Are You Able …?

O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all;
The earth is full of Your creatures.
When You send forth Your spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
May the Lord rejoice in His works—
Who looks on the earth and it trembles,
Who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to Him,
For I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
And let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord! from Psalm 104

We invite you to join us, online or in-person, at 10:45AM. Today’s message, “Are You Able…?”, will be brought to us by Dr. Steve Bolton. We will be reading from Mark 10:35-45. Today’s Ensemble is Anne Pokorny, Brenda Doyle, Leigh Bigger, John Myers & Mike Bunch. A big thank you to all of the above for sharing their gifts of music with us this morning.

Time Together

Brothers and sisters,
As I write this article, I’m preparing to go on vacation with my family. I’m working on getting volunteers lined up to lead the different parts of the worship service on the 17th. I’m thinking about what all I need to purchase before I go to the beach, with sunscreen being priority number one! And I’m thinking about what all my family and I will do once we
get to the beach. But there’s another thing on my mind as well.

Today is my friend’s birthday! I would imagine most of you have, at some point, heard me talk about my friend Dustin. Well, today he turns thirty-three! Dustin is one of my closest friends, but also one of my oldest friends. We met twenty-five years ago, around this time of year, when he invited me to his eighth birthday party. Since then, he and I have grown up together and have experienced so much of life together. Back in high school, we spent plenty of Saturdays with friends playing games, swimming, and eating pizza.

We’ve struggled through classes in middle and high school together. We’ve been there for each other when family members have died and relationships have ended. We’ve celebrated huge moments in our careers with each other—my graduation from Duke Divinity and his passing of the Professional Engineer Exam.

But when I think about my friendship with Dustin, one of the first things that jumps to mind is our time together in college. Dustin and I were roommates for two years at Carolina before he transferred to NC State to pursue a degree in Environmental Engineering. Even though we were roommates most of our time in the dorm room was spent studying or working on homework. Because of that, we started intentionally carving out time each week to have lunch together at a restaurant on Franklin Street. We would meet up somewhere on campus each week and then make our way to any number of restaurants—Mama Dip’s, Bon’s, Franklin Street Pizza and Pasta, Los Potrillos, B-Ski’s, etc. It was a wonderful time when we could get away from the stress of classes and just be present with each other, catching up on how things were going. Regardless of how stressful our schedules were, we would find time to share a meal together. We could take time to rest and encourage each other, even when we were tired and stressed.

So often in the scriptures, whenever food is mentioned, it serves to bring people together. It gives the people in the Bible a moment of respite, to breathe and reconnect. Sometimes they reconnect with each other. Sometimes they re-connect with God. Meals end up serving as precious moments in the gospels where Jesus can speak to people about the eternal love that God has for them. When Abraham entertains the angels of the Lord unaware, he does so with food, and he is able to build an unshakeable bond with God. When the prophets envision the heavens, they envision meals that are served at tables where everyone has a seat. God knows human beings very well. God knows that when we take time to break bread with each other, we build community with other people. God knows that we need community and God knows that the communities we build can endure all kinds of issues. The communities we build can withstand the test of time and enrich our lives. Every one of the restaurants I mentioned earlier, except Mama Dip’s, has gone out of business. But the connection Dustin and I built over meals in those restaurants continues. I’m grateful for those meals and for that time together.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben

On Hospitality

On Hospitality” – Rev. Benjamin Wines

God commanded the skies above,
And opened the doors of heaven;
He rained down on the people of Israel manna to eat,
And gave them the grain of heaven.
Mortals ate of the bread of angels;
He sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
And by His power He led out the south wind;
He rained flesh upon them like dust,
Winged birds like the sand of the seas;
He let them fall within their camp,
All around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled,
For He gave them what they craved. -from Psalm 78

We again invite you to join us, online or in-person, at 10:45AM. Today’s message, On Hospitality, will be brought to us by Rev. Benjamin Wines. We will be reading from 1 Kings 17:1-16. Today’s Quartet (Anne Pokorny, Brenda Doyle, John Myers, and Mike Dossett) will share the gift of music with us, and for this we are grateful.

One of My Favorite Times of the Year …

Brothers and sisters,

I am excited for the sermon series we’re going to be starting this Sunday. We are moving into one of my favorite times of the year—fall! I really do love just about everything about this season. I love the crispness in the air. I love the return of football. I love the changing colors of the leaves. If I’m honest, I even kind of love how we get a pumpkin-spice version of everything! But perhaps my favorite thing about the fall is the food that comes along with the season. I love making a pot of chili for my friends and inviting them to carve pumpkins with me on Halloween. I love hot coffee on a Saturday morning when it’s cold out and the sun is shining. I love Thanksgiving and the incredible spread of food my mother prepares each year.

