As it was, as it is, as it will be

Ed McNeely, Pastor

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On Mother’s Day, 1973, Mission by the Sea was born. It's labor pains were a hurricane, the death of a son, and realization of a Spiritual void. To fully appreciate what the Lord has done for us, we need to go back and consider what life was like then.  The Prophet, Isaiah, described the social scene on Alligator Point before Mission by the Sea arrived.

Isaiah 64:6-7 We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like filthy rags in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind. No one invokes your name, or makes an effort to take hold of you. For you have rejected us and handed us over to our own sins.

Back in 1973, Alligator Point came alive in the summer.  It was populated by “old Tallahassee” and a sprinkling of merchants, farmers, and professional types from throughout Southern Georgia and Alabama—mostly Georgia.

You could count the number of “full-time” residents on your fingers. “Full-time” means they lived here in the winter, because even they were somewhere in the North Carolina mountains in the heat of summer.

Summer time belonged to the cottage owners who lived inland—from Tallahassee to Atlanta. Back then, life here was:  Relaxed, civil, and enjoyable.  Social life centered around Peter Fenn’s Marina and on the decks of cottages strung up and down the beach. 

There were quite a few who “summered” on boats in the marina—boats big enough to live in.

Then, a hurricane—Agnes—blew through in 1972 flooding the low areas of the point, washing way several houses, and gutting others. Shortly thereafter, the 19-year-old son of a resident was killed in a single-car accident.

Ed & Kay Moorhead had their house gutted by the storm. They rebuilt atop the old walls. After moving into the upstairs, the downstairs was unoccupied. That is where Mission by the Sea first met.

It was their son who was killed in the accident. With his death, the Moorheads realized that the spiritual dimension of life was missing from this community.

In his search for a church to sponsor this mission, Ed called on the First Baptist Church in Panacea. It was a unanimous choice to launch Mission by the Sea. First services were held in the down stairs of the Moorhead home, in the space that God had prepared with a storm.

Forty-one attended the opening services, about half were from the sponsoring church. Thus, the Body of Christ moved into this pleasant community, but a place much as Romans 3:11 put it: there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God.

The Board called me on July 22, 1973 as pastor. That was the most frightening moment in my life. I had served as minister of music at the sponsoring church. Back in 1951, I walked, climbed, and crawled through half of Korea with the 1st Marine Division. I tiptoed through minefields delivering operational maps and orders to combat commanders. I scraped out holes in the ground with a canteen cup during artillery barrages and ran gauntlets of mortar fire. But none of that compared to the moment when I was asked to pastor this church.

For a sinner like me to be responsible for the spiritual growth of God’s family; for untangling the sacred truths from the living Word of God; and to love and honor all people alike; it is a frightening responsibility. The pastor is responsible for what is taught and how it is taught.

If you are taught wrong, and you do wrong, it's the pastor's fault. He answers for it before the Lord. Consequently, from day one, I made the study of God’s Word our priority.

What God says is far more important than any clever thing that I say. After much soul-searching, I accepted the position of interim pastor. Twenty years later, the board made it permanent.

In the four decades since the beginning, by exploring God’s word, many have grown in grace and understanding. Others have moved from religious regimentation into a vital personal relationship with Jesus as their Lord. That’s where God wants us, in the full stature and likeness of Jesus, himself—brothers and sisters of Christ in the family of God.

Some who went to church religiously—every Christmas and Easter—were in church every Sunday and in Bible studies on weekdays. Serving God, as a member of his family, is a privilege and a pleasure, not a chore.

“Tag along” husbands have become spiritual leaders in their own home. All of this is from the transforming Spirit within the Living Word of God.

God's Word defines and expresses his great love and sovereign power. It illuminates the dependence of everything in the universe upon his will and in keeping with his purpose.

From the Bible, we see that all other authority is derived from, and contingent upon, God, who is the ultimate source of all power. He is the "Big" behind the "Bang" that started and sustains it all.

Paul put it this way in Romans 13:1: "There is no authority except that which God has established." God has delegated limited authority to the angels. He has both Satan, and the coming antichrist, on a short leash.  When Pilate washed his hands, and allowed his soldiers to execute Jesus on the cross, he was following the permissive will of God.

John tells us in his Gospel, John 10:17-18, "This is why the Father loves mebecause I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father."

