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

 

The Advent Journey

The word “advent” means “coming.” It reminds us of God’s coming into the world in Jesus; it also points to Jesus’ promised return to establish heaven on earth, his kingdom. Jesus came once and he will surely come again.

We usually associate Christmas with the baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by his parents, wise men, shepherds, and assorted animals. We look forward to giving and receiving gifts around a tree. We don’t think of Christmas as a presage (a sign or warning) of God’s kingdom in the world. Think about it. In Sabbath worship we mouth the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us……”WAIT A MINUTE! What did we just say? God, your kingdom come. Your will be done. Do we really mean that? Do we really want Jesus to come, like now? We all have plans we’ve made. We have family events, weddings in January; some among us would prefer Jesus not come at least until Alabama has an opportunity to ring up another national football championship. Then there’s Spring Break. Maybe  Jesus could wait until after that….and so on.

Do we really want Jesus and his kingdom to come –YET? What would that mean anyway? When we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” what do we mean? What did Jesus mean when he instructed us to pray like that?

As you prepare your hearts and minds for Christmas, think about that question. Sifting through the meaning of this prayer may lead us to depths of faith we have not considered. It may impact not just how we think of the future; it may make a difference in your daily life in the present. As we walk this Advent journey to Christmas and beyond, how will you prepare your hearts and minds? How will we prepare our world for Jesus’ coming reign? When will it begin to take place? What do you think?

Below are some opportunities to prepare yourself. Invite a friend to join you on this journey.

  • Sabbath worship
  • Music of the season
  • Giving to others
  • Reflecting on artwork inspired by Jesus (see our worship bulletins)
  • Gathering with family and friends
  • Inviting someone into your circle
  • Stepping out of your comfort zone, so that you depend more fully on God.
  • Prayer

 

Because You Give – We Make a Difference!

WORSHIP          

Worship is the center of the church’s identity. It is the most distinctive thing we do. Our goal is to love God well through our worship. We emphasize excellence in our two distinctive worship times, utilizing the various gifts  of our people. In addition we explore new forms of worship such as our Christmas Eve Children and Family Worship, Christmas Eve Candlelight Jazz, Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday Taize Worship. We are blessed with outstanding staff leadership in Bryan, Betty and Russ, in addition to gifted choirs, instrumental ensembles, praise team, audio and video servants. What if we all made Sabbath worship of God a priority?

CHILDREN’S DISCIPLESHIP

Psalm 127 reveals that children are a gift from God. Deuteronomy 6 reminds us that as we adults grow in faith, so we are to pass on this faith to our children. Our goal is to grow our children into faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are blessed to have Cyndy Sarkisian serve as our staff leader and many dedicated volunteers to give generously in order to love, teach and guide our children in God’s way. We aim to reinforce Christian parents in giving our children the spiritual tools which will help them grow in their relationship with God. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of our children. What if we all developed a heart to help our children grow in their knowledge of God’s love for them and their love for God?

YOUTH DISCIPLESHIP

Paul told Timothy (a young and growing leader) not to let “anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Chris Soto, our Pastor to Students and Families, along with over thirty dedicated volunteers, are committed to loving young people into God’s kingdom, helping them grow as disciples of Jesus. We want them to have a firmly rooted and growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ, a heart for serving God and sharing with others, healthy relationships with other youth and adults, compassion for others, knowledge of right and wrong, strength to resist peer pressure, and certainty that they are loved by God. We believe this is the work of parents and adult volunteers who surround our young people in the love of Jesus. What if we all developed a heart to help our youth grow in the knowledge of God’s love for them and their love for God?

ADULT DISCIPLESHIP

Colossians 2:6 commands us that “just as we received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  We aim to grow ourselves into mature followers of Christ. We do this through a wealth of committed leaders and teachers in our discipleship groups. These groups meet on Sunday morning and almost every other day of the week as you come together to help each other grow as disciples- iron sharpening iron.  As we come together in smaller groups we encourage one another. What if we all developed a heart to grow in maturity of faith?

OUTREACH

We are the presence of Christ not only to one another, but also to those outside Covenant. Indeed , someone once said that the church exists for those who are not yet a part of it. There is much wisdom in this kind of thinking. A significant part of our purpose is for the good of those outside the church family. We seek to be the presence of Jesus in our surrounding community, throughout our nation and world. We are touching the lives of people through Habitat for Humanity, having built over ten houses for families in need. We make a difference through Second Mile Development as we provide a Christ-centered preschool, Neighborhood Store, and Parent Initiative. We touch those with emergency financial needs through Huntsville Assistance Program and Manna House. We are Christ’s presence as we take food into homes of senior members through Meals on Wheels. And we make a difference in places like Ireland, Dominican Republic, and Africa. Twenty-five members serve as reading tutors at Ridgecrest Elementary, and many more help provide support to the teachers and staff there. What if we all developed a heart for those outside our church?

FACILITIES

Our facility is a home for the worship of God, small group learning and care, and fellowship. But we exist for more than ourselves. Indeed we built this facility not just for ourselves, but for our community. And by all means, our community uses this facility to the max. We host AA, Al-Anon, Alateen, Gamblers Anonymous, and Healing Waters, which reaches out to wounded veterans. You’ll find them teaching fly-fishing and other activities in our Fellowship Hall. It is exciting to see our parking lot full on many days and evenings as we welcome our community into Christ’s home. It takes the work of Keith Pope, our excellent custodian, our dedicated Trustees and many other volunteers who serve to keep the facility in good working condition. In 2014 we have used budgeted, reserve, and specially donated funds to renovate our kitchen and install a new boiler in our worship wing (the old one was installed in 1969), all at a cost of about $85,000. Thanks to your giving and effective planning and saving, we were able to make these improvements. What if we all developed the mindset that the facility here belongs to God, not us?

We make a difference because you give. In the same way , we give because we have received so generously from God. What if our lives and decisions were driven by such an attitude?

Blessings,

Hal

 

 

What Difference Does it Make?

Stewardship Emphasis begins in October as we reflect upon the biblical concept that we are stewards of what God has given us; we own nothing, not even ourselves. We will be asking each of us to consider our giving for 2015. 2015!!!! What!!!!! Yes, 2015. It is critical that we plan and prepare for the future of the ministry in which we share.

Research suggests that Americans give between 2.5-3% of their income to charitable causes. A portion of this goes to the church. Biblical teaching reveals that giving and generosity are important to God; thus they are important qualities of anyone claiming to follow Jesus. If we ask ourselves what it means to be generous, what do you think? Again, the Bible seems to define generosity in this way: generosity entails giving sacrificially, giving joyfully, giving everything and giving the tithe.

What is a tithe? There is some confusion within the church. Many think the tithe is whatever a person gives. Actually, the word “tithe” means tenth; it refers to the spiritual practice of giving 10% of one’s income to the work of God’s kingdom. Malachi 3:8-10 challenges us to trust God more deeply in our giving. Biblical stewardship calls us to new depths of faith as we reconsider our giving, honoring the standard of tithing, giving 10% of our income to the building of God’s kingdom.

In order to do this, we likely would have to reorder our priorities, a process that is both difficult and good for us. It puts us on the path of God; it leads us to understand rightly what true wealth is. The secular world equates affluence with success and happiness, which leads us to lust after more money and place our sense of security in how much material wealth we have. How much is enough? It’s always a little bit more. It’s a dead end. In the Kingdom of God, however, the accumulation of wealth is not promoted. Proverbs 11:28 says, “ Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.”Rather, generosity is lauded as the example we should follow.

As we look to the new year, the future, will you honestly and prayerfully consider what you will give for the building of God’s kingdom through Covenant? Later this month we will ask each person/family to make a faith promise(pledge) to our 2015 Ministry Budget; in addition we will ask each of us to make a similar faith promise(pledge) to our Building Fund. Our goal, our hope, is that 100% of our Covenant family will participate. The Building Fund will be a three year commitment as we seek to pay our debt for the facilities we and our community enjoy. Pledging is simply a way of planning how and how much we will give.

The Bible teaches through the prophet Malachi and the Gospel of Luke(6:38) that God promises to bless us when we are generous. That doesn’t mean you will come into a lot of money; it mean you will experience the richness of God’s faithful provision, which comes in many ways. I know I have experienced this, and am deeply thankful. Of equal importance in scripture is the notion that we give out of our gratitude. Grateful people give more freely and cheerfully. As we reflect upon the ministry of Covenant, the DIFFERENCE WE MAKE IN OUR LIVES AND IN THE LIVES IN OUR COMMUNITY AND WORLD, may we recommit ourselves to growing in the riches of God’s grace. As we do so we will become more generous, as God is generous.

Blessings,

Hal

 

 

A message from Hal

This month I would like to address these topics:

As we head into the fall, I encourage you to be intentional about growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ by connecting with one of our groups.  Our Sunday morning groups meet at 9:45 and are open to anyone, as are our Wednesday Night groups, which begin in September.  In addition we have a men’s Bible study on Monday morning and three women’s Bible studies: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  All are open.  You also sign up to join new small groups starting this month (in the Narthex).  Gathering in community with others can be life-giving.  We grow, learn, and love best together.  In small groups we learn to listen to and respect others, we commit to accept others where they are, and we sharpen our attitudes and views as we grow together.  I know that I grow best when I am in close community with others.

Fran Gibbons, our financial secretary and friend in Christ, is retiring as of September 30th, after twenty-five years of service.  Fran has been an outstanding employee of Covenant, a valued colleague on our staff and an approachable confidant and friend.  It is hard to imagine our office environment without Fran’s smiling and welcoming presence.  Fortunately, while we will lose her financial skills, she will continue as a faithful member or our Covenant community.  You will be hearing more about how we express our gratitude in a separate communication.  Please pray for our leadership as we search for a new person to fulfill these responsibilities.

Finally, I want you to be aware of the work our Session is doing as we respond to recent controversial General Assembly actions.  After time in prayer and discussion, the Session authorized Don Searcy, Jack Royster, and me to draft a letter communicating our concerns and stand to you.  This letter will be sent to you within the next two weeks.  Thank you for your communications, prayers, and patience as we seek to be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Blessings,

Hal

 

Our mission is to be a community that grows disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love others and serve in the world. We are pretty certain of this. The question is:  “How do we grow these kinds of disciples?” And how do we measure success?

I and many others believe one of the most effective ways to grow as a disciple of Christ is through participation in a small group. You likely have seen a few video testimonies about the value of small groups.

It is true that we have numerous small groups within Covenant. There are women and men’s small groups who meet for Bible study, prayer, sharing, book discussions, to make crafts for others (an expression of our outreach ministry). There are mixed groups who meet regularly in an effort to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. There are groups who meet around interests and gifts such as our choirs and praise team. They meet to hone their gifts to enhance our worship of God; but they also care for one another. Yes, many of you already are meeting in some kind of small group.

What would these new groups be like? Well they would be a small group of people(8-14 people) who would commit to meeting regularly together for  nine months (September-May). They would meet to study God’s word, pray together and share life with one another. We believe a small group such as this is ideal for getting to know one another. This way we know the ways we can encourage and support one another. We can help one another grow as disciples. What would be the topic? Each group would decide what it wants to study. We would offer resources for you to consider. The format would be inductive so that a leader would simply ask questions that would be up for discussion. this way we learn from one another as we spend time together.

Our focus is to involve those among you are who are not currently in a small group. If you are a couple, this is an opportunity to do something together, to stimulate your marriage relationship through the study of Scripture, prayer and fellowship. I you are single, it is an opportunity to experience community with a small group of people who are on a journey of growth in faith in God.

My hope is that you will give prayerful consideration to trying a small group experience. Those who have done so have found it to be enriching and rewarding. You will be hearing more about these new small groups and there will be an opportunity to sign up for one. If you feel more comfortable contacting one of our Adult Discipleship leaders, feel free to email Betty Collins at bettyjo_collins@comcast.net or Ted Lehmann at ted.lehmann@parsons.com, or me at hal.oakley@covhsv.org. We look forward to helping you grow to become a disciple who is becoming more like Jesus.

 

Meet Ken

At our June meeting, the Session (the governing elders) approved hiring Reverend Ken Robinson as our part time pastoral assistant beginning July 1st.  You may recall that when we “recessed” our Associate Pastor Search Team in January we said we would explore alternative staffing models to see if we could carry forward our ministry with a smaller staff, utilizing part-time leaders rather than a full-time associate pastor.

Toward this end, our first decision was to expand the roles and responsibilities of Bryan Page (Director of Music Ministry) and Chris Soto (Director of Youth Ministry).  They are strong leaders who are capable of sharing the pastoral ministry role with me.  Both enthusiastically agreed to add responsibilities, beginning April 15th.  They are sharing in hospital and pastoral visitation, worship leadership and emergency/crisis visitation. Chris will also preach 1-3 times per year, as he desires to grow in this area.  Thus far we have had positive response to their ministry. I am thankful to serve alongside two dedicated and gifted colleagues.

Our second step has been to discern continuing areas of need.  Two were identified:  someone to resource our Adult Discipleship Team (ADT), especially in the area of small groups, and an ordained pastor to assist in pastoral ministry and be available in my absence to minister in a crisis situations and lead worship at funerals.  We considered dividing these two areas, but decided to invite Ken to work in both these areas.  Let me address three questions you many have.

First, who is Ken Robinson?  Ken and Louida Robinson recently moved to Huntsville from Tucson, AZ.  Ken is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, having served in four pastorates through the years.  Most recently he worked in Probation and Parole area in Tucson.  Louida is employed with Raytheon and they moved to Huntsville because her group was transferred here.  They joined Covenant last fall and have been actively involved.  They have three adult children.  Currently Ken is working part time in Probation and Parole here and was very open to our invitation to serve part time.

Second, how many hours will he work?  Very part time at ten hours per week.  He will have some flexibility so that if he works more than ten one week, he can adjust the following week.  He will begin July 1.

Third, what will he do? 1) Ken will serve along with me as a staff advisor on our ADT, especially helping us expand and support small group ministry. 2) Ken will visit some of our senior members, especially those who are limited in mobility.  3) Ken will be available in my absence to engage in crisis ministry, working with Bryan and Chris; and he has had experience leading worship at funerals.  This is an area in which Bryan and Chris have less experience.  4) Ken would be available to preach 1-3 times per year.  In addition, I would meet twice a month with Ken and he would participate in staff meetings as his schedule allows.

We plan to evaluate our new staff model in early 2015 to determine its effectiveness; at that time we will evaluate our financial situation as that will impact our way forward.

I would like to thank Rob Seitz for preaching in April and May, and for being available for crisis ministry in my absence.  He remains open to assisting us in this area when his work schedule allows.

I would also like to thank our session, deacons and trustees for your good work in all areas of our ministry.

I ask your continued prayers for Ken, Rob, Bryan, and Chris as we seek to serve faithfully in Christ’s Church.  We are privileged to share this journey with you.

Blessings,

Hal

 

 

Who is Your God?

So much of life is lived on a superficial level. That’s why I love to challenge people to go deeper, to reflect upon and converse about the most substantial things in life. For example, what or whom do you love more than anything or anyone else? Think about it. What or who is your first love? Then your second, third and so on? Then be honest with yourself: does my life really reflect these priorities? Or am I just fooling myself. I can almost assure you: you’re not fooling those around you.

That which is most important to us is our god. And just because we say something is important doesn’t really mean it is; our lives will reflect our priorities. Who then is your god? If you look primarily to yourself, depend solely upon yourself, then in your mind you are god, or your own god. If money or material things or your material security or financial status are most important, then your material wealth is your god. If your family is most important to you, then your family may be your god. If achieving a certain professional status is most important, then your job or “success” is your god. Then, who is your god? Who or what is most important to you?

Jesus says that all Scripture can be summed up in these commandments. “Love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind….Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 10:27 is another version) He seems to be calling us to put the Lord God of the Scriptures first in our lives, to live like he is our God. Our God is something/someone wholly other than ourselves, the Creator, my Creator. This means that I am not God-an important distinction. After that God calls us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” What this means(as it is clarified in Luke 10) is that I am to be neighbor to all, to care for them, which is a way of loving them. In another instance Jesus teaches his disciples that “the world will know they(we) are his disciples if we love one another.”(John 13:35). Scripture further defines this love as laying down our lives for one another and bearing with one another, being kind to one another and forgiving one another. What guidance might I glean from scripture as to what God envisions regarding the values to which I give the greatest priority?

