Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Cards

Every December when the Christmas cards start coming in the mail, I am drawn back to Christmases past when I was growing up. I have a vivid memory of sitting at the dining room table with my Dad to my left, one of my brothers to my right, Mom at the end of the table, and the other two brothers across the table. Yes, we had assigned seats. Being the lefty in the family, I needed that corner. We won't get into the left-handed issues here - that is another blog for another time.

We sat at the table for dinner, as we did almost every night, and once the dishes were cleared and the freshly-baked Christmas cookies passed around the table, Dad would begin opening the Christmas cards we had received that day in the mail. He would read each one silently, maybe making a comment or two about the sender or the card, then the card was passed to me. Unless it had a beautiful scene or a funny caption or it came from overseas, and if I didn't know the sender, I would quickly pass it on. 

AND, if there was the annual Christmas epistle included, I DEFINITELY was not going to take time to read that. I was confident that if there was some bit of good news or bad news, Mom was going to comment on it when the card and letter made it to her. Quite often, we four boys had no idea who these people were that Mom and Dad were talking about, but we sat and passed the cards as they came to us. 

I can still recall those conversations about friends moving, new children arriving, family vacations and celebrations, as well as illnesses and deaths. The question was asked at least once a night, "Did we send THEM a card?" or "Did we get a card from them last year?" And sometimes it was, "Who is this?" Then the cards were placed in a wicker basket and placed by the Christmas tree, so when our extended family would come for the holidays, they could look through the cards as well.

Mom and Dad had a system. Dad had a box of index cards with names and addresses on them. When a friend moved, the card was updated by crossing out the old information and adding the new below it. On the back of the card was a list of years, followed by letters "S" and "R"- sent and received. Each year, the cards were scrutinized carefully, and if you haven't sent a card in the past two or three years, there may be a real possibility you would NOT be receiving the annual Woodward Letter, sent on colored paper and carefully detailing the activities of each of us boys, our family travels and information about extended family as well. Believe me, this was information you didn't want to miss!

I still enjoy receiving Christmas cards. We hang them up on the hallway door and give thanks for the greetings and news we receive. And now we receive emails and electronic letters too. I know that the letters and cards we receive do not contain all the joys and sorrows our friends and loved ones have experienced in the past year, but embedded in each one, there is a contact, a connection, a memory. These are gifts from God.

And I find my wife and I having the same conversations Mom and Dad had over the dinner table years ago. "Did you see that the Smiths are moving?" "Can you believe their daughter is in the eighth grade?" "Did we send them a card this year?" 

Thanks be to God for our friends and loved ones who take the time to send us these greetings. The news we receive and the memories it brings are things I cherish this season.


Pastor Charlie

1. The blog is taking a long winters' nap and will be back on January 8th. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
2. I hope you get to church for Christmas Eve service this year, wherever you may be come December 24. From a sister congregation in Des Moines, Iowa, here is their invitation to worship for Christmas Eve. If you can't make it to Des Moines, know you are welcomed here!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

This past weekend at Epiphany Far Hills campus, our worship was built around the Children's Christmas Program. This year's offering was "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." I have to be careful about what I say about the show since I was in it - so was Pastor Jay! We shared the part of Reverend Hopkins - Jay took Saturday's shows, and I was on for Sunday. I think we got the part because we already had the costume.

That being said, the show was great! After 20 plus years of being the one responsible for the Christmas program, I can relate to the story told in this year's show. It is about putting the annual Christmas pageant together, and things don't go as planned. The play is about a family called the Herdmans - a family of rotten children. They lie, steal, swear, fight, light things on fire, and are generally feared in the community. When they get wind of the annual church Christmas pageant, they bully their way into the main roles and generally wreak havoc. What some feared would be the worst pageant in church history turns out to have a special quality that causes the community to rethink the real meaning of the Christmas story. (www.storysnoops.com)

Besides being a wonderful show, I am thankful for the blessings that we offer and receive through this outreach ministry. Here are a few that come to mind:
  • All Are Welcome. Everyone who wishes to be in the production will be given the opportunity to do so. Even the pastors. Even those who are not members of the church. All are welcome, and are welcomed with open arms.
  • Bridges Are Built. Children and parents, extended families come to participate and to see the program, and over time relationships are built. Epiphany becomes a place where those who come here feel at home and that they belong to the community. 
  • An Army of Assistants Get The Job Done. Parents, family members, church members and friends join in to make up a great group of helpers, workers, supporters and friends. The names of those helping out was longer than that of the cast. Amazing!
  • Talents Are Tapped. Epiphany has a unique ministry with the drama program. For over 20 years, children and adults have been given the opportunity to get on stage and try their hand at acting. I can see the confidence and communication skills that the children develop through this program. We also know that the stage is not for everyone. There are builders and seamstresses and props people and sound and light people. So many different talents all working together to share the message.
  • Opportunities To Try. Some of our helpers were asked to serve in areas that were new to them. One of the blessings the church has to offer is to be a place where people can try new things and see if this is where God has gifted them. We might make mistakes, but grace abounds. 
  • We Proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. One of my favorite lines from this year's show was by one of the Herdmans. When Imogene Herdman asks what the Christmas Pageant story was about, she was told it's about Jesus. Imogene's response was, “Everything here is!" To that I say, "Yes, yes it is!"
  •  What We Proclaim is Good News. The angel comes to proclaim Good News of Great Joy, that UNTO YOU is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Good News! Great Joy! I saw a lot of smiles, heard a lot of laughter, and experienced a great deal of joy at church this weekend. The reason I became a pastor is because I want to share this good news of great joy. It was tangible this weekend, and for that I am thankful.
I am sure you can add to this list. 

I hope and pray that this season of Advent preparation and Christmas celebration be filled with hope, joy and peace. And I pray that we as a church do all we can to share that message for all who gather here, and all who carry it out the doors and into the world. 

Amen, Come Lord Jesus!


Pastor Charlie

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tis the Season

I have a confession to make. I really love to listen to Christmas music once Thanksgiving is over. I know, I know... Christmas music is for Christmas. Let's not get ahead of ourselves and forget about Advent. Every Advent it comes up - we shouldn't rush into Christmas and miss out on the anticipation, waiting and hope of Advent. On the other hand, there are many who ask why wait till Christmas to sing those great Christmas songs? And by the time we GET to Christmas, do we really want to hear MORE Christmas songs?

Advent is a time of preparation, being ready and making room for Christ in our lives. As a pastor, the time of Advent is a time of preparation for all the Christmas celebrations at church. So what better way to prepare for Christ and for the Christmas celebration than with Christmas music! Can you see I am trying to justify my music selections?

That being said, I thought I would share some of my favorites that I have come across in the past few days. I hope you enjoy these offerings. I invite you to share some of your favorites with me. My hope and prayer is that the music not rush us into Christmas, but rather be an avenue to focus our hearts and minds on the greatest gift ever given, Christ the Lord.

"Mary Did You Know?" by Pentatonix

"Angels We Have Heard On High" by The Piano Guys

This video I created last year. The nativity scenes were displayed last year for Advent at Epiphany. I took pictures of them and added these songs:
"Some Children See Him" by James Taylor
"Welcome To Our World" by Amy Grant
"Away In A Manger" by the Piano Guys

One more - "Silent Night" by Pentatonix

Let EVERY heart prepare Him room!


Pastor Charlie

Monday, November 24, 2014

Run For God

For this week's blog, I want to share with you an article written by Connie Risch, one of our members and a participant in the Run For God ministry here at Epiphany.

Run for God, a Couch to 5K journey

On November 9th, at 1:00 pm, 7 Epiphany disciples met in the Far Hills parking lot wearing our Run for God shirts.  Destination, the VA for a 5K (well, technically it was only 3 miles) run.  The weather was fabulous; especially considering it was early November.  We were so blessed to be among friends as our 12 week journey was on its final leg.

12 weeks prior, our group of 10 began meeting at the Austin Campus.  The weather was hot and the road from couch potato to 5K seemed like a long and impossible journey, especially since some of us had a “severe allergy” to exercise.  Throughout the 12 week course we inspired each other in so many different ways.

The first part of a Run for God program is the Bible study.  As a leader, I felt that I was not properly equipped to do this job.  The best part is that I didn’t need to have all the answers.  We explored the lessons together and learned from each other.  There was a bible verse to explore before each of the workouts each week which gave us more time to reflect on our relationship with the Lord.

