I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
-- Psalm 121:1
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Dear CUP Evangelical Presbyterian family and friends,
Have you ever taken the time when you have been on a long hike to stop and take a look at the view? There are numerous trails in Brady’s Run Park that are breath-taking in more than one sense: I’m out of breath from the exertion of climbing them, but when I get to the top, I’m breathless from the view that awaits me!
This Summer marked my 10th anniversary with you as Teaching Elder/Pastor, and it seems appropriate to take a few moments to ‘look at the view’ of where we’ve come from. For example, let’s take a look at what we’ve done with the three challenges I placed in last year’s congregational meeting cover letter:
‘First, there is a greater need than ever before to share the good news with our neighbors and our children.’
We were blessed during 2013 to have a very successful Vacation Bible School, and while we faced the significant challenge of saying good-bye to our former Children’s and Youth Director Nathan (and Kylee) Bryant, we have been greatly encouraged by the addition of Matt (and Kate) Ulrich on the CUP staff. Joel Cunniff stepped in as our Interim Shine Ministry Director, and this Fall saw the largest number of kids – 46! that this ministry has ever experienced. It was not unusual for our kitchen crew to feed 100 people on a given Wednesday night. I have heard the following comments about our children’s ministry:
‘This is the one place my son feels he can truly be himself.’ ‘This is the finest ministry to children I know of in our community.’ ‘We would put everything else on hold in order to be a part of Shine.’
We have much more work to do, but there are several families who are experiencing the life-changing love of Jesus Christ at CUP that receive it nowhere else.
‘Second, we have an opportunity to play a crucial role in bringing the good news to people who have never heard it half a world away.’
This year our congregation chose to give over and above their regular financial offerings to provide funding for 26 children to attend school in the isolated village of Fintonia in Northern Sierra Leone. We are a part of an initiative involving other area EPC churches that are bringing about the first schooling and sharing of the gospel through pastors that this community has EVER received. In addition, Fintonia is positioned to provide a gospel witness to entire TRIBES – the Fula and the Susa – who have never had a church in their midst. Currently 180 children are receiving an education, and 60-80 children and adults are coming to hear about Jesus Christ each Sunday from Pastors Dominic and Ruth. That a church our size has this kind of role to play in the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20) is awe-inspiring.
‘Third, we are a part of a Denomination that is growing and transforming before our eyes.’
As I’ve mentioned to you before, when we joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in April 2009, we were the first church in Beaver County to be a part of this family, and it was not unusual to drive 7 or 8 hours to be a part of a Presbytery meeting. Since then, dozens of churches in our region have joined the EPC, and we are a part of a new Presbytery of the Alleghenies, and will host a meeting that will likely have close to 200 attendees on February 21-22. We have found faithful, intelligent, gracious partners for retreats, mission work, and ideas for reaching our communities. For the first time in this year’s budget, we will be giving not only to EPC missionaries, but the to the local work of our Presbytery as well.
So – for the coming year – what’s next?
In a nutshell: To persevere, maintain, and develop the same work that we are currently doing.
Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor, distinguishes between at ‘Tourist’ of the Christian faith and a ‘Pilgrim.’ He writes, ‘In our sound-byte, short cut world, it is not difficult to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. . . when the package loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.’
Friends, we are intentionally on a journey with our lives, going someplace, going to God, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As we pray, worship, cry, sing, give, and learn together, and take the time to let the Lord permeate our memories, our hopes, our motives, and our values, we will be changed – for good.
In the end, of course, nothing we do provides us with salvation: it has all been given to us by the costly work of Jesus on the cross (Romans 6:23). Yet as we respond to God’s mercy with gratitude and openness to others as he has encouraged us to do, we’ll find a joy, even in the midst of suffering, that will last longer than a day, or a year – but for eternity.