JOIN OUR EMAIL LIST Call Us 970-887-3603 email: admin@eternalhills.org
Tabernash, Colorado
SERVICE TIMES:
SUNDAY 8AM & 10AM
OPEN HEARTS, MINDS & ARMS
We welcome you to join us!

Journey From Bethlehem to Jerusalem

Our Lenten theme is “Journey.” This year we will be looking at the whole arc of Jesus’ life and story, from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. So far that arc has taken us from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth and to Jerusalem. Sunday we found ourselves on the banks of the Jordan River; Sunday we’ll be in the wilderness!

There are so many ways to participate in this journey:

Tuesday Noon (lunch provided)
and Tuesday Evening (5:30 — 6:30)
Our Tuesday Lenten study will include deeper readings of the scriptures from the previous Sunday. You will also get to engage in “Prayer Centers” from week to week that will guide you to a deeper prayer experience. If you are unable to attend on Tuesdays, the Prayer Centers will be open when the office is open during the week, and study guides will be available to help you through the centers.

The Banner
Each week we will be coloring in a beautiful banner designed by local artist and CEH Member Laura Veenstra. Each week at the Service Station, the prayer centers, and during our Lenten Study time, we will be coloring in a section of the banner that coordinates with the week’s theme. The banner will hang during our worship services to be a visual reminder of where we are headed in our journey.

The Cross
There is a cross that was fashioned from the CEH Christmas Tree (thank you Stephen Eddy!) that will journey from the foyer to the Chancel throughout Lent. As we progress on our journey through Jesus’ life, we will be bringing the cross closer and closer to the front of our sanctuary as a reminder where we are headed. There will be activities throughout the worship service, focusing on the cross, that give you an opportunity to deepen your commitment to Christ.

GPS
Each week you will receive a “Grow, Pray, Study” Guide to deepen your understanding of the life of Christ. Like a GPS Navigation system, your GPS will guide you through this journey.

Compass Clips
The kaleidoscopes during Advent were so successful, we looked for an appropriate symbol to hold onto for this Lenten Journey. The children will be receiving their own “Compass clip” that they can put on their backpack or carry in their pocket. This compass will be representative of needing God’s guidance and direction in our lives. These are available for adults if you would like a physical reminder to let God be your guide through life.

“Meeting Jesus” Lenten Devotional
The 2017 “Presbyterians Today” Lenten Devotional contains 47 short, 1st Person Readings from people who encountered Jesus. This is an excellent way to challenge yourself to daily contemplation on the Word and on the life of Christ.

Holy Week Services
We will have our regular Monday and Tuesday studies, with an additional service on Maundy Thursday, and an ecumenical service at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Granby for Good Friday.

Easter Vigil
We will cover the darkest hours of our faith with prayer, from Friday night after the Good Friday service through sunrise on Easter morning. You can sign up for a one (or more) hour slot during which you can pray and be in meditation. Pastor Paula will make a Prayer Vigil Guide for your time of prayer. Don’t worry! The guide really helps you through the hour of prayer and meditation.

Resurrection Day (Easter!)
Sunrise Service, followed by a breakfast will begin our day with worship and fellowship. Our Service Station will be really amazing for this holiest of days, so plan to come at 9:10 if you would like to participate in being the hands and feet of Christ to a hurting world as we make “Gift of the Heart Kits” for the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
Our 10 AM service will be an incredible celebration of the empty tomb, beginning in the Fellowship Hall and moving to the sanctuary to roll the stone away!

All of these resources can also be emailed or mailed if you cannot pick one up from the church.

With Encouragement for the Journey,

Rev. Paula

***
Lent Two: Wilderness Times
Temptation of Christ

bill and paula
The Reverends Paula Steinbacher and William Hemm.
Our journey this week sent us out into the Wilderness with Jesus, directly following his baptism:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,

and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him (Matthew 4:1-11, NRSV).

This is an important lesson for the Lenten season. We see here many aspects of Lent: temptation (or learning to overcome it), wilderness (a metaphor for the unknown/for a time of searching/for testing/ a time of danger), and the number 40. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days before he was even approached by “Ha-Satan” or “the Adversary.” Like a champ, Jesus was able to defeat this adversary by remembering the important scripture and truths he had been raised with. The temptations Jesus was given by his adversary are similar to what we face even today: the temptation of materialism and power, and the temptation to be concerned with providing for ourselves.

I think another temptation we face is the temptation that keeps us from being in relationship with others. These are the perceptions we have — the preconceived notions about someone’s appearance or manners that keep us from being open to each other.

My good friend, Rev. Bill Hemm, joined me in the pulpit on Sunday. He and I attended seminary together at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, and he pastors a Disciples of Christ Church in Tulsa. We have also met together, via Skype, every Monday for the past five years to discuss the lectionary texts with two of our other classmates.

Bill shared his powerful story of being in the second tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. With his booming voice, jovial self-deprecation, and endless energy, he recounted how he had looked down on the security guards who had made a small mistake on their signage, causing some confusion and back up in the process of getting security passes on 9/10. He admits to a certain amount of disdain; after all, he was a hot-shot new broker for Morgan Stanley, and he didn’t need to take their guff.

But on 9/11 it was those same security guards who guided him and thousands of others to safety, despite falling debris, explosions, and the potential for mass chaos. Bill remembered how they conducted themselves: calmly and professionally, encouraging the masses to remain calm and to “Run and don’t look back or turn around” once they were outside of the tower.

People have often asked “Where was God on 9/11?” And Bill says he knows the answer. He saw God in action as those same security guards that he had mocked the day before laid down their very lives for him. None of those security guards survived, but all 300 trainees in Bill’s program lived.

Friends, what are the perceptions you have that keep you from being in relationship with others on this journey? As we concluded the sermon, I encouraged everyone to spend some time in contemplation, seeking to name the things that do not belong on this journey; this journey is so difficult and demanding, we cannot afford to not be in relationship with each other and gain strength when we can. I asked the congregation to name something, write it down, and then leave it at the Lenten cross — which is still positioned outside of the sanctuary. Those perceptions (often misperceptions), have no place in God’s house — our sanctuary is to be a place where we are can feel safe to open our hearts to each other.

I was overwhelmed this morning as I stopped to pick up the notes and read them. What I expected to read were judgements we make about other people that keep us from being in relationships. My heart was touched when I unfolded note after note and read, instead, personal critiques. For example, “self-doubt,” “shyness,” “not good enough,” “fear,” “busy-ness,” “anger.”

And I realize as I’m writing this now that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. There are gifts and talents other people identify in us that we fail to see ourselves. We neglect to recognize the “Beloved child of God” that we are.

So I encourage you now, whatever you wrote on your paper, or whatever comes to mind when I ask, “What is keeping you from being in relationship with others?” Leave it behind. You took a big step by naming your own perceptions, now you need to let go and trust. Trust that we are on this journey together for a reason. Your strengths might just be my weakness. My strengths might just fill that hole you feel deep inside. Unless you can let go of those perceptions — whether they are self-limiting or judgmental of others — you will struggle way more than necessary on this journey.

I close with this beautiful prayer by Thomas Merton:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

***
Of Shells, Beaches, and CEH
I walked into a lovely surprise on Sunday morning. Perched on my desk was a gift bag full of sea shells with a touching note. Libby and Jerry Tietsma spent the week at South Padre Island, and picked up the shells to use at our next baptism. See, during every baptism since I’ve arrived at CEH, each child holds a shell in their hand and prays for their new brother or sister in Christ; then they put the shell in a jar and the baptized child is given the whole bunch of them to remember all their new brothers and sisters in Christ and to remember the prayers we are praying for him or her. It made me so happy to picture Jerry and Libby picking up countless shells and thinking of the tiny hands who would one day hold the shell and pray for the one being baptized that day.

What a blessing! Please consider picking up shells and bringing one, two, or (like Jerry and Libby) fifty back to CEH for our ritual. The shells you pick up on vacation will be much more meaningful than a shell I purchased in a plastic bag at Hobby Lobby!

Journey From Bethlehem to Jerusalem

Our Lenten theme is “Journey.” This year we will be looking at the whole arc of Jesus’ life and story, from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. So far that arc has taken us from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth and to Jerusalem. Sunday we found ourselves on the banks of the Jordan River; Sunday we’ll be in the wilderness!

There are so many ways to participate in this journey:

Tuesday Noon (lunch provided)
and Tuesday Evening (5:30 — 6:30)
Our Tuesday Lenten study will include deeper readings of the scriptures from the previous Sunday. You will also get to engage in “Prayer Centers” from week to week that will guide you to a deeper prayer experience. If you are unable to attend on Tuesdays, the Prayer Centers will be open when the office is open during the week, and study guides will be available to help you through the centers.

The Banner
Each week we will be coloring in a beautiful banner designed by local artist and CEH Member Laura Veenstra. Each week at the Service Station, the prayer centers, and during our Lenten Study time, we will be coloring in a section of the banner that coordinates with the week’s theme. The banner will hang during our worship services to be a visual reminder of where we are headed in our journey.

The Cross
There is a cross that was fashioned from the CEH Christmas Tree (thank you Stephen Eddy!) that will journey from the foyer to the Chancel throughout Lent. As we progress on our journey through Jesus’ life, we will be bringing the cross closer and closer to the front of our sanctuary as a reminder where we are headed. There will be activities throughout the worship service, focusing on the cross, that give you an opportunity to deepen your commitment to Christ.

GPS
Each week you will receive a “Grow, Pray, Study” Guide to deepen your understanding of the life of Christ. Like a GPS Navigation system, your GPS will guide you through this journey.

Compass Clips
The kaleidoscopes during Advent were so successful, we looked for an appropriate symbol to hold onto for this Lenten Journey. The children will be receiving their own “Compass clip” that they can put on their backpack or carry in their pocket. This compass will be representative of needing God’s guidance and direction in our lives. These are available for adults if you would like a physical reminder to let God be your guide through life.

“Meeting Jesus” Lenten Devotional
The 2017 “Presbyterians Today” Lenten Devotional contains 47 short, 1st Person Readings from people who encountered Jesus. This is an excellent way to challenge yourself to daily contemplation on the Word and on the life of Christ.

Holy Week Services
We will have our regular Monday and Tuesday studies, with an additional service on Maundy Thursday, and an ecumenical service at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Granby for Good Friday.

Easter Vigil
We will cover the darkest hours of our faith with prayer, from Friday night after the Good Friday service through sunrise on Easter morning. You can sign up for a one (or more) hour slot during which you can pray and be in meditation. Pastor Paula will make a Prayer Vigil Guide for your time of prayer. Don’t worry! The guide really helps you through the hour of prayer and meditation.

Resurrection Day (Easter!)
Sunrise Service, followed by a breakfast will begin our day with worship and fellowship. Our Service Station will be really amazing for this holiest of days, so plan to come at 9:10 if you would like to participate in being the hands and feet of Christ to a hurting world as we make “Gift of the Heart Kits” for the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
Our 10 AM service will be an incredible celebration of the empty tomb, beginning in the Fellowship Hall and moving to the sanctuary to roll the stone away!

All of these resources can also be emailed or mailed if you cannot pick one up from the church.

With Encouragement for the Journey,

Rev. Paula

***
Lent One: Starting Out
Baptism of Christ

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

In order to get anywhere, you have to take that first step. The baptism of Christ as found in Matthew 3 is an astonishing first step in many ways. We begin with John the Baptist, crying out as a voice in the wilderness. “Repent and be baptized!” he demands. And people come from all over Judea for the ritual cleansing that would assure them forgiveness and a clean slate.

John cries out, using apocalyptic language, warning all who do not change their ways that they will burn like chaff in the unquenchable fire. His words resonate with all those gathered. They have been expecting this for a long time.

But when Jesus comes, John is surprised. “You want ME to baptize YOU?” In our “Meeting Jesus” devotional, the reading from March 6 has John saying, “So, righteousness will be fulfilled through humility. Things are about to change” (Craiglow, Jodi. “Meeting Jesus” Presbyterians Today 2017 Lenten Devotional, p 4).

It’s a change, alright! Indeed, the word used here in Greek that is translated as “Repent!” has a much deeper meaning. μετάνοια — or metanoia. It means a complete change of mind. This is quite different than a traditional understanding of the Hebrew word for repent (שׁוּבor “shoob”: return), which merely indicates a change in direction — basically heading back to the same path.

Repent here indicates something more radical — a complete change of perspective. No longer are we to imagine a mighty conqueror riding in on a war horse to tear down the oppressors and throw the unrepentant into the “unquenchable fire.” Even John himself is shocked that this Messiah is the Jesus who comes in humility and is anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove, with the public proclamation to everyone present: “This is my son, the beloved; with whom I am well pleased.”

As we begin our Lenten Journey we need to have a metanoia as well. We need a change in our mind and in our perspective of what it means to embark together on a journey that is bound for Golgotha. This will not be an easy journey, but we need to stand together and say, “We will go.”

On Sunday, five people from vastly varied walks of life gathered at the baptismal font to be received into our membership through the beautiful rite from our Book of Common Worship: “Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Vows.” Heinz Engel, Cathy Lile, Dottie Spencer, Pamela Flor-Stout and Dan Stout all stood together, confessing their faith, and pledging to engage in deeper discipleship as a part of this amazing church family at CEH. Together we spoke the words of the ancient baptismal creed (The Apostle’s Creed), and later shared our CEH Motto.

What an incredible way for us to embark together on this Lenten Journey! I had a very holy moment as I paused to pray over each new member, anointing their head with healing oil and claiming them as beloved children of God. I was humbled to anoint the heads of our new members, and thankful for their commitment to this particular Body of Christ at CEH. We followed this immediately by breaking the bread and sharing the cup together — food for this journey.

Glen and I sang a song at our Ash Wednesday Service that is so beautiful we wanted to share it during communion. You can listen to a recording of the song “Beautiful Things” by Gungor by clicking here. I was humbled to serve our elders Communion while still singing, “You make me new — you are making me new.”

The truth is that God indeed feeds us for the journey and together we become something new: a community of pilgrims traveling a path that leads to certain death; ever mindful of the promise of the empty tomb.

May this Lenten Journey bring you closer to a God who loves you and calls you “My Beloved” and “My Redeemed.”

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

***
Prayer Stations
prayer station week 1
Each week during Lent, I will set up a different prayer station for you to experience. You may give it a try beginning on Tuesday during regular office hours if you’d like to experience it on your own.

For a group experience, you can explore the centers on Tuesdays at Noon and at the evening Lenten Study at 5:30.

This week’s Prayer Station is on “Confession.” You’ll meditate on Psalm 32 and then take some time to write out a confession (on black paper with black marker for confidentiality) and then put it in God’s Hands! In this case, “God’s Hands” is a jar with a picture of hands on it. Wad up your confession and throw it in there, then be relieved of the guilt you’ve been carrying with you.

Journey From Bethlehem to Jerusalem

Over the past several weeks we have been hearing the stories of Jesus’ childhood from our Canon. Stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood are found only in Luke and Matthew.

I chose this path for us to learn together as we embark on our Lenten journey, because we squeeze the stories from the Gospels to fit into our Liturgical year. So we celebrate Advent, then Christmas and then right into Epiphany and then Baptism of our Lord, eventually Transfiguration and then, because of the way we need to fit Easter in around the time of the Passover, we go immediately to our Lenten readings starting on Ash Wednesday.

This year we will be looking at the whole arc of Jesus’ life and story, from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. So far that arc has taken us from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth and to Jerusalem. Where will our journey take us next? Come Sunday and find out!

With Joy,

Rev. Paula

PS: Last week I didn’t send out my Midweek Missive, so this is a two-for-one bonus edition. The first article below is from Feb 19’s service on Refuge and the Flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23); the second article is from Feb 26’s service on the 12 Year Old Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52).

***
Jesus, Mary, Joseph: Refugees
“Refugee”
noun
a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc. (Dictionary.com).

The plight of refugees has been in the news lately. The heart-breaking stories of families trying to flee war-torn Syria has captured our attention. In typical American fashion, their plight hasn’t affected our lives much, but we hear a lot about it.

If our hearts were aligned with God’s heart, I am convinced that we wouldn’t be able to think of anything else. Throughout our story of being God’s people, we read that God has a tender heart for the “Sojourner” or the “Stranger” or the “Refugee.” Take a moment to peruse this partial list of times when God teaches us about the alien, the stranger, the wanderer; about offering Radical Hospitality to those who are from different places:

Genesis 12:1 Abraham becomes a sojourner.
Genesis 37:27-36 Joseph is solid into Egypt but learns to adjust to the new culture.
Exodus 23:9 “You shall not oppress a stranger, you know the heart of a stranger, for you were stranger in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:15-18 “You shall do no injustice in judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”
Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love himself as yourself…”
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “[God] executes justice for the fatherless, the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore; for you were sojourner in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 26:12 The Israelites tithe to help the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow.
Joshua 20 The Israelites establish cities of refugee for those who need asylum.
Ruth: Ruth leaves Moab to join Naomi in Bethlehem and learns of another culture.
I Samuel 23-24 David hides in the wilderness (23:15) “because Saul has come out to seek his life.” (Similarly, many refugees today flee from life-threatening situations.)
II Samuel 22:2-3 “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.
Job 31:32 “The sojourner has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the wayfarer.”
Psalms 2:12 “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”
Psalms 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Psalms 57:1 “Be merciful to me, O God, for in thee my soul takes refuge.”
Psalms 61:1-3 “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to thee, when my heart is faint. Lead thou me to the rock that is higher than I; for thou art my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”
Psalms 146:9 “The Lord watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”
Proverbs 24: 11-12 “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this, does He who weighs the heart perceive it?”
Proverbs 31:8-9 “Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all who are left desolate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, maintain the rights of the poor and needy.”
Isaiah 1: 10 “…you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the rock of your refuge.
Isaiah 58: 6-9 “Is not this the fast I choose; to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?…to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?… Then shall your light break forth like the dawn…”
Isaiah 61: 1-3 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
Zechariah 7: 9-10 “thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgements, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor…”
Matthew 2: 14 Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt.
Matthew 14: 13-21 Jesus takes loaves and two fish–and feeds more than five thousand people. (The pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Mobile, Alabama, said, “Whenever we felt overwhelmed by the urgent needs of the refugees under our care, we have reminded each other of our Lord’s promise: ‘Give them what little you have and it will be enough!)”
Matthew 25: 31-46 “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Luke 10: 25-37 The parable of the Good Samaritan. Here our Lord even chooses a stranger, a Samaritan, as our role model for actions of love.
Luke 14: 13-14 “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”
Acts 8:26-40 Philip shows concern for the spiritual needs of a foreigner.
I John 3: 16-18 “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.”

So it isn’t surprising to me that the story of our very own savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, contains a reference to a perilous flight to Egypt by Mary and Joseph in their attempt to find refuge and safety for their beloved Jesus. The story in Matthew 2 offers this interpretation, “This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’” Of course we know the author of Matthew reminded his reader repeatedly about the fulfillment of scripture found in the entire story of Jesus.

On this particular Sunday, we were privileged to also be celebrating the baptism of one of the CEH family. Eight-month old Elden Martin was a welcome addition to our growing number of baptized members, and his parents Kelly and Earl, and big sister Raelee, grandparents,and even more aunts, uncles, cousins — all of them joined together in professing their faith in Jesus Christ, and made an agreement to help Elden grow in his faith. The entire congregation made that same pledge — to walk with Kelly and Earl and encourage Elden in his own faith journey.

I celebrate this baptism as I do every baptism — with an immense sense of gratitude and joy. Somehow, with the Grace of God, parents have found CEH to be a place of refuge, a place where they can bring their child for safety from this crazy world we live in. Let’s continue to work together to make CEH a place of refuge for all families, all of God’s Children, and especially to those lost souls who are looking for a bit of safety.

With the Hope of Christ Eternal,

Rev. Paula

***
Sassy Jesus; Worried Mother
The story of Jesus in the temple from Luke chapter 2 is wonderful. In this story we see every bit of Jesus’ humanity shining through his divinity. Sometimes we focus so much on the divinity of Christ, that we forget he had a very human side. A human side that sometimes was a little sassy (like any 12 year old boy!).

Here’s the story, right from Luke 2:41-52:
Now every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’

But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour
(NRSV).

We see here the very human reaction of his mother as well. Can you just imagine how angry Mary and Joseph must have been? That anger/relief feeling that only the most terrifying of situations can arouse within the heart of a parent. My friend Rev. Heather Scherer, of Living Water United Methodist Church in Glenpool, OK says it’s that mother’s expression she’s uttered many times before, “You’re okay! OH! I’m so mad at you I could kill you!”

And then we hear Jesus’ response — the one I call kind of sassy. Here’s my version: “Mooooooooom! Daaaaaad! Why are you so freaked out? Seriously! Didn’t you know I’d be here in my Father’s house? Jeez.”

Sassy. Human. Jesus. Sometimes we focus so much on the Divinity of Christ that we forget he had his human frustrations too. But here is our God-made-flesh, just 12 years old, teaching the teachers themselves through his questions — so it is easy for us to recognize his Divinity. Did his parents not notice it?

That might be a fault of human parents. They fail sometimes to see the great gifts in their children, which is one of the things that makes being a part of a church family so important. At CEH our children are surrounded by loving adults, who (because they are not the child’s parent), can see the wonderful gifts in our children and youth. They recognize those gifts and point them out to the child and to the parents. That is a wonderful and holy thing. I get to see it every week at Service Station, and it makes my heart so happy.

With that in mind, I’ll share one last funny for you to end this missive. It happened at this week’s youTHursday during dinner. One of the sixth graders at youth group exclaimed, “Pastor Paula, you have lots of white hairs popping out of your head.”

Quickly, a seventh grade boy came to my rescue. “Didn’t you know?” he asked. “Pastor Paula is so holy her body can’t contain it. That’s her holiness popping out!”

With Joy,

Rev. Paula

Half-Truths Sermon Series

We have just finished the sermon series based on Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:

▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin

If you missed any, order the book here.

Rev. Paula Steinbacher

PS: What’s next? We are going to study all the references to Jesus as a child in the Gospels: all the stories of him and his family before we begin our “Journey to Jerusalem” for Lent. Join us each week to learn a little about Jesus’ life prior to his baptism!

***
Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin
“Love the sinner, hate the sin?” What on earth is wrong with that? Sounds like a good way to avoid being “Judgy.” (Is that a word? “Judgy?”)

We all do it, right? Judge others just a little bit for any number of reasons. This common adage, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” seems to remind us that we are called to love the person no matter what their actions are.

But stop — let’s begin with the very basic premise that this saying is just NOT scriptural. We are not called to love the sinner. Actually, Jesus called us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (this should ring very familiar because we find this verbatim in many Hebrew laws, Mark 12, Luke 10, and Matthew 22).

When we say, “Love the sinner” we are categorizing people by judging their lives and actions. Jesus had a lot to say about judging. Take a look at this clear example from Matthew 7:1-5:
‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.’

There’s no way to misinterpret this passage of scripture! Indeed, if any of us were placed under the microscope that we place others, we would certainly be vulnerable to many kinds of judgements and conclusions about our righteousness or sinfulness. Scripture does have something to say about this as well. In Romans 3:23 we read, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

What is sin? Maybe understanding that would help us along towards the understanding that we all “Fall short of the glory of God.” The Greek word used in the gospels and epistles that is translated as sin is “Hamartia.” (Click hereto read an interesting article on the use of hamartia in Greek Tragedy if you’d like to learn more). Basically, the word indicates “Missing the mark.” The Hebrew word, “Chata” indicates the same kind of idea: straying from a path or missing a mark. I think we can all agree that if the mark is the “Glory of God” then we have, indeed, missed the mark on that.

Why are we so quick to point out that other people are sinners? Evidently, Jesus knew this was our human proclivity, because he warned his disciples against just that thing (read through Matthew 7 again if you’ve already forgotten his warning).

I realize that people use this to remind themselves that we are called to love people no matter what their choices without condoning their self-destructive behaviors or addictions or lifestyle choices. Adam Hamilton suggests a much better way to reframe that without implying someone else’s faults. He says we should live by this adage, “Love my neighbor; even though I’m a sinner.”

In that way, we are honoring the intent of Jesus without pointing fingers at anyone other than ourselves.

May you find it a little easier this week to love — not just those who make it easy for us to love, but also those who we find difficult to love.

With Prayers for your Hearts to be Full,

Rev. Paula

***
More CEH Encouragement

During our 2016 Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

I have been a member for many years – choir member, Sunday School teacher, Deacon and Elder. I’m now unable to take part but for my pledge – I appreciate those with the talents to keep us with Christ.

CEH provides a weekly uplifting experience that provides the fuel and desire to get through another week trying to be a “person of God”.

Need for the uplifting music and enjoyment with friends. Need for relating Christ to my everyday activities.

I give of my time since it is what the Spirit nudges me to do! When I’m away, I have a hole until I return. We attend churches in other places, but CEH is home and where I’m led to help out.

Commitment: The belief that when I promise something, I want to do it and I promise to do and I WILL do it. (Even if I don’t really want to.)

I have always found that multiple acts of volunteering or assisting in communal efforts yields the occasional unpredicted reward of a gift or gesture that makes all worth it. This congregation allows these opportunities to contribute and the rewards are outstanding.

Half-Truths Sermon Series

Our current sermon series is based on the assertions made in Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:

▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin

We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth – yet they also miss the point in very important ways.

We’ll be taking one saying per week through the month of January and into February and learning about why they are only half-true.

Join us each week! If you have to miss, be sure to read the Midweek Missive during the following week. Order the book here.

Rev. Paula Steinbacher

***
God said it, I believe it, that settles it!
On Sunday I shared the pulpit with veteran preacher, the Rev. Dr. Bob Bielenberg. Bob spent over 50 years in the Presbyterian Church, serving through the tumultuous times of Civil Rights and facing extreme divisions over such issues as Women’s Ordination. Bob and his wife Donna retired to Grand County, and were active members of CEH for nearly 20 years. Bob helped to establish our adult discussion class, “The Forum,” which still meets on Sunday mornings at 8:15.

When Bob expressed interest in this sermon series, I asked him to help me with this specific topic, because the interpretation of scripture is a point of division for many denominations, families, and neighbors. I wanted to lean on his experience and wisdom as we approached a delicate topic. We decided on a question/answer format for the shared sermon, and below is our script:

Paula: What’s your reaction to “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”?

Bob: I guess I would respond by saying, “What do you mean ‘God said it’?” I agree that they are referring to the Bible, which we call “God’s Word.” It’s our sacred book. But it has been abused more often than a sacred book should be abused. And I think that is because we don’t really understand what kind of a sacred book the Bible is.

Paula: Can you explain that?

Bob: The Muslims have a sacred book. Mohamed produced it. Said the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him what to write. It had one author. It was written in Arabic. It is sacred only in its Arabic form. And because it was dictated by an angel, for the Muslims it is literally “God’s Word.”
The Mormons have a similar book. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, was told by an Angel named Moroni where a book was buried in upstate New York. Its authors were ancient prophets who supposedly lived on the continent of America many thousand years ago. Because an angel told of its existence, it is deemed to be authentic—“God’s word.”
I don’t know if I am describing the Muslim or the Mormon sacred books correctly, but I am trying to point out the difference between other sacred books and the Bible.

Paula: It’s almost as if we have adopted this Muslim and Mormon understanding of how the sacred texts came into being as our own. This was never the claim of our Hebrew texts (think of the Rabbis sitting around the synagogues and debating the law for hours each day), and prior to about the 19th C was not the claim of our Christian writings. Would you explain how we understand how our own sacred texts came into being?

Bob: The Bible is the story of a people, God’s people. It is a collection of books, 66 of them written over a period of two thousand years by many different authors under many different circumstances. It contains many different styles of writing—history, poetry, family remembrances, short stories, and a lot more. We believe the Bible was inspired by God, but we don’t claim it was written by God.

Abraham lived in about 2,000 B.C. Of course no one was writing back then. The stories about Abraham and others were stories told around camp fires for over a thousand years before they were written down. And then there was the Exodus. Stories about the escape of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, and the forty years they spent in the wilderness, how a people who were no people learned how to be a people and how to survive in the wilderness, and how to worship the God who led them through that experience.

I could go on, but I wanted to show that our sacred book is different from other sacred books.

It wasn’t until about 200 years after the birth of Christ that the books of the Old Testament were selected and became the Old Testament. And even then there was disagreement as to which books should be included and which should not.

The story of the New Testament is similar. Many books, gospels, letters, etc. were written after the time of Jesus. Most of them were not written as sacred scripture. But people found them helpful in understanding their faith, but it wasn’t until the fourth century after Jesus’ birth that it was determined which gospels, letters and other books should be selected for the sacred text we call the New Testament.

I’m not trying to suggest that the books of the Old Testament or the New Testament are not sacred scripture or that those who selected the books that are a part of our Bible were not guided by God as they did so. I’m just trying to point out that our Bible has a large variety of literature from a long period of history, that it was written by human beings, reflecting the times and beliefs of the times in which they lived. It is still God’s Word, but we have to recognize how that word has come down to us and the nature of that writing.
I think the understanding of the nature of our Bible is very well expressed in the Confession of 1967 which is a part of the Book of Confessions of our Presbyterian Church.

The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that he will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and in every form of human culture.

God’s word is spoken to his church today where the Scriptures are faithfully preached and attentively read in dependence on the illumination of the Holy Spirit and with readiness to receive their truth and direction.

Now, I have said that the Bible has been abused. It has been abused by not taking into account exactly what kind of sacred book it is.

Paula: Many people use 2 Timothy 3:16 as “proof” that “God said it.” There’s so many things about this passage we could say, but the first is that it says that all scripture is “God-breathed.” It’s a beautiful thing to imagine God breathing scripture into us – almost like that breath of God at creation. It’s a beautiful metaphor. But we can’t forget that when this letter was written, the only scriptures that existed at the time were the scrolls read in the synagogues and temples – basically the Law and the Prophets. We know that there are all sorts of “problems” within our Old Testament texts. Can you give some examples?

Bob: Adam Hamilton, who has suggested these series of sermons in his book “Half Truths,” has an example I wasn’t aware of until he pointed it out to us. It’s rather silly, but it is a good example of how the Bible has often been abused. It’s in the Book of Deuteronomy which tells the story of the people of Israel during their years in the wilderness. Duet 23:12 says, “You shall have a place outside the camp and you shall go out to it; and you shall have a stick with your weapons; and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it, and turn back and cover your excrement . . . God walks in the midst of your camp . . . therefore your camp must be holy . . . he must not see anything indecent among you, and turn away from you.”

That makes perfect sense in the context in which it was written. But in the 1880’s when indoor plumbing was coming, some people suggested that indoor plumping was contrary to the will of God. There was series debate in at least some of the churches because God had said it, they believed it, and for them that settled it.

A rather more serious debate took place in the 1830’s and 1840’s about slavery. Preachers in the South presented to their congregations 200 verses of the Bible that affirmed slavery. Even after the Hebrews were rescued from their slavery in Egypt, they took their slaves with them, and there were rules regulating slavery.

In Exodus 21:17 we read “Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death.” Exodus 35:2 says: “On the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest . . . whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.” God said it. Actually Moses said it, but he was laying down the law for God. There are other laws about eating bacon, wearing clothes of mixed fabrics, not trimming one’s beard, not wearing jewelry.

If all this sounds like something from long ago, let me bring you up to date, There are some who don’t believe in climate change because God promised Noah after the flood that he would never again send a flood to destroy the earth (Genesis 9:11). They interpret that to apply to climate change. So they feel there is no need to do anything about it. God said it. They believe it. That settles it.

In the gospels we read of Jesus’ enemies coming to him with a woman caught in adultery. They said, our laws say (which was another was of saying “God said”) that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death. What do you say? Jesus said, “Let him who is among you without sin throw the first stone.” And the crowd melted away. And Jesus said to the woman, “Go and do not sin again.”

Jesus had disagreements with other laws from the Old Testament. He had a whole lot of things to say which he prefaced with the words, “It was told to you in the old days, but I say to you . . . .”

Paula: I guess what makes that difficult is that Jesus also said, “I came not to abolish the law, but to complete it.” Are we not to believe anything that’s in the Old Testament?

Bob: No, there’s lots of wonderful things in the Old Testament, but we need to remember lots of things in the Old Testament reflect the times in which they were written. The New Testament too.

Paula: How do we tell the difference between them?

Bob: I was once told that it is best to compare a single verse of scripture to the whole rest of the Bible. When the Bible says that it is God’s will, as it does, that when the city of Jericho is captured that everyone was to be killed including women and children, compare that to all the places in the Bible that respects women and children and ask yourself, “Would God really say that?”
When Jesus was asked “What commandment is the greatest of all?”, he answered “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And another commandment was second to this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I think there is one more example of misreading the Bible, or taking a verse reflecting human opinion rather than God’s opinion. I think you’ll love this one.
It has to do with the role of women in the church. In 1st Corinthians 14:34, we read “Women should keep silence in the churches. They are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, even as the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

When I began my ministry—years and years ago– women were not permitted to be ministers in the Presbyterian Church. Today we take it for granted.
But there was quite a debate about it at the time. When it was decided that they could serve as ministers, a number of people left the Presbyterian Church and formed another denomination called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. After all, God said it, it is in the Bible, so they believe it, and that settles it.

Fortunately our church finally came to the conclusion that this opinion reflected the time in which it was written and is not the opinion of God.

Paula: So is the Bible the Word of God or isn’t it?

Bob: How would you like to try to answer that?

Paula: I find much truth in the opening chapter of the Gospel of John. It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It continues by reminding us that the Word made flesh is Jesus Christ. Think about it. The Word of God –everything we know about God through the voice of God calling order out of chaos at the very creation of time; everything we know about God through the law and the prophets– all of that is summed up in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ! The Word made Flesh!

So it seems to me that if we were to remember to read everything in the light of Jesus, we would do much better at approaching the truth.

Bob: This all raises the question, “How can we tell the difference between what is God’s direction for us and what is just human opinion?” I like what Adam Hamilton suggested. He used the example of a colander. A colander is a kitchen utensil with holes in it used for draining food. We believe Jesus came to show us what God was really like. Hamilton said Jesus could be used to help us understand what is truly from God and what is not, so we can retain the good and let the other drain away, like with a colander.

Paula: A “Jesus Colander.” That reminds me of the importance of Bible study. And I remember that Jesus himself told his disciples that, after he had gone, he would send us the Holy Spirit to help us continue to understand and grow. As Presbyterians we especially believe in group Bible study, openly discussing the text, asking questions, and listening for the Holy Spirit to help guide us.

Bob: Yes. And I would say that Bible study in a group is the best way to study the Bible. We share our ideas with others and they react to what we say and share ideas of their own. We don’t get that feedback and sharing of ideas when we just read it on our own. That’s what I liked about the Forum when I was here. We could express our own ideas but we also could learn from others. Women’s Circles also provide this kind of group study. I think you provide it too in your Monday and Tuesday noon groups. I could wish every member of the church were in some kind of group to wrestle with the Bible and learn from each other what God is saying to us through our Holy Book, the Bible.

Paula: Bob, thank you so much for your interest and your help in this topic. Your wisdom has been such a great asset to us today.

Bob: I’m thankful to have been here and it has been so good to see old friends and remember how much we love Eternal Hills.

Paula: Let’s pray: Our God and Author of Life. We thank you for your word, and for your Word made Flesh Jesus Christ. Help us to learn from the scriptures by using Jesus’ life and teachings as our guiding light, and always help us be aware of your Holy Spirit guiding us to hear and understand the Living Word. In Your Name, Amen.

***
CEH Encouragement

During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

Joy of Fellowship with members. Enjoy helping with CEH, community, and charitable events as well as helping each other with love and hugs. willing to cook/bake food when needed.

To Really Hear.

God put us on this earth to help one another. I have always believed this. He guided me to CEH and uses my talents to help other through the preschool, PEER or just being with a group of loving Christ-centered people who have been with me through cancer, death of loved ones, and many of life’s challenges.

I give in service since money is short right now.

To support the members of my church and make the tasks lighter and more enjoyable…To hold up members in time of need and celebration.

To serve God through service to others.

I give by showing God’s love through participation in local mission, children’s’ ministry and coffee fellowship at CEH.

Bruce gives freely because Christ meets our needs accordingly. Glory in Christ Jesus.

Half-Truths Sermon Series

Our current sermon series is based on the assertions made in Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:

▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin

We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth – yet they also miss the point in very important ways.

We’ll be taking one saying per week through the month of January and into February and learning about why they are only half-true.

Join us each week! If you have to miss, be sure to read the Midweek Missive during the following week. Order the book here.

Rev. Paula Steinbacher

***
God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
There’s a reason that Rev. Adam Hamilton uses this particular “Half Truth” as the sub-title of his book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” In a recent study from theBarna Group, they found that more than eight out of ten Americans think that this phrase is scriptural!

It is a very common misconception that it is found within our sacred texts, but the very first written record of this saying is from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, published in 1732!

And perhaps there is not a more “American” saying than this Puritan ideal that seems to encourage hard work and diligence, with a promise of God’s Providence.

As our friend and retired pastor, Rev. Bob Bielenberg said, “It’s good advice; it’s just not scriptural.”

And it is good advice. God surely helps those who help themselves, especially when they call out to God for help.

But the half-truth portion comes in when we begin to place conditions on God’s help. Does God ONLY help those who help themselves? No, indeed it is more scriptural to affirm that God helps those who cannot help themselves. Listen to these readings from the Psalms:

Psalm 10:14, 17-18
“The helpless commit themselves to you;
you have been the helper of the orphan…
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart,
you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed.”

From Psalm 18:6,16
“In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From God’s temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears…
He reached down from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of mighty waters.”

From Psalm 121:1-2
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

These are just a few of the readings from Psalms where we are assured that God will help the helpless. And throughout the Hebrew scriptures we hear a God that not only wants us to help the helpless, but demands we help. Look at just this one law from Leviticus 23:22:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.”

I cannot express to you how often the theme of the “Poor and oppressed” shows up throughout our Hebrew Scriptures. Most often we hear this in the theme, “Orphan, widow, and alien,” because those were the oppressed of the oppressed; people so disenfranchised and so separated from society that they could not possibly “help themselves.” God demands, through the law and through the voice of the prophet, that we pay special attention to them.

So this half-truth is actually less than half-truth. As Adam Hamilton says, it is more like a 1/3 truth. It’s true in the sense that God will help us when we have the ability to help ourselves; but it is not true because God helps us when we can’t help ourselves; and it is not true in the because God demands us to help those who can’t help themselves.

So, good advice, but only partially true. It would be so much better to shorten this phrase down to “God Helps.” That’s a whole truth, and it is one we are assured of throughout scripture.

God helps. No strings attached; no conditions implied. God. Helps.

Of course we certainly can’t cry out for help and then just wait for some supernatural hand to come sweeping out of the sky to save us though — we have to keep our eyes open for the ways God is helping us.

I recount the old joke about the man who is in a flood where the waters have risen to the point where he has had to climb out onto his roof. He cries out to God, “Rescue me, God!”

Soon a boat floats by, but the man declines to get in the boat. “God will save me,” he says to the rescuer. The water continues to rise and eventually a helicopter flies overhead. The team of rescuers in the helicopter lower down a ladder and ask him to climb on. “No — that’s okay! God will save me.”

Well of course the man drowns. When he finds himself at the pearly gates, he asks God, “God! I was so faithful. I prayed and trusted that you were going to save me. Why didn’t you answer my prayer?”

God answers him, “I sent a boat and a helicopter! What more did you want?”

Yes — God helps those who help themselves. And sometimes that help comes in the form of another person reaching out to give us precisely what we need!

And it’s really important that you recognize the times in which God is helping through you. There are times when your smile, encouragement, kind word or loving act is indeed the way God is helping the helpless. If you’re focused on whether or not the person you are helping “deserves” help or meets the condition of “being able to help himself,” you may actually be keeping God from caring for the person in need because of your own judgemental inaction.

May you be attuned to the ways God is using you to meet the needs of the helpless, and may you also always remember to cry out to God in your distress — trusting that God helps.

With Assurance and Hope,

Rev. P

***
CEH Encouragement

During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

I give because I get so much from this church and the people in it.

I give to try to give thanks for all of the blessings in my life.

I give to Jesus because it makes me feel good about how I’m living my life.

Help to make a difference in our community.

The last couple of years have been a bit trying for us. We feel blessed to be a part of CEH and appreciate the prayers that have helped us through a difficult time. We have not been able to do our fair share but hope that will change in the future. (Margaret Engel)

I don’t know but I will continue to try.

It makes me feel good inside – and I feel good about helping others.

I give my time, talent, and treasure to Jesus Christ because I am thankful for the life He’s blessed me with. I want to live to the fullest to praise Him and glorify Him.

Because I have compassion and feel for those who are in need. Because I know what it is like to be without and I have been in need and therefore I have been given things that help me go thru life.

Half-Truths Sermon Series

Our current sermon series is based on the assertions made in Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:

▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin

We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth – yet they also miss the point in very important ways.

We’ll be taking one saying per week through the month of January and into February and learning about why they are only half-true.

Join us each week! If you have to miss, be sure to read the Midweek Missive during the following week. Order the book here.

Rev. Paula

“Everything Happens for a Reason”
I entered the waiting room and looked around for the woman I had come to see, whose daughter had just died in an accident. I was introduced as the Chaplain for the hospital and I sat down next to her.

She let out a long, weak wail that ended with, “Why?” Her wail voiced an immeasurable amount of pain, and the “Why” spoke volumes: anger, shock, disbelief. She wanted to make sense of the sudden death of her daughter, and wanted to know what to tell her granddaughters, who did not yet know that their mother had died.

Because of my training, I just sat in silence with her and held her sobbing body. I listened to her crying, which grew louder and louder, and heard her questions, silently praying for her as I listened.

What I didn’t say, and what I would never say, is “Everything happens for a reason.”

I didn’t say it because it would not have been helpful at the time, and because it is not a biblical statement.

The common saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” is what the Reverend Adam Hamilton calls a “Half-Truth.” It’s something Christians say often, particularly in times of crisis and tragedy. We say it because we are trying to assign meaning or reason to something awful that has happened.

And there is truth to this saying, because there is a natural cause and effect to everything. If you put your hand on a hot burner you’ll get burned. If you do not dress appropriately when the weather is below freezing, you’ll get frost bite. Cause and effect. It’s natural and inevitable.

But when Christians say “Everything happens for a reason” they are typically implying something more like “This is all in God’s plan for you,” or “God has willed this to happen.”

And that sounds okay if you don’t really think about it. But if someone commits an awful crime, you would never allow them to get away with it by saying, “It was all in God’s plan.” For if we say that God wills every one of our choices and actions, where is the personal culpability for sin?

And when tragedy strikes — say the Sandyhook shooting, 9/11, a horrific car accident with multiple deaths, or even a massive hurricane or tornado — I can’t imagine God willed those things to happen. How do we explain that some people’s lives are utterly destroyed and some are left completely unscathed?

Why do I think we have the will to make our own mistakes? I hear it repeatedly in scripture. At the very beginning of our story, God said “Don’t eat of the fruit of that tree.” Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit anyway. Did God cause them to make that choice? No! And God still gives humanity the choice between right and wrong.

Our reading for Sunday from Deuteronomy 30 said, “Then Moses said to the Israelites, ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.'” (18-19a)

God generously grants us each the choice between life and death, blessings and curses. This is scriptural. God is not a puppet master, pulling our strings and causing our every choice and action.

Be assured that this does not limit or confine the power and breadth of God. Because YES! God has a plan for us. In Jeremiah 29:11 we hear God, through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah, tell the nation Israel, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” If you interpret this on a personal level, you hear that God has plans, and they are for your welfare and not for your harm. God plans good things for us; not harm. God wants us to have a future with hope.

And in the midst of tragedy, when sin seems to have won the day, or when a natural disaster or illness has taken away all whispers of hope, we have to trust that God is with us in our suffering. We have to trust that God can take every awful thing that happens and transform it into something with meaning and relevance and hope.

God with us. Emmanuel.

We see this illustrated the best in our story of the crucifixion. How could it be that something as awful as a public and humiliating death on the cross could be transformed into something as glorious as the empty tomb? Yet every Sunday we proclaim and celebrate the Resurrection — the new day!

I want you to think this through now — before tragedy strikes or before you find yourself about to tell someone “Everything happens for a reason.” Think it through, wrestle with these complex questions, and I pray you will come out knowing that whatever happens, God will be with you.

Back to that moment in the trauma center, with the mother who was weeping and questioning. She eventually voiced the question that causes my heart to ache: “Why did God take her away from me?”

I’ve heard this repeatedly in my work as a chaplain, and even in the pastorate. And every time I’ve heard it, I have actually felt physical pain that they would feel God has taken someone away from them.

My answer to that, in prayer, is something like this, “We thank you, O God our Creator, that you have not taken our beloved away from us; rather, you have already received her into your loving and eternal arms. And although we may never understand ‘why,’ we can be assured that you are walking with us in our pain and grief. Amen.”

May your questioning and searching minds come to know and trust the peace of a God who gives us choices to make mistakes that were never a part of God’s plan; who gives us guidance to make good choices when we seek that guidance; and who promises to be with us, Emmanuel, in everything that happens.

With Assurance and Hope,

Rev. P

***
CEH Encouragement

During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

I am thankful for all God has provided to me. Giving to CEH allows me to give back to God. I feel cared about and loved here. I want to share that with others by giving back (and forward!)

To give back to the Community of Christ

All Glory and Honor be to God, our Saviour.

I give to my family to assure their well-being as my parents gave to me. I would like to give more to the church but am not sure what to do.

I have been craving a welcoming community and a loving church family. Yesterday (Saturday) the Holy Spirit prompted me over and over to come here today (Sunday). I listened. Glory to God. Can’t wait to voyage onward with you all.

We want to give back because of our blessings in life. I will do some serving and cooking and help in the kitchen and I will continue to meet with jail inmates in Grand County and other venues.

I’m a behind the scenes person, helping serve meals at memorials, etc. I always feel very satisfied after an event.

I like to care for people and make them feel loved and valued. I can do this through CEH and I do it. I am recharged by Pastor Paula’s sermon and her example in living a positive life. I don’t think I can live without Paula’s leadership. I wish I had more talents to contribute.

#sacred

Our Advent sermon series this year is called, “Sacred,” and I am hoping to challenge you to see our preparations for Christmas through the Advent season through the kaleidoscope of the sacred.

When you see or hear light in the darkness, hope in the despair, I invite you to post it to social media with the hash tags: #sacred #adventlight

Rev. Paula

Christmas Eve: The “God Clause!”
Christmas Eve is nearly upon us! How can it be?

This is an incredible opportunity for the congregation at the Presbyterian Church of the Eternal Hills, because we will host over 400 people during that one sacred and beautiful evening.

We will be telling the story of Jesus’ birth through scripture and your favorite carols. The pastor’s message will be one of hope for this world — that although Santa keeps a list of naughty and nice, and Santa’s gifts reflect your behavior, the gift of Jesus surpasses all of those things. Whether we are naughty or nice, we still receive the amazing gifts of grace and mercy as shown to us through Emmanuel — God With Us!

In the spirit of being a “Community of believers with open hearts, open minds, and open arms,” I encourage you to come early and help welcome visitors and old friends into our fellowship. We are working on new name tags, and most of them will be hanging on the new green clip stands in the foyer. We hope to remove all the old name tags and the huge board from the foyer, so check the rotating stands first when you arrive. There are two stands, and the clips are organized alphabetically. Wearing nametags will let others know that they can ask you questions, and will be a friendly way to help our guests feel welcome. If you can’t find your nametag, please check at the greeter’s desk. . Jill has been working overtime to tidy up that area for our holiday visitors.

As a quick update, we have two services on Christmas Eve, Saturday, Dec. 24:

5:00 Family Living Nativity Service — this service is designed for families with young children. The children themselves will get to dress up in costumes and become a living part of the nativity story, which we will tell through scriptures and carols. The service is followed by Birthday Cake for Jesus in the fellowship hall.

8:00 Traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight Service — this service, as I described above, will be lessons and carols, with a short message about God’s unconditional love. We close this service every year with “Silent Night” and the spreading of the Christ light through the sanctuary with the candle-lighting ritual.

The next two Sundays will have “Come-as-you-are Services” at 10:00 am with Communion. Can you imagine better days than Christmas and New Year’s to worship God and partake of the joyful feast of the people of God?

Thank you for being a part of our church family. Whether you live near or far away, I pray that you will be filled with light and love this holiday season and into the new year.

With Hope in the Coming Light,

Rev. Paula

CEH Encouragement

During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

▪ We give because we want to support all the wonderful things this Church does for the members of the community.
▪ First of all, I love CEH. I feel the spirit of Jesus as I walk through the doors. The fellowship is so nurturing to my soul. I have been praying to find my stewardship at CEH. My life has been filled with stewardship in my family and community. Hopefully, I will find my place in CEH. (Vivian)
▪ Love. Give. Forgiveness. Pray. Talent.
▪ I am committed to this church because of love: love of God, members of this congregation and love of the leadership have drawn me close to this church as a whole. We are blessed to have such a loving family of God in Church of Eternal Hills. (Claudia Stock)

#sacred

Our Advent sermon series this year is called, “Sacred,” and I am hoping to challenge you to see our preparations for Christmas through the Advent season through the kaleidoscope of the sacred.

When you see or hear light in the darkness, hope in the despair, I invite you to post it to social media with the hash tags: #sacred #adventlight

Sacred Space

Selections from Isaiah 35:
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,

the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,

and rejoice with joy and singing. . .

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,

the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

“A highway shall be there,

and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,

but it shall be for God’s people;

no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,

nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,

but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain joy and gladness,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Say — that sounds pretty good doesn’t it? A Holy Way where everyone who travels it is safe and filled with joy and gladness.

That’s what I call “Sacred Space.” But I don’t think sacred space has to be located in any one specific geographical location — sacred space can be anywhere that the eyes of the blind are opened, the deaf can hear, the lame leap like deer. . .

That doesn’t happen, you say? We just don’t see miracles like that anymore?

You can say that, but I’d like to share some stories with you:

“The tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”
Christine is a middle school girl, who after years of bullying learned not to speak up in class. It wasn’t only her peers who poked fun at her when she asked questions, but oftentimes even her teachers would ignore her or refuse to answer her questions. At home, a bulk of her time was spent alone, as her single father worked late, and she was asleep before he got home. So she just remained silent. Christine found her way to youth group, and after a few weeks built up the courage to speak up. Do you know what happened? Her peers actually listened to her. Her youth pastor tuned into her questions and helped her find answers.

“The lame shall leap like deer.”
Mabel is an elderly woman who just celebrated her 80th birthday. She’s lived a rich life full of family and friends. She used to spend hours at the church, volunteering in many capacities. But lately she has attended several funerals of her closest friends, and does not have the mobility or energy to get to the church much. She has started to feel useless — consumed with the thought that she doesn’t serve any purpose to anyone. “I’m just a burden on everyone,” she thinks to herself as she sits at home, alone. But her church family noticed, and a neighbor offered to pick her up to come to worship on Sundays. Once there, Mabel began to feel a sense of wholeness and belonging that she had forgotten. And though she was daunted by the idea of walking through the ice and snow, and concerned about the number of little people running around, the fellowhsip of her church family gave her the courage to participate. She found purpose in worshiping God, and realized she had not lost the ability to be a prayer warrior, or to crochet prayer shawls.

“The ears of the deaf unstopped.”
And then there is David, a young man who just doesn’t fit into any “normal” categories. He didn’t do well in school, and didn’t want to go to college. He repeatedly heard, “You’ll never amount to anything” and “You’re a failure.” After so much negativity, David stopped listening. Somehow, he entered a mentoring ministry through church, and began to hear words of hope: “You can do this,” and “Look how far you’ve come.” Now David has a set of goals and some tools under his belt to help him succeed.

“The eyes of the blind shall be opened.”
Shelly is a single mother with two young children. She escaped from an abusive relationship, only to find herself barely keeping her head above the water. The cost of childcare takes more than 60% of her income, even working over-time at the local grocery store. She feels safe in this community, and doesn’t want to leave, but she sees no hope. When the preschool offered her a scholarship for her children, everything seemed to fall into place. She now sees that she can get back on her feet, and feels confident and grateful for the great environment where her children can learn and thrive. When they are old enough to go to public school, Shelly sees a future that includes completing her bachelor’s degree through online schooling.

These stories are the proof of sacred space. Places where those rough spots are becoming smooth. Where Mary’s song from Luke 1 seems to be coming true:

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

These places are indeed sacred space. Christine, Mabel, David, and Shelly are not specific people — they are all of those who struggle and feel beaten down, but find new life in Jesus and in being part of a fellowship of Christians. What if we were to look at all the places where we live and dwell and pass through as sacred space, where these miracles could come true if we only shared the light and love of Christ, and offered the encouragement of connection to everyone we encounter?

In this season of Advent I ask that you challenge yourself. Please don’t raise your hands and shrug your shoulders in helplessness. Please don’t wait for some future date when Jesus will return to make all of these things come true. Please start now to believe in transformation, and embrace your own call to make the ground you stand on sacred space.

I remind you of these beautiful and inspiring words from a woman named Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

–St Teresa of Avila

With great hope and expectation that we can indeed provide the sacred space for the “Holy Way,”

Rev. Paula

***
CEH Encouragement

During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

▪ It’s out of love for Christ and the family that we’re so fortunate to be part of.
▪ I am loved, and I am forgiven. How can I not return love and forgiveness to others? I have everything I need, and most of what I want. How can I not share my abundance with others? How can I not give, when I have been given so much?
▪ My goal is really only to make other people’s lives a little better.
▪ Love of God. Love of people in this fellowship. Because “I Can” give of time, talent, gifts. Bring peace to my heart and soul. Helps keep life in perspective. What’s important.
▪ Love and support.
▪ I share as a “thank you” to God for this talent.

#sacred

Our Advent sermon series this year is called, “Sacred,” and I am hoping to challenge you to see our preparations for Christmas through the Advent season as truly sacred.

Sacred Time

We began our Advent Journey on Nov 27 by thinking about Sacred Time. One of the ways we measure “sacred time” in the Church is through our pattern of the liturgical year. The liturgical year measures the way we break our calendars into a series of seasons, holidays, and festivals. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, and it is an observation of waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. Of course as Christians, we claim to be a people who have already received Jesus Christ as the Messiah. So why do we claim also to be waiting and watching for the Messiah?

We claim to be waiting and watching for the Messiah not only because we are honoring the generations who awaited the arrival of the Savior and Redeemer, but because we are also still waiting for the arrival of the peace that Jesus’ birth was to bring to the earth. This is the paradox of the “Already but not yet.” Some Christian’s interpret this to mean that we are waiting for Jesus’ second coming. Some Christians interpret this to mean that Jesus already “Came Back” in the Resurrection that we celebrate on Easter. This interpretation encourages us to recognize that Christ is already here and present in the world through the constant work of the Holy Spirit — gifting and encouraging and comforting people. If we see it this way, then we recognize that it is our work, our job to bring about this “Not Yet” Kingdom of God — where “the lion shall lay down with the lamb.”

It isn’t easy or logical to understand the sacred time of the “Already but Not Yet” Kingdom. But our faith is not founded on logic, is it? Dr. David Lose, a professor at Luther Seminary, helps me remember it isn’t about logic:

“None of this makes sense. Except that it God’s way of showing God’s profound love for us, leaving all things behind in order to appear before us in a form we can receive and accept. God as God is too terrifying for mere mortals to behold, let alone receive, and so God comes to us as one of us: vulnerable, weak, frail, subject to illness and disappointment and rejection, all so that we can perceive that God is with us and for us and will not abandon us, as Luther shares in a Christmas sermon from 1530:
If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners.
Hard to believe? Absolutely. Which is why there is Advent – four weeks to get used to the idea that almighty God would do anything to convey to us God’s parental, enduring, and redeeming love. And our weeks to be prepared to be surprised yet again by just how far God will go to reach us. Let the preparations begin!” http://www.davidlose.net/2016/12/advent-preparation/
Make your four weeks filled with “Sacred Time” by making every moment, every preparation, every gift sacred.

Sacred People

Last Sunday, Dec 4, we explored the idea of “Sacred People.” Through the stories of two very ordinary people, Joseph and Mary, we listened to how they became extraordinary when they agreed to the mighty tasks that God had called them to. Joseph was called to name a baby, born out of wedlock, as his own. And he did this — we read inMatthew 1:25 that Joseph named this baby, “Jesus.” This is significant for us, for in the tradition of the Israelites, the naming of the child indicated the adoption into the blood line of the family.

Mary was an ordinary young woman, who answered the Call to bear God to the world through the birth of Jesus. She questioned how this could even come about, and was assured that “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

We too, just “ordinary” people, become extraordinary and sacred when we answer God’s call to bear love, joy, and peace to the world. God is made manifest through us through actions and words of loving kindness.

Don’t get overwhelmed! Bearing God to the world doesn’t always mean doing something huge and world-changing. Bearing God in your own sacred Call could be a simple smile, a phone call, a note written, a prayer uttered, a word of encouragement given. These simple actions help us to bring the kin-dom of God into this world.

Even more than that, we are called to all people as sacred people. It can be tough — can’t it? Aren’t there always people who seem to be completely unlovable? But no matter how unlovable a person may seem, they are still sacred. Don’t pray for them to change — pray for your own heart to be like the heart of God and to see that person as God does — a beloved child, called by name and loved deeply by their creator.

If we can begin to see ourselves and others as Sacred People, this Advent season will truly be a season where we move from darkness to light, and the “Not Yet” part will begin to come to fruition.

With Great Hope and Expectation,

Rev. Paula

***
CEH Encouragement

During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

▪ I come to CEH because in a difficult time for me, it is an overwhelmingly welcoming, positive and supportive place, for not only me but for my child. I am learning how to show him how to forgive, let go, and lead a better life.
▪ I share my time and talents offering or providing help. It feels good to help her at at work and hopefully relieves others and helps them feel good too.
▪ Helping people.
▪ I can’t even describe how much I love this community. All the friendly people that support each other, hold each other’s’ hands and that are so giving. And it is wonderful and I am so thankful that the church makes a better person out of me. I love the topics of the services because they remind me of things that are so important but I wouldn’t think about without the church. And I must say that I am not confessed but I just love this community and Church of Eternal Hills. And I just love to see all those happy people!!!