A Message from Pastor Craig

Often when people see my car they ask “why in the world does a pastor drive a Corvette?” Since it’s showing up at church now, I thought I would share the story with you.

On Good Friday in 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. On that day the oncologist told me that I had 6 months to a year to live, a hard diagnosis to receive at age 50, particularly when I had never smoked or been exposed to asbestos, the more common explanations for the illness.

There were long nights following that diagnosis. I never lost my faith, I never doubted God, but the prospect of leaving my wife behind, of not standing to cheer my younger son’s high school graduation, made me truly sad, and desirous to live. I prayed for healing—thought about treatments. And being a car guy, decided that if God saw me through this, I would celebrate by buying a Corvette. Notice I wasn’t bargaining with God, I just would celebrate.

Shopping for Corvettes on the Internet was comforting; it was a distraction from the diagnosis and the rounds of chemo that I did. I looked at cars while I did treatment, while I continued to work, and before I knew it, two years had gone by. That second Easter time I decided that I would go back to my primary care doctor, somebody I hadn’t visited with for two years (if you’re going to die in six months, who cares about the
condition of your prostate or cholesterol!). My doctor was an atheist Jew whom I had enjoyed as a thinker and as a doctor, a person with whom I shared openly my faith, and he his lack of it. Visiting with him he told me, pointing out something that I had noticed already, that the oncologists would never tell me that I was in remission, never mind cured, because when you’re diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer of any type, the best they will say is that they can’t see it. Not that it’s gone, or that there’s been a cure—never that.

God hadn’t, and still hasn’t, told me that I’ve been healed. He can, and He has spoken to me on other occasions, but He hasn’t (and it’s His prerogative – God has been more than fair to me and owes me nothing!). It turns out the doctors will never tell me that I’m cured. And yet, talking with my primary care doctor I was very aware that I was, and am, healthy. So right then and there, in Dr. Zimmerman’s office, I decided I was buying a Corvette!

I had seen this yellow Corvette for sale for about a month. It was bright, and beautiful, and while six years old only had 1,200 miles on it. And, it was half the price of the ones that were that nice with that many miles.

What’s up with that?! The ad said that it had a rebuilt title (a rebuilt title means that the State has branded the car as having been in such a bad accident that the car was totaled), but went on to say that you don’t drive the title, you drive the car. Indeed! And it said that Ravenswood Body Shop fixed it. It was odd that a shop like that would be mentioned, but their shop was behind one of the Methodist churches I was responsible for, and I knew them. They only did high end stuff. So I visited with them, and they raved about the car, that the damage really wasn’t that bad, told me about the owner, and how he had fixed it and upgraded it and then put it in his private collection, etc. So I called.

Turns out this was a Hertz Rental Car (it actually is a designated model – ZHZ) from California. Some guy rented it, took out all the insurances on it, and went jumping with it. On his last jump, going too fast over the railroad tracks, he ripped the front end off, and then on the way down, ripped the back end off. And the car was totaled, bestowing upon it the rebuilt title, and hence the very low price. I bought the car for a song. And in this crazy market, it’s worth about that same today, seven years later.

And here’s the thing. The car was built perfectly in 2008. A couple of months later it was marred by sin. And then it was purchased by a wealthy car collector in Ft. Lauderdale who had Ravenswood restore it to its original state and then some. I’ve named the car “Redemption.”

You and I were created in the image of God. We were created perfectly. But sin, both by nature and nurture, has marred our perfection, and our relationship to that Creator. But on an Easter long ago, Jesus purchased our marred souls with the blood of His sacrifice, and we have been
redeemed. There’s a bright yellow Corvette out in the parking lot that tells me that story every day. If you’d like a ride, or want to talk about
redemption, just let me know.

Yakking away, Craig

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.  Ephesians 1:7,8a

A Message from Pastor Craig

I hurt myself playing a video game. That sounds really dumb, doesn’t it? Or clumsy, or something? How can you physically hurt yourself in a simulated world? Oh, let me count the ways!

My younger son loves car racing. He’s involved in a team that builds cars and enters them into collegiate level competitions. He even has a driving simulator. He took an abandoned car frame from the team’s graveyard, put a seat into it, replaced the windshield with three concave monitors, added a computer where the engine went, and replaced the game controller with hydraulic gas and brake pedals, and—this is where the rub comes—a force feedback steering wheel. In the right mode, the realism of what you experience with those monitors can make a weak stomach seasick. It’s really amazing what the graphics can do!

My problem was with the steering wheel. I was scooting around the Sebring racetrack in a supped up yellow Corvette. The gas pedal requires the same amount of pressure that a real race car does. So do the brakes which is actually quite a lot. And the steering wheel, that fancy piece of machinery, fights you when you steer. It literally has its own motor that counters your input, getting easier to turn the faster you go (like a real car).

But around the last corner, I decided to try a burnout, or at least make the rear end break loose. Well, it worked, and too much, because I crashed the car into the wall. In a simulation game that should just end the race, or mess up the performance of the car, but in this case, it also simulated the rotation of steering wheel, which went crazy in the collision with the wall. And my thumb wasn’t ready for that jolt. Ouch!

This may all sound quite technical…and it is, really. But the bottom line is that the equipment may simulate car driving, but it physically hurt me. The notion that a simulator should not hurt you is kind of like that lie of a dictum – “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Did you ever hear that irreversible binomial before? (Sorry – look that up).

It’s not true! While you can understand why a kid would say that to the jerk that is insulting him or her and the premise seems accurate that it takes physical objects to inflict physical harm, the conclusion that words can’t hurt you is about as sound logic as expecting not to get hurt in a car simulator. In Proverbs 12:18 the writer of wisdom says: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” The connection between the physical pain of a sword cut and words is direct here. And the converse carries as well – a kind word can heal the body. Pretty amazing.

Jesus took this truth and gave it a deeper spiritual meaning when he said “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Mt 15:10,11). Now, obviously Jesus had not been introduced to Watermelon Hard Mountain Dew. But he suggests that what words are what get us into trouble, and hurt us not just, say, in childhood, but hurt us eternally.

We live in a world where a machine asks us (I’m thinking Facebook here) “What’s on your mind” encouraging us to test Jesus’ dictum every time we log on. Job wisely said (in Job 13:5) “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.” This is good social media advice.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can ruin me” should be how the irreversible binomial children’s rhyme goes. As adults we should pay attention.

Yakking away,

Craig

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

A Message from Pastor Craig

What’s the difference between being frugal and being cheap? I consider frugality a virtue, being cheap more of a character flaw. This trait runs deep in me – shopping for clothes is relegated to the clearance rack, buying a car can’t be done without some sense of a giveaway, toothpaste has to come on a palette from Costco. (So do hot dogs, but don’t get me started). And yes, I look for the best bang for the buck at restaurants, too. Calories per dollar is an objective measure. The number of adjectives a sandwich has increases its value as well (so the longest name at Panera would be the sandwich of choice – “Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT” for instance).

This last week I went to Panera with the other pastors of our church. We had a good time together talking about all kinds of things. In line, I told Kernie about my “number of adjectives” theory, but against my frugal instinct, ordered the old school comfort lunch – a grilled cheese (they add the adjective “Classic” since there are no other ingredients to season the name) sandwich and tomato soup. In my defense, it was one of the cheaper options.

But then….the cashier told me that that combination was an “unadvertised special.” Looking at her incredulously, I asked “what?!”  “Yes,” she said,  “you want a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, right?”  I nodded.  “Yeah, it’s not on the board, but we have a special on it.” The price was even lower!  I LOVE this country!

What’s an unadvertised special anyway? What purpose does an unadvertised special serve? I was ready to pay the
advertised price. I had settled on those items. All they did was lower the price (which is AWESOME.  But still…). In a retail store, an unadvertised special will entice you with the special purchase price when you walk by the item. But here at Panera, there were no indications of the special, no incentives offered to buy the sandwich. It was at the discretion of the cashier to inform me that I had selected the magic combo (kind of like finding the “Daily Double” on Jeopardy).

I was thankful for the offer. I smiled and it kind of made my day. The frugal in me was amply rewarded that day at Panera. I was the beneficiary of unmerited favor that Tuesday afternoon.

Do you know what the difference is between grace and mercy? Mercy is not getting something bad you do deserve. Grace is getting something good that you don’t deserve. I didn’t do anything to earn the favor of the price reduction (unlike, say, having the price reduced because I had enough points on my Panera card).

I think the advertised special of the Christian faith is salvation. It’s eternal life. It’s a life pardoned from the wages of sin.  But there are a lot of unadvertised specials too. Like love…and joy…and peace…and patience (this is starting to sound like Galatians 5). An unadvertised special of the faith is community. I find friends and colleagues and comfort in the people who call themselves of The Way. And each of those specials, of which there are an infinite number more, are of infinite more worth than the Panera deal too.

The life of the apprentice of Jesus is one large dose of grace. It is, maybe, one big unadvertised special. Whether you are frugal or a connoisseur of the finest, what God has to offer is way greater than the price of admission—which is free in the first place. My kind of price!

Back from lunch,

Craig.

…in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  Ephesians 2:7-9

A Message from Pastor Craig

Are you a news junkie?  I confess that I am, even if I don’t necessarily retain all that I read or listen to. I read multiple news sources in the morning, watch the 6:30 news in the evening, and get all kinds of updates on denominational and church news during the day.  I don’t know how much that changes anything, but I do consume a lot of news.

So, it seems odd that I missed this bit of curious news from the AP.  Back in June, the AP reported (and apparently was not picked up by anybody that I read) that somebody lost a crate full of homing pigeons on an (particularly bumpy?) exit off of I-95 in Daytona. The homing pigeons were found cowering around the guardrail where they fell, all bunched
together, going nowhere.

A couple of things here:

  1. Why do these kinds of things happen only in Florida? Do you know that the Internet has this thing called “Florida Man?”  It’s a meme for “only in Florida” dumb things that happen. You can look it up on Wikipedia!  These kind of things really lend credence to the “Flori-duh!” reputation we have.  Even our birds struggle!  And…
  2. Homing pigeons should find their way home, shouldn’t they? Have you ever been to a funeral where they release homing pigeons? They are amazing to watch as they flutter out of their cages, soar upward, and suddenly all turn in the same direction and dart home. These birds have been used in wartime to relay messages back and forth. They are amazing. So what’s up with these guys? They were freed from their cage, but didn’t go anywhere.

 

Now, pointing fingers is dangerous, right? Regarding point one above, a lot of crazy things happen in Florida because we have such a populous state. When you consider that we are the third largest state by population and have so many
tourists to boot, crazy things will happen just by the law of averages.

But point two brings me some pause too.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has “set eternity on the human heart (NIV).”  God instilled a “homing” device in us that orients us towards Him. I think instinctually, when, say, we go to the beach in the evening and see the wonder of the universe peak through one star at a time, we are drawn “home.”  We are drawn towards the creator of the vastness we see, and the relative minuteness of our own selves.

That reaction seems “natural,” and the Scriptures tell us it is. But how often, like those cowering pigeons on I-95, do we huddle with other heaven-oriented souls and fritter our lives away either in worry or doubt or just plumb laziness?  Sometimes I think I watch the news just to enjoy the company of those for whom the day has been worse than mine. I huddle by the seeming safety of the screen like those pigeons by the pole on I-95.

Life is more fun when you’re flying home. We are fully human when we are moving heavenward. We are fulfilled when we’re moving—not when we’re cowering. God’s voice is a siren on the waters beckoning us home. Are you listening?

Going home,

Craig

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. Psalm 19:1,2

 

A Message from Pastor Craig

Shade is what I look for in a walk. So walking the beach for any distance is fun, but it requires a lot of work and exposure to the sun.  So I like parks with lots of trees or neighborhoods with lots of tree cover. Finding 5 miles of that though, can be elusive.  If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

The other day the sun was setting and I decided to walk to the ocean. Now, Palmetto Park Road qualifies neither as a park (although there is one you walk by) nor a neighborhood street lined with trees. It’s busy and noisy, and not the most scenic although pretty churches line the section I walk.

But it’s the way to get to the ocean. I like the beach, but it’s the ocean that I love. There’s something about the ocean that makes you walk several miles to just stand on the South Beach Pavilion and stare at… well, not much really. There might be a boat or two out there, the clouds might have interesting forms, but pretty much, for as far as the eye can see, all you see is water. Just water. Only water. And yet, you can stare at it for hours. Why? Maybe it’s because 70% or something of our composition is water. Maybe we know that without water these is no life, so we find security in it. Maybe we dream of travel, of mastering the water with whatever navigable vessel we have.

Personally, I watch waves. I look for the surfable wave. I don’t have to be surfing (I love body surfing – more on that in a second) to watch for the good waves; there’s some little delight in predicting which one will break in the right way to make for a long ride. Watching actual surfers figure that out too is fun.

As a teenager I participated in a youth group that went on campouts to the most surfable beaches in Costa Rica. As a teenager I decided that what I liked about body surfing the most was feeling the power of the ocean propelling me faster and farther than I could do on my own. The power of rushing water, at times powerful enough to rip my shorts off and sometimes powerful enough to pound me into the sand, reminded me that there was a power in very close proximity to me that was immense. That power could kill me. That power could ruin my day. And it could make me smile like there was no tomorrow.

You know where I’m headed here. As humans we tend to fill our heads with the notion that we are the greatest power out there. Or that there is no power that we cannot tame. No. As anybody who has gone through a powerful hurricane will tell you, no, you can’t tame all the powers to be. Anyone who has seen a volcano explode or mud slide will attest to the notion that there are many powers that are greater than our own.

God is the greatest of those. God is a force that cannot be contained. God’s power is not something that we can predict or control. For a reason, Proverbs says “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” God’s power is not like a little pond which is pretty to look at. The Lord’s power is like the ocean, slow like the tide sometimes, swift as a hurricane at others, delightful like a wave breaking the whole length of the beach, beautiful like a coral reef.

Like the ocean, you can ride the tidal changes, you can surf the waves of God’s power. You can be buoyed by it, and be overcome by it. Fearing the ocean is the beginning of a good day at the beach, right? You don’t go in if it’s angry. Fear is recognizing your limits, not being paralyzed by them.

You can stare at the ocean for hours. Why? Because it speaks to a power that is not our own. A power that is beautiful and life giving, but not taken for granted because it is so much bigger than we are. I hope today in church will be that kind of
experience for you.

Ready to get out on the water,

Craig

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20