Monday, April 1, 2013


Last week I sat in my recliner thinking of all the good outdoor things I would do this Spring.  kayaking, cycling, walks, fishing ... I could go on.  But to do all those things with excellence some preparation is needed.  For my prep, I sat in my chair going through the things in my backpack, making sure I had all the things I would need.  A good knife, fishing lures, waterproof bags for clothes and cell phone, a change of clothing, maps, and other useful items are part of my outdoor tool kit.  But the outdoor stuff isn't the most important thing I am doing.  Jesus, just after His resurrection, gave us all a command called the Great Commission.  The command said we were to go into all the world, preaching and baptising new disciples, teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28).

This brings me to our new Wednesday evening series.  It will be called "Backpack" and we will be looking at all we need to do, all we need to know and all we need to have to be prepared for making and being disciples.  Specifically we will learn:
       - What is being a disciple all about?
       - What is making disciples all about?
       - How can I make the Bible real to me and to those I am talking to?
       - How do I tell others about the Church and specifically my church?
       - What are the most important things to know about the Old and New Testaments?
       - How are these "basics" tied to United Methodist beliefs?
In essence we will study our backpack, what important things are in our backpack and how we can use our backpack to do what God has asked us to do, namely MAKE DISCIPLES.

I hope you will be part of this study.  If you are wondering about tying basic United Methodist beliefs to Scripture, wondering what being a disciple is all about, wondering how to study your Bible more effectively, wondering about the true nature of the Church, wondering how God can use someone like you in His amazing plan, then this is your time to gather, learn and prepare for what God wants for you.  Get ready to pack your bags and journey with Jesus!  Come every Wednesday for the rest of the Spring (6:30pm after pot luck dinner ... every week except April 24th till May 15th [last pot luck dinner for the Spring]).  I will be using, as a basic resource, Francis Chan's new book, Multiply ... grab a copy if you like and, of course, the Bible.  See you Wednesday!  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Caught Up

Isn't it easy to get caught up in things?  Some of us are caught up in March Madness, the phenomenon of the NCAA basketball championship tournament.  I will admit to loving this tournament and I have, over the years, invested time and energy into watching both on TV and in person.  Some are caught up in getting ready to see the Master's golf tournament, thinking that watching this beautiful setting is a sure sign of spring (I sure need that mental picture as I write this in my office, in a sweater I should not be wearing in Florida this time of year).  Some are caught up in spring cleaning and getting their house ready for the influx of visitors who will surely be coming their way.

Pastors, on this week of the year, are caught up in preparation, prayer, details, writing, reading and thinking about one of the biggest weeks of the year.  But as I run from task to task, I can't help but think about what Jesus was "caught up" in during that eventful week about 2,000 years ago.  Sunday we talked about the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) in which a city/nation (according to Jesus) had missed the chance to see their Messiah, enjoy His peace and receive a "visitation from God."  That should convict us and challenge us this week. 

Thursday we (as Jesus did) will experience the somber giving of the cup of the New Covenant in which Jesus presents Himself as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He does this at His expense (we should hear 'Jesus Paid it All' playing in the background of our minds).  I hope you will come and receive the bread and the cup (the table is open to all who come in the name of the Lord) ... we have a few special surprises planned and I hope you will be there to allow God to stop your being 'caught up' so you can become captured by the Savior, His message and His call to "do this in remembrance of me."  The service Thursday is called "Maundy Thursday" because Jesus mandated this as a time to remember what He had done, was doing and is still doing as He truly does "take away the sins of the world."

And I cannot even imagine what Jesus was experiencing on that first Easter morning.  What is it like to be resurrected?  What was it like to see the faces of friends and disciples who thought you were dead?  I'll bet that it was an amazing experience to be caught up in that!

This Sunday I hope you will all come and be 'caught up' in Easter.  The Church (that is all of us who believe in Jesus and are part of His called-out people) are called "Easter People" because every Sunday we worship God in the context of a 'little Easter.'  Of all things we get 'caught up' in, Easter is worthy of our time, our interest, our attention, our giving, our singing, our fellowship and our passion.  I pray God will bring you into the house of the Lord and let us, together, tell the old, old story that is as true today as it was when Jesus left the tomb.  For in Him we find a Savior full of life, love and hope for a lost world.  Hallelujah, He is Risen!   Pastor Randy

Monday, March 18, 2013

Never Too Late

Lee and I spent the day Saturday at the arts festival in Fairhope, Alabama.  It was a task we do each year in preparation for the Arts Quest sponsored by the Cultural Arts Alliance (Lee works there).  You know how I am not a fan of the cliche' but I saw a little art card that had a saying I really liked. It said, "It is never too late to live happily ever after."  For the secular person, this is cute but there is little substance behind it. How can we live happily ever after if the world and this present darkness is all we have.  But for the Christian, I like this thought a lot.

I deal with pople in the throes of life's struggles.  A family member hs died.  A woman is beginning a new life differently than she had planned.  Finances are tight and there seems to be no way out.  I have so much on my plate and I cannot see my way out, past or over what I face.  I am struggling!

As I look at all of these problems I then look at the journey of our Savior.  Chased from Jerusalem under threst of death.  Demanding people all around.  Disciples who have spent three years learning what seems to be almost nothing.  A nation expecting a cnquering king ... something I am not about to deliver.  And even my Father isn't giving me the whole story (confirmed by Jesus prayer at Gethsamane).  So I journey to face what seems like a certain death and I am expected to be obedient in the face of jeers, torture, disbeief and taunting (''come down off that cross if you have any power'').

But, as the old African-American preacher said ... "Sundays a comin!"  Yes ... there is a happily ever after.  But the paradox is, the ones who should be happy are messed up, sinful people like you and me.  "Because (as the song says) He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone, because I know I have a future, and life is worth the living, just because He lives."  When I read the Gospel story one more time I am reminded that my problems are in the hands of someone who has, with his own blood, purchased my "happily ever after" to be spent with Jesus in the place He has prepared.  So ... I will get past to struggles of today knowing that God has provided and is providing for my future and my present ... and He has (thankfully) forgiven my past.  So today ... I can begin again.  That's Good News!  Randy

Monday, March 11, 2013


I gotta admit that I have an innate ability to do clumsy things.  One of those things I am particularity gifted at is stumbling.  This usually happens on a cold evening when I am walking in the dark and hit my toe on a hard object causing the maximum amount of pain.  OUCH!

Some things make us stumble.  This can apply to our physical clumsiness and our spiritual clumsiness.  Paul describes this in several places when he talks about how we (and people in general) stumble over things that essentially keep us from knowing God.  In 1 Corinthians 1 he writes: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength." [v: 22-25 NRSV].  As I read these words I think over the many discussions I have had in my years of ministry.  I have talked with the scientist who needs proof of everything ... but how do you prove the existence of love?  I have pondered questions of the faith with philosophers ... but how do you describe faith since faith is unseen?

Michael Card puts it in an interesting way in the song, God's Own Fool ...

So come lose your life for a carpenter's son
For a madman who died for a dream
And you'll have the faith His first followers had
And you'll feel the weight of the beam
So surrender the hunger to say you must know
Have the courage to say I believe
For the power of paradox opens your eyes
And blinds those who say they can see

What do you think?

Pastor Randy

Monday, March 4, 2013

Are You a Practicing Christian?

I've got to tell you that over the last year my golf game has become pretty bad.  Most of you really aren't concerned about this and I am not bent out of shape about it.  It is just a fact.  When I began to think about why my game is so bad I came up with several valid reasons.  First, I don't play much.  You can't be good at something if you just think about it but never do it.  Second, I don't practice.  If practice makes perfect then no practice makes me as imperfect as I can be.  Finally, my thoughts have not been about golf lately.  So, let's see ... I don't engage the game mentally or physically but expect my scores to be the same as they were when I was more attentive to golf.

How about my faith?  Do I treat it the same?  Do I engage God's Word daily?  Do I meditate on the Scriptures as the Bible demands?  Do I practice my faith by applying what I have learned?  You see where I am going with this.

In our Lenten study about grace we have learned that God pursues and draws us to Himself even before we know He exists.  This is prevenient grace that leads us toward God and covers us when we are to young or mentally unable to know God.  Then, there is God's saving grace that (when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior) makes me justified before a Holy God even though I am much less than holy.  This week we will be speaking about another grace which can be summarized as growing in Christ.  This grace, sanctifying grace, grows us up as Christians.  We study God's Word.  We serve God.  We give to God's work.  We love people that God has sent.  We pray, fast, partake in the sacraments and we allow God's means of grace to lead us forward and upward toward what Paul called 'the goal.'

I won't get better at golf without physical and mental practice.  We won't grow as Christians without engaging our faith physically, mentally and spiritually.  If we love God with our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, what else can we do?

Pastor Randy

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


When we read the term 'saved' what do we think?  I have heard some say that 'saved' means praying the salvation prayer at the altar.  Some think being saved is having an overwhelming feeling of God's Spirit telling us that our sins are forgiven and that we are children of God.  Some think that we will all be saved and that somehow all of this life is 'washed out' by God's desire to bring all people to heaven.  Some don't think of salvation at all and feel that we live life, do good deeds, and that this life is the beginning and end of our existence.  Truly there are so many permutations of this idea of salvation that I could write entire books about the options.  And isn't it amusing that in formulating our idea of salvation, we often leave out the only opinion that counts ... God's!

Sunday we will examine a grace called Justifying Grace.  Justifying Grace is God's free (but not cheap) gift to us where a good and perfect God chooses (not on our merits but because of His goodness) to provide a way of reconciliation with Him.  That way is named Jesus ... the sinless man who dies as a sacrifice for all sins.  We are reconciled to God by Jesus and are 'justified' by His act of love, forgiveness and life-giving sacrifice.  We are both saved from what we have done and saved to a life of service and devotion to the one we call Lord and Savior.  This grace is better than mercy (not getting what we deserve) and better than justice (getting what we deserve).  It is, in fact, getting something good that we don't deserve.

One point I will make both today and Sunday is one thing salvation is not.  Francis Chan asks if Jesus' life, death and resurrection was all so we could go down to an altar or attend a 'mountain-top' camp, pray a prayer and then live life as if our ticket is assured for the heavenly banquet Jesus speaks of in Scripture?  He makes the point that we often treat that moment as the end of a journey ... not the beginning of a journey.  We cheapen the life in Christ to a moment in time ... not a life of following.

Maybe this is why we have so many church people who dutifully attend services but do not participate in His service.  Maybe this is why we have a nation full of people who say they are 'Christians' but so little 'Christ.'  Maybe this is why many non-Christians love Jesus and have animosity toward the Church.  Maybe it is why many in the Church are worried about how holy we look instead of being humbled by how lowly we are.  Maybe this is why we want our expectations met in Church but are unconcerned about the expectations of Jesus.

John the Baptist placed himself in this place of awe, humility and servant-hood when he saw Jesus and said "He must increase and I must decrease [John 3:30 NRSV]."  Maybe life in Christ is a perpetual process of us becoming less, Jesus becoming more ... until all that is left looks like Him.  That doesn't sound like an event, a momentary emotion or a mountaintop profession ... it sounds like a journey.  Pastor Randy

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Things

God's Word uses this phrase many times.  In Isaiah God says through the prophet  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)."  God is into new things and there are several new things I would love for you to support, pray for and embrace as part of God's New Things at Good News.

On Sunday, February 17th the Contemporary Adult class (meeting in Classroom 1 at 10am, upstairs in the Worship Center Building, left at the top of the stairs) will begin a study called "Parental Guidance Required."  The study will be all about parenting and reminds us that the only instruction manual that is given regarding our children is God's Word.  All parents are invited to come, fellowship, laugh, love and learn together.

On Sunday, February 24th at 7pm Good News will be adding a 3rd service geared to our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters in the Santa Rosa Beach area.  The service will be led by Fredy Iscano, one of our Certified Lay Speakers at Good News.  Fredy will preach God's Word with our unified mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ who know God, love God and serve God.  Jesus and His cross will be lifted high.

Both of these new things are part of the Strategic Plan for Good News and are geared to reflect God's love through our congregation and out into the community.  We hope to show people Jesus Christ to help all people grow more like Him through worship, missions, service, fellowship, love and prayer.  By doing this our goal is to be used by God to reproduce this process and multiply His plan, purpose, grace and love in our community and around the world.

