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.

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.