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.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, MAY 7, 2017

This Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” That’s because the gospel reading for “The Fourth Sunday after Easter” always includes passages portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The picture of Jesus as The Good Shepherd is meant to demonstrate the greatness of God’s unconditional love for us. It’s also meant to show the lengths to which God was willing to go to show God’s love for us.

In John 10:11 of The Message, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before Himself, sacrifices Himself if necessary.” God was even willing to take the sting out of death for us.

This story by Adrian Dieleman can help us to visualize this point. He writes: A boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring afternoon when a bumblebee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again, the father reached out his hand; but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.”

One of the biggest fears people have is the sting of death. We don’t’ need to fear death anymore because “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” has taken the sting for us. If “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” has done that for us, rest assured that His other claim in John 10:10 is true also. “I’ve come that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as I preach on “Jesus, The Good Shepherd” using the very family scriptures of Psalm 23 and John 10:1-11.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 30, 2017

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Easter. Because Easter moves around year to year, many of the assigned Gospel readings during the Easter Season are Resurrection stories. Such is the case with The Road to Emmaus Story assigned for this Sunday.

Even if you are not a country music fan, you probably have heard Willie Nelson’s famous song, “On the Road Again.” Here’s some of the lyrics: “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again. Going places where I’ve never been … I can’t wait to get on the road again.” While Willie romanticizes being “On the Road Again,” that’s not a happy experience for many people. Too often on the road again is a symbol of, loneliness, frustration, being lost with no direction with little or no hope.

That is an apt description of the experience of Cleopas and his companion in the gospel story about the Road to Emmaus. Dejected and in despair, they are leaving Jerusalem – “on the road again” headed to Emmaus, a seacoast village seven miles away. Fortunately for them, they have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” in their encounter with Jesus.

For many of us, our emotional and spiritual Road to Emmaus is a place we often travel in our frustration, confusion, grief and despair. It’s a long walk and it seems like we’ll never get there. If we do, we may still be doubtful, weary, frustrated, and directionless. The good news is that God wants us to have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” on our spiritual and emotional Roads to Emmaus.

Join us at Covenant in worship this Sunday. I’ll be preaching about what it means for us today to have “A Surprise Resurrection Experience” based on Luke 24:13-35.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR “LOW SUNDAY,” 4-23-2017

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end results of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9)

This week, the Sunday after Easter is known as “Low Sunday.” That’s because this Sunday’s church attendance happens to be one of the lowest of the year. It seems that after attending “A Celebration of the Resurrection” on Easter Sunday, an awful lot of folks choose to opt out of attending worship the following Sunday. It’s almost as if many take the attitude that after 40 days of Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, they need a church break. I wonder how many blessings are missed because of such thinking. I must admit that I, myself, had originally thought of taking some time off this week but decided against it. As a result, I accepted a counseling appointment on Thursday morning with a young man. That encounter became a divine appointment for him and me. We were both incredibly blessed. We ended our time together with me praying with him. We held hands and as tears rolled from his eyes down his cheeks onto his pants, I felt so blessed and honored to lead this young man into a prayer where he opened his heart to walk in fellowship with Christ. This moment had been made possible because of his openness to me working with him through some problem solving steps aimed at hopefully addressing some serious issues in his life.

It was an encounter that brought me an inexpressible and glorious joy. You see, some real blessings just might be waiting for you also this week after Easter and on Low Sunday.

So, I invite you to join us at Covenant for worship this Sunday after Easter. I will be preaching a sermon titled “An Inexpressible and Glorious Joy,” based on “I Peter 1:3-9.” Afterwards, join us for cake and punch in the Fellowship Hall as we celebrate those born in April.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2017

I grew up hearing often an old saying that goes like this: “Don’t let your good be the enemy of your better and your better, the enemy of your best.” The idea is if we hold on too tightly to what we think is good, we often fail to let go to get to or achieve our better or our best. That old saying took on a new meaning for me this week as I read the lectionary scriptures assigned for Easter Sunday this year.

In John 20, after Mary Magdalene realizes it is the Risen Jesus talking to her, she evidently goes to embrace her dear friend, Jesus. But Jesus rebuffs her saying in verse 17, “Don’t hold on to Me, for I haven’t yet gone up to My Father. …” Why would Jesus do that to her? As I pondered that question, I began to let my mind wander. What if Jesus used this incident as a metaphor to teach Mary and us the lesson of that old saying of not “letting your good be the enemy of your better or your best.”

Obviously, Mary was overjoyed to see that Jesus whom she loved was alive. However, maybe Jesus wanted her and us to realize that though He was alive, His resurrection means that things have changed. To experience the fullness of God in our lives, we can’t hold on to the Jesus we knew before Good Friday. We must let go and embrace the wholeness of God in Christ that is only made possible by Christ’s resurrection on Easter.

Are you holding on to the good of only a pre-Good Friday Jesus? If so, perhaps only in letting go, as Peter did in Acts 10 while preaching at the Gentile Cornelius’ home, will you be able to embrace all of who the Resurrected Christ is and experienced God’s better and best.

Join us this Easter Sunday morning for a Celebration of The Resurrected Christ. It begins with the “Flowering of The Cross” at 7:10 AM in the foyer; then our “Sunrise Service” in the sanctuary at 7:30 AM; followed “Easter Breakfast” in the Fellowship Hall at 8 AM; and then “Easter Worship” at 10 AM in the Sanctuary.

My sermon will be “The Risen Christ: Hold on or Let Go” based on the scriptures from Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18.