Have you ever had a change of mind about an issue that left you wondering … what was I thinking? The more I study scripture these days, the more that happens to me. I grew up in a very conservative Pentecostal Holiness Church. I’m forever grateful for the foundation it gave me in scripture, nurtured my love for God and taught me the joy of being part of a community of faith. Nonetheless, I also must admit that some of what I learn in church back then about God does NOT align with scripture.

Too often church scripture was used to emphasize negative stereotypes about who God is, what God is like, what God thinks about us or how God interacts with us. However, the more I study the scriptures, I find a very different God. I find a God whose love knows no boundaries, One who is always reaching out to us in innovative ways or taking drastic measures to get our attention. God loves us and knows “People Need the Lord.” We need the love, grace, forgiveness and peace that only comes from a loving God.

In the scriptures for this Sundays, God uses Jonah, an unwilling participant at first, who has to be convinced through extraordinary means to carry the message of hope to others. In the other scripture, God uses the power of Jesus presence to enlist help in spreading the message of love and hope by saying to them, “Come, follow me, … I’ll show you how to fish for people.”

God took these innovative and extraordinary actions because God knows “People Need the Lord.” But what leaves me wondering “What was I thinking” is how can I or others read these wonderful stories and portray a negative stereotype of God.

Join us in worship this Sunday, I will reinforce the message of hope and love that God desires for us to live in with a sermon called “People Need the Lord” based on Jonah 3:1-5, 10 and Mark 1:14-20



The Baptism of Jesus is commemorated each year on the first Sunday following Epiphany, January 6. This year that was the first Sunday of the New Year. At Covenant, we have chosen to commemorate it as we normally do on this week on the Second Sunday of the New Year. That also means following the lectionary scriptures assigned for this Sunday requires us to look at baptism with a depth that goes beyond baptism being an outward sign of an inward spiritual reality taking place.

Rev. Michael Piazza shared the following this week: “I have no idea what the sign actually said, but, driving to the airport … it seems it said, ‘Hope Repaired Here’. It was tempting to turn around and see what it really said and what they really repaired. The thing is, as someone whose hope has been damaged a bit during the past couple years, it felt better to think that there really is a place that repairs shattered hopes.”

As I thought about his words, it dawned on me that there is such a place. It’s called our hearts. The assigned text for this Sunday from Psalm 139 & I Corinthians 6 goes to great lengths to remind us that God who made us, knows us, loves us, is always present with us, and we belong to God! That reminder is where hope is repaired!

Being baptized or re-affirming our baptism is meant be a time when we are reminded in our innermost being, that hope is repaired right here within us. “Baptism” reminds us that hope is repaired “When We Say Yes” to a relationship with God.

So, join us on this “Baptism of Our Lord” Sunday at Covenant. We will commemorate the Baptism of Jesus with Baptisms by Immersion and reaffirmations of Baptism with sprinkling as part of our worship. My sermon will be “Baptism: When We Say Yes” based on Psalm 139, 1-6, 13-18 and I Corinthians 6:12, 19-20.


I know that most of us will be busy this holiday weekend. Email and other social media will not be a big priority for most of us. So, I’m sending my Christmas Greetings a few days before Christmas.

While I wish you a very Merry and Safe Christmas, let me also share these Christmas reminders I ran across.

  • May the Christmas GIFTS remind us of God’s greatest gift, God’s only Son.
  • May the Christmas CANDLES remind us of The One who is the “Light of the world.”
  • May the Christmas TREES remind us of another tree where He demonstrated His love.
  • May the Christmas CHEER remind us of The One who said, “Be of good cheer.”
  • May the Christmas FEAST remind us of The One who is “the Bread of Life.”
  • May the Christmas BELLS remind us of the glorious proclamation of Jesus’ birth.
  • May the Christmas CAROLS remind us of The One the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
  • May the Christmas SEASON remind us of Jesus, the Reason for the Season!


I realize this Note from Pastor J R is longer than most, but because of the season I wanted to share this wonderful story. I hope you will be moved by it as much as I was when I read it.

Harriet Richie, a writer from Anderson, South Carolina, wrote a story about something that happened to her and her family late one night. They had been to a Christmas Eve service that ended at midnight. After worship, her husband announced that he was hungry and wanted breakfast. Of course, it was almost 1 a.m. on Christmas morning, so none of the usual places they might have gone were open. They made their way to the interstate where an all-night truck stop was still open.

A few big diesels rumbled outside. Inside a few truckers sat at the counter. A jukebox played country music. On the front window was a string of colored blinking lights. The place smelled like bacon grease and stale coffee. A one-armed man behind the counter nodded the family toward a booth.

Soon a waitress named Rita sauntered over, handed them their menus and asked what they wanted to drink. Harriet looked around. She felt a little bit like a snob and out of place. Her family had just come from a beautiful Christmas Eve service. And soon they would be heading to their lovely home for the night. She thought one day they would look back with a laugh and say to each other, “Remember that Christmas we ate breakfast at that truck stop? That awful music and those tacky lights?”

She was staring out the window when an old Volkswagen van drove up. A young man with a beard and baggy jeans got out, walked around and opened the door for a young woman holding a baby. They hurried inside and took a booth near the back.

After Rita, the waitress, took their order, the baby began to cry, and neither of the young parents could quiet him. Finally, Rita set down her coffee pot and held out her arms for the baby. “Hon, just sit there and drink your coffee. Let me see what I can do.”

It was evident that Rita had done this before. She began walking around the place showing the baby to first one of the truckers and then another. One began whistling a Christmas tune and make silly faces. Quickly the baby stopped crying and began cooing. Rita showed the baby the blinking lights on the jukebox. She brought the baby over to Harriet’s table. “Just look at this little darlin’,” she said. “Mine are so big and grown they don’t need me no more.”

The one-armed fellow behind the counter brought a fresh pot of coffee, and, as he refilled their mugs, Harriet felt tears in her eyes. Her husband wanted to know what was wrong. “Nothing,” she said, “just Christmas.” Reaching in her purse for a Kleenex and a quarter, she said to her own kids, “Go see if you can find a Christmas song on the jukebox.”

When they were gone, Harriet quietly said almost to herself, “He would have come here, wouldn’t he?” “Who?” her husband asked. “Jesus. If Jesus were born here tonight and the choices were our neighborhood, the church or this truck stop, it would be right here, wouldn’t it?”

Her husband didn’t answer right away, but looked around the place, at the people there. Finally he said, “I suppose either here or a homeless shelter.”

“That’s what bothers me,” Harriet said. “When we first got here I felt sorry for these people because they probably aren’t going home to nice neighborhoods where the houses have candles in the windows and wreaths on the doors. And listening to that awful music, I thought, I’ll bet nobody here has even heard of Handel. Now I think that more than any place I know, this is where Christmas is. But I’m not sure I belong.”

If you strip the story down to what really happened that night so long ago, you discover that God’s value system and economy are very different from ours. Bringing the Savior into the world in a poor country town, to an illiterate, unwed, teenage mother, and proclaiming the birth to lowly shepherds would not have been the auspicious rollout modern marketers would have designed, but it is precisely what God would do.

Maybe it’s only in recognizing our own poverty and need that we can really be open to the change Christmas can still bring to the world, our world.

As Harriett walked with her family to the car, her husband leaned over and said, “You know I heard something earlier at church. They said what the angels sang that first Christmas was, ‘Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.’ Maybe they meant us, too.”

I invite you to join us for two opportunities on this Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve, when we will be bringing “good tidings of great joy.” The first one is at 10 AM, for our regular Sunday morning worship; and the second is at 5 PM for our Christmas Eve “Lights & Lessons: Carols and Communion” Services.

We hope to see you! But if not, please know that we at Covenant Community Church wish you a happy, blessed, safe and Merry Christmas!


This week we observe the Third Sunday of Advent. It’s one of two Sundays when the liturgical color is rose … okay pink. We will light the third Advent (Pink) candle which symbolizes joy; the joy we feel to welcome Jesus in Christmas.

The assigned Gospel text is “The Magnificat,” Mary’s prayer/poem/hymn of praise found in Luke 1:46-55. “Magnificat” simply means magnify, exalt, or glorify. So, these scriptures are a poem of praise to God, praising God for God’s blessing to Mary and faithfulness to her people.

One of the most popular Christmas songs of the last 30 years is “Mary, Did You Know” written in 1991 by Christian comedian and singer Mark Lowry. The song is a series of questions he’d like to ask of Mary, like these from the opening lines:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary’s response to being told that she, a teenage engaged virgin would conceive a child fathered by God, was “The Magnificat.” It begins with these words, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This tells me that while Mary may not have known all the details of how things will come to be; she knew the answers to Lowry’s questions.

It also tells us that for a peasant teenage girl to be rejoicing at this news means she knew “The Secret to Joy,” a joy she had deep within her that could not be overcome by her desperate circumstances. And we can too!

Join us at Covenant this week for Pink Sunday. We will light the third Advent candle for Joy. I will be preaching on “The Secret to Joy.” The scriptural texts are Isaiah 61:1-4 and Luke 1:46-55.


Todd Deatherage writes “We are each image-bearers of God in a beautiful but broken world.” One hymn of the season, “beckons” Emmanuel to rescue us with this haunting plea. “O Come, Desire of Nations, bind – In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad division cease. And be Thyself our Prince of Peace.”

I thought of these words on Thursday, when in the land where the Prince of Peace was born, the news cycle was of the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis resorting once again to violence in their decades-old conflict. This time in response to the declaration of US plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It makes one wonder if peace is possible? Maybe not; but we certainly should not contribute to the lack of it. As followers of Jesus who said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” we each have a role in seeking peace for ourselves and others. Peace and peacemaking in our world today comes to us most powerfully on this Second Sunday of Advent, knowing that the very Prince of Peace has come to us in that place between what theologians call the “now, but not yet.” Where is that? It’s the place where we each must decide to be about the business of helping to bring peace in the broken places of our lives and our world.

A prayer request to Covenant this week was comfort for a young man who was not permitted to attend his own mother’s funeral. I can’t help but wonder what restoration could have occurred in that family had one person decided to bring peace in that broken situation. We are to contribute to the efforts of peace in whatever situation we can, while living in hopeful expectation that one day all things will be made right when the Prince of Peace returns.

Join us at Covenant this Sunday as we light the Second Advent candle representing peace. My sermon will be “Preparing the Way for Peace” based on Isaiah 40:1-5 and Mark 1:1-9


The Season of Advent begins this Sunday. The theme is Hope. Christmas and the New Year of 2018 are just around the corner. Come, see Covenant beautifully decorated as we also light the first Advent Candle for Hope.

Advent is a season of waiting. It’s a time to be marked by urgent anticipation, longing for the fulfillment of what has been promised. Since Jesus was born 2000 years ago, the promise we are now waiting for is the return of Christ as described in the assigned scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent; referencing the second coming of Christ, instead of the birth of Jesus.

That’s all well and good except, too often, people don’t really spend enough thought on what we do while we wait. While the scriptures encourage us to look for Christ’ return, they also tell us to make the most of the present. Someone once put it this way: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you do no earthly good.” John Wesley said it even better with these words: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”. That’s making the most of the present.

In preparing for Advent, Christmas, the unknowable future of 2018 and beyond, let’s make sure we don’t ignore our most precious resource that allows us to make the most of the present. That is “The Shining Light of Hope,” of God’s presence in our lives. Let’s trust in God and seize the day.

Again, join us for worship this First Sunday of Advent as we continue our look for Christ’s return while making the most of the present. My sermon will be “The Shining Light of Hope” based on Psalm 80:7, 17-19 and Mark 13:24-27, 32-37