A Message from Pastor Craig: 10-02-2022

It’s been a while since we had to deal with a hurricane.  That’s a good thing, and getting almost through September this year, it seemed like we might not have to.  But alas, Ian kind of messed with all of us in some form or another.  Hurricanes have a way of doing that to us.

For Janice and I, the storm simply brought our granddaughter to our home.  That worked out great!  We are grateful to be able to have a place where they could come and escape the passing storm, if not its effects.

In my prayer time this morning I was reminded of an experience of hurricane preparedness from several years ago.  We had shuttered the church (which had accordion shutters – not a big deal), and we had shuttered the parsonage (which had big steel
panels – that was a bigger deal), and were now ready to help others.  The church’s sexton was an older gentleman who lived with his wife in a very modest home with no shutters.  Some guys from the church had managed to get plywood, which back then didn’t cost its weight in gold, and the hardware necessary to attach them to his house.

Generally, as a storm approaches, it starts to rain.  And then it doesn’t.  And then it pours.  And then it doesn’t.  And early in the morning as I drove to join the folks who had committed to put up shutters, I saw a rainbow in the clouds straight ahead of me. I thought it peculiar that a rainbow would show up before the storm.  Usually they come afterwards.

But, how delightful to see it there before the storm!  As you know, the rainbow was used by God to sign a covenant that he made with Noah.  After the flood, after the storm, God told Noah that the rainbow he saw was a symbol of the covenant God made with Noah to never completely flood the earth again.  It was a kind sign.  It was meant as a gentle reminder of God’s mercy.  It was meant to make us smile, and be reminded that God smiles on us.

And that happened that day.  When I got to the sexton’s house, I smiled and delighted in being there with brothers and sisters committed to helping others.  All under the eye of a God who smiles at His children.

I forget what the aftermath of that storm was.  I don’t remember how bad it was.  All I remember was that the shutters we put up actually made it through the storm and they were OK.  That was rather miraculous actually—you never know how volunteer work is going to go!

As I write this, Ian has not gone by yet.  I know it has already caused plenty of distress in Puerto Rico and in Cuba.  I don’t know what it holds for our children’s homes.  But I do know that regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the aftermath, God walks with us before the storm, during the storm and afterwards. And the promise of His mercy is there, evidenced throughout, coccasionally even before the storm in the form of a rainbow.

Grateful for the promises,

Craig

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between Me and you and every living creature with you,
 a covenant for all generations to come: I have set My rainbow in the clouds,
and it will be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.  Genesis 9:12,13

A Message from Pastor Craig: 9-25-2022

 The Queen’s death has dominated the news this week.  And rightly so, she was not our queen, but was THE queen for the rest of us.  If WE think of her as the queen, was she not our queen too?  I thought it was cool that at the Southernmost Point of the US, down in Key West, just for a day they replaced the United States flag with the British flag.  It was kind of like them playing our National Anthem at Buckingham Palace after 9/11.  The queen’s passing rightfully dominated the news.

But other things happened of course.  And one that you probably missed is a news item sent to me by a couple of alert readers about some red heifers unloaded at the Ben Gurion airport in Israel.

Why would there be fanfare in the US about some red heifers being delivered in Israel?  Well, some Christians in Texas had read the writings of a Spanish Jew who lived in the 12th Century. That’s why.   Moses ben Maimon apparently was quite an accomplished physician and philosopher and rabbi.  You can read about him under Maimonides in Wikipedia.  He suggested that the Messiah would sacrifice a red bull when He returned.  So, these kind folks in Texas sent the cows so that Israel would be ready.  This captured the imagination of more than one Adventist.

I have two thoughts on this:

One, I suffer from a very simple theological disease called “waitandsee.”  I really don’t think that we as Christians will do any better at predicting Jesus’ return than people did when He came the first time.  And we can no better make the Messiah come back (like lining up cows in Israel) than we can predict when he’s coming (which Jesus told us nobody knows). “Waiting and seeing” does not mean that we get to sit around, however.  But the preparations that we are to make are in our hearts.  Are we ready for His return?  Are we excited about it?  (I’m thinking of a T-shirt I saw once: on the front it said “Jesus is coming soon,” and on the back it said “look busy”).  I’m guilty of not thinking about it a whole lot.  Preparing for my reunion with God is what my life should be all about.  And that has to do with my behavior, my thoughts, my “sanctification” as Wesley would have called it.

And two, I believe that Jesus abolished the need for animal sacrifice.  He was the final sacrificed lamb, an atonement once and for all.  Why would He come back to reinstitute an old, useless ritual?  We remember that ultimate gift to us, a gift of redemption, every time we have communion. We celebrate the end of sacrifices every month here.  The sacrifices ended because of the One sacrifice made two
thousand years ago.  And next week, we add the celebration that that gift is celebrated way beyond the country of Israel. It’s celebrated around the world, maybe with different breads and in different languages, but with the same words: This is my body which is broken for you…

We will get to celebrate World Communion Sunday with different breads and in different languages, all praising God that atonement was paid for once and for all by Jesus on a cross.

Praise God!

Looking forward to next week,

Craig

Then I looked, and I heard the voices of many angels and living creatures and elders encircling the throne, and their number was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”  Revelation 5:11,12

A Message from Pastor Craig: 9-18-2022

Florida Southern College (FSC), a historically Methodist-related college, has a collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.  I have gravitated towards Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) since I saw one of his homes in Buffalo, NY, and found that as a person who knew nothing about architecture, I could actually identify FLW work. 

A while back, FSC found some blueprints of a house requested by the first president of the school to FLW.  They intended to build a faculty neighborhood and have the houses have a particular look.  FLW believed that the United States had a unique place in history.  He felt that his era (1930’s and 40’s) had a particular contribution to make to the advancement of civilization, and that the technologies being developed in the United States had particular advancements for humankind.  FLW found a word to describe this particularly unique “United States-ness.” He called it Usonia, or Usonian.  Look this up.

The blueprints found at FSC were for a “Usonian” house.  Meant for faculty, the house is rather small – two bedrooms – but has three flat roofs, at different levels to create clerestories (definition: An upper portion of a wall containing windows for supplying natural light to a building).  The flat roofs cantilever out to create shade where some walls are mostly glass.  Nestled in a tropically vegetated lot, they would have been really cool, if in my mind somewhat small.  The reason they didn’t build any of these things is because FLW designed the cinderblocks with all kinds of little colored glass inserts.  The construction costs would have been astronomical. 

The reason I can speak to all of this is that the other evening, after a conference I was attending, I went for a walk, and found this Usonian house built right across from campus.  I had never noticed it before.  Built in 2013, they built it as a memorial to FLW, and a celebration of his contributions to the school.  You should see it sometime.

It touched me on a whole different level though.  I thought the house was cool and all, but it was the word Usonian that caught my attention.  As you probably know, I grew up in Costa Rica.  Which is in Central America.  Every one that I knew there was born in America.  They were all “Americans” in that sense.  I never felt comfortable calling myself an “American” because, well, Canadians are Americans, and Mexicans are Americans.  But not finding a descriptive word (at least a kind one) exclusively for people from the US, I have occasionally resorted to describing myself as an American.  It is true after all!

But here is this word “Usonian,” a word coined in the 1800’s, which never took off.  I don’t know if I will ever use it.  But it’s there.  It’s kind of like using the term “Methodist” for myself.  Am I a United Methodist, or a Free Methodist, or an African Methodist or a Global Methodist, or Wesleyan, CME, AME Zion, etc., etc.?  Do I make a term up like “UMeth?”

Struggling with this does not mean I am embarrassed or hesitant to be recognized as, say, from the United States.  I am proud of my country, I am delighted to be a citizen, I choose this place not just because I was born here, but because I have seen many alternatives, even lived in them, and prefer here.  But maybe specifically because I have lived elsewhere, I am hesitant to think distinctive what isn’t. 

So, what names do we call ourselves?  How about Christians?  More important than American, or Usonian, and more important than Methodist (or some variation on that theme) I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  I am His disciple.  And more of me as an individual needs to be recognizable as Christian than my nationality, or denominational preference, or anything else.  At the end of my life I want people to remember me as a good follower of Jesus, THEN as a good husband, father, citizen, (oh, and grandpa, I’m still getting used to that one!).

Back from the Usonian house,

Craig

Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.  Philippians 3:20,21

A Message from Pastor Craig: 9-11-2022

Last night I figured out how to make a slide show out of all the photos on my computer.  Now, this is more a confession than something I’m proud about.  With the amount of time I spend with my computer, I should have figured this out decades ago.  But who knew!?  In the Mac environment, you go to Photos, Select All, and then press Slideshow.  It’s that easy.

Now, you don’t get a curated show.  You get to see, at least in my case, the receipts of business trips past, photos taken for reimbursement purposes.  You see the bottom side of a rowing machine, taken to get the serial number off it so I could order parts, you see prices of washing machines at Home Depot from when our dryer died.  Some pictures are sideways, some blurry beyond recognition.

But along the way, wonderful memories of activities past flashed on the TV screen, making a TV show out of our lives that we ended up watching for a couple of hours (some of the videos I took were quite unnecessarily long).

My Mom’s side of the family used to gather every time my parents and I came back to the United States. One night of those gatherings was always spent watching slides on an old Kodak slide projector with family commenting on things over the loud hum of the fan trying to keep the bulb from blowing up.  (BTW- “Slideshow” doesn’t even make sense on a computer anymore!  It’s leftover language like “rolling” up your car window or “dialing” a phone number.)  It always took a couple of hours to go through those slides too, and we looked forward to being reminded of the old times and the additional slides that were added from our last visit. 

It’s important to look back.  Like in a car, you want to take the same proportion of time looking back as a mirror takes in your windshield.  You don’t get stuck there—it’s not the main focus.  But it’s a helpful check.

When you look back at your life, what do you see?  What are the memories?  Are they a jumble of un-curated thoughts?  Are they colored with rose-colored glasses? Are they majorly painful?  I think that when we look back and find the times when God has been good to us, when we look back at the blessings that we have received in the past, God helps us curate the memories for the benefit of our future.  Painful things are not forgotten.  But they can be put in the context of the Grace that saw us through.  Milestones can be seen as the consistent hand of God walking with us through our lifetimes.  Beautiful places that just by their existence, and our privilege to have seen them, remind us of the goodness of God.  That lunar eclipse that didn’t record as well as you thought it would still reminds us of the wonder of creation.  God’s goodness is revealed in many ways, and reviewing those ways, whether in a slideshow or not, is a unique privilege humans have.  I think we should take advantage of that.  Remembering God’s goodness is very important.  Communion is that – remembering the gift Jesus gave us.  That’s what the religious holidays are – remembering the milestones of the redemptive work of God. 
Recalling the saints of old is an album of God’s work in history.  And it’s all good, and for our benefit.  Praise God!

Mindful of God’s goodness in my life,

Craig

Remember the days of old; consider the years long past. Ask your father, and he will tell you, your elders,
and they will inform you. Deuteronomy 32:7

A Message from Pastor Craig: 9-4-2022

I have been thinking about letting go, and the grace that God gives us to let things go into His care.  Speaking to a men’s group last weekend I talked about how God helps us do that, and then this week I spoke twice to pre-school parents about their children being in our care here at MECE. Thinking about these things made me think of the times that I have had to let go of my boys.

The first time I had to let go of our oldest was when he was just a week or two old.  We had to let him go for surgery, and I remember this empty feeling of seeing him wheeled down the hallway away from us.  It was hard.  Then we had to let both our boys go to preschool.  Then we had to let them go in our car for their first solo drive to Youth Group.  Then it was college.  There are these milestones, I suppose, but they are also times in our lives when we have to let go.  And it’s not just kids.  The beginning of this school year has elicited these particular memories for me.

Where does solace come in these times?  From where does our hope come (as the Psalmist put it)?  Well, our hope comes from the Lord, but more specifically in a wonderful thought about God.  If you understand God as mean and vindictