January 6, 2017

“No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Jeremiah 31:33 (CEB)

One of the gifts I received this Christmas was an engraved metal tumbler made by a company named RTIC. It is one of the specialty tumblers that keeps things cool, or hot, far longer than I ever imagined possible. The engraving on the tumbler is simply “PT.” As I mentioned in one of my messages recently, this is one of the names I am known by around St. Andrew’s and The Florida Conference. I love the gift and I love even more that it is engraved with these letters. It means that I am the owner of the tumbler and no one else should use it. But to me it also means a lot more.

I also love this gift because of the givers. My wife and daughters gave me the tumbler for Christmas. I not only love the tumbler because of what is engraved on the outside. I love the tumbler because what is engraved on the outside represents the ones who had it engraved. This is what makes it special to me. The thought of going the extra step of having the gift personalized means that there is something special about me to my family. It means that there is something they love about the name by which I am known. It adds to the gift and makes it that much more meaningful to me.

The Scripture verse above is from The Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah the prophet is told by God that there will be a new covenant with the people of Israel. God will no longer write his laws on tablets of stone. God says the laws will be within them, engraved on their hearts. How amazing it that? God’s instructions for the people of Israel would be internalized as a unique engraving upon their hearts. Just as my example above, even more so, what is engraved is God’s very own instructions. What makes these instructions so special is the One who is doing the engraving. God sees every person in Israel as important and engraves on each individual heart the instructions God has for them.

In our experience God engraves the same instructions on our heart in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. God the Father has created us in the image of God (Imago Dei), Jesus Christ the Son has saved us from our sin, and the Holy Spirit comforts and guides us in the ways of God. We still have these instructions within us and engraved on our hearts. We can know how to follow God fully and how to obey God’s instructions because of the Holy Spirit indwelling in the heart of every follower.

This Sunday we will be discussing the message Servant Leadership. I believe that this principle of an engraved heart is crucial to being a servant leader. I can’t wait to share this with you Sunday. There are great things coming for St. Andrew’s in 2017 and it’s an exciting time. The best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see you in church!

December 30, 2016

“What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

I love the reality of a New Year beginning. It is the time when one year has finished and put in the books. You can close the door on the old year and swing wide the door of the New Year and the clean slate that it represents. The fears and failures of the old year make way to the hopes and dreams of the New Year. I truly love the New Year coming and all the opportunities and possibilities it brings. I hope that you are able to look at the New Year with hope and promise.

The start of a New Year always reminds me of the words The Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth. He told them that everything that Christ had done for them means that they have a new beginning. They are absolutely not the same anymore. Their new life has begun. What an awesome reality in our faith life. When we receive God’s gift of grace by placing faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our life, we are made new. The old is gone, G-O-N-E, and we are made new.

I have shared that this Scripture absolutely is what happened to me. I was made new. It wasn’t just that some of my behaviors changed, I changed. I was a new person with a new outlook and a new heart. My new life meant that I saw people differently and treated people differently. I was able to see people the way Jesus saw them. That new life has been growing and evolving and maturing for over 30 years now. What a life it has been.

I believe that when we place our faith in Jesus Christ that we are made new, or at least renewed, daily. It is a choice we make every single day to follow Jesus. When we confess our sins and follow Jesus fully, our sins are forgiven and we are made new. It is not necessary to our salvation to have a conversion experience over and over again. However, we can be made new by the confessing of our sins daily. God is faithful to forgive our sins when we confess them. This is a constant renewal and restoration process. New life comes and we are able to live in the new life Christ gives us.

In the New Year as you make your resolutions I want to encourage you to commit to daily renewal time. Commit to every morning confessing the sins of the previous day, recommitting your life to Christ, and living for Christ fully. I believe that if we will all do this every day we will experience the hope and promise of new life every day. We will be new people living fully for Christ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Let’s see what that does to our life, our family, our church, and our community. Let the new begin every day in the New Year.

This Sunday we will have ONE service at 10:00AM. Susan Lewis will deliver the message Why Our Resolutions Never Stick from Colossians 3:1-17. I can’t wait to hear what Sue has to say about this and I hope you will be there too. I wish you all a blessed New Year. This is an exciting time of new beginnings at St. Andrew’s. I can’t wait to see you in church!

December 23, 2016

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors." Luke 2:14 (NLT)

While in the airport waiting for our flight home from New York our family had a celebrity sighting. We were sitting in the area at the gate waiting for boarding to begin when a crowd of people headed toward us. There were people surrounding a young couple who were walking very fast, as if to try and outpace the crowd. As the crowd came closer we were able to make out who the couple was. It was wrestler and actor John Cena and his girlfriend. People were going crazy trying to see them and potentially talk to them and get their autograph. It was a pretty wild scene in the airport and all because of a person who has been on television.

