all faith traditions, will celebrate our unity as one Church. It is Christ who makes us one. In him all the barriers are erased and the distinctions dissolved. In Christ there is neither male nor female, Arab nor American, rich or poor, adult or child. In him, all people are given full access as citizens to the Kingdom of Heaven. So next time you see a kid. thank God that since Jesus welcomes them, he welcomes all of us.

Grace and peace.

Pastor Eric

(Newsletter  Oct 2004)

Room For a View

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. — Psalm 24

I had prayed for safety and for success (in that order), and as I spent the following morning with my devotional companions (Ruby the dog and Starbucks the coffee), I returned to God to give thanks: the only injuries to my body were the customary soreness, and I made my fourth round trip (one-way's don't count!) visit to the summit of Mt. Rainier.

Surprisingly, at 14, 41O feet there is nothing particularly impressive about it; you're just standing on a big mass of ice and snow. When Lynn asked me how it felt to be up there, I confessed the familiar, anticlimactic feelings I always have when I get home again. Actually, the emotional highlight for me was watching two brothers, with whom I was roped together, walking arm in arm, sobbing as they took the final steps to the summit, a climb we dedicated to the memory of their late father. Other than that it wasn't a significantly moving experience. So what's the allure? Friends keep asking me, and I'm still struggling to answer the question.

When seen from a distance it inspires awe. The mountain is a massive volcano that is both beautiful and dangerous and - on both counts (at least for me) — seductive. When I saw it for the first time from the back seat of a Dodge Dart on a family vacation in the summer of 1976,1 felt compelled to visit the summit. To this day I honestly do not understand why everybody doesn't want to climb it. It seems to beckon me with a huge geological finger: "Come to me. Traverse my glaciers. Climb high." But when you finally stand on Columbia Crest, the only things that inspire awe are the fierce winds, the biting cold, the rare view of Seattle when the skies are clear, and the ever-active steam vents in the crater — a sobering reminder that this is only a sleeping, not a dead, giant. While there are certainly some unique things to see and experience on the upper mountain that less venturesome people will never know, the paradox is that you can't actually see the mountain when you stand on its most extreme peak. It’ s much more impressive looking when seen from the lower elevations. I suppose it's the volcanic version of "you can't see the forest for the trees" perspective.

At the risk of sounding risque, especially for a church newsletter (and here you may want to cover your children's eyes) I think of, and believe I can make a sound theo-etymological case for mountains as the geological breasts that add beauty to the landscape of Mother Earth — these wonderful, voluptuous displays of ice and rock that give form and texture to the land. While there is admittedly nothing inherently erotic about mountains (I can just hear the concerns melting into relief), it may be one of the unconscious reasons that men have been drawn to explore them.

Whether it's the dominant focal point to enjoy from the greater Puget Sound Basin or its summit that casts a view for hundreds of miles, that is, whether you're looking at it or looking from it, Mt. Rainier offers great vistas.

And for all of those reasons - the vastness, the beauty, the challenge, the danger, the invitation, I have come to associate mountains with the Kingdom of God. The notable difference is that with God's Kingdom, the closer you get, the better it gets, the view becoming ever expansive, and what’s more, creating an ever-deepening, broadening effect on those who venture therein. It is the supreme pilgrim-journey of our lives, and I couldn't be more pleased than to be sharing it with you, my God-dedicated friends.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 

Newsletter  Jul 2004)

A Pastor Repents

Now don't get too excited; nothing terribly juicy to publicly repent of this month. But it's been almost a year since I used this column ("Talking Turkey", August—2003) to tell you about my practice of reviewing individual's giving records from time to time as a gauge of spiritual health in our congregation. As you might imagine, it was an article that prompted more than the usual amount of feedback, and since last summer I have had some very thoughtful conversations with many individuals and groups (not the least of which included the entire Session) about this issue, and I received good, careful, and wise advice on both sides of it. Now, after this significant time of reflection, prayer and counsel, I feel ready to act on it.

There comes a time when decisions need to be made even in the absence of absolute clarity and certainty, and this is certainly one of those gray, could-go-either-way-issues, at least for me. But as I get a little older, I am learning to trust my heart more in matters such as this. And as I have been listening to others' voices, I have also stepped into solitude in order that my heart's whispers be heard as well.

I would say that there are a number of things that I've either learned or become more strongly convicted of during this process, but there has been one thing that stands out and above them all. It is the conviction that money complicates relationships.

It's not a coincidence that "money matters" brag a top 2 spot in causes of marital dissolution in America. It's not by accident that the scriptures describe a love of money as the root of all evil. And it's not insignificant that most of us like to keep our finances private. Moreover, we live in a culture which has seen a hefty share of corporate officers who have been deceitful in their accounting practices, failing in their fiduciary responsibilities to act in the shareholders' best interests. For good and for ill, money is powerful. And it has the potential to do damage to interpersonal relationships.

That is why I have decided to repent. Unlike much of my repentance it doesn't emerge from deep, Spirit-prompted conviction or those uncomfortable feelings of contrition that propel me out of sinful behavior. But I’ve determined that my pastoral relationship with each of you is too important to jeopardize, and I am, therefore, no longer willing to risk compromising it by letting money potentially get in the way. Your financial contributions to the church are between you and God.

I still think it's important and necessary that I continue to preach about, talk about and write about stewardship matters, and then to simply trust you to respond in faithfulness to God. I will review the treasurer's report (income and expenses), but not the financial secretary's report (who's giving what). That, I believe, is the best that I can do. I also believe that you will do the best that you can do. Our relationships with one another are far more Important than our bottom line.

As long as I'm on the subject of money, let me clarify one issue that has come up during the course of our current Under Construction Capital Campaign. Some folks have questioned why we built the Pavilion when the urgent need is for an Education Wing. It's a good question. The answer is that the funds for the Pavilion were given and designated by an outside donor who caught the vision for its use as a gathering place for open-air, community concerts. In other words, it is money that would not otherwise be available to us for any other uses. It's a gift which will help us to fulfill our mission in developing community ("partying the Kingdom"), while in no way compromising our educational ministry.

It always pleases me when we can discuss and deal with difficult issues together as long as the relationships remain strong and healthy. Conversely, it pains me when the opposite occurs. Thank you for extending grace to me as I make both mistakes and corrections along the way, striving to provide faithful pastoral care and leadership to this congregation which I so deeply love.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 

(Newsletter  Mar 2004)

STOP.  DROP(to your knees), and PRAY

It seems so simple; yet we find it so hard. It’s so convenient; yet we often can’t find the time. It’s so basic, and yet it’s remarkably absent from the rhythms of our days. Prayer.

Now granted, we have certain built~in structures that afford opportunities to engage in prayer as the central liturgy of life, Lord’s Day worship and our second Sunday Taize prayer services most prominently among them. And while committee meetings always begin and end in prayer, sometimes those prayers sound more like requests asking that God bless the agenda in the first place and the decisions made in the second place rather than truly placing ourselves in the posture of seeking God’s agenda and direction.

Some people, I’m pleased to say, have found that prayer and scripture reading combined are daily disciplines they engage in with as much regularity as other rhythmic activities like eating, sleeping, practicing ad musical instrument (hint to my three children) or exercising (reminder to self). But even with such regularity in prayer, there are occasions when it is good, essential even, to devote more concentrated time and attention to seeking the will, the confirmation and the blessing of our Lord.

Have you ever spent a whole day set aside for prayer alone? Well, the leaders of this church are providing just such an opportunity as they are calling us together for a 24 hour period of prayer and fasting beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 14th. Here’s what has prompted invitation:

As you are probably aware, our Sunday morning children’s education ministry is severely challenged by space limitations. Currently, there are classes being held in the narthex, the kitchen and my study in addition to the existing education room. The kids and their teacher have been great about making the most of what they have to work with, but the time has come to provide them with their own, much needed classrooms.

Over the last two years, we have had numerous discussions and planning meetings to determine how best to create additional space for this growing congregation. A revision to the master plan, which meets those needs, has been adopted by the Session and a capital campaign to fund it is in its early phase; you’ll be hearing more about that in the next couple of weeks. I am convinced this is an important and necessary next step for us to take, and I am confident that we can take it without stumbling.

But we’re not ready to take it just yet. Your servant~leaders have determined that a significant, prayerful pause is requisite before we take one more step toward construction. So I am asking that each of us mark this date on our calendar, palm pilots or day~timers and determine to spend as much of that day in prayer as possible. The goal is to have at least one praying person on the church site at any given time for that 24 hour period. A sign~up sheet will soon be available so that every minute will be bathed in prayer. (Sorry, no extra credit for signing~up to pray during normal sleeping hours).

Significantly, this congregation~wide, day~long and night~long prayer vigil will fall right in the middle of Lent – the season of intentional spiritual preparation in anticipation of Easter. Lenten weeks are intended to be lean in nature, reflective of the wilderness which was Jesus’ home for the 40 days immediately following his baptism. It was that time of prayer and fasting which prepared Jesus for his life’s work. It is the same sort of environment which prepares us for our.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 

(Newsletter  Oct  2003)

TELLING TIME

If you're too busy for God, you're too busy.

     Time. Some time seems to stand still, like a single frame from a movie, frozen, motionless.  They are the one-in-a-billion moments captured and held forever by my memory.  I’ll never forget, for example, the night I surrendered my life to Christ under a North Carolina view of the Milky Way, or the first time I kissed Lynn on the athletic field of Whitworth College, or the birth of each of our three children.  Those moments in time are indelibly etched in my mind, locked up in my long-term memory, brought out from time to time to linger over and enjoy yet again.

Some time, by contrast, seems to sprint, running away from me, prompting such familiar exclamations as “where has the time gone?” or “I ran out of time.” There often doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day and so we use technology to “save time” or to “buy time” or to variously make more efficient use of time.

But to become proficient in “time management” seems to be a misnomer.  We can no longer manage time than we can compress water.  There are simply certain laws of nature which cannot be broken.  We can’t manage time.  It refuses to be manipulated.  But we can manage ourselves in time.  That we are bound by the constraints of time, it seems to me, is one of the great gifts of our humanity.  That we have deadlines keeps us from chronic procrastination.  That there is an end in sight to life prevents us from squandering our limited days. 

Many things in life seem unfair, but time is one of the great equalizers.  We may not all be created equal, but we all have the same amount of time to navigate our way through every day: 24 hours, not a minute more or less.  Some people have more to show for it than others, but it’s the same amount of time given to each of us.

The gift of time comes with a great deal of freedom.  Along with the time itself we are given the gift of making choices, discerning how best to spend (not “use”) it.  The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes described time in terms of “seasons” that give direction for its wise use.  Thanks to both Pete Seeger and The Byrds, you are probably familiar with the gist of the text.  Here’s how The Message renders the translation: 

“There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on earth:

            A right time for birth and another for death,

            A right time to plant and another to reap,

            A right time to kill and another to heal,

            A right time to destroy and another to construct,

            A right time to cry and another to laugh,

            A right time to lament and another to cheer,

            A right time to make love and another to abstain,

            A right time to embrace and another to part,

            A right time to search and another to count your losses,

            A right time to hold on and another to let go,

            A right time to rip out and another to mend,

            A right time to shut up and another to speak up,

            A right time to love and another to hate,

            A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

There may be no more important work for us to do than to discern what time it is and then doing that which is most timely.

 Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

 

(Newsletter  Sep 2003)

PERSPECTIVE

     Every once in awhile it's good to step back and get some perspective on one's life. Vacations can sometimes serve the purpose, but only if they aren't too cluttered with planning and activity. Returning from a vacation more tired than you left is a signal that you didn't succeed at downshifting; you just changed the view while still speeding along.

For me, two places have become significant for personal reflection, re-focusing, and re-centering in recent years. One is a high place and the other a low place, but both, not surprisingly, are found in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

When I stand on the summit of Mt. Rainier I feel very small, trying to imagine the mass of rock and ice and molten lava 14,410 feet and more beneath me. The summit is always accompanied by a wind you have to lean into to keep from falling over, and a cold -- even in the summer -- that you have to bundle up against the avoid hypothermia. It's a harsh environment where nothing can live for very long. And there are times when the summit is closed to guests; the weather conditions make it absolutely unclimbable. Some day this volcano of endless majesty will erupt with a fury of unimaginable and lethal force that will fill deep valleys and obliterate whole cities in the Puget Sound Basin. Looking at the mountain from a distance, just sitting there with such formidable potential, is enough to take my breath away.

The low place is the Washington Coast of the Pacific Ocean. Just beholding the sea grants perspective all by itself, but getting in it is so much better. To feel the cold waves crash down upon one's body, to feel the force of the riptide threatening to claim you for the depths is a humbling, fragility-inducing experience. The thundering power of the surf and the dependability of the tide are great natural meetings of chaos and order. That the beach is washed and renewed every 12 hours, erasing all traces of footprints, sandcastles and left-behind toys, is therapeutic for the land and cathartic for the soul.

Of course, the thing about getting some perspective is that it gives you a different view by taking you to a different place. By far, most of my life is enjoyed somewhere in between the high and the low places -- right around 2,000 feet above sea level in good old Colbert, WA, a community I've become quite fond of and have bonded with both because of the land and the people.

The geographical highs and lows I visit certainly help grant perspective to my life. But it's not, I believe, by accident, that we are unable to inhabit either extreme for any sustained time. A volcano's summit is virtually lifeless; it's cold and there's no work to do that would earn one a decent living. Likewise, an ocean's surf is cold, its pounding relentless, and with sustained exposure, it leaves your skin all pruny. They are sites for visitation, not habitation, giving perspective to the in-between times and places where most of life is lived.

In a similar way, Sunday morning worship is a weekly discipline that provides spiritual perspective. It's not exactly and extreme geography, but it is different enough from the rest of the week's activities to do the regular work of re-centering our lives under the claims of Holy Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is one of the most important parts of our weekly rhythms of work, play and leisure; remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy. It is always my distinct pleasure to welcome you to this House of the Lord and to lead you into God's presence. Somehow just showing up has a way of conditioning our souls to inherit eternity. That's the kind of perspective we simply can't do without.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

(Newsletter  Aug 2003)

TALKING TURKEY

     I'm not sure there has been a season of such intense activity and growth as we are experiencing right now at Colbert Presbyterian Church. Allow me to share just a few examples. For the second straight year we have hosted our own Vacation Bible School (having in previous years shared it with Whitworth Presbyterian). We welcomed 75 enthusiastic children who were loved and guided by a volunteer staff of 56 adults and youth who helped them discover and celebrate the reality of God's love.

Moreover, the Youth House, sharing space with the New Hope Resource Center, is open for ministry. The Garden of Hope is flourishing, and produce is being harvested and delivered to the food bank; the Outdoor Pavilion is up; and the playground has been put together.

With all these projects in the works, it would be easy for passersby to think, "Man, that's a rich church; they must have a lot of money to be able to do all of that so soon in their development!" In fact, even those of us within this church may be inclined to think that way. Consequently, we may think that our financial contributions are not needed. That would, however, be an erroneous way of thinking. Let me explain why. The Youth House was a gift from RnR RV who donated their double-wide trailer as an outright gift. The playground has been funded from a variety of sources as a memorial to the late Paul Fleetwood. (Paul, if you weren't privileged to meet him, was the father of three young children and a beautiful bride when he had a work-related accident that cost his life. The playground is a living tribute to Paul who along with his wife, Darcy, took great joy in raising their wonderful family. An outside donor, inspired by the vision of a place to gather the community around fine music for outdoor summer concerts, funded the materials for the Pavilion. Timber Frame Carpenter, Brett Stein, donated all of his labor (in excess of 400 hours) in creating and erecting this beautiful pavilion as a gift to the community and to the glory of God. Additionally, Jim Dunn, one of our many friends at St. Joseph Parish, donated the labor of the metal fabrication.

Similarly, the Garden of Hope was put together (fence, planting and irrigation) entirely by volunteers, and the materials were given to us at cost by Big R. And of course, the forthcoming Education Wing is made possible this soon because of the $50,000 Walton Grant we were recently awarded for being one of two outstanding new church developments in the country.

All of that is to say that we have been able to accomplish much with scarce resources. So, as you can see, we are indeed rich, but only because of the ways that God so faithfully provides for us.

As we approach the end of our "In The Beginning" Capital Campaign (which has been a wild success, allowing us to construct the Genesis Center), we will soon be absorbing into our budget a monthly mortgage of $3,100. As of now, the numerical growth we have enjoyed has not translated into a significant growth in our income. But as our church grows the needs grow, and the budget must grow. Therefore, we need you to be as or more generous than ever.

I want you to be aware that only God and three people know what you give to the church:

1. You,

2. Our financial Secretary (Laurel Nissley), and

3. Your pastor (that's me!).

As confidentiality matters go, I'd say you have nothing to worry about. But I want you to know that the reason I have access to, and review, and pray over our giving records on a quarterly basis, is that I believe the way we as individuals steward our finances is the single most accurate barometer of spiritual health. For a pastor to not know giving patters is akin to a doctor not being able to listen to your heart; there's just too much guesswork involved in making an accurate diagnosis about one's health.

Jesus wasn't kidding when he said that we can't serve both God and money. We have to choose. He wasn't kidding when he said where our hearts are, there will our treasure be as well, and he was most certainly not kidding when he said it is more blessed to give than to receive. As your pastor, I want you, as I want for myself, to experience and enjoy the abundant life. And I know form both biblical scrutiny and personal experience that the way to such Life is through a life of generosity and faith.

It's a simple proposition we've been give as children of God: God gives us everything we have -- everything is a gift, and we return to God at least a tenth of what we receive. Returning a tithe, or 10%, is an expectation for membership in this church because it's both a way of sharing in God's generosity, and a discipline that demonstrates our reliance on God's faithfulness to provide for us.

Your gifts are always used carefully and prayerfully, and they make a difference in this community, around the world, and in the Kingdom of God. I can't think of a better or bigger reality to invest our lives in together.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

(Newsletter - May 2003)

TREE HUGGER

     I Love treesAnd one of the great gifts of living where I do is that I am surrounded by trees – hundreds of acres of trees.  Nearly every morning I venture out among them for a walk accompanied by Ruby the wonder dog and a mug of hot coffee.  The route is always the same: it’s a familiar and well-worn trail.  Consequently, I don’t have to think about where I’m going, freeing me to think about other things.  The trees stand as tall, silent witnesses to my quiet thoughts and prayers as I seek God’s direction for the new day.

 The trees on the lot that I am entrusted to care for are dominated by Ponderosa Pines and Red Firs.  They are hardy, independent evergreens that can survive drought, and that provide shade, beauty, oxygen, lumber, firewood, and shelter.  In an effort to introduce some new species, Lynn and I have planted other trees over the years: Birch, Flowering Plum, Maple, Apple, Peach and Pear. 

 But trees can get expensive.  That’s why I was so excited to learn about the bargain seedlings you can get through the Spokane County Conservation District.  Last winter I ordered a bunch of them: Quaking Aspen, Black Walnut, Grand Fir, Norway Spruce, Tamarack, and Western Red Cedar.  Last month I took great pleasure in planting them, amending the soil with a bit of compost to give them a fighting chance in our rocky soil, giving them plenty of water and even protecting some of them with plastic cylinders my neighbors gave me to guard them from the ravaging effects of wind and deer. 

 With each seedling I planted – most of them only about 8 inches tall – I tried to imagine what they would look like in 20 years and what they would need in order to reach maturity.  Would there be enough precipitation?  Would they survive the next ice storm?  Would they become infected with disease?  I hope they make it because I’ve gotten kind of attached to them and have invested a lot of energy in them.  And I hope to be around to see them and enjoy them when they reach that age.

 I also love being a pastor.  And I see a lot of similarities between the care of trees and the care of souls.  As an organizing pastor, I have had the rare privilege of planting this new church in Colbert.  Being involved in turning the ground, both literally and figuratively, and seeing this church come alive and grow into what it is today is accompanied by joy that defies description.  However, I’m aware that, as with the growth of trees, I have a very small role in the growth of this church.  I am frequently reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words when he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, “My job was to plant the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow” (3:6; New Living Translation).

 Every time I hold an infant girl in my arms and dare to utter the name of the Triune God over her, I wonder if I will get to stand before her again some day in that very spot in the sanctuary and lead her through her marriage vows.  Every time I pour the blessed water on a little boy’s head, I try to imagine what kind of a man he will be, and what influence I might have in the decisions he makes with his life.  For both the girls and the boys I pray that I will have the wisdom to direct them in the life of faith, and that I will have the compassion to care for them through the struggles of life.  And, as with the trees, I hope to still be around to see and enjoy them when they’re all grown up.

Grace and peace (and hugs),

Pastor Eric

(Newsletter - April 2003)

WHAT'S HAPPENING?

    Last month I spent a day writing a grant that, if we get it, will allow us to begin construction on our much-needed Children’s Wing.  As I finished reflecting on this church’s ministry that day, I found myself amazed at all that is happening among us, and I thought it might be interesting and helpful for you to be aware of it as well.  Here’s the picture I conveyed to the committee who will be awarding the grants later this month:

 These are exciting days for Colbert Presbyterian Church!  Since chartering in 1998 with 127 founding members, this ministry has grown and developed in a variety of ways.  Today, with the addition of a second service, we welcome over 300 people into our new, first-phase building for worship services characterized by Spirit-filled celebration and holy reverence.  Attendance in the last year has swelled by over 40% and the building is well-used 7 days a week.  Welcoming so many new people who are hungry for God includes many opportunities for growth.  Some of the things we are presently working on to meet the challenges of a growing ministry include the following:

  • The development of a Small Group Ministry to encourage discipleship in more intimate community settings, and help people get more connected in relationships with one another.

