Pastor Charlie’s Monthly Blog

Pastor Charlie’s Blog

May Notes

May 4

Posted by Polly Craig in Charlie’s Blog | Edit

May Notes

               Well, it’s been an “interesting” past two weeks, to say the least.  I went from being immersed in a rich and stimulating pastor’s conference to essentially living in a hospital room for 9 days.  It all started after Laura endured an evening and the following day with intense abdominal pain, finally being admitted to the emergency room at Twin Cities on Wednesday afternoon, April 15.  They detected a large mass on her ovary, and sent her the next day down to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara to have it removed.  The concern, of course, was that it would be malignant, and they wanted her under the care of a seasoned gynecological oncologist in the event it proved to be cancerous.  After a series of delays, she finally entered the operating room on Friday afternoon.  Two hours later after the culmination of much waiting and trying not to speculate upon the worst, I received the best possible news:  the tumor was benign!  And a huge wave of relief, gratitude and joy came over me.

It turned out that the size of the tumor was just a bit smaller than a soccer ball, which, if you’ve seen a soccer ball lately, doesn’t exactly fit comfortably inside one’s body.  It had twisted significantly, and as a result, began to hemorrhage prior to surgery, and the resultant blood loss created additional challenges in the operating room.  But in the end, the operation was a success, and after another six days of being hooked up to IVs, around-the-clock blood testing, stomach pumping, x-rays, and a host of other procedures, she was finally released to return home on Thursday, April 23. (A huge thank you to the women who spent time around the clock with her while I was gone last weekend.  Without their kindness, I would not have been able to fulfill a commitment I made to my son’s ministry group’s big outreach event in Menlo Park.)

From what we have learned since, tumors this large on the ovaries are almost always cancerous.  Had I known that, I would have been more anxious than I was.  Still, it would have been easy to go there, as the doctors at Twin Cities were sufficiently concerned about the possibility of cancer that they sent her to Santa Barbara.  So I had ample reason to be prepared for the worst possible news.  But knowing the worst was possible,  I chose to anticipate the best, and felt I was getting little clues from the Holy Spirit to do just that.

The first clue was the names of the two nurses in the Intensive Care unit at Twin Cities:  Pat and Casey.  How ironic – the name of my son and his girlfriend, the one he was planning to ask to marry him in just three days.  And then the thought came to me (which I sensed was from the Lord): these two names were on the wall in Laura’s hospital room to encourage me to believe that just as his proposal would be a turning point in their relationship that would lead to new life, so was this for Laura.  As ominous as things appeared, all of this would be a prelude to greater health and life for her.  I know – I was “reaching” for something to hang my hope on…but Casey & Pat?  What were the odds?

The second clue was my assigned scripture on the day of the surgery from Psalm 112. Words from the Psalmist (v. 4, 7-8) spoke deeply to my soul:

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright…

He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.

His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.

I chose to “not be afraid of bad news” before the news ever came…which didn’t diminish the great relief and joy of the good news that did come!

Then two phone calls, one from Laura’s father and one from her brother, also spoke words that pointed to a good report.  Her brother called and said, “Charlie, I never read Jeremiah, but I ended up there this morning.  Read Jeremiah 33:1-13.”  So I did. It was all about God restoring the land and fortunes of Israel, with this verse as its theme:  “Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.”  (33.6)

None of those by themselves could be considered a prophetic word from God, nor did all three constitute a definitive word of healing.  So I wasn’t declaring Laura ‘healed,’ but I cautiously received them as God’s word of hope to me.  It can be risky taking verses out of their original context and bending them so that they say a word to our immediate context.  We can do weird things with the Bible and make it say things it does not say, but what we want to hear. But I do believe that God, in his freedom and creativity, will use the multitude of words and stories in the grand narrative of Scripture to speak a specific word to us in the midst of our own circumstances.  So I am open to God taking what he said to Israel, and having him say, “Charlie, today, this is a word for you.”  And in the end, I believe that is exactly what he did.

Faithfully in Christ Jesus,


April Notes

Mar 26

Posted by Polly Craig in Charlie’s Blog | Edit

Pastor’s Notes – April

        This is the season of anticipation.  Much like Advent when we anticipate the birth of Christ – the Incarnation – the coming of God into the world as a human being (and his coming again as Lord)…we anticipate his death and Resurrection – the overcoming of sin and death through the atoning work of the cross and rising from the grave. We cycle through the life of Christ and the events of his church every year, and it never gets old.  At least, I can say that it hasn’t gotten old for me and I’m about 60 years into a conscious awareness of doing this.  Some of you have 20 more years on me, and from what I can tell; it hasn’t grown old on you, either.  That certainly bodes well, given that we still have an eternity ahead of us!  So, reflecting on this pattern of remembrance and celebration, let me offer a few reasons why I cherish the opportunity and privilege of this routine.

  1. The first is the simple and basic fact that I am lifted into the magnificence and wonder and mystery and glory of these events.  There is something intrinsically satisfying to simply worship and bask in the beauty and splendor of who God is and what he has done.  The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”  And the answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” At no other points in the year do we get to engage in those two activities with a much energy, effort, creativity, and mutual delight.
  1. They become annual “high points” that elevate me out of the tendency of my faith to become “routine.”  You would think that being a pastor means I’m always living at the ‘growing edge’ of faith, but the fact that my job is so superimposed over my faith, it actually requires diligent attention to keep my relationship with Jesus from becoming a job.  The semi-annual events of birth and death, of incarnation and resurrection, along with other points along the way, help me do that.
  1. Because I get to preach our way through these seasons every year, I am forced to pay fresh attention to the texts, and the result is that I seem to see something new almost every year.  Sometimes it’s a small thing…sometimes a big thing, but I am surprised by the fact that as long as I’ve been doing this, I keep learning something that I didn’t quite or fully know before.  And that usually means I learn something about myself.  In other words, these seasons invite me to keep growing
  1. They are a powerful part of the formation of faith for the next generation.  They instill in our children, from their earliest moments of memory, the key events of salvation history revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  His life becomes imbedded in their life, and the calendar of the church becomes synchronized with the calendar of their life, and if it is done well – both in the home and in the congregation – it becomes ritual, in the best sense of that word, for a lifetime.
  1. It is a witness to the community in which we reside of the faith of the church.  When we celebrate well, unashamed of who Christ is and of the supernatural realities of God’s love for his world, and we do that year-in and year-out, century-in and century-out, in the face of the changing fortunes of the church in its relationship with the world – the power and truth of the gospel is revealed.  It is one way that we can be salt and light to the darkness and decay in the world.

As we begin Holy Week this Sunday – entering, with Jesus, into Jerusalem – I encourage you to participate in the events of this week as much as your schedule allows. May the magnificence and wonder and mystery and glory of these events be an opportunity for worship and growth and witness for us all.



March Notes

Mar 11

Posted by Polly Craig in Charlie’s Blog | Edit

The famous passage in Ecclesiastes tells us that there is “a season and a time for everything under heaven.” (Ecc. 3.1)  This is then followed by fourteen examples of seasonal themes such as “a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to weep and a time to laugh…” and so forth.  Right now our church staff seems to be in the seasonal polarity of “a time to seek and a time to lose.” (Ecc. 3.6a)

As you know, we lost Michele Partain, our long-time Administrative Assistant, and sought (& found) her successor, Polly Craig.  Earlier we lost our Children’s Ministry Director, Amy Englemann, and sought (& found) her successor, Margaret Garrison.  Now, due to personal circumstances, we will soon be losing Margaret and seeking another new CM Director. (see her note on page 2)  And, we’ve just learned that we will lose our extraordinarily-capable front office administrative assistant, Katrina Merson, and will be seeking someone to fill her difficult-to-replace shoes. That means in the past eight months we’ve had four staff departures and will have a complete turnover in our front office personnel. Whew!

In case you’re wondering whether or not something is wrong, please don’t!  In every case, factors other than job satisfaction were involved.  Both our Children’s Ministry directors and our Administrative Assistant were, and are, facing out-of-state moves, and Katrina has found a long-sought full-time position locally.  So we rejoice in the positive changes that each “losing” represents, but grieve the loss and gird up our loins for yet another round of “seeking.”  Still, transitions are difficult, especially when we’ve grown to love and value the people who work with us and for us, so we ask for your patience and prayers as we say good-bye and facilitate a good finish for Margaret and Katrina, and embark on a search for their successors.

We are fortunate that we don’t have to act in haste to hire new people.  Margaret has a number of steps to go through before she will be in a position to move, so it is likely she will still be serving our Children’s Ministry for at least two more months.  Though we won’t officially advertise the CM Director position for a few weeks, feel free to pass the word around that TPC will be looking for a Children’s Ministry Director within the next couple of months.  Katrina will be departing much sooner, as her last day will be Friday, March 6, so you only have a week to say good-bye and wish her well.  However, we won’t initiate a job search immediately as Joanna Lade, who has been trained as a volunteer office worker, will step in as a paid Interim Office Assistant for several weeks.  Joanna and her family have been very involved for quite some time – Joanna has been a deacon and is currently serving as a Stephen Minister – so she is very much at home here and will do a great job at the front desk for as long as she’s there.

Sometimes changes like these catch us by surprise, but they are no surprise to God.  God was fully prepared for what came suddenly to us, as has both their future and ours well in hand.  As disappointed as we are to lose two excellent staff members, let us do as scripture encourages us to do:

“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7


Oh…and just in case you are wondering – the guy across from the office?  He plans to stick around awhile.  




February Notes

Feb 16

Posted by Polly Craig in Charlie’s Blog | Edit

         Well, almost a year and a half late – I preached my first sermon on Genesis on August 31, 2013 – the light is bright at the end of the tunnel of this sermon series.  A couple of Sundays more and we’ll be done.  I hope this journey through the opening book of the Bible has been as enriching for you as it has been for me. I think the biggest takeaway for me has been the ability to see two people in the characters in Genesis – myself and Jesus.  The humanity of their struggles – their faith, their weakness, their courage, their sin – all resonate with what I see and hope for myself.  And then, beyond that, how they point to a greater and more complete revelation of God’s redemptive purposes in Christ.  The opening video clip last Sunday captured it so well:  these stories of men and women of faith in the Old Testament point to  beyond themselves and their experience to a “true and better” one in Christ.  My hope is that this sampling of stories and people will open up for us the richness and depth of all the people and stories of the Old Testament, and give us a forward vision to see “Jesus on Every Page.”  (Speaking of which, if this gives you a taste for me, check out the Adult Sunday Study that is currently happening.  That is the title of the book they are studying!)  

Continuing along this line of thought of how Genesis points to Christ, my Lenten sermon series will be a multi-faceted look at the Cross as the defining event for us as followers of the one who suffered on it.  The Cross is the culminating accomplishment of Jesus that was initiated with his birth and incarnation (Christ as Emmanuel – God with us), and vindicated by his resurrection and ascension (Christ as Lord – God reigning over us).  Each week we will look at one key passage about the cross and how it exalts Christ, glorifies God, and points us to life in Spirit.


     On page 8 is a graphic of a coupon for a fundraiser for FRONT PORCH.  Front Porch is an exciting and vibrant campus ministry at Cal Poly led by Rev. Joel Drenckpohl, who has preached here on several occasions.  Two people from our congregation are on the council – myself and Kathy Westphal – and we are faced with some huge challenges for 2015.  One is a major upgrading of the ministry center kitchen, which is desperately needed as we feed over 100 students every Wednesday night, and the other is a commitment to raise $100,000 a year for the next 5 years.  We are implementing multiple strategies to accomplish this, and utilizing local business is one of them.  California Pizza Kitchen in SLO will donate 20% of whatever the check total is on February 28 to Front Porch.  Called “Pizza with a Purpose,” all one has to do is present this prior to payment and FP gets 1/5 of that amount, on both eat-in and takeout orders.  SO…if you like CPK, and have any reason to be in SLO on the 28th, grab a bite to eat and let CPK do the rest!

Copies of the coupon will be available throughout the month in the literature rack in Butler Hall, located by the restrooms next to the office.  You can also take a picture of it on your cell phone, and they will accept that as well.