NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 25, 2017

It’s that time of year when most of the assigned lectionary scriptures are on missions and service. This Sunday, Jesus uses an interesting example of “The Gospel and Hospitality Made Simple: A Cup of Cold Water.” This verse from Matthew 10:42 reads “Whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

To give someone a cup of cold water in that part of the world when in Jesus’ time a cup of cold water was so rare meant extreme hospitality was being offered. So, to give someone a cup of cold water is a metaphor for serving others as God would have us to do. Words from the song “Room in God’s Kingdom, illustrates this point.

“Just a cup of cold water in His name given; May the hope in some heart renew;

Do not wait to be told, nor by sorrow driven; To the world God has planned for you.”

There is an amazing analogy between the words of Jesus about offering a cold cup of water and in our serving/hospitality offered to others as Christians. Both the cold cup of water and our Christians hospitality to others are blessings from God. They fulfill a need, it refreshes them and us, and it aids in providing necessities of life.

The bottom line is that it’s important for us to use our blessings to the best of our ability to serve others. Jesus said this in one verse of scripture for this Sunday and it’s “The Gospel and Hospitality Made Simple: A Cup of Cold Water.”

Join us at Covenant for worship this Sunday. I’ll be unpacking this teaching of Jesus more deeply in my sermon, “The Gospel and Hospitality Made Simple: A Cup of Cold Water,” based on Matthew 10:42. Then share in our hospitality of cake and punch as we celebrate the birthdays of those born in June.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 18, 2017

During the summer and autumn months, the lectionary scriptures concentrate a lot on missions. In the Gospel text for this Sunday, “Jesus said to His disciples, … Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received.’” To this end, the church engages in mission’s work. Often it involves traveling to some distant place trying to convert someone to our Christian beliefs and/or providing and meeting a critical need for others that they can’t provide for themselves.

I personally think that providing a critical need is a much more effective evangelism and mission tool of our faith in Christ than proselytizing. If we make it our goal to love people by providing for their critical needs, we might find them more receptive to our Christian message of living life in relationship with Christ.

As I write this, today is Thursday, June 15, 2017. Seven weeks ago, today, I had an appointment with a 24-year old young man named Matt, in my church office. He wanted to talk with me about some difficult challenges affecting him relationally and emotionally. After spending time doing some problem-solving around these issues, I said him, “You know that none of this will work without God’s help.” He said, “Yeah, preacher, I know.” So, I asked him, “Would you like God’s help? It’s a simple matter of saying yes to walking in relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.” With tears streaming down his face, he said, “Yes.” So, we held hands and prayed for that to happen. You see, my efforts to help this young man with some difficult challenges he faced, made him receptive to the Gospel message that I as a Christian Pastor am called to proclaim. It was one of my “Godly Opportunities for Missions.”

This example of missions is heavy on my mind because, yesterday, Wednesday, June 14, 2017, I officiated and gave the Eulogy at that young man’s, “Celebration of Life” Service, following his death in a tragic car accident.

Join us at Covenant this Father’s Day for worship. I will be preaching on “Godly Opportunities for Missions” based on Matthew 9:35 – 10:8.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 11, 2017 “Pride Sunday in Central Alabama”

This week Covenant will hold its worship service at Railroad Park in Downtown Birmingham. Our hope is to reach some folks with the liberating message of God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and acceptance by going to where it’s convenient for many in our community.

Let’s be clear, when the LGBTQ community uses the world “Pride,” we’re not speaking of pride in a sense of worth that overinflates who we are; what we’ve achieved or what we possess. Rather, we are talking about being “proud” of and celebrating every aspect of who God created us to be, including our sexuality and gender identity.

After finishing a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory in Waterford, Ireland, Dr. Laurie Wirthlin wrote in an email, “After going through the factory I realized that I had been praying for the wrong thing – I had been praying that I would be translucent and that Christ’s light would shine through me …. What I realized after going through the factory was that I needed to be praying to be transparent, that no part of me hindered the light of His Love from shining through me.”

As we stand in “Solidarity!” A Part – Not Apart!” with our community in worship and at PrideFest, I am praying that we will become like transparent pieces of beautiful crystal – shaped by the fire of God’s Love and the Light of God’s mercy and grace and that we will let it shine through us to our community.

Please join us for a history making day as Covenant worships with our community at Railroad Park at 10 AM Sunday morning with a light lunch to follow. I’ll be talking about the 2017 Pride theme of “Solidarity!” A Part – Not Apart!” and “Waterford Crystal” in my sermon “We are God’s People” based on I Peter 2:9-10.

(NOTE: We will gather in the park near the 16th Street Plaza entrance.

There should be plenty parking nearby on Sunday morning.)

 

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 2017

I must admit that Pentecost Sunday is one of my favorite liturgical Sundays. I guess it’s because growing up in the Pentecostal Holiness Church, we knew nothing about liturgical seasons other than Christmas, Easter and the Day of Pentecost. We always celebrated the Day of Pentecost! On this Sunday, you were always anxious to get to church because you lived in anticipation and with expectation that the music and worship to be extremely spirit-filled.

Unfortunately, with notable exceptions, too often what came during the sermon would dampen the spirit of the service. Rather than a celebration of the gifts of the spirit poured out on all, what came from the pulpit would be a rather narrow-minded celebration of spiritual provincialism of “We have the spirit and you don’t.” The was not limited to Pentecostal churches. Traditional evangelical churches were no better. The service may not have been as lively; but legalisms around who can and cannot be a Christian were the same. It’s sad to think that the claims of the presence of the spirit of God should be made the exclusive possession of any group, no matter what they called themselves.

As I read the Acts 2 scriptures assigned for Pentecost Sunday, God promised to pour out God’s Spirit “on all flesh.”

Contrast those sermons many of us grew with to the one I witnessed on Tuesday at the funeral of a transgender teenager, Jay Griffin, who had committed suicide. It was a remarkable sermon addressed to an incredibly diverse audience that amid this tragedy, proclaimed the good news that everyone is enough in God’s sight and all are welcome to God’s table.

Perhaps this Pentecost Sunday we should celebrate “The Dynamic Power of Pentecost” by loving one another, encouraging and affirming those who feel left out and proclaiming God unconditional acceptance of all.

Join us in worship this Pentecost Sunday. I will be preaching on “The Dynamic Power of Pentecost” based on Acts 2:1-21 and John 20:19-23.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR ASCENSION SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2017

Thursday, May 25 is the actual day of observance for the Day of Ascension; we will commemorate the Ascension this Sunday. The reading from Acts 1, asked this question of the people present for this event: “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” It’s a question worth exploring.

This is 2017, but an Englishwoman Michelle Philpots wakes up every morning thinking it’s 1994. She is literally stuck in the past because she suffers from “anterograde amnesia”, a brain condition resulting from a serious car accident. Her memory is wiped clean of current events, sometimes within minutes of them occurring. For 23 years, every morning, her husband has to show her their wedding album and explain that they are husband and wife. Michelle has finally learned to cope with her amnesia, leaving herself Post-it notes on the refrigerator and helpful reminders in her cell phone. Still, if she ventures away from home, she has to use her GPS to find her way back.

This woman’s condition may sound strange, but many in the church world is plagued with the same disorder. Often, we get stuck in memories of the past and give no thought to what God wants to do right now in us, through us and among us. God says in Isaiah 43, “See, I am about to do a new thing.” The new thing that Jesus promised on the Day of Ascension was the coming of the Holy Spirit to live within us to lead, guide and direct us in everything God has for us. Christians stuck gazing in the past have spiritual amnesia like Michelle Philpots’ physical condition. God wants us to learn to cope with it using Post-It notes from scriptures, and helpful reminders from preachers and others within our family of faith so that we keep finding our way to what God has for us right now.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as we celebrate the Ascension. My sermon will be “Don’t Just Stand There,” based on Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, MAY 21, 2017

Years ago, there seemed to be more emphasis on evangelism than we see today. As a child, I understood evangelism as a high-pitch pressure sales job for Jesus. We were to go out and win souls for Christ no matter what it took to keep the person from “going to hell.” So, we were equipped with tracts, buzz phrases and often scriptures taken out of context so that we could, if need be, scare people or make them feel guilty enough to accept Jesus as their Savior, at any cost. It was called “Witnessing.”

Even growing up in a very fundamental Pentecostal Church, I never could buy into this form of evangelism. These religious stunts gave evangelism a bad name and still does. The things that had the biggest impact on my life were my Mother’s faith and people’s stories of hope. The most impactful story of hope for me was watching the miraculous conversion experience of my Father on Sunday, April 17, 1966, when he arrived at church drunker than “Cooter Brown” and left sober a short time later having said yes to accepting Christ as his Savior. Two months later, on Saturday evening, June 11, as an 11-year old boy, I said yes to God.

It was then I recognized that “Witnessing” as a method for evangelism was not what the church was teaching. It was much more simple and personal. It was sharing your story; telling others how God and the church has impacted your life. I found in scripture what I already knew in my heart; the true meaning of evangelism and “witnessing.” “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3:15)

Witnessing doesn’t require the manipulation of people with negative bombardments attempting to scare “the hell” out of them. It’s simply “giving a reason for the hope you have; with gentleness and respect” and letting God do the rest.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for worship. We’ll have a special guest testimony from someone giving a reason for his hope after a horrific life changing accident. My sermon will be “Giving A Reason for My Hope” based on I Peter 3:13-16.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MOTHER’S DAY, SUNDAY, MAY 14, 2017

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, so to all Moms and those serving in maternal roles, Happy Mother’s Day.

I hit the jackpot when God decided that my Mom would be James Ella Reid Finney and my father, Jack Finney. While I loved my Dad dearly, I really was an extreme “Mama’s Boy.” It was Mom that shaped my love for God, church and the scriptures.

On special days like Mother’s Day, we tend to romanticize the past. However, being honest, I must I recognize that life was not perfect in the Finney family. There were moments they drove me to wanting to commit fratricide or patricide; but never suicide … I’m just not the suicidal type. But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day remind me how blessed I was in “Belonging to the Right Family.”

As their children grew up and left home, … me going into the Air Force … my parents, with usually Mama speaking, gave each of us the same emotional security blanket. They would tell us “No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you are mine. We love you and you can always come home.” I have never had to go home to my parents because I couldn’t make it in life; but perhaps, it was because I knew I could home if the need arose.

I realize that not everyone was blessed with the parents and family that I had; but the Good News is that everyone can still “Belong to the Right Family; God’s Family.” Even with our many character flaws, shortcomings, insecurities, and immaturity; we are God’s children. God loves us and accepts us as we are. And God invites us to come home with no conditions, nor restrictions.

Join us this Mother’s Day Sunday; if you can, bring your Mom, too. My sermon will be “Belonging to the Right Family; God’s Family” based on I Peter 2:2-3, 9-10 and John 14:1-3, 12-14.