Pastor’s BLOG

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