Now before I get too spiritual on you…I can understand why people would get excited about seeing a celebrity. I have been excited to see certain famous people in my life as well. After all, we watch them in the public eye, on the big screen, on television shows and we enjoy their work. We may even develop a certain attachment to them because of who we perceive them to be. We might think they are a good person who is generous and kind, funny and likable. It is admittedly pretty cool to meet someone who is famous and talented. So I am not saying there is anything wrong with the scene we experienced in the airport. What we soon found out is that John Cena and his girlfriends were on the same flight to Tampa that we were on. So the buzz continued for the duration of the flight until we all went our separate ways after landing in Tampa.

This story came to mind as I was envisioning the night Christ was born. Stay with me here. There were shepherds out in the fields watching over their flocks in the still of the night. There were people getting ready for bed, or already asleep, at the inn in Bethlehem. There was an inn keeper who was closing the books on a good night, all of his rooms were taken. It was a sleepy night with all the normalcy of a fairly typical night in and around Bethlehem. Nothing very out of the ordinary at all.

It was into this scene that Mary and Joseph came. It was into this scene that everything was turned upside down. It was into this scene that an angel spoke to unexpecting shepherds and choirs of angels sang. It was into this scene that the inn keeper offered unconventional lodging to a young and weary couple. It was into this scene that those sleeping in their comfortable rooms were awoken by the sounds of childbirth in the stable. It was into this scene that God’s Son was born and changed everything. It was into this scene that the shepherds left their flocks and came to see the one who would save them.

This is the scene where all came to see the newborn Jesus. The glory of the Lord was present and peace came on earth. There was a divine celebrity in their midst and a crowd began to form for sure. This divine celebrity is the only one worthy of a crowd and commotion. Jesus is the one who deserves all honor, glory, and praise. The One who came to bring us peace is also the one who deserves our praises. It is my prayer that this Christmas you will experience both the glory of God and the peace Christ alone can bring to your life. May you have a divine celebrity sighting in your life this Christmas in the person of Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and we will celebrate the birth of Christ together at our 4:30 Family Service; our 6:30 Contemporary Service; our 8:30 Traditional Service with orchestra and choir; and our 11:00 Traditional Service with choir, hand bells, and communion. These are perfect opportunities to invite family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to experience the love of Christ through worship. Please remember that on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day we will have one service at 10:00AM.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. This is an exciting time of anticipation at St. Andrew’s. I can’t wait to see you in church!

December 16, 2016

We invite you to experience hope, peace, joy and love with us as we celebrate the birth of Christ. Join us for the Christmas Cantata this Sunday (Dec. 18), Caroling in the Courtyard on Wednesday, December 21, our Christmas Eve Services on December 24 and our Christmas Day Service at 10 a.m. on December 25. This is the perfect opportunity to invite your friends and family- we can't wait to celebrate together!

December 9, 2016

“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

John 1:9 (NLT)

Do you remember when it was popular for businesses to use the giant search lights to advertise at night? From miles around you could see the moving beams of the search lights cutting through the darkness of the night sky. If you were curious you would follow the beams of light to their origin to find out about the big deal. The lights were so bright that the closer you got to the lights the bigger and brighter the light became. It was truly impressive to see the power of those giant search lights lighting up the sky.

Light has a way of doing that, cutting through the darkness. There is a huge difference between camping in the wilderness on an overcast night and a clear moonlit night. The moon lights up the sky enough to allow you to see thing pretty clearly. I know that if I have to go out in the backyard on a dark overcast night I must have a flashlight. It’s even a little unnerving to walk the grounds of the church at night after all the lights have gone out. You never know what is there since it is hard to see in the dark. We are better able to see in the light of day or a moonlit light. Light exposes what darkness conceals.

In the years before the birth of Christ the world was a place of spiritual darkness. God never left and was still active, but it was a time of no prophets and no direct interaction by God with the people of God. This darkness left them crying out for Messiah, a Savior, to rescue them and restore them to God’s favor. Even though they were crying out and seeking this answer from God it was a silent and dark time for them. The answer had not come.

When John writes his gospel he begins by telling of how God broke into the darkness. He tells of the light that shines in the darkness. A light that darkness cannot extinguish. A light that shines eternally because it is the true light from God. John says this “true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” The long anticipation was about to be over and the Messiah would be born. The light would save those who placed their trust in the Light. Jesus would later say, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

This Sunday is the third week of Advent. We will talk about what it means to walk as a child of the light. We will explore what it takes to walk life’s pathways illuminated by the one true light. We will discuss together the power of the one true light that reveals the way to abundant life. I pray that you will experience the light of the world this week and all through Advent and Christmas. This is an exciting time of anticipation at St. Andrew’s. I can’t wait to see you in church!

December 2, 2016

“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

I grew up in a home where we used mostly name brand products. Crest tooth paste, JIF peanut butter, and Oreo cookies. There were generic versions of these products, as well as other competitor’s similar products, but we always bought name brand. Whenever we went on vacation as a family we would ALWAYS stay at a Holiday Inn, because back then it was reliable and clean. As an adult I have carried on with some of the name brand training I received. Some of the names are different, but I still prefer a name brand over a generic product.

When Debbie and I were first dating I learned a term that the pharmaceutical companies worked to get their doctors to use. The term was “medically necessary” and was written on a prescription so that the pharmacist would not fill the prescription with a generic drug. The doctor was indicating that the brand name drug was "medically necessary" for their patient. So what is it about a brand name? I believe with my parents, with me as an adult, and with doctors (in some cases) the name brand yields a level of trust. You can trust (in theory) that the brand name will deliver a better quality and more consistent experience. It is a name you can trust.

I wonder if that is why God gave the prophecy of what his Son would be called. The prophecy said that the virgin would give birth to a son and he will be called Immanuel. This is God’s chosen name for the One who would save the world. In the Bible there are several names given for the One who would save all of humanity. The one we draw out most often during Advent is Immanuel – which means God with us. The reason this name, actually more of a title, is so important during Advent is because of the promise it offers. God with us! When we hear the title Immanuel used for the long expected Jesus during Advent we should be amazed.

Think of all the times in the Old Testament where God is with us. A voice in a dream, a burning bush, a pillar of cloud and fire … the list goes on. In the prophecy of Isaiah and the angel in Matthew the promise is that God would be with us very differently. In human form, a little baby. That was an amazing new reality. This is one of the reasons I love The Gospel of John and the fact that the Word became flesh – God with us! So when we sing Emmanuel this week in worship it should bring a smile to our face. The anticipation of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us should be more than we can possibly contain. There truly is something in a name … and he will be called Immanuel, which means God with us.

This Sunday is the second week of Advent. I pray that you will experience God with us at either the 8:15, NINE45, or 11:15 service. This is an exciting time of anticipation at St. Andrew’s. I can’t wait to see you in church!

November 25, 2016

"Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot— yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root." Isaiah 11:1

This Sunday is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent is the time in the Church calendar where all Protestant Christians anticipate anew the coming of the Messiah. It is also the start of the Church year. It is a time of new beginning.

In the Scripture above, Isaiah the prophet tells of a new branch coming out of the stump of Jesse (David's father). This new branch would bring new fruit. The promise of God is that of life and new hope. The long expected Messiah would bring a new reality of how God would interact with creation.

In the season of Advent we anticipate the coming of the Messiah anew. We also should enter into Advent as a season of what new branch God may be bringing forth from our life. What has God been preparing under the surface in our life that will grow into a new branch, bringing with it new fruit. God is always at work and there is always a new branch coming.

Last week Rev. Max Wilkins asked us to consider the question, "What in your life requires Jesus Christ to explain?" Perhaps the new branch that God will grow in your life will be an answer to that question. I believe God has a new branch for St. Andrew's that will bear even more fruit. I cannot wait to see what God will do.

This Sunday, as we start Advent, Bishop Ken Carter will be with us at 9:45 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to preach about "The Peaceable Kingdom." The Sanctuary will be open for prayer and meditation during the 8:15 hour in lieu of a service. We encourage everyone to attend either 9:45 or 11:15 worship. I hope you will join us for what will certainly be a great message and great worship. I can't wait to see you in church.

November 11, 2016

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

These verses from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth are a favorite to be read at weddings. It is a reminder of the type of selfless love that should be shared by two human beings. But, these verses are so much more. Within these five verses of Scripture is the embodiment of the character of God. John tells us God is love and Paul tells us what God, love, looks like. If we want to know the character of God we need to look for this kind of selfless, self-giving love.

What does this means for us today? If these verses embody the character of God and we are born in the image and likeness of God, then we are to embody this type of love. We are to be patient when our patience is tested. We are to be kind when we are tempted to be unkind. We are to be content, humble, hospitable, selfless, and measured in our anger. We are to let things go and forgive generously, run from evil and celebrate the truth wherever we see it. Because we are children of God we are to protect when protection is needed, trust when trust seems unwarranted, hope in the midst of hopeless times, and persevere through all circumstances we face.

