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 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 PALM/PASSION SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 2017

I love modern day parables. I noticed one this past week, in watching the UConn Huskies’ women’s basketball team play the Mississippi State (MSU) Bulldogs’ team in a National Semi-Final game. A year ago, MSU had lost to UConn in the tournament by the largest margin ever in a NCAA tournament game, 60 points. UConn entered this game on a 111-game winning streak, the longest in NCAA Division I history, boys or girls. UConn was expected to just cruise to another victory. But MSU played a masterful game. Yet, UConn managed to tie the score at the end of regulation to send it to overtime. As overtime came to an end, MSU’s Morgan Williams at 5’2”, the shortest player on the court, made the game winning buzzer beating shot over one of the tallest. It was a shot heard around the world! The mighty UConn Huskies had fallen to Mississippi State. The cheering was loud! The feeling was unbelievable. There was talk of the parade that would greet the MSU Bulldogs when they came back home to Starkville, Mississippi. But like Palm Sunday, it was a short-lived joy; two days later, Mississippi State lost in the championship game to South Carolina.

This Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday. It’s when we remember Jesus’ victorious entry into Jerusalem to the cheers of the people. They were shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is The One who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But we know that victory was also a short-lived joy. A few days later in that same week, Jesus would be arrested, beaten, tried and crucified. The events of Palm Sunday were not a real victory of any lasting duration in light of His passion on Good Friday. It was a tragic kind of victory.

This happens to us as well when we fail to realize the true victory in the Palm/Passion story. For the followers of Christ, the real victory came when they were willing to leave the safety of the crowds and follow Jesus with a commitment that went past the cheering of Palm Sunday. And so it is with us.

Join us this Palm/Passion Sunday at Covenant. We will celebrate with palms waving and also a baptism by immersion. We will also be challenged to make a “Commitment Beyond the Cheering of Palm Sunday.” That’s my sermon title based on Psalm 118:1-2, 19-26 and Matthew 21:1-11.

NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR MARCH 5, 2017 THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT

“An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” That’s an old saying often used when people are referring to an uncanny likeness of a son and his father in appearance, habits or traits. In many ways, this saying applies to me and my Dad. However, in other ways, the differences between the two of us leave me feeling like I need a DNA test to prove that I really am the son of Jack Finney.

When it comes to carpentry skills, mechanical or electrical knowledge, my apple may have fallen close to the tree; but it quickly rolled a long way down the hill out of sight of the tree from which I fell. Daddy was astutely adept in all three mentioned areas. The services of a carpenter, an electrician and/or a plumber were never needed at our house when I was growing up. Daddy took care of all of those needs himself.

Me, on the other hand, I’m about as clueless in these areas as they come. So, it might be a little surprising that my sermon title for Ash Wednesday was “Time for A Spiritual Tune Up” and my sermon title for this coming First Sunday in Lent is “Flying Instructions for Lent.” With both sermons, I use my very limited knowledge of mechanics to explore important spiritual truths that can help us make the most of our Lenten journey for 2017.

Join us this week for worship on “The First Sunday in Lent.” At Covenant, we call it “Purple Sunday.” We ask that if you can to please wear something purple.

When it comes to mechanical knowledge, I may have rolled far from the tree of Jack Finney. Nonetheless, I will still use my limited knowledge of mechanics and my memories from my days in the Air Force to explore some important truths about “Flying Instructions for Lent” based on “Psalm 32:6-8” and “Matthew 4:1-11.”