What does all this have to do with our upcoming sermon series, though? Over the next seven weeks, we are going to be taking a look at several different passages in the Bible in which food plays a critical role in the story. The Bible is filled with food imagery and stories and visions of meals. Food is a constant presence and a constant source of nourishment and sustenance for God’s people. But why focus on food (other than the fact that we Baptists love to eat!)? I want us to take some time to focus on the food in the Bible because of how basic food really is. Food nourishes our bodies. It gives us strength to meet each day. Food can also nourish our souls. How many of us have a favorite dish, something that just makes us feel good when we eat it? Food nourishes our communities. It brings people together to share a common meal, to share the stories of their lives, to share their culture and their heritage. Food ends up binding us to other people and to the rest of Creation. We are reminded, every time we eat, that we are de-pendent upon the wondrous bounty of God’s Creation to survive. Food reminds us of our place in God’s grander plans.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, food reminds us of the kind of love that God has for us and the kind of love we ought to have for one another. It takes time to prepare a meal for someone else. It takes intention on each of our parts to do that. We have to spend time and money planning the meal and purchasing ingredients. We spend time and effort cleaning, chopping, stirring, seasoning, tasting, seasoning again, and plating. All to let someone know we care about them. And there are so many moments in the scriptures where we see God doing similar things. We will see God break bread and provide for God’s people. We will watch God multiply scant resources in the midst of a drought. We will see God care for people through food and rest. We’ll even catch a glimpse of God’s table and see what the Lord will lay out for all of us one day. All these beautiful images of God, these wonderful under-standings of God’s love and God’s character—they all involve food. I’m looking forward to the next seven weeks. I hope you all will as well!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

Coffee & Faith

Brothers and sisters,

Early on in my time here at Hope Valley, I mentioned that I love coffee. I love the smell of coffee brewing. I love the rich taste of a good dark roast. I love coffee shops and the atmosphere they cultivate. There is a buzz in the air—though that could just be the caffeine! My favorite thing to order at a coffee shop is always a pour-over. A pour-over, for those that may not have ever ordered one, is essentially just a cup or two of coffee. But pour-overs take time and attention from the barista. The coffee beans have to be ground to a specific size. The water has to be heated to a specific temperature based on the roast of the bean. The grounds need to be “bloomed” with a little bit of water and then the barista must slowly pour the hot water over the grounds to ensure a smooth, silky texture to the finished coffee. It takes time, but my goodness it is worth it!

I actually have all the equipment I need to make pour-overs at home. I’ve got a burr coffee grinder so I can get the exact grind I want, a digital gooseneck kettle so I can heat the water to the exact temperature I want and control the flow of the water once it’s been heated, and a glass Chemex to hold the coffee (glass is preferred since it imparts no flavor of its own to the brewed coffee). From start to finish, it takes about ten minutes to brew one cup of coffee. As a coffee-drinker, I love every step of the process and my friends who are coffee-drinkers enjoy it as well. But I do surprise some of them, because even with the Chemex and all the special equipment I own, I still have a Keurig machine. Within the coffee community, Keurigs are looked down upon. They are not as exact as a pour-over. K-cups are filled with preground coffee, meaning it isn’t as fresh as possible. And the machine forces the water through the grounds, rather than letting it work its way slowly through them. And so, I’ve over-heard coffee-drinkers at my beloved coffee shops saying things like, “Ugh. I’d rather have nothing than have to drink Keurig coffee.” But on a weekday morning, when I’m heading out the door to work, I don’t have time to heat water to a specific temperature and set my grinder to a specific size. I don’t have time to “bloom” my grounds. I just need coffee.

Our faith can be like that too. It is wonderful to be able to take time to slow down, read the scriptures, pray over them, and spend time speaking to God and with God. Those dedicated times of prayer and reflection are incredible and I would not trade them for anything. They can be soul-nourishing and invigorating, the types of moments that help us to build strong faith. But sometimes life is hectic. Sometimes you just have to get out the door. Sometimes you just have to make a meeting or get to an appointment or get on the road. And so some-times all we have time for is a quick prayer, a quick, “God, be with me,” or, “Help me, God.” Sometimes we can pour over the scriptures and sometimes we only have time for a quick reading. Both are valid. Both are faithful. Both are good. The important thing is that we find some time, any amount of time, to speak to God. If you can dedicate some time to an in-depth reading of the scripture, filled with prayer and contemplation, I would encourage you to do so. If you can’t, I would encourage you to try and steal a minute or two here or there where you can say a quick prayer or reflect on your faith. Regardless, I would encourage you to spend whatever time you can with God. It will always be worth it.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben

Communion …

Brothers and sisters,

I wanted to write to you all this week and tell you about one of my friends and the way that friend has affected my faith. Most of you will remember that my birthday was in July and that I had some friends who were visiting from Pennsylvania. Well, this is a story about one of those friends, Adam, who I’ve known since college. Adam and I met during a summer camp between our Junior and Senior year in high school, but we didn’t really spend much time together then. Once we got to UNC, however, we became really good friends. Adam is the type of person that I can talk about anything with. Sometimes, we have deep discussions about subjects we’re passionate about (for me, it’s theology; for him, it’s English literature). Other times, we talk about our hopes and dreams for the future. Other times, we talk about frivolous things or we crack inside jokes.

One of the things that I’ve always admired about Adam is his open and welcoming attitude toward other people. Adam is incredibly hospitable, always looking to invite folks into whatever he’s doing. I saw that happen most often at meals and celebrations. Adam is the type of person who is always looking for an excuse to invite folks over. And what’s more, Adam is always looking for more people to bring to the party. If he’s having a birthday party and has invited friends over, he’d love nothing more than for them to bring their friends. If he’s made a bunch of food, he’s going to go knock on his neighbor’s door and see if they want some. He sends food home with people, makes plates for folks that have to leave a get-together early, and makes a point to speak to everyone. Hospitality is something that comes naturally for Adam. He is always looking for ways to bring people into his circle of friends and I admire that about him.

I tell that story because this Sunday, we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper in worship. Communion is a constant reminder, for all of us, of the way that Jesus constantly brings people into his circle. It is a reminder that Christ loves people and that Christ is always looking for chances to know them. Communion ends up being this wonderful glimpse of the kingdom of God because all are welcome to come to the table. All are welcome to partake of the bread and the cup. Communion ends up acting as a beautiful reminder of the generosity and abundance of God, of the love that God has for each of us. Communion also acts as a challenge to each of us, reminding us that our tables should be open. We ought to be sure that we are reaching out to people and letting them know that they are loved, regardless of who they are or what they have done. At Christ’s table, all are welcome, all are fed, all are loved.

I also want to be sure and let everyone know that we are going to be taking Communion in as safe a way as possible on Sunday. We have purchased special Communion cups that will allow everyone to partake of the elements in their seats. Simply put, the cups we have purchased have both the wafer and the juice packaged together. So, when you come to church, you will pick up one of the cups on your way into the service, hold onto it during the service, eat the bread and drink the cup at the right time, and then dispose of the cups on your way out. In this way, we can still take time to celebrate the love and hospitality of our Lord, while faithfully loving our neighbor in the midst of the pandemic.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben

A Book of Straw

Brothers and sisters,

I hope that the Illuminator this week finds each of you happy and healthy. The last two weeks have been eventful! We have made yet another delivery to the folks at McDougald Terrace and are planning to make one more. We have begun, in ear-nest, a school supply drive to benefit the teachers and students over at Parkwood Elementary School (be sure to check the list of needed supplies!). And we have wrapped up our sermon series on King David, “The Man After God’s Own Heart.” This past Sunday, August 15, and next Sunday, August 22, we’re taking some time to read a couple passages from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and then, starting the next Sunday, August 29, we will begin a whole new series, entitled, “A Book of Straw.” So, I wanted to take some time and cast a little bit of a vision of our next sermon series.

First of all, this series will be shorter than the series on David. With David, we were looking at the highs and lows of a person’s entire life. In the new series, we will be looking at some of the most famous passages from one of the shortest books in the Bible — the Letter of James. Since the letter is so much shorter than the accounts of David’s life, we’ll only be in this series through the month of September, but I like the idea of moving through a letter like this because we can get a much fuller understanding of James’ beliefs in a shorter amount of time. And James’ ideas about God and the Christian life are wonderful and life-giving.