For me to live as God intends is to put God first in my life, to make the God revealed in Scripture, in Jesus Christ, the most important thing in my life. Revelation 3:4 relates how the church in Ephesus had “forsaken (its) first love.” Apparently they had put other things before God. The Ten Commandments begins, “you shall have no other gods before me.” The most important priority in life then is to love God above or more than anything or anyone else. I’ve thought about what it means to me . What would that mean to you? I have learned that when I do that well, that is, love God well, other things in life seem to fall into place in a way that makes sense, that gives life to me. (Matthew 6:33)

If I love God most of all, then who is next? That may seem an inane question but I contend it is of great import. The one I love most after God is Jean, my wife. She is the companion God gave me to share life. I sometimes see some who put their children above their marriage, even above God(their children become their gods). This is a distortion of God’s plan. Someone once said that the greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother well, and the greatest gift a mother can give her children is to love their father well.  Knowing that father and mother love one another well leads children to feel more secure.(I suspect this principle even applies in divorce situations, as challenging as that might be in some cases.) After Jean, I love my children, my grandchildren, my extended family, my church family(both local and global), and so on.

Understanding these values helps me to live in close connection with God. How do you make sense of God and all that is part of life? Think about it. Share with someone else. I’d love to hear from you, to learn from you.

 

The Body of Christ

As I write this, I have just finished a wedding rehearsal and am preparing for Good Friday worship. Tomorrow night I will stand before a young couple in a moment of great hope as they express their vows, their promises to one another. I am well aware that they have little idea what it means to love one another in “sickness and in health.” I trust they will grow into that kind of compassionate love. And then Easter, a reminder of the hope I have in Jesus Christ, a hope which sustains me even now. On Monday, Jean and I are off to South Africa to see Scott and Shelton.

As I plan to leave I am mindful of the Body of Christ and the roles we all play in living as Christ’s presence. Fortunately, God has gifted us with so many dedicated and gifted saints, which leads me to share some important news with you. You  recall that in January you approved recessing our Associate Pastor Nominating Team until early next year when we will be in a better position to discern whether we can afford a full time associate. We are monitoring our  finances this year and hope all will join in supporting Covenant in our good work, both through our 2014 Mission Budget and our Building Fund. We also plan to explore alternative staff leadership models to see if we can better accomplish our plans with a new and different model. Let me report the first steps.

In conversation with Bryan Page and Chris Soto, we have expanded their responsibilities in important ways.  Bryan will be sharing more fully in worship leadership; he will often lead Maranatha worship when Russ is away; he will share in hospital visitation two days a week, share in visiting our members who are confined to their homes and be available for emergency pastoral care in my absence. Chris will share more fully in worship; he will preach 2-3 times a year; he will share in hospital visitation two days a week, share in visiting members who are confined to their homes, and be available for emergency care in my absence. Each will receive extra remuneration in the form of a monthly bonus.

In addition, we are fortunate to have Rob Seitz as a Parish Associate. Rob is preaching two Sundays while I am gone. In addition he will be available to pastoral assistance when I am absent. Rob is an excellent communicator who has enriched us through the years.

Working with the Adult Discipleship Team we are considering potential part-time models, such as a pastor to help with small group ministry and pastoral care. We hope to have a decision made in June so that we can evaluate its effectiveness early next year.

Our decision regarding an associate pastor will be based on two things: l. our financial situation and 2. our evaluation of whether we can effectively carry forward Christ’s ministry with part time-staff  as opposed to a full-time associate pastor. We always welcome your feedback as we continue this process.

As Jean and I enjoy fellowship with Shelton and Scott and another part of Christ’s Body in Africa, we will keep you in our hearts and prayers. Thank you for the honor of serving alongside you.

Blessings Upon You,

Hal

Why Worship?

When the Psalmist writes, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all you peoples,” what do you think of? I think of worship, more particularly, singing. Not necessarily singing on key, rather singing from the heart. That’s what comes to mind. In fact, that’s exactly what the Psalmist has in mind. He goes on, “Worship the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful songs.” Singing is a form of prayer; it can be a prayer of praise, or a prayer of confession, depending on the words. In God’s vision of worship, worship is filled with singing and praying. But there’s more insight into worship.

In verse 3, the Psalmist reminds us that worship is a time of reflection, reflection on who God is and who we are, with an emphasis on the fact that we are NOT God. “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” This is a reminder of the reason for worship. It’s not about us; it’s about God. Indeed, God is the reason for our worship. One’s sense of God—God’s sovereignty, God’s majesty, God’s love and justice—is what leads a person to get out of bed and come to worship. People who worship regularly are people who possess a sense of the majesty, the sovereignty, the love and justice of God, people who are convinced, no convicted, that God is worthy of our time and energy. People who worship regularly are people who attach meaning to gathering with other Christ followers to give honor and glory to God. People who worship regularly are people who are clear about who God is , and who they are—his people. We know we belong to God; our lives are not our own. God is the center of our lives. Who are you and what do you believe about God?

In verse 4, the Psalmist continues to give guidance as to how we worship, in light of who God is—our Creator. “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” I have come to trust Romans 8:28 , where it reveals that “in all things God is working for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I appreciate that God calls us to worship with thanksgiving and praise. It is good to be thankful, to live thankfully. I know that I am happier and more productive when I am thankful. Sometimes God calls me to things that are difficult. Worship is not one of those things. To come into his gates thankful and celebrating God’s blessings through song, prayer and reflection is good for me; and it is stimulating and enjoyable. Being grateful leads me to focus on what I have, not on what I don’t have. It rescues me from discontent. It reminds me how blessed I am, and how great God is. Worshiping alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ is good for me; it uplifts me and empowers me to continue the journey of life. It propels me into the next day, the next week with a worshipful attitude. When I participate in God’s weekly rhythm of work, rest, play, leisure, worship and reflection, I am in tune with God’s purpose for me. And it’s good.

Why do I worship? I confess I do so in part because I realize how good it is for me. It has sustained me and my family through life. And I am thankful. However, in my deepest reflection, I realize that I worship because of who God is. The Psalmist again reminds us in verse 5, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” I love to rest in the goodness, the love and the faithfulness of God. It is why I choose, at the leading of the Holy Spirit, to join the movement of God’s kingdom in the world. I can think of no better path on which to trod.

As we approach this holy week, may God reveal to you the reasons to worship him.

Blessings Upon You,

Hal

 

 

Thoughts on Lent

When I was growing up in Nashville we lived in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood. Needless to say, there were lots of children. Being Baptist and unfamiliar with Lent, I was always puzzled when my friends would announce they could not eat candy or drink soft drinks. That was one of the main things we did: ride our bikes to the store, read magazines and eat and drink. I admit to gloating when I drank and ate in front of them. As a child Lent sounded strange and silly. I didn’t understand.

As I have grown and begun to learn more about Lent, as one of the church’s liturgical seasons, I have come to appreciate positive aspects of Lent. What, then, is Lent? The word comes from the Latin quadragesima, which means 40th day before Easter. In most Protestant traditions Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter celebration (not counting Sundays). Since every Sunday is considered an Easter celebration, my friends did not have to give up anything on these Sunday even during Lent. However, when I was growing up the stores were closed on Sundays, so they still abstained.

Lent is a time of preparation for the Easter celebration, a time to prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the resurrection. Why forty days? In Hebrew tradition the number forty is significant. It means “enough time.” For example the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for forty years, enough time for God to prepare their hearts. And Jesus, prior to his public ministry, was tempted in the desert for forty days, enough time to prepare him for his ministry. That is the reason for the forty days.

Well, how might we “celebrate” Lent? One way is to refocus on Jesus Christ. Take time to study him, to get to know him in one of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Another way is to give up something, so that we might experience at some level a sacrifice. You could give up soft drinks, desserts, chocolate. This can be a meaningful exercise for some. Another thing one can do is focus on certain spiritual practices: choose to serve your spouse in some special ways during Lent (who knows, you might begin a new good habit), visit someone in a nursing home, take gifts of bread or dessert or meals to some people you know might appreciate it, add prayer disciplines to your daily life (such as confession, thanksgiving, praise, intercession). Choose to forgive someone against whom you still hold hard feelings(maybe write them a letter), send notes of encouragement to forty people, choose to participate in abnormal worship services such as Ash Wednesday (7:00pm on Wednesday, March 5 in our sanctuary), Holy Thursday (commemorating Jesus’ last supper with his disciples (Thursday, April 17 at 7:00pm in our sanctuary), Good Friday Taize Worship (Friday, April 18 at 7:00pm). These are different experiences of worship; try one or all if you have never done so.

The important thing is to prepare our hearts and minds to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives. One of the ways of doing this is focusing on events in his life and their impact on our lives. For example, during Lent, consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus in your life— your close relationships, your work or school. Would this entail any changes in my life if I were to do so? What does it mean to love sacrificially? What impact does Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross have in my life? What impact does Jesus’ resurrection have in my life? Join me in a special celebration of Lent and Easter as we seek to be Jesus’ presence in our homes, workplaces, schools and neighborhoods. May Jesus be honored in our lives and may we be strengthened in the journey.

Blessings,

Hal

 

 

Are You Wealthy?

Last week in our small group we were discussing the first chapter of James, vs. 9-10, “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position….” A discussion about wealth ensued. Are we wealthy, thinking of course in financial terms? Compared to Warren Buffet, NO; but compared to most in the world, YES We are! Then someone asked, “What does it mean to be wealthy? I mean, could wealth be measured in nonfinancial terms?” We all seemed to agree that one could be financially poor, yet wealthy in other important ways.

This got me to thinking. I’ve been disappointed that our financial giving at Covenant was significantly below budget in 2013. I’m not sure why and our leadership has struggled to understand as well. I’ve had moments when this disappointment has dominated my thoughts and I’ve become discouraged. “What does this say about the strength of Covenant? How do I, or we, go forward?”

Then I realized that I do think of wealth primarily in financial terms. When I’ve got $50 in my wallet, I seem to feel better about myself, more secure. If Covenant is awash in money (and relatively speaking, we are) that’s a good thing. However, if I truly believe wealth can be measured in nonfinancial terms, it dawned on me that we, Covenant, are overflowing with wealth.

We are wealthy in missional, relational ways. I celebrate our compassion for Ridgecrest Elementary, our leaders Ashley Huttula and now Jane Sucic, our sixteen tutors, the Bible and Koinonia groups and the children who made lunches, snacks and treats for the staff this past Fall. I’m excited to see the plans to continue our encouragement of Ridgecrest this Winter and Spring. I celebrate our Kids to Camp Ministry, led by Linda Brouwer and Mary Witherspoon and supported by so many passionate volunteers as we seek to impact twenty children this year in the name of Jesus. I celebrate our Covenant Crafters and their heart to make clothes, hats and other items for our community. I celebrate our children and their efforts to collect 1000 pairs of socks for people in our community. I celebrate our heart for people struggling with addiction as we provide meeting space for twelve step groups, offering hospitality of drinks and cookies. We hope to develop a complete ministry team to carry forward this ministry. I celebrate our youth ministry, with Chris and a large group of volunteers who are reaching Covenant youth and youth in our community. I celebrate our Stephen Ministers who are caring compassionately for people in various forms of crisis. I am thankful for the privilege of seeing Jesus alive in so many, seeing the Spirit of God changing lives, seeing the love of Jesus being passed around so lavishly.

And then I think of my personal blessings: Jean, our children, our six grandchildren and a lovingly supportive extended family.

And I remember, I am wealthy, we are wealthy in ways that give life and light. We are the light of the world. We are such a community that if we were to fold up and go away, even some athiests and agnostics would be saddened because of the positive difference we make. We are a light to the world and the darkness will never be able to extinguish it.

As an afterthought I wonder if I’ll ever make Forbes’ list of wealthiest people……Probably not. Still I am wealthy; we are wealthy.

 

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

Hal

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,

Hal

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.

Blessings,
Hal

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.

Blessed,

Hal

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!

WELCOME CHRIS SOTO

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.

Blessings,
Hal