The second part of a Run for God program is the runner’s education.  We were blessed to have two fabulous mentors in our group.  The shared their vast knowledge with us each week.  Topics included proper gear, injury prevention, proper nutrition, and runner’s educate.  They were also our running coaches because…

The final part of a Run for God program is the running.  The program starts out slow with the first weeks workout consisting of running 1 minute at a time (a feet I thought was going to kill me).  As we progressed the workouts pushed us to new depths with the final goal being the 5K.  Our mentors were there to keep us on track during that first run of the week, and be our cheerleaders.  Believe it or not, they were beginners themselves too.

The best part of a Run for God program is the friendships built, the accountability to do better, and the encouragement to step outside your comfort zone.  It’s hard to spend 12 weeks with a group of people without getting to know them.  We were able to hold each other accountable for our goals, both spiritual and physical.  Although I was not able to run the entire 5K, I still received encouragement for every step forward I was able to make.

This is our 2nd Run for God session and I am learning and improving each time.  I look forward to our next session and hope you will consider joining us.  No matter where you are in your spiritual and physical journey, you will find this to be a very rewarding program.

I must mention that there were 10 people in our group.  1 was unable to run because of an injury, and 2 members did their 5K on November 8th.  I am proud of each and every one of us!

from left to right:
Julie Thomas, Angie Day, Caroline Kennebeck, Zach Auman (front), 
Connie Risch, John Deitrich (back), Kathy Whited 

Thank you, Connie, for sharing!

Pastor Charlie

Monday, November 17, 2014

Leading and Following

I am finally getting over jet lag from our trip to Israel - we have been back in the USA for over a week, but it has taken a long time to get back on schedule. Waking up at 3 am gives one an opportunity to have some quiet time before the rest of the world wakes up, and has provided me some time to reflect on the trip to Israel. If you want to find out more about that trip, you can check out the weblog I updated each day - www.israelpilgrimage2014.blogspot.com



Jerusalem (taken from the spire of the Lutheran Church)

We had thirteen in the group of which I was responsible for, and we were joined together with a group of 15 from Missouri and 4 from Florida. 32 of us together for week on a bus with a tour guide and a driver. The tour company took good care of us, coordinating our sites, hotels, meals and schedules. Our job was to show up on time and stay together. And my job as the leader of our group was take make sure everyone was doing their job.

I guess you could say my role was to lead by following. And follow I did. There were some in our group who had issues walking, and Israel is not flat, nor are the paths made for easy travel. Lots of steps. Lots of rocks. Lots of slippery surfaces. I found myself at the back of the group, counting to 13 to make sure we were all present, and bringing up the rear. Being 6 feet 4 inches tall, this made my job easier to say the least! As I was escorting one of our members by the arm back to the bus garage a few blocks away from the church in Bethlehem, one of the vendors along the street who was selling umbrellas stopped his sales pitch when he saw us approaching. He said to me, "God bless you. You take care of your women." I said, "God bless you too!" I was almost compelled to buy an umbrella from him just for that.

The other part of my job was to make sure my group knew the schedule - where we needed to be and when we needed to be there. I commend my group for their keeping with the schedule - it wasn't any of my flock that showed up late! I did have a couple of the sheep who thought we had left them behind, so they headed back to the bus before the rest of the group. Silly sheep.

Someone once said, "A leader who has no one following him is just a guy out for a walk." Yet sometimes what we are called to do is to lead from behind. Sometimes, the one who leads also needs to be one who is also following. We put our trust into our guide, who knew where we needed to be. He knew the people, the places and the best way to get a group through the sites. I did not. I needed to follow, so that I could lead others to follow too. Does that make sense?

One afternoon, near the end of our trip, we had a free afternoon. We decided to walk from our hotel to the Old City of Jerusalem - about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. We made it to the entry gate with no problem, but when we starting walking through the tight streets of the city with all the shops and vendors, we soon realized we were walking in circles. The spice store and the other store with meat hanging up in the window that we saw three times made that obvious. We were without our guide, and I appreciated his leadership so much more that day.


As a pastor, I am called to lead and to follow. If I am not listening to the leader, woe to the ones who follow.

Jesus Still Lead On.