  • Training and involving Lay Leaders in worship as a demonstration of the priesthood of all believers.

  • Placing a donated commercial trailer on our site as a Youth House so our rapidly expanding youth ministry has a place of its own.

  • The birth of The New Hope Resource Center – a cooperative ministry with several other neighboring churches to address emergency needs for food, rent, utility assistance, transportation and chore services.

  • The construction of an outdoor, timber frame Concert Pavilion to host musical concerts for the community.

  • Providing a Vacation Bible School experience for a rural community in Idaho, led by our Youth and volunteer adults.

  • A Community Garden of vegetables, berries and fruit trees to provide the local food banks with fresh produce.

  • A Playground where neighborhood children can come to play in a safe, fun environment.

  • Establishing an Art Gallery in the sanctuary where the many Christian artists among us can display their creations as a response of worship.

  • The addition of a Children’s Wing to create more educational space.  This will be a cash project.  So far, over $140,000.00 has been raised toward the needed $200,000.  The Walton Grant would allow us to break ground this summer!

 Moreover, a Board of Deacons has been ordained and installed and is working hard to care for and meet the ongoing and emerging needs of people who consider this their church home.  We continue to regularly commission short-term missionaries to participate in delegations to Guatemala where we enjoy a sister Presbytery relationship with the K’ekchi Indians. And because we are a missional church we have entered into a partnership with Young Life.  Our full-time Director of Youth Ministries, who is paid entirely by the church, spends a portion of his time on school campuses and provides leadership to an area club.

 Colbert Presbyterian is a “Church In Mission.”  We are a new, alive and growing congregation of a diverse and inclusive group of people who are seeking to follow Jesus Christ through vibrant worship, serious study of God’s Word, hearty fellowship, and creative acts of ministry in our community and the world.

 (I didn’t tell the grant review committee this, but even if I wasn’t the pastor of this church, it’s still the faith community I would choose to be a part of.  Your faith and vision are inspiring!)

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

April, 2003

 

(Newsletter - March 2003)

Plowing Under Corn; Raising Up Dreams
 (Note: this article is adapted from Pastor Eric’s annual report to the congregation.)

    In the movie, Field of Dreams, an Iowa farmer hears a voice saying, “If you build it, they will come.”  Over time, he understood the promise to mean that if he built a baseball field, it would be occupied both by some of the all-time great ball players of the century as well as fans from near and far.  When it was just a dream and he started plowing under his corn, most everyone thought he was nuts.  But when the dream was realized, no one questioned his sanity.  To follow a dream, sometimes you have to act a little bit crazy and take a risk or two.

 And “crazy” is, at times at least, especially in the risk-taking business, not a long stretch to being “faithful.”  Several years ago, this fledgling congregation heard a voice which we discerned to be the Voice of God directing us to build a church.  And it seemed to be accompanied by the promise that “if we build it, they will come.”  Well, we did.  And they (you!) did.  I’m so very glad for both the vision that was followed by faithful risk-takers, and for the many new friends we have been able to welcome into the fellowship and ministry of Colbert Presbyterian Church.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the God who spoke and for the people who listened.

 To understand the significance of this past year, some numbers may be helpful.  Below is a simple chart of figures indicating membership, worshipping attendance, and percentage growth (in worshipping attendance) for the last five years of this congregation’s existence.

 Year                 Membership            Attendance                   Growth            Location

1998:               129                  157                                                      High School

1999:               147                  166                              +6%                 High School

2000:               158                  170                              +2.5%              High School

2001                174                  180                              +6%                 High School

2002                198                  252                              +40%               Genesis Center

 As you can see, while there was a slow, but steady stream of growth while we met in the rented facilities of the Mt. Spokane High School, the move to our beautiful, new Genesis Center was akin to opening the flood gates.  Four percent growth is pretty easy to manage and assimilating new members can be done (as it was in our first four years) almost automatically.  But when you multiply that by 10, you’re talking about some very different dynamics: wonderful, but challenging.  A 40% growth pattern is nearly impossible to manage – for any organization.  And while we had a solid programmatic infrastructure in place, and we were capable of welcoming a lot of new people, we weren’t prepared to fully integrate them into this community of faith in a way that made everyone feel known, cared for, and connected.

 Born out of the conviction that community is essential for any healthy church, and is, in fact, largely what defines it, one of the emphases that we will be giving a good deal of energy to in the next several years will be the development of small groups.  In the context of these small groups – which will assume a variety of forms and functions – we will all have the opportunity to go deeper in our relationships with a concentrated cadre of friends.  Such groups will provide the primary points of connection for us as we grow in our faith and as we share this faith journey with others, providing and receiving mutual care and encouragement, discernment and support.  Please plan to be a part of one this year, either by initiating your own, or by responding to the invitation to join a new small group through our Adult Ministries (Kathy Beal, elder: 466-3561).  To fully experience the fullness and the glory of being members of the Body of Christ, it is imperative that we covenant to invest in one another’s lives, helping one another to attend to the God who is crafting us into the beautiful Bride of Christ, and who is preparing us to be reunited with him on the Day of the Lord.

 These are, indeed, wonderful, challenging, stimulating, even holy days we are living through with one another.  Thanks to those of you who built this church.  Even more so, thanks to those of you who heard the Voice, and came to seek God and share your lives at Colbert Presbyterian Church.  You’re a dream come true!

 Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

March, 2003


(Newsletter - February 2003)

REFLECTIONS ON TURNING FORTY

    The year 1963 included two related, yet not very widely-known events.  It was the year my parents gave birth to a new church and to a new son: Christ Our King and Eric Eugene.

 Many people can say that they grew up in the church.  But not many people mean it literally.  I can and I do.

 During those early, fledgling years, the bedrooms, kitchen and dining room in our modest-sized house doubled as Sunday School classrooms.  The living room was a frequent gathering place for evening meetings during the week, even a wedding or two!  On Sunday mornings my mother would go to the basement, remove the still-damp diapers hanging on a line, toss them in a closet and set up folding metal chairs for the worship service.  Later, when everyone left for their homes, the diapers would be re-hung to finish drying.

 I grew up in the church observing my father as he administered the liturgy of sacraments and pastoral care while my mother attended to the liturgy of hospitality and homemaking.  There was no separation, no distinction between matters sacred and things secular.  After all, if a house could be a church and a laundry room could be a sanctuary, there wouldn’t seem to be much, if anything, beyond the reach or the concern of God. 

 It helped, of course, that my parents’ faith was well-integrated so that who they were on Sunday mornings was no different than at any other time.  The man who preached the Word of God in worship was the same one who served up mashed potatoes at our dinner table.  The woman who listened to people’s problems during the day was the same one who read a book to me and tucked me into bed at night.  It was a lifestyle I lived and breathed and enjoyed even after the church was built just half a mile away.  As a result, I came to adopt a world view that was permeated by an awareness of the presence of God in all things and in all people at all times.  I suppose that would be considered a blessed upbringing.

 As an adolescent, when I was ready to get some distance from my younger brother with whom I shared a room, I moved downstairs.  By then it was just a basement again where we played ping pong and watched T.V.; the gatherings for Sunday worship but a memory.  My new bedroom was located in what had once been the chancel area.  Consequently, there was a cross on my closet door.  An old forgotten baptismal font, from which I was claimed as a child of God, sat in one corner.  An even older, second hand organ was there as well.  Even the antique communion table, given by an historic church in Baltimore (presumably when they upgraded to a new one) on which the words “In Remembrance of Me” were carved, was still there, just gathering dust, having been decommissioned as the Lord’s Table.  Like the ruins of ancient civilizations, these were the remaining vestiges of those holy meetings between God and his people in our basement when I was but a child.

 Of course, as a kid, I didn’t think it was unusual or strange having those things around.  It’s just the house I grew up in.  And while I was aware that my friends didn’t have liturgical furnishings in their bedrooms growing up, I don’t think I realized just how much that whole ecclesiastical environment got inside of me until just now.  To find myself now as a pastor, therefore, shouldn’t (though at times it still does) surprise me.  Environmentally, spiritually, socially, even genetically, it would seem that I was predisposed to the pastoral vocation.

