Pastor’s BLOG

Be The Light in 2019

Every year when the calendar turns over, it provides us a psychological break with the past. We are given the opportunity to consider new endeavors and see the possibilities that a fresh year provides.
 
This past year (2018) was characterized by significant divisiveness and acrimony in our public dialogue. In my sermon on Sunday, I likened living in this time to Isaiah’s words of “being a people dwelling in a land of deep darkness.” I gave some examples of how the unrelenting access to news and the ability to respond instantly have led to people hurting one another with their words.
 
I suggested that the new year gives us an opportunity to lighten the darkness around us by being the light of Christ in four specific ways:
 
First, let us resolve to give less offense to others.
  • We can do this by becoming more polite with our words.
  • We can refrain from using hyperbolic language when referring to another person’s motives or actions.
  • We can go out of our way to be kind to another person, even if, and especially if, they have not been kind to us.
  • We can become people of grace who, like Jesus, are merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
 
Secondly, let us resolve to take less offense from others.
Today it seems as if everyone is offended by everything and everyone. Any little perceived slight done by one person to another is interpreted as an intentional offense that must be met with outrage and the offending person must be put in their place.
 
  • Instead of taking offence at everything, let us strive to give other people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Let us not jump immediately to assigning evil intent or bad motives to another person’s words or actions.
  • Let us realize that we are not the arbiters and judges of every other person’s opinion.
  • Let us be people of grace we have been called to be by Jesus.
 
Thirdly, let us resolve to pass on less offense.
Before we press the “share” or “retweet” button, let us ask ourselves:
  • Will this thing add to the division and incivility of our culture?
  • Is the outrage or offense of another person that we are about to pass on truly worth adding to the anger and antagonism of our time.
  • Will it add to peace and understanding or will it inflame?
  • If it will inflame or add to the division, then let’s not do it.
 
More than 50 years ago, Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote a song whose message still resonates today:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.
 
So finally, as we seek to shine the light of Jesus in 2019, let us commit to loving other people with grace and abandon! The world needs us!
 
Grace and peace to each of you!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


God Came To Us

Merry Christmas!
Every year when Christmas rolls around I am reminded how amazing the story of Jesus’ birth is. Mary, a young Hebrew girl, hears a word from the Lord that she will conceive and bear the son of God. She faces embarrassment, ostracism, and even the possibility of death for breaking the norms of the culture, yet she persists with courage and faith. Joseph, a young man, is faced with a betrayal of trust from his betrothed, but he is told in a dream not to be afraid to take the young Mary as his wife. They make a long arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and arrive just in time for her to give birth. Shepherds from surrounding fields receive a message from angels that the Savior has been born, and they head to Bethlehem to worship the new born king. Wise Men from the East also arrive and give gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They then flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod only to return after Herod’s death.
 
As wonderful as this story is, the most amazing thing to me is not what Mary and Joseph did, but rather what God did. The Creator of the universe and the one and only omnipotent God chose to limit himself, take on the form of a human, and come to live among us as one of us. God came to us!
Every other faith on earth focuses on what the human must do to reach God. Hindus strive to reunify their spirit with Brahman, Buddhists try to attain nirvana, and Muslims have 5 pillars to attain satisfaction and approval from Allah. However, the story of Christmas is about what God did to reach humans. The love of God came to us!
 
Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God has something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And begin found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
 
God came to us in Jesus because of love, and it is that wondrous love that we celebrate at Christmas. God is not some aloof being who created the world and then stood back to watch what would happen. No, God is intimately involved in the created world, and the story of Christmas is the best proof we have of God’s commitment to be present in the world. God’s loving involvement continues today in the presence of the Spirit.
 
So, wherever you find yourself this Christmas, let the story remind you that just as God came to us 2000 years ago in the person of the Christ child, God continues to come to us every day. You are not alone, and you are very much loved by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
 
My family and I wish each of you a very blessed and holy Christmas!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


The Longest Night

I always get excited as we enter into the Advent / Christmas Season. I love the extra touches we add to our worship experiences – from the Advent Wreath Liturgy, to the extra musicians, to the special services. I enjoy the Christmas music playing from the radio and in the stores. I like seeing the lights on houses all decorated for the holidays.
 
Yet, I am always aware that this festive season is not always so festive for those who are
are experiencing grief at this time of year. The struggles of life do not take Christmas vacations, and sometimes the observance of Christmas just serves to highlight the deep loss one may be experiencing.
 
In an attempt to acknowledge this truth and care for those who are hurting, we held a “longest night” service last year. Through prayers, scripture readings, music, and silence, we proclaimed that God’s presence is there for those who mourn or struggle.
 
We will be holding this service again this year on Wednesday, December 19th (please note date change) at 7 p.m. In our time together, we will give voice to the pain of those are experiencing grief and loss, and at the same time we will proclaim the hope of the incarnation of Jesus. All will be reminded that God’s Word comes to shine light into the darkness of our lives. This service is for all who need the time and space to acknowledge their loss and sadness and to know that they are not alone. (If anyone would be interested in helping with this service, please speak with me as soon as possible.)
 
As we walk through this Advent / Christmas season, let us never forget the words of the Gospel of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Grace and peace to all.
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee
 


The Big Picture

Each year when the time for the Thanksgiving breakfast rolls around, I am reminded of my first “official” event as your pastor. It was thirteen years ago during the week of Thanksgiving that I began my ministry with you, and the first “worship” service I led was the devotional service at that year’s Thanksgiving breakfast. My first Sunday was three days later on the first Sunday of Advent, and that evening was my first Christmas Family Night.
In the thirteen years since, our church has baptized 44 children and adults, confirmed 60 youth into the faith, hosted more than 18 weddings, received 104 new adult members, and lost 63 members to death. We have collected more than 19,000 jars of peanut butter for the food pantry, received more than $20,000 – 2 cents at a time – for our hunger offering, and given more than $500,000 to local mission.
Over these years, we have had many wonderful fellowship events and meaningful family retreats to Montreat. We have sustained an active Sunday school program and developed strong small group and trio-discipleship groups that help us grow in faith. We have grown our lay pastor program to include ten lay pastors who provide care to our homebound and aging members. We have cried together, laughed together, rejoiced and worshiped together.
Sometimes as we navigate the great demands of living in this complicated world, our focus can be narrowed to such a degree that we can miss the big picture. The only way not to miss it is to take some time to step out of the rush of life to reflect on the journey. When I step back to look at all that we have accomplished together on our journey, I have to give God the glory for it all. God has truly blessed our church in many ways and truly has blessed me with the privilege of serving alongside you over these years.
As we celebrate another Thanksgiving together, I just wanted to say thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives. As you gather around your Thanksgiving tables this year, I encourage you to take a step back, reflect on the journey, and give thanks as well.
May you each have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee