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

Clothed in Grace

Brothers and sisters,

Over the last few days, I’ve been reflecting on some of the things we talked about this past Sunday. In particular, I’ve thought about the way Saul’s armor constrained David, the way it prevented him from moving. Ultimately, David cast the armor aside because he knew it would prevent him from being faithful. It would hinder his ability to serve God. And it reminded me of a story from my time as a waiter.

After undergrad, I took some time off from school before heading to seminary. During that time, I worked for a few months as a waiter at Logan’s Roadhouse in Goldsboro, my hometown. The job was good and the people I worked with were fun and interesting. And, honestly, most of the time the customers were fun and interesting as well — though a few tables I served still stick out in my mind. One of them in particular came in during a weekday lunch rush. The party consisted of four men and I quickly recognized what I was looking at. Three of the men had badges on their shirt pockets from the local mental hospital. One man didn’t and I could tell by the way the other three were interacting with him that he was either a patient or someone they knew who lived with mental illness (I’ll call him Harry).

That, in and of itself, was not all that unusual. What struck me about these four men was the way they so clearly cared about each other. When they sat at my table, one of the men, I’ll call him Joe, sat directly beside Harry, wrapped his arm around him, and said, “Alright man, isn’t this special? We’re here at Logan’s! What sounds good to you?” With that, Joe began to read the entire menu to his friend and describe everything to him. Harry was mostly non-verbal, but it didn’t matter. His friends understood him. As those two worked through the menu, one of the other guys (Frank) ordered for himself and Joe. The fourth man (Tommy) was busy getting silverware allocated and making sure everything on the table was just right.

Eventually, I got everyone’s order, put it in to the kitchen, and brought the food out to them. The whole time, all four were carrying on a conversation and having a great time. When the food hit the table, the three workers set into helping each other. Joe kept talking with Harry, hyping up his food, and cutting Harry’s chicken tenders and fries up so he could eat them easily. He asked for a side of barbecue sauce, Harry’s favorite, and I quickly got some for him. While that was happening, Tommy immediately started eating so he could be done in time to switch out with Joe, and Frank was cutting up Joe’s steak so he could eat it quickly after he switched out. All of this happened without a word of coordination between them. They had done this before. They knew how to care for each other. When Harry’s food came and he danced, they all danced. When Harry wanted to speak, they listened. When Joe, Frank, or Tommy spoke, Harry would listen too. And when they each needed help from each other, help came without hesitation.

Saul’s armor, that worldly armor, con-strained David and did not allow him to move. David understood that the only thing he needed to carry with him was the grace of God. In a similar way, those four men wore no worldly armor. No pride. No anger. No impatience. No vanity. Instead, they were clothed in love and mercy, respect and dignity, joy and humility. I think about those four guys a lot because I am convinced that on that day, in a Logan’s Roadhouse, I caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God. May we all seek to clothe ourselves in God’s grace.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben

Empty …

Brothers and Sisters,

This week, I want to talk briefly about two things: one is very practical and one is more spiritual. First, the more practical. I am excited by the opportunity over the course of
this summer to reach out to our neighbors and provide snacks for them! This is a wonderful chance to help families and small children in our community who are facing a persistent problem—hunger. So many people struggle with hunger and/or food insecurity in our world, wondering where their next meal is going to come from. Our Summer Snacks Project is one chance for us to do our part to combat hunger here in Durham. And there are so many ways to get involved!

First, you can help out by going and purchasing food items that are easy for folks to make for lunch or for a snack. Second, you can help out by making a monetary donation to the project. This allows the Missions Team to go out and purchase needed food items. If you want to donate money, please make your check payable to HVBC and write “Summer Snacks Project” in the Memo line. Finally, you can help out by donating your time either by packing bags to be delivered or by volunteering to help deliver the bags. If you’d like to be contacted about either packing or delivering, please reach out to Julie Stoops, Leigh Bigger, or Barbara Rowley!

The other thing I wanted to share with you all is something I was thinking about the other day. I had gone on a run for the first time in a long time (meaning my legs have been
barking at me for a while now!) and was listening to music on my phone. I had the phone set to shuffle through all my songs and one came up that I hadn’t heard in a while. It was called
“Empty” by a band named The Sowing Season. “Empty” is a slower song with a simple tune, but the lyrics are beautiful. They speak about the experiences that Mary, Thomas, and
Saul have with the risen Christ. In each verse, each of these people are reminded of the incredible love of God, the love that raised Jesus from the dead, overcame their doubts, and
forgave their sins. The song gently points to the message of the gospel—that God offers new life through the resurrected Christ. These three people enter the song empty, but they leave it filled up with the abundant grace of God. It re-minded me of the ways in which God fills each of us up, the subtle ways that God gives us life and encourages us to bless and give life to others. The God that is spoken of in “Empty” is one who is loving and generous and kind. May we seek to imitate our God in all that we do. May we continue to follow the example of God’s son, Jesus Christ. May we always listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If you would like to listen to Empty, you can find it right here.

Grace and peace to you all,
Ben

One Month Already!

Brothers and sisters,
It is incredible to me to think that my first month as your Senior Pastor has almost already come and gone! I am enjoying getting to meet new people and getting to know every-one here more fully. Thank you all for continuing to be patient with me as I learn names and learn how different things operate here at Hope Valley. I am grateful to be a part of this community of believers.

As we do get to know each other better, I wanted to give you all a bit of a preview of what’s to come in worship during this summer. All my life, the churches that I have either at-tended or worked in have had pastors who preached sermon series. Typically, a series would last anywhere from four to twelve weeks, depending on what the topic being considered was. I, myself, tend to think that sermon series are really helpful in worship because it allows us all to spend a longer period of time considering either an important figure in the Bible, an important image or set of images, or an important idea. I have always felt that sermon series give us a way to think about our faith together as a church family.

So, over the next nine weeks, we will be taking a look at King David. The series will be entitled, “The Man After God’s Own Heart” and will be a series focused on the complexity of David’s character and the goodness and mercy of God’s character. To me, David is such an interesting figure because he so fully embodies what it means to be human. David is someone whose actions can reach the heights of goodness and faithfulness, but can also fall to the depths of corruption and sin. And yet, somehow, David is still referred to as “the man after God’s own heart.” He is still included in Jesus’ genealogy to the point that Jesus is sometimes referred to as, “the son of David.” He ends up embodying this tension that Christians always live in—that while we are saved, we are still sinners.

Thus, David’s character ends up asking us a lot of interesting questions that I hope we can explore over the next nine weeks. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be faithful? What does it mean for God to be faithful to us? How should our faith affect our relationships with other people? How should our faith affect our relationship with God? These are not always easy questions to answer, but I think that so much of growing in our faith and learning to be disciples comes from wrestling with tough questions.

As we move into this series and into the summer, my prayer is that we will be able to glean wisdom and instruction from the life of David. My prayer will also be that we will continue to meet the challenges posed to us by the pandemic. Even as things begin to open back up and life begins to resemble something like normal for us, let us continue to pray for those in our own society for whom the dangers of the pandemic are still very real. And do continue to pray for health and peace for all God’s children in every nation.

Grace and peace to you all,
Ben

A Wonderful Start

Brothers and sisters,

At the time that I am writing this article, I have officially been the Senior Pastor here at Hope Valley for a little over a week. And what an eventful week it has been! Between preaching twice, moving from Raleigh to Durham, and meeting so many of you, I have had a wonderful start to May! As I am settling into my office and my apartment, as well as settling into the rhythm of Hope Valley, I would greatly appreciate your prayers. I am so grateful to be here. I am looking forward to getting to know you all better and walking alongside you as we seek to serve God faithfully each day.

I did want to let you all know some of the ways to get in touch with me if you need me during this time of transition. My office email address has gone live now, so you can email me at [email protected]. I check my email throughout the day, so if you want to send me something feel free to send it to my office email. As we continue to be cautious in regard to the virus, please feel free to reach out to me and let me know about any cares and concerns you have within our community. I am still learning people’s names, trying to figure out family connections, who is in the hospital, who is in extended care, etc. Any help you can offer me to help me learn where the cares and concerns are in our congregation would be greatly appreciated!

I know that this has not been an easy time for any of us as we continue to deal with the challenges presented by the pandemic. I am so hopeful, though, that we are getting closer and closer to turning an important corner in all of this. As we do, I am looking forward to getting to meet you all under more normal circumstances. Until then, I continue to have faith that the Holy Spirit will connect us and draw us closer together. I am reminded of the old Baptist conviction that the church is not a building. It is not four walls and a roof. It is the people of God, worshiping in truth and goodness. As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Even in the midst of this pandemic, as we continue to keep some distance between ourselves, we are connected to each other. We are bound to each other by the God “who is above all and through all and in all.” The miracle of the Holy Spirit maintains that bond and will continue to refresh and revitalize it as need be.

Grace and peace to you all,
Ben

A Holy Week

For the ancient Israelites, Passover was THE Holy Week. It was instituted in Egypt on the night of the tenth plague. That original event was commemorated each year as they remembered and reenacted the ritual. For them, the Exodus from Egypt was the defining moment that galvanized their identity as the people of God. It was a sacred time. In their reenactment, the fine line between then and now was blurred. They were being redeemed from slavery. They were being rescued. It was not just their ancestors who were delivered. The Passover was a time to remember God’s love for them.

Next week, we will have a Holy Week. We will remember the events of Palm Sunday. We will remember the Upper Room. We will remember Good Friday. We will celebrate the Risen Lord. We will remember that God loves us. The fine line between then and now will be blurred. This is sacred time.

Bill Pyle

Baptist Women in Ministry Month of Preaching

This year, we will once again partner with Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) for BWIM Month of Preaching. Participating churches typically invite a female preacher to lead in worship during the month of February. This year, Rev. Emily Davis will preach on February 28. Emily was raised in Person County, North Carolina and graduated from Person County High School; Emily received her Bachelor’s Degree from Wingate University; she received the Master of Divinity Degree from Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She currently serves bi-vocationally as a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher and the Interim Minister of Youth at Roxboro Baptist Church. I welcome Emily to HVBC and look forward to her leading us in worship.

Bill Pyle

Beginning a Lenten Journey

In two weeks, we will begin the season of Lent as we begin the Lenten Journey to Holy Week. This season is a preparation for Holy Week and a reminder of its significance for us as Christians. On Wednesday night, February 17, we begin the season of Lent with our Ash Wednesday service. This will be a service of word and song. In the place of our normal Wednesday night prayer service, this service will be available through YouTube.

This is the beginning of a season of contemplation and reflection. In the midst of our busyness, this season is an opportunity to slow down and think about our faith and the spiritual practices that could facilitate our growth. I am challenged to move beyond my shallow spiritual life and commit to spiritual practices that will deepen my spiritual walk. Perhaps this will be the Lenten Season where you recommit to deeper spiritual growth and more consistent ministry to others. May this be a Lenten Journey that changes our lives!

Bill Pyle

Happy New Year!

Well, we did make it to the end of the year! It has been an unpredictable year. I doubt 2020 has turned out the way we imagined it would unfold, on last New Year’s Eve. But then that is al-ways the case, at least to some extent. But 2020 was an extraordinarily unpredictable year, with more surprises, disappointments, and uncertainty than normal years. While change and disruptions are normal; this was unprecedented. We are living in what they call a once-in-a-lifetime event. As we close the book on 2020, perhaps we are turning a corner.

2021 offers hope that we will finally begin to slow the pandemic; hope that we will begin to re-turn to a new normal; hope that we will soon be able to enjoy activities that we once took for grant-ed. Family gatherings and church activities will once again be cherished events. I suspect that many of us will appreciate them more and value them more. Until that day arrives, we will continue to do the things that are necessary to keep each other safe. May God grant us courage and determination as we face the challenges and opportunities of 2021.

Bill Pyle