 The master plan of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church was drawn by an architect, and over a period of 25 years and three building projects, that plan was complete, with remarkable accuracy to the original concept.  Of course it’s fairly easy to track the growth and development of a church through the progress of its physical plant.  But I am reminded that in my baptism, there is a Master Plan for Eric Eugene as well which is continually unfolding and developing.  The Chief Architect is none other than my Lord Jesus Christ who continues to oversee this God-blessed, God-dedicated life and ministry.

 So happy birthday to me.  And happy birthday to my old friends in Bel Air, Maryland.  May we, over the second 40 years of our lives, continue to grow into the Master Plan of Christ Our King.

 Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric


DUSTING FOR FINGERPRINTS

You may have seen it in the Spokesman Review.  It was an article on church growth in the Inland Northwest (“Packed Pews”, July 14).  Prompted by recent research confirming what we’ve long known – the trend that mainline Protestant denominations are shrinking, while independent, conservative churches are growing – the article took a look at what’s happening in area churches.  The obvious question is “Why?”  Why has the growth curve of the main Protestant churches been curtailed?  The answers, I believe, are elusive at best and incomplete.  But as with any mystery, there are those who have their hypotheses.

 One church leader who serves a rapidly-growing, independent church was quoted as saying, “When you don’t do what the word of God says, you lose the blessing of God.  I think (mainline denominations) struggle because the Holy Spirit is not there.”

 “Yikes!” was my initial reaction. But in all honesty, I wasn’t offended at the remark because I’m quite certain it’s simply not true.  Here’s why:

 For starters, it implies that in the presence of the Spirit there is no struggle.  It’s an old and erroneous way of thinking:  “When I am right with God, God blesses me and my life runs smoothly.  When I am out of step with God’s will, God removes his blessing and things fall apart.”  The problem with the assumption and its corollary is that the Holy Spirit, in addition to the wonderful work of comforting, counseling, healing, anointing and guiding also has the difficult work of convicting, afflicting and bringing us to repentance.  That things fall apart in our lives may indeed be a signal that we have wandered away from God.  However, it’s not because God has abandoned us, but because God is hounding us!  The Spirit’s role in our lives is characterized both by a building up and a tearing down.  Edifying us and purging us.  The Holy Spirit knows that we are in a contest for our souls and will, therefore, do whatever it takes to make us holy, to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.  Whether we like it or not.  “Struggle” is one of the earmarks of a disciple.

 The other problem with the hypothesis is that it misunderstands the nature of blessing.  We tend to think of it as all good and glory.  When we’re successful or prosperous or feel content in our relationships we, in moments of humility, say, “I am so blessed.”  Or, “God has blessed me richly.”  But Jesus defined blessing quite differently.  Try this on for size and see if it fits with your concept of blessing:

 You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.  God’s kingdom is there for the finding. 

 You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry.  Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.

 You’re blessed when the tears flow freely.  Joy comes in the morning.

 Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable.  You can be glad when it happens – skip like a lamb, if you like! – for even though they don’t like it, I do…and all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.”  (Luke 6 – The Message)

 If we only ascribe success to the church the way we have come to understand it in society, we will, more than likely, miss the revolutionary, discomforting nature of God’s blessing.  Church decline is no more an indication that God’s Spirit is absent than church growth is a sign that the Holy Spirit is present.  So how do you detect the presence of the Spirit of God?

 John Calvin wrote that “the Holy Spirit is the bond which effectually unites us to Christ.”  In other words, if you were to dust for fingerprints in a church, looking for evidence that the Spirit of God was or is there, you would look at the quality of relationships more than the numbers of people gathered therein.  Outside of the Day of Pentecost, there is not another biblical event associated with an outpouring of the Spirit which results in extraordinary, large-scale phenomena.  Much more typically, the Holy Spirit functions as the shy member of the Trinity.  And the people’s lives who are so “in-Spired” are marked by certain behaviors.  The evidence is not always easy to point to or confirm outside of personal testimony.  But it’s no less real.

 As I do my own detective work as a church sleuth, here is what I see at Colbert Presbyterian Church.  I notice such relational qualities as turning away from sin and turning to God, an uncommon love for one another as demonstrated by the compassionate sharing of burdens and the generous sharing of resources, a commitment to truth-telling and the personal renewal or transformation of hearts and minds.  These are the things which reveal the faithful, active presence and power of God the Holy Spirit in our midst. 

 Make no mistake about it: You are, indeed, a God-blessed church.  Blessed (I needn’t remind you) in order to be a blessing to others by the irrefutable and indomitable power of the Holy Spirit.  Case closed.

 Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric