The Heart’s Throne

1069375_10151757689246119_1606886087_nTrue worship can only take place when we agree to God sitting not only on His throne in the center of the universe, but on the throne that stands in the center of our heart.
~Robert Colman

Last night we had the joy of worship on the hill on our farm for a summer evening of Wiser Lake Chapel‘s outdoor church.   Together we came from far and wide: from Japan and Myanmar to South Dakota and Colorado– sixty five people ranging from a 5 week old premie baby making her church debut to a 93 years young woman who treasures each and every chance to worship with her church family.

Our hearts cannot be empty and longing when God sits at the center of Who we are. 

Before the throne of God above;  before the throne of God within.  Our hearts are full indeed.

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


Lenten Grace — As His Flesh: Ours

photo by Emily Gibson
photo by Emily Gibson
facing east to the rising sun by Jim Randall
facing east to the rising sun by Jim Randall
photo of BriarCroft Sunrise Service 2013 by Emily Gibson
photo of BriarCroft Sunrise Service 2013 by Emily Gibson

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall…

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
~John Updike from “Seven Stanzas at Easter”

Our flesh is so weak, so temporary,
as ephemeral as a dew drop on a petal
yet with our earthly vision
it is all we know of ourselves
and it is what we trust knowing
of Him.

He was born as our flesh, from our flesh.
He walked and hungered and thirsted and slept
as our flesh.
He died, His flesh hanging in tatters,
blood spilling freely
breath fading
to nought
speaking Words
our ears can never forget.

And He rose again
as His flesh: ours
to walk and hunger and thirst alongside us
and here on this hill we meet together,
–flesh of His flesh–
here among us He is risen
–flesh of our flesh–
married forever
as the Church
and its fragile, flawed
and everlasting body.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Hilltop Easter Sunrise Service Invitation

2013 Easter Sunrise Service at BriarCroft  — Sunday, March 31 at 7 AM
(formerly Walnut Hill Farm)

sunrise view from our hill–see more at our website at

When we purchased Walnut Hill Farm from the Morton Lawrence family in 1990, part of the tradition of this farm was a hilltop non-denominational Easter sunrise service held here for the previous 10+ years.  We have continued that tradition, with an open invitation to families from our surrounding rural neighborhood and communities, as well as our church family from Wiser Lake Chapel, to start Easter morning on our hill with a worship service of celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At our annual Easter Sunrise Service in Whatcom County, we develop a different Easter theme each year through use of scripture readings and songs, led by Dan Gibson. We sit on hay bales on the hill for the worship service, followed by breakfast of cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate and coffee in our barn.  As many of the people who attend come from some distance from all over the county, we try to conclude by 8 AM so they may have time to get to morning church services.


552213_2562544363247_828834728_n562278_10150787215216119_1848824445_nthank you to Chris Lovegren for the four photos above of Sunrise Service 2012

We invite all to come to our farm to participate in this traditional service of celebration.  Please dress warmly with sturdy shoes as you will be walking through wet grass to reach the hilltop.  Bring heavy blankets or sleeping bags to wrap up in if it is a chilly morning.  In case of rain, we meet in the big red hay barn on the farm, so we never cancel this service.

If you would like more information and directions to our farm at 1613 Central Road, between Hannegan and Noon Road, please email us at

Dan and Emily Gibson

Gentle Shepherds

Pastor Bert and Jane Hitchcock

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

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

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

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

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

We rejoice together
in celebration
of the lost
now found.

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

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

Amen and Amen again.


(written for the twentieth anniversary of Pastor Bert and Jane Hitchcock coming to minister to Wiser Lake Chapel, Lynden, Washington


On Loan

Hilda was sent as part of a mission outreach to our small rural church over fifty years ago by a larger church in town.  She was the music maker of the group of individuals sent to minister to the unchurched children and families in the vicinity of the Chapel, many of whom were Hispanic and Native American.  She played piano and accordion, both with great energy and gusto, so hymns were sung with enthusiasm and a distinct rhythm and style under Hilda’s accompaniment.  There was singing time, some group worship time, and then the age groups would be split into classes for Bible stories and more in depth study.

There was something infectious about a little lady who loved her hymns so much.  She knew all the “old timey” songs like “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” with punchy choruses and a parade like beat.  She also knew her Bible and kept careful track of the passages she heard illuminated by sermons Sunday after Sunday.  In fact, Hilda kept track of everything.  She started a daily diary in her early twenties and kept documenting the daily events, weather, who was sick, who was born, who was wed and who was not in volume after volume, resulting in a closet full of diaries that contained more history than most encyclopedias.  She was “blogging” before anyone knew what that meant.

She kept it up until the day she fell on her floor at age 95, sustaining painful compression fractures in her back, and waited patiently for someone to find her hours later even though she had an emergency call button to use, but was concerned it might be a bother to someone if she pushed it.  To recuperate, she went to live in an extended care facility, and there kept a running list of who came to visit.

Hilda and her family loved her little mission church, which eventually grew to become its own congregation with its own pastor, and twice a year, in celebration of her birthday and the anniversary of her arrival at the Chapel, during the offertory she would either play several hymns on her accordion or on the piano, or both.  If she wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the singing from the congregation, she would tell us all “I know you can do better!” and play the hymn again.  We learned to sing it really loud the first time because her hearing was going.

Her last time playing for church was only a few weeks before her injury.  She was as punchy and enthusiastic as ever.

Yesterday morning, Hilda was awakened by a nurses’ aide for breakfast, and was alert and ready for the day.  When the aide returned a short time later, Hilda’s spirit had left and gone away, leaving her earthly shell behind.

She was on loan to the Chapel all these years, she liked to remind us, having never become a member.   Hilda was clear that when the time came, her original home church in town would be the one to take care of her final journey.   So next week, the Chapel people will go to the larger church in town to celebrate Hilda’s favorite hymns and favorite scriptures, knowing with full confidence that she was one of our own, on loan from God.

A Place that Reflects the People Inside

( a writing class assignment on a building that is particularly meaningful to me)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenten Meditation: Redeeming the Time

“Therefore look carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5: 15-16

Tonight was a celebration of Wiser Lake Chapel’s history with some of the folks who have attended this little church for over 50 years.  It was a joy to review how the original Methodist-Episcopal church built for $600 in 1916 was subsequently disbanded by the Methodists and then leased for $25/month by the Christian Reformed Churches in our area to become an outreach mission Sunday School and Daily Vacation Bible School for hundreds of migrant and Native American children in our county.  From that outreach ministry came worship services that brought in a diverse congregation from the rural neighborhoods, and most recently, over the last 20 years, it is a thriving non-denominational church with a strong reformed Presbyterian perspective.  Scores of children learned about the Lord inside our humble sanctuary, and how to sing from their hearts to His glory.

I’m blessed to be a part of this incredible church family, not a mega-church, but vibrant all the same.  We need to remember what we came from and why.

For all you Wiser Lake Chapel alums out there in all different walks of life in the faith: we will celebrate a centennial in 2016 and we will have a great picnic, so plan on it!  Watch for details.

“Everything you do today, or I do, affects not only what is going to happen but what has already happened, years and centuries ago. Maybe you can’t change what has passed, but you can change all the meaning of what has passed.  You can even take all the meaning away.”  –words of an old preacher, quoted by Martin Wright, a friend of Herbert Butterfield (British historian)

The Sunday School Express

photo by Gary Herbert

The rusty, scratched and dented shell of a school bus sounded as if it would barely make it around the corner. Yet it always ran if Pete was at the wheel as he drove the “Sunday School Express” in our rural neighborhood, picking up all willing (and some not so willing) children within a 6 mile radius.

This was the only way these children would get to attend Sunday School at Wiser Lake Chapel. The bus was the cast off donation that made the pick up routine possible. Pete provided the fuel for the bus and, along with his wife and a few other steadfast volunteers, was one of the teachers of the classes. This was a mission effort to reach the local kids, most of whom were growing up poor. Their immigrant and Native American parents were too weary from a week of working the fields, logging or fishing to get to church themselves, so were grateful for the two hour respite from their noisy children offered by the Sunday School Express.

The chapel was a humble destination. It was a boxy building with flaking paint and loose shingles, with a squared off steeple and a large bell to ring in the belfry. The children would take turns tugging on the rope inside the front door each Sunday, announcing the clarion call to all within a ½ mile that once again the Word of God was being proclaimed in this little building.

Pete made sure these hungry children were fed from the Word along with a lunch that would carry them through the day. He taught them the old hymns and made sure each one received their own Bible by age eight. For years, he and his family spent their Sunday mornings at this little chapel, not attending a church service with a preacher or a sermon, except when it came time to do the rounds of local congregations to ask for continued financial support for the mission outreach he was doing.

He came to know the children well as he picked them up in the bus and then delivered them back to their homes and would occasionally stop briefly to chat with their parents, to ask about any needs they may have and encouraging them to consider coming to one of the larger churches in town for worship. As he traveled about his Sunday morning bus route week after week, he’d sometimes discover the children’s homes abandoned, suddenly dark and empty, with no way to know or find out where the family had gone. He would pray they would find another home and another church would find them.

His unique ministry continued for almost a generation. As Pete’s own children grew up and moved away, he and his wife Esther helped recruit a pastor for the little chapel, and it grew to become the vibrant worshiping community it is today, to include some of the adults he had taught when they were young. They had been fed to the point of being able to feed others and a number of them became Sunday school teachers themselves.

Pete passed away several years ago, a beloved and respected father to his own children and teacher to many hundreds of others’. His funeral service was a simple service befitting a devout and faithful servant. What made it most remarkable was the overflowing chapel sanctuary, filled with people who he had picked up and delivered over the years in his rickety Sunday school bus, picking them up from their humble surroundings and delivering them into the grace and glory of God. He had fed them the Word and he had fed them lunch. And they returned in the fullness of their gratitude.