Pastor’s BLOG

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

The Pursuit of Unity and Peace

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” Ps 133:1.
“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Ga 3:27–28.
Unity is something sorely lacking in our country these days. The divide in our country that has been growing for decades has now reached extremes. It seems that people now define themselves by how they differ rather than how they are the same. As a result, there is very little desire to look for common ground on either side of so many issues. The worst is often assumed of the person who holds different opinions, and extreme rhetoric just makes it worse.
The technological advances that allow someone to post his or her thoughts to the world in a moments notice has removed the filter of time that in the past allowed someone to cool down and reflect on the consequences of one’s words. It truly feels like we are living through a war of ideology, and the casualties are civility, understanding, and decency.
I understand, in a way I never have before, the words of the Psalmist who wrote: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” Ps 133:1. I understand it, because I know how very awful and bad it feels as we live in this time of disunity and division.
How are we as Christians to engage this world that is in such turmoil?
I think the answer is to live out our faith in the ways that Jesus modeled:
He loved the unlovable; He forgave those who felt they were unforgivable and those who sought to do him harm; He did not condemn but brought understanding; and he saw the potential in a life turned to God. We all would do well to follow his path by working to understand, love, and forgive all of those in our lives who differ from us. We also would benefit by looking for the common ground we share in Christ.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians that the divisions people often focus on cease to matter because of Christ. When we focus on Jesus, his message, and his mission, we are able to put aside human divisions and become united in purpose and community. I am so proud of how our church focuses on the person of Jesus and the mission He has given us despite our human differences. I know for a fact that people in our congregation are on different sides of many political and social issues, but we join together each week in worship of God, in love for one another, and in mission to the world. This is a beautiful thing.
Finally, I would say that one antidote to the division we see in this world is to strive to live the words of Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
This is my prayer.
Grace and peace to each of you.
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee