NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 20, 2017

Christians believe that Jesus is our great example. Scripture tell us that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. However, in the assigned gospel story for this week, Jesus encounters a woman of a different nationality and race who is seeking His help with a sick daughter. As this story unfolds, you wonder if on this day Jesus’ human side was in control and maybe His first responses came as a result of the similar feelings songwriter, Daniel Powter, was feeling when he wrote the lyrics, it’s “cause you had a bad day – you’re taking one down – you sing a sad song just to turn it around … you had a bad day?”

In a cursory reading of this story, Jesus doesn’t come across as the hero, the great example or fully divine. At this moment, it seems that Jesus fails to see the divine-ness of God in one of God’s children of a different race and nationality. His disciples make matters worse. They encourage Jesus to make this woman go away so they don’t have to deal with her. But, how about this remark from Jesus to a woman seeking His help for an ailing daughter: “It’s not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.” Really? Her response is classic. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their master’s table.”

In the end, Jesus reveals that “God is still speaking.” So where does Jesus go from here? Scripture says, “Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.’ And right then her daughter was healed.”

Could it be that this story is another way of Jesus being our great example? Could it be that Jesus is modeling for us how even our bad days, those times when we can’t see or hear that “God is still speaking” teaching us how to be an example of “where we go from here?“, that even in such times we still make every effort to see the divine-ness of God in every child of God and treat them as such. I think maybe so!

Join us for worship this Sunday, my sermon is “God Is Still Speaking: Where Do We Go From Here?” based on this story from “Matthew 15:21-28.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR JR FOR AUGUST 13, 2017

Last Sunday I preached on Covenant’s Vision Statement. This Sunday I will preach on Covenant’s Mission Statement. People often confuse or don’t understand the difference between them. A mission differs from a vision in that the mission is the cause and the vision is the effect. In other words, if we accomplished the mission, fulfillment of the vision is the results.

If we live into our Covenant Mission, where: “We exist to:

Celebrate the Love of God,

Cultivate a relationship with God,

Care about one another in Christ,

Communicate Christ to all people.”

We will see the fulfillment of our Covenant Vision:

“To be an inclusive community of faith –

Offering Hope + Showing Faithfulness + Sharing Joy.”

Covenant’s mission statement is a formal summary of our church’s aims and values. It serves as a filter helping us separate what is important, from what is not. Following the example of Jesus, it also communicates a sense of the intended direction for our congregation.

When Jesus began His public ministry, He made it very clear what His mission was in Luke 4:18-19. Reading from the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus publicly affirmed these words for His Mission, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” To make sure that those present understood this was indeed His mission, Jesus’ commentary on these verses was “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for baptism and reception of new members who are committing to help us fulfill our Covenant mission to make our Covenant vision become more of a reality. My sermon title is “The Mission: The Lord Has Anointed Us To …” based on “Luke 4:14-21.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY AUGUST 6, 2017

The assigned gospel story for this Sunday is Matthew’s version of the feeding of the multitude. In reading this familiar passage of scripture again this week, I was struck by the abundance you find in the beginning and the end of the story.

The story begins with Jesus, while trying to get away for some down time, encountering a crowd following Him. The spiritual abundance is that Jesus knows the incredible issues of emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health needs among them. Jesus has compassion on them and cures them. This all-day healing service lasted over into the evening. By now, these folks are out here in the middle of nowhere, with no food to eat. This is when the physical abundance in this story takes place. Five loaves of bread (more like 5 biscuits) and 2 fishes are multiplied into enough to feed 5000 men, plus woman and children present. Not only that, but 12 baskets of overages were collected from this meal after everyone ate.

Many will theorize as to whether this story is real or not. Others, assuming if it’s in the Bible it must be true, will seek ways to explain how this happened. Both approaches miss the point of the story all together. To realize why this story of God’s spiritual and physical abundance is in the Bible, we need to consider two verses from the alternate Psalm scripture assigned for this Sunday.

Psalm 145:8-9, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that God has made.” It’s pretty simple: “God is good. God is Love. God made and God cares for you and me!”

Jesus often challenges His followers to “go and do likewise.” Join us at Covenant this Sunday. I will revisit our vision statement to encourage us to “go and do likewise.” The sermon is “Abundance: A Vision of Hope, Faithfulness and Joy,” based on “Matthew 14:13-21.”

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JULY 23, 2017

Growing up in the Christian Church, I was told all of my life that “The Ultimate Right Choice” is a decision to accept the invitation to be in relationship with God so you can go to heaven after you die. Believe me, I want to go to heaven after I die; but, somehow, if that’s all there is to life and living that seems to sell God short. Besides, most of us don’t die immediately after making that choice. So, what about life down here until we die.

The scriptures teach us that God’s plan for us our lives is much broader the one time made “The Ultimate Right Choice.” In Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “For I know the plans I have for you” says the Lord, “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I come that you might have life and have life more abundantly.” Discovering the plan and purpose God has for our lives will help us to live life abundantly.

How? I suggest there just might be a “Second Ultimate Right Choice,” (an oxymoron I know, but bear with me.) This Second Ultimate Choice is learning to accept what God says about you rather than what others say including family, peers and friends. That’s what is really needed to discover God’s plan and purpose for your life, and to live life abundantly.

We tend to believe of ourselves what the most important person in our life says about us. So, with “The Ultimate Right Choice,” make God the most important person in your life. Then believe what God’s word says about you as your “Second Ultimate Right Choice.” A good place to start is believing, as David did of himself in Psalm 139:14, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful. I know that full well.”

Join us at Covenant this Sunday for worship. I will be preaching how to better understand “The Ultimate Right Choice” based on Matthew 13:24-30.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JULY 16, 2017

As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.” Matthew 13:23

This is the time of year when the lectionary scriptures call us to live our discipleship as followers of Jesus. This month our 3-H “Happy Helping Hands” Ministry will take on an annual project in which we as a church seek to do just that. In collaboration with Greater Birmingham Ministries, we will feed 50 children in a day-care, for the working poor, lunch for a week. This is an excellent opportunity to sow some of God’s seeds of grace and compassion into the good soil of young children. So, I encourage you to find out how you can help in this ministry opportunity.

Yet, as I ponder the passage from Matthew 13:23, I wander how often I, as well as many of you, have misunderstood this passage when I personally didn’t seek to fulfill the premise of it while desiring the promise of it. It’s easy to read it and desire to see the promise of return and harvest in it be fulfilled in our lives. It’s also easy to lose heart when it doesn’t happen. We need to understand that the promise of return and harvest is premised on us being good soil. To see this promise fulfilled in our lives, we need to make sure our hearts are good soil. After all, the premise is “As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce …”

Join us for worship this Sunday. My sermon, “Seed for the Heart of Good Soil,” aims to help us develop a heart of good soil, fertile to produce the promised harvest and return. It’s based on Isaiah 55:10-13 and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, JULY 9, 2017

Since July 4th came on Tuesday this year, I suppose either or both the Sundays before and after can emphasize freedom. The truth is that every Sunday sermon should be about the real freedom to be found in our personal relationship with God.

Unfortunately, what most of us learned growing up in Church does not lead to “real freedom” in this relationship with God. I’m convinced the biggest stumbling block to this real freedom resulted from the insecurity of church leaders that were threatened by questions. The strategy of such church leaders throughout the history of the Christian Church has been to have Christ followers check their brains at the door of the church and just accept whatever the leaders say. Again, this does NOT lead to “Real Freedom.”

A website called “Question for Jesus: Conversational Prayer Around Your Deepest Desires,” has profound questions most of us were never encouraged to ask. Questions like: “Jesus, what have you done this week to show me how valuable I am to You? What do You want to do together today? Jesus all these demands are really weighing on me. How did You deal with it when everyone around You was trying to get something from You? What were You thinking when You looked at me this morning?”

I’m convinced God welcomes our questions as they help us experience real freedom. John the Baptist “prepared the way for Jesus” and baptized Him. Yet, in Matthew 11, John is in prison and he hears about the things Jesus is doing and he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You The One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus is not threatened by John’s question. He responds by sending John the answers that those seeking relief from their struggles find in Him, real freedom. Later, Jesus invites all present to experience this real freedom in following Him and receiving the rest He gives.

Join us for worship at Covenant this Sunday after July 4th as we explore doing the same. I will be preaching on how “Real Freedom Has Room for Questions!” from “Matthew 11:2-6, 28-30.”

JOIN US AFTERWARDS IN CELEBRATING

MAMA DOROTHY SWIMS’ 82TH BIRTHDAY!

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.