So then, you may be wondering, “Why call the series ‘A Book of Straw’? What does that mean?” The title of the series comes from Martin Luther’s famous (or infamous) opinion of James’ letter. He believed that there was nothing worthwhile in it, so he deemed it a “book of straw.” He particularly disliked James’ idea that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). Luther much preferred Paul’s letter to the Romans and Paul’s emphasis on faith alone, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28). Luther also preferred Paul’s writing style and abilities to James’ style. Paul writes long, eloquent essays on complex theological topics, using complex Greek words and sentence structure, with soaring rhetoric that inspires and informs his reader. James writes very plainly. He writes in short sentences. He does not use long words. And his insights are incredible.

Here’s the thing—I think the ideas of Paul and James are both correct. I love the way that Paul can write such beautiful works about the boundless love and grace of God. I also love the way that James can speak so simply about how Christians can live in ways that testify to that love. James is an incredibly practical book. It is wonderfully relatable. A few years ago, I had a church member who told me that James’ letter was his favorite book in the Bible. When I asked him, “Why is that?”, he responded, “Because he tells it like it is. I feel like he’s actually talking to me.” So, over the next five weeks, we’re going to read through this letter and see what James has to say to us. We’re going to look at the simple, practical, insightful advice he gives to all Christians. And we’re going to see how James affirms the idea that God’s love is unending, God’s grace is boundless, and God’s mercy knows no end. We will see that it is a book of wisdom, not straw.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben

Back to School …

Brothers and sisters,
It is amazing to me that we are so quickly approaching the end of summer. I feel like June and July only lasted fifteen minutes! And while there are surely more hot, humid summer days ahead of us, we are coming to that time of the year where school-age children and their parents are preparing for a new school year.

I have a lot of positive memories of this time of the year from when I was a child. This was typically the time when everyone on my mom’s side of the family would head down to Emerald Isle or Morehead City for our yearly family beach vacation. It was always a wonderful time to get to see my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and my grandmother. We’d typically spend A LOT of time in the ocean. We’d play mini golf. We’d stop by Dairy Queen. And usually, Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Emily would insist on taking us some-where educational—the NC Aquarium, Fort Macon, etc.

But usually there was one day that I didn’t stay at the beach. Each year, Mom and I would make the trek back to Goldsboro to go to my school’s Open House. I actually enjoyed going to Open House. I liked getting to see some of my friends again and I liked getting to know my teachers and know what their classrooms would look like. But mostly—I liked getting the school supplies list! I was that kid that really enjoyed going shopping for school supplies. I liked the buzz and atmosphere of everyone shopping at the same time. I liked picking out new pens, pencils, notebooks, dividers, etc. When I was in elementary school, I remember your choice of backpack, lunch box, and Trapper Keeper were very important! For me, this time of year always felt like a time of anticipation and new opportunities. There was a sense of possibility.

But, as you all know, there are plenty of children for whom this time of year is one of nervousness and even dread. See, I looked forward to shopping for school supplies because I knew I would get new school supplies. That was never in question. If my teacher said I needed a binder for her class, I knew I could have a new binder. If I needed new colored pencils, I knew I could have new colored pencils. School supply lists were opportunities to me. For some families, they are just another bill to be paid. And if times are tough, as they are right now, they don’t need another bill to pay. But we have a chance, as a church community, to help these families out—to help these children out.

We will be having a school supply drive here at the church from August 8th to August 29th. There is a list of the needed items in the Illuminator this week. If you feel led to purchase some of the supplies off this list, there will be bins for collection in the church starting this Sunday. You’ll notice as well that we mention some of the “Connect” teachers and their needs. These are the teachers who do not have a dedicated class of children—they’re teaching their subject to all the children! Again, there will be bins in the church where you can place any supplies you want to donate. Also, feel free to make a monetary contribution to this project—just designate on your check or envelope “School Supplies.” I know the passion this church has for helping people and so I’m looking forward to seeing the way that we can bless our community as a church family. I look forward to the way we can bless these students and teachers. I look forward to helping these children feel like the new school year brings new opportunities.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben

Rest and Restoration

Brothers and sisters,

First, I wanted to thank all of you for the gifts and cards you all gave me for my birthday this past week! I felt very loved and I am grateful that I can serve with a group of caring people like you all. Thank you! Also, thank you all for letting me have the night of my birthday off. My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed the Bulls game, especially since the Bulls beat the Jumbo Shrimp (yes, that was the other team’s name), 8-2! Thank you!

This past weekend actually reminded me of a concept that comes up a lot in the Bible, but that we often don’t pay as much attention to as we should. After the Bulls game Wednesday night, I came to work the next day and, once the workday was over, I made my way down to the coast to spend some more time with my friends. We had a good time catching up with each other, reminiscing about old times together, playing games and swapping stories about our lives now. We also spent a day on the beach (I have the sunburn to prove it!), playing bocce, swimming, and walking along the sand. We ate good food together. We wandered around downtown Swansboro together. They showed me the shops and restaurants their family liked to visit. I drove them over to Emerald Isle and took them to some of my family’s favorite spots. And as I left on Saturday night, I remember having this wonderful feeling of being “rested.” The coast has always been a place of rest and relaxation for me, not just because of the laid-back vibe the area has, but also because I have almost always gone down to the coast with friends or family. It is always a time of retreat and restoration, a time to reconnect with folks away from any pressures of “normal” life, a time to take in the fun and excitement of being somewhere new, a time to take in the beauty of Creation and feel restored.

The concept of “rest” and the concept of taking time away to rest shows up a lot in the scriptures. Jesus, on multiple occasions, takes his disciples across the Sea of Galilee to a place where they can rest and pray (Matthew 14:22-23; Mark 6:30-32). God sends an angel to take care of the prophet Elijah after his confrontation with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19:1-8). The psalms are filled with moments where the poets thank God for giving them rest (Psalm 3, 4, 23, 62, 116, and more!). And of course, the most famous example, after spending six days creating the cosmos, God rests on the seventh (Genesis 2:1-3). All these examples tell us one very important thing—God wants us to take time to rest. God does not expect us to try and sprint through life, moving from one project to the next, one event to the next. God wants us to take time to relax and recharge. God wants us to take moments to slow down, breathe in, and breathe out, taking in all the wondrous things around us. God wants us to take time to enjoy the things that bring us happiness and fulfillment.

What are the things that bring you rest? Where are the places you feel you can relax and recharge? Who are the people that fill you up? What parts of your spiritual life restore your soul? I hope you’ll ponder these questions over the coming days. And I hope you’ll take some time to do something you really enjoy, some-thing that fulfills you, something that lets you feel relaxed and rested.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben

Opportunity …

Brothers and Sisters,

Can you believe we are already over halfway through 2021? I know that, for me, a lot has happened since the year began! I started out the year working with the City of Raleigh’s Parks department, answering phones and assisting guests. Eventually, I began speaking with the Pastor Search Team here at Hope Valley about the possibility of serving this church as Senior Pastor. And now, after two months as your Senior Pastor, I ask myself, “What defined the first half of 2021 for me? How would I describe it?”

For me, the word that comes to mind is opportunity. During the first half of this year, I had the opportunity to read widely about all manner of subjects from American history to writing to technical religious scholarship. I had the opportunity to read and reread works of fiction that re-minded me of how wonderful and creative we can be as human beings. And as I did that, it gave me the chance to take a step back and ask myself about my own spiritual, theological, and vocational passions. I was reminded of the wonder of God’s creation as these different authors wrote so beautifully about the world around them or about the worlds they saw in their imaginations. I was reminded of the wonderful community of God as I worked at the community center, as families and groups of friends would come in after spending the day together, as strangers struck up conversations, and I got to know new people. And when the opportunity to serve God’s people at Hope Valley came, I heard my call to ministry spoken to me in new, refreshing ways. I heard that call spoken to me in ways that were good and life-giving. I felt good about the opportunity to dive back into church-work, to begin serving God through ministry with God’s people once again.

I tell you all that in part because I want you all to know me better and have a better understanding of where I continue to feel my call to ministry coming from. It continues to come from God and it continues to come through my own interactions with other people. And now, at the beginning of July, I ask my-self, “What will the second half of 2021 be for me? What will it be for us at Hope Valley Baptist Church? What word will I associate with it?” As I think about the ministries we are already engaged in—the Summer Snacks Program and Hope House—and I consider our most recent event, Lemonade on the Lawn, my hope is that word will be “hospitality.” As the world continues to struggle with the pandemic, I am encouraged by the way that people in different communities, including our own, are reaching out and helping one another. I hope that we, as a church family, will continue to reach out to folks. I hope that we will continue to look for the image of God in each other and in our neighbors. I hope we will seek creative ways to love God’s people during this second half of the year.

I hope you will take some time to reflect on this year—what it has been and what it can be. I hope you will join me in striving to be more hospitable to people. And I hope you will look for little ways to be good and kind to others. You may want to call a friend or neighbor to check on them. You may want to make a donation to a local non-profit. You may want to just spend some time in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ over lemonade and cookies. Regardless, know that God goes with you through it all, faithfully calling you to do the work of God’s kingdom.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben