Pastor’s BLOG

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

Building Community

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ!
In my sermons in the last two weeks, I have been focusing on how we build and strengthen community. The Greek word in the New Testament that refers to community or fellowship is “Koinonia,” and it carries with it the connotation of a partnership where each other’s burdens and joys are shared. As we seek to strengthen our community, I have given two practical challenges for each of us to undertake.
The first is the “With-me” Challenge. This is based on the practice of Jesus who often invited people to be with him in his day to day life. Jesus did not attempt to live his life or do his ministry alone. He involved people in everything he did. When he traveled, when he went to temple, when he healed the sick, there were people in his life. On his preaching Journey, Jesus took the twelve with him as well as some women who had been cured of illnesses. He took Peter James and John with him to the mountain of Transfiguration. When he withdrew privately to Bethsaida, he took the twelve to be with him. When he was facing the his death and praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus took Peter, James, and John to be with him.
My challenge is for each person in our congregation to invite someone else in the congregation to be with them in some activity each month. If you are going to a movie, invite someone to be with you. If you are going shopping in Winston, invite someone to go with you. If you are going to visit someone who is ill, invite someone to go with you. As each of us does this each month with someone different, we will find our connections strengthened and our community built.
The second challenge I gave is what I call the “1-1-1 Prayer Challenge.” This challenge is based on the truth that when we pray for someone, the Spirit intercedes and silently builds the relationship. The Apostle Paul frequently prayed for the people in the churches that he founded and asked for prayers from them. Through those prayers for them and from them, their relationships deepened.
So my challenge is for each person to choose 1 person in our congregation to pray for one minute once a day for one month. At the end of the month, write a note saying that you have been praying for that person. And then choose a new person for the next month.
I am convinced that if our whole congregation takes up both these challenges, our “Koinonia” will be strengthened in ways that will astound us!
May the Lord bless each of you!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee

Welcome Home!

I sure do love traveling and going to new places and experiencing new things. Yet, no matter where I have gone, there comes a time when the longing for home begins to grow. Sometimes it takes a few weeks of being away other times it can be just a couple of days, but soon the desire to be back in my own bed and in my comfortable surroundings draws me home. After my first semester of my freshman year in college, I looked so forward to coming home. As it is said, “there is no place like home.”
The church was designed to be like that – a place of home and welcome where people want to be – where they can share their lives, support one another, and worship God together. The Greek word often used for this concept is “koinonia” and it means fellowship. It carries with it the connotation of a partnership where each other’s burdens and joys are shared. We are most familiar with the word as it comes to us in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
In the best of cases, the church is a place of welcome, home and fellowship. In fact, I believe, that it is this “koinonia” that many people are looking for when considering a church in which to participate. The fellowship of the church is an integral aspect of the body of Christ.
This “koinonia” is not meant just for those who are part of the fold; it is also for “the stranger.” The Bible has the concept of hospitality. This English word comes either from the Greek “xenodocheo” which literally means “to be receptive to strangers” or “philoxenia” which means “love of strangers.” The church is called to be a place of welcome to all who are seeking its fellowship. This means that the church creates an environment where new people are warmly embraced by those already at “home” in the church.
With the blessing of the Session, we have adopted these two ideas – “koinonia” and “philoxenia” as our themes for this coming year. More specifically we are calling it: “Welcome Home: A Year long experience in Christian Community and Hospitality.” In sermons, in Sunday school, and in our work as a church, we are going to keep these ideas in front of us as we seek to grow in the grace of Christ. So, be on the lookout for some exciting opportunities and challenges that will be coming your way in the months ahead!
May the Lord bless each of you!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee

Reader’s Choice

On Monday, my first day back in the church office following the mission trip, I went through the week’s worth of mail that had piled up in my box. I was surprised when I opened an envelope from The Dispatch, our local paper. It seems that they had been running a “reader’s choice” poll for various categories of establishments here in Lexington, and First Presbyterian had received the most votes in the “Best Place to Worship” category.
Now I certainly know that such a poll is unscientific, completely subjective, and linked directly to the motivation of the readers of The Dispatch to participate, but it was a nice surprise and an encouragement as we continue to navigate the many different expectations of our congregation concerning worship. Our culture is changing, and it is a challenge to engage new generations in worship while at the same time continuing to bless the worship traditions that are so valued.
For thousands of years the shape of worship has taken on many different forms, yet at its core worship ultimately is about God, what lifts God’s name up, and what pleases God. Truly this is the guiding principle for any worship of God: does it glorify God and build up the body of Christ? If it does, it is a faithful expression. Whether in the Crossroads service, the classic service, or our combined service in the summer, this principle has been the focus of our worship life, and it is nice to know that people in the Lexington community have recognized this.
The Lewis Center for Church Leadership has noted that since 2001, worship attendance has been trending downward throughout the country in many denominations including evangelical and Catholic churches. Let’s do our best to buck this trend, and make worship attendance a priority in our lives no matter which service we attend.
May the Lord bless you and keep you!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee