A Message from Pastor Craig

I’m not into post medieval writers. Really. I know that I have introduced this guy John Bunyan to y’all, and I’m about to talk about another person from the 17th Century. But I am not well versed in these things—I just like to know a little about the greats in our faith, great saints who have gone before us who contributed to who we are today as Christians. Brother Lawrence is one of those.

Brother Lawrence was a Catholic monk, born in 1614, who led a peasant life as a boy, and gave himself to an ascetic monastic life as an adult. He had a reputation of truly loving God and walking with God continuously.  He never wrote a book (wasn’t particularly educated enough for one thing), never preached, and spent his life working in the kitchen and mending people’s sandals (he himself was left lame in the war). He was known for walking with God continuously, or as he put it, Practicing the Presence of God.

In a letter to a friend, he once wrote:

“We must always work at it (walking with God continuously-that’s my note), because not to persevere in the spiritual life is to go back. But those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep. If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the Lord who reposes in it. He will quickly calm the sea.”

“If the vessel of our soul is still tossed” not only is a picturesque way of describing how many of us have felt spiritually, it connects us to that wonderful story of Jesus calming a storm (Mark 4). Ever since I went to Israel and saw a 2000-year-old boat from the Sea of Galilee (it was a real big row boat), I have marveled at how Jesus could have been asleep in such a little boat in such rough seas. Brother Lawrence reminds us that the Jesus who slept completely unfettered by the storm that night so long ago, remains unrattled by the storms in our lives today. That Lord is in us, and while the “vessel of our souls” often is disquieted by the things of life, Jesus isn’t. And if we turn to Him, He is still the Word through whom all things were created (John 1:3), and will speak to Nature itself to quiet the storms of our lives.

The question Brother Lawrence would ask us is, “are you Practicing the Presence of God (I capitalize that because his writings and teachings were compiled into a book by that name) enough to where you can ask Jesus to do so?”

A boat is a great illustration of being in the world but not of the world (ref. John 17:14-16 or John 15:19).  A boat is in the water but can’t be of the water.  Too much water in the boat means it won’t be a boat anymore.  We know the world serves up storms.  We can’t avoid that.  We are not satellites that hover over the Earth and get to watch it from afar.  Sometimes we are more like the Hurricane Hunter planes that have to fly into the storms.  Sometimes we’re the boats that get caught by the storms.  But in either case, with Jesus in the boat, we can awaken Him “who reposes in it.”  And He will “quickly calm the sea.”  I love that language.  And the idea.

God is good. And is with us. Hallelujah!

Checking the back of the boat,

Craig

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good purpose. 
Philippians 2:12,13

A Message from Pastor Craig

Walking the other day in Nashville brought me, quite serendipitously, to a recreation of the Parthenon. Seeing that sight brought back memories of taking church folk to Greece and Italy as recently as a couple of years ago. I remembered fun times traveling with friends and discovering new things.

It also reminded me of some of the quirks of the original building. It was designed to look like a massively solid, perfectly square, structure. Massive it is but square it’s not. The floor of the building slopes down towards the corners.  Why?  To make the massive columns look straight when viewed from a distance. The columns themselves don’t stand perfectly straight. They are ever so slightly tilted to, again, give the appearance of a perfectly linear building when looked at from a distance. Even the columns themselves were given a little bulge in the middle because pillars can appear to get skinny in the middle when viewed all together.

Crazy, isn’t it? Architects and historians have speculated about why they did this. Did they do it to give the temple a sense of breathing, of being alive?  Or was it about the optical illusions? The more commonly agreed on reason is that they were “striving to achieve… true perfection; a quality of perfection worthy of the gods.” (ref.: greece-is.com).

All Christian cathedrals have been built with that idea – that you offer to God the best that the architect, and the builders, and the people financing it, have to offer. I get that. I want to present myself as perfectly before God as I can. After all, Jesus called us to be “perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). But do I alter the outward
appearances, hiding the appearances of imperfection, to give the appearance of perfection? Is perception more important than reality?

I really got stuck on this in Greece. And it turns out that in Nashville the architect charged with making the Parthenon a permanent structure replicated all these visual tricks as well. He did a great job. So is it perfect?

At the end of the day, what I want in my life is for God to measure not the appearances, but the truth of my standing before Him. Are my decisions and thoughts right? Are they straight at right angles, or do they just appear so from a
distance? Upon closer inspection do they tilt off in one direction or another?

I marvel at the architecture in Greece and in Nashville. In Nashville they built the thing on a slope! In Athens it lies on the flat top of a knoll. In both places it’s really cool to look at. Both of them made me think of my relationship with the Lord. Is that not the purpose of a temple in the first place?

Our church is a little more modest. But its purpose today is the same. Will it be a place where we can encounter God, a place where we entertain grander thoughts, a place where we understand ourselves small in relation to the God we
worship, but immensely privileged to be provided for, and loved by that amazing one true God?

That’s what brings us together. Let us worship Him. In Spirit and in Truth, and with a little wonder.

Still working on that perfection thing,

Craig

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Matthew 5:46-48

A Message from Pastor Craig

I woke up this morning laughing.  Seriously.  I was laughing hysterically; it was the laughter that woke me up.  Fortunately, I didn’t wake Janice up, but I was really laughing.  Has this happened to you?

In my dream a person, who couldn’t jump any higher than a steamroller could, was trying to hook a banner up by taking a running jump up at the hook on a wall.  The person was laughing as they attempted the feat, onlookers laughed too, and being a person who can’t jump much either, so was I.  To the point where it woke me up.

Wouldn’t it be great if we woke up to laughter every morning?  The world would be a better place!  Sadly, I can’t say that happens to me much.  As a matter of fact, I rarely remember what I dreamt about in the first place.  I wish I did.  At least most of the time I wish I did.  Sometimes you don’t want to remember your dreams!

I read somewhere that the Bible records 21 dreams.  In the course of thousands of years of recorded history in the Bible, that only 21 are recorded seems pretty sparse.  Half of those come from Genesis, and six from Matthew.

The Bible teaches about dreams too.  In Numbers 12:6 it says, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.”  So God speaks through dreams.  Both in Joel and in Acts it says: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;”  Now, it doesn’t say what kind of dreams the old men will have, so I guess last night proved the Scriptures true!

Humans have long been fascinated with dreams.  They are mysterious to us, and I have no new insight to add.  I will say that I have always understood Biblical dreams to be serious, to be directives that God gives to His people.  Having said that, the imagery in Judges 7:13,14 is pretty hilarious – look it up!  The interpretation was quite a leap!

So what if the dreams the old men have turn out to be just funny?  What if God provided dreams not just to instruct, but also to reassure, to comfort, to entertain?  What if we looked for God in our dreams, all of them?  Maybe, once in a while, we would actually hear/see/remember something of significance.  I really want to remember more of my dreams – how about you?

Still smiling,

Craig

If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  Proverbs 3:24

A Message from Pastor Craig

The hill is called Chilhowie and it starts at the Ocoee River and goes up, and up and up. The ascent tests your car’s strength on the hairpin turn-filled road up, and tests your brakes on the way down. On both sides of the road little turnoffs invite you to see out to the four cardinal points, miles upon hundreds of miles of mountains, hills and valleys and rivers and lakes below. I love that road. And every time I get to Cleveland, TN I go up there.

For the view. And for a walk up at the top. Once you get to the top, or close to, there is a little lake and beachfront, created by a dam with a drop inlet (I think that’s what they’re called) feeding a creek below. Long ago folks carved out a path down the mountain along that creek, and where the creek is at its deepest point from the path, a stairway down to the bottom of a beautiful waterfall. Benton Falls they call it.

Being in Nashville for pret’ near two weeks, I had to go back to Chilhowie. And Saturday I did. Halfway down the trail (it’s about two miles down) I came upon 5 people walking together. Two ladies brought up the rear. They struck me because, out there in the woods, they wore long flowing dresses and nice shoes. Two guys walked ahead of them; they too were dressed kind of like they had been to church.  The guys were talking church. I smiled and greeted them as I passed but did not enter the conversation – I had these visions of Pilgrim’s Progress somehow. Of Christian and Faithful talking to each other.

And leading the pack was a boy of about 7 years, dragging a stick intentionally making a deep mark in the dirt. I had seen his markings. So I smiled and told him that I had been following his trail for a long time.

That made him look at me, and smile, and instead of letting me pass, he picked up his pace, carefully watching that I follow his lead. I played along until I got a little worried that our game was distancing him from his parents. So I stopped, and said “Don’t get too far ahead of your parents,” pointing back at them. Right then the dad said “Thank you!” and beckoned for his son to rejoin them. Which he did.

I smiled, waved, and kept going down the hill. As I walked away, I thought about how many kids don’t get to hear those words of wisdom – “don’t get too far ahead of your parents.” Oh, that little boy didn’t understand the deeper meaning of that. That kids get into trouble when they get too far ahead of their parents. Physically like on a mountain path, as well as socially and spiritually. Problems happen when we lose sight of our children – literally and figuratively.

I wanted to go back and underscore the thought for that little boy, but I decided to just take the advice personally, and heed the word as it relates to me and my Heavenly Father. If I get too far ahead of Him, I get in trouble. Mine is to follow Jesus, not try to get ahead of Him.

And come to think of it, the line the young man was leaving in the sand had a lesson in it too. Everything we do leaves some kind of marking in the pathway of life. History is lined with your story and mine.  What have we left for others to follow, or, if not to follow, at least to see?  The witness of our lives is made up of every little increment we have advanced on the path of life. What are we leaving behind as evidence of our faith, our character, our love? The young man in Chilhowie was surprised to learn that someone was paying attention. So might we.

Back from the mountaintop,

Craig.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5,6