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Does it matter how we help people?

In 1988 Bill McDowell and I traveled to Atlanta to visit with Bob Lupton, founder and director of FCS Ministries in the Grant Park area. Second Mile was in its infancy. We knew God was calling us to make a difference in the Terry Heights community, but how. What is the best way to help people? That day we visited their thrift store, called “Dignity for Dads.” FCS vowed from the beginning not to give things to people; rather, they would help the neediest people to purchase what they needed and desired at an affordable cost. They wanted to help without stealing people’s pride and dignity. We were duly impressed and returned to Huntsville to think and pray about how we might help in ways that guard people’s dignity. We had learned a lot.

We learned that it is appropriate and helpful to give things to people in emergencies, in the middle of the crisis. For example, Red Cross provides clothing and other things when people experience a disaster, when they have lost most everything. But they stay there only a short time until they have given people a boost toward the future. So it is good to give things to people in a crisis. However, we are learning that it is not good to keep giving things to people for the long term; it steals people’s dignity; it communicates to them that we don’t think they can do things for themselves; it creates an unhealthy and destructive dependency, which can continue through generations. This educational foundation led us to take our next step of providing toys during Christmas at a low cost. Out of that prayer group we decided in September ’88 to open a Christmas store, “Santa’s Secret Shoppe” for the month of December. We found a building in Terry Heights that had been condemned due to the construction of I-565. One Wednesday night dinner at Covenant we approached Ann Witherspoon, a recent college graduate, about directing the ministry. She said, “Sure”. And we were off. Through donations of new, good used toys and financial gifts that allowed us to purchase other toys, we opened the store from December 1-December 24. We wondered if anyone would show up. And people did come to shop. The community response was positive. We gave parents the opportunity to purchase toys and other gifts for their children’s Christmas. We gave them the sense of joy and pride that parents experience when they know they are providing for their children.  The next year we had to find a new building and we renovated the garage at Second Mile’s office and held Santa’s Secret Shoppe there. People still came

because they wanted to provide for their own children. The next year The Neighborhood Store/Pride for Parents was born and grew into a year round ministry. Parents who did not have money could (and still can) work in the store and earn credit with which to buy gifts for their children. This happens every year. Helping in ways that guard people’s dignity. Helping in a way that gives people a boost, not a hand out. I have watched parents stand in line at Christmas gift give-a-ways. They stand there, sometimes with their children, waiting to “get“ their “free” gift. Sometimes they must prove they are poor, or live in subsidized housing. Does it matter how we help people?

Recently Bill shared a Chinese poem:

Go to the people, live among them, Learn from them, love them.

Start with what you know. Build on what they have.

But the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will remark,

“We have done it ourselves.”

We believe it does matter how we help others, that we help others in ways that guard their dignity, strengthen them to go forward in hope. This is why Second Mile has been a signature ministry of Covenant’s outreach for twenty-nine years.

You can help provide new and good used toys for parents to purchase for their children at an affordable cost by bringing them to Covenant. As you enter our narthex/hallway you will see a brightly decorated BOX where you can deposit toys. Yes it is true. We will not get to see the bright smiles on the eyes of the children who will receive them. But their parents will. And that’s exactly what we want.

Making a Difference By Being Jesus’ Presence,

Hal

The Body

One of the metaphors in the Bible is the “body.”  The church is likened to a human body.

I Corinthians 12:12 says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.”  In other words, the church, like the human body, is one family, made up of many members.

Another biblical truth expressed in this passage.  Verse 15 “If the foot should say,
‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.’….But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…As it is there are many parts, but one body.”

In the church people sometimes think that they are insignificant.  The way they serve is not as visible or considered by many to be of less value to the body.  The Bible reminds us that each part of the Body of Christ is significant no matter how small it seems.  Paul reminds us in verse 27, “Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  Not only that, each of you is  a significant part of the Body of Christ.

When each of us is doing our part the church functions more effectively.  If some are doing their part and some are not, we do not function as well.  As we reflect upon our roles as stewards of Christ’s Church, we hope each of us will step up to serve in some way—there are no small ways.  We hope each of us will commit to serving and giving financially to building God’s Kingdom through Covenant.

I hope you will join me!

In Christ’s Service,

Hal

 

 

Generosity and Simplicity

 

This past Sunday I shared that one of the spiritual disciplines Jean and I practice is “Generosity and Simplicity.” I have enjoyed three good conversations with people who have expressed a desire to grow in this area. Below are some thoughts.

Having decided we want to be generous, we must decide what it means to be generous. For Jean and me, it entails our whole lives: Time, Talent and Financial Assets. We want to give ourselves away, and we want to give away our financial assets as well. Committing ourselves to serving others is a way to be generous. Yet we also want to be financially generous. How then do we determine what it means to be generous? Do we define it or do we ask God, seeking his wisdom in the Bible? We are committed to the latter.

How does the Bible define generosity? We find three standards of generosity in Scripture. First, Malachi 3:6-12 seems to suggest God expects us to give a tithe (10%) of our income for the building of God’s kingdom. God goes so far to say that giving less than a tithe is robbing God. We decided long ago that we did not want to rob God.  Now we realize that someone who does not believe in God would dismiss this notion. Anyone is free to do that. Second, we discover that Jesus, in whom the fullness of God resides, sacrificed for our gain. In II Corinthians 8:1-9, we see the example of sacrificial giving-giving so that we must give up something. Third, we see in Luke 21:1-4 that a widow gave everything. We are humbled by our inability to live up to such a high standard. Yet, out of deep gratitude to God, we want to grow in this direction, which leads us to give away approximately 15% of our gross income to the work of God’s kingdom. This effort grows out of God’s gracious provision in our lives. Such grace frees us to strive for a generous life.

In order to live generously we have had to do two things: l. Trust God’s  faithful provision , and 2. Simplify our lives. We simplify by purchasing fewer things and saving more. We don’t automatically buy the latest new thing. We update our home very slowly, as we are able to save. Some things we choose not to update. We buy some of our clothes at the Neighborhood Store, which helps that ministry. We use coupons. We have always had one TV. There are many ways to simplify. G. K.  Chesterton suggested that there are two ways to have enough: one is to accumulate more and more; the other is to desire less.

We made the decision to simplify our lives almost forty years ago. It has added up over time, and has empowered us to grow in generosity. We do not claim to be the most faithful or generous Christians. Quite simply , we just want to grow in our faithfulness and generosity for two reasons: l. To glorify God (II Corinthians 9:11); and 2. We want to enjoy the fruit of God’s blessing (II Corinthians 9:6). We do not believe being faithful to God will make us multi-millionaires; however, we do believe the concept of stewardship impacts the quality of our lives. Erich Fromm, noted German psychologist, once said, “the essential difference between the unhappy neurotic type person and the person of great happiness and joy is the difference between get and give.”

In our experience there is some truth there, as it echoes biblical truth.

To the Glory of God,

Hal

 

 

Lifelong Journey of Growth

While in Montana this past summer we spent time with our son, Nathan and his family.  We enjoyed activities with our grandchildren.  One of the things that struck me was how our three grandsons talked a lot about their height.  On several occasions they would get out the measuring tape to see how much they had grown, as if we could see the growth in a matter of days.  They would ask, “Cap, Mimi, how much have I grown?”  Since two days ago?  We would respond by reaffirming that they were growing, encourage them to eat fruits and vegetables, and remind them that the stature of a man is not measured in inches and feet.  No matter.  We were measuring them again in a couple of days.  I understand all little boys want to grow up fast.

I don’t know about you, but continued growth is important to me.  Well, let me put it this way.  I’m trying not to grow my waist and other areas, but still value growing emotionally and spiritually.  This fall Jean and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary.  We have changed over these 40 years.  We’re not the same people, as we have journeyed through the trials and joys of life.  We have recognized and value the opportunities to grown emotionally and spiritually.

As we enter this fall season, I want to encourage you to consider your own spiritual growth.  Are you growing?  How?  Can you articulate it to someone?  (I’m always willing to listen and celebrate spiritual growth). What has stimulated growth in you?  Most of us would acknowledge that we have grown significantly during trials.  We understand and accept this, but most of us don’t want to plan additional trials in our lives.  I know Jean and I have grown through times of small group study of scripture.  We have experienced numerous small groups, all of them different, yet, all of them have contributed to our spiritual growth.

This fall there are many small group opportunities to grow.  Sunday,  Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings.  They are advertised in this newsletter. (See pages 16-17).  All of them are open groups in which anyone may participate.

I hope you will make it a part of your weekly schedule.  One of the best places to grow is beside others.

Gratefully,

Hal

Exciting Plans

 

We have just celebrated our high school seniors and our confirmation group in worship and, once again, I have come away with a deep sense of gratitude and hope: gratitude because God revealed his power and grace in these growing young people and the adult leaders who have invested time and energy in them, and hope because I see a glimpse of the future of Christ’s Church. God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.

I also would like to thank all of you who took the CHAT survey. Your input is important as we discern God’s leading for our future. Additionally, thank you to our Special Ops Team under the competent, caring and inspiring leadership of Sheila Cloud. We continue to encourage you to read the book, BECOMING A HEALTHY CHURCH. There are a few copies in the church office to purchase, or you can purchase an electronic copy; or you can check out the book in our library,where we have five copies. We hope many of you will choose to participate in one of our small group discussions this Fall. Once the surveys have been submitted, our Special Ops Team will receive the results and make a macro report to our Session in June. Over the summer they will analyze more deeply the results and make a fuller report to the Session and congregation in the Fall. With our findings, we will engage the congregation in setting a course for the next five years. We hope you will pray for Covenant, one small slice of Christ’s worldwide Church.

Looking to the summer, I want to share with you some exciting plans. Our Session, recognizing that I have been the only pastor at Covenant for the past two years, has asked Jean and me to step away from pastoral leadership from June 22- July 31. We had already planned vacation and study leave time, but now will add some more time away with Jean’s parents and our children. They want us to take time away to rest from leadership and pastoral concerns so that we can discern God’s leading in our lives for the next few years. While we are away, Dr. Charlie Durham and his wife, Sandy, will join our Covenant community and Charlie will provide pastoral leadership. Charlie recently retired as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa after twenty-five years of leadership. Freida Howell and George and Mary Ann Woodward will gladly tell you about how great Charlie and Sandy are as they have children and grandchildren who have grown and served under his leadership. From January to May, Charlie provided  interim pastoral leadership at First Pres, Huntsville, and they loved him. I love you very much and it means a lot to me that you will be served by a fine, faithful servant of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  While here Charlie will preach (leading you through a series on Jacob), provide pastoral care, immerse himself in the life of Covenant, and serve as a consultant for ministry and leadership to our Session. I have recently gotten to know Charlie and Sandy and am thankful that Covenant will be in the hands of a competent, faithful Christian leader. I trust you will love them as well as you have loved us. We will return at the beginning of August.

We would appreciate your prayers for Charlie and Sandy, and for Jean and me, and our Session , Deacons and Trustees as they provide faithful, dedicated leadership. We are truly blessed. We count it all joy to serve alongside you.

Blessings,

Hal

 

 

Ten Traits of a Healthy Church

I trust you have already heard about CHAT, Church Health Assessment Tool. It is a self-assessment survey that we hope all of us will complete before May 25th. You should have received an email and letter, and heard about it in worship. Our leaders have chosen this as an effective means of LISTENING to you, the Covenant community. We ask you to care enough to take twenty to thirty minutes to give your feedback.

What is the purpose or goal of this survey? l.) Reflection and Evaluation- for all of us to reflect upon our strengths and weaknesses as a church body; 2.) So leadership can listen to you and evaluate Covenant; 3.) So leadership and we as a congregation can make informed, prayerful decisions on how best to grow into a healthier community.

After you have taken the survey, we hope you will read BECOMING A HEALTHY CHURCH: TEN TRAITS OF A VITAL MINISTRY. Copies are available in the church library, or you can order the book or an electronic copy. It is an inspirational tool to stimulate our thinking about what it means to be a healthy church. Debbie Hester will be leading efforts to discuss the book in small groups, beginning in the summer and into this fall. (See page 3.) Why would we be interested in being a healthy church? First, because the church belongs to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Second, because we impact many people, children, youth and adults, and we are striving to make our influence a positive one. What are the ten traits of a healthy church, according to the aforementioned book?

How I Relate With God

  1. GOD’S EMPOWERING PRESENCE- “a healthy church actively seeks the Holy Spirit’s direction and empowerment for its daily life and ministry.” Are we depending on the grace of the Spirit rather than depending on our own ability and strength? Do we sense the Spirit of God in our lives and in the life of Covenant? Do we see the expression of God’s presence in us, God’s fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?
  1. GOD-EXALTING WORSHIP- “a healthy church gathers regularly as the local expression of the Body of Christ to worship God in ways that engage the heart, mind, soul and strength of the people.” Do you have a heart to worship God in spirit and truth? Do we value observing Sabbath? Does our Sabbath worship inspire, strengthen and propel us to worship and serve God throughout the week? Do we see as part of our purpose “to glorify God and enjoy him forever?” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism.)
  1. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES-“a healthy church provides training, models and resources for members of all ages to develop their daily spiritual disciplines.” Do we value growing all of us into maturing disciples of Jesus? Do we value a daily walk with God, and do we understand how to walk daily with God? Do we want to listen to the voice of God and be led by God’s voice? Are you growing more like Jesus? Are we making a difference in peoples’ lives?

How I Relate with My Church Family

  1. LEARNING AND GROWING IN COMMUNITY – “a healthy church encourages believers to grow in their walks with God and with one another in the context of a safe, affirming environment.” Are you seeking to live and grow in Christian community? Are you finding community within Covenant, a community where you can love others and experience Christ’s love? What is hindering Covenant or you from experiencing community?
  1. A COMMITMENT TO LOVING AND CARING RELATIONSHIPS-“a healthy church is intentional in its efforts to build loving, caring relationships within families, between members, and within the community they serve.” Do you have an interest in building loving, caring relationships within your family and within Covenant? Do we encourage and value authenticity, transparency, honesty and integrity within our Covenant community? Are we a gracious community to one another and to our larger community? Do we accept people who are different from us? How well do we deal with differences among us?
  1. SERVANT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT-“a healthy church identifies and develops individuals whom God has called and given the gift of leadership and challenges them to become servant-leaders.” Would you describe Covenant leaders as servant leaders? Do you think our leaders are being led by the Holy Spirit? Are they reflecting the love of Jesus? Are we growing new leaders?

How Our Church Ministers and Manages

  1. AN OUTWARD FOCUS-“a healthy church places high priority on communicating the truth of Jesus and demonstrating his love to those outside the faith.” Are we joyfully sharing the good news of Jesus and his love to our community and world? Are we growing a heart for those outside our Covenant community? Do we have an outward focus?
  1. WISE ADMINISTRATION AND ACCOUNTABILITY-“a healthy church utilizes appropriate facilities, equipment, and systems to provide maximum support for the growth and development of its ministries.” Do you know what our (Covenant’s) purpose is? How are you a part of living out that purpose? Are our leaders wise stewards of God’s generous gifts? Do we have a clear sense of who we are and what our priorities are?
  1. NETWORKING WITH THE BODY OF CHRIST-“a healthy church reaches out to others in the body of Christ for collaboration, resource sharing, learning opportunities, and united celebrations of worship.” Are we intentionally working with other Christian communities to serve? How are we doing this? How could we do a better job of this?
  1. STEWARDSHIP AND GENEROSITY-“a healthy church teaches its members that they are stewards of their God-given resources and challenges them to sacrificial generosity in sharing with others.” Do we teach the generosity of God? Do we teach what it means for us to be generous? How generous are you? Are we as the Covenant community? Are you a faithful steward of what God has given you?

 

Please take the time to help us care more effectively for Christ’s Church, to become the Church Christ envisions for us. This survey is one important step. Let’s take it together. As always, we welcome your feedback. It remains a joy to share the journey of faith with you.

 

Religious Freedom

Last month I reflected on the recent changes regarding same sex (or same gender) marriage in our society and the church. Due to length, I left out my thoughts about religious freedom. As same sex marriage becomes more common, many Christians are struggling how to respond. One issue that has arisen is that of one’s religious freedom. When Jean and I were recently in Salt Lake City, Utah’s legislature was considering “religious freedom laws” as same sex marriage had been declared legal there. The concern was that if we are going to protect peoples’ right to marry, then we should protect peoples’ religious freedom as well. For example, if I as a Christian believe that same sex marriage is contrary to God’s will for us, then I should have the right to deny someone a service I provide, say for their wedding. To illustrate, say I bake wedding cakes and advertise to the public, and a same gender couple comes and asks me to bake a cake for their wedding, for my fee of course. Should I have the right to refuse them service because of my religious views? Or, say I own a restaurant and a same gender couple wants to hold their reception at my business. Should I have the right to refuse them service on account of my religious views? What do you think?

We hear concerns about the loss of our religious freedom, or the potential loss. Amid these concerns we wonder whether someone should have the right to refuse service to someone with whose lifestyle we disagree. Some within the church are championing such laws to “guarantee” such “rights.” I do not agree. Why?

While I do not agree with recent court decisions legalizing same gender marriage, and would rather have found alternative ways to guard the rights, privileges and responsibilities that attend a committed relationship, I believe my rights to my religious freedom are intact. I remain thankful for the religious liberty I enjoy. I can hold these beliefs even if I am in the minority. Moreover, while secular law may recognize same gender marriage, religious groups are free to define marriage as we understand it. Even though the Presbyterian Church now allows same gender marriage services in the church, that decision remains the responsibility of each local church and pastor. We as a community of faith are free to discern God’s will pertaining to marriage and act accordingly.

However, our right to religious freedom has limits, as every freedom has. In the public marketplace I cannot use my right to religious freedom to deny someone a public service. Consider this scenario: I am a Christian who bakes wedding cakes; it’s how I make my living. If a same gender couple comes to me desiring to hire my services, that is, to bake a cake for their wedding, what should I do? Should I have the right to deny them service based on my religious beliefs? It may be an interesting question, but I believe not. Here’s why.

First I am in the business to serve the public. Hobby Lobby is a Christian business that sells craftware. I imagine the owners of Hobby Lobby would not favor legalization of same gender marriage, based on what I have read about them. The same is true for Chick-fil-A and the Cathy family. Their personal views are pretty conservative. If a gay or lesbian couple comes in their store, should they have the right to refuse service? or even to sell items that would be used for their wedding? Think about it. These two companies, indeed all businesses, undoubtedly sell products and services to many people whose lifestyles they would not approve. The same is true for a wedding cake baker or wedding photographer. I can almost assure you they have made cakes for people whose lifestyles they would not approve, whether their customers had lived together prior to marriage, or engaged in sexual relations apart before marriage. You might sell a used car to someone without doing a moral background check on them. If I were a wedding cake baker, or wedding photographer, I believe I have a public obligation to provide the service to the public, which would include people whose lifestyle I might not approve. I am making their cake, not joining them in marriage. Likewise, if I am a probate judge in Alabama, and the law clearly legalizes same gender marriage, then I have a public obligation to issue a marriage license, regardless what my personal beliefs are. What about my religious freedom? If the job requires something I cannot do, then I have the freedom to give up the job if I don’t want to comply with the law. Opening the door to discrimination based on one’s religious belief could result in discrimination on a wide basis. It would be open to widespread abuse. Surely this is not where we would want to go?

But I would challenge us to go further, to think more deeply about the issue by asking, “what is my best witness for Christ?” If I bake wedding cakes and a same gender couple wants to use my services for their wedding, I believe my best witness would be to treat them with kindness and respect, and make for them the best cake I can make. I believe that’s what Jesus would do. And so I believe that is what we, Christ’s Church, should do.

I remain grateful that we as Christians, and people of all faiths, enjoy freedom to live out our faith, as long as we do not trample on the rights of others (as our laws define them). I respect the role of government to provide for order in our society, even though I may not agree with every law or regulation. For the most part, I believe we and our leaders are striving to live out the basic ideals of this country: freedom, justice, equality, respect for ourselves and others and the rule of law, to name a few.

As followers of Jesus may we continue to be his presence to one another, our community and the world. Think about it. I welcome rich conversations with you as we seek to walk faithfully into the future.

In Christ’s Service,

Hal

 

A lot has changed in the last few weeks and we are trying to figure out what we think and how to adjust.  Two weeks ago, a federal judge ruled Alabama’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was in conflict with our U.S. Constitution.  After a week of confusion, it appears that same-sex marriage is now legal in Alabama, and thirty-six other states.  Furthermore, while I would never presume to predict the action of the U.S. Supreme Court, it appears that they may well rule that same-sex marriage should be legal and available across the nation.  In addition, last Saturday, the North Alabama Presbytery voted 28-24 to support an amendment to our Book of Order, allowing same-sex marriage to us/them the Presbyterian Church.  It would be up to each local session to decide for their church.  Indeed, change is in the air.  Several people have asked me what I think.

First, same sex marriage.  I have friends who have joined in same-sex relationships, even marriage.  I love them and want the best for them.  As this issue has progressed in our culture and the church I have searched the Bible to understand what God wills for us in the use of God’s gift of sexuality and the gift of marriage.  I have read resources advocating the morality of particular same-sex relationships and marriage, but I have not found them to be compelling.  They have made me think deeply about God’s will, but they have not changed how I interpret Scripture.  In so far as I discern God’s Word, sexuality is a gift of God intended to be enjoyed in a loving and respectful marriage between a woman and a man.  In addition, it appears clear in Scripture that God’s vision for a marriage relationship is a life-long relationship between man and woman based upon mutual love and respect.  Hearing and understanding God’s revelation I am challenged by God’s holy standard and humbled by the way I, and we all, fall short.  In spite of our continued failures to live out God’s vision, I am led once again to the foot of the Cross; we will stand in need of God’s gracious and merciful love.  However, the fact that we all fail does not abrogate the high calling God gives.

Second, I have observed the legal battles over same sex marriage with concern.  The legal basis for granting same-sex marriage seems to be that marriage is an individual right.  Consequently, if someone wants to get married, it is their right.  I understand this reason and am sympathetic.  At the same time, I am concerned where the legal logic may lead us.  For example, if marriage is a right that cannot legally be denied, by what legal right would we deny a polygamous marriage, or polyamory (group marriage, e.g., two men and three women).  Or, if two fourteen-year-olds want to marry, how might a court rule, given it is a legal right.  I ask myself, is this direction good for our society?  Should society, even our government, support or endorse a particular form of marriage?  Is doing so in the interest of society?  These are important questions and I wish we had been able to debate these questions as we have moved along the path to “marriage equality.”  I think such a national conversation would have been helpful to all of us.  However, anyone who questions marriage equality in the public marketplace is likely to be accused of homophobia, judgmentalism, or prejudice.  In many, if not most cases, that is simply not true.

I and many others who have concern about marriage equality are fully supportive of the rights of people who live in same-sex relationships and want and deserve legal rights to make decisions for their partners in medical crises, or on estate tax issues, or even medical insurance issues. These are complicated,  but solutions could be achieved without redefining marriage.

Moving on to the Church of Jesus Christ.  The first thing I would say is that the church (through its many expressions) has erred in our condemnation and mistreatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.  We have gone along with the rest of society in looking down upon, outcasting, and mistreating people who are different from the norm, people who were drawn to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, people whom Jesus accepted, cared for, and loved.  We do well to acknowledge our sin in such mistreatment.  We are called to love others as Jesus loved, and we have failed, and continue to fail.

However, this does not mean we have to approve of or condone every behavior.  Surely, we agree that some actions or behaviors are contrary to what God desires and envisions for us.  The question is which are acceptable, or are to be encouraged, and which are not.  On many, if not most we agree; on some we disagree.  An example is last week’s vote at our presbytery meeting  (representatives from twenty-nine churches in North Alabama).  The vote was 28 in favor of allowing same sex-marriage within the church and 24 not to allow it.  (The action allows it in a church but does not require a church to allow it.)  I voted against the motion, as I have expressed, because I am not convinced this is what God envisions for the marriage relationship.  I have friends who disagree with me on this issue.  We are yet friends; we just don’t agree on this issue.  This begs the question:  how do we go forward?

Our Session will prayerfully and respectfully discuss what happened and decide upon a way forward.  We welcome your thoughts and prayers.  (Names and email addresses of our Session members are on page 12). More than anything we want to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, to act, lead, and live in ways that bring honor to His Name.

Let me share with you a few of my thoughts that inform my thinking.  As I have contemplated the violent battle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, my heart has grieved – two expressions of Islam who share many beliefs, yet disagree over whom Muhammed chose to lead Islam.  Their historical disagreement has led each group to demonize the other, which in turn has led to hatred, death, and destruction for centuries.  We see in full view the fallout on the nightly news.  While I am frustrated by some of the disagreements within the Presbyterian Church and the larger Body of Christ, I wonder, “what is the best witness for Christ as we go forward?”  Should I be angry at those with whom I disagree?  Should I demonize them as less Christian than I? Should I break fellowship with them? Does our community need to see another church split? Should I leave the church over this?

I already know what the world’s answer to these questions is: YES! It’s why we see a painfully and destructively high divorce rate in marriage.  It is why so much brokenness exists in family relationships.  It’s why people have hated and killed one another since the fall of mankind.

What is my best witness for Christ? I’m not sure about everything, but I am certain of this:  Jesus said in John 13:15, “the world will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.”

Once again, Jesus calls me to a holy standard, a way of life that is challenging, impossible without His Spirit, yet a vision that is good for me and for all of us.

In Christ’s Service,

Hal

 

Growing Spiritually

Last Sunday I asked the question, “If someone were to ask you how you have grown (or are growing) spiritually in the last year or two, what would you say?”  Jim Baird spoke up in 11:00 worship, saying he would know what he would say.  I want to press you to reflect upon this question.  This question should lead to a subsequent one:  how do I need to grow spiritually?

This past year I enjoyed a conversation in which a person told me, “Hal, I want to grow in my observance of Sabbath.”  A rich conversation ensued about what that would mean.  Another person shared with me that they (a couple) wanted to focus more on simply being with Jesus rather than doing for Jesus.  These people serve generously but want to grow in simply enjoying their relationship with Jesus.  Someone shared with me this week that she has learned to live more gratefully.  As a result, she claims her life is a happier, more delightful one.  Still another told me, “Hal, we want to make worship a priority for our family this year.” And another acknowledged his dislike of a particular relative, and is sensing God’s call to be kind to this person.

An organization I would point you to is EHS – Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. They will challenge you to grow deeper in ways you may not have considered.

Another question I will pose to you this week is “How are you helping to make disciples of Christ?”  How are you “being” and what are you “doing” to help others grow as the disciples of Jesus?  It’s about doing, but not solely.  Who we are can be as influential (for good or bad) as what we do.

I think it was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  I understand many of you are overwhelmed.  Nevertheless, set aside some time to reflect on these two questions about growing and helping others to grow.

Thank you for who you are, and for what you do, in Christ.

Blessings,

Hal