Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Dear Fam,

• Hats off to the choir, The Journeymen, and our own resident maestro Chad Robison for the numerous moments of rhapsody we experienced at the Americana Hymn Festival Sunday night! Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . . . . it was grand!

• The only damper on the evening was that when the concert was over we had to say good-bye to Sheri O’Neal. That was hard; we love Sheri . . . a lot!

• Planting a church in Boston is hard but Bryan and Lisa Loney are attempting it. They are two of SRPC’s missionaries. Why not stop and pray for them right now. Here’s their recent newsletter

• Adam Jones’ sermon this last weekend was breathtakingly good. If you weren’t there you need to tune in. His message included this epic quote from Charles Spurgeon, “When we come to the end of self we come to the beginning of Christ! That last shekel binds us to the pretenders but absolute bankruptcy sets us free to go to Him who heals diseases without money and without price. Glad enough am I when I meet with a man who is starved out of self-sufficiency. Welcome, Brother! Now you are ready for Jesus. When all your own virtue had gone out of you, then shall you seek and find that virtue which goes out of HIM…”

• World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization touched off a firestorm last week with their announcement that they were now open to hiring gays and lesbians (a decision they rescinded 2 days later.) Kevin DeYoung an excellent pastor/author in East Lansing, Michigan responded with two very helpful blog postsThe Worldliness in World Vision’s New Hiring Policy and Why is this Issue Different? Quite obviously, little could be more paramount for the church than to speak with biblical clarity and charity on the issue of homosexuality.

• April is full of activity:
→ April 12-13           SRCS 25th Anniversary celebration in worship
→ April 19-20           Easter Services
→ April 23                 Pastor’s Class begins
→ April 26-27           SRCS Musical “Annie Jr”
→ April 26-27           A Bruised Reed Sermon #1

• On Wednesday, April 23, Brandon Lauranzon will begin a class on one of the most daunting books of the Bible – the Book of Isaiah. The New Testament references Isaiah more than any other Old Testament book except the Psalms.  Jesus began his public ministry by reading from the scroll of Isaiah.  You will hear Isaiah at Christmas, on Good Friday, in hospitals, and even at weddings.  Saint Jerome referred to Isaiah as the “Evangelical Prophet” because his gospel message is so plain.  Join pastors Adam Jones and Brandon Lauranzon for a six week study of The Prophecy of Isaiah.  Wednesday nights, 6:30-8:00pm, starting April 23, free childcare available.  Sign up at the Guest Services Desk or online here.

• You should have seen the long line of parents this morning as April 1 began enrollment in our preschool for the 2014/2015 year. Parents were lining up hours each to enroll their children. Pray for children and parents to meet Jesus through the ministry of our preschool. Pray for our school leadership too – as their 5 year accreditation visit from the Christian Schools of Florida team come to renew our accreditation. Upon accreditation from CSF, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) will automatically be updated as well.

• This weekend in worship we conclude our series from the Gospel of Matthew! As you gather for worship on Saturday night, I’ll be preparing to preach on Sunday morning in Tokyo. Would you pray for the advance of the gospel in Japan and throughout Asia? Would you ask the Father to encourage the weary missionary leaders who are gathering with me in Thailand. They are like warriors who are taking a brief respite from the battle to re-strategize and reenergize before they reengage the fight. Would you pray for heaven sent refreshment for them!

Love,

Ray

Friday, March 14, 2014


Dear Fam,

Have you been as captivated as I have by the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?  It seems like every hour there are new twists and turns.  Perhaps I’m a news junkie, or perhaps there’s a part of me that really wants LOST to come back.  However, this mystery took on new meaning for me when, watching TV one night, a news anchor said, “There are 239 souls on board” – that’s 239 souls who were created to know God; 239 souls who might never get the chance to hear about Jesus; 239 souls who, no matter what happens, one day will arrive at their eternal destination.  If we can be moved by the plight of people halfway around the world whom we have never met, how much more so should we be praying and fighting for the souls of our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors?  Who do you need to share the love of God with?  Who has been waiting for you to invite them to church?  Who needs to experience the love of Jesus through your mercy and care?  Souls are all around us.  Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” 

It feels like I have been having a lot of conversations lately about Christianity and homosexuality.  I think it is fair to say that it is, and will continue to be for some time, the biggest cultural issue facing the church in North America.  I read a short little book on the topic this week that I found very helpful and would highly recommend to you: Is God anti-gay? by Sam Allberry.  In this treatise, Allberry answers questions like: Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?  But Jesus never mentions homosexuality, so how can it be wrong?  Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?  Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?  What should I do if a Christian comes out to me?  If you’d like, you can order the book in our bookstore this weekend for just $7.

This has been a weighty update so far – time for something light!  I saw a YouTube video this week of a man who lost a bet to his brother, and as a result he had to dance in the middle of a busy intersection for 30 minutes to whatever music his brother chose.  It’s hilarious, but what is most fascinating is that random passersby began joining him and they all ended up dancing together.  Isn’t that kind of like the church?  When you hear the music of the gospel it makes you want to dance.  But it isn’t nearly as fun without others who are willing to dance with you!  Enjoy watching here.

The Americana Folk & Hymn Festival is fast approaching – March 30th.  Chad gave me the inside scoop on some of the pieces you can look forward to hearing: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Praise to the Lord the Almighty, Battle Hymn of the Republic, and Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin.  You won’t want to miss it. 

There were many folks from Seven Rivers who were involved in putting on the first annual “Beast Feast” last night at Rock Crusher Canyon.  It was nothing short of amazing: eat meat and the funds raised go to feed the hungry in Citrus County.  I got to try buffalo sliders, gator ribs, whole hog, pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken fingers, and more.  The best part was, I was being thoroughly Biblical!  After all, when the Lord showed the apostle Peter in a dream a sheet full of animals he said to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

Robyn and I were sobered this week as we took our little “baby” Karis to an open house for the new preschool.  She will start there in the fall in the three year-old classroom.  It was exciting to walk through the partially constructed building and envision all of the children who will learn about animals, the alphabet, and Jesus.  Whenever we drive by and Karis sees it she says, “They’re building my school!”  Last year SRCS enrollment was at 360; this year it is at 400; next year it is projected to be at 460.  Can I encourage you, not just for my daughter’s sake, but for the sake of all the children who’ll be flocking onto campus, continue to be faithful in giving your MORE campaign pledge.  We know that in truth it’s God’s school, He’s the one building it, and He has been pleased to use us to accomplish it.

Parents of preschoolers, do you need a date night?  MOPS is hosting one next Thursday, March 20th at 7:00pm in the Florida Room.  Free food, free childcare, and I’ll be speaking on the topic, “Marriage Heaven” (my wife just laughed when she read this).

As part of worship this weekend we’ll do something churches have done for centuries all over the world: recite the Apostle’s Creed.  Here’s a great article [LINK] on the creed by Rev. Ray Cannata, friend of Seven Rivers and son-in-law to members Joseph and Marie Lounders.  Ray Cortese will be preaching on Matthew 13:53–14:12.  It won’t be the same if you’re not there.

Grace,

Brandon Lauranzon

Friday, March 7, 2014


Dear Fam,

Wow—what a past month we’ve had. Global Outreach month was stellar, capped by Steve Saint’s preaching. If you missed Steve, here’s his story. Missions trips to Montgomery, Alabama and Kenya are coming together for the summer. If you don’t want to miss out, there’s more information here. Then to top it all off, last weekend we welcomed 60 new members into the church family. (Here’s our welcome to SRPC video.)

•  I think you’d be thrilled to know that twenty-two members of the Disaster Relief team just returned from their 789th trip (or something close to that) to House to House ministry in Montgomery.

•  The Senior Class of SRCS has been doing tornado relief / building Habitat houses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama this past week. Dana James said—Our seniors are doing a great job. They have worked hard and have been a joy to work with. A team here from Indiana said, "We've heard such great things about th kids from Seven Rivers!"  Our last three senior classes have developed a wonderful reputation. At a meeting of all the volunteers yesterday, the leader from Habitat said, "We love having Seven Rivers.  They'll do anything, and it's such a big help to us."  I'm like a proud papa!

•  The deacons hosted a lunch in February for 50 SRPC widows!

•  Our Divorce Care ministry was launched and is off to a great start with 10-12 people participating.

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•  Would you pray for wisdom and protection for Wendy and Chris Bergstrom. The Bergstroms both grew up at SRPC, married, have 4 children and live in Kiev, Ukraine where Chris serves with the U.S. Air Force.

•  American Folk & Hymn Festival is Sunday evening, March 30. Tickets are on sale here!

•  Got this request from Rayburn Greene, SRCS football coach. Let him know if you can help. Do you know of anyone in the church that has some land (cleared) with some buildings (perhaps cabins) that could host our team camp from 8/10—8/15. We conduct our two-a-days practices during this time.They aren't allowed to bring electronics of any kind.It's just team and God.At night we have worship together and they spend a lot of time in their small groups.It's a pivotal part of the season.

•  Here’s a host of helpful articles to read. Valentine the Brave—loving your wife…all year; Five Really Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church; Let Them Come Home—John Piper on dealing with a wayward adult son; The World the Missionaries Made—the article I referenced in my sermon last weekend. The most encouraging article I’ve read in the past year.

•  It is joyful to report to you that Bill O’Neal has found a wonderful job in Kingsport, Tennessee and is moving there to begin work immediately. We will miss Bill—he’s been a part of SRPC since the beginning! Sad to report that our beloved Sheri O’Neal intends to move with him!! We do rejoice in this grand new adventure for the O’Neals, but I don’t think anyone at SRPC can imagine the contribution Sheri has made to our ministry over the past 15 years as a staff member. Our bulletins, screens in worship, website, podcasts, brochures /graphics / advertisement / design, and virtually every large church eating event for the past two decades have had Sheri’s stamp of creativity, excellence and passionate love for Jesus and his gospel. On top of all that—she’s been our friend. Sheri O’Neal is an SRPC treasure and thankfully, we’ll get to recognize her and thank her before she joins her husband in their new locale.

•  This weekend we’ll have baptisms in worship, food to share (donuts between service on Sunday and something shamefully unhealthy after Saturday night service, too), and I’ll be preaching on the concluding parables of Matthew 13. It should be a blast to be together so be sure to change your clocks on Saturday night (spring forward!).

Sincerely,


Ray

Friday, February 14, 2014


Dear Fam,

Pastor’s Class finished last night and we are interviewing 42 people for membership over the next two weeks. It was a great class. We had wicked weather almost every Wednesday night but they would not be deterred and plowed through to the end. I can’t wait for you to get to know them. God is so good to send us new family members.

SRCS continues to thrive. Our headmaster Dana James recently wrote, “We expect another year of growth. Our preliminary projections indicate that enrollment should fall between 450 - 480 students, and we expect many classes to fill up. We are at 396 today; we were at 326 this time last year! The next few years promise to be very special. Last week we received the New Image Award from the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce for the remodeling of the church and school offices. As you can see, our new preschool is taking shape and will be completed in May, ready for over a hundred preschoolers to start in August. We are also planning to break ground on the new athletic complex before the end of 2014. It should be fully operational by the Fall of 2015. God continues to do great things at SRCS!” Dana also delivered the annual State of the School Address two weeks ago. Here’s a link to Dana’s remarks and to 3 videos that were shown as part of the program: The Student Athlete; Extended Family & Two Families, One Story.

A new ministry to wounded hearts is beginning at SRPC – DivorceCare.Divorce and separation are painful and can leave you feeling hopeless and alone.  On Wednesday, February 19, we are starting a new group called DivorceCare that is designed to come alongside those who are going through divorce and/or separation and to offer a safe place for people to find encouragement, support and hope.  DivorceCare is led by people who have been through divorce and/or separation. For more information or to register click on the link Divorce Care at Seven Rivers Church in Citrus County.  This is not just for SRPC people, so if you know of someone who might benefit from this type of support, please let them know.

This weekend in worship we’ll meet Robert and Lois Carr – a couple we’ve supported in Uganda and Kenya for years. After worship there will be an informational meeting for those who want to go on a construction mission trip to Kenya this July (men) or a women's trip in June. Diane and I went to Uganda and Kenya a number of years ago and it was probably the most impactful foreign trip we’ve ever made.

I’m preaching this weekend on the Parable of the sower – Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23. We’ll also be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. I can’t wait to be with you guys!

Love,

Ray

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Dear Fam,

February kicks off Global Outreach 2014 at SRPC. Each week we’ll have one of the church planters/missionaries that we support sharing in our worship.

>> February 1/2—Ben Turner is starting Strong Tower Church in the under-resourced Parker Street neighborhood in Lakeland. After years of sowing in this predominately African-American neighborhood, Ben has over 120 people already gathering for weekly Bible study!

>> February 8/9
—Bryan and Delta Kelly, Common Ground Ministries in Montgomery, AL

>> February 15/16—Robert and Lois Carr, World Harvest Mission in Uganda

>> February 22/23
—Trina Wisecup, Physician with the I-MED division of I-TEC

As an added treat, our own Steve Saint will be our preacher the weekend of February 22/23. This video will familiarize you if you want to learn more about Steve's life and ministry.

•  Global Outreach 2014 will also unveil our annual mission trip opportunities:


Family Mission Trip to Montgomery Alabama
June 14-21, 2014
Kenya Construction Trip
July 4-21, 2014
India Small Business Mission Trip
TBD

•  SRPC lost a beloved member and one of our ablest deacons this week with the death of Roy Carr. Roy’s funeral service will be tomorrow at SRPC at 11:00. His daughter, Jennifer, who used to be on staff at SRPC, penned this thank you note to our church family—

                Well-done Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church, on behalf of Jesus and the Carr family I must say well done.
                The last few months of my life have been the hardest I’ve ever known. When your parents become ill it is always difficult, and even more so when both your parents become ill at the same time. In my case this was compounded by already having a full life, running my own business, supporting my husband, and caring for my two young boys. There wasn’t much space and yet my life circumstances asked more of me. Truth be told many, many months ago I came to the end of Jennifer, but not to the end of Jesus. No, His mercy as we know--and expect--continued to pour out. I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you as a church about how you were God’s mercy to me and my family
                In the last five months I saw this church meet all my family’s needs, and they were many. You provided supplies for my dad such as meals, clothing, and drug store items when he could no longer get these things for himself. People he had not previously known drove him to doctor’s appointments in Gainesville and gave up their whole day. He made new friends from this process who he came to treasure in these final months. You provided him comforting counsel and discussed his greatest fears, concerns and hopes. You coordinated, carried his emotional burdens, and counseled my family (both my parents and me). You moved furniture for my mom, provided her comforting visits in a time of scary transitions. Whatever the need someone was always stepping up to help at a time when our family couldn’t do it all.
                I can think of few finer testimonies of the power of Christ to be our sufficiency than what I have seen in the last few months. It brings joy to my heart for all that I have seen God do through your sacrifice, companionship and service. 
                While there are too many to thank by name special deep thanks goes out to a few folks who put in many, many hours of help and care. Thank you especially to Jacqui Frazee, Byron Jones, Bob Rupp, Rich Eger, Terry Turner, Alice Neiffer, Mary and Rich Heerwagen, Carmen Wessler, Betsy Ward and Isolde Metzger.  


•  This weekend in worship, I’ll be preaching on Matthew 12:22-37. Don’t miss the party!
Love,

Ray

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dear Fam,

· Lots of good news for SRPC. Did you know that:

>> December was the highest giving month in SRPC history ($307,355.00 General Fund, $213,886.00 MORE Campaign)!
>> Our kick-off weekend in January was our highest 2-service weekend attendance ever—almost 1,350!
>> There are over 80 people in the Pastor’s Class and over 100 in the class on 1 Peter!

· There’s a lot happening on the SRCS front as well. Did you know that:

>> Dave Iwaniec was chosen by his peers in our football conference as coach of the year. This is an astounding honor, for though our team failed to win a game, the other coaches recognized the herculean task Dave accomplished keeping his small team together and playing hard through the whole season.
>> Ray Greene has returned to serve on our faculty and coach football at SRPC. Take a minute and read the SRCS Warrior Football Manual—and you’ll be thrilled with a program aimed at helping our boys to grow into men of character.
>> Our varsity girls volleyball team won the Florida HS Activities Association Academic Team championship in our class with a 3.795 GPA and had the third highest GPA of any volleyball team in the state!
>> This Tuesday night at 6:30 in the sanctuary is our Headmaster’s Annual State of the School Address. There will be student art on display, a new video unveiled and a sneak preview of the upcoming spring musical, Annie!

· Congratulations to our sister church in Homosassa, Nature Coast Community Church. After years of renting space in the Lion’s Club, and in commercial storefront, they have broken ground on their very own sanctuary on US 19 in Homosassa! Way to go, Brad Bresson and the team at Nature Coast!

· Two noteworthy articles to read. Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results—which in many ways sums up the educational ethos at SRCS which is leading us to such stellar academic achievement. Read also, Called off the Minaret—the conversion of Nabeel Qureshi from Islam to Christianity.

· Did you know that a song by Joni Earickson is one of five songs nominated for an Oscar?

· As people came into worship on December 22, they were greeted with this slideshow to commemorate our 10th anniversary in our sanctuary. Some of you missed it, but it’s too good not to revisit!

· This weekend, I want to encourage you to not have your middle schooler at SRPC! I want you to have them at the Middle School Mid-Winter Retreat. If they’re not signed up, contact Emily Pullen.

· Last weekend Diane and I were in Lancaster, PA where I had the honor of officiating at my niece’s wedding and the delight of watching my grandson Barrett commandeer the dance floor at the reception! On Sunday we worshiped at the Chapelgate Presbyterian Church in Marriotsville, MD before flying home. This weekend, we’ll continue our series. Red Letter Words—The Teaching Ministry of Jesus by studying Matthew 12:1-14 together. I can’t wait to see you in our Father’s house this weekend!

Love,

Ray

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Dear Fam,

“The Lord has promised good to me.
 His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.”


Sitting in worship Sunday – feeling overwhelmed by all the challenges of 2014 – this verse of "Amazing Grace" was sung (magnificently by Gabby Perrone, I might add) and it pierced me.  I want it to be tattooed on my mind and heart as I wade into this New Year.

• Before jumping ahead to 2014 – a few last words on the end of 2013.  The choral and orchestral concert, “Christmas at Seven Rivers,” was masterful – loved the artwork on the screens which made it a visual as well as auditory feast!  The church was breathtakingly beautiful on Christmas Eve.  The Christmas Eve attendance was robust, the 5:00 p.m. service was probably the most people ever in our sanctuary and Adam Jones preached his socks off!  The high point of the service may have been the video story of our own Dean Smith.  Special plaudits, too, to Marty Cates who preached his first SRPC sermon on December 28/29 and hit it out of the park.  Marty even showed off by completing his message in just 24 minutes (which I loved because it embarrassed the insufferably long-winded Adam and Brandon!!)  Kudos also to our security team.  At the final service on Christmas Eve, a very disturbed young man came in and sat on the front row/center aisle and proceeded to jabber loudly and gesticulate ominously throughout the service.  Staff and security saw the potential danger and moved to sit in close proximity to him should he cause any trouble or attempt to disrupt the service even more overtly.  Thankfully, this troubled fellow left without incident near the end of the service.  I was so proud of our team and how promptly and judiciously they handled a difficult situation.  In every way, 2013 ended on a high note!

• The New Year kicks off this weekend at SRPC with:

>> A new sermon series entitled, Red Letter Words – The Teaching Ministry of Jesus.  This winter we’ll be studying Matthew 11-14 which is primarily composed of instruction from Jesus.  Needless to say, the world had never heard anyone teach like this and His words still have the power to transfix and transform today

>> Boxed chicken dinners after worship

>> Signing the floors in our new preschool on Saturday from 5:00-5:50 p.m. or Sunday after the service folks can go onto the preschool site and write a favorite Bible  verse reference, the names of your children or grandchildren (whether they attend SRCS or not), or simply an expression of praise and gratitude to our God.  This is a very personal, pre-dedication of the building for holy use, for the salvation of many children and their families!

>> Opportunities to sign up for the upcoming Pastor’s Class, Small Groups and educational classes.

• Sadly, the New Year began with profound grief.  Geoff Greene, a member of SRPC, and the Citrus County Tax Assessor took his own life on Sunday afternoon.  I loved Geoff, as did so many in our community.  He was always a delight.  Please pray for Sheila as she grieves the loss of her husband of 35 years.  Let me add one other thought – please, please, please if you find yourself being crushed by depression or despair ask for help.  We are all broken and desperately in need of the help of one another.

• Just before Christmas I got this very encouraging letter:


Dearest Pastors,

I just wanted to take a minute to tell you both how grateful I am for you, for your precious families and for this church. My very first time visiting SRPC was exactly 10 years ago, Christmas of 2003...your very first time opening the doors to what we now call our Home.  I don't remember much about that sermon (sorry Ray) but I do remember feeling small and out of place in such a large building, not knowing anyone except my fiancĂ© and his family.  Having grown up in a small "home church fellowship", SRPC (upon first impression to an immature, self centered young woman) seemed 'too big' to have any "soul"...I could not have been more wrong! This place, these people, this community of Grace-covered sinners has taught me everything about Who Jesus is, what He did for me and what Joyful Purpose I get to have now.

Barbara Gregory has taught me what being a servant of Jesus looks like.
Nancy Glessner has taught me what unconditional love looks like.
Dana James has taught me what humble leadership looks like.
Sam Jones has taught me what compassion looks like.
Dean Smith has taught me what friendship looks like.
Pastor Adam has taught me what humility looks like.
The Santanas have taught me what Faith looks like.
Dr. Wackes has taught me what joy looks like.
Jean Giles has taught me what trusting my Savior looks like.
   
Looking back over these last 10 years I see a transformation in this insecure, self seeking, critical heart of mine that I never would have thought possible.  There are no words for the gratitude that I feel for this church... for being the place where the coin dropped deep into my heart ...for being the place where I got Jesus.   

• God has been good to us at SRPC and I look forward to walking through the wonders and woes of 2014 with you guys!

Love,

Ray