President’s Monthly Message

May 2024 • Let’s Go Fishing!

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away. Matthew 13:47-48

Over the past few days, I’ve been on a mini-staycation while a dear friend and accountability partner in my life has been visiting from Tennessee. We spent a couple of days together fishing on the Gulf off Crystal River. Truly, this is one of my favorite activities and ways of spending Sabbath time with my Lord in His creation.

Yet while leaving the house shortly after 5:30 a.m. each morning, catching some nice trout, a few sea bass, and Spanish mackerel, I was thinking about the life that we are called to…that is, being “fishers of men” and Christ’s witnesses.

Some of you may know, but fishing is my hobby and if I could, I’d probably fish every day. Now I am no great fisherman, but I do well and often bring home a meal or two. I love the feel of a tug on the line and then the battle to reel in the fish and get it in the boat. However, I haven’t always been the most effective fisherman. Growing up, I’d go out with my dad, but often, we wouldn’t catch anything or anything worth keeping. Yet I kept going. The older I got, I sought to learn from others and would regularly read “Florida Sportsman” and watch fishing shows to learn more. In short, it took practice to develop knowledge and skills that could effectively be used.

Now, you may already be thinking to yourself, “Well, I’m no fisherman, and I certainly have no skill to bring others to faith.” But before you disregard the rest of this devotion, please remember that as Christ-followers, we are all called to be fishers of men. Our mission is not fulfilled unless the Great Commission is at the center of it. Reaching men, women, young, old, families, friends, neighbors, coworkers and even those who are hard to love is our calling and privilege. Jesus loves them and He desires each and every one to experience His love. He died for them just like us!

As we move into the summer season, many congregations see ministry activities slowing or even shutting down. Yet in truth, we’re in a prime time for casting our nets through spending time with those living without Christ. This leads me to ask myself and you, how effective is our ministry or witness? Are we actively participating in God’s Kingdom work? Are the nets of our lives full of people being drawn in from the depths of darkness to the Light of His grace and love? Broken nets will not catch a fish. Nets folded neatly on the shore do nothing to fill the boat.

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So, he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. Luke 5:1-7

Some say fishing is an art. To learn the sport takes practice. Determining what bait to use or casting a line is not often achieved on the first try. You must continue to learn to set the reel and throw the line remembering not to let go of the rod at the same time. There’s a lot of hand-eye coordination going on at the same time. Just like a cast net, it is not subject to beginners’ luck but those who truly want to catch some fish will keep trying.

Discipleship is to teach. Jesus came and taught from Simon Peter’s boat that day. Peter did what the Lord asked because fishing was not going well. When Jesus finished speaking, He instructed Peter to push out deeper into the water. Once there, he was told to let down his nets. Peter explained to Jesus that they had worked hard all night and caught nothing. BUT… He would try again. This is an essential truth hidden in this conversation that has the potential to change our life and every single outcome! Peter did what Jesus told him to do. Too often, we are picky about where we let down our nets, when we cast them out, and how we fish. Doubt keeps our nets on the boat rather than continuously casting into the water. Peter believed Jesus enough to overcome his experience and his pride to do it one more time…and God delivered.

My dear friends, one last thing. Have you ever asked yourselves why in the reading above in Matthew 13, it seems that that catch of fish is indiscriminate, “fish of all kinds”? I’ve had some say to me that it seems God is forcing people to come to faith. But I believe it is just the opposite. Instead, I believe this is a wonderful reminder that “God so loved the world”, the whole world. God loves and desires “all mankind to be saved.” So, I believe this is a powerful reminder that Jesus has come to redeem, save, and love all people.

Therefore, my prayer is that each of us will cast our lines or our nets boldly, faithfully, and continually, that all may come into a saving relationship with the God who loves us for this life and eternity!

President Rockey

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2024 Monthly Messages

Easter | April 2024 • We Want to See Jesus

Historically, Easter Sunday has been one, if not the day with the highest attendance in churches. Many have bemoaned this reality, even referring to such attendees as “C & E people” (Christmas & Easter). 

Yet I’ve been thinking about this. Over my years of ministry, I have known or been told about people worshipping with us who have come with little or no faith. Yet they sat with a loved one or friend and listened. Many never returned, but at times, there have been others that through the Spirit’s work, a seed of faith was planted or rekindled! Yes, I rejoice in those that the Lord has led through His holy Word and its proclamation to come to believe that God is real, God is love, and God changes everything through His Son, Jesus Christ!

