Monday, December 31, 2012

Hard But Worth It

Yesterday I watched as the Dallas Cowboys football team lost their bid for the playoffs to a Washington Redskins team led by a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back.  For those of you not into football, experience is a major factor in achieving your goals in the National Football League (NFL) and for these two rookies, it is amazing to see what they have accomplished.  I believe they are where they are because of 1) considerable natural talent, 2) hard work and 3) remaining focused on the task at hand.  Oh but if we could approach our pursuit of good things for our new year in the same way.

When I think of stories like the one above, I think truer, better and more important stories from Scripture which have been teaching us these virtues for a long time.  One such story is that of Paul.  Paul was possessed of 1) considerable natural talent (he was trained by the best), 2) great work ethic (it took time, dedication, energy, sacrifice and sweat to learn and become what he called a 'Pharisee of Pharisees') and 3) stubborn persistence (Paul pressed on toward the goal [for a while the wrong goal] well before he was called by God to be the greatest evangelist ever).  Paul applied these virtues toward the persecution of this new group called "the way" (i.e., the early Christian Church).  He followed them.  He watched them and participated in their persecution (see Acts 7:58).  But God has a way of calling us to higher purpose and better use of those traits that can be used for good or for bad.  God used the natural talent of Paul ... his knowledge of Scripture ... his ability to pursue logical argument ... his understanding of the Law and its dangers.  God used Paul's work ethic as the Holt Spirit inspired words like, "But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me." [Philippians 3:12].  God used Paul's dogged focus to give him strength to persist in places like prison, shipwrecked on an island, in court and pressed on every side (2 Corinthians 4:8) by troubles.

2013 will be a year when we can choose to stay the course, go backward or go forward.  Staying the course will be easy ... just do nothing and next New Year's day we can wonder why our world has the same issues and problems.  Going backward is simple ... just revert to behaviors and practices that have brought us down every year up till now.  Or ... just maybe ... we can go forward.  We can embrace and apply our natural talent God gives us all to do His work (these are called Spiritual Gifts [1 Corinthians 12]).  We can do the hard work of (every day) making hard choices, putting one foot in front of the other and reminding ourselves that following God isn't a microwave (instant) process, it is a crock pot (slow, persistent, methodical) process.  And, we can realize that we are called to "run with endurance the race the God has set before us [Hebrews 12:1]."  You don't have to be an experienced Christian to see results from this process.  You only need to be open, usable and willing.  In fact, you can be a rookie.  All God needs is your yes!  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Big and Small

Our Christmas Eve service revolved around a term from Scripture that is spoken of in the Pentateuch (the first five books of Scripture) and that is carried (thematically) through all of Scripture.  The Christmas term is Immanuel, meaning "God with us."  We really need God with us ... because we are the people Jesus spoke of when he said "Come all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest."  We need God with us when we are confused and need someone with an eternal perspective.  We need God with us when we have lost someone close to us.  We need God with us when a disaster has happened and we are just trying to survive.  We need God with us when we are "geographically-challenged" by being born in a place where God is not welcome or where someone who looks like me is oppressed.  We need God with us when we are tempted to enter back into an addiction and need a higher power to help us through one more day.  We need God with us when our teenage son or daughter is out of control and we need wisdom beyond our years.  We need God with us when we wait in the doctor's office for a diagnosis that might be hard news.  We need God with us when our adult children are struggling and we have helped all we can.  We need God with us when we just cannot forgive without God's power.  We need God with us when it is hard to pray.  And we need God with us when our choices have made us alone in this cold, hard world.

C.S. Lewis had an amazing image of God which is both Biblical and helpful.  He said God was the only power in the universe big enough to create the universe, direct the affairs of nations and princes and kings and yet make himself small enough to step down into our worst hurts and deepest miseries.  God with us came into the humility and lowliness of our world.  God with us lost friends to death.  God with us was chased by people who wanted to kill him.  God with us was beaten, spit on, insulted and nailed to a cross.  God with us laughed and cried.  God with us was a son ... a friend ... a preacher.  God with us walked hard roads and served the Father placing His (Jesus') interests below God's plan.  And God with us did something that only someone fully God and fully human could do ... he took all the sins of Adam's race upon himself.  This Christmas remember that God with us made a promise that should give us comfort when we hear that God has been sent out of places like schools, our nation, our halls of legislation and any other place that allegedly has had God 'removed.'  First, we have no power to remove God from any place God desires to be.  We can ignore God and God can chose to remove His Spirit, His blessing and His peace.  But we cannot do it.  Second, God has (in Matthew 28) told us He will be with us even unto the ends of the earth.  So ... carry Him in your heart.  Let Him into your workplace.  Invite Him into your day.  Let Him into the little things and the big things.  Watch for God with us in the comfort, bravery, grief, struggle and stories of places like Sandy Hook Elementary, 911, Afghanistan, the Mexican border, the inner city and the jungles of Brazil.  For where the brokenhearted are ... God is close by.  That gives me strength, comfort and calm.  God with us is as big or as small as He needs to be to meet us, lead us, save us and carry us to our destination with Him.  THAT ... is Good News.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some Changes

OK ... usually we devote the blog entries to those things that might make you think ... about your relationship to God ... about your relationship to your church ... about things less logistical and more reflective.  Today we are going to change course for a week.  The reason for this is simple.  We (Good News and the Church in general) is charged with making meaningful connection to people so that we might introduce them to an amazing, holy and awesome God who is declaring His past/present/future reign constantly.  We make these connections in many ways including interpretation of Scripture, preaching, teaching, fellowship, sacrament and nurture.  In today's world we also make these connections through the communication systems in place today ... our website, the local newspaper and the tried-and-true word of mouth.  Sometimes being consistent in these communications requires us to have some continuity in what we do on a weekly basis.  Over the past several years a 'glitch' in this consistency has been our custom of having a joint worship service on the 5th Sundays which fall about every three months.

From a fellowship standpoint this has made some sense.  In practice, however, it has not done what we would have intended.  It has made communicating through our media outlets (website, newspaper, verbal) confusing and inconsistent.  It has created confusion for people who are visiting and have come to worship only to find that that particular Sunday there is only one service.  The 5th Sunday has been consistently our lowest attendance Sunday.  Finally, some of our people have been confused over whether the service will be traditional or contemporary.  So ... we will be making a change.

Beginning immediately we will have all Sunday worship follow our usual (and advertised) pattern.  Our traditional worship will be 8:50am each week and our contemporary worship will be at 11:00am.  This means that December 30th of 2012 we will have two normal worship services ... 8:50am and 11:00am.  For those who like their normal style of worship this should make life easier.  For those who can't keep the 5th Sunday idea in their heads or on the calendar, this should give you the comfort and consistency that every Sunday's pattern will be the same.  For those who might visit or be coming here for the 1st time, this should make their choice of worship services simple.

And remember ... we WILL be having our amazing Christmas Eve communion service at 5:30pm on December 24th (oddly enough, Christmas Eve).  I hope you will invite family and friends to this time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the promise of new life, the love of a giving God and the life that we are offered through one small child, born in Bethlehem.  Come and see the hope ... hear the songs ... and remember that night when everything changed.  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Ever had a time in your life when you needed someone?  Someone who might be a bit wiser ... someone who has a different perspective ... someone who will tell you like it is ... someone who will say what needs to be said while being your best friend?  Those someones are very hard to find ... but Mary had someone.
The someone for Mary was her cousin Elizabeth.  Older ... dealing with issues of her own ... and someone who, at that very moment, was sharing an experience that would be part of this world-changing event we call Christmas.

Elizabeth lived about nine days journey from Nazareth where Mary lived.  Isn't it odd that Mary's family would allow her to make a nine-day journey through rough country to go and see Elizabeth?  I believe it says a lot about the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth.  The Bible calls Elizabeth barren in her old age ... Mary called Elizabeth friend and confidante.  These two women were both drawn together by relationship and pulled together by the common experience of what was about to happen.  Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist.  John would be in charge of announcing the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.  He would live an extraordinary life and die a horrible death, all in service to a God who could redeem all of it.  Elizabeth would give birth to John about six months before Jesus would be born, but Mary would spend months sharing stories, hearing her advice and receiving Elizabeth's encouragement.  I believe both women were blessed by their relationship. And their love and friendship was honored by God.

This part of a larger story reminds us the value of that someone in our lives who will love us no matter what and will share our deepest desires, our greatest failures, our biggest successes and our most painful hurts.  When you have a friend like that, never let them go.  Cherish them.  Hold them close.  Pray for and with them.  And be as good a friend to them as they are to you.

Sunday we will share some of this story and this great friendship as Mary is encouraged by Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is helped in her pregnancy by Mary as they both share part of the greatest story of all time.  We will learn about the Biblical meaning of 'blessed.'  We will learn that Elizabeth and John knew the identity of Jesus 10 days after conception (I think that baby was pretty viable at 10 days of life).  And we will learn not to ignore this story as we move through the Christmas season on our journey to the manger in Bethlehem.  Join us!

Monday, December 3, 2012

What I Couldn't Say

Those of you who were at church Sunday get the meaning of the title of this blog.  Truly, I couldn't talk ... a condition which came upon me quickly and got worse as the morning progressed.  I appreciate all of the help from Josh, Jerry, Leah and everyone who basically put up with my laryngitis attack.  It was difficult for me because I had lots of Mary and Nazareth facts to convey ... so this blog will, I hope, give you a start on our Christmas Journey through the characters and places of the first Christmas.

First, Mary ... 12 or 13 ... scared ... hearing the news from the angel that she was with child ... traveling to stay 3 months with Elizabeth (her formerly barren cousin, also pregnant with a child who would become John the Baptist) ... returning to Nazareth where she would have probably (at the very least) been an object of scorn and (at the most) could have been in danger for her life since she was pregnant and unmarried.  Her last statement in the story of the annunciation (the announcement by the angel that she would bear the Son of God) was "I am God's servant."  Pretty mature resolve for an early teen.

Then. Nazareth ... the site of a spring that became a town (reminds me of Isaiah's prophecy about "streams in the desert").  This town with a few hundred shepherds, laborers, workers and (according to John 1) folks with a poor reputation would become Jesus' boyhood home and the place where he would begin a Galilean ministry that would change the planet.  Nazareth was halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea.  The people were generally poor and would have lived in simple shelters such as limestone caves.  It was a meek and humble beginning for our journey to Bethlehem.  The town's name might have come from the word 'netzer' which means sprout or shoot ... the growth from a chopped-down stump.  Some believe that the prophecy in Isaiah 11 ("A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;  from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lordand he will delight in the fear of the Lord." Isaiah 11:1) relates to this obscure name for Nazareth since Mary (thus Jesus) was from the lineage of Jesse, descended from King David.  Both the Northern Kingdom (Israel in 721 BC by Assyria) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah in 586 by Babylon) had been chopped to the ground, this prophecy was a hope that the nation of Israel would be restored.  It is interesting that this restoration comes from a lowly place and will take shape in a much different way than was expected.

As I take in and savor this story, I am reminded that God's great work happens in ways that we would never choose never expect.  Mary's comment about being God's servant reminds me, like Sunday when your preacher couldn't say much, that God doesn't need much to work with.  Just our willingness and our action (not so much our words, our knowledge or our resume').  As John 1 states, "could anything good come from Nazareth?"  I would say what the story of the annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) states ... "Nothing is impossible for God."

Monday, November 26, 2012


Our December Sermon Series will be called Journey, focusing on the journey of all the "Christmas" players to the manger of baby Jesus.  In a sense their journey is an allegory of our journey to Jesus' side.  All of the players in the drama have brokenness.  Mary is, to all outward appearances, an unwed mother.  She both carries the scorn of the people and the uncertainty of a teenage girl processing her part in the play.  Joseph is called to be a faithful husband (though the marriage hasn't happened) and a surrogate father who loves this child as his own.  This would have been a difficult thing in 1st century Judaism.  Elizabeth (Mary's cousin and mother of John the Baptist) was part of the announcement of Jesus' birth and part of the introduction of Jesus to the world through the ministry and life of John the Baptist.  Both Mary and Elizabeth had reason for joy and probably a sense that both children, being totally devoted to God, would come to a difficult end ... when you are totally for God people will and do reject you.  Other characters, like Herod, the magi (who came on the scene three years after Jesus' birth), the shepherds, the angels and the animals in the grotto, played their parts in the most amazing story of a great gift from God. 

We can see ourselves in this story.  We are troubled, uncertain, misunderstood, put down by family and friends, taken advantage of and many other negatives.  But I want us to focus on the positives.  We are all used by God ... all usable for God's glory ... all special creations by a God who loves us ... all gifted for god's special purpose ... all able to bear fruit for God's kingdom ... all seen by God in a vastly different light than the darkness of the world.  In fact, I pray that you and I will be able to see and understand that amazing purpose God has for all of our lives ... a purpose lived above the fray going on around us and toward a God who has a higher purpose for each of us.  In the words of C. S. Lewis, may we be willing to go "higher up and further in" as we journey to the manger.  Thanks for listening ... Pastor Randy

Monday, November 12, 2012

Getting to the Source

Over the next 4 days I and 3 other Good News leaders will be attending a conference in which we will obtain tools to help our people with the issue of dealing with finances and our strange economy.  While we can't impact the part of our local/national/individual economy that depends on other people, we do have control over our own decisions.  In fact, this is the main toolbox we will be assembling ... what each person can do in making their financial life better.  And the best part is all the advice comes from Scripture and from God's plan to make our lives better by following Him rather than being led by our culture.

Pray for the team.  We will be listening to how we can lead our adults, young people and children to make Biblical choices in their lives as they relate to money, possessions, priorities, time, energy and doing life in a Biblical context. I hope we are able to bring back some usable and useful ways for each of us to do life in a way that gives God power over our everyday choices.  He told us if we follow then we will be in a place where He can bless us and give us an abundant life, full of God's good things.  If we follow the culture I believe we will not see this blessing and will not understand God's peace, God's provision and God's purpose.

The conference is called Momentum and in 2013 we will all be asked to be a team that pulls together to place all we learn into action.  It will take each of us ... every member, attender and every heart given to a willingness to become part of something larger than themselves.  Sunday School classes and small groups will be asked to be part of the effort ... children and teens will be called to be part of this push toward a better place.  I hope you will pray for your participation and your willingness to help us all make changes that will benefit and grow us.

Thanks in advance for your prayers and your preparation for this major undertaking.  Pastor Randy

Monday, November 5, 2012

Making a Difference

This Sunday I will begin a two part series on post-election advice that I hope will help us get past the election and onto God's good things.  I hope it will help us debrief the past few weeks of calls, ads, promises, accusations and just plain meanness.  I wonder about our political system at times but have no better plan.  But I do think God has a better plan for His people so i will put forward two things about how we can, as God's people, make a difference.

One way every person at Good News can make a difference is to pitch in and help in areas where we have needs.  I want to offer a few ideas and see if anyone will take up the struggle and the blessing of serving.  Here are a few needs that are both pressing and could nbe just the place God needs you.

1. We need a person who will spend a couple of hours every week on social media for the church.  We are in dire need of shoring up our social media presence and I know there is someone who can give a few hours to get our likes, our presence and our connections to the highest possible level.

2. Our praise team has need for someone to play drums.  Practice is on Sunday from 10-11am and on the 2nd Tuesday of each month 5:30-7pm.  This is a small investment of time for what can give lots of people a great blessing (including the person who can help with this need). 

3. Our praise team needs both male and female singers who love God and can come and lead worship with us.  Practice is on Sunday from 10-11am and on the 2nd Tuesday of each month 5:30-7pm.  These positions are auditioned (by Mike Kitchens).  A heart for the Lord, a voice that can carry a tune is pretty much the need.  I hope some of you will say yes.

4. Our praise team needs an electric guitarist who can do some lead and fill.  Again, practice is on Sunday from 10-11am and on the 2nd Tuesday of each month 5:30-7pm.

5. Ongoing volunteers for cleaning up after communion (after 2nd service) are needed.  this takes about 20min after the service once per month.  It doesn't require much time but it is surely helpful.

You can call Leah at the church office and she will fill you in on any and all of these.  Her number (M-Th,8:30am till 2:30pm) is 850-622-9191.  And remember, many of you will be inclined to let someone else do these things ... that is how we end up with unmet needs and how many of you fail to get the full blessing of being part of something that makes a difference in the world. That's my take!  Pastor Randy

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thinking Ahead for A Reason

Over the last two months of 2012 our leadership team has decided that we will end the year with a goal ... a purpose ... and a positive action that will help Good News be the Church locally, nationally and internationally.  We will continue our usual missional focus during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.  This focus includes Operation Christmas Child, our designated Christmas Eve offering (usually for United Methodist Children's Home) and our yard sale for congregational medical needs.  But this year our leadership team is calling all of us to do something different ... something that is achievable and forward-thinking.  Here is the plan ...

1. We need everyone to be part of this plan in whatever way you can.  Our desire is to pull together a Christmas-season offering that will prepay all of the missional parts of the Conference Offerings for 2013.

2. Each week we will share information about some of the missions that will be funded by this special offering.

3. We have about 400 members ... our plan is to average $50/person above our regular offering ... that's all.  We know some can give more and some can not give at all, so we are asking for generosity from each of us.  Our plan is ambitious ... raise $20,000 during the Christmas season and fund the mission of our church locally, in our district, in our conference, nationally and internationally.  All funds will prepay the missions part of our conference giving for 2013.  We will keep you posted on the progress ... I will personally start Sunday with my share of this goal ... again, above and beyond my regular tithe.

4. Through this process we will become aware of how your regular giving does amazing things beyond our local church and how we are part of something much bigger that our 400 member church.

5.  I reiterate ... we all need to be a team and be a part of this effort.  I hope our leaders and your pastor can count on you to be focused, engaged and in tune with this plan.

6. As an ancillary benefit, this effort will reduce our monthly budgetary needs for 2013 by about $1,800.

Watch for information about the missions you are and will be funding.  You might be surprised that you are touching people from right next door (e.g., Noah's Ark in Panama City) to the other side of the world.  It is one way we "go into all the world, making disciples (Matthew 28:19)" ... and as our District Superintendent reminded us at our annual church meeting last evening,  for the transformation of the world.  The point is that the transformation of the world will only happen through the work of God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Paul reminds us that we do this as Christ's ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:16-20)  ... we plan to obediently follow that call!  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In Relevant Magazine Paul Angone writes ... "Complaining is like a rash—too easy to catch, and tough to get rid of. I speak from experience. I’m a recovering “complain-a-holic” who’s still trying to find the cure. And I don’t think it’s just me. It seems that complaining, with a heavy dose of cynicism, has become our national pastime. It only takes three minutes on Facebook, Twitter, talk radio, or the news stations to know that if you’re not complaining about something, you’re a bit of an outsider. Complaining has become our social currency, our shared language used to form a mutual—if somewhat bitter—understanding of the world we live in. We complain about our jobs, the slow Wi-Fi, our leaders in the office and around the world and the waiter who brought only one basket of bread the entire night. ( )"

I am afraid Mr. Angone is correct.  He calls this propensity to complain (for Christ followers) a plague that destroys creativity and causes divisions and disunity and presents a bad witness to the world.  The old song says they will know we are Christians by our love but in practice "they know we are Christians by our complaining."  We are so know for what we are against, not what we are for.  A classic example of this is our attitude toward lifestyles that are different or non-Bilical.  While I won't use this space to make a case for or against such lifestyles (I would take the Biblical route there but will save that argument for another day) I do remember a case in Scripture where Jesus confronted this very issue.  A woman of questionable repute was washing his feet with her tears and expensive perfume (Luke 7:36-50).  It is a story of how Jesus allows this woman to come to him, touch him (both taboo in the Jewish world), wash his feet, kiss him and do all the things that were the true responsibility of the host in the household.  The Pharisee who invited Jesus to come into his house complains about the "sinful" woman.  Jesus calls him on this, reminding the Pharisee (who is 'moral' in the context of the Jewish world) that he has failed in being a host and has failed to receive the forgiveness that was freely given to the sinful woman (by the way ... it doesn't seem she asked ... He just does what only Jesus can do).

I wonder?  What if we approached the people in our world with an attitude of forgiveness rather than a condemnation of their sin?  Would that bring them into a dialogue about the God we worship who is their (and our) only source of life and salvation?  David Kinnaman (in "Unchristian") observes that Mosaic and Baby Buster outsiders (those not in the Christian faith) said that the word 'antihomosexual' accurately describes the modern day Christian community.  While some of you say "right on" and "we certainly are that!" I am asking you to take a bit of a step back.  Do you think God is honored when the very thing we are most known for is being against a group or do you think we should be better known for being "pro-forgiveness" and "for loving all people?"  I do think the dialogue about all sorts of sinful behavior needs to be had and I also know that there are radical elements promoting anti-Christian bias.  But I, for one, want to dialogue and work with sinners who are willing to come to Jesus ... kneel at His feet ... hear his words ... find out that He is the source of life, truth and true wisdom. 

I know some of you will read this the wrong way and (go figure) complain.  I pray that you will see my true meaning and will see I am not promoting any lifestyle that is non-Biblical ... just reminding us that we (through Jesus) come to be a conduit of salvation for the least, the lost and the sinner.  And ... for the record ... let's all stop being a nation of chronic complainers and become a nation of followers who know the solution to every problem ... Jesus!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nothing is Impossible with God (guest blog)

By Penny Williams

“Then the Lord said to Abraham, why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child now that I am old?”  Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” Ge. 18:13&14 NIV
No wonder Sarah laughed, they were both well over the age of child bearing. Sarah was barren and more than anything she desired to bear a son for Abraham. Could she possibly place such a youthful hope in her heart and believe what the Lord said to Abraham?  
Like Sarah, we all have our many appointed times. Sarah’s appointed time to give birth to Isaac (whose name means “one laughs”) wasn’t until she was yet another year older at the age of 90, Abraham was 100. I call them the dynamic duo.  I believe her laughter was coupled with a youthful heart. Sarah’s youthful laughter could have been the prerequisite to that hope. When she dared to believe, she conceived the seed of faith and became pregnant with Isaac. We know how God honors faith.
Perhaps the answer to your prayers hasn’t manifested in the physical yet. A long time ago I had a Pastor tell me “sometimes God says no.” I didn’t like to hear that truth, but I knew it was truth. I had to search my heart to see if I was praying in God’s will. There are times He withholds things because He knows they wouldn’t be good for us. When we end up doing things our way instead of God’s way we walk through the consequences of our disobedient impatience and eventually learn “Father knows best” after all.
Think for a moment, about what happens behind the scenes when we lift up a prayer to God. Many times there are different people involved that He has to work with in some way, some are moved geographically, others physically, hearts have to be touched and lives begin to communicate a change before you begin to see the answer in the flesh. All this can take hours or years in the invisible/spiritual realm before it is carried out in His appointed time. This “invisible work” could be something like a domino effect or walking through a maze. God acts, but He never changes and continues to abide by his principles with the truth of His word.
What looks like a tragedy will be turned around many times for praise and gratitude for God. He uses all things for His glory. What was once used for the spirit of darkness is turned around to give God praise, glory and all honors.
When I go through a time of testing, I pray and then wonder how God is going to work in this situation and He always comes through. Look for it and expect it, God never fails.
As I mentioned, we do not usually see the work in progress, if we did; it wouldn’t be faith. There are times though when God does allow us to see the early beginnings of an answered prayer like that of a flower getting ready to bloom and oh, how our heart leaps for joy. When our Father allows us to see the start of something so beautiful, our faith is watered and we know inside we’ve won that battle and  passed the test of faith! 
Is anything too small or hard for the Lord? Not a thing.  He cares about everything that is going on in your life. Never give up! No matter what you are going through, you can have the peace of knowing that God will stay by your side and take you through the whole process and as there are times when you feel like you are walking through the fire, you are getting stronger and becoming refined by the heat just like the diamond God has appointed you to be. All in His appointed time. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Servant Leaders

It is that time of year when United Methodist churches recommend leadership positions for the coming year (affirmed at the Charge Conference, the annual church-wide business meeting to be held on October 28th at 5:30pm).  Sometimes questions arise as to how this happens.  Folks sometimes think the pastor just picks people for the positions.  This is not the United Methodist process and not the Good News process.  Here is what we do.
1.  A group called Lay Leader Development (nominated and voted on at the Charge Conference each year) meets to nominate new leaders or consider changes in lay leadership.  The group is co-chaired by the Lay Leader and the Pastor (in our case the Lay Leader take the lead role, runs the meetings and coordinates the recommendations).
2. We pray a lot, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year when we are bringing in ideas and recommendations.  That prayer continues to be part of our meetings and part of the process.
3. Our recommendations for leaders start with thinking about people who love other people and God (the Great Commandment from Jesus), are available year round (Luke 9:59-62), are regular participants in the life of the church (prayer, presence, gifts, service, witness ... Acts 2:42-47), play well with others (i.e., people who edify and build up the Church using their gifts per 1 Corinthians 12), and bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
4. We don't have members of the same household (husband and wife) on the Executive Council ... a necessary but difficult rule since we have many husbands and wives at Good News are so capable of being leaders.
5. Prior to the Charge Conference our entire Church Council is asked to affirm and endorse the work of the Lay Leadership Development Team.
We also have many teams that are assigned special duties but operate as task forces of an administrative team or of the Executive Council.  These might be some of the most important teams at Good News since they implement ministry in close proximity to the people God has sent us.
Finally, we sometimes (because we are people) have misunderstandings which lead us to connect and pray together over our differences.  We deal with these matters with the person with whom we have the dispute, telling the truth in love (Ephesians 4:14-16).
That's a short synopsis of what happens each year.  We would love for you to add your prayers to the process.  Thanks!  Pastor Randy

Monday, September 24, 2012


Wow have we had lots of new people and visitors at Good News over the past few weeks.  I could give all of the Good News regulars a pep talk to be friendly, attentive and "step across the room" to get to know these new folks.  Many of you will do a great job of this anyway so what I would like to do is address this blog to the folks who are new members, visitors, people who are seeking a place to worship God and to hear God's Word.  Here goes:

1. First, I am honored to be in worship with you!  Isn't it wonderful that we can come together and collectively point toward God, seeking His advice, hearing His word, giving to His work and loving His people?  Just so you know, my goal in worship and in preaching isn't to tell you what I know, give you some pop psychology or tell you some platitudes that will make you feel good.  My goal is to tell you, in the best way I know how, what the Lord says.  This calling goes all the way back to the Patriarchs in the Old Testament to the writers of the short letters in the New Testament.  Jesus said in John that we would worship in Spirit and Truth.  We will strive to do that.
2. Second, we are very far from perfect.  Good News is relatively new and there are ways we don't have our act as together as we should.  Be patient and become part of our ability to do all things better ... we need your help and your giftedness.  We are not a refuge of saints but rather a place where sick people gather for healing.  After all, Jesus said He came to reach and heal the sick ... not to help those who think they are righteous.  If you want to be part of a ministry, if you desire to serve in some way, if you have an idea for a new ministry or if you just want to participate in some meaningful way we hope Good News will be just the place for you.  I will personally try to connect you to a place where you can make a difference to God.
3. Third, Good News is committed to making the community better because God placed us here.  So we will be more and more focused on mission.  This will mean all of our groups, old and new, will be challenged to be in a missional posture as it related to God and our community.  After all ... we ARE the mission.
4. Finally, we are serious about knowing God (learning/Bible study) ... loving God (worship, giving and nurture)  ... serving God (mission).  Through these paths we hope to relate to God with our heart, soul, mind and strength and love those people God sends our way.

