"What a wondrous time is Spring when all the trees are budding. The flowers start to bloom , the birds begin their singing. That's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it. You want to sing, It's fresh like Spring! You want to pass it on."I hope you'll come to church this month and thank God for all the good things He does. I hope you'll pass on His love to others wherever you are. I'm sure looking forward to Spring. I'd be willing to bet you are too!
One of my favorite go to places in the woods when I was growing up was a special tree that stood over a small stream. Sometimes there was enough water in the stream that you could
listen as it would flow over the rocks beneath it. Other times the stream was dry and all you could hear were birds and leaves rustling while squirrels and rabbits ran around on the
ground beneath the tree.
About six or seven feet up from the trunk of that tree, a huge branch extended out a good ways in sort of an L shape, resembling a high back chair. It seemed to beg my brother and me to come and sit on it. So we called it the chair tree.
When I would go to the woods and sit in the chair tree I could think about things and not be bothered. I liked the chair tree a lot, but I haven't been back to where it stood for years. The next time I'm back home, I'm going to have to walk into the woods and see if it's still there. Maybe I'll climb it again, and write a sermon from that spot.
I suppose I'm thinking about the chair tree because it's in the woods, and now the leaves are starting to change. And, there are plenty of other things changing right now along with the leaves. I hope you'll be able to go out this month to the parkway or to Skyline Drive and deliberately take in some of God's stunning handiwork. It'll be good for you. But if you can't make it to the parkway, surely you can sit on a porch or look out a window and be quiet for a while as you are reminded of His providence and power.
When the prophet Daniel was being held in captivity being trained for the king's service, he exclaimed with gratitude, "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise".
Daniel had been a faithful servant of the Lord for a long time. When he was searching and praying for direction from God during a trying and difficult situation, his prayers were answered. God gave him a clear mind and the ability to say what needed to be said and to do what needed to be done.
If we too, will seek the Lord, surely we will find him. Certainly then we will rejoice with Daniel and be glad that such a Mighty and Omnipotent God loves us very much.
I Hope to see you in church this month.
Grace and Peace,
Sometimes, being a preacher's kid must really be a little difficult. Not just because there are certain common expectations and myths about pk's but also because sometimes you become
the subject of sermons. Sometimes when you are preacher's kid you also might be mentioned in church newsletters.
Such is the case today for my six year old daughter Miley Margaret. One evening last week, while I was sitting at the kitchen table she approached me and asked why her name is Miley Margaret. So I explained to her that she is named after two of her great-great grandmothers. One named Miley, the other named Margaret. She said "Well, OK, but from now on I would like for you to call me Millie or Rose." So for the last few days when we've needed to address her there have been times when we've called her Millie Rose, instead of Miley Margaret. But she is still, and will always be Miley Margaret.
Many people are quite familiar with the passage from Isaiah, chapter 43:1-3 "But now, this is what the Lord says -he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;"
God chose Israel to be His beloved people. He chose them to serve Him in a special way. You are also chosen and beloved by God your Savior. There are many ways you might go about doing that. Some of you serve on the session. Some of you are very faithful in bringing items each month to share with the needy through SACRA. Some of you teach Sunday school. Others are so faithful in global mission and outreach. Some of you are in the choir. (By the way, I'm so glad the choir is back in place after their summer break. It gets a little lonely in the chancel without them.) Some of you are encouragers who invite others to come and be a part of the things taking place here at the church. Perhaps some of you are being called to start a new kind of ministry in the church, maybe one that we've never heard of before. Just let me know if you are feeling that kind of call to service.
There are many ways that you can serve the Lord and be involved in His kingdom. We need you here at Olivet and hope to see you involved in the things happening around here. No matter your name or what you call yourself you have the title child of God. Serve your Father with gratitude and gladness.
Grace and Peace,
Earlier today I was making a hospital visit and of course found myself on an elevator. Sometimes stepping on an elevator is an exercise in faith building for me. I've learned to
control my thoughts when on an elevator, otherwise I might have a heart attack. Some of them are not so bad, at least the ones that have more space. But when I'm on one of those
little ones that hold only a few people at a time, one of the ones that moves slowly and seems to pause for two minutes before the door opens, I'm tempted to panic. So if I'm alone,
I read the licenses to operate that are posted for all to see that usually reveal the weight limit for the elevator to operate. And when other people are on the elevator with me,I
always check to see who is watching the numbers change as we move from floor to floor. Almost always, everyone is watching the numbers change as they wait eagerly to step out onto
the floor they need to be on.
Usually, we have to look up above the doors in an elevator to see the numbers change. We also have to look up in life but in a different way. We have to look up to our Heavenly Father and call out to him while everything around us seems to be out of control. As we follow the news these days we read or hear about bombs exploding between the state of Israel and terrorists of Hamas and we are pained over innocent life being lost. Right now there is growing concern about the Ebola virus which has infected two Christian relief workers. We are hearing more and more and more about children leaving their families thousands of miles behind and coming to our country because they have been sent here, traveling under perilous and uncertain conditions.
Last week in Mexico at the end of the week, we gave two Bibles to the family we built a house for. The parents and children were given new Bibles. In the front pages of the Bibles, we inscribed a Scripture verse. For the children, we chose the popular verse from Jeremiah chapter 29:11 "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you says the Lord. Thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." In the parents' Bible we quoted Psalm 20: "May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers."
In all things and in all circumstances, we are in His hands. We don't always know or understand God's plans, but He surely does. And His plan is perfect. How blessed we are to be His people living in faith and trusting in His omnipotent wisdom. Look up to the Lord, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Grace and Peace,
Every other summer, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) meets. This year the meeting will convene in Detroit, Michigan. Thousands of people representing the almost
two million member denomination will gather to consider and vote on issues that pertain to the life and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
General Assembly will begin on June 14th and will conclude on the 21st. If you are interested in following the progress of the assembly you can watch, live stream from www.pcusa.org. If you have a smart phone or an iPhone, there is an app you can download from the denomination's website, just for the purpose of keeping up with the speeches and votes, etc.
As many of you know from years past, the General Assembly usually finds itself dealing with a plethora of issues. Some of the issues are things you would expect, while others may be surprising. The meeting of General Assembly often brings about times of distress and nervousness for leaders in the church, particularly pastors. I believe you have the right to know the things your denominational leaders are considering, so I encourage you to read about the things going on. It often happens that the media reports the actions of the actions of the assembly in newspapers and on television. I encourage you to check in online with what is going on, rather than finding out about it from the media.
More than just being informed, I ask that you pray for the men and women who will be attending this year's General Assembly. Pray that the Spirit of God would cover that meeting and would be in the hearts of the delegates. Pray that those with voting responsibilities would be faithful to His word and to His leading. The General Assembly needs our prayers in a big way this year, as always.
Grace and Peace,
I don't know why, but for some reason if I drink a glass of orange juice right before bed time, I know I am going to have strange dreams. Television also impacts my sleep cycle.
For example, a few nights ago I watched a brief excerpt from the show Sister Wives. I'm not interested in that show at all. It must take more energy that I've ever imagined having
to keep up with more than one wife. But, as you might guess, the night I watched a couple of minutes of Sister Wives, I dreamed I had five wives! I woke up exhausted.
Summer time is the season a lot of us dream about. Many people are already looking forward to it. The kids are already thinking about all the fun summer break brings. The teachers are already dreaming about sleeping late. Grandparents are looking forward to extended visits from the grandkids. Parents are excited about that too! I suppose you can tell I am happily anticipating the warmest season of the year because it is still over a month from arriving, but I'm eager.
Certainly the Bible is filled with reports of visions and dreams, and some of them seem to be in a summer setting. The prophet Amos gives us a glimpse of a promised time that will be very happy and festive. As he closed the book in chapter nine these words are found, "Things are going to happen so fast your head will swim one thing fast on the heels of the other. You won't be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once and everywhere you look blessings! Blessings like wine pouring off the mountains and hills. I'll make everything right again for my people Israel. They will rebuild their ruined cities. They will plant vineyards and drink good wine. They'll work their gardens and eat fresh vegetables. And I'll plant them; plant them on their own land. They'll never again be uprooted from the land I've given them." Amos 9:13-15
We are certainly a blessed bunch of people. We are the children of a God who keeps his promises and never leaves us without hope. We know because God is so good we have many good things to look forward to and to dream about.
I hope you have many blessings during this month of May 2014. I hope to see you at church.
Grace and Peace,
As a pastor I have been thinking about ways for the church to come together more in order to make us stronger. I decided what we need is a church wide retreat. Feeling confident about
this, I have reserved rooms for everyone in the church at the Atlantis Paradise Island Hotel in the Bahamas for our summer retreat in July. I know some people at US Air and have
chartered a jet and all your airfare will only be $50.00 round trip. It's going to be fun!
I thought about opening this letter today by telling you all that I'm praying for some snow in April! And then I'd follow it with "APRIL FOOLS!" But, still I would fear that some of you might resort to putting plastic explosives in my mailbox if I were to even joke about such a thing after the winter of 2014! Just so you are sure, I AM NOT praying for snow in April, although I realize in this area, it could happen and has happened before.
Some of you are probably wondering why in the world I would even bring up such an unpopular subject. Well, to answer you, it is because I think some people, and perhaps justifiably so, are so ready for warm weather to stay around for a while that they are almost afraid of the possibility that we really could have another ice storm before late spring.
Fear is an emotional response that many of us know all too well. It seems to be all around us. We fear all kinds of things. We fear trouble at work and trouble at home. We fear getting sick, experiencing a financial crisis, or being a failure at something. We fear loneliness and at the same time we fear being in crowds. We fear dark places, small places, unfamiliar places and inhospitable places. The list goes on and on.
Well, the Bible has plenty to say about that. Psalm 27 says, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" The apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."
When we stay strong in our belief that God is always with us, nothing can conquer our spirits. When we remain devoted to Jesus Christ and stay grounded in Him we will find the strength we need to face every fear we have with confidence and grace.
I hope you are able to stay strong in the faith this month and always. If you need me I'll be here, unless someone comes up with a real way for us all to go the Bahamas.
Grace and Peace,
Not long after Amy and I were married, in the middle of the night she woke up me up startled. She grabbed my shoulder and said, "Lee wake up, we have to, we have to..."
She didn't finish her sentence so I asked, "We have to what Amy?" She responded with uttermost concern, "Hide the blue eyes." Then she laid her head back down on her pillow
and continued dreaming. I think that was the first time I realized I had married a woman who talks in her sleep. Sometimes she has interesting things to say after she has dozed
off. A number of times she has been instructing school children to stay in a straight line at the water fountain. Other times, in her sleep she has been leading them to the
lunchroom. Sometimes she simply laughs out loud. Many times she has been looking for one of our children and will wake me up to ask me where they are. I answer as nicely as I
am able, "In their beds asleep Amy, like I was a minute ago." Then she will lay her head back down continuing on in her sleep cycle with without ever having awakened herself.
She never has any memory of these things the next day.
In our February session meeting we talked about things we do well as a church and some things we could strengthen at Olivet. It was realized that one thing we could improve on is our communication. There are so many good things that go on in this church and outside of our church, on behalf of the church. Often the work is carried out in such a humble way that the right hand really doesn't know what the left hand is doing, which is good. Jesus taught us as individuals to give with that kind of spirit, never bragging or drawing attention to ourselves. It seems we've got that down very well. So well, that often the rest of the body is being left out of the loop, too!
We want to know the good things the good people of Olivet are up to as representatives of the church. Not so we can boast, but so we can give thanks and be more aware of and accountable for the things that happen through this venerable church.
So- circle members, committee people, Sunday school teachers, mission groups, choir people, anyone and everyone who is leading a service project on behalf of the church- please let us know what you are doing so we can share the good news! Simply send an email or drop a note off to the office so we can inform others of your good work done in the name of our Lord!
Thinking about all of the good things you do as a church causes me to thank you, and even more to thank God for the blessing of being the minister of this church. You All Rock!!! I am blessed to be your pastor.
I hope March of 2014 will be an extraordinarily great month for each of you.
Grace and Peace,
Last week the kindergartner who lives in our house brought home an assignment commemorating the 100th day of school for the 2013-2014 school year. In the
assignment parents are encouraged to stimulate creativity in the kids' minds. They are to find 100 of the same item and "wear" them to school on that day.
The kids should paint them, glue them, or sew them. They can wear them to school on hat, t-shirt, vest or something else. But, they need to wear them somehow.
It's a very exciting assignment for a kindergarten girl. As a parent, I've been looking for 100 of the same item, but so far have come up with nothing very
creative. I'm sure we'll find something in time for the due date, which is fast approaching. Amy says we'll be using Pinterest, whatever that is.
For some strange reason this assignment made me think about Christian bumper stickers. It probably wouldn't take long to find 100 of those, but it would be too expensive to buy them all at once. And something tells me the kindergartners might not appreciate quips centered around Christian theology. Like many things in life, there are some really good ones and there are some that probably should have never been printed. If you're interested to know some of my favorites and least favorites (which is highly doubtful), feel free to ask me sometime. I'll tell you in person.
I'm all for good bumper stickers and tee shirt slogans. Still, they always raise a question for me. When I see them posted or worn proudly I'm always prone to wonder, are the words simply displayed on the outside, or are have the gone beyond the surface?
When I was younger I listened to a lot of Michael W. Smith's music. One of his hit songs back in the day was "Cross of Gold". Some of the lyrics to that particular song are, "Is it a flame, is it a passion, a symbol of love living in you? Or is it a game, religion in fashion, some kind of phase you're going through?"
Through our good days and not as good days our calling is not be on the surface only, but people who celebrate from the heart outward, that Jesus lives inside us. We are called to do much more than simply wear our faith. We're called to live it. Admittedly, there are days that are more challenging to remain faithful, but that's what we are called to do made possible through the power of the Spirit living inside us.
Hope you have a peaceful, joyful, and blessed month as you continue to follow the Lord.
Grace and Peace,
Amy recently shared on facebook a video from a website called values.com. It's filled with inspirational quotes, commercials and
good positive thoughts. One of the favorite commercials on the website is of a little boy standing on a baseball field with a bat in his hand. In the scene he's standing all
alone and he obviously has vision. He confidently proclaims, "I am the greatest hitter in the world." He smiles, throws up the ball and swings his bat hard. The ball and the
bat do not meet and the ball drops to the ground between his feet. So he bends over and picks up the ball again. Once more conveying a great deal of self-assurance he says out
loud, "I am the greatest hitter in the world." The ball leaves his hand, goes up in the air. He swings for the second time and once again the ball is on the ground below him,
having missed another chance to meet the bat. He doesn't give up, he keeps going. He reaches for the ball. With the same determination he has shown in the previous swings, he
spouts, "I am the greatest hitter in the world." Then again he throws the ball up and comes around with the bat. Maybe, just maybe this will be the time. Then it happens again.
Strike three. The ball is at his feet again. It would seem the self-proclaimed greatest hitter in the world has struck out. But still, there is a look of optimism in his eyes.
You can almost see the wheels turning in his head. He keeps his head up and smiles. Then he jumps up and down while he shouts with tremendous enthusiasm, "I'm the greatest pitcher
in the world! I'm the greatest pitcher in the world! I'm the greatest pitcher in the world!"
Optimism is a quality we should all strive to develop in ourselves as Christians. It makes a world of difference in your life. One of the most known passages of scripture is Matthew 17:20 where we read Jesus' words, for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you."
God has indeed placed great things inside each of us. We have no excuses for not trying to achieve great things for His glory. Surely, there are good things in store for us in 2014. I believe that. I hope you do too.
There is another quote on values.com. I'll close this letter with it. It's an Irish proverb: "May you always have walls for the winds, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you, and all your heart might desire."
And, by the way, I believe that "roof for the rain" will include one that doesn't leak over our newly remodeled church kitchen in 2014!
Grace and Peace
My dad likes to tell a story of going Christmas caroling many years ago. I remember that night he likes to tell about. There was a pretty good number of us who loaded
up on the back of a hay truck that belonged to a farmer. We went to house after house singing the songs of the season. After we sang at the first house, the choir director
who had stood near my father and his friend while we sang the first few songs said to him, "Eric if you would stay here and hold the ladder for people to get on and off the
back of the truck and make sure nothing happens to it while the rest of us sing it would be a tremendous help to us!" She was telling him as tactfully as she could that
singing just wasn't his thing!
Well, it's about time to go Christmas caroling again. OYF is going to be meeting at Cici's pizza. After we enjoy the buffet, we will be traveling in a caravan to sing to our shut-ins on the night of the 18th. We would love to have all of you join us. We would especially appreciate people who are in the choir! Also, people who should be in the choir but are not for whatever reason are encouraged to join us. And even if you sing in such a way that a choir director would be motivated to ask you to hold the ladder and guard it while everyone else sings, we would still love to have you come and sing to our homebound folks.
Please also remember to sign up for the Christmas program on the night of the 18th. Remember to bring a hat, or a pair of gloves, or a scarf to be given to the needy.
Also hope to see everyone on the night of the 24th at the Christmas Eve service.
May the blessings of the season be with you and yours in a very special way this year!
Grace and Peace
A year ago on November 1st our family arrived in Virginia, and many of you greeted us to unload the moving van. What a blessing this year has been. We can't imagine being
any more content anywhere else in the world. On a personal level, you all have taken us in and made us part of the family at Olivet.
But, time and time again throughout this year we have also seen you step up to the plate to minister to each other in various situations and to reach out to others in the community and places far away. We have been uplifted by your dedication to the programs of the church. Just a few examples..... Sunday School is well attended and effective. (That is so awesome!) You have been overwhelmingly supportive of the reorganized OYF. The incredible music during worship quite often makes us want to shout "Amen!" The church office is as efficient and helpful as any church office I've ever been in (and I've been in quite a few!). Scheduling of the ushers and children's sermons is always handled. The session has been enthusiastic and open to ideas and suggestions. We will soon have a newly remodeled kitchen that can be used to serve Olivet and the surrounding community. You have gone and sent others to Mexico, Guatemala, and Staten Island this year.
So many of you pour your hearts into the things that you do in the church. You are warm and welcoming. You are active and involved. You have shown your generous spirits time and time again. You love being the church and doing the work of the church. That has been made so evident to me this past year. The love of God that comes through this place is amazing!
The Thomas' love our church family, and we look forward to the many future adventures we will share done in the name of The One who was slain yet lives! Olivet, you are a remarkable church, and it is absolutely my privilege to be your pastor.
Grace and Peace,
Amy and I have friend who has a weaknesses for candy corn. She posted a picture on Facebook this week in which she was holding a piece of the little white, orange and yellow
striped candy in her hand. Her status was, 'Best time of year, let the corn gluttony commence!'
Of course with the appearance of candy corn, there are also plenty of costumes in some of the retail stores. I remember just a few years ago when our young daughters were forced to dress for Halloween the way that we dressed them, simply because they had no choice in the matter. That has changed now, and whatever I suggest, they seem to want to dress up as something completely different. Their older brothers, who are now both nearly grown, shake their heads in disbelief when they think of how their mother dressed them for the occasion. When they were little boys and had not developed an opinion on the matter their mother dressed the oldest son up to be a fireman and the youngest who is not quite a year and a half behind him in age, followed the miniature fireman sporting a Dalmatian's costume. There was also the year when Austin, the oldest was made to be a cowboy. Therefore, Hunter, the younger of the two was forced to be suited up as Austin's little steer. I think on some level, all of our children are able to sympathize with the character Ralphie in the movie "A Christmas Story" when he was made to wear a pink bunny costume that his great aunt had made him.
It can be fun to dress up on Halloween. It can be embarrassing too, if someone takes pictures to show us how our parents dressed us once upon a time. Still, no matter what kind of character we dress up like to go trick or treating, underneath the costume we are still us. We are still the people of God with our strengths and talents, and our weaknesses and flaws. We hide nothing from our maker. The psalmist wrote, "O Lord you have searched me and known me…It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
How wonderful that God has searched us and knows us and loves us anyway! Hope to see you in church this month, but come as you are. Please don't wear your costume.
Grace and Peace,
By now, everyone who had their pictures taken for the new directory, should have received their portraits in the mail. I've actually seen a few of them, and the ones I have
seen so far have been good. I'm looking forward to seeing the new directory when it is published.
The four children that Amy and I have raised are all quite familiar with the camera, so familiar that when photo-ops present themselves there are often sighs and grunts and moans. Amy loves taking pictures. A lot of work goes into taking a picture of our family. The lighting has to be just right. The smiles on all four children have to be acceptable. Everyone must be looking in the right direction. If someone turns their head or sneezes, coughs, or scratches we have to start all over again.
A collective sigh of relief can be heard and even felt when Amy has decided that an acceptable image of the children has been digitally captured for reproduction and sharing.
Images are important, even the Bible says so. Genesis teaches that God made us in His image. Second Corinthians chapter 4 speaks of Christ being the image of God. There are other passages of scripture that speak of the importance of image also.
It is a good thing to remember, whether we are having our picture made or not, that image is important. We bear the image of God in everything we do. Are we doing that image justice daily in the things we think, do and say?
I'll stop preaching now and start preaching again on Sunday. I hope to see you at church.
Grace and Peace,
Apparently my wrestling with spiritual issues began at an early age. My mother says that one of the most embarrassing moments of her life happened when I was about three years
old, maybe not even quite three. She says that one day we were in a book store and as she was looking at books curiosity got the best of me. As she describes him, there was
an old man who was quite haggard looking nearby. He was not well kept at all and probably could have used a good bath. The report is that I slipped away from my mother's side,
approached the man and looked right up at him. Then I asked, "Are you the devil?" Evidently, the poor fellow didn't quite understand me. He looked at my mother and mumbled
something back to me and asked my mom, "What did he say?" Mom says she grabbed my arm, dropped what was in her hands, and we rushed out of the store. Most parents can probably
identify with her horror.
I'm only comfortable sharing that story because I have no memory of it at all. I only know it because my mother told me about it. I've also never written that story down before. Now, it's documented and whoever comes across this particular issue of the Olivet Newsletter can read how I made my mother leave a store in fear and shame when I was a small child.
With August here, the doors to our local schools will all be opening again. Children will be reading stories that are contemporary and stories that were written down long ago. It is my understanding that in early America many parents were very excited to send their children to school because they wanted them to learn how to read the Bible.
In Exodus 34 God commanded Moses to write down something very important. After giving the Law to Moses it is written that God said, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
If you've gotten out of the habit of reading your Bible on a regular basis, there is no better time to recommit yourself to that discipline now that the kids are back in school. It is the most popular and best-selling book of all time. We are better when we read it, study it, learn it, and live what is written down in its pages.
Hope you all have had a great summer so far. I look forward to seeing you at church!
Grace and Peace,
I have a good friend who is licensed pyrotechnician. He puts on fireworks shows all over the region where he lives. He usually pulls out all the stops when he does them.
He has been hired by city governments to do fireworks for the 4th of July. He has been asked to do firework shows for wedding receptions and fall festival celebrations.
And when he does them, he does them in grand style. They are big fireworks, like the kind they have at Disney World.
In a quiet and reserved Presbyterian church where things are deliberately done with decency and things are done in order, it fell to him to do the children's sermon on July 4th one year. As I remember hearing it, it went something like this. He gathered the children all down in the front of the sanctuary. They listened intently to his every word. He asked them what holiday was being celebrated. They answered with excitement, "July 4th." He then asked them what they thought about when they thought of July 4th. Of course, there was a jumbled mix of responses about hamburgers, hotdogs, fireworks with a precocious few mentioning freedom or independence.
He then moved into his demonstration. He said, "Now you know I have a lot to do with fireworks, and I've brought some for you to see this morning." They looked in awe at his props. Then he backed up and moved away as he was about to do something quite unconventional for a children's sermon. He lit a firecracker. It exploded. And it was loud.
Some of the people in the pews were said to have jumped a little from where they had been safely sitting. Several of them were not really paying attention until the moment the fire-cracker went off. You can imagine their surprise. Some of the older ladies in the front, after calming down from the initial shock started smiling again when they realized that no one had been shot, a bomb was not going off, and the building was still standing. It was only a fire-cracker. Then my friend finished the children's message with a quote from Revelation 3:16 where it is written that Jesus said to the church of Laodicea, "Because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth." My friend the pyrotechnician then said, "So you see as Christians, we are supposed to be hot, like firecrackers… firecrackers for Jesus!
It was certainly a children's sermon that many people still remember. This Independence Day as we remember the "bombs bursting in air," and watch the parades and eat hamburgers and lots of good deserts celebrating our freedom, I hope we will be mindful of the most important freedom that we have, our freedom in Christ. Jesus Christ has set us free from sin and evil and death and has called us to live for him. He certainly deserves that from all of us.
I hope you have a fabulous holiday as you celebrate freedom every day and especially on Thursday July 4th. And don't forget to be a firecracker for Jesus!
Grace and Peace,
The graduation season has begun. Caps, gowns, tassels and diplomas bring to my mind the most memorable high school graduation ceremony I've ever attended. It was my brother's
in 1989. It was a scorching hot Carolina day in June. The powers that be had decided that instead of graduating on the football field as had become tradition, graduation
would be held in the gym of a nearby college. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
As we entered the building, however, the heat slapped us in the face. We were in this fine gym on a hot June day and the air-conditioning had broken the day before. Needless to say, it was still broken. There were only four doors in the place and at least a thousand people in the room.
Before the crowd ever stood to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance as the graduates entered, we were already miserably hot. After the procession as we sat patiently in our seats, it looked as if everyone had been out working in the fields. Clothes were wet, make up was running, the place was even starting to smell a little bit.
The graduation speaker got up to make her speech. She said, "I had a long speech prepared for this occasion today, but taking into consideration your health and comfort, I will not deliver it. I will simply quote ____________," (She named the person whose name I have forgotten), and then she simply said, "Never give up. Never give up." She then sat down and the place erupted into wild applause. I thought she deserved a standing ovation. I'm sure she had worked really hard on her speech, and must have done some great things in life that led to her invitation. In the end she not only gave an unforgettable speech, she also demonstrated a lesson in grace. For the next graduating class, the ceremony was moved back to the football field at the high school.
"Never give up. Never give up!" words for all of us to remember. We should never give up on the dreams and goals that God has planted in our hearts. We should never give up on people we love. We should never give up trying do great things. We should never give up, for we have surely been created, redeemed and loved by a God who has never given up on us.
I hope you have a great start to summer. Enjoy the warm weather. Hope to see you in worship.
Grace and Peace,
There are memories in my mind that I haven't yet lost of sitting on the floor in a kindergarten Sunday School classroom. Of course I can recall the images of paper cut
out men pressed up against a green felt board. Certainly I remember cookies and punch. I also remember a teacher instructing us to take our hands and clasp them together
with our fingers folded under. She taught us the words to a popular rhyme and to move our fingers and hands as we said, "Here is the church, Here is the steeple,
open the doors and see all the people."
It was the first incorrect lesson in theology I ever learned. Years later I would come to learn that the church was not the structure composed of wood or bricks and mortar. The church was and is the people come together for the purposes of being the church.
With the arrival of May, summer is just around the corner. The church will be here, and will not be as complete without you. Many of us will be gone for one or two, or even more Sunday's this summer, and understandably so. BUT when we are here in town it is my hope that we make every effort to worship together and enjoy being the church this summer.
I hope you are looking forward to some even warmer weather and the opportunities we will have to serve God together this summer.
Grace and Peace,
Now that April is here, it is time to start thinking about summer. This April newsletter article actually serves as an invitation for you all.
Presbyterians For Renewal is an organization that has done great work through the years. I've taken youth groups to their youth conferences and attended workshops they've conducted for pastors. One of the most enriching experiences for the whole year, in years past, has been attending their Christian Life Conference in Montreat during the summer. Motivating speakers and preachers, great Christian fellowship and the beauty of Montreat make this a special event for the year. Here is an excerpt from their brochure:
"Give us three days of your summer and we'll give you dynamic worship, world-class teaching and application of scripture, and seminars that speak to your daily life and witness as a follower of Jesus."
They have always delivered on that promise. There are classes and workshops for everyone. Childcare is provided during classes and worship for children up to 3 years old, and children over 3 have classes to attend. Marina and Miley enjoyed learning about Nehemiah the cup bearer one year, and they still remember going to those groups. Miley recently asked with excitement if we were going to Montreat this summer.
The dates for the 2013 Christian Life/Family Life conference are June 29th- July 2nd. If you have no plans for those days and are willing to travel to Montreat, North Carolina with us, we invite you to come and experience the conference with us.
I'm going to be sharing the brochure for the conference very soon. If you are at all interested in this opportunity, please visit this website, www.pfrenewal.org then click on the Ministries Tab and follow the link to the Christian Life Conference. I believe if you choose to attend this conference with us this year, you will not regret it (at least not the conference part!).
Please remember we have OPC LIVE coming up on April 22. Don't miss out on that! Some special guests will be making a surprise appearance. It's going to be a fun night with all proceeds going to the Olivet Strutters Relay for Life team.
I look forward to seeing you all this month on Sundays for worship. Maybe we'll even see some squirrels!
Grace and Peace,
Close to this time last year, I was serving as a pastor for the Western North Carolina Presbyterian Pilgrimage weekend. It was an incredible weekend
full of spiritual revival. Of course, Amy and all four of the children were holding down the homestead. I got a call from Amy on the Saturday afternoon
of that weekend and she said to me, "You are not going to believe this one. Austin (who was 17) just killed a huge copperhead out beside the garage."
They had discovered the snake and Austin (who had never done anything like this before) felt his sense of big brotherly, man-of-the-house duty moving
within him. Amy said he got a hoe, stood over the top of the snake and with a nervous chuckle yelled to the top of his lungs, "I WILL PROTECT MY FAMILY!"
And with that, the hoe went down and the head of the snake came off (amid squeals and shrieks of all kinds). It was over, and they all were relieved.
It was Austin's moment to be a hero.
The weekend was actually the weekend after Easter. As far as sermon illustrations go, the timing could not have been better! We had just celebrated the resurrection of the Lord. God had promised in Genesis that the head of the serpent would be crushed. That's exactly what happened with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Death and evil have been defeated. Sin and darkness will be overcome. God's love has triumphed and will forevermore!
As you all are probably aware, the last Sunday of this month is Easter. It is without a doubt my favorite holiday. It is to me the most holy day of the year. I look forward to celebrating with you all the resurrection of the Lord. I hope you all will be here for the sunrise service, for breakfast and for worship on that day. We are also asking you to do something different this year at Easter.
After the Christmas season was over, I asked Mark Perry and Chuck Richie if they would take the Christmas tree we had in the sanctuary, cut off the branches, and make a cross out of it. They gladly did so, and on Easter morning this year we are going to have what is called, "the flowering of the cros". In order for it to be as full and beautiful as it can be we need for you all to bring individually cut flowers from home or from the store to church on Easter morning. Small branches of flowering shrubs also work well and help fill it up. After church on that Sunday, the cross will be placed outside for everyone who drives by to see it. I have no doubt it will be beautiful and will remind everyone who passes by the church of the miracle that is Easter.
There are lots of things going on at church this month. I hope you will come and be a part of it all. We're just better when we're all together.
Have a fantastic month.
Grace and Peace,
Happy February everyone!
Just mention the name of the month and I think of red and white paper hearts, the price gouging of roses, and boxes of candy. It may seem strange, but I have also come to associate Valentine's day with the IRS. For most of the years we have been married Amy and I have observed the romance filled day by having our tax forms filled out on February 14th. This way we never forget to file. Holding this day for that purpose also prevents us from waiting until April 14th, which is what we would probably otherwise do. We usually try to observe the spirit of the evening after we have the taxes filed by going either to Waffle House or Chic-fil-a. We decide which place we are going to eat, based upon the news we get from the CPA.
February is about so much more than St. Valentines day. It is the month when we all get hear if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog day. We remember the births of Presidents Washington and Lincoln this month. The second month of the year has long been recognized as Black history month. February is often the month for Ash Wednesday. In 2014 Ash Wednesday will actually be in March, because Easter will be in April next year. This year Easter will be March 31st, therefore Ash Wednesday will be February 13th. On Ash Wednesday a number of churches hold special services and people receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads using the ashes of burned palm branches from the Palm Sunday service of the previous year. Ash Wednesday is the day that strict observers of Lent choose whatever it is they are going to give up for the season, and begin going without it for 46 days, until Easter morning.
Because lent is a season for fasting and prayer many churches often have traditions of celebrating Fat Tuesday. It is also called Shrove Tuesday. It gives those who will be fasting a chance for a last hoorah before the discipline begins.
This year we are going to observe Fat Tuesday at Olivet and I sure hope you will come join us. You probably know by now about the pancake supper that will be held here on the 12th to help raise money for our children's ministry endeavors. Please plan to come out that night and support the kids. I know there will be good pancakes and great fellowship.
Time is moving and we all seem to have lots of things going on. Please remember in the midst of your busy life that your church needs you, and you need your church. I hope to see you all on Sunday mornings and one Tuesday night this month!
Grace and peace,
Happy New Year! Amy and I want to thank you all for making our Christmas in 2012 very special. You showered us with beautiful cards, gifts and the most delicious
sweet treats ever. You shared so much Christmas joy with us, and we continue to feel so blessed to be in this place.
As happens this time every year, millions of New Year's resolutions have been set in gear for 2013. It is a good thing, I think, to plan and hope and dream about the future. "Vision" is certainly a buzz word in today's church culture. However, a high school friend of mine, who is also a pastor, recently shared a quote on Facebook that puts long range planning and dreaming into perspective as far as the church is concerned. It is this quote from John McArthur:
Which brings the question to us, what is the will of God for Olivet right now? Are there things that we need to be doing that we haven't been doing? Are there things
that we've been doing that perhaps we need to do a little differently?
You may know that on the 27th of this month, the session is going to participate in an afternoon of planning. This will be a time when we look ahead and set hopes, goals and plans for 2013. I ask that you keep the session in your prayers as we go into this exciting time together. I also hope that if you feel that God has laid something on your heart about a particular ministry for Olivet, please mention it to one of the elders and ask them to share that at the planning meeting or share it with me.
Let's commit ourselves to earnest and fervent prayer that God would reveal His will for us individually and for our church today and in the year 2013.
Grace and Peace,
The second Letter of Lee to the Olivet Church:
Last month as I was unpacking the boxes that had been loaded with things for my study I came across a book that my wife Amy use to read with her third graders at school, The Best Christmas Pageant ever.
I have enjoyed that book, at least as much as the third graders Amy reads it with. If you are familiar with the story, you know the Herdman children who are described as the worst kids in the history of the world. Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys Herdman are brothers and sisters who were known to lie, steal, smoke cigars, cuss and hit little kids. In the opening chapter of the book Barbara Robinson wrote, "The Herdmans moved from grade to grade through the Woodrow Wilson School like those South American fish that strip your bones clean in three minutes flat…which was just about what they did to one teacher after another!" The Herdman children who are pretty much unsupervised decide to come to church one Sunday because one of them has been told that "at Sunday School you can get all the dessert you want." They show up at church on the very day it is announced auditions were starting for the Christmas pageant. They Herdmans decide to be part of the Christmas pageant, and the Christmas pageant would never be the same again!
There are lots of surprises in the story for both the regular attending church folks, and for the Herdman children themselves. Imogene plays the part of Mary. In rehearsal she is unaware of the tradition that Mary is depicted as gentle and mild. So she yells at the wise-men in a threating tone as she orders them to keep their hands off the baby! Things begin to change as the real Christmas story moves the Herdmans. The Herdman children bring their Christmas ham given to them by some charitable people and present it to the baby Jesus. Imogene, the tough little girl who nobody dares to mess with is moved to the point of sobbing as she experiences the Christmas story for the first time. Imogene has a black eye and we are told as the story comes near the end, "Nobody hit Imogene and she didn't hit anyone else. Her eye wasn't really black either, just all puffy and swollen. She had walked into the corner of the choir-robe cabinet, in a kind of daze- as if she had just caught on to the idea of God, and the wonder of Christmas."
Christmas is without a doubt one of the most beloved holidays known throughout the world. We have developed routines and rituals that are wonderful. Yet sometimes because our traditions are so familiar to us we risk missing out on something new God may be trying to do in our midst. I hope during this Advent and Christmas season, our hearts like Imogene Herdman's will catch on to the great gift of God's love in a new and special way as we celebrate the greatest gift ever given to the world, when The Word of God became flesh and came among us to dwell.
Grace and Peace,
The First Letter of Lee to the Olivet Church,
What a joy it is to finally be here! As most of you probably know, the experiences involved with moving can be profound. The emotional stir that comes with leaving the familiar behind while anticipating good things for the future can sometimes be exhausting. When the time comes for packing as moving day gets closer, things can become intense. I have found that moving offers a test for the durability of marriages. Thankfully, Amy and I have survived this one and are still speaking. While this move has gone well, our family certainly hopes that we will not have to do it again for a long time!
We are so glad to be among you here in this beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Many of our friends and relatives who wished us well from North Carolina have been to or through the Staunton area. Comments such as, "What a lovely place to get to live" have been common. We feel really blessed to be here.
I love the description of this venerable church on the website, "We are a country church in the city limits." If you haven't heard, I grew up in the country. In fact, way down in the country. I was born in uptown Charlotte, but my first trip in the car was a 45 minute ride home from the hospital to the house in which my parents still live. Mom and Dad live on a road that many people in their area travel to get to the beaches of North and South Carolina. On a few different occasions, I've been able ot take members of the churches I've served in Charlotte and Kings Mountain to their home as a stopping points on beach retreats. More than once, people on those trips have asked me, "Lee, how in the world did you ever find your way out of this place?"
My dad was pointing out to me a couple of weeks ago, that while I've only changed churches two times in the last twelve years, I've changed homes seven times since I was ordained! So it seems I've done my share of moving.
The Christain Church is like that, too: always on the move in the places God has put her. God has gifted each of us in different ways. When we come together and put those gifts to use for His glory, the church only becomes stronger and shines brighter.
The apostle Paul famously wrote to the Corinthian church, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in men. Now to one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." 1 Corinthians 12:4-7.
It is my prayer that we at Olivet will always be ready and willing to serve in the places where God leads us as we continue to minister to one another in the church while reaching out to the community around is in His name.
Our family is so glad to be here. We eagerly await the journey before us.
Grace and Peace,