We live in a day filled with challenges and change. This is true socially, politically, morally, and more, and this has pushed many to the brink. Whether caused by loneliness, fear, racial division, political tension, the economy, inflation, increased violence, hate, broken families, or attacks on our values and beliefs. All of this has left many fearful, wondering about the future, and uncertain about where to turn.

It is with that in mind that I am praying, boldly, that the Lord will fill every Church with these very people! If you agree that many are wrestling with these realities, then what better place for them to be than to come to Church on Easter and every Sunday? Sure, they may not know what they are looking for, but God does. They may not know how the Lord can help, but they don’t have to. 

My prayer is that through people like you and me…those who are struggling and hurting will hear from us the hope, the joy, and even the peace that we have through the Lord! As we live in such lives, the Lord can lead them to say (even if just on the inside), “We want to see Jesus!”

Those words echoed in my mind and spoke to me as I drove back from South Florida this week. “We want to see Jesus!” I want to see Jesus – with all that is going on, all the suffering, all the uncertainty, all the challenges – I, personally, want to see Jesus! For it is in and through Him that I find comfort, hope, and life. 

I believe that was somewhat the case with those in John chapter 12. “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival (Passover). They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip, in turn, told Jesus.” In downtown Los Angeles, there was a historic church called “Church of the Open Door.” For nearly a century, it had a tremendous impact on reaching the lost. This Church sat 4,000 people – I can only imagine preaching to so many. I read that if you stood behind the pulpit, you could easily have it go to your head. But just as your ego might begin to inflate, you quickly come down to earth when you look down at a little plaque attached to the pulpit with the words of John 12:21, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus!”

That, my friends, is my prayer…, and I ask you to please join me in that prayer. Pray that the Lord would send many who “Wish to see Jesus!” May they see Jesus through our personal invitations, genuine welcome, and, most of all, through His Word and the message of the Gospel!

The Church, you, and me, we are here for this very reason, to come alongside others, that they may see and believe in Jesus who suffered, died, and rose so that they too may live!

President Rockey

March 2024 • Let’s Stay!

Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Mark 9:5

I well remember hearing my dad and mom saying, “It’s time to leave!” Whether it was while at a friend’s house, enjoying some event at Boy Scouts or Youth Group, or just someplace where the fun was just beginning, those words still echo in my mind. When those words were spoken, it seemed like I would put my heels down and dig in for a fight. And yes, as adults, we often feel the same way when we must say goodbye to family or friends and leave an exciting event or move on from an enjoyable location.

The disciples had just experienced an incredible event as they were on the mountain with Jesus. They had seen their Savior transfigured before their eyes. His clothes became “dazzling white, and there before them appeared Elijah and Moses,” the patriarchs. Amazing! How could anything compare with that?! The experience had impacted them profoundly and sent their spirits soaring.

Then Peter said just what many of us have said. “Let’s just stay!” It makes sense, doesn’t it? To be in the presence of the Lord, to see Him manifested as God’s own Son, and to be there with the patriarchs. Why not just stay? Why leave the mountaintop, this place where they had experienced this once-in-a-lifetime event, filled with such exhilaration and excitement? Why did they need to go back down to life as it was? Peter wanted that experience and joy to last.

I’m sure we’ve all felt that way. Maybe it was when your faith truly became your own, not just that of your parents. Maybe it came with the joy of a worship service or concert where God really spoke to you and filled your spirit with incredible joy. Maybe it was when your child professed their faith in Confirmation or when a wayward loved one came home confessing their faith. Maybe it was a time when your family or your church saw God work in a miraculous way. So why? Why do we have to go? Why must we leave the mountaintop?

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark not only records the disciple’s mountaintop experience, but them coming down from the mountain. They had work to do. They had something to share! You see, there were more mountains to climb, more experiences to encounter, and more joys to share. Others needed to know and receive what they had!

God gives us the blessing of mountaintop experiences to inspire us for service and witness in the daily paths of life. He gives us joy to encourage, empower, and lead us to new people and areas we can serve in His Kingdom!

My prayer for you this month is that you rejoice in your mountaintop experiences. Cling to and be filled with the presence of the Lord. Remember the experiences of God working in your Baptism, the study of His Word, the sacrament of the table, or in some other way, you’ve been reminded of His love and provision, and be inspired! Then…step down and follow the sometimes-difficult path of sharing the gift of God’s love. Step down and share those mountaintop experiences with the message that Jesus came down…into the world to save all!

James

February 2024 • What’s Love Have to Do With it?

I love what I do as the District President, but it’s at times like this that I miss serving in the parish even more! Maybe it has to do with my sense of humor, or maybe it’s because I see how such occurrences give great opportunities to proclaim the truths of the faith.

What am I talking about? This month, we begin our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday, February 14, Valentine’s Day! So, this year, with the intersection of these two widely observed events, there is, in a sense, a contradiction. Ash Wednesday is a time of solemn reflection and repentance over our sins and needs. We even come face to face with the reality of death as we receive ashes on our forehead and hear the words, “from dust you came and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). And with Valentine’s Day, there is this hyper-focus on love and how we share that love with someone near and dear. Sure, it’s been taken over as a retailer’s opportunity, sentimentality, and superficial love, but either way, it certainly doesn’t align with our focus on Ash Wednesday. Or does it?

Sure, Valentine’s Day is supposedly all about love. But I believe that in an even more genuine and powerful way, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are all about love! You may be asking, “What’s Love Have to Do with It?” Great question. Sure, we have “all fallen short of the glory of God.” We understand that we are “sinful from the time our mothers conceived us” (Psalm 51:5), and we know that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). But Ash Wednesday and our Lenten journey are all about pointing us to the One who “so loved the world”, who so loved you and me, that He could not bear being separated from us. He is the God and Savior who offered Himself as the payment for our sins that death may not have the last word. 

So, when you receive the ashes in the form of a cross on your forehead, know that this is not only a reminder of our sin but of God’s incredible, undeserved, and unceasing love! My prayer for each of us, as we begin our Lenten journey this month, is that we will take these six weeks to spend with the Lord in reflection and prayer so that we may fully experience the depth of His love anew. May we then live in response to His radical love by honoring and serving Him in all we do and say.

What’s love have to do with it? Everything!

James

 

PS Daily LENTEN DEVOTIONS AVAILABLE. The FLGA is once again providing daily devotions that you can sign up to have delivered to your email. This year’s Lenten theme continues to explore the “Living as an Along-Sider” theme from our 2023 President’s Equip Conference. Yet this series of Devotions will focus solely upon the most powerful aspect of this way of life…How Jesus is our Along-sider! Even before we can ever begin to live as Along-siders ourselves, Jesus is our Along-sider through all the realities, challenges, sorrows, and trials of life. Join us each day as we discover from the Scriptures how our God is with us, walks along-side of us and provides for our every need! Sign up through our website beginning Monday, Feb. 5th.

January 2024 • New Beginnings Make New…

A few years ago, I read this quote, “No one can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending” (Unknown). Those words struck me in such a way that I began to reflect on that statement and its meaning. The conclusion was that we can’t start over; but we can begin again right where we are, making things new in our lives!

As a believer in Christ, it’s not about saying I will do this, and I won’t do that and then failing at what we committed to do. It’s more about asking the Lord to help us each day grow in our faith and fall deeper in love with Him. That way, our focus will be on what He has done for us and on our relationship with Him…on all the things of heaven and not on the things of this world.

Maybe a New Year’s resolution each of us could make could be to have a deeper commitment, a deeper love, and a deeper relationship with the Lord!

As I look to the beginning of this new year, this phrase and truth I hear from God’s Word keep arising in my heart, saying: “I Am more than enough. I Am more than enough in every area of your life.” As individuals and as a Church Family, these are words we all need to hear. When life is hard – He is more than enough! When we are challenged in some way to do something we don’t think we can – He is more than enough! When we’ve started well with good intentions and then stumble and fall hard – He is still more than enough!

Here is what I love about the Lord (well, one of many things). He is the God of New Beginnings! “His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness” (Lamentations 3).  How awesome to know that when we fail, we can have a new beginning, whether on January 1, February, August, a Monday or a Thursday, or whenever! Our God loves. Our God forgives, and our God freely offers New Beginnings!

Yet there is more to this. It’s not just about the New Beginning. Because with each New Beginning we can change what lies ahead. We can “Make…New Endings!  You see, each time – every time – God provides us with a New Beginning, the result is a New Ending!

The Florida-Georgia District is about sharing New Beginnings & New Endings with all people. We do this in our churches and schools through Worship, providing an excellent education in Christ-centered safe environments, Bible Study Groups, Support Groups, Serving others, being a place of Community, and by loving each and every neighbor as ourselves! Picture this – a person Baptized not only has a new beginning but now a new ending as a child of God. A parent of a child in one of our early learning centers hears the message of Christ’s love and discovers a New Beginning out of their painful reality – and has a new ending as a parent and forgiven person of faith!

Yes, my dear friends and partners in the Gospel, with Christ, we have New Beginnings that make new endings! May the Lord continue to help us daily experience, celebrate and share New Beginnings and rejoice in the New Endings He gives!

President Rockey

Archived President Messages