A Message from Pastor Craig

Staying in this part of Nashville means that Methodism secretly surrounds you. To the north of my room here at the Scarritt-Bennet Center is the center of finance for the United Methodist Church—the General Council on Finance and Administration. Across the street to the west—all the Discipleship programs have their central command, as does the support for Higher Education and Ministry. There also is the Upper Room with their famous Last Supper carving. The biggest of all these is where I am staying, the Scarritt-Bennet Center. I won’t tell you all it’s history—it looks like a Medieval English boarding school—its architecture lending to its original educational purposes. Who knows the servants that prepared for ministry that lived in this little dorm room I’m staying in!

All of this, however, lies in the large shadow of Vanderbilt University. Founded by a Methodist bishop, and aligned with the Methodist church till the early 1900s, it still has a seminary, but is simply a large and prestigious research university that looms even larger than its 330 acre campus would indicate. Into this milieu walks this simple Methodist preacher from Boca Raton.

The place is beautiful. Lots of trees and old buildings (many filled with antiques) line the quad of the school, and many of its streets.  Walking towards the west end of campus, a ‘fer piece’ away, I saw a large tower. It looked like a church steeple only bigger. In Chicago and in Oklahoma City I have seen churches built into towers, so I wondered if this was one of them. As I got closer, porticos and walkways gave the feel of an old English city street. Looking at the corner sign, which simply said “Vanderbilt University” I figured this must have been the original building of VU. Really, I thought that to myself. After all, I’ve been to the Biltmore Estate, and this was at that scale and appeared from the same vintage.

Content to stand in amazement no more, I stopped a young man and asked him what this place was. He said it was the newest dorm on campus. “What?” I asked with an incredulous chuckle. “Yeah. Finished last December. We are the first residents.” I shook my head in disbelief at how wrong my call was. “Look, the twin building is still under construction” he said before walking off.

Wow!  How does the old saying go? “You can’t judge a book by its cover?” The oldest looking building was in fact the newest. Blew my mind! And let me tell you, they are going to hate, hate, the maintenance costs on those buildings in the decades to come. A dream to look at today, a nightmare for tomorrow. (That’s something I’m learning about in the facilities discussions this week). And completely irrelevant to where I’m headed.

God sent the amazing prophet Samuel to find a new king for Israel. He told him to find one of Jesse’s sons. Great choice, but God kept saying no. God said – “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

If I had looked at the inside of the building, I would have seen the modern accoutrements and design. I would have seen the green (eco-friendly) touches. I would have talked to a kid in the dorm and found out more. Samuel hadn’t looked on the inside of Jesse’s sons.  Just the outside. And God had to correct that.

I think we should do the same with everybody we meet, not assuming anything till we visit with them, get to know them, and them us. The sociologists call this “proximity.” When we get closer to people, we get to know them, and our attitude changes towards them.  Maybe it’s your next-door neighbor – our physical proximity doesn’t always mean social proximity! Maybe it’s somebody an aisle over in church. Say hi to them. You never know who they might turn out to be!

Saying hi to folks,

   Craig

Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.  John 7:24 (NLT)

A Message from Pastor Craig

Do you remember the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral? How long ago was that? COVID has messed up my sense of time – so it’s hard for me to intuit how long ago things like that were.

Last April marked the two-year anniversary of that fire. The other night Janice and I watched a couple of documentary presentations on where things stand today. It’s taking a long time to fix. Archeologists sift through every bagful of debris collected. They find 15th Century nails, for instance, and preserve them. That takes time. Off-site carpenters construct replacement beams, and the beams to support other beams. It all takes time. One of the most time-consuming tasks involve the removal of damaged structure. You can’t just go up there and start tearing things down. You will fall through undetected damaged walls or ceilings just trying to get at the visually damaged structure. It’s a huge task.

The process of dismantling the charred ruins from the fire fascinated me. They have to start at the top if they are to preserve as much as possible. So, they decided to build scaffolding all around the building including all the way around the top. (That structure in and of itself has its own beauty.) Carpenters, precariously hanging a hundred feet up, hang down like cave divers to access the charred material.

So… hanging from scaffolding on a rope more than a hundred feet up, secured by a harness around their waist, they are expected to yank out big pieces of wood, sometimes charred, sometimes not. But what do they brace against to pull on these things? They can’t hold on or plant their feet on the actual building. It might all come crashing down. When you rope down a cave, the cave wall serves as an
anchoring point. But not for the spidermen of Notre Dame! It’s nearly impossible work.

Which led me to think about our lives. Sometimes we feel like we are hanging from a thread. And the struggles of life make us feel like we are hanging way above a terrifying precipice. Now, God has gifted us with skills and gifts to “hang in there.” Those gifts and graces enable us to get through all of life, not just the scary parts.

But with all that equipment, with all those skills and resources, it’s really hard to navigate without anchor points. What’s going through my head is the image of launching a boat. If you’re on the dock and you put one foot in the boat and then push off with the other foot, the boat will drift away from the dock. Why? Because the dock is anchored in the ground and you can push away from it. However, try to launch the same boat while you’re floating in the water—how well is that going to go? You can’t push it because you have no solid point from which to push.

So it is with life. It’s hard to launch without an anchoring point. There has to be some solid reference point for leverage. We live in a fluid ever-changing world where things that we thought grounded us shift all the time. But God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6). God is immovable (Psalm 144:1). In our lives, when we need an anchoring point or when we need an immovable reference point—God is that.

And that’s what church is for. It’s so that children can learn where the reference points of life are. Knowing where the ground is allows you to fly with confidence. Knowing what is immovable allows you to press against it and move the things that need to move. Not having those strongholds to stand on makes life hard, like pulling remnants of a fire while dangling on a rope way up in the cupulas of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Scriptures only serve as reference points for us when we know them. Singing the Psalms and reading the Gospels, and hearing the Word proclaimed will offer us those handles to hang on to when confronted with the realities of this life we know as the present.

Leaning on the anchor points, Craig

Bless the Lord who is my immovable Rock. He gives me strength and skill in battle.  He is always kind and loving to me; he is my fortress, my tower of strength and safety, my deliverer. He stands before me as a shield.  Psalm 144:1,2

A Message from Pastor Craig

So, it was Labor Day and we drove down to Lake Boca Raton. It’s funny how people buy boats to get away from it all, and then end up all bunched together on one sand bar. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was great seeing hundreds of boats, and jet skis, and paddle boarders and kayaks, and… well, something I had never seen before.

Have you seen kids being pulled behind a boat sitting in some kind of inflatable tube? They buzz right along, flying at the speed of the boat, bouncing with the waves or the wake of the boat, holding on tight as the driver tries to knock them off with vertical or lateral g-forces. I’ve enjoyed the challenge and the ultimate defeat as you fly off into the water. It’s fun.

Well, I saw someone, it appeared to be a larger adult, following behind a boat, but on his stomach. He wasn’t sitting on an inflatable—he was head-first, skimming his tummy on the water. That seemed either one, uncomfortable, or two, a great challenge (or both). But as I watched him, I didn’t see a rope behind the boat he was following. And then, he took a left turn, and just started wandering around the big blob of boats and people on the sand bar.

What?!? His speed did not decrease. He was just skimming along, he looked like he was swimming at some outlandish speed, except that his arms weren’t moving and neither were his legs. He kept going, and going, till he disappeared from sight. Again, what?!?

Earlier I had seen two guys on electric hydrofoils. Have you seen those? They look like they are walking on water. Standing on a board, an engine and propeller below the water elevates the board above the water surface, and off they go. That looked like fun!

It also made me think that if you took that apparatus to the Sea of Galilee, some might think that you were walking on water like Jesus did.  The thought almost sounded sacrilegious, but I started thinking about how technology nowadays can make routine of what seemed miraculous years ago. Advances in medicine for instance. Or the speed of travel. Or talking to someone on another continent while sitting up in a tree.  Or…. technology has certainly changed our perspective on things.

I think that we have grown accustomed to taking our needs to technology instead of to the Lord. Blame can fly all over but technology has not solved the COVID problem. Technology has not solved the hunger issues of our country and the world. And technology helps us mitigate the power of nature, but not solve its disasters. And technology has not solved the condition of my soul. My body can hover over the water while on my feet or on my belly, but without the miracle of Grace, I cannot remedy the hurts, hang-ups and habits of my life. I can appear in front of a group of kids in Sunday School class in Florida while I am standing on a rural street in Kenya, but I can’t fix the mistrust created by a broken relationship. Through technology we can do amazing things (like read any translation of the Bible on my phone, or watch a streamed worship service), but only God can solve the true condition of our humanity.

Jesus walked unaided by technology on the water one night out on the Sea of Galilee. He calmed the storms of the waters and calmed the fears in His disciples’ hearts. He can do the same today. Jesus is still in the healing business today. Ours is to reach out to Him, and not the latest technological advances (cool as they may be!). Test your faith. Pray. And see what God can do. Not the hydrofoil.

Preaching to myself,

Craig

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5,6

A Message from Pastor Craig

Have you thought about sacred spaces? Is there a sacred place in your life? By a sacred space I mean a place that because of an experience, its architecture, or the activity in it, you are drawn to a conversation or experience with God.

I walked into somebody else’s sacred space the other day. I was down in Dania Beach, and went to check out the old First United Methodist Church of Dania. Years ago a group of us worked hard at keeping a United Methodist presence there on US-1, but a few years ago they sold the church. I wanted to see what has happened to it.

The building has big gold domes on it. There are crosses on those domes, indicating that some version of Orthodox church has taken over.  As I walked around the building, an older lady shuffled towards the church from the parking lot. As I looked her way, she immediately started shaking her head.  “Do you speak English?” I asked her. She shook her head with more vigor. But she motioned me to follow her. We went to the front door which was unlocked, and I, mistakenly, held the door for her. She shook her head. I insisted. The AC felt great—why wouldn’t she go in?

When the woman saw my stubbornness, she raised her eyebrows a little, and then—out there on US1—she began a whole ritual of genuflecting, crossing herself, and kissing the ground, and… I saw why she wanted to spare me holding the door for her. When she was done, she looked at me, smiled, and walked in. I smiled too, but looked down, and put my hand on my forehead in apology and reverence.

What we would call the Narthex—the gathering space inside the building before you enter the Sanctuary proper—was a store. You could buy any number of icons and iconography. You could stock up on thin prayer candles. I don’t know what else they had, it was all in Russian. The storekeeper welcomed me and answered my questions.

Then I walked into the Sanctuary. I had worshiped there with an African American church—the lively music still resonating in my head.  But…

Now.. The front 2/3’s of the pews had been removed. They had covered the chancel with tall curtains covering the whole front, providing the backdrop for large icons, life-sized icons of Jesus, Mary and angels, and an altar full of flowers with candles burning all over. I had walked into Russia, right there on US1 in Dania Beach.

As you looked around the Sanctuary, the icons got smaller but more prevalent. In that open area left by the pews, way to the left, was a prayer station where my older Russian guide prepared herself for prayer.

I sat away from her very aware that she had invited me into her sacred space. It wasn’t as sacred to me—too many memories of the church past flooded my heart. But I could tell I was in a sacred space, and I could see whose, right there in front of me. So it became sacred to me too.  And I prayed. Too cheap to buy a candle though.

I hope this place today is sacred for you. I hope that church this morning provides a physical space to connect with the transcendent, that the space we carve out with brick and mortar, but also the space we carve out in the course of this day, will allow for us to meet God here—to find His comfort, to find His will, to find fellowship in our worship.

If I knew how to genuflect and cross myself, I would have done so on my way out of that most amazing space. A Russian lady had invited me to encounter God that afternoon, and I did. I was grateful.

Back home,

Craig

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and bless His name. For the LORD is good, and His loving devotion endures forever; His faithfulness continues to all generations.   Psalm 100:4,5