1 Jesus, still lead on,
till our rest be won;
and, although the way be cheerless,
we will follow, calm and fearless;
guide us by your hand
to the promised land.

2 If the way be drear,
if the foe be near,
let no faithless fears o'ertake us,
let not faith and hope forsake us;
safely past the foe
to our home we go.

3 When we seek relief
from a long-felt grief,
when temptations come alluring
make us patient and enduring;
show us that bright shore
where we weep no more.

4 Jesus, still lead on,
till our rest be won;
heav'nly leader, still direct us,
still support, console, protect us,
till we safely stand
in the promised land.

(Text: Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf, 1700-1760; tr. Jane L. Borthwick, 1813-1897, alt.)

Pastor Charlie

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Epiphany Bus

This past Sunday, I shared this illustration in my sermon. It isn't plagiarism when you are the one who wrote it in the first place, is it? I thought I would share it for this week's post!

Not so many years ago, a group of people decided they wanted to buy a bus, a bus that would take them on a journey. While the destination was important, also important was the journey itself. You see, they desired to take a journey with Jesus, a journey they were invited to take when they were baptized. These people were looking for a bus to ride on, not just by themselves, but also their families, so they could raise their children on this bus and invite others to climb on as well. The bus was given the name Epiphany!

The journey began, a journey with Jesus. And a journey with Jesus is one that provides a life full of hope, a sense of purpose, a place of forgiveness and grace, and a promise that this journey never ends. Along the journey, the bus not only serves those on it, but is equipped to serve others along the way.

Yes, the journey began, and over the years, the bus has been modified, changed, overhauled and expanded to meet the needs of those who have jumped on for the ride, and to meet the needs of those the bus-riders are called serve. And there have been several drivers along the way.

A few years back, the bus came to the stop at a crossroads, and the question asked, “Which way should we go?” The road map was opened and reviewed and studied. That should make it easy, yes? But there was a disagreement about how one ought to interpret the map. Some in the group saw it one way, and others in the group saw it another way. In the end, there were some who did not agree with the direction the bus was going, and so they got off and climbed on other buses.

And so it came to pass that the Epiphany bus was in need of a driver. It took a while but finally, a new driver got on board. When the driver got on the bus, he heard over and over and over again, “We are so glad you are here.” While in the parking lot, we got on the bus, took some time to get to know our fellow bus-riders, and we checked out the bus.

Yes, the people are glad the driver is here, and the driver is glad to be called to be the driver. But the bus was not built to sit in the parking lot and look pretty. This bus is designed to move forward. And so we do move forward, always mindful of the map that directs us. Each week we hear and focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, reminding us of God’s great love for us, and telling us that when get off on the wrong path, God’s love and forgiveness gives us the grace to recalculate our route, and get back on track.

As the one called to be the driver of this bus, I want to emphasize that what I intend to do is that which I believe God is calling me to do. Through prayer and study of God’s word and through constant discussion with staff and leaders and members of the Epiphany bus - I will be faithful to this calling to lead us out of the parking lot and forward into God’s desired future for us. Loving Jesus by serving others, and raising our children to do the same.

I am excited about the future of Epiphany Lutheran Church.

  • We are a growing church, with 11 new families, and several baptisms this fall.
  • We are a church focused on outreach – The Pantry, Operation Prom Dress, Storybook, Interfaith Hospitality, Global Missions, Project Blessing, Operation Christmas Child, Adopt A Family, Drama and Puppet Ministry, plus support of Lutheran World Relief and various campaigns, including most recently the Malaria campaign, reaching our goal of over $2000.
  • We are a church that gathers to worship – Music Ministry, Praise Bands, Choirs, Quality Worship, Gospel-focused sermons
  • We are a church that welcomes the children – we have a fantastic Preschool and Daycare program that serves over 100 children each week – a great entrance into the church for children and families
  • We are a church that values our youth, and provides a Youth Ministry program that is theologically sound and outrageously fun
  • We are blessed that we have raised up leaders for the church, including Sean Barrett, who was ordained here earlier this year.
  • We have re-established the small groups ministries and hope to add more groups next year.
  • We are a church that has an incredible staff who love Jesus and are committed to serving others

We are a church that is moving forward.

  • We are dedicated to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in everything we do!
  • We have dedicated pastors serving our two campuses as one congregation, who model hospitality and welcome
  • We are dedicated to Family Ministry, and through a generous bequest, we will add a new Children’s Ministry position beginning in in 2015
  • We are dedicated to quality, authentic worship, and will add to that a new praise band leader starting tomorrow – John-Philip Fultz.
  • We will also be adding a second service - a traditional worship service - at the Austin campus in 2015.
  • We are dedicated to outreach, both locally and globally.
  • We are dedicated to education opportunities for all

You see, here on the bus, we are constantly hearing the message of Jesus Christ. And the good news is that God is with us on the bus! (You see, I am not really the driver). The more we know who Jesus is and spend time with Jesus, and sit at the feet of Jesus, and come to understand what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, then when the time comes for the bridegroom to return, we will be ready. For we have been on HIS bus, and know that the journey ahead is in God’s hands.

Oh yes, there will be work to do, but this is the work we were made for – serving God as you have been equipped. Know there is place on this bus for you. This is a bus where your family can grow together. And know this –there are seats on the bus available so that you can invite others to climb on board. This is a bus where all are welcomed.

It is time to move forward once again. I invite you to get on board, and enjoy the ride.


Pastor Charlie

Monday, October 20, 2014

At Your Service

Last week at our weekly staff meeting, Tonya Johns led the devotions. She shared the following posting on a weblog called "The Better Mom." I share it with you for this week's posting.

I thought I’d outgrown that kind of pettiness.

But there I was on weary feet, in a sticky kitchen, mind swirling through the two hundred tasks I’d checked off my list and the dozens of to-do’s yet undone.

And self-pity whispered innocent little questions like, “What am I — the household servant?” and “Why are people not falling all over themselves in gratitude around here?”

Earlier in the day, my motivation had been good…

I expended extra energy to bless a friend.
I provide wholesome entertainment for the kids by dismantling our leaky pool and assembling a new one.
I took my special needs son on a long-anticipated excursion, weathering his seizure and nasty fall along the way.
I cooked dinner, gave a haircut, ironed church clothes, and…, and…, and…
But somewhere in the middle of great intentions, I allowed pettiness and immaturity to sneak into my heart.

Ummm, applause, anyone? A pat on the back?

Do any of you realize I’ve set my own important projects aside to serve you all?

God greeted me and my endearing attitude the next morning with John 13:3-5:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Wait. What?

Jesus knew who he was and the importance of his calling SO he took the towel and basin and washed the disciples’ feet?

Shouldn’t it read “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power… so he asked one of the disciples to be the servant and wash everyone’s feet?”

If anyone had “more important” things to do, it was Jesus. His calling, who he was, everything about him should have disqualified him from the role of servant.

But no, he “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Me? I’m just like the disciples, hoping to pawn the dirty jobs off on someone a little further down the ladder. And if I’m forced to do it because no one else will, you’d better believe I want a little recognition.

But Jesus is so breathtakingly different. Everything about him is astounding.

He is the Creator, the King of Kings, and yet he stooped to wash filthy, smelly feet.

He stooped under the whip… under the weight of the cross… under the burden of my sin.

He humbled himself.

He knew his identity in his Father, and knew that serving didn’t change his standing… serving pleased his Father.

Oh, what a challenge to my warped perspective.

Serving isn’t about doing something “important.” It’s not about glamor, recognition, novelty, or gratitude. It’s just following the example of the One who served me. It’s an opportunity to offer myself as a living sacrifice.

Serving isn’t beneath me; it’s a privilege.

And even though I’m the one who belongs in the role of foot-washer… who merits nothing… my dazzling Savior sees my service and promises to reward it. Every unrecognized act of love, every sacrifice, every gesture of humility is applauded by him.

Unbelieveable. And so empowering.

Thank you, Jesus, that you came to serve and redeem my sinful heart. Please enable me to serve my family, friends, and even the unlovely through your grace. Thank you for the privilege of being one of your household servants.

*Can you relate, friend? How do you fight the temptation to grumble as you serve your husband and family? Maybe you have a go-to verse? Let’s help each other out — share!! :-)

Blessings and grace to you as you continue serving,



We love Jesus by serving others. Seems to fit, doesn't it!

Pastor Charlie