On October 7th I hope you will join me after the 2nd service (NOON) and have PIZZA WITH THE PASTOR.  I will supply pizza, drinks and salad.  We will gather in the sanctuary and you will have the opportunity to ask questions of me and the ministry staff.  All of you who have visited (even one time) or are regular attenders who just have questions, please come.  Also new members and people who are seeking a place to worship God are welcome.  I will be honored to meet you and get to know you!
Pastor Randy

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Every December Sky

The lyrics (below) by Beth Nielson Chapman closely relate to my message for this Sunday.  I will be talking about grief, grieving, mourning and how we deal with these issues in a healthy way.  Jesus has some very short and helpful words in the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." There is scholarly speculation whether this mourning is about personal sin or personal loss.  My take is it is both, but Sunday I will focus on the second ... dealing with loss.  This is why I love the poetry of the lyrics to "Every December Sky" which touch my heart and help me to see past the veil of death to "the spring inside the trees."

As I watch life unfold I marvel at how small we make God and the spirit God has placed inside His treasure, people.  We grieve like God didn't see this coming.  We, rather than mourn, often think that death is an end even God cannot overcome.  The song below reminds us ... 1) there is spring inside the trees ... 2) we must sometimes trust God's nature and promises rather than the difficult vision of a dying friend ... 3) we are invited to God's paradise (for all who say yes to God) ... 4) heaven isn't far away, it is close and we will be provided for even there.  Here is my favorite part ... we can look around us and see the assurance of God in every vision of beauty He shows us.

As I write today my friend and Assistant Leah Manning is mourning the imminent loss of her mother.  There will be lots of tears but God will bless and comfort them.  There will be stories (also part of mourning) and God will bless the hearts of the tellers and the hearers.  There will be outbursts of emotion, and God will provide grace and understanding to those mourners who seek Him.  Because if we mourn in the context of God's nurture we truly will receive comfort and the answer to the 'why' that so permeates out thoughts at these difficult times.  The answer to 'why' is a God who, in the midst of loss, tells us it is well with our soul.  He truly has it under control so that death and the toils of life truly have no sting for those who call on Him.  Praise God!

Every December sky must lose it's faith in leaves and dream of the spring inside the trees.
How heavy the empty heart, how light the heart that's full.
Sometimes I have to trust what I can't know ... sometimes I have to trust what I can't know

We walk into Paradise; the angels lend us shoes.
'Cause all that we own, we'll come to lose,
And Heaven is not so far, outside this womb of words.
With every rose that blooms, my soul is assured
It's just like a song I've known yet still unheard.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Kiosk is Coming

OK ... many of you are asking ... what?  Has Pastor Randy gone crazy (those of you who didn't already think that)?  But, upon approval by our Finance Team ... kiosk is coming!  What am I talking about?

Here is the background.  At a conference I attended a speaker asked about 1,000 people a question.  "How many of you have your checkbook?"  Five people raised their hand.  Then he asked, "How many of you have $200 in your wallet?"  Another five people.  Then he asked, "How many of you have less than $20 cash?" A solid majority.  To further make a point, I stood in line at a convenience store today and three people in front of me, all spending less than $10, used debit cards to pay for their purchase.

Fact is, the world is changed.  We are in a debit-card society and we sit in church beside people who pay most of their bills online, many of their recurring bills by automatic withdrawal and look with puzzlement at the traditional offering plate wondering what to do.

Tonight I met with the 14% Team of Good News.  The name comes from a statistic that only 14% of churches (from a survey of 1,079 churches) are exceeding their budgets.  We need to be in that 14%, not for financial reasons but because we want to do all the ministry God is calling Good News to do.  Truly, all we do ... every meeting, every plan, every expense, every move we make ... should be focused on making disciples of Jesus who know God, love God and serve God.  So ... the kiosk is coming.

The kiosk is simply a computer that allows us (any and all of us) to give online right at church ... right in the narthex ... and in the way that our current society handles their money.  It meets our people where they are and is the offering plate of this current age.  We will be able to give to a mission, the building fund, the regular budget ... and we will be able to do this in the same way we give to any cause on the planet.  We will still be able to go to the Good News website and give (we can all do this right now ... just click on online giving from the website and follow instructions ... if you get lost or confused call Leah at 850-622-9191).  But if we want to give to the Wednesday night dinner fund ... a special mission project ... an appeal for giving to a specific fund ... or just do your weekly, monthly or annual giving, you will be able to do it all right at church.

For the naysayers (there will be some) I will quote a very traditional song that has the following lyrics (words I have sung many times) "To serve this present age, my calling to fulfill).  Jesus told stories using agricultural and herdsman terminology ... He spoke to His present age.  John (in the Revelation) used the metaphoric language of Hebrew apocalyptic literature.  Paul understood that to communicate was to speak the language and step into the culture you were trying to reach.  So ... the kiosk is coming.  All I ask is your tolerance, your understanding and your willingness to allow this current generation the awesome blessing of giving to God's work in the way they do life!  Thanks for listening!  Pastor Randy

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Job Description

It is interesting to look at Biblical text from a variety of views.  I am reading Matthew 10 and it could be viewed as a job description of sorts.  It describes the job ahead ... the compensation ... the challenges ... the authority under which the work is done ... warnings about how the job will be evaluated by both the friendly and unfriendly ... it describes impossible tasks and both rewards and punishment of doing the job right.  Paul might (in 1 Corinthians 2) describe this job description as part of God's foolishness that is contra to everything worldly and in tune with everything Godly.  If you read the job description you might think "Why would anyone agree to do that?"

So it is with those who would be Christ followers.  I have a friend in Montgomery who is involved with youth ministry.  She doesn't get paid well ... she doesn't get much support ... she isn't appreciated like she probably deserves ... but she continues.  Why?  Because she loves the kids and she has a servant heart. I have talked lots with those in youth ministry and have found that my friend is the rule ... not the exception.  This scenario is happening all around the country and is epidemic.  As I read Matthew 10 it ends with a phrase that convicts me ... "And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded." Matthew 10:42.  When I think about "the least of these" our youth come to mind.  They are seeking God ... they are asking questions ... they are hungry and thirsty to hear the Good News of God's Word ... they often have no guidance from home ... they see the world around them and (like most older folks I know) know something is wrong.  They seek ways to follow God and live in the plan God has for them but they have learned to distrust many of their adult role models.  Again, why?

I think the answer (or at least one of them) lies in Matthew 10.  They hear of a simple Gospel that leads to difficulty, hardship and even suffering ... all for a cause worth the effort.  Then they look around and see comfort ... fear of hardship ... a church that hires people to deal with the messiness of life ... and they hear everything we are saying (be careful little mouth what you say).  The fact of the matter is, they see our fear of jumping into their messiness in stark contrast to a Jesus who ran to the messiness of life (and to the messy people).

Your church will not be one of those who runs away from the messiness of our youth or of our adults.  We will be looking at creative solutions to ministering to our youth and college kids because we don't consider the do-nothing alternative a viable one.  We will do what Jesus asked when He understood that doing ministry was sometimes lonely ... "He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Matthew 9:37-38).  It is probably no accident that these are the two verses preceding Jesus sending out disciples in Matthew 10.  And it is a call to each of us who say we are followers and disciples ... to follow and disciple!  What say you?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Tomorrow I will be riding to Montgomery, Millbrook and Nashville on a mini-vacation ... then Sunday I will be preaching both services at Prattville 1st United Methodist Church in Prattville, Alabama.  It will be a bit of a homecoming and I will meet old and new friends, see my grand kids and I will miss my flock here in Santa Rosa Beach.  To get the places I am going I will be driving Lee's car and using the GPS on my phone.  Other travelers will come to these locations by bus, plane and other modes of travel.

As I was thinking about this I wondered how people reach the place where they meet and develop a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ?  For some this will be an event.  For others it will be a process that may take months or years.  In any case, it is our primary calling to lead people to that place.  My journey went a bit like this ...

When I was 9 I gave my life to Christ at a Baptist church in Charlotte.  I had little clue what that moment actually meant and received little directional guidance from that church.  Thankfully I had some home guidance that was solid and cumulative over the years.  At 34 I finally reached that place where I had the heart, head and soul knowledge that all came together in what I would call a true faith decision and I was baptized into the faith with my son and daughter in Louisiana.  I would count that as my true faith decision.  I am not alone.  John Wesley served as an Anglican pastor for years ... was a religious person ... was actually an ordained minister ... and even served as a missionary in Georgia until one day, at age 35, his heart was 'strangely warmed' and he too reached that place of salvation and conversion.  Millions have come to know Jesus because of what God did with John Wesley, and his conversion is directly connected to my conversion as we share similar experiences in our conversion/salvation experience.  But without the foundation of learning, serving, family and church I don't think either of us would have reached that place where we became the people God could use for His Kingdom work.

Some of you tell me you had different experiences and directions. While I am thankful for those who led and taught me in those early years (and I am truly thankful for Godly parents who upheld God's direction at home) I am truly indebted to a pastor named Jimmy Pyles who taught, preached, modeled and led me to a place of true faith.   He is the reason I am a pastor ... and he was a solid foundation for my family in a little church in Louisiana.  I so recall the value and necessity of those who taught me during that time I was watching, listening, learning and observing.  It is interesting ... the people that taught me the faith were not the 'religious' people who pushed me down the 'Roman Road' or fed me the Christian 'cliche' of the week.'  They were those who stopped from their busy life and taught me ... spent time with me ... engaged me in conversation ... took the time to break down theology into bite sized chunks that I could digest and save for that day when God called me.  I think John Wesley would say the same about those who influenced him.  In fact, a group of Moravians who were unafraid of God's provision during a terrible storm showed John that his faith needed a gut check.  I also believe Jesus knew this key to faith when he told amazing stories ... gave people the truth whether they wanted it or not ... and generally avoided much of the 'church-speak' we somehow believe is effective.

Are you needing direction?  God says we can come to him by bus, plane, car or on foot ... just come empty handed, empty-hearted and ready to be filled.  I, our staff and hopefully our worship will tell you the truth in a way that challenges you to process what Jesus said.  I pray that you will come (as I did when I was 34 years old) to a place of humility when I realized my path ... my direction ... my plan ... was clearly not working.  My pastor told me about a God with a plan for me and a path I could follow.  He didn't ask me to wash up before I came in the door.  He didn't profess the holiness of liturgical hoops I needed to jump through to be saved.  He just said God loved me where I was and that I didn't need to fear the journey forward ... God had a plan and a way.  Thank you, Jimmy!  You told me and showed me Jesus.  You prayed for me and my family.  You didn't feed me Christian one-liners.  You reflected Jesus to me.  I will try to do the same for my flock too!  And thank you Jesus for sending Jimmy to me right at the perfect time.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Do you want our church to be a deep, lasting, loving and difference-making influence in our community?  I know I would be honored to be used by God in that way.  But to accomplish this goal, we need depth.

As I watch both US Olympic basketball teams I see other countries with some great players.  In the games with the US they hold their own for awhile and sometimes are able to get the upper hand.  But in the end (at least most of the time) the US is relentless.  How can we do this?  We have more good players on the squad than any other team.  We have depth.

Good News has depth.  We have loads of talented adults who could be part of our ministry team.  Sunday I spoke about Paul telling Timothy to "throw yourself into the game."  Our talented adults could do this.  They could come into the game and say "How can I help us win?  How can I be a part of difference-making for children and youth?  How can God use me in the battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of our children?"  Here's the problem ... to help the the team we must join the team.  Here are some places you can make our team better ...

Be part of our Joy Club ministry on Wednesday afternoons.  With your help we will be able to serve 80+ children each week ... at current volunteer levels we will need to turn kids and families away.  In Olympic terms we have the talent to be in the podium for a medal but without depth we won't be able to make the finals in an event God has appointed us to win.

So ... you aren't into children?  OK ... become a volunteer with our youth.  They will challenge you, grow you, frustrate you and bless you with their view of life and the world.  Our Youth Pastor is three volunteers short ... yet we know God has called us to field a winning team.  We have lots to do ... just not many willing to be used and be the doers.  Our depth needs your help.

I write this blog knowing that some of you will say "Yes ... somebody should help but I am so busy ... I sure hope someone helps Josh and Dayna."  Some of you will say (with your inaction) what is said so often throughout our county ... our state ... our country.  I would rather be home watching someone else invest and sacrifice for the 'win.'  I'll stay on the sidelines while others try to win one for the home team.

I want to leave you with a verse and a question.  The verse follows Jesus sending out his 'team' called disciples.  People liked the team and wanted to be part of the team, but on their terms.  Jesus knew that to have a 'team' He needed people who were willing to invest ... be led by the team leader ... be followers ... be willing to be used however they were going to be most useful to the overall goal.  I won't add commentary here ... I just ask you to think about how God would like to use you.  Here are Jesus' words from Luke ...
"As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 NLT

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Team Effort

As I watched the Olympics today I marveled at the events that involved teams.  Rowing ... volleyball ... basketball ... swimming relays ... even gymnastics.  Each person is a part of the event and each person's contribution is important.  Each person must pull their weight if victory is to be achieved.  Check this out:

"God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful" 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 The Message

As I read this passage it reminds me of the team concept.  I love the part that says "each person is given something to do that shows what God is."  As I think about this I am reminded of the team effort we saw in church this morning ... if you missed it you missed a blessing of adults, youth and children modeling worship and showing us little reflections of God.  If you were there you know exactly what I am talking about.  I wonder ... what would our team ... our expression of God's goodness ... be like if we all played our part ... were present in the place to which we are called ... were actively saying, "What can I do today to make this the most amazing Sunday worship ever!"  One of our members said to me one day "If your pastor asks you to do something , you say yes if at all possible."  OK ... your pastor is asking you to do something. Honor God by participating in your church wherever possible ...using your gifts ... asking how you can be used by God.  The old song says ... "Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me, Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me."  I think God would really be honored if we sang that song and really meant the lyrics.  What do you think?  Pastor Randy

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Thrill of Victory

This Sunday kicks off our series on looking at Scriptural references to athletics.  We are both acknowledging the Olympics and remembering the numerous illustrations in God's Word about applying athletic principles to our faith journey (or race).  But we will be careful that our words will not stray from the meaning and application of Scripture.
When I was growing up I remember the commercial for the ABC Wide World of Sports (also what they ran for the Olympics) was "The Thrill of Victory ... the Agony of Defeat."  I always liked the video they ran for the agony part of the equation.  It was a dude crashing off the end of a ski jump.  It made me always note in my mind never to get on a ski jump ... this way I would avoid the agony part.
But I want this series (which will run until the week after school begins) to be positive so I will be speaking about the things we can do to be victorious in our faith ... in our lives ... in our walk (or race) of life.  The Bible has a lot to say about this and has lots of solid advice and applications which will help those of us who run the race slow or those who run fast.  To "kick" this off I am sending a link to a Max Lucado book called "You Are Special" (  ).  It will take you 10 minutes to read.  Will you invest 10 minutes in learning how you can live as a victor in a 'victim-mentality' world?  In the book the characters deal with some very real life issues.  Some characters in the book receive accolades for being fast, pretty, strong or being able to jump high.  Others receive bad marks (dots) that identify them as inferior, guilty, of poor quality, and losers.  I love the advice this book gives the main character ... "Go to your maker and find out what He thinks about you."  The Psalms use the word "refuge" 23 times, telling us that we have a place to go when we need victory over the things we face in life.  One of these (below) tells us a place of hope when we are surrounded on all sides and oppressed.  We go to our refuge (God) and to a source of hope (God's Word).

Psalm 119:114 ... "You are my refuge and my shield;  your word is my source of hope."

Read the Psalm.  Read Max Lucado's short story (and don't be too proud to read what you may think is a children's story).  Think about the characters in the Bible and in the story.  Which character are you now?  Which character do you think God desires you to be?  I believe that the thrill of victory isn't as far away as you think.  Scripture (Romans 10:8) says that God's Word is near ... that it abides on the lips of His people and in the hearts of the faithful.  It is not far away where we cannot see it or reach it.  It is a present help in times of trouble.  For victory, I encourage you to go there.  Listen ... hear ... follow ... live ... be victorious!  Pastor Randy

Friday, July 6, 2012

Freedom to What?

Paul has a way of putting things that gets our attention.  This may be because of his brashness and directness.  It may be because he was of impeccable (in his day) scholarly/apostolic pedigree.  It may be because Paul endured much for the faith and his 'dues' are meaningful to those of us who appreciate hard work.  But I think the major reason Paul's words enter our hearts is that the Holy Spirit has imparted these Scriptural words with both authority and life ... the life breathed by God about our Savior Jesus.

This month as we study the concept of freedom it is worth looking at several directions to this freedom thing.  We have talked about being given freedom from the bondage of the law ... freedom from the thousands of Pharisaical rules ... freedom from Satan's accusations that bring guilt (though not from the conviction of the Holy Spirit) ... freedom from a life directed at self ... freedom from the idols of our time ... and freedom from death that brings eternal separation from God.  Today I want to share a short verse from Paul's writings that tell us we are free from bondage of the popular so that we are free to live in the beauty of God's Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 10:23 says ... "You say, “I am allowed to do anything”, but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial."  I saw a paraphrase of this on a t-shirt that said, "Everything that is popular is not profitable ... everything that is profitable is not popular."  I liked the way the shirt gets to the essence of Paul's words.  In our area there is incredible pressure to seek and be popular.  There are events, places, and people that are "must see."  I ask why?  Why are we so drawn to shadows of life when we are offered life itself from our Savior?  Why should being seen in the right place be better than living life under the protective wing of Jesus?

I was our with my nephew last week as we paddled along a creek in Walton County.  What we saw couldn't be bought.  Last Sunday one of our young families brought their 4 month old son to church for the first time.  He smiled up at me and I shared a priceless moment.  I spoke on the phone with a lady who was about to lose her only brother.  She would have given up every fashionable event ... every posh meal ... every celebrity sighting ... for some more time with her brother.  We settle for too few of those moments when we really have a chance to live, selling them out to a world that offers fireworks that explode and vanish into thin air.  Maybe we should take another look at the popular and look closely to see if those pastimes are worth the value we place upon them.  After all ... everything that is popular isn't profitable!  Pastor Randy

Monday, July 2, 2012

Long Road

It seems that we live in a push-button world (or probably more a 'mouse-click' world).  We want to look it up quickly.  We seek and find a website that affirms what we think so we dig deeper into a hole that takes us nowhere.  Dr. Ben Witherington addressed this in a conversation and stated that we live in a time where our informational access is a million miles wide and an inch deep.  He also stated that we are in unprecedented (at least in the modern era) time of Biblical illiteracy. 

Let me flesh this out.  By informational shallowness I mean that there are ideas and theories that are offered with little scholarly backup just because people like what they say.  Rob Bell's assertion that hell (in the classical sense) does not exist ... he just likes a God that doesn't do that sort of thing.  A book on Hebrews is being circulated that asserts that the author really didn't mean that the Jewish sacrificial system was inadequate and superseded by Christ ... the 'new' idea (which in the early Church was called heresy) is that God somehow was mistaken over this idea that Jesus was a 'once for all' sacrifice that is totally sufficient and totally complete (Jesus' words from the cross ... "it is completed/fulfilled/finished").  Both 'new' ideas are really not new (the early Church called them false teachings and heretical).  They accept the popular but put aside the real/correct/Scriptural concept.