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19 NIV)."  Isaiah tells us that we need to open our eyes to perceive that God doesn't need pristine and fertile soil to do His good work.  Because He makes a way in the wilderness and causes springs to rise up in the wasteland.  May it be so here!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Eclectic ... that is a word I would use to describe the unique nature of Good News.  We have a diversity of people from all over the place and a diversity of ideas that are far from homogenous.  We are tall and short, thin and not-so-thin, serious and funny, different skin tones, different home towns and different interests.  We have traveled many different paths to get to this place where Jesus reigns and God's Word is respected and taught.  It is interesting that this point came forward in a meeting tonight where we discussed past, present and future ministries of Good News.

It is crystal clear that we are diverse, so the question is, what brings us together?  In another meeting with Audrey and Lisa (music) I think we happened upon the thing that pulls us and holds us in this place where we serve side-by-side with people from all walks of life.  It is described in the words of a song:

We are one in the Spirit, We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity, May one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians,  By our love, By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians, By our love

We will walk with each other,  We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, We will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news, That God is in our land

And they'll know we are Christians,  By our love, By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians, By our love

We will work with each other, We will work side by side
We will work with each other, We will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity, And save each one's pride
And they'll know we are Christians,  By our love, By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians, By our love

All praise to the Father, From whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus His only son
And all praise to the Spirit, Who makes us one
And they'll know we are Christians,  By our love, By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians, By our love

Jesus' last prayer was for our unity.  Let it be so Lord!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning from the Master

In the early 1900's Edward Thorndike posed a theory of learning known as connectionism.  The basic idea of the theory is that we learn as the brain compiles information from stimulus, forms neural networks, files these bits of information away and then recompiles them into learned information.  Learning is reinforced by repeating the process (we exercise our memories by repetition), by positive or negative reinforcement (a good outcome strengthens the learned information and a negative outcome weakens the 'connection') and by how ready/willing (by our passion to grasp the data or by learning in an environment that is conducive to learning) we are to actually learn.  I know this learning theory might seem a bit distant from what I usually write in my blog, but bear with me.

I will avoid the educational theory but when you think about it, God gives us His Son and His Word to teach us.  He is "training up His children in the way we should go" so that when we are older we will return to it (God's path).  God is truly into teaching, but how is His teaching different from what we usually experience?  Most of us grew up in a western educational system that basically gives us information which places knowledge in our heads.  That knowledge changes what we know and is very 'head-oriented" by nature.  Hebrew teaching/learning is very different in it's goal.  Jesus was a great example of the Hebrew process.  Jesus provided information but didn't leave it there.  His information was often given to us in a story that we must listen to and process.  Part of the learning was the effort involved with placing out mind into the picture that he is showing us.  It requires more than just storing information.  In fact, the Hebrew learning process makes the learner repeat and reprocess the information because we must roll it over in our minds and replay the story/picture.  Then, after the story, Jesus would give us a principle, sometimes as a question (i.e., "which one of these was a neighbor?" [in the story of the good Samaritan]) and then a command for action/application (same story, "Go thou and do likewise").  The learner, in order to get to the end of the learning process, must apply the truth and see what happens.  The goal of the information, then, is the change in behavior (rather than the changed information in our brains).

When I look at this I believe this is why I see so many Bible studies, so many opportunities to learn and so little changed behavior.  It is why I see us resist things that Jesus would have assumed as basic, God-led behavior (like tithing, caring for our neighbor, love for our parents, etc.).  Our knowledge, if we are true to our faith, needs to begin to settle into our behavior or we haven't truly learned from the Biblical perspective.  I don't know about you, but I will spend some time trying to apply the things I have learned ... then maybe I will begin to be molded by the God who teaches.  I, for one, want to become a better student who applies his knowledge rather than keeping it in my head.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Most Freeing Thing Ever

I see a lot of people in various stages of bondage.  They are bound by substances, choices, other people, jobs, relationships and all manners of external things.  But there is one thing ... one thing that is truly a Messianic promise ... that can help in each of these circumstances and give us freedom wherever we are physically located.  It is the most freeing thing ever!

Jesus continues to speak to us as He reads from Isaiah's scroll from Luke, Chapter 4.  Jesus tells us He has been anointed to "preach Good News to the poor."  Then Jesus says, "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind."  Sunday we will break this down further, but for the purposes of our blog, let's focus on "recovery of sight to the blind."  This is a loaded statement that deserves a bit of unpacking.  First, let's look at recovery.  You recover something you once had but somehow have lost.  I believe this describes all of God's people who have been made in the image and likeness of God.  We have been given the ability to see and perceive spiritual things ... a sense of the spiritual realm that is real but suppressed by this world in which we live.  We are often told that somehow what we see every day is all that there is but deep down each of us knows and senses something bigger, greater and more real.  St. Augustine called this a God-shaped hole in our heart that can only be filled by God-stuff.  Carolyn Arends, in her song "Reaching" says:

"And later lying in the dark, I felt a stirring in my heart
And though I longed to see what could not be seen
I still believed

I guess, I shouldn't think it odd, Until we see the face of God
The yearning deep within us tells us, There's more to come

So when we taste of the divine, It leaves us hungry every time
For one more taste of what awaits, When Heaven's Gates are reached"

We long for a relationship and connection to God and, in its absence, try to fill that space with the inadequate things of this world.

But we don't just recover something lost ... as we grow spiritually we open our eyes and see what was there when we were blind.  We see colors we never knew existed.  We see beauty that only connection to God can reveal.  And, and here is the most freeing thing ever ... we see ourselves clearly.  All of our warts (and this is painful) and all of our beauty (this is almost too good to be true).  One of my professors rightly talked about this trait of the "likeness of God" as transcendence.  It is the ability to step outside of ourselves and see ourselves and others clearly.  We honestly see our own motives.  We see our situations as they actually are ... not as we would like to imagine them.  We see our children as real people with real issues but also amazing beauty and promise.  We see our lives clearly and become able to tweak, make adjustments and make real change (something impossible in the delusional world of blindness).  And a church full of 1st century Jews are hearing Jesus read this beautiful promise and they have the chance to see themselves clearly as He reads and then teaches.

As I said, we will unpack this further Sunday, but I will leave you with a question.  How did those Jews react?  Did they leave enlightened and seeing, or did they leave blind?  How will you leave Sunday?  Will you learn from the one they called 'Teacher' or will you continue to live in the fog ... never becoming the transcendent creature you were created to be?  Good questions I think!  Pastor Randy

Monday, January 7, 2013


Sunday we will examine a word that most of us don't like.  The word is "poor."  What do you think of when you hear the word "poor?"

Some of us think of those who have made bad choices and have ended up in poverty.  Some desire to help this group.  Some say, "They made their bed ... now let them sleep in it."  Some feel duty bound to help the poor but they help reluctantly and suspiciously, feeling that the poor are dishonest and always out to scam the system.  Some just want to ignore this version of the poor.  The question for us is ... how does Jesus lead us to treat the poor.

Another version of "poor" is the poor in spirit (from the beatitudes).  We have been taught that these are folks who might be beat down by life and beat up by others (sounds like most of us to me).  Often we view these people as weak or unable to handle their own business.  What does Jesus say about them?

Both instances use the word Ptochos which in the Greek means "poor and helpless ... one who needs lifting."  The idea is that both groups cannot make it on their own strength ... they essentially do not have the capacity (without God) to navigate life and get to the place god has prepared without God's help.  I like that definition.  It describes all who understand our real dilemma in life ... we cannot (on our own power) get from our sin-filled and spiritually poor life to God's place where He makes all things new.  It highlights the idea that when the praise band sings the song, "All the Poor and Powerless" the words describe the condition we must be in to receive what God has for us.

I meet too many people who say, "I can handle my on stuff ... God helps those who help themselves ... we can fix our own situation ... we are self-sufficient."  The problem I see every day is ... these fixes don't work and at the end of the day we are left with useless cliches that contain none of God's power, forgiveness and provision.  As I have seen life play our in so many families, self-sufficient is not sufficient at all!  Jesus might say, "Come and I will give you living water from a well that never runs dry."  Sounds like a good plan to me!