Preparing Through Parable: We Know Your Voice

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“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 
John 10:1-5, 14-16

 

 

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Gentle Shepherds
of this wayward flock
each of us wanting to go
his or her own way

We know your voice
and listen intently
to follow you
where you know we should be

You lead us
to the green pastures
of The Word
to fill up full.

Alongside the still waters
we quench our thirst,
we are comforted
that you point the way.

If one has gone astray
we know you will come looking
until we are searched out
in our hiding place.

We rejoice together
in celebration
of the lost
now found.

You know your sheep
through a full generation
of us thriving
in your love and care.

We know our shepherds.
We know your voice.
We know you were brought to us
through the loving grace of God Himself.

Amen and Amen again.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

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Pastor Bert and Jane Hitchcock — over 25 years at Wiser Lake Chapel

 

 

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A Time to Take Off Your Shoes

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

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Yesterday, on a beautiful Sabbath evening, some fifty folks spent a few hours here on our farm for worship and potluck for this summer’s first of our Wiser Lake Chapel’s long-running “outdoor church” tradition at various farms in our county.   Over the many years we have hosted this wonderful gathering of our church body, we have met up on our farm’s hill pasture and also under the shade of our front yard walnut trees.  As lovely as it is to meet on the hill with so many vistas and views, there are many manure piles and mole hills lying in wait to sully the bare toes of our active church kids.

Indeed, our children are more apt than the grown ups to follow the instruction of the Lord when He told Moses:

Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

There have long been cultures where shoes are to be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple in an intentional act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door to preserve the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.

Yet we as Christians wear shoes into church every Sunday, having walked in muck and mire of one sort or another all week. We try our best to clean up for Sunday, but we track in the detritus of our lives when we come to sit in the pews. Rather than leave it at the door, it comes right in with us, not exactly hidden and sometimes downright stinky. That is when we are in obvious need for a good washing, shoes, feet, soul and all, and that is exactly why we  need to worship together as a church family in need of cleansing, whether indoors or outdoors.

Jesus Himself demonstrated our need for a wash-up on the last night of His life, soaking the dusty feet of His disciples.

And then there is what God said. He asked that holy ground be respected by the removal of our sandals. We must remove any barrier that prevents us from entering fully into His presence, whether it be our attitude, our stubbornness, our unbelief, or our constant centering on self rather than other.

No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.

We trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where our feet land and the impact they leave behind. Perhaps by shedding the covering of our eyes, our minds, and our feet, we would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart.

So we may see.
So we may listen.
So we may feast together.
So we remove our sandals so our bare feet may touch His holy ground.

 

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Thank you to Bette Vander Haak and Kerry Garrett for sharing their pictures of outdoor church on our farm.

 

 

One Hundred Years Old

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…when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about, and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.
~Henri Nouwen from The Return of the Prodigal Son

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Today is the 100th anniversary of Wiser Lake Chapel‘s building dedication ceremony and picnic — a special celebration is planned with information found here.

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Back in the early days of Whatcom County,  the little church on Wiser Lake had been constructed through “contributions of the people” in a rural neighborhood only a few miles from where we now live.  $600 in lumber was provided by a local farmer whose trees were cut and milled and brought by horse drawn wagon to a building site adjacent to a one room school house along a corrugated plank road. The total property was “valued at $1800, but of even more value to the community.” The dedication ceremony was held on Sunday, August 27, 1916 followed by “a basket dinner—come with well filled baskets for a common table, under the direction of the Ladies Aid”. This was to be followed by a “Fellowship Meeting, special music and fraternal addresses” and the day ended at 8 PM with a Young People’s Meeting.  So began the long history of the “Wiser Lake Church”.

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For reasons unrecorded in the history of the church, the original denomination closed the doors thirty years later, and for awhile the building was empty and in need of a congregation. By the fifties, it became a mission church of the local Christian Reformed Churches and launched a Sunday School program for migrant farm and Native American children in the surrounding rural neighborhood.  No formal church services started until the sixties. By the time the building was sixty years old, so many children were arriving for Sunday School, there was not enough room so the building was hoisted up on jacks to allow a hole to be dug underneath for a basement full of classrooms. Over the course of a summer, the floor space doubled, and the church settled back into place, allowed to rest again on its foundation.

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Over seventy years after its dedication ceremony, our family drove past the boxy building countless times hurrying on our way to other places, barely giving it a second glance. It had a classic design, but showed its age with peeling paint,  a few missing shingles, an old fashioned square flat roofed belfry, and arched windows. The hand lettered sign spelling out “Wiser Lake Chapel” by the road constituted a humble invitation of sorts, simply by listing the times of the services.

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photo by Julie Garrett
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photo by Julie Garrett

On a blustery December Sunday evening, we had no place else to be for a change.  Instead of driving past, we stopped, welcomed by the yellow glow pouring from the windows and an almost full parking lot. Our young family climbed the steps to the big double doors, and inside were immediately greeted by a large balding man with a huge grin and encompassing handshake. He pointed us to one of the few open spots still available in the old wooden pews.

The sanctuary was a warm and open space with a high lofted ceiling, dark wood trim accents matching the ancient pews, and a plain wooden cross above the pulpit in front. There was a pungent smell from fir bough garlands strung along high wainscoting, and a circle of candles standing lit on a small altar table. Apple pie was baking in the kitchen oven, blending with the aroma of good coffee and hot cocoa.

The service was a Sunday School Christmas program, with thirty some children of all ages and skin colors standing up front in bathrobes and white sheet angel gowns, wearing gold foil halos, tinfoil crowns and dish towels wrapped with string around their heads. They were prompted by their teachers through carols and readings of the Christmas story. The final song was Silent Night, sung by candle light, with each child and member of the congregation holding a lit candle. There was a moment of excitement when one girl’s long hair briefly caught fire, but after that was quickly extinguished, the evening ended in darkness, with the soft glow of candlelight illuminating faces of the young and old, some in tears streaming over their smiles.

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photo by Julie Garrett

It felt like home. We had found our church.

We’ve never left.

Over the past one hundred years this old building has seen a few thousand people come and go, has had peeling paint and missing shingles, a basement that floods when the rain comes down hard, toilets that don’t always flush, and though it smells heavenly on potluck days, there are times when it can be just a bit out of sorts and musty.  It really isn’t anything to boast about.

It is humble and unpretentious yet envelops its people in its loving and imperfect embrace, with warmth, character and a uniqueness that is unforgettable.

It really is not so different from the folks who have gathered there over the years.

We know we belong,
such as we are,
just as we are,
blessed by God with a place to join together.

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Between Midnight and Dawn: All Things at the End and Beginning

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photo by Julie Garrett

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This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:6

 

The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds. They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive 15 miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place…

For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God. They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the ‘natural’ world and a natural community. And now they have been called to “come together in one place,” to bring their lives, their very world with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life.

We are already far beyond the categories of common worship and prayer. The purpose of this ‘coming together’ is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it ‘better’ – more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning.
~ Father Alexander Schmemann from For the Life of the World

 

Human beings by their very nature are worshipers. Worship is not something we do; it defines who we are.
You cannot divide human beings into those who worship and those who don’t.
Everybody worships; it’s just a matter of what, or whom, we serve.

~Paul Tripp

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Back in the early days of Whatcom County,  the little church on Wiser Lake had been constructed through “contributions of the people” in a rural neighborhood only a few miles from where we now live.  $600 in lumber was provided by a local farmer whose trees were cut and milled and brought by horse drawn wagon to a building site adjacent to a one room school house along a corrugated plank road. The total property was “valued at $1800, but of even more value to the community.” The dedication ceremony was held on Sunday, August 27, 1916 followed by “a basket dinner—come with well filled baskets for a common table, under the direction of the Ladies Aid”. This was to be followed by a “Fellowship Meeting, special music and fraternal addresses” and the day ended at 8 PM with a Young People’s Meeting.  So began the long history of the “Wiser Lake Church”.

For reasons unrecorded in the history of the church, the original denomination closed the doors thirty years later, and for awhile the building was empty and in need of a congregation. By the fifties, it became a mission church of the local Christian Reformed Churches and launched a Sunday School program for migrant farm and Native American children in the surrounding rural neighborhood.  No formal church services started until the sixties. By the time the building was sixty years old, so many children were arriving for Sunday School, there was not enough room so the building was hoisted up on jacks to allow a hole to be dug underneath for a basement full of classrooms. Over the course of a summer, the floor space doubled, and the church settled back into place, allowed to rest again on its foundation.

Over seventy years after its dedication ceremony, our family drove past the boxy building countless times hurrying on our way to other places, barely giving it a second glance. It had a classic design, but showed its age with peeling paint,  a few missing shingles, an old fashioned square flat roofed belfry, and arched windows. The hand lettered sign spelling out “Wiser Lake Chapel” by the road constituted a humble invitation of sorts, simply by listing the times of the services.

On a blustery December Sunday evening, we had no place else to be for a change.  Instead of driving past, we stopped, welcomed by the yellow glow pouring from the windows and an almost full parking lot. Our young family climbed the steps to the big double doors, and inside were immediately greeted by a large balding man with a huge grin and encompassing handshake. He asked our names and pointed us to one of the few open spots still available in the old wooden pews.

The sanctuary was a warm and open space with a high lofted ceiling, dark wood trim accents matching the ancient pews, and a plain wooden cross above the pulpit in front. There was a pungent smell from fir bough garlands strung along high wainscoting, and a circle of candles standing lit on a small altar table. Apple pie was baking in the kitchen oven, blending with the aroma of good coffee and hot cocoa.

The service was a Sunday School Christmas program, with thirty some children of all ages and skin colors standing up front in bathrobes and white sheet angel gowns, wearing gold foil halos, tinfoil crowns and dish towels wrapped with string around their heads. They were prompted by their teachers through carols and readings of the Christmas story. The final song was Silent Night, sung by candle light, with each child and member of the congregation holding a lit candle. There was a moment of excitement when one girl’s long hair briefly caught fire, but after that was quickly extinguished, the evening ended in darkness, with the soft glow of candlelight illuminating faces of the young and old, some in tears streaming over their smiles.

It felt like home. We had found our church. We’ve never left. Over 25 years it has had peeling paint and missing shingles, a basement that floods when the rain comes down hard, toilets that don’t always flush, and though it smells heavenly on potluck days, there are times when it can be just a bit out of sorts and musty. It also has a warmth and character and uniqueness that is unforgettable.

It’s really not so different from the folks who gather there.  We know we belong.

 

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Wiser Lake Chapel in Whatcom County will celebrate a century of worship within its walls this summer

Awaiting His Arrival: From Homeless to Gathered

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Thank you, Pastor Bert, for your sermon yesterday at Wiser Lake Chapel on this Advent passage:

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.
I will rescue the lame;
    I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
    in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
Zephaniah 3: 17, 19-20

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;

To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
~G.K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas”

 

Though you are homeless
Though you’re alone
I will be your home
Whatever’s the matter
Whatever’s been done
I will be your home

In this fearful fallen place
I will be your home
When time reaches fullness
When I move my hand
I will bring you home
Home to your own place
In a beautiful land

From this fearful fallen place
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
~Michael Card “I Will Bring You Home”

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Worn Out Gloves

farmglovesAt our annual  Wiser Lake Chapel Thanksgiving service last night, we were asked to participate by bringing a token of something we are thankful for.  This is what I brought.

This is what my farm work gloves look like after a year of service.  They keep me from blistering while forking innumerable loads of smelly manure into wheelbarrows, but also help me unkink frozen hoses, tear away blackberry vines from fencing, pull thistle from the field and heavy hay bales from the haymow.  Over the years, I’ve gone through several dozen gloves, which have protected my hands as I’ve cleaned and bandaged deep wounds on legs and hooves, pulled on foals during the hard contractions of difficult births, held the head of dying animals as they sleep one final time.

Without my work gloves over the years, my hands would look very much like these do, full of rips and holes from the thorns and barbs of the world, sustaining scratches, callouses and blisters from the hard work of life.

But they don’t.
Thanks to these gloves, I’m presentable for my “day” work as a doctor where I don a different set of gloves many times a day.

But the gloves don’t tell the whole story of my gratitude.

I’m thankful to a Creator God who doesn’t need to wear gloves when He goes to work in our world.
Who gathers us up even when we are dirty, smelly, and unworthy.
Who eases us into this life when we are vulnerable and weak,
and carries us gently home as we leave this world, weak and vulnerable.
Who holds us as we bleed from self and other-inflicted wounds.
Who won’t let us go, even when we fight back, or try not to pay attention, or care who He is.

And who came to us
with hands like ours~
tender, beautiful, easy to wound hands
that bled
because He didn’t need to wear gloves~~His love made evident
to us all.

 

Honoring His Hands

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Carpentry…. embodies the emotional: celebration, contemplation, mystery, and grief.
It is an art that is solitary and communal, one that transcends time and outlives us.
~Yusuf Komunyakaa from “Honor Thy Hands”

Wes Meyer learned how to build new things and repair old things from his carpenter dad, Pete, working side by side for many years.  Although Wes was a magician with hammer and nails, taking raw materials and creating something beautiful and functional, his true artistry was when he was able to take something broken or failing and make it new.   By never giving up on finding a solution to a problem, no matter how hard it was to fix, he transcended the limits and boundaries of others saying something was  “too old to bother.”

Our almost 100 year old church building  presented perpetual challenges to enhance Wes’ often solitary restoration skills, whether it was a leaking roof that required scaling the steep slopes, spraying a hornets’ nest in the belfry, replacing missing siding after a windstorm, sweeping up the glass from a window broken by vandals or a broken tree branch, or mopping up after the annual basement flooding when the rains fell too long and hard.   He became our unofficial ambassador to the often wary county Planning Department, diplomatically negotiating permits for various repair projects and a fellowship hall expansion.   At the annual congregational meeting, when it came his turn to report on the volunteer Buildings and Grounds Committee activities for the year, he would take off his ball cap, lean over the podium, look out at the rest of us non-carpenters, and say, “this building is really old!” and wearily shake his head.  But rather than suggest a tear-down and start-over, he would outline a list of projects he had tackled in the previous year and what he figured would need doing the coming year and how much the materials would likely cost.   He made it “our” communal duty to keep our church building glued together for the next generation and the next.  The building needs to outlive us.

Wes, like any excellent craftsman,  made sure it outlived him.

When he was diagnosed with acute leukemia 30 months ago, he had no problem turning his failing bone marrow over to the oncologists to fix and make new.  He understood the process of patching up something that was broken, and that sometimes in the middle of a repair, things can look and feel worse than they were before, but you have to keep your eyes on the goal.  With the support of his loving wife and daughter and an almost-man star athlete son who had grown far taller and stronger than his dad,  and a remarkable extended family, Wes took on the cancer like yet another major remodel.  He and his medical team gutted the leukemia cells with chemotherapy and rebuilt anew with his brother’s stem cells.  It was a difficult repair and his body, like a customer demanding too many change orders,  wasn’t all that keen on accepting the new cells.  Wes and his doctors worked hard trying to address the new demands.  It felt like a job that would never be done — all he wanted was to move on to other projects.

Sometimes even the best remodel has problems; sometimes the fissure in the foundation is just too wide, or the weight-supporting beams have hidden dry rot.  Wes’ bone marrow harbored cancer cells that eventually reemerged and the next chemotherapy step was like falling into an old well hole with no ladder.    He couldn’t climb out, his body too damaged, the burden too heavy, his time running out.   A few days ago he was brought out of that deep pit to be home near his family and friends. Unlike his thriving church building, Wes was not nearly old enough to die last night, but he did.   Sometimes the tear-down is necessary to build something even more beautiful and glorious.  We all await that moment with trembling.

Those hands of his must be needed elsewhere, working on projects that last for eternity.  No more repairs needed.

 

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