Pastor Lee's blog

The Story is Finished; The Story Begins!

Well we are done! We have finished the journey begun last September as we collectively read through “The Story.” As you know, “The Story” is a chronological condensed Bible formatted in easy to read chapters. It began with the creation of the world and ended with a vision of the full establishment of God’s new heaven and new earth where every tear will be wiped away.

The Persecuted Church

Each week on Thursday a faithful group of church members gathers in my office for prayer. We pray for church members, their families, the church’s ministries, and the community of Lexington. Our prayer list changes each week, but one area of prayer remains the same each week: we pray for the persecuted church.

While it is difficult to believe, each month, 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 church properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians. (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/). I suspect the numbers are much higher than these. Our prayer group has prayed for Kenneth Bae who was imprisoned in North Korea and finally released last November; and we continue to pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini who is still imprisoned in Iran after more than 2 years.

The rise of ISIS/ISIL in the last 18 months has brought the persecution of our faith brothers and sisters to the forefront. In February, ISIL killed 21 Coptic Christians on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has received many reports of ISIS systematically torturing and killing children and families from Christian communities.

The persecution is not just limited to countries where ISIS has gained power. In 2014, China saw some of the most aggressive anti-Christian persecution since the times of Mao, which involved incarceration, the demolition of churches, and the systematic removal of crosses. North Korea is at the top of the list of countries that have the harshest persecution of Christians.

Following World War Two, the phrase “never again” was coined to remind the world not to stand by while a population was systematically persecuted and destroyed. Of course, this was referring the Holocaust of the Jews; but I wonder if we are seeing the beginnings of a new kind of holocaust against the Christian church world wide.

As your pastor, I would like to encourage you to do three things in response to this growing persecution of Christians: 1) Do what you can to educate yourself on the plight of your Christian brothers and sisters around the globe. For many years, I have subscribed to monthly newsletter “Voice of the Martyrs,” and I would encourage you to as well. There are also many other sources of information you can find including Christianity Today; 2) Reach out to your elected officials, and let them know your concern for these persecuted followers of Jesus; and 3) Pray. Pray for the protection and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and pray that Jesus would return and establish his kingdom of peace on earth.

Grace and peace to each of you.
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee

The PCUSA in the News

Well, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made it into the national news this past week when a majority of Presbyteries (87 out of 172) voted to change the wording in the current book of order to allow churches to host and pastors to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. This was the second step required to change the church’s constitution which grew out of the actions of the General Assembly this past summer. Our presbytery, Salem Presbytery, has not voted on the amendment yet, but of course the vote itself is now a moot point.

Last summer, when the amendments passed the General Assembly, I wrote a long article explaining the process and what the changes might mean for our church. I thought it would be helpful to revisit some of this explanation.

There are roughly 10,000 PCUSA congregations in the United States. These are geographically divided into 172 presbyteries. We are part of the Salem Presbytery located in Clemmons, NC. These presbyteries are geographically grouped into 16 synods.

Salem Presbytery has 4 meetings each year. Each church elects an elder (or more depending on church size) to be a commissioner to these meetings. All pastors are automatically members of presbytery. The pastors along with the elected elders make up the decision making body of the presbytery.

Every two years, each presbytery elects an equal number of elders and pastors from the presbytery to be commissioners to the General Assembly of the PCUSA. It is at this assembly that policy and decisions are made that “represent” the whole of the church.

Decisions to change the constitution made at the General Assembly have to be ratified by a majority of presbyteries. The action that was just ratified reads as follows:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.
In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and acknowledges.

This change marks the most recent battle in the 20+ years of conflict over issues of human sexuality. The high water mark for those holding to “traditional views” was in 1997 when the denomination passed “Amendment B” which affirmed that human sexual expression was to be limited to those who were married (male & female) and was specifically applied to those who were to be ordained in the church. Those holding “progressive” views continued to work to overturn “Amendment B” and succeeded in doing so in 2011. Once this was accomplished, they turned to the effort to redefine marriage.

Over the years, many churches holding “traditional views” became weary of fighting over these issues and began leaving the denomination. The pace of churches leaving the PCUSA quickened after the 2012 General Assembly narrowly defeated the above change approved in the summer of 2014. As these churches have left, the “traditional” voice has diminished. As a result, the percentage of the “progressive” churches has increased. So, it was just a matter of time before the General Assembly took the above action and then that the majority of presbyteries approved it. As a result, I will not be surprised if even more churches now seek to leave the denomination. This will further increase the “progressive” percentage in the PCUSA.

There has been a significant change in the PCUSA in the 18 years since Amendment B. The church has moved from a “prohibitive” stance (1997) to a “permissive” stance (2011 & 2014). It is my opinion that as long as the PCUSA maintains the “permissive” stance and allows churches and pastors to make their own decisions regarding these issues of ordination and marriage, the denomination may weather this tumultuous time. However, it is possible that at some point in the future the “permissive” stance will become “proscriptive.” Or in other words, it would become a requirement for churches and pastors to host and officiate in same sex marriage services whether the church and pastor want to or not. If such a binding of conscience occurs, it is my belief that the PCUSA will disintegrate into chaos.

One of the things that I value most about First Presbyterian Lexington, is our ability to live, work, and minister alongside of one another even if we differ in opinions over social issues. Our efforts to call people to faith, develop them as disciples, and send them to serve is a compelling vision that unites us. As the storm of controversy continues in our denomination, I challenge each of us to look not at what divides but rather to our unifying vision and to continue to work side by side to do great things for Christ in our church and community.

Grace and peace to each of you.
Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are.

Back in 1984, a popular movie was released called “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.” This film was a comedy / science fiction movie about a brilliant neurosurgeon / philanthropist who fought to protect earth from invaders from 8th dimension. At one point in the movie, the lead character Buckaroo makes the statement, “No matter where you go, there you are.” I often think of this quotation when I am looking for a destination and am not sure which way to go. I know I am no matter where I go; but sometimes I don’t know which way to go.

When we are familiar with a location or building, it is hard for us to see either from the perspective of someone new. We know which way to turn or where the bathrooms are or where to park. As a result we don’t even think about how intimidating coming to a new place is for someone. When I went to Scotland and Geneva on my sabbatical, everywhere I went and everywhere I drove was new. There was a certain amount of anxiety involved at not knowing where to go and dealing with all the different customs and rules of the road. Places that had good signs helped alleviate some of the stress of traveling.

Respecting the Preciousness of Others

When Brooke and I were new parents seventeen years ago, we took a parenting class called, “Growing Kids God’s Way.” This curriculum presented one person’s perspective on what is effective and Biblical parenting. The challenge this curriculum presented to me was that one person’s opinion was often presented as “from the Lord.” So we had to wade through the information presented and make our own judgment as to what was “from the Lord” and what was this person’s particular slant on things.

Looking Toward 2015

I am posting this right before Christmas day, so let me wish each of you a very holy and blessed Christmas celebration! For those of you who will be traveling, I will be praying for safe journeys for you.

As I look toward 2015, I am excited about what God is going to do in and through our church. We are continuing our engagement with “The Story.” I continue to hear very positive comments about reading through the Bible in this way. If you haven’t had an opportunity to view “The Story” the videos on RightNowMedia.org. I encourage you to do so. Each video is only about 10 minutes long for each chapter, and they help you understand the main point of each chapter. In fact, the Right Now Media library is full of great teaching videos across many topic areas. This is a service for our members, and the more people take advantage of it, the greater value we get out of our subscription fee. If you do not have an account, please contact Jeanna at the church office. She will get you started.

Of course, the big addition that I am most looking forward to is the beginning of our early service. I am excited about the possibilities this service will provide us as we create this new entry point into the ministry of our church. Those who attended the Very Special Gathering Band Christmas event last Sunday got a taste of how this new early service will feel and run.

As we move forward with the plans for this service, we will need help in a number of areas. We are looking for volunteers who can be trained to run some of the technical aspects of the service including sound, lighting, and video projection. We will also need people to serve as greeters and ushers. If you are interested in helping, please let me know. More information about the new service will be coming in early January as plans are firmed up.

May each of you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Your friend and pastor,
Pastor Lee

Looking Toward the Sky...

"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." - Isaiah 9:6

Advent is that four week period preceding Christmas when we prepare to remember and celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in a manger more than 2000 years ago. The challenge of celebrating Advent in today’s world is to get past all of the secularization and commercialization of Christmas. If we do this, we can focus on the "real meaning" of Christmas.

Now while it is important to celebrate Jesus’s arrival on earth as a baby, we sometimes forget that Advent is also the time when we prepare our hearts for the second coming of Jesus as Lord of all the earth. This Christmas in particular, I am looking toward the sky, not for the Star of Bethlehem, but for cloud upon which Jesus will return.

Returning Thanks

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ!

Each year when the time for the Thanksgiving breakfast rolls around, I am reminded of my first “official” event as your pastor. It was nine years ago during the week of Thanksgiving breakfast that I began my ministry with you, and the first “worship” service I led was the devotional service at that Thanksgiving breakfast. My first Sunday was three days later, and I remember Beckey Griffith bringing a birthday cake to Christmas Family Night to celebrate my 40th birthday.

In those nine years, our church has baptized 35 children and adults, confirmed 36 youth into the faith, hosted more than 14 weddings, received 79 new adult members, and lost 42 members to death. We have collected more than 12,000 jars of peanut butter, and more than $18,000 - 2 cents at a time - for our hunger offering!

But of course the church is so much more than statistics. We have had many wonderful fellowship events, meaningful family retreats to Montreat, and Sunday school classes and small group gatherings that have stretched our faith. We have had special worship services and started the Gathering ministry. It was during these last nine years that we began taking adult mission trips to the Dominican Republic, had at least two domestic mission trips to West Virginia, and been committed partners in Touching Davidson County With Love. We have cried together, laughed together, rejoiced and worshiped together.

I think it is true that attending to the demands of present living has a way of narrowing one’s focus to such a degree that one can miss the big picture. The only way not to miss it is to have the discipline to step out of the rush of life to reflect on 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 and blessed me with the privilege of serving alongside you over these years.

My first sermon with you was called “Returning Thanks,” and it explored the story of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus but of whom only one returned to give thanks. 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

2nd Worship Survey Results

Back in August I shared with you the Session’s discussion about expanding the Gathering into a whole hour of worship. Part of their exploration was to develop a survey of the congregation to get input on the desire and openness of the congregation to such an endeavor. In addition, two informational / listening meetings were held to inform the congregation about the findings and offer an opportunity for questions.

Before I delve into the results of the survey, I want to reflect on the journey we have taken so far.

Great Kick Off

We had a wonderful kick-off to the church educational year yesterday. The Gathering returned for the start of it’s fifth year. The energy level was high, and people were glad to see each other after the summer break. The Gathering Band was happy to be back together and led every one in joyful singing!

Our Sunday school time was packed as we began our study of “The Story.” We learned that God created us because he wanted to be relationship with us.

The Story is a chronological condensed Bible which we will be using as a church wide resource for the whole year. If you have not joined us in this journey, you can pick up a copy at the church office after Wednesday. (We had to order more!) If you cannot make it to Sunday school, you can watch the weekly video on RightNowMedia.org. If you do not have a logon ID and Password, you can contact the church office with your email, and you will be sent instructions on how to sign up. Once signed in, you will see “The Story” in the first position under “Pastor’s Picks”

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