Pastor Lee's blog

Kick-Off to Fall!

We had a fabulous kick-off to our fall ministry programming on Sunday! We had a good crowd for both our early fellowship hall service and our 11 a.m. sanctuary service. It was great to have both the Gathering Band and the Choir back in worship. You could feel the energy in all of our Sunday school classes. Our Acts Alive Youth group had a great day on the lake even though the weather was a little cool, and our Young Disciples and Kids Club groups were bursting at the seams.

Let Us Worship Together!

While there are as many different types of churches as there are belief systems, there is more that unites those who follow Jesus Christ than divides them. Certainly it is God’s desire that those who follow Jesus dwell together in unity.

Experiencing unity, however, is not something that just happens. It takes initiative and a willingness to step beyond the comfortable spheres in which we live. Over the next month and a half we will have two opportunities to take this initiative and join with other churches in shared worship events.

Ministry in Our Community

Here we are in the middle of summer, and I have been reflecting on the past year...since last July. We have accomplished much, and I wanted to highlight some of what our church did specifically in and for the community in the last 12 months. This list is in no particular order, but it illustrates our commitment to our community.

Monetary gifts

  • The following local organizations received a portion of $40,000 allocated for local support: Pastor's Pantry, Family Services Center, Cancer Services, Crisis Ministry, Prison Ministry, Davidson Medical Ministry, Life Center (Adult Day Care), Lexington Community Development Corp., Meals On Wheels, CHILL, Hospice, Grace Episcopal Sunday Meal for the homeless, & Communities in Schools.
  • In addition, the Minister’s Discretionary Fund helped more than 100 people for over $9500. This fund is used to help emergency needs of utility bills, rent payment, insurance, or other needs.
  • We also received over $1,400 for the 2 cents a meal offering which was sent to the hunger office at Salem Presbytery. Both Pastor’s Pantry and Crisis Ministry each received $2000 back from the Presbytery in hunger grants. Our contribution to the work of Presbytery was $14,300.
  • We also received over $1,200 for the various special offerings we had throughout the year (Souper Bowl, One Great Hour of Sharing, Peacemaking.)

Capital Dreams

A few months ago, I asked the Session to dream. My prompt was simple: “If money were no object, what capital related projects would you like us to undertake?” The answers ranged from refurbishment ideas all the way to new construction. Below are some of the suggestions by members of the Session. These were not “voted” on by the session, and they reflect the dreams of individuals. However, many were suggested by multiple people. Some of the dreams have an estimated price next to them, but costs have not been researched thoroughly.

As you read through them, I would encourage you to dream yourself. I would love to hear what you envision, so please email your dreams to me. I’ll include them in the list. Our goal is to come up with a top ten list of dreams for our church. (click read more)

Don’t Take A Summer Break from Faith!

I am so excited about what God is doing here at First Presbyterian. The month of May has just been spectacular in the life of our church. Our new early service is being well received; we had a number of enjoyable church wide meals; we recognized 8 senior high graduates of our congregation; and we confirmed 10 youth in the faith.

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. ( 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.

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