It was God’s will that Jesus should die to take away the sin from all mankind. All sin was fully paid for—removed forever. If we still feel guilty about something, we are not trusting Jesus for what he has done. God's word alone has the final say in carrying out his will and fulfilling his intentions:

In the same way, the promise that I make does not return to me, having accomplished nothingNo, it is realized as I desire and is fulfilled as I intend.”  (Is. 55:11).

Both heaven and earth ends, but God’s Word, nor his love, doesn’t: The grass dries up, the flowers wither, but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”  (Is. 40:8).

Mission by the Sea has served the needs of those in the twilight years. We have helped children and grandchildren to find and live in the spiritual dimension of life. Our mission in this community evolves with the changing face of the neighborhood just as the mission of Jesus changed as he matured from servant into sacrifice.

One of the changes began during the 1980s when the Point became a winter haven for retirees from up north—from Canada to Colorado; from Maine to Minnesota.  Local campgrounds funneled many from northern farms and towns into our fellowship. It changed again when the recession recently curbed traffic on the Point. A campground which brought many into the Mission became a subdivision that has not built out.

We have been studying the Word and trusting God for everything since day one. We have been growing in Grace. Now, with God's word, in the energy of his Spirit, we are still the lighthouse for visitors and residents alike.

God has been good to us. In 1993, God used us and his other resources to give us this building. By trusting God for everything and not asking anyone for anything, this quarter-of-a-million-dollar building took shape and was finished for under $30,000.

We ask nothing of anyone, just expect everything from everyone as the Lord leads. Work days were announced but not programmed.

Peter Fenn gave this property to the church for the balance due when he moved away from the Point. When we outgrew the original 800 square-foot house, a contractor in Tallahassee delivered enough plywood sheeting to cover the entire roof of the building. "It was in my way in the warehouse," he said.

Trusting God and depending on who and what he provides has worked well for four decades. Another example of that, two men with physical restrictions due to prior injuries, had framed the front bay—the one framing the stained-glass windows. They had finished and were discussing how to lift it into place. That's when three car-loads of men stopped by, “just to see what was going on.” In a few minutes the wall was erected, squared, plumbed, and secured.  This has been the rule rather than the exception in the life of Mission by the Sea. We trust that it will be in the future.

We have never been a church to waste time with committees. A board of directors serve as elders, deacons, and trustees. Our first chairman called it the board of elderly, trusted, deacons. They oversee the budget, the building, and grounds. The Holy Spirit is responsible for worship and service as each is led and respond to the Lord's will.

The Lord's commission that was given to the first generation in Israel is still our commission on the point: "To share the Good News wherever we are, and to make disciples of those who accept Jesus as their savior."

However, our vision and our reach, can be no larger than our faith. We have several options:

  • We can be content with stunted spiritual growth.
  • We can sit and lollygag in a kindergarten relationship with the living God;
  • We can amuse ourselves with the A, B, C’s of our faith; or
  • We can grow up and do what God left us here to do.

Like the old hymn says, "Where He leads, I will follow."

We can make sure that everyone who moves into our neighborhood has an opportunity to know and live life as God designed it to be lived. We can welcome them into a comforting and fulfilling fellowship within God's family on Alligator Point.

As believers—born of the Spirit of God—our purpose in life is several-fold:

  • to explore all that God is;
  • to be all that He made us to be;
  • to claim every promise that God has made, and
  • to share it all with people here and all over the world.

Mission by the Sea is still the home, the hope, and the lighthouse, for those who have yet to discover or develop their unused assets of life—eternal life in and with Jesus Christ.  The most fulfilling and satisfying aspects of life still await those who fully explore all that God gives us through our faith in our Lord and Savior.

We give up nothing to enter the family of God through Jesus Christ, but as we mature in the Spirit, we outgrow everything not in keeping with God standards and expectations. He encourages and empowers us to overcome and outgrow the negatives.

The membership consists of all who are in Jesus Christ. There is no official church role. You can request to be listed in the church directory. It can be your full-time spiritual home or your spiritual home away from home.

The Bible, as it was written originally, is taught as the inerrant word of God. What you do with that word, by the Grace of God, is entirely up to you. Jesus, however, taught and led those who wanted to grow in knowledge and fellowship with God’s family.

Scripture tells us that everyone is a sinner. Some are saved by Grace. Some are not. Spiritual growth is our goal. Any service that we render to our Lord is the byproduct of our spiritual maturity. 

Everyone is welcome in Christ as a member of the Mission by the Sea family.