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A Missional Outlook During Advent

Life has a way of becoming mundane, ordinary, dull, and burdensome. We can get bogged down in our busyness, weighed down by burdens. It’s easy to lose our way, to lose sight of our God-given purpose.

One of the ways I remind myself of purposefulness of life is through the Advent journey, the four-week-long walk toward the Christmas celebration. Music, worship, scripture, and fellowship are all part of my meaningful celebration of Advent and Christmas. But there is more we Christ-followers can practice during Advent. We can commit ourselves to a missional outlook. What does this mean?

First , it means being purposeful. But it is more. It involves moving outside our comfortable circles of life and relationships to reach those of whom we are not always aware. Being missional is thinking and living outside the box. It is looking outward, beyond our closest circles of family and friends. How might we celebrate Advent and Christmas in a missional way?

  • Remembering that God left the safety of heaven to come to earth as one of us. He took a great risk in doing so; and he paid a price, a huge price. Remembering that God is missional in his character; God has a mission in this world and has gone before us. So wherever we go, God is already there to hold us, to empower us.
  • Looking outward for that person in the office, our school, or our neighborhood who seems lonely, or is in obvious need, and figuring out some way to reach out to that person. It may be a box of cookies, a note of encouragement, a kind word, expressing an interest in that person, inviting that person to lunch or dinner.
  • Looking outward to the stranger at the checkout counter, the custodian in your school or office, the attendant at the cleaners. We could greet that person with a smile, ask about them, pray for them.
  • Looking outward to children and finding a way to encourage them, to love them.
  • Looking outward to people who are confined to their homes, assisted living or nursing homes and joining with a group to go sing carols to them.
  • Looking outward and helping with our Ridgecrest School ministry in expressing appreciation to the teachers and staff.
  • Looking outward to families who lack the financial resources to purchase toys and new gifts for their children, and bringing a toy or giving a gift to Second Mile Pride for Parents. Through this ministry, we help children by helping their parents provide for their own children so that they will get the joy of giving gifts to their children. This builds dignity.
  • Looking outward to those who have no relationship with a church and inviting them to join you for worship or a fellowship event.
  • Looking out to those who may not know God and sharing with them the reason for the hope that you have in Christ Jesus
  • (I Peter 3:15)
  • Looking outward to your neighbors and extending the gift of a friendly greeting.
  • Looking outward to the person who is struggling in life and giving the gift of your time in listening to them.

Remember, God alerted us to his coming in the Old Testament prophecies, but some missed his presence in Jesus.

Remember, Jesus told us that we might see him when we help those who are hungry, lonely, without the basic needs for life. As we walk this Advent journey toward the celebration of Christmas, may we choose to practice missional living, looking outward toward others.

Grace and Peace in Jesus Christ


Radical Hospitality

On Sunday, September 1st, I spoke about “Radical Hospitality” as one of the most important practices of the church. I mentioned that hospitality begins by identifying those who are outside the community of faith, then praying for them, getting to know them and inviting them to some aspect of the church. I also quoted from Adam Hamilton’s book, LEADING BEYOND THE WALLS, in which he posits the following: “every church, every Christian should be clear about the answers to three questions: l. Why do people need Jesus Christ? 2. Why do people need the church? 3. Why do people need this church? Since then I have enjoyed several conversations with many of you about these three questions. First of all, thank you for your stimulating thoughts; and second, I would like to urge you to reconnect with these three questions, to think about them and to share your thoughts with someone. And then consider how they might guide you into becoming a more hospitable Christian.

First, Why do people need Jesus Christ? Good question. What do you think? Let me share with you some of my thoughts, by no means exhaustive ones. When I consider all the religions of the world, I find the concept of God’s becoming human as an expression of God’s love to be most compelling. In Jesus Christ, we see and experience God with us. Coming to know God’s revelation in Jesus Christ leads us into a relationship with Jesus. In this relationship with the one who sums up the Scriptures in the great commandment to love God and neighbor, the one who sacrificially suffers and dies for us on the Cross, and the one who provides the pathway to eternal life in the resurrection-in this relationship I discover and experience the assurance of God’s faithful love for us. This truth-that God loves us and has proven his love in Jesus- has changed and continues to strengthen my life.

Second, Why do people need the church? Another good question. Let me begin by acknowledging the imperfections of the church. While the Church belongs to Jesus Christ, God welcomes us sinners into it and we have a tendency to distort God’s purpose and intent for his church. I understand how many people are turned off by the church; I, myself, am turned off by the church sometimes. In spite of this reality, I see a broader picture of the church. I see God’s vision of his church as the Body of Christ, and I am heartened when I keep my eyes focused on Jesus’ vision, even though we don’t always live up to it. In my experience, the church is the best laboratory to live out Jesus’ commandment to love one another. This is hard to do. Some people are difficult to love; at the same time I need to realize that I too am difficult to love sometimes. I am glad you/others have not given up on me, that you have continued to love me through thick and thin. The church is the place, the lab in which I keep learning how to love others. That’s good for me, and for our society and world. (That’s why I am disappointed when I see the church doing otherwise.) God has created us for community so that we might help one another learn how to love each other. Someone once told me that they considered themselves spiritual but did not want to be a part of the church. I understood where they were coming from, but I suggested to them that they might try to nurture their spirituality alone, but eventually the world would make that hard to do by themselves. I have found that I can best nurture my spirituality in community with others. Finally, I need the church because our enormous positive impact around the world points me to a vision of hope for life and our future.

Third. Why do people need this church? Covenant? Again, good question. Let me begin by saying that I do not believe Covenant is better than other churches. My observation is that we all contribute something to the wider Body of Christ. Nevertheless, I am part of Covenant and been blessed to live and grow in faith in this community. I have discovered people who love me and my family, serve and encourage us. I have also been encouraged by so many of you who have been winsome examples of what it means to live as a follower of Jesus. I thank you for showing me the way. I have also discovered ways I can use my gifts to serve others both within Covenant and beyond. As a result of these things, my life has been richly blessed. My life has been changed for the better, for good.

As you think about your answers to the abovementioned questions, consider what your life might look like if you were to become an agent of radical hospitality. Think about it.

Blessings Upon You These Days,


Spiritual Mentoring

What is spiritual mentoring? It happens when one person enters a relationship with another person to get to know one another and they spend some time talking about spiritual things. Spiritual mentoring happens through various ministries within the life of Covenant, most effectively in children’s and youth ministries. An adult comes alongside a child or youth in the course of one of our programs and they talk about spiritual things. Last June, Tom Coon, Ray Rowley, and Don Searcy gave testimonies to how their lives have been impacted through working with students, as they served as spiritual mentors (without even knowing they were doing so).

On September 8, we are going to introduce a more widespread spiritual mentoring ministry for men and women. It will be designed in such a way that it would be easy to carry out. Here’s how. On September 8 we will have available four lists (two for women and two for men). There will be a list for men 55 and over, and one for men 54 and younger. The same for women. Let’s say 10 men 55 and older sign up and 10 men 55 and younger sign up. We would match them in twos and ask you to meet for lunch or coffee once a month for six months. The same for women.

What would we do when we meet for lunch? Good question. We would provide a guide for your conversation. For example, you would begin with light conversation, then move to spiritual conversation. Here we would provide a pamphlet with ideas for engaging in spiritual conversations. Once you have begun to know one another, you might continue without referring to the guide. The third part of your conversation would be to share one prayer concern, so that you could pray for one another during the month. Then you could close with light talk or whatever you want to talk about. Pretty simple.

What would I say about spiritual things? Good question. The guide might ask you to share the person(s) who have been most influential in your spiritual walk. Each of you would share and you could talk about it. Or the guide might ask you to share a time when you prayed for something and were disappointed because you didn’t feel like God answered your prayer. How did you feel? How did you respond? This is an experience all of us have had, and can be problematic for faith for some. Sometimes just knowing someone else has had a similar experience can be encouraging. Most importantly, just be yourself and share honestly about your faith, even those things you struggle with. It is important for each of you to share honestly, so each needs to make a commitment to accept the other person right where he is. Accept and love the person right where they are. The hope is that as you get to know one another you will encourage one another and be a blessing to one another.

What about time commitment? It would be one lunch or coffee meeting once a month for an hour. Most of us eat lunch; we would just eat with another—dutch treat of course.

If you would be interested in such a ministry, sign up on the list. Here is what I imagine: an older man and a younger man getting to know one another; same for women. An opportunity to get to know one another in the Body of Christ. This is one way of intentionally growing our faith.


A Message from Hal: Mark and Leigh Ann’s New Call

At the May 14 meeting, Mark informed our Session that he and Leigh Ann had received an invitation to join Navigators Ministry (See Mark’s article on page 1), and that they planned to accept their call. The Session then asked the Administration Team to work with Mark to recommend a pastoral transition plan and bring it back to the Session in June. Elders Bill McDowell, Dennis Glasser, and I met with Mark and agreed upon a recommended transition plan.

On June 11 the Session unanimously approved a pastoral transition plan to recommend at a congregational meeting on Sunday, July 21 at 9:45AM in the Sanctuary.

The Session agreed that we want to celebrate the good work that Mark and Leigh Ann have done among us and give them a good launch into their new call. The plan we developed affirms their rich ministry and provides for a time of transition into their work with Navigators. Below is the recommendation that the Session making to the congregation for approval:

Mark would continue his duties as associate pastor through September 30, 2013. We would provide two months Sabbatical/paid leave (October and November) so that they could devote full time to fundraising. (Our presbytery ministerial ethics prohibit pastors’ asking for financial support among members at the same time they are serving as pastors. After September 30 they would be free to raise support. While serving they could communicate their plans in a general, public way, and speak to groups within Covenant if invited. After November 30, they could make a request to be mission partners with Covenant.) During October and November we would pay salary, employer’s share of Social Security, medical insurance and pension. We would contribute December’s salary only of $4555 to Navigators for support of their ministry.

This schedule would allow us to begin the process of electing an Associate Pastor Search Team by November. The Session will investigate interim pastoral help as we plan for the new year.

There will be an informational meeting on Thursday, July 18 at 12 PM Noon in the Chapel. Administration Team Elders and I will be available to answer any questions.

I hope you will lift the Looyengas (Mark, Leigh Ann, Caleb, Evan and Carrie Ann) in prayer as they prepare for a new season of ministry.



Change! Change! Change!

In a few days we will bid goodbye to Rob McAlister, our interim Director of Youth Ministry. Rob has served admirably during the last nine months and we are grateful for the ways God has used him. He has touched the lives of our students, related well to and earned the trust of parents, and worked well with our leadership team. Well, what are Rob’s plans for the future?

This summer he and Elizabeth Walker will team as leaders with Moondance Expeditions, leading a dozen youth in an outdoor adventure in Yosemite National Park. In August he will begin a 3 year commitment to serve as the lay chaplain at Sewanee. Then on to seminary to prepare to serve within the Presbyterian Church. We wish him every good thing!


We welcome Chris Soto as our new Director of Youth Ministry. He plans to begin May 28th, and on June 1st he will join twenty-six youth and adults on a mission trip to Chicago. Talk about jumping in with both feet! It will be a good time to establish relationships with students and adults leaders.

Who is Chris Soto? He is a single young man, 27 years of age. He moved from Costa Rica to the U.S. with his mother and brother when he was 8 years of age. Both he and his brother graduated from Samford University. During college Chris double majored in Sports Medicine and Political Science. He planned to earn a joint medical-law degree and was accepted into the medical and law schools of Emory University. During his junior year he took a job as part-time youth director in a church and fell in love with it. He enjoyed relating to students as he recalled a youth leader who was instrumental in his own life. He delayed for a year his graduate school plan, then made the decision to follow a calling into youth ministry.

Chris is close with his brother and mother, many good friends, and enjoys tennis, hiking, mountain biking, and delighting in people. Relationships are important to Chris: his relationship with God, and his relationships with students, parents, and leaders.

This will be a new experience for all of us—I trust we will extend the same kind of gracious hospitality to Chris as we have with Rob. Join me in praying for these two fine young people as God leads them in new directions.


What Does It Mean to Be a Member of the Church?

On Sunday, April 21st, I had the privilege of teaching our confirmation class. How stimulating and what a joy! The first thing that struck me was the students, eighth grade students who are beginning their lives of faith. They were polite and engaging. The second thing I noticed was the leaders: David and Jennifer Simms, Marian Woerner, and Don and Alice Searcy. The passion, years of commitment, and love of these students is an invigorating and encouraging example of servanthood. I am grateful to be a part of a church where so many adults pour out their lives for children and youth. I have seen and still rejoice in the impact their serving has on our students. But back to church membership, which was the topic on which I taught.

If someone were to ask you, “What does it mean to be a church member?” What would you say? A good question for us to ponder.

The first thing we discussed was “what is the church?” We often say, “I’m going to church,” which implies the church is a place or building. The New Testament word for church is “EKKLESIA,” which means “assembly of people.” We are the church. It’s also important to remember whose church we are; we belong to Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:18 reveals, “And he (Christ) is the head of the body, the church.” Since we belong to Christ, it behooves us to handle one another (the church) with great care.

What affirmations does one need to make in order to join Covenant?
Acknowledge our sinfulness and our need of Jesus Christ to save us.
Believe in Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God and our Savior and Lord.
Commit to live as a follower of Jesus Christ, depending on the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Committing to active involvement in the life, worship, and ministry of Covenant.
Baptism if you have never been baptized.
Pretty simple yet profound beliefs.

Another thing to remember is that God has chosen us to be part of His Church. Ephesians 4:4 says, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ (v.11) In Him we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” In other words, we are a part of Christ’s Church by an act of God’s grace, the result of his deep love for us. We are not Christ’s Church because of our good works or because we are better than others. No, we are who we are by the grace of God. (See I Corinthians 15:10.)

What does God want his church to look like? Let me mention just a few things.

God created us to glorify God and enjoy God forever (Westminster Confession of Faith, shorter catechism). How do we glorify God? John 15:8 reveals, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” What does God mean by fruit? Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” – to name a few.
I Corinthians 12 reveals how God intends we use our gifts to build up the Body of Christ. Building upon this concept, Mark 10:45 reminds us that if we want to follow Jesus and become more like him, then we are servants, putting other before ourselves.
These are some of the things we discussed in confirmation. Again, if someone were to ask you, “What does it mean to be a member of the Church?” what would you say?” Think about it.

Blessed to be a Blessing,


Christ on the Road to Emmaus

During the season of Easter (Easter Sunday, March 31—Pentecost, May 19), our worship bulletin will depict a work of art from the 14th century artist, Duccio, entitled, “Christ on the Road to Emmaus.” This painting draws on Luke’s story of one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances to the disciples on a road to Emmaus.

For your devotional journey in this Easter Season, may I suggest you spend some time reflecting upon this story in Luke and Duccio’s artistic rendering. First, place the picture before you, or cut it out from your bulletin and carry it around with you. Second, read Luke’s story— Luke 24:13-32 every day. Surely one of the blessings you will experience is that you will know this story like the back of your hand—a good thing. Thirdly, each day reflect upon some aspect of Luke’s story that is depicted or pointed to in the painting. [Copies of the painting with the scripture are available in the atrium]

For example, Luke’s story has three settings: a conversation on the road to Emmaus, a shared meal in Emmaus, and Jerusalem. It is interesting that most artistic paintings of this story focus on the supper scene in which the two disciples recognize Jesus as they are breaking bread. This painting, however, depicts the conversation between the Risen Jesus and the two disciples as they enter Emmaus.

What point of the conversation do you think is depicted in this painting? One disciple is named Cleopas; the other is unnamed. What do we learn from an historical point of view? When I look at this painting, it appears that the two disciples, still unaware to whom they are speaking, appear to be inviting this “stranger” to have a meal with them. How does this artist interpret the story?

Finally, if you choose to take this devotional journey reflecting upon Luke’s story and Duccio’s painting, keep a journal recording how God speaks to you. In this time may you “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Experiencing God’s Blessings,


Someone once said, “the only constant in life is change”. In my experience there is a least a hint of truth there. Change seems to be around every corner of life. As soon as I get used to the way things are, something changes, and I have to adjust. Let me share with you two changes we will be experiencing within the life of Covenant.

First, Adriana Perera, our organist/pianist since 2007, will be leaving us in May. She is pursuing an opportunity to serve God as a worship consultant within the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Her love of God, her heart to worship God, and her musical gifts have equipped her to help churches bridge the divide between traditional and contemporary worship and discover unity in their desire to worship God in Spirit and Truth.

Adriana has been an excellent musical leader among us and an absolutely delightful colleague with whom to serve. We will miss her and wish for her and her family every good thing. Our Session has authorized Mary Witherspoon, Andy Huttula (our Worship Team elders), Bryan Page, and me to establish a new search team for our organist/piano accompanist.

Second, in our Youth Ministry we have been blessed to have Rob McAlister serve as our Interim Director. He will serve with us through May, then move on to new things. We knew from the outset that Rob would be here for just nine months. Yet, it has been worth it. Rob has been a good fit among us, building good relationships with students, parents, and other adult leaders. We are thankful for his friendship and his ministry among us.

Our Youth Director Search Team (Jeff Baker- chair, Linda Brouwer – vice chair, Jean Oakley, Don and Alice Searcy, Loree Gieger, Salley Walker, and Tom Pendergrass) is hard at work. Please pray for them.

We have experienced change before; more change is in store for us. Change is constantly with us. Though this is true, it’s equally important to remember other constants.

God is faithful still. Psalm 46 reminds us, “though earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…though the mountains quake,…there is….the holy place where the Most High dwell… Be still and know that I am God.”

In the midst of these and other changes, we know and serve a God whose love for us is steadfast and endures forever. Lamentations cries out,

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait on Him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him…

In these waves of change, God is faithful. This is the most important constant in my life. How about yours?