A Message from Pastor Craig: 11-28-2021

So, November 28 was the first Sunday in Advent and the traditions are kicking in. Or, at least they are kicking in more than last year!  Praise God for that.

I am grateful for the trees, the lights, and the wreaths that have been put up in the Sanctuary, and that we can come together to enjoy them. I am delighted to come to, and in my case, participate in a concert and a Christmas Eve program, and a live Nativity scene! How awesome is that?!

There is a tradition that I have missed for decades, and for some reason it’s been bouncing in my head here lately, creating a longing that I cannot satisfy at this point. It has to do with Costa Rica where I grew up and a tradition that was very unique to that country.

San Jose, Costa Rica built up around a street called Central Avenue—not unlike many a town anywhere around the world. The Central Market was on it. The National Bank was on it, as were all kinds of businesses. The first McDonalds came to “Avenida Central.” So it was a big deal that throughout December, pretty much every night, they would close down Central Avenue to cars and it turned into a giant pedestrian mall.

That’s not the tradition I speak of exactly. Along that way, people would sell little bags of white stuff. For those of you from Miami, no, not that stuff. These little plastic bags had confetti in them. They might have been newspaper, they might have been office paper, but you bought a bag (or three) of confetti and kept walking. And then you threw it at people. Hopefully on their hair, not in their faces. After a while it looked like snow. You sloshed through it like snow.  You brushed it off your hair and clothing like snow. The street and windowsills got covered with it like snow. It was beautiful and fun.

The tradition apparently started decades before I got there when only at the Central Park, all the maidens lined up on the inside of the sidewalk that circumnavigated it, and the bachelors lined up on the outside. Then the women started walking in one direction and the men started to walk in the opposite direction, and when you saw somebody you liked, you threw some confetti at them. At some point, you hoped, the snow-like flirting would turn into one of the pair turning directions thus turning the flirting into a conversation.  By the time I got to it, it was less of a mating ritual (although not completely) and more of a social, family sort of thing. As a young boy I looked forward to going with my parents and peering into the Christmas toy displays downtown. As a teenager I worked hard at ditching my parents and hanging out with the guys who somehow longed for the days of yesteryear.

Traditions are not about yesteryear. Traditions are built so that you look forward to the opportunity to repeat them.  Traditions drive forward, not backwards. People complain about always eating the same thing at Thanksgiving. They want something novel. Not me! Bring on the turkey! Bring on the pumpkin pie. There are 364 other days to try new stuff. I look forward to recreating the blessing of last year. I look forward to sitting stuffed on the couch and falling asleep in the middle of a loud football game. I look forward to…

Thanksgiving has passed now. I trust you enjoyed the traditions. But more important than the turkey or the apple pie (you really should have both) are the traditions that are coming in Advent: the celebration of God’s declaration to Mary that the Messiah was coming; the celebration of the angels telling the shepherds that the Messiah was born; the celebration of the Magi bearing gifts then discovering the Gift lying in a manger. What tradition do you cherish the most?  I hope you will live into it fully this Advent. And I hope that it has something to do with being in church.

It does for me.

Craig

Oh Come let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord.

A Message from Pastor Craig

Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a few hats. I don’t buy them, I just end up with them. Hats from
United Methodist churches and organizations. Sports teams’ hats because they were giving them away. An occasional gift from a family member – although I’ve more inherited them than unwrapped them.

One of those hats comes from the University of Miami. Because we lived across the street from UM for many years, our sons brought more than one of them home from one event or another. One of them in
particular is pretty cool looking and I fancy myself looking good in it. So I wear it. I wear it when I walk. I wear it when I go to the beach and when I have worn a helmet mountain bike riding and just need to cover up a rat’s nest.

For the last several years, living on the other side of the State, I would wear “The U” hat and thought
nothing of it, nobody said anything to me. Maybe they didn’t say anything because they were all FSU or Gator fans, but still, I got no comments. But coming here, people do say something. “What’d you think of the game yesterday?” they will ask. And I don’t know what they’re talking about. And a second later I go “Oh!” And “Yeah.” And then I have to come clean. I not only didn’t watch the game, I don’t watch the games. I’m really not a fan, I just like the hat. Just last Saturday a guy approached me this way. We were in Naples! And he was visiting from Pittsburg! He was a UM fan from Pennsylvania – you might understand his confusion when I apologized about my ignorance.

Or was it my apathy? I gave an appearance of being a UM fan, but when pressed, I couldn’t back it up. Now, I’m not ready to ditch the hat out of principle (I don’t dislike UM! – I’m just not into college football).  But it did raise a question for me about outward appearances. Do I try to project some image that I really can’t back up in reality? Do I appear to be a good Christian, but when examined, maybe not? Do I do the outward motions of a follower of Jesus, but in my heart I’m just “not that into Him?”

I have another hat. It’s got another “UM” logo – it’s got the logo of the United Methodist Church. It also says something about Disaster Relief. Nobody, not a soul, has asked me about that one, but if they did, I could tell them all kinds of things. I really like that hat too. Maybe I’ll wear it most often now. But the
question remains the same: what consistency is there between my outward appearances and my inner
practices?

This is the life of the Christian – to make our soul reflective of the Savior Who has redeemed it. The outward appearances are secondary to the transformation that Jesus has for our hearts. But the green and orange hat reminded me that there should be a consistency between the two.

Last Sunday in the Traditional service we sang that anthem from the 60’s – And They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love. Well, there is the outward sign of the spiritual grace that has been given us.  What people see needs to be consistent with what is going on in our heads and our hearts. This is a
challenge for us at home, on the road, in the grocery store, with a client – in every aspect of our lives. Let us love others.

The good news is, with God’s help – we can do it!

Choosing a better cap,

Craig

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or height, for I have rejected him; the LORD does not see as man does. For man sees the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7

A Message from Pastor Craig

Did you see this? A headline from the Associated Press around Halloween time announced: “Pennsylvania prosecutors have dropped a felony theft charge against a man who underpaid for a soda by 43 cents.” What?! That doesn’t seem reasonable!

Makes you kind of question the Justice system, right?  They were calling an underpayment of 43 cents a crime!  Not a misdemeanor, but a crime, worthy of jail time?

The story goes that the guy was at a gas station, saw that Mountain Dew (which I believe is the best drink ever) was 2 for $3.00. So, he grabbed one, put 2 $1.00 bills on the counter and walked off. Seems reasonable. But because he only got one, the register demanded $2.29 plus tax. At this point he had walked away. So the clerk reported him to the police. For $.43 – that doesn’t seem reasonable.

Well, the guy had two other misdemeanors on his record, and in Pennsylvania, the home of the city of brotherly love, a third misdemeanor automatically becomes a felony. Seems reasonable. I think. So the dude, for miscalculating 43 cents, was charged with a felony. Bail was set at $50,000 cash, and he sat in jail for a week till a public defender could convince a judge to let him go. That doesn’t seem reasonable.

But then, come to find out, besides the two petty thefts from years ago, this guy had been caught stealing items from Hobby Lobby with his wife just this last summer, and had recently paid $2,000 bail and was working on a “diversion” program that the State offers. 

So now, what’s reasonable?

The Bible encourages us to be slow in judging what might be reasonable or not.  In Romans 2:1 the apostle Paul says: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Jesus was more direct: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:37,38a).

The Bible doesn’t teach that you don’t judge at all (Jesus also is quoted as saying “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? Luke 12:57).  We have to pass judgement all the time. Do I trust someone with my money?  Do I trust the person when they motion for me to go first in traffic? Do I trust the neighborhood to go walking in it?  They’re all kinds of judgements we have to make from day to day. But when it comes to other people’s behavior, the Bible asks us to slow down. Partly because we tend to want leniency when it comes to ourselves, but strict justice when it comes to others. The Bible also asks for some pause because we have to recognize that God is the only One who sees the whole picture. Like the story about the dude and the Mountain Dew, with each turn in the story, you kind of change your mind. God not only knows all the facts in the story, He knows the heart of that individual.  You and I don’t.

We live in a world so chalk full of information that we have to quickly judge what matters and what doesn’t. The Lord asks us to look beyond the headlines however, and towards the people behind them, and then seek to relate to them.

Words to live by!

Reserving judgement,

Craig

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  John 8:7,8

A Message from Pastor Craig

Growing up in Costa Rica, I did not grow up with any Halloween traditions. I remember dressing up once or twice when I was little – it seemed more fun for my parents and more torturous to me – I don’t remember what the costume was, I just know it didn’t make sense to me at the time. And again, when we moved abroad, the tradition never really registered.

Coming back to the States I have had mixed reactions to the holiday, sometimes as a parent, sometimes as a pastor, but right now, as an adult male. You see, as a kid, you go and you try to collect as much candy as possible. You grow the stash as high as possible. And you try to keep it from your parents, who you just know steal from your stash. You suspect that it’s because they don’t want you to have all the sugar, but you wonder if Dad isn’t just consuming it. But anyway, eating the candy is of great delight, and of no consequence physically.

But now? Now the left-over stash from the trick-or-treaters that didn’t show up is a real problem. Even if you managed the amounts well at home (which we didn’t), a stash will still appear in the office, where some co-worker or another brings their leftovers to lead the rest of us into temptation.

That’s what the Snickers down the hall are – a basket-full of temptation. I don’t eat that much candy, I shouldn’t eat ANY. The
physical implications of the candy debauchery are much more evident as an adult as they were when I was a kid. I know, Snickers told us over and over “you’re not you when you’re hungry.” And those ads were funny.  Truly good comedic stuff. But I’m not me
AFTER I eat a Snickers.  I become more of me.

The Lord’s Prayer says “Lead us not into temptation.” We don’t want to fall into temptation, just like I don’t want to consume
another one of those Snickers bars. But it’s hard. My Dad, a seminary trained theologian, had us pray that line of the Lord’s prayer as “Let us not be led into temptation.” Theologically that version makes sense – God does not lead us into temptation. The devil does. Or we ourselves do. Or whoever it was that put that dreaded basket on the table down the hall!

Ultimately, the resistance to temptation is an act of the will though. I cannot ask God’s help in that, regardless of how you interpret the phrase, if I don’t intend to resist the urge myself. Asking God to not lead us into temptation is to ask God for strength as we
exercise our wills against whatever the temptations are that lie before us. The prayer, all of the Lord’s Prayer really, is a recognition of my dependence on God. In all aspects of my life. Including the Snickers down the hall.

Trying to walk past them,

Craig

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

A Message from Pastor Craig

We celebrated All Saints Day last Sunday (October 31, 2021). Whenever I think of the saints who have gone before us, I think first of my grandparents. All four of them were dedicated Christian people. The outward signs were more visible to me in my grandfathers, although they couldn’t have been more different.  One was a missionary in Costa Rica, another a newspaper man for the Altoona Mirror – not a huge rag by any means.

Both loved their Bibles. Both prayed fervently.  And both loved to hike. I hiked with both of them, and happier days I have not spent than those days conversing with them while traversing the hills of Pennsylvania or Costa Rica. I suppose that’s why I like to walk so much.

The other day while walking my regular path at Emerson Point Park (this is in Manatee County), I started taking pictures of all the signs you encounter along the way. The first one was kinder, it said “Please stay off the grass—Restoration in Process.” The next one was similar: “Shoreline Restoration in Progress—Please use Boardwalk.”  The next one spoke more directly: “KEEP OUT–Restoration in progress–Please Use Marked Paths to Access Water.” Next: “Foot Traffic Only Beyond this Point.” (I love bicycles too–this one bothers me). “All animals must be on a leash.”  “No Fishing and Cast Netting” (I wondered if you only did one or the other, if it was OK). Then specifically the bicycle hater sign, just a bike symbol crossed out. Cancel culture at its worst!  I think the rest of the signs around the park were just repeats of these.

We are reading through Pilgrim’s Progress as a congregation. And as I walked through the park, I felt that many people, a few non-Christians included, think that the Christian Way, or the Pilgrim’s Progress, is just one series of do’s and don’ts—mostly don’ts.  Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery are the first ones. “Don’t smoke or chew, or go out with girls who do” comes from the Book of Hesitations, but it follows that basic idea.  Don’t drink, don’t cheat, don’t miss church, don’t, don’t, don’t. The Pilgrim’s Progress seems like a daunting, no fun, uphill walk on the very straight and narrow–both questionable attributes for this day and age.

Is that what it is? No.

For one thing, the signs at Emerson Point are there so that the largest number of people can enjoy the park for the longest time possible. The rules God set forth were so that the largest number of people could live in harmony with one another for the longest amount of time. We should take note.

Also, I took pictures of those negative signs. But the VAST majority of the park does not have those signs. Most of it is unadulterated vistas of mangroves, river, Gulf, Indian mounds, etc. The park is for the delight of the humans that roam it. So it is with the Bible. Read the synoptic Gospels. They are about the “Yes” of God towards this Earth, and the “Yes” of Jesus towards individuals. They are not about don’ts, or a big potential “no” from God. Does God love us? Yes! He came and visited with us. “Jesus, will you heal me?” “Yes.” “Jesus, can I live a forgiven life?” “Yes.” “Jesus, can you feed me?” “Yes.”  “God, is there hope?” YES! What did Jesus say? “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 KJV).

And, well, yeah! What about those promises spread throughout the Scriptures? Some suggest there are 3000 or more of them. Eight of the Ten Commandments are set in negative terms, yes.  But they are far outweighed by the positive words of God in Scripture. Just look!

Oh, and then there’s the love that you develop for the park, I mean the Christian Way, when you spend more and more time in it. But that’s for another sermon.

Walking under the cloud of witnesses,

Craig

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Hebrews 12:1