The last quality of love Paul mentions is that love never fails. Paul tells us that he believes he, and we, should love with all of these qualities because they are the very qualities of God’s love for us. He finishes this by telling the reader that if he lives by all of these qualities it will never fail. Another way of putting this is love is foolproof, guaranteed. Love will never let you down, fall short, go part way, or disappoint. LOVE NEVER FAILS!

It is my prayer, especially in these times, we will be people of love. Living out the very love that God has displayed to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Love is needed in all of society now more than ever. I am not talking about the love that the world tells us to give, but the love that Paul describes in these five verses. May we be people who love like this. May we be people who fulfill Jesus’ command to love one another. May the world know that we are followers of Jesus Christ because of the love we live. If we are those people today, this week, and all the time…it will never fail.

This Sunday we continue our 50th Anniversary Celebration. Rev. Dr. Bob Gibbs will be with us to preach about sacred places. Next weekend we will conclude the celebration with a banquet and worship on the 18th, worship on the 19th, and one worship service on November 20th. The president of The Mission Society, Rev. Max Wilkins, will be preaching all services on the final weekend. This is an exciting time to be a part of what God is doing at St. Andrew’s. I can’t wait to see you in church!

October 28, 2016

“You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.” Ephesians 2:8 (CEB)

What is the greatest gift you have ever been given? Was it a Christmas or birthday gift? Was it a gift of appreciation or something someone gave unexpectedly? We have all received gifts over the course of our life. Some gifts are more memorable and special than others. Some gifts are given out of a sense of obligation. Some gifts come packed with incredible thoughtfulness and care. In my experience the one thing about gifts that is universal is we all enjoy receiving them. There is something exciting about opening a gift that someone has taken the time to give.

I have two thoughts working their way through my mind as I consider the Scripture that Paul wrote so many years ago. The first thought is perhaps a little more obvious than the second. I am continually amazed at how much God loves us. To offer such an incredible gift to such undeserving folks amazes me. In our communion liturgy the pastor says, “Hear the good news, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us.” We serve a God who loves us no matter what. This is the most amazing part of the gift of salvation to me. In our most undesirable state possible, God loved us and offered grace toward us. What a gift!

The second thought that runs through my mind as I consider this Scripture is that everything in our life is a gift. If we received the greatest gift imaginable in salvation, everything else is a gift as well. We would never experience the rest of life if not for the first gift. As I think about my journey of faith over the last 30 years, I believe everything I experience in life is a gift from God that proceeds from God’s great gift of salvation. You’ve heard the phrase, “the gift that keeps on giving.” God’s gift of salvation, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, truly is the gift that keeps on giving. What a gift!

October 21, 2016

“… let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” 

1 John 4:7 (NLT)

When I was a little kid I LOVED chocolate cake. When I was in late elementary school I LOVED the show "The Six Million Dollar Man." As a teenager I LOVED hanging out with my friends after football games. In my twenties I LOVED becoming a follower of Jesus Christ and learning all that meant. When I meant Debbie I LOVED her differently than I had ever loved any human being before. When we had our daughters I have LOVED being a dad. All of these things have the same word in common, LOVE. Love is an important aspect of life and impacts us in so many ways. Over my years on this planet my LOVE has changed and grown, and I experience LOVE differently now than when I was a little kid (except for chocolate cake – pretty much the same feelings).

So if we are to speak of living a life of complete joy, we must speak of love. In order to speak of love we need to go ahead and reach a foundational understanding about love. The biblical definition of love is very different than the cultural/worldly definition. The world (Merriam-Webster) defines love as a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person. Culture defines love as a feeling, wherein lies the distinction between the cultural and biblical definition of love. Culture defines love as a feeling, the bible defines love as God. In 1 John 4:8 John writes, “… for God is love.” John does not tell us that God is loving, he tells us God IS love. This means that love is not a feeling we have for God, God is love. God and love cannot be separated, they are one and the same. Love comes from God. When we experience true love we are experiencing God.

Followers of Jesus are called to continue to love one another. It is who we are. Love is one of God’s attributes, which means it is a fundamental, unchanging characteristic of God. God gave us an example of this character in Jesus Christ, the Son. All that Jesus did for us through his life, ministry, death, and resurrection compels us to respond in love. Jesus called us to love God and love our neighbor as evidence of our love for God. When we love, God’s love is made real. The call to love one another is a call to show the world how much God loves them, because God is love. It is a call to reveal God’s love for all to know and experience the love of God and the God of love. This is the third aspect of experiencing a life of complete joy.

This Sunday we conclude the message series “Complete Joy.” We will talk about the joy God desires for us through loving one another. I look forward to sharing more about this with you. I can’t wait to see you in church!

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