By Biblical illiteracy I am suggesting that few are critically looking at Scripture and listening for what God said to the original audience and what God (thus) is saying to us.  I have a friend who claims to have been given special revelation from the Holy Spirit, therefore shutting down any argument about scholarship ... real meanings ... historical context ... and what that Scripture really means to people living in 2012.  Fact is, when we are honest about seeking God's truth, that truth does not change over time ... as The Revelation states, we worship the God who was, is and is to come.  As a conclusion to our teaching on essentials and an expression of what the early Church wrote down as 12 (interesting number) concepts that were essential for new believers, here is the Apostles Creed.  It reminds us (all from Scripture) what is truly foundational:
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: GOD CREATED IT ALL
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: GOD PROVIDED A SAVIOR
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: THE SAVIOR WAS FULLY GOD AND FULLY/PERFECTLY HUMAN
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: THE PERFECT SACRIFICE WAS MADE
5. The third day he rose again from the dead: GOD DEFEATED HELL/DEATH ... HE IS RISEN
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: JESUS IS EXALTED AND RESIDES WITH THE FATHER
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead: JESUS IS RULER
9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints: THERE IS ONE CHURCH WHICH IS UNIVERSALLY UNDER GOD'S AUTHORITY, PROVISION, POWER AND CARE
While the road back to our foundation might be long, it is not impossible if we stick to essentials, give grace on the non-essentials and calling false teachings what they are ... false, rebellious and divisive.  What do you think?  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Freedom's Source

In September, 1774, the fathers of our nation met in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress.  It was a difficult and challenging time.  Emotions (I am sure) ran high and this time the stakes were even higher.  Would a new nation be born?  Would this land called America be a free people?  George Washington and John Adams (two future presidents) were present, along with faithful patriots who were devoted to the American cause.  In there usual practice of inviting our Creator into deliberations Dr. Jacob Duche' (an Anglican minister) was asked to pray for the proceedings.  Here is the prayer he prayed ...

"O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech thee, on these our American States, who have fled to thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee, to Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give; take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved bands in the day of battle!

"Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst The people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask In the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen"

John Adams observed that this prayer and the Scripture from Psalm 35 brought tears to the eyes of the delegates.  This Psalm calls for God to deliver His faithful from the bonds of oppression and the tyranny of evil.

I (today and on Sunday) will be asking the people called Methodists in Santa Rosa Beach to devote at least five minutes to prayer for our nation and for God's power to provide freedom, provision and protection to our nation.  Also, I will ask each of you to read the prayer contained in this blog as a remembrance of God's deliverance of our nation in 1776 and as a petition for God to again bring us to His calling nationally and individually.  May we all remember that through His creation people are equal, free and endowed with rights, opportunities, dignity and potential from the God who is the author of freedom.  As we study freedom during July (sermon series) may we look at the past, the present and the future God offers those who follow Him. In Jesus' Name, Pastor Randy

Sunday, June 17, 2012

God's Grace Is Sufficient

OK ... a Methodist primer about grace ... (really not Methodist, we Methodists are just really into the subject of grace)

Grace = getting what we don't deserve from God.

Preveient Grace - God's seeking grace that precedes our conversion. (Rev. 3:20 "“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.")  God seeks people.  And He teaches us to be seekers (fishers of people) along with Him!

Justifying Grace -  God's grace that accepts those who accept Him (as Lord and Savior) and choose His path.  No pre-qualification here.  We come to God dirty, flawed, broken, and guilty.  Not by anything we do but by God's nature of grace, love and forgiveness, God chooses to make us justified before a righteous God (pretty good).  We know we are guilty and God declares us forgiven ... hey, He's God, He can do that kind of stuff.

Sanctifying Grace - This is the grace that grows us, makes us stronger in Christ and allows us to go deeper into God and God's kingdom 'on earth as it is in Heaven.'  Wesley also called this sustaining grace or perfecting because we are sustained by an attitude of pursuing God and God's disciplines (prayer, study, fasting, worship, giving, serving).

None of these types of grace are deserved or warranted by our good deeds, our good behavior, or our following of a set of rules.  We couldn't do enough to earn God's favor if we had the entire world at our command.  They simply flow from God's nature of being a giver ... a lover ... and a sower of seeds that He expects to grow.

Sunday we will work some other parts of grace, particularly that God's grace is enough to get us past/over/through all we face ... whatever life brings.

As a summary ... God seeks/calls us ... God saves us ... God grows us. Today I was reading the name of one of our praise songs ... "Lord Reign in Me."  I read it wrong and read "Lord Rein Me In."  I decided that the way I read it was so appropriate to the way we can experience God's grace ... get out of God's way and let Him work.  AMEN

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The table below is from a website called Fastest Growing Religion.  I saw some shaking heads when I said that Christianity was, indeed, the fastest growing religion.  I am pretty sure that part of the reason for the doubt is that most of us see the world in the context of America ... which I continue to believe is the greatest nation on earth.  But in saying this I believe America does have some serious spiritual issues.  While Christianity is growing like wildfire in South America, Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, in the traditional western world (America, Europe, Australia) that growth is not happening.  I know some of you would like to take me to task on this and argue the point but I will not be participating in such an argument.  The better questions might be "why?" and/or "what should we do?"  John Wesley would say "Offer them Christ."  Billy Graham would say "Stick to the essentials ... not our differences."  Michael Frost (noted author) would say "We are exiles who should be dealing in offering truth, essentials and intellectual honesty ... not cliches'".  Your pastor would offer the following advice ... 1) Love other people like Jesus loved people ... 2) Teach truth that flows from Biblical context ... not beliefs that are traditional yet are traditionally wrong when compared to Scripture ... 3) Relate to people where they live ... don't demand that they become like "us" (whoever "us" is) ... 4) Become more missional in our approach to ministry and 'go' rather demanding that "they" (whoever "they" are) come ... 5) stop trying to answer every scientific question with a book written to ancient Hebrews in their context ... let science pursue truth and science will eventually arrive at God's truth if the pursuit is genuine ...   6) let God and God's people be untamed by the shallow virtues of this world and filled with the deep virtues Jesus taught us ... and 7) when in doubt, see what Jesus said and go do it!

That's it for now ... love you!  Pastor Randy 

The five fastest growing religions in terms of absolute numbers (new adherents per year, in millions):
1. Christianity 25,210,195
2. Islam 22,588,676
3. Hinduism 12,533,734
4. Chinese folk-religions 3,715,548
5. Buddhism 3,687,527