Pastor’s BLOG

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

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