Responding Like Jesus

In the space of four days, a right-wing political extremist murdered 22 people in El Paso, a left-wing political extremist murdered10 people in Dayton, and 4 people were murdered in a two city crime and stabbing spree in California. We could add to this list: the 309 people killed in Chicago, 179 killed in New York, and 155 in Los Angeles so far in 2019. This list could go on and on with every city in the USA included.
 
The hate and pathology that are present in this world is depressing, and I have got to say that I am at a loss when reflecting on what can be done. Some say what we need are more armed and trained citizens who can respond to threats when they arise; others say we need to remove guns from our society so that access is denied to those who want to do harm to others. I am not sure either approach will “solve” the problem.
 
I say this because at the core of all this murderous violence is evil in the hearts of those who feel a need to harm other people. As someone raised to believe in the God given gift of life, it is shocking to see someone willing to take another person’s life. And yet, as long as there have been humans, there has been evil and murderous intent. I am reminded of Cain in Genesis 4 who murdered his brother Abel out of jealousy, or King David who arranged the death of Uriah the Hittite to cover up David’s sin of adultery. I also think of the violence and oppression of Rome against its citizens in the first century. I recall the constant clashes between Christians and Muslims during the years of the Crusades. In the 1500’s there was the violent upheaval surrounding the protestant reformation. In the Twentieth Century, we were witness to the violence between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and the rise of militant Islamic terrorism that came to a head in the 21st Century.
 
As much as we want to find something to “fix” this problem, I am not sure that, short of the return of Jesus, anything can. This is not to say that we have to accept it as normal or do nothing to try to prevent this kind of violence from happening in the future; but it is saying that ultimately it is a heart and soul problem.
 
As I have thought about how followers of Jesus should respond, I think we would do well to model how Jesus related to the world around him.
He loved, he listened, and he strove to see the best in people rather than the worst.
He loved his enemies and prayed for those who persecuted him.
He forgave, and he shared his peace.
 
So perhaps we can help heal people’s hearts and souls by working harder to listen to them
and try to understand the life experience of those with whom we disagree. We can strive to see the best in people rather than the worst. We can forgive, we can pray, and most importantly we can love. Perhaps if all Christians committed themselves to living out these words from Paul, we might see evil be overcome with love:
 
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-10,14-18, 21
 
This is my hope and prayer.
Grace and peace to you.
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


Call it good

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Philippians 2:14-15, NLT
 
As I have said many times, we are living in a time in which incivility and division characterize much of the discourse we hear in the public square. The worst is assumed of the other person, and this general negativity of our culture leads to a tendency to speak words of criticism first even before learning another person’s story.
 
We Christians are no less susceptible to this critical spirit than those who don’t know Jesus. I know I have to watch myself to make sure I don’t first criticize or complain when I run up against something that hits me the wrong way; and I have been on the receiving end of people expressing their critical spirit as well. It seems to me that it is worse than it ever used to be. I wonder if you experience this too.
 
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul is giving encouraging words of instruction to his beloved church. He wants them to shine like stars in the world by “doing all things without complaining and arguing.” In the Greek, the first word is defined as “grumbling or murmuring from discontent.” The second word has to do with contentious disputing. (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000)).
 
If there were two words that better describe our world right now, I don’t know what they might be.
 
For Paul, it was important that the church live differently than the “crooked and perverse generation” by providing an example of another way – a way of love and understanding where Christians would lay aside grumbling and arguing. Instead, they would follow the example of Jesus who looked not to his own interests but to the interests of others, and they would work to live in humility with those around them.
 
I think one way that we followers of Jesus can apply these words of Paul in our lives, as we seek to “shine like stars,” is to begin to look for ways to call things “good.” Almost always there is something good that we can focus on in another person or situation rather than the “bad.”
 
My mentor Stan Ott tells the story how a decorating committee of a church he was serving was tasked with changing the decor of the entrance spaces of the church while he was away on sabbatical. When he returned, he was bombarded with complaints about the results. Not everyone liked what was done. However, instead of focusing on the color of the carpet or style of furniture, he focused on their heart of the people on the committee. “Isn’t it good that we have a group of people in the church who are giving their time and effort to make our church’s welcoming spaces more inviting?” The tenor of the discussion changed almost overnight. Instead of complaining about the color of the walls, people began expressing appreciation for the work of the committee.
 
This is the power of “calling things good” and “doing all things without grumbling and complaining.” Almost always, there is something good that we can focus on rather than allow our culture’s critical spirit to permeate our lives. So, I challenge you to begin to look for ways to call something good – at work, at home, in the community, on the ball field, and in church. As we work to apply this practice in our individual and corporate lives, we will be well on our way to shining like stars in the world, and hopefully we will be part of reducing the rancor and division that is so prevalent in our world today.
 
May the Lord bless each of you!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


Time Passes

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ec 3:1.
 
I have been thinking a lot about time recently. This June 20th marked my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary. On Friday, my brothers and I gathered in Newport News, Virginia to take my parents out to dinner to recognize this amazing milestone in their lives. We listened as they talked about their wedding day and honeymoon, where they first lived after they were married, and how they felt when each of their sons were born. It was a special moment for all of us as we celebrated our family of origin. It seems like yesterday that the five of us were living under one roof, but it has been 38 years.
 
The graduation of my youngest from high school has impressed upon me the passage of time as well. When we arrived in Lexington, she was just 4 ½; she will turn 18 this summer and is heading off to college leaving behind an empty nest. I can close my eyes and remember her standing at the front of the church singing with the children’s choir. I blinked my eyes, and there she was giving her senior sermon from the pulpit.
 
Time is like that. It trudges on day to day in a similarity that makes its passing almost imperceptible; but then it crosses thresholds that bring into stark reality how it quickly it has passed. It is these threshold moments that makes one realize just how precious the gift of time is.
 
It takes a great deal of discipline to appreciate the time we have. It is so easy to let one day turn into another without any recognition of what has passed. Most of us tend to look toward what is coming next – the next paycheck, the next vacation, the next adventure – and neglect to appreciate the time that is. This is why we have to be intentional about appreciating each moment that God has given us.
 
I like the discipline of mindfulness. It is simply paying attention to the present moment and recognizing it as a gift. For me it includes taking some time every day to reflect on what went well that I can celebrate and what didn’t go so well that I can let go of. It is asking myself, “where did I see God move in my life today?” and “what can I do differently tomorrow in order to become the person God wants me to be?”
 
While this is simple, it is also difficult and requires discipline. You have to make yourself do this. Yet, I am convinced that it is one practice that can help us guard against losing the preciousness of time through the sheer mundaneness of the ticking of the clock.
Through it all, I also take comfort in the fact that my time is in the hands of God, and through the presence of the Spirit, God will continue to remind me of what a gift this life is.
 
May the Lord bless each of you today!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee
 


God Loves You First

One of the people that has nourished my soul over the years is Henri Nouwen. He was a Catholic Priest who authored more than 39 books on the spiritual life. I subscribe to an email list that delivers devotionals based on his writings to my inbox once a week.
 
This past week’s installment touched my heart. His words about how hard it is to trust that God loves him first irregardless of what he does or accomplishes is something that each one of us experiences. We live in a world that places value on accomplishment, success, and hard work. Each of these things can bring good things to our lives. However, when we allow them to filter into our life with God, we begin to believe that we have to earn God’s love.
 
Nouwen writes, “Do I really believe that I am loved first, independent of what I do or what I accomplish? This is an important question, because, as long as I think that what I most need I have to earn, deserve, and collect by hard work, I will never get what I most need and desire, which is a love that cannot be earned, but that is freely given” (Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent, email, Henri Nouwen Society).
 
We need unconditional love and any attempt to “get” this kind of love prevents us from receiving it. Nouwen says that the only thing for us to do is to renounce the thoughts that we have to do something and become willing to receive what God freely offers.
 
I know that it is hard to let go of the thoughts that we have to do something to earn God’s love, especially when we talk a lot about practicing the disciplines of the faith. We need to remember that the disciplines of prayer, study, and worship, are not about earning God’s love but rather they place us into the attitude of receptivity for the love of God already given.
 
This Lent, may you truly come to believe that you are loved and precious in God’s sight simply because you belong to God.
 
Grace and peace to you.
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


The Quiet Life

Lent is a season that invites us to reflect on our walk with God and to consider how we might take an active step forward in the practice of our faith. Of course this is challenging in the high velocity world in which we live. So many things are pulling at us from so many directions. Work responsibilities, family responsibilities, community responsibilities and others all demand our attention, and it is often overwhelming.
In the midst of all of this, what often gets pushed out of our hectic lives are the practices of our faith; and the idea of adding something during Lent seems impractical. However, one practice that you can add will create some life-giving breathing space that will actually draw you closer to God and help you be more efficient in living your life in our fast paced world.
 
The psalmist writes from the voice of God: “Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10. There is much wisdom is this short simple verse. So much distracts us in our noisy world, that the only way to allow God’s word into our lives is to carve out just a little time to be quiet before God. It is so simple: Be Still, focus on God, and God will make himself known. Yet this simple act can seem impossible at first. However, if we are disciplined enough, each of us could find 5 or 10 minutes to shut the door, turn off the phone, and be quiet before the Lord. This practice of quiet meditation will allow us to hear God and to focus on the source of our strength.
 
C.S. Lewis said it well: “It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.” (Mere Christianity).
 
This Lent, I am adding at least 5 minutes of completely uninterrupted quiet meditation before the Lord. As the weeks progress, I am working to increase the time so that I can let the “stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” I encourage you to do the same.
 
May each of you have a holy Lent.
 
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee
 


Lent 2019

Next week we begin the season in the church known as Lent. Lent marks the 40 days that precede Holy Week and Easter. In the Bible, the number 40 relates to: the days of rain during the great flood experienced by Noah and his family; the number of years spent by Israel seeking the Promised Land after the Exodus; and the number of days Jesus was in the Wilderness after his baptism and prior to beginning his ministry.
For us, the Season of Lent is an invitation to 40 days of renewal (“Lent” means “spring”) when we prepare ourselves to take in the Good News of Easter through deeper disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
 
We will begin our Lenten observance with our Ash Wednesday service on March 6, 2019 at 7 p.m. This service sets the tone of reflection and repentance that usually characterizes this season. During this service we will receive the imposition of ashes as a sign of our penitence.
 
The Greater Lexington Area Minister’s Association (GLAMA) will once again sponsor a 30 minute noontime worship service on six Wednesdays during Lent. Each week, pastors from different denominations will take turns leading the service. Following the service, there is a light lunch served for just $5. First United Methodist Church hosts the service and provides the meal. This service and lunch is a wonderful time to worship and fellowship with other Christians from the greater Lexington area.
 
Youth Sunday will fall during lent on Sunday, March 17th. We will have just one service at 11 a.m. so that our entire church can be blessed by the youth. Following the service, our Young Disciple Middle School Youth Group will provide a salad and potato bar lunch for the congregation.
 
Saturday, April 13th will provide us the opportunity to put our faith into action as we join with other churches in Touching Davidson County With Love through our day of service.
We encourage everyone to make plans to participate as we serve our community in the name of Jesus. More information about this day will be forthcoming.
 
On Palm Sunday, April 14th, GLAMA will sponsor the Palm Sunday Parade to the square with a brief service with participants from many of the downtown and area churches. The service begins at 12:15. This annual event is a much looked forward tradition in Lexington. We will have our annual Easter Egg hunt that afternoon.
 
On Thursday, April 18th, our brothers and sisters at First United Methodist Church will join us at 7 p.m. for a joint Maundy Thursday Service. We will be hosting the service this year with an anthem by our combined choirs. Dr. Weisner from FUMC will be preaching.
 
The big day of celebration will be Easter Sunday, April 21st, and we will just one service as we celebrate Easter together.
 
As you can see, the Lenten / Easter season is full of meaningful opportunities for developing one’s faith. I encourage you to participate as you are able. It is a blessing to be in such a vibrant faith community!
 
Grace and peace to you,
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


Love is from God

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” 1 Jn 4:7.
 
This week we once again observe St. Valentines Day. Its roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. Around 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day. So while we can joke that Valentines Day was created by the greeting card industry, it really does predate our contemporary observance by more than 1000 years.
 
As the song goes, “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,” and it truly is – whether that love is between a husband and wife, a parent and a child, siblings, or friends. Yet, what is even more splendorous is the love that God has for us. In the first letter of John we read, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 Jn 4:9–10.
God so loved us that he sent his only son to this world so that we might be reconciled to God through Jesus. We have been pursued by a loving God who provided a way for us to be forgiven, so that we might enjoy eternal fellowship with God. Truly, God is love!
 
John further elaborates that “since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” 1 John 4:11. Our love for others grows out of God’s love for us. It is not based on how we feel about other people; instead, it is grounded on the action of God in history in the person of Jesus. We love because God loves.
 
Now, just as God’s love is about action, so ours needs to be as well. John exhorted his readers, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” 1 Jn 3:18. As you approach Valentines Day this week, I encourage you to express your love with concrete action. Flowers, candies, and cards are great, but remember that love enfleshed by action is the model God gave us. Use your imaginations and actively share your love. I would also challenge you not to limit your loving action to just someone in your normal circle. Look for someone who may seem unlovable, and share the active, sacrificial love of Jesus with them.
 
I wish all of you the full blessings of our loving heavenly Father who loved us so much that he gave us Jesus!
 
Grace and peace to you.
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


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