Holy Days

Sunday, January 20, 2002, my dad wrote the following e-mail to all of the family.

I hardly know how begin, so many good things have taken place in the last few months, beginning with Thanksgiving, my birthday, Advent Sundays, Christmas, New Years, and again today. God has surely been good to me and my family. I don’t know how folks make it without a loving, and caring Family. I love every one of you and it is evident that you each love me, THANKS. Please continue to pray for me, as I will for each of you, and let’s
keep on loving each other.

May the Lord bless all of you.

I love you. Bebop

My mom had died in April of 2001 and we had just been through our first holiday season without her. It was hard on all of us but particularly hard on dad. My mother had always made such a big deal over all holidays but from Halloween through New Year’s, the house changed every month with the theme of the month: October; Halloween, November; Thanksgiving, December; Christmas and January; New Year’s. Dad had worked hard to keep the traditions of family gatherings alive, but of course it was not like mom had
done it. Last year on dad’s 90th birthday, we gave him a big party, he said to me afterwards, “I feel like I just attended my own wake.”

This year my family will go through the holidays without my dad. Dad died almost ten years after my mom, he remarried a wonderful lady, Ruth Cash Neely, and they had nearly eight happy years together.

Today, November 14, 2011, would have been my dad’s 91st birthday. Christmas will be different without him, but I will still make the holidays Holy Days by spending time with those I love.

May we all be so blessed.

Bill

Merry-Go-Round

As a young child, there was a playground near our home with a merry-go-round. Now this was not the sort with horses and benches. It had been built on the base of an old automobile axle set into con-crete in the ground with galvanized pipe and a wooden platform. Some of the older kids would set us on it and tell us to hold on tight while they ran along pushing the wheel as fast as it would go and then jumping on to ride themselves. As a young child, I did not en-joy the feeling that at any moment if I didn’t hold on
tight enough, I could be propelled off that wheel into the air to land God only knows where. I often wished I had a brake so that I could slow it down but someone was always pushing it faster and faster.

Oftentimes I feel the world is spinning at just that feverish speed and I keep looking for the brake to slow things down just a bit. Years ago, a wise Presbyterian Executive reminded me that you see a whole lot more scenery at 55 miles an hour than you do at 75 miles an hour, yet most of us spend our lives in the fast lane trying to pass everyone on the road
while taking very little time to enjoy the scenery. At the speed of light, lots of things that should be important in our lives get missed. May God help us slow down and enjoy some of the more scenic moments in our lives.

Bill Neely

Complete/Incomplete

In Saturday’s football game between East Carolina University and the U.S. Naval Academy with 43 seconds left, it appeared to most watching that Navy completed a pass crossing the end zone. However, both on the field and in the review, it was ruled to be an incomplete pass. While many will always believe this was a controversial call, the reality is, according to the rules of college football, a player must have clear control of the ball and be firmly in possession of it when crossing the goal line. Firm control is defined as not moving the ball or holding it away from the body from the point of the catch to the crossing of the end zone, except when the player has demonstrated firm control, moves the ball from his body, extending it across the end zone, thus breaking the plane for a touchdown. While the ground cannot cause a fumble, the ground can cause an incompletion.

This is one of the most confusing rules in college football and while being called correctly on Saturday, it’s often called incorrectly, causing just as much debate. If ever the adage “Don’t drop the ball” applies, it certainly applies in this case.

We are in the midst of our stewardship season. It is indeed third and goal with time running out. Our church and the work of the kingdom need us not to drop the ball this year. Please step up and commit again to the work of the kingdom in this place. Victory is sweet. Defeat is unacceptable. As a team we can make a difference in what we’re able to accomplish in 2012.
Bill Neely

You Pull While I Push

One of the most amazing stories of stewardship that I have ever heard was told by a denominational leader who was visiting the mission field. Having been picked up at the airport by the missionary, they were driving through the countryside when they came upon an old man and woman out plowing in their field. What was unusual was that the old woman was pulling the plow while the old man pushed. Horrified, the denominational leader exclaimed, “Why in the world would he make her do that?” The missionary replied, “Oh, they take turns pushing and pulling.”

Later that evening the missionary introduced the visitor to an elderly couple. “This is the couple you saw plowing in the field this morning.” “Oh,” the leader exclaimed, “I’m sorry you can’t afford an ox.” To which through the interpretation of the pastor, they explained, “Oh, we had an ox, but our church wanted to send a missionary to America and so we sold our ox to help pay for it. After all, hard work is what keeps us young.”

We seldom think of our own stewardship as making personal sacrifice or inconveniencing our lives so that the gospel of Jesus Christ can be spread to the ends of the earth. As you give of your time and resources this year, prayerfully consider what would be sacrificial for you. After all, we are called to bring our sacrificial gifts before the Lord.

Bill

If You Had A Million Dollars

On Sunday, during her Moment for Stewardship, Wendy Farrior told the story of Billy Bob and Leroy. Billy Bob asked Leroy, “If you had a million dollars, would you give me half of it?” Leroy said, “Why, yes, Billy Bob, you’re my best friend, you know I would.” “Well,” Billy Bob said, “if you had a thousand dollars, would you give me half of that?” Leroy answered, “Billy Bob, we’ve been friends for over twenty years, you know if I had a thousand dollars, I’d give you half of it.” “Well,” said Leroy, “if you had two hogs, would you give me one?” Leroy answered, “That’s not fair, Billy Bob, you know I have two hogs.”

Wendy reminded us that it’s not our willingness to give what we do not have to God but our willingness to give back to God a portion of that which God has so richly blessed us. She went on to say stewardship is less about giving to needs and more about our need to give.

God has blessed each one of us – some more, some less, but whatever our ability, we need to give back. It is at the very heart of our faith God indeed loves a cheerful giver. May God bless us as we prayerfully consider our stewardship during this season.

Bill Neely

The County Fair

Pitt County Fair opened this week. Fairs were originally developed during Roman times and had a revival during the Middle Ages as a way for farmers and merchants to sell their ware. When I was a boy, attending the county fair was one of the most important cultural events of my childhood. My Dad would give us each $5 for rides, cotton candy and other sideshow attractions like the Bearded Lady and Snakewoman. When I was in the fourth
grade, I had a clay sculpture chosen to be displayed at the Spartanburg County Fair. To my surprise, when we found my piece of artwork, it had a first place blue ribbon on it. I had won.

October has become one of the traditional months for county fairs, but there is another tradition that we observe during harvest time and that is our stewardship season. This year we are asking once again that you prayerfully consider how God is leading you to support the many ministries that we carry out from this place. One year my Dad caught me counting my money at the county fair, and asked me, “What are you doing?” “Well, I said, I don’t want to spend all my money here.” He replied, “Give me that portion of money that you don’t want to spend and I’ll take care of it.” So I handed him $10.  Later that evening I went back to my Dad and asked for my $10 back and to my surprise, he said no. “But it’s my $10”, I protested. “I know,” he said, “but you said that you don’t want to spend it here,” and to all of my protests that I had changed my mind, he did not yield. Dad said, “Bill, when you come to the county fair, decide what you’re willing to spend and leave the rest at home, but don’t count your money. When it’s all gone, go home.”

Now this may seem like a strange lesson for stewardship, but many of us preach stewardship as if we’re counting our money at the county fair rather than giving freely to God and trusting God to help us spend the remainder wisely. May God bless us as we seek guidance in our giving this year.
Bill

World Communion Sunday

This coming Sunday, October 2, we will celebrate World Communion Sunday. Back in 1933, Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, designated the first Sunday of October as a day to recognize the universality (or catholicism) of the church. In 1936, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), adopted World Communion Sunday as an annual event to celebrate peacemaking. This year, churches around the world in many denominations will
gather at the Lord’s Table to celebrate our oneness in Christ Jesus.

On Sunday afternoon, October 2, First Presbyterian Church will host the Greater Greenville CROP Walk. This year is the 25th anniversary of CROP Walk in Greenville. CROP stands for Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty. This year we are being joined by East Carolina University students and the monies collected will be used not only for poverty around the world, but also for our local Food Bank and the Campus Kitchen Project. Campus Kitchen is a student-run organization which encourages students to learn cooking skills and distribute unused food from the school cafeterias to the poor and hungry of their community. ECU is one of 26 schools across the nation involved in this
relief effort.

So on Sunday, you have the opportunity through special offering to support peacemaking and/or CROP Walk. Please designate your gift and thank you for your caring for the poor of our community and world.
Bill Neely

What Will Become of ECU?

The attention over the last couple of days at least by the sports new media has been focused on Syracuse and Pittsburgh leaving the Big East and joining the ACC. I began almost immediately to follow the Boneyard Banter web site and the speculation of what will become of ECU. Since I arrived in Greenville more than eight years ago, every year folks have speculated about the future of the relationship with Conference USA and our prospects for entering a BCS conference. I have not only enjoyed but have participated in the speculation. What I have learned from this is that like so many things in our
lives, other people have more control than we do.

We often like to believe that we are in control of our own destiny and that whatever we decide to do, we can accomplish with hard work and diligent effort. But then life has a way of bringing us back to reality. It might be a diagnosis of a serious health problem, or a spouse who simply announces, “I’m outta here. I can’t do this any longer,” or perhaps a boss who announces unexpectedly, “we’re cutting back and we won’t need you any longer.”
It’s at moments like these that life sends us into a tailspin and we wonder if we’re going to crash and burn or will we ever soar again. The promise of scripture is that whatever life brings, God is there in the midst bringing wholeness and future. It’s true that often if we see it at all, we see it only through a dim glass, but the promise is, that one day we will see and understand face to face with God. That whatever struggle, pain or hurt life has dished out to us, God is able to use to bring good things back into our lives. May God give us the patience with ourselves and others as we wait for the kingdom of God to be revealed in us.

And go Pirates!
Bill

If Jesus Wouldn’t Help Them, Neither Will We!

As the winds and the rains of Irene, Katia, Lee, and Maria have died down, our attention begins to turn from cleanup to rebuild. For nearly twenty years, PDA has focused primarily on long-term recovery. While others come with chainsaws and hot meals in the immediate aftermath of a storm, Presbyterians begin the long and arduous task of years of trying to help people get back into their homes.

Latest news is that more than 17,000 homes within the bounds of New Hope Presbytery have been damaged and destroyed. FEMA is moving in trailers for people to live in until their homes can be rebuilt, and while many of us have adequate insurance to cover our
damages, others do not. I was asked recently “Who would Presbyterians be helping?” The person went on to say, “Will you only be helping Presbyterians?” My response was, “Presbyterians only help the people Jesus would help, if Jesus wouldn’t help them, neither will we.” They looked at me shocked and then realized, “Oh, Jesus would help everybody.” And I said, “Right.”

We have a lot of work ahead of us. It will take our time and our energy, our hospitality and our carpentry skills, to see that our neighbors and those in the surrounding communities get their life back. Keep your eyes open and look for opportunities to be involved with
those whom Jesus loves.
Bill Neely

9/11

Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the airplane hijackings and subsequent crashing of four airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In the past ten years, the American people have struggled with our response to this evil. We have fought two wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. We have increased our security at our borders, building walls between our neighbors to the south (literally) and building walls between ourselves and our friends in other nations.

The struggle to know how to properly respond is ongoing and we live in a state of constant threat and anxiety. This summer I had the privilege of traveling in Europe, making a car trip through Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France. I was absolutely amazed that not one time after arriving in Europe was I asked to show my passport or identify myself or be
stopped at a border crossing. Yet when I reentered the United States, I had my passport checked five times before departing Paris and three times upon arriving in the U.S. How is it that we no longer even trust ourselves much less our friends? I still struggle with what an appropriate Christian response to violence is and the haunting words of Christ to return good for evil, to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, echo in my heart. I know this – that if we as a people will respond to the cries of human suffering throughout
our world, demonstrating our discipleship to Jesus Christ and his love, the world
will perceive us differently.

This week in worship we are marking 9/11 by receiving an offering for our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa. Please give generously so that we can say you have friends in far off places who have not forgotten your suffering. We have heard your cries and we are answering them.

Bill

Just a hodge podge of thoughts!