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Keep the Course!

Our new Generosity Chairman, Brandon Tucker hit the nail on the head when he selected the generosity theme for 2018: “Keep the Course!”

2000 years ago that was also the theme of John the Baptist as he waited for the coming of Jesus: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Luke 3:4) … in other words, “Keep the Course!” until the Lord comes.

We celebrate Jesus’ “coming” during the season of Advent (from the latin ad venire “to come”). John the Baptist’s image of a “straight course” is taken from Isaiah 40:3. The prophet Isaiah opens that chapter with the words “comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” But why the need for comfort? Why the need to “Keep the Course?”

Both John the Baptist and Isaiah wrote during times of transition for the People of God. Isaiah wrote when the walls of Jerusalem were tumbling down and the armies of Babylon were sweeping away the old way of life for the Jewish people. An old age was leaving. A new age was beginning. But the Lord was on the way. Jesus was coming.

John the Baptist wrote when the walls of Jerusalem were occupied by Roman soldiers and the Jewish people lived in hardship and poverty. An old age was leaving. A new age was beginning. But the Lord was on the way. Jesus was coming.

And in these times of transition – the prophets said “Comfort Ye! Make straight a path!” In other words, “Don’t panic! Get ready!” Keep the Course. Jesus is coming.

2018 brings our own period of transition at Covenant Presbyterian. Hal will retire in August after 31 distinguished years as Senior Pastor. In January you will vote on the possibility of my succeeding Hal and our presbytery will vote in February. Change is in the wind. An old age is leaving. A new age is beginning.

But in these times of change we hear the words of the prophets: “Don’t panic! Keep the Course! Jesus is coming!”

The wonderful news is that Jesus did come 2000 years ago to fulfill the prophecies of John the Baptist and Isaiah. He lived for us and died for us and rose for us. He set us free from sin and death.

We really don’t have anything to fear.. There’s no reason to panic. We need not fear even death itself. What greater comfort could we have?

And the wonderful news is that when our own paths seem hopelessly crooked, when we veer off course and seem utterly lost, Jesus made our way straight through his own faithfulness on the cross. And he sends us his Holy Spirit to empower us for the journey ahead, to guide others to join us and to make straight our paths as we lean on him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

We really can “Keep the Course!” Not by our own power – but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am so honored to be your servant here at Covenant Presbyterian. As I pray for us – I feel so excited! I feel like Jesus is setting a straight course for us to travel next year. I feel like he is filling our sails with the wind of the Holy Spirit to propel us down that path. And I feel him binding us together as his crew to serve Madison County in his name.

There’s no other crew I’d rather sail with. And Jesus – our captain – is coming!

Alleluia,

Pastor David

 

The Present and Future Church

Philip Larkin, a twentieth century Irish poet, writes in his poem, “Church Going,”

“Yet stop (at this church) I did: in fact I often do, and always end much at a loss like this, wondering what to look for: wondering, too, When churches fall completely out of use What we shall turn them into, if we should keep a few cathedrals chronically on show…..”

Not long ago I ran into an acquaintance who happens to be agnostic when it comes to God. He’s not sure; he says the jury is out. But he is sure about the church: he doesn’t want any part of us. He always questions me, “ Are you still pastoring?” and when I tell him “yes”, he asks “how do you stand being part of the church?”

I’m not threatened or defensive about his questions or his perspective. I always tell him I understand. We Christians are a messy lot. We don’t always look like our Savior, Jesus. There are reasons why many people don’t want to be part of the church. I admit that I, too, am sometimes frustrated and disappointed with the church. It’s not easy living in community with people, any group of people. We, the church, can be arrogant, pretentious and self-righteous toward those not in the church. On occasion we even tear one another apart, kicking our wounded when they’re down.

Yet, I also tell him I have the privilege of seeing Christ’s presence within the church. I see people giving generously of their time and resources for the good of our community and world. I see children growing in their love and compassion toward others. This really excites me. I see people of different political perspectives show love and respect for one another in a culture where some people unashamedly seek to destroy those who differ with them. For most of us we act out of what we have in common: our love for God and our desire to be the true light to the world.

In a way the church is for me a laboratory in which we carry out the experiment Jesus showed us 2000 years ago. God calls people together into a community in which, despite our differences of race, ethnicity, culture or politics, we love one another as Jesus loves us. What is truly amazing is that it works. Sure we get in the way of God’s calling and mess things up. Yet overall Christ makes his presence known among us. Just as God crawled over the barrier of our sin to love us in Jesus, so we too crawl over the barriers between us to love one another as Christ loved us.

Some might say we’re wasting our time. Maybe, and I grant that it’s hard and doesn’t always look pretty. But I think I’ll stick with the experiment Jesus launched among us, to glorify God and for our good. What if we invited others to join us not in the “church” , but in an experiment of healthy living. Studies do show that people who live well in religious communities are generally healthier, happier and live longer. Maybe we could invite others to join us in the longest lasting experiment in human history.

I don’t know what the church will look like in the future. I am committed to be a part of the movement of Jesus Christ in the world and plan to serve as long as God grants me life. Thank you for the privilege of sharing this life with you. It’s worth it.

Grace and Peace,

Hal

 

 

 

I Can’t Wait To See What Happens Next!

 

Wow! Well done! Outstanding! I couldn’t be more impressed! We did it y’all!

It took everyone working together as a team: dozens of small group facilitators, the choir, the worship team, AV folks, decorators, artists, office staff, carpenters, potluckers, deacons, elders, organists, youth, children, high school seniors and super seniors, prayer warriors and even a pastor or two!

Together, we finished 40 days of prayer and faith sharing using Martha Grace Reese’s book, “Unbinding Your Heart!”

We distributed over 320 Unbinding Your Heart books and our Unbinding Small Groups posted attendance numbers of over 250 people from ages 18 months to 80+ years.

That’s remarkable considering our average worship attendance on a Sunday is 250. This means we are one of the MOST committed churches to ever attempt this study. Very few other churches have been able to match our level of commitment and involvement. That’s because this study is so demanding. AMAZING WORK!

So, I’ve been saying it for 40 days now…

I can’t wait to hear what happens next!

That’s how I concluded all 40 of my daily devotional videos (available on Covenant’s YouTube page). But I really mean it. I can’t wait to see what God does next in our midst!

Are you ready to take things to the next level?

Are you ready to follow where Jesus leads us next?

I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. I just know that we are going to see God do powerful things in Huntsville in the next 12 months.

So let’s keep it up! Take some time today and review the “Evangelism Pyramid” from page 78 in your Unbinding Your Heart books (reproduced below). Take a pen and mark the highest level where you are already sharing your faith.

For some it may be talking about the difference Jesus makes in your life with youth and children. That’s the most approachable layer to begin practicing sharing your faith (layers 1 – 2). For others, you may be comfortable talking about your faith or inviting someone who is already close to church (layers 3 – 5). For others, you may be comfortable having conversations about faith with people who are not involved in church right now (layers 6 – 9). Each level becomes a little more challenging as you move up the pyramid.

After marking the highest level you are comfortable with today, I want you to do two things for homework every day for the next 4 weeks:

  1. Do your current level one step better. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you at the start of each day!
  2. Pray that God would give you the courage and the opportunity to move to the next level. Again, ask the Holy Spirit!

What might that look like? If you’re not talking to someone at a level, start a conversation! If you’re not inviting someone to Covenant at that level, invite someone! If you haven’t shared the difference that Jesus makes in your life with someone at that level, share with someone!

If you need encouragement or direction, keep praying your favorite prayers from your Unbinding prayer journals – or watch one of my seven Unbinding sermons, all available on Covenant’s YouTube page and our website.

Don’t forget our theme verse for this study:

Jesus says: “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)

And the clarifying verse in John’s Gospel: “You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it!”  (John 14:14)

Jesus has his fingers on

-the knots in our hearts,

-the knots in our church,

-the knots in our neighbor’s hearts.

If we ask him, he will unite these knots so that his transforming grace can flow freely.

So, let’s ask him every day!

I can’t wait to see what happens next!

 

 

What’s Different?

“What’s different about worship?” someone asked me yesterday, “the energy is WAY higher!”

I just smiled and said – “we’re all on the Unbinding team!”

What can I say? I write these words with profound joy. We are doing it! After 12 months of preparation and prayer,  we are in the midst of our congregation-wide study of Martha Grace Reese’s evangelism handbook Unbinding Your Heart.

Thousands of churches all across the country have used this book – but we are already distinguishing ourselves by our outstanding level of participation. My goal was to enroll 80% of our worship attendance in small groups and as of the first week we have met this goal! We have over 200 people of all ages studying and praying together. That’s TWENTY-THREE groups meeting on four days a week, including pre-school, kids, middle school, high school, college, young adult, middle age and senior adults! It is heartwarming for me to walk the halls and to pop into classrooms seeing toddlers and 80-year-olds and everyone in-between all pulling together in the same direction. Keep up the outstanding work!

It’s never too late to join a group, so please consider joining a group while there is still time left in this exciting 40-day season. If there is not a group that fits with your schedule please contact me and I will do my best to organize a group to fit your schedule. We have books in the office available for purchase at $10 – so come by and pick one up to join in the excitement! Every person who joins us in these 40 days will add energy and strength to our team!

I hope you use this 40 days in a way that restores your soul so that your cup overflows. You have my full permission during this time to skip something so that you have time to focus on your daily prayers. Skip a committee meeting. Skip laundry! Let something go during this brief season to make room in your life for prayer. If you want me to sign a permission slip to skip something – just come by office! Anything to keep your prayers coming…. Don’t forget to send an email to Alice.Searcy@covhsv.org if you would like to receive daily videos from me to give you special hints and encouragement about your daily prayers. Or just check out our youtube channel. Go to youtube.com and type in “CovenantHuntsville.”

If you’d like to share one of my Unbinding Your Heart Sermons, I am recording these and placing them on our youtube channel as well. Why not send one to a friend so they can get a taste of what it would be like to visit with us on Sunday?

To close, I’d like to thank everyone who has made this 40-day adventure possible. It’s like running a summer camp right here in our church! To everyone who has prayed, planned, organized, led, taught, decorated, built stuff, sung, and participated – THANK YOU! I will take a note from page 122 of your Unbinding Books and quote First Thessalonians 1:2-3.

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

AMEN!

Pastor David

 

 

 

Pack Your Bags for a Jubilee!

I love to pack luggage. I like to roll my clothes into perfect little cubes. I like to make each item fit just so inside of the compartments. Then at the end I love the hum of the zippers closing. They seem to say: “You’re ready!” “You’re set!” I feel so neat and tidy when I’m done.

But as much as I love packing – that’s not the point of traveling.

The point of traveling is to go.

And it’s the same with our faith journey.

The point of our faith journey is to grow.

This year our stewardship theme is “Ready, Set, Grow

God has blessed us with 60 years of spiritual maturity, joyful fellowship, wise leadership and financial generosity. God has made us ready. God has made us set. Now it’s time to grow.

God is calling us to grow deeper in our relationship with him.

God is calling us to grow wider in our relationships with people outside our church walls.

It’s the most courageous thing we can do as disciples. It’s the most faithful thing we can do as a church family. We are going to continue the hard work of growing.

To leap forward with courage we will use a congregation-wide study of “Unbinding Your Heart” by Martha Grace Reese from August 20th through October 1st. For forty days we will make it possible for every member of covenant (from ages 1 to 100!) to pray the same prayers and read the same scriptures. We will read the best available research on how to share Jesus with people who are not already in church. For forty days we will share our own faith  stories and pray for each other and for the Huntsville-metro area.

This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our congregation to literally “be on the same page.” It’s not a new   concept. This church has done an outstanding job of praying and reading the bible since our charter in 1957. But it’s even older than that. In Leviticus 25 God declares that every 50 years there is to be a time of Jubilee. During the Jubilee, the soil rests and the whole people focus on praising God and restoring their relationships with one another and with the foreigners in the land. That’s what we’re going to do with this study of “Unbinding Your Heart.” It will be a time of Jubilee – where we all get on the same page so that God can lead us forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our city.

It’s going to be powerful AND it’s going to be fun! Many Sunday School classes and Wednesday Night groups will be using the “Unbinding Your Heart” curriculum and we will have a number of new small groups launching throughout Huntsville at different times of the week. You can show up to the congregation-wide “Draft Day” on August 13th at noon to enjoy lunch from  local Food Trucks and to sign up for an Unbinding small group.

Will you do me a favor? Will you take 10 minutes this month and just sit and ask the Holy Spirit if there is one person in your life that you would like to invite to do this study with you? It could be a friend who comes every week to Covenant or someone who has not come to worship in some time. It could be a neighbor. It could be a family member. Just ask God whom God has in mind. This will be a forty days that we always remember – so let’s bring along some friends for the journey!

We’re ready, we’re set, let’s grow!

David

Remembering Sacrifice

In the year 2000, the Pew Research Group did a study of recognized virtues among American adults.  They interviewed 1000 adults asking them to list the 10 most important virtues.  What struck me was a word that was not mentioned by  anyone: 1000 people listing 10 virtues = 10,000.  Sacrifice was not mentioned.

Indeed, in a culture obsessed with individual rights, the concept of sacrificing for others has fallen on hard times.  It has led, according to some, to women becoming doormats and people in general being taken advantage of.  Upon reflection, I suppose there may be some truth in that.  However, should that lead us wholly to negate the value of sacrifice or sacrificial love?  I rather hope not.

In the 1990s, there was even a small movement among Christians to diminish the importance and value of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.  It seemed too violent and bloody, too crass and all that.  They said we should focus on the love and forget the sacrifice. Given that Romans 5:8 reveals that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,”  I am hard pressed to separate the love from the sacrifice.  Indeed, the sacrifice IS the expression, the demonstration, the proof of God’s love.

As I write this, we are approaching Memorial Day, a time when we are encouraged—even given a holiday for some—to remember the sacrifices of those who have served in our Armed Forces, who have sacrificed time, health, even life itself.  It seems ironic that most of us who are still alive and enjoying the benefits of others’ sacrifice get the holiday.  Those who gave their lives, well, they get a holiday in their honor, sort of.

Last Memorial Day (a few days ago) did you pause for a moment to honor those who sacrificed for our freedom?  If you didn’t it’s not too late: the act of honoring their sacrifice is more important than the day itself.

[You can do it right now, right where you are.  Try it..  If you do it, what was the experience like?

If you’re too busy or not inclined, well….]

This Memorial Day I will be remembering my father, who as a young 19-year old farm boy turned machine gunner on an American bomber, was injured over Europe.  As a result, he gave up college football and could never straighten his right arm.  But he did return to America alive. I am grateful for his sacrifice, and for the sacrifice of many.

I’m also grateful for the sacrificial love of my mother.  Yes, she was often taken advantage of, and was a doormat to my father.  Life is messy.  Yet, I hold her in highest esteem for the sacrifices she made on my behalf.  It could not have been easy.

I don’t have all the answers but I know she taught me what it means to love—sacrificially.  If I were asked to name virtues, sacrifice still ranks high for me.

  • The sacrifices of many who have fought for our freedom
  • The sacrifices of my mother
  • And the eternal love stamped upon me in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

Take a moment to remember and give thanks.

What do you think?

Hal

Turn, Turn, Turn

 

Have you ever walked a long road of darkness in your life? Perhaps a divorce, the loss of a loved one, or a time of family crisis? These are the kinds of things that can drain our spirits, leaving us feeling dry and worn out. One of the ways our church provides care during difficult times is through our Stephen Ministry program. These dedicated women and men commit to walking alongside you when the going gets tough and you need a friend. This past month I was honored to help lead a retreat for our Stephen Ministers at Loblolly Farm (generously provided by Bill and Jeanie Snoddy!)

The Stephen Ministers wanted to focus on the theme of “Soul Care.” They are a team that helps care for people’s weary spirits … but they also need spiritual care themselves. As I prayed about what to share with this wonderful group, the Holy Spirit drew me to Psalm 23:3: “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

I have read those lines many times. This is the first scripture passage that I remember learning. Hal and I use this psalm at every funeral we do here at Covenant. But I was still surprised when I looked up the meaning of the word “restore.”

I had expected that the word would mean something like “renew.” This is the sense of the English “restore” and Martin Luther’s German translation “erquicken.” However, the Hebrew word in this case is “shuv,” which means “to turn or return.” I wondered if this sense only occurred in Hebrew, but sure enough, the ancient Greek translation of the psalms gives the word “epistrepho,” which means to “turn around.” Similarly, the Latin vulgate translation gives the word “converto” which means to “turn the other way.” It seems that for many centuries Christians have read this word of scripture with a sense of the soul’s “turning.”

But what does this mean? The implications were not immediately clear to me and I was still puzzling on them during the Stephen Ministry retreat. On Saturday morning we had a powerful time of Bible study and sharing. Over and over again, Covenant members shared about the power of prayer in transforming a situation in their lives. One person said: “if you be worrying you ain’t be praying. If you be praying you can’t be worrying.”

At once the meaning of the scripture snapped into focus for me. There is a moment when we feel exhausted or worn out when we turn towards God and even though we may still feel like we are in “valley of the shadow of death” (verse 4), nevertheless we are no longer facing towards the darkness. Instead we are facing God. By God’s grace our perspective changes and our soul is “restored” to the right path. We don’t do it on our own. Psalm 23:3 says that God is the one that turns us around. God is the one who restores our souls. And it’s not just a change in perspective. The psalm ends by saying that at the end of the journey our cup “runs over” and we dwell with God forever. That’s the good news of the Gospel. When we feel too tired to go on, God turns us around through Jesus Christ and by the power of the spirit he leads us home to our full renewal, restoration and completion.

I am thankful for the way our Stephen Ministers encouraged me on that retreat. If any of you is facing a challenge right now I encourage you to request a Stephen Minister. And more than this, I pray that each of you would find that God “restores your soul” as you turn to him in prayer.

Yours In Christ,

Pastor David

 

You’ve Got Mail!

TO THE PRESBYTERIANS! That’s how the apostle Peter opens 1 Peter, Chapter 5. I’ll bet you didn’t know that we were called out by name in Peter’s first letter! This is because “Presbyterian” is the Greek word for “Elder.” The words that Peter uses in this final chapter of his first Peter begin by offering words of guidance to elders (leaders) in the church. But in reality, he is calling each of us by name. These powerful words are written not just to a rag-tag group of believers 2000 years ago. By the power of the Holy Spirit they are fresh and new for each of us PRESBYTERIANS today. This has been a powerful sermon series for me personally to share with Hal. I have learned so much by working through this text in sermon preparation and in Sunday School teaching. We have now brought this Sermon Series to a close. But I have a challenge TO THE PRESBYTERIANS here in Huntsville. (1) Look at your schedule this week. (2) Find 15 minutes. (3) Use that 15 minutes to sit down in a quiet place and read the letter of 1 Peter in your bible from beginning to end in one sitting. That’s how this letter was meant to be read – all at once, like hearing a mighty symphony that takes on shape and volume as you read across the five chapters. Imagine that you are in that ancient congregation hearing this letter for the first time. Finally – if you are able to do this assignment, shoot me an email and let me know what you experienced – I’d love to hear from you!  May you feel the joy of your savior, Jesus Christ, through His Holy Word!

The Christian Calendar

One of the things the early church developed was the liturgical calendar to help Christians learn about, remember and live out the life of Jesus. Over the years the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church have modified their own liturgical calendars. There are some differences but they are mostly the same. While Christians are not required to recognize or use the Christian  liturgical calendar, many have found it useful in practicing our faith, myself included.

While we are more familiar with the Gregorian Calendar which we use today, which begins in January and concludes with        December—what we call the calendar year—the Christian calendar is different. What does it look like?

  • Advent: the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Advent means “coming”, so it is a time when we prepare ourselves for the   celebration of Christmas, and remember that Jesus will come again.
  • Christmas (or Christmastide): begins Christmas Day and runs twelve days to Epiphany, January 6, customarily understood as the day when the Wise Men visited Jesus. While most of the world wraps up Christmas on December 26th, many Christians are just beginning their Christmas celebration.
  • Epiphany, January 6: a time to focus on recognition of Jesus as God’s Son, remembering how God manifested himself in Jesus’ life through his teaching, his example in living , his healing and his compassionate love especially for those considered outcasts. For me this season lasts until Lent.
  • Lent: beginning with Ash Wednesday, the Wednesday seven weeks before Easter. It is a time to remember Jesus’ humanity, his suffering, and our mortality; it is a time to contemplate the cost of following Jesus.
  • Holy Week: which includes remembrance of two important events in Jesus’ life—his last supper with his disciples, Maundy Thursday (from the Latin: Mandatum-Jesus command to love one another) and Good Friday, a remembrance of Jesus suffering death. We offer worship opportunities on these two days, though most people don’t give them a thought on the way to Easter.
  • Easter: a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning following the Friday of his death, the third day (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). The season of Easter runs for seven weeks after Easter. We often focus on Jesus’ resurrection appearances.
  • Pentecost: the seventh Sunday after Easter, when we recall and celebrate God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit and, in the eyes of some, the birth of the church. Technically Pentecost lasts one day, and then the time from Pentecost to Advent is called “Ordinary Time”. I rather like to think of Pentecost lasting all the way through to Advent. As the longest season it reminds us that the life of discipleship is a marathon, not a 100 yard dash. It is a long season. It also reminds us that we are to live each day as if it is the last or the day of Jesus’ return, worshiping and serving God faithfully.

As we enter the month of April this year, we come nearer to the moment of Jesus’ suffering and death. I encourage you as you gather to worship to focus on the white cross in our sanctuary. As you look at it, what event in Jesus’ life does it shine a light on? What emotions does it evoke in you? What is the significance of the cross for you? For Christians in general? What difference does it make in your daily life? What does it mean to you when Jesus tells you that if you want to be his disciple you must take up your own cross and carry it daily? What does it mean that if you want to gain abundant life you must lose your life? What questions do you bring to the cross?

I look forward to sharing the journey of discipleship with you.

Grace and Peace,

Hal

 

A “God” Prognosis

If you’ve ever been to the doctor for an illness, or consulted with a surgeon regarding a procedure – you may have learned to lean on the doctor’s “prognosis.” That is to say, you may have found yourself thinking often about what the doctor’s prediction regarding the success of your treatment. It takes time to set up appointments, to have blood tests run, to wait in waiting rooms, or undergo surgery. It takes time to undergo long regimens of pills, physical therapy or bed rest. Even though the wait is long, I find that it is much easier to endure if the doctor has given me a good “prognosis,” that is, the doctor thinks that after the treatment my body will be healthy again.

This word stuck out to me as we have been studying the book of 1 Peter in our sermon series. The very beginning of the book says that we have been chosen according to God’s prognosin. That’s the same word! It means the knowledge that we have before something has even occurred. Many English translations use the word “foreknowledge” to describe the Greek term. But I have to admit there is something special to think that God has a prognosis for us. The book of 1 Peter was written to Christians in Asia who were suffering because of their faith. There are many times in our lives when we might feel suffering, loss, difficulty or pain. Wouldn’t it be nice if the pain or hardship just “went away?” And yet at times we feel like we must wait it out – go through the motions. Take confidence in the good news that God has given you a good prognosis. You will recover! You will be healed! You will be healthy! You have been chosen as God’s precious child according to his divine prognosis so that you might follow Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

May it be so!

David

Where My Story Intersects with God’s Story

 

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  I Peter 3:15

We have been using this verse as our theme in our study of I Peter. Peter, a disciple of Jesus and an early church   leader, was writing to first and second generation Christians who were experiencing persecution. His purpose was to           encourage them, in spite of their suffering, to remember why God had called them as a people: to witness to the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In every circumstance Peter counsels them how to give their best witness. While life in first century  Roman Empire was very different from our time, God reveals important wisdom for our lives today.

As I begin each day I pray three things: I give thanks for a night’s rest and the gift of a new day of life. Trusting that God has given each day for his purpose, I express my hope that I might live into God’s purpose in that day. I like beginning each day in gratitude. It helps me remember  to live gratefully, to focus on what I have rather than on what I do not have (and may want). Second, I remind myself that God is sovereign, that God is unfolding his plan and purpose even in that moment, and that God is working for my good. I need to remember that. And finally it gives me direction, purpose and inspiration to see my life each day as living out God’s purpose. I like knowing that I am part of a much broader narrative—God’s story. This also helps me to be mindful of God’s faithful provision in my life. This is where my story intersects with God’s story. Through this process, the first ten to twenty seconds of each day, God fills me with energy, joy and hope. It’s a good way to begin a day.

Now don’t get me wrong. My days are not easy or without problems. I face many personal challenges and enter into the trials of others. I am often discouraged and perplexed. Like many of you my strength is drained by problems of the day, by doubt when I question where God is or what God is doing. I’m even tempted to give up on God. Yet in the midst of life’s trials I remember the things for which I am grateful; I remember that life on this earth is ephemeral, thus precious; I remember that God will never give up on me; I remember that no matter how I feel, God’s love for me is steadfast and it endures forever. I remember that I am on a mission to declare and reflect God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. And then I am home again in the presence of the living God.

What about you? How do you begin each day? What gets you through the trials, the stress, the ennui (weariness and discontent) of each day? What motivates you? What guides your thoughts and actions?

As we begin the journey of Lent (beginning March 1 to Easter) may we reflect upon these and other questions. As a community of faith we will begin the Lenten journey in worship. Our Ash Wednesday worship will be March 1 at 7:00pm in our sanctuary. It is a good time to remember Jesus’ call to be his disciples and what that means. I am reminded how God laid down his own life through his Son, Jesus, proof of his sacrificial love. Do you ever think about Jesus dying for you or for someone else? What difference does that truth make in your life? How does it influence your daily living?

I count it a privilege to share this journey with you. I invite  you  to renew your faith in our Ash Wednesday worship on March 1. Maybe a good time to invite a friend. A good spiritual conversation might ensue from that experience. Who knows?

Blessings,

Hal

Led into God’s Gift

I was out to dinner with another pastor’s family a few weeks ago and they asked me “so what makes Covenant special?” I paused before I told him: “This church has the healthiest relationships and the strongest leaders I have ever seen.” I was reminded of this conversation last Sunday when we installed our new Trustees, Deacons and Elders by laying hands on them and praying for them. A sea of people stood up to lay hands on the new leaders and I viscerally felt the warmth and love of our whole congregation during the time of prayer.

I believe that God is going to bless our church powerfully this year. The relationships and leaders that God has nurtured at Covenant have made this a place where the Holy Spirit can overflow into the lives of our neighbors and colleagues. Because we love one another well, we stick together. Because our leaders are faithful, we are pointed in the right direction. Together these two things mean we can serve Huntsville not just individuals but as a Spirit-led team.

In the first chapter of Deuteronomy, after years of hard work God’s people are finally about to enter into the land of God’s blessing. God says to them “I’m going to make you as numerous as the stars! I’m going to bless you just like I promised!” Moses responds to God by saying, “Wait a second – that’s too big a blessing for just one person – there’s no way I can lead that many people by myself!” God answers Moses in verse 13 by telling him to “give” wise, experienced and knowledgeable leaders to each tribe. It is interesting to me that most modern translations use the word “choose” rather than “give” in this verse. Nevertheless in nearly every other instance in the bible this Hebrew word (“YAHAB”) means “to give.”

I like that. I like that we choose our leaders, God grants us the power to make a “choice” of who will lead us. But I also know that the wonderful leaders in this church are a “gift.” Our leaders are more than just elected officials. They are gifts that God has given us.

Thank you to each of you who lead in our church – officers, committee members, teachers, musicians, volunteers, staff, and more! – you are all gifts from God! It’s hard work. But we’re ready. Now let’s get set, because it’s time to grow!

 

Vision and Purpose: Living the Christian Life

 

During January we have been using our Covenant Vision in worship. For three Sundays we joined in declaring what we believe is God’s vision for ourselves as one part of Christ’s Body. There is a difference between saying it and actually believing or buying into what we say. Does this vision help form who we are as Christ followers? Let’s think about our vision so that, just maybe, it will become “our “ vision. I want to look at the four statements in our vision and encourage you to think about what they mean to you.

  1. Covenant’s vision is to be a Christ-centered church where our love for God is evident in all we do.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this vision?

  1. Our vision is to be a growing church, living as exemplary followers of Jesus Christ, viewing the world biblically, making disciples intentionally, and serving the church faithfully in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this vision?

  1. Our vision is to be a church known in the community for open doors, acts of grace, God-centered worship and growing leaders.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this vision?

  1. This family of faith envisions each of us loving and ministering to all people whom God brings into his or her presence.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this vision?

Now consider our stated purpose: To make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love each other , and serve in the world.

What does this mean to you? How are you living out this purpose?

As we enter 2017 the time is ripe for considering new things, for reevaluating our lives. Why am I a Christian? Does it make any difference in my life? How is my life formed by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and his written word? How do I think God wants to mold or grow me in this coming year? Am I ready for the adventure?

Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no vision (revelation from God), the people cast off restraint (wander aimlessly  and perish); but blessed is the one who is guided by God’s word.”

What, or who is guiding you? What or who is forming your most important relationships?

I look forward to joining you in the 2017 adventure of faith.