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Counting Blessings

As I write, Thanksgiving is approaching; Advent, Christmas and the New Year are waiting in line just behind it. Life moves at a steady pace, reminding us how precious is each moment. Beginning our twenty-sixth year in Covenant, we are counting our blessings.

We would like to thank you for your heartfelt prayers and support of our family in the context of Shelton and Scott’s wedding. That evening as we were celebrating their union among their friends in California, we wished we could have stopped time, pushed the pause button. We realized that life doesn’t work that way; at the same time, we remembered that we get to do it all over again on March 10, the blessing of their marriage among our Covenant community. How thrilled we are! And thankful, too, for the many who will be helping with the event.

To prepare our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we are practicing gratitude. Thank you for loving our family during these past twenty-five years. We well remember the first, and most important, item on my job description: to nurture our relationship with God, and to nurture our family. With your blessing and encouragement, we have tried to do that. Our marriage has benefitted from your love, and our children have been blessed to see numerous examples of faithful obedience to Jesus Christ in you. Thank you for making clear to all of us the importance and value of growing as Christ’s disciples.

Thank you for serving alongside us and joining us in mission. You have been and continue to be delightful witnesses to our Lord and Savior. We have been strengthened in our faith by your dedicated service. You have inspired us to worship as you served in our choirs, praise and tech teams. You have taught our children about the love of God in Jesus Christ, and you have helped them experience His love. You have rubbed elbows with them in youth events and helped them see what a disciple looks like. Thank you.

Thank you for allowing us to serve together. You have cared for us as a couple and accepted our ministry. We enjoy being and serving together and you have supported our efforts. In so doing, you have strengthened our marriage. We hope our team-oriented ministry has helped you grow as well.

Thank you for accepting a young, inexperienced pastor (I had just turned 34 years of age when we arrived.), exercising patience with my many flaws, and for those moments of encouragement, counsel and love that you gave to me. I can remember moments of discouragement when some of you came alongside me and gave me a word of encouragement that lifted me and gave me the strength to go another day. You have given me grace when I needed it and your commitment to Christ has challenged me to resist mediocrity, and strive for excellence. Thank you for loving and growing us well. You stand as a shining example of a church that loves and grows its leaders well. We believe this is the kind of church Jesus envisions.

Thank you for being a church that offers gracious love to each other and to those outside our fellowship. In moments of failure and weakness, you have extended the gracious love of Jesus Christ to those who are hurting. In doing so, you confirmed for us that Jesus is alive within and among us. You have championed our efforts to move beyond our walls into our community and world. Thank you. You have favored opening doors to everyone who has come to live and serve among us. In your grace, you remind us of Jesus, who surprised many religious leaders when he accepted Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman at the well, and many others who were different and often outcast. Once again, you remind us of our heavenly Father, who crawled over every barrier in Jesus to love us, even when we were not (or are not) easy to love. Thank you.

As we walk through this Advent journey, we will not be thinking of the gifts we will receive on Christmas Day. Rather, we will be keeping our eyes on the gifts we have already received.

“O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

Sing with us one of our favorite hymns: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

 Come, thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above;

Praise His name-I’m fixed upon it-Name of God’s redeeming love.

Hither to Thy love has blest me; Thou hast brought me to this place;

And I know Thy hand will bring me Safely home by Thy good grace.

Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wandering from the fold of God;

He, to rescue me from danger, Bought me with His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; Seal it for Thy courts above.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas,


Hal and Jean

Nathan, Chantel, Peyton, Brooks and McClain

Hayden, Jennifer, Camden and McCoy

Scott and Shelton



A Time of Reflection

In Plato’s Dialogues, Socrates says, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  What do you think this means?  Is it a valid statement?  As we approach the end of 2011, this is a good opportunity to reflect upon life, our lives as followers of Christ, and our life together as the Church of Jesus Christ.


What is life worth?  How do we value life itself?  Are we taking life for granted?  Or, do we understand and accept life as a gift of God?


What am I doing with this life God has given me?  Is it my life to live as only I desire?  Is my life positively impacting the lives of those around me?  In what ways?  Are there things I would like to change?  Is my life glorifying God?  Do others see Christ alive in me?  What will be my greatest legacy?  What do I want my legacy to be?


How have I experienced God in my life at Covenant?  Where or in what ways do I see God at work?  What part am I playing in help to grow disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love others, and serve in the world?  How am I growing in faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ?  How does my relationship with God impact my other relationships?  My marriage?  My family?  My friends?  My co-workers?


How are we, Covenant, making a positive impact on our community?  Our world?  What difference does it make that we welcome groups like AA, Al-Anon, Al-A-Teen into God’s facility?  What do we communicate to those whom we welcome into this building?  If we were to close Covenant, board up the windows and go away, what would our community think? Would they miss us?  Would they even notice?


As you approach the end of 2011, I encourage you to take time to reflect, to examine your life.


1. What are you doing to grow disciples of Jesus Christ in your family/home?  Within Covenant’s community? Outside Covenant?

2. What passions, skills, talents, time might you offer to God for building his kingdom?

3. How can I walk more closely with God?  As a husband or wife?  As a father or mother or grandparent?

4. What will I give financially to the building of God’s kingdom?  What will I give toward Covenant’s 2012 Ministry Budget?  Covenant’s Building Fund?


Karl Pelachuk, in his book, Relax, Focus, Succeed, suggests that people who “examine their lives, who think about where they’ve been, how they got there, and where they’re going, are much happier people.”


Join me in some reflection, some self-examination.  For me, this is a pathway to a grateful and generous life.


To the Glory of God,



Our Culture is Changing

Our culture is changing.  One of the changes we are seeing, according to a recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Survey, is that the number of adults who claim no religious affiliation is growing.  In 2000, approximately 8% of Americans claimed no religious affiliation.  In comparison, today 16.1% claim no religious affiliation.

Another change we see is that most people have no qualms about moving from one church to another, e.g., one denomination to another, or one religion to another.

Some of the highlights of this study are as follows:

78.4% claim to be Christian

51.3% claim to be Protestant Christian

23.9% claim to be Catholic Christian

1.9% claim Judaism

0.7% claim Buddhism

0.6% claim Islam

What are the implications for us, the Church of Jesus Christ – or, the Christians?  These are options:

  1. We can become anxious and fearful, turn our backs upon those different from us, put our heads in the sand, and keep doing church the way we always have done it.  Many, if not most, Christian churches appear to be following this path.  In my opinion, if we continue this direction, we will not grow and we will continue to lose our joy in Christ.
  2. We can grieve some of the changes in healthy ways, but then see in this emerging culture opportunities to extend God’s kingdom.  We can embrace opportunities to change the way we do church.  (Not the theological and biblical foundations).  What adaptive changes might we make?
    1. Renew our dedication to model and teach the gracious love of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  This would transform bad and mediocre marriages into good ones, and serve as winsome examples to our children.
    2. Renew our dedication to reach our children for Jesus Christ, loving them into faithful discipleship.
    3. Choose to see the world, and all the diverse people groups in it as God see it/them.  Remember John 3:16 teaches that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.”  Rather than become anxious, fearful, and disrespectful toward those who are different from us, why not choose to love them?  More than that, we could find ways to show them the love of God.
    4.  See the Church as a lighthouse for lost people, not just a protective haven for Christians.  Sometimes we act like the Church is an exclusive club.  Rather, we could keep one eye on the lookout for those in our families and community who do not know or follow God.  We could love them into Christ’s Church.
    5. As a community of faith, we could look for opportunities to reach our neighbors in the name of Christ.

One of the findings of this Pew survey was that a substantial number of people (4% of overall adult population) say that as children they were unaffiliated with any particular religion but have since come to identify with a religious group.  This means that more than half of people who were unaffiliated with a particular religious group as a child now say they are associated with a religious group.  What might this mean for us?

It’s a good idea to be on the lookout and invite people to church, and/or engage in a spiritual conversation.

Our American culture is changing.  As a result of these changes God is laying before us opportunities.  What we do with these opportunities will affect our families, our children, our neighbors, our communities, our country, and ultimately, the world.

Will we be found faithful followers of Jesus Christ?

To God’s Glory,