Final Words

Well, I can’t believe it, but this is my last pastor’s column to our congregation.
 
We have had a wonderful journey together for these last 14 ½ years. I have loved being your pastor, and I consider each of you my friend and partner in ministry. It has been such a privilege to be a part of your lives and to be invited into the best and most challenging times of your lives.
 
Truly it is hard for me to wrap my head around not being the pastor of First Presbyterian in Lexington. It has become so much a part of my identity, and I have so enjoyed traveling with you as we have grown in our faith and worked beside each other sharing Christ’s ministry.
 
I have complete trust in what God is doing calling me and this congregation to something new, but at the same time, there is grief that goes along with this new chapter in our lives. It is a loss for both of us – me leaving a people I deeply care about and you losing a pastor you have loved. It is important to acknowledge the grief so that you can be ready to embrace the new thing that God is going to do with you. Of course, part of the challenge of acknowledging the grief at this particular moment in time is that we can’t say our good byes in person. We will remedy this as soon as it is safe to do so with a celebration planned by the transition team. In the mean time, hold on to the blessing of the memories of our time together.
 
One of the difficult aspects of leaving a pastoral relationship is that I am no longer in the role of pastor. This means that I must back out of pastoral activities. I will not be able to visit you in the hospital, provide pastoral care, lead funerals, give my advice on church matters, and other pastoral things. This will be hard to get used to for you and me. Please know that it is not personal. Not only is this required by the Presbytery, it is very important for the health of the church for me to have no pastoral influence or input so that your new transitional pastor and eventual installed pastor can develop pastoral relationships with you.
 
At the same time, when life returns to normal, and you see me out in Lexington, you don’t have to avoid me or my family. You can say hi, ask how we are doing, or give us a hug! We just have to be intentional to not talk about what is going on at the church.
 
Once again let me say how blessed I have been to be here with you. Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor for all these years. I will be praying for you and trusting God to continue to do great things with you.
 
Grace and peace to you.
Your friend and (for the last time) pastor,
Pastor Lee


Come On and Zoom, Zoom, Zooma, Zoom!

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ!
 
So much has happened in the two weeks since our last printed newsletter. Our lives have been upended, our sports have been cancelled, we have stopped having church in person, and we can’t find toilet paper!
 
sThe Session met online on March 22nd and made the difficult decision to continue the suspension of church activities through April 5th. All members felt strongly that this was the right thing to do to safeguard the health of our church family.
 
We all are missing one another! Yet we are finding creative ways to be together while we are apart! One of the programs that we have been using here at the church is Zoom. Zoom is a video conferencing program that can be run on a computer or a smart phone. It allows us to meet together, to see each other, and to talk just like we are in a room together.
 
If you have a computer or smart phone, I would encourage you to download the application and install it. This will allow you to participate in whatever online gatherings we might have including Sunday school.
 

Or you could go to the website: https://zoom.us.
 
Now I know that some of you might not have either a computer or a smart phone, but there is a way you can still participate over a regular phone.
The access number is 646-558-8656.
  • Once you call this access number, you will be prompted for a “Meeting ID followed by the # sign.” You then put in the 9 digit Meeting ID number with the #sign.
  • Each “meeting” has a different Meeting ID number.
  • You will be asked for a participant ID followed by the # sign. Just press #. We do not use this function.
  • You will be asked to say your name followed by the #sign. Once you hit the # sign you will be added to the meeting
I will be streaming the worship service on Sunday at 11 a.m. over a Zoom meeting for those who do not have computers or smart phones. All you have to do is follow the above directions and use the meeting id: 295 249 020. Once you have joined, you will be able to hear the audio from the worship service.
 
If you do have a smart phone or computer, please go to the church website to watch the service through the YouTube video link.
 
Here are the upcoming meetings and their ID numbers:
  • Men’s Breakfast Devotional on Tuesdays at 7:30 a.m. 131- 411- 249
  • Sunday School on Sundays at 10 a.m. 872-552-958
  • Sunday Worship Audio Feed at 11 a.m. on Sundays 295-249-020
My friends, God is with us and will get us through this difficult time. God is our rock, our shield, and our deliverer. Let us commit ourselves to reaching out to those around us through phone calls and cards, and let us pray fervently for each other, our church, our community, our nation, and our world.
 
Grace and peace to you,
 
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


Don’t Panic

Greetings in the name of Jesus!
 
First off let me say: “DON’T PANIC!” God is with each of you and all of us!
Well, we are certainly in a time that is unprecedented for all of us. As I was thinking about what to write to you this morning, I started thinking about a conversation I had with my grandmother about her experiences during World War 2.
 
I was visiting with her, as I often did, when she went into a closet and pulled out a bag full of memorabilia. She had newspapers announcing the Pearl Harbor attack and celebrating the victory in Europe. She had a large swatch of a silk parachute that a relative had brought back from the war. Yet, the item that most interested me was the rationing coupon book. She explained to me that every family was issued one and the coupons were needed to purchase various items. If you ran out of coupons, you could not purchase the item.
 
She explained how, while it was a hardship, everyone pulled together because that was what was required of the nation in the time of war so that the soldiers would have what they needed to win. It was a time of shared sacrifice focused on a common goal. It is no wonder they called the generation of my grandmother’s the greatest generation.
 
While I am not sure we can compare what my grandmother lived through to what we are living through today, the truth is that we are facing something that few if any of us have faced before. This Corona Virus Pandemic has caused major disruptions to our way of life. There are things being asked of us that are major inconveniences. We don’t want to cancel church. We don’t want to limit our interactions with people. We want our sports back!
 
Yet, I am convinced that we can do this. There is a limited time frame here. We are not looking at 4 years of hardship. Instead, we are looking at a couple of months at most. We can pull together and do our part to help “flatten the curve” of infection as we keep our eyes open to the needs around us.
 
Ironically, this time of social distancing and not gathering in large groups is providing us the opportunity to re-connect to individuals around us. I encourage you to check in with your neighbors to see if they are o.k. or need something. Reach out to an older person and offer to help them run an errand or pick up food so they can remain safely at home. Call your friends more frequently to commiserate. Seek to see with the eyes of Jesus and respond as the hands and feet of Jesus.
 
One thing I do think that we will all come to better appreciate is the wonderful joy and value of gathering together as a church family. When something is taken away, we more clearly understand how important it is.
 
Please know that I am praying for you, our community, and nation. I encourage you to be praying as well. God is with us and God will sustain us as God always has!
 
Your Friend and Pastor,
Pastor Lee


Corona Virus

As I write this week’s reflections, the worry over the spread of the Corona Virus continues to grow. While this virus does not seem to have the lethality of SARS (2003), H1N1 (2009), MERS (2012), or even the Flu, people are rightfully concerned about it. Any kind of respiratory virus is not something to be taken lightly. Fortunately, prevention for all respiratory viruses are the same. We all need to wash our hands more often and more vigorously; cover our mouths and noses when we cough or sneeze, and stay home if we are sick.
 
Just today, I learned that the Christ Episcopal Church in Washington, DC has suspended services out of an abundance of caution for the most vulnerable because its lead priest has contracted the Corona Virus. While we are no where near having to take that drastic step, I wanted you to know that we are thinking about ways to reduce the possibility of transmission of such viruses.
 
  • First, I would like to remind everyone to be washing their hands while at church and using the hand sanitizer dispensers that are throughout the church building.
  • Secondly, I have instructed our cleaning folks to wipe down all the door handles in the building with Lysol twice weekly.
  • Thirdly, I would like us to make a slight temporary adjustment to our passing of the peace on Sunday morning. We will still do so, but I would like to suggest that instead of shaking hands we would bump elbows or do a pat on the back. This will allow us to continue to warmly welcome one another and at the same time lessen the possibility of the transmission of germs.
  • Finally, I am looking into ways that we might make the worship service available by live stream for those who are sick and want to stay home, but do not want to miss the service. There is a lot involved with this, so it may take awhile to make this happen. I will keep you informed.
Throughout all this, let us remember that God is with us, and that ultimately, there is nothing beyond the concern of God. Let us also pray for those who are sick, those who are caring for the ill, and those who are working on vaccines and treatment options.
 
May you be safe and well!
 
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee
 


Lent 2020

As we embark on our 40 day Lenten Journey, many of us may practice the Lenten discipline of giving up something. One of my daughters has decided to give up social media for Lent. I think she will be a much less stressed and happier person because of it! Other people will give up desserts or sodas or some other food or beverage. Many of our Catholic and Episcopalian brothers and sisters will give up eating red meat on Fridays.
 
I have clergy friends who instead of giving something up decide to add something to their observance. One of them purchases a can of food for each day of Lent. At the end of the 40 days, these food items are given to the local food pantry. Another friend makes a weekly visit to a retirement home.
 
I have two suggestions for practices that you can add that would help Lent be a meaningful time of spiritual growth. The first is scripture reading. Pick one Gospel and read a half a chapter a day. Add to this one of the proverbs from the Old Testament that corresponds with the day of the month. Before you read, ask that God would open your heart to be taught something in your reading. This practice will take less than 10 minutes a day and will be encouraging to you.
 
The second suggestion is to choose a person who will be your Lenten prayer buddy. Ask that person to commit to praying for you for 40 days during Lent as you will commit to praying for that person. If you want, ask for specific prayer requests. Other wise, just use this simple prayer:

Lord, grant (name) and me the grace today to commit our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ without reservation; and furthermore grant (name) and me the grace to know your strength and your guidance this day.
 
If you do any or all of these intentional practices, you will find the next 40 days to be enriching to your faith and a great preparation for your Easter celebration on April 12th.
 
May each of you have a holy Lent!
 
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


Three Tasks for 2020

For my first sermon of the year, I shared with the congregation Paul’s words to the Thessalonians about how their faith had been noticed by the world. He wrote. “For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming” (1 Thessalonians 1: 9-10). Paul commended them for turning from idols to serve the living God and to wait for Jesus.
 
I suggested that these three movements would be a good plan for each of us in the coming year!
 
First, let us each turn away from idols.
Now most of us don’t have a problem worshiping little statues that we attribute divine powers to; however, there are many things in our culture that clamor for our time and attention…things that can pull us away from a complete devotion to Jesus Christ. These could be behaviors, activities, or attitudes that are not good for us or pleasing to God. My suggestion is to choose one thing that diverts your attention or effort from growing in Christ and replace it with something that draws you closer to Christ.
 
Secondly let us serve the living God.
Ask yourself, “what am I currently doing to serve God and be a beacon for Jesus?” Then think about adding one new servant activity in the year to come. Or perhaps you might reflect on how you can take what you are already doing to a higher level. Whatever your decide, the idea is to be intentional about growing in service to God.
 
Finally, let us wait on the Lord Jesus.
For us in the 21st Century, I interpret this to mean adding a practice that enables you to spend more time in the presence of Jesus. Perhaps this could be a commitment to read through the Bible in a year or increasing the time you spend in quiet reflection and prayer before the Lord.
 
It is my belief that if each of us would take up this call to turn, serve, and wait in the coming year, we would see God more clearly working in our lives and in this world.
May each of you have a wonderful 2020!
 
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


Christmas Comes

As I have reflected on the state of our world today, it is enough to get so discouraged. The division and hatred is so great that it makes one wonder the same thing as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote,

And in despair I bowed my head;
There is no peace on earth, I said;
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! (from Christmas Bells).
 
Yet, I am reminded that, even in the midst of the turmoil, Christmas still comes. Every time we see the work of God in another person; every time a kind word is said; every time a loving deed is done; Christmas light breaks into a darkened world! Christmas comes!
We have a part to play in making the story of Christmas come alive in our world. We each are one of the Christmas lights who shine to make this world a better place. So let us speak kind words, do loving deeds, and be the hands and feet of Christ in another person’s life.
 
Through our lives let us proclaim:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to [all]. (from Christmas Bells).
 
Merry Christmas to All!
 
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


God Meets Us

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ!
 
One of the lessons we learn from the Christmas story is that God will be revealed where God wants to be revealed, and many times that will be where we least expect it.
 
Ask Elijah. He had run away from those who were seeking his life and had taken refuge in a cave when God came to him in a “still quiet voice.”
 
Ask Moses. He was busy shepherding his sheep when God came to him in a burning bush.

Ask Paul. He was on the road to Damascus with plans to round up Christians when Jesus met him on that road with a blinding light.
 
We make a point to come to church during the Advent / Christmas season in order to be closer to God. We have choir cantatas, children’s pageants, and candlelight services to help create an atmosphere where we can experience God and the warmth of Christian fellowship. And this is all good! I surely love all of our traditions and Christmas events.
But let us remember that God is not limited to our humanly crafted experiences. God will come to us where God chooses to come to us; and sometimes, the places where God will meet us will be surprising to us. Who would have thought that the savior of the world would have been born in a stable and placed in a manger in a small town in Bethlehem? Yet, he was!
 
So while we may experience the presence of God in all of our church services and activities this year, let us not forget to open our eyes to the ways that God will be revealed in the unexpected places out on the roads of our lives. Perhaps God will come to you in a kind word of a stranger, or a phone call from an old friend, or the smile of a child. It may be subtle, so be looking!
 
I wish you all a blessed and happy Advent!
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


Bringing Your Best

Last weekend I spent the better part of two days painting the new railing of our home. With our top and bottom porches, there is over 100 linear feet of railing. Each of the ten sections have a top and bottom rail with at least 7 spindles. It was quite tedious work that required patience and precision as it was all detail work.
 
Anyone who knows me knows that I like a bargain, and many times in my life if I can get something comparable for less, I will. However, when approaching this project, I decided that given the amount of time it was going to take, I wanted to make sure it lasted. So, I got the best outdoor paint I could find. It was $20 more a gallon than another “good” brand, but it was advertized as more durable and lasting. I also sprung for high quality brushes. I knew I was going to get out of it what I put into it; so I put in the best. While only time will tell how “durable and lasting” the paint job will be, the rails look good and I am pleased with the outcome.
 
I believe this illustrates a truth in life. The result of our efforts are often directly related to the quality of our effort. If we put in average effort, we get average results. If we put in quality effort we will usually get quality results. This is certainly true with our physical health. If we make exercise a priority and if that exercise is done with quality effort, we will see positive results in our health – things like lower blood pressure, weight maintenance or loss, increase in strength, etc.
 
This is also true in our spiritual lives. If we approach the practice of our spiritual life with an average effort, we are going to see average results. They may be adequate when times are average; but when the storms come, we might find our faith not as “durable and lasting.”
 
This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man built his house on the rock – a firm foundation. The foolish man built his house on the sand – a shifting foundation. The foolish man’s house was easier and quicker to build; he didn’t need to dig much of a foundation. Yet, when the storm came, it was the wise man’s house that stood, because that man had put in the quality effort to build a strong foundation.
In this day of fast paced living and competing claims on our time, it is easy to allow the effort in our spiritual lives to be average, and it is possible that average will suffice. Yet, there are times when it will not. We are offered more than average and indeed are called to more than average. God wants our best, because God has given his best. And the results of giving God our best are not only pleasing to God, they rebound back to us. When we give God our best, we are building our house on the rock.
 
So I encourage each of you to reflect on ways you can give God your quality effort in worship, in scripture reading, in studying, in serving. I can guarantee that you will be pleased with the results, and you will find yourself more “durable and lasting!”
 
Grace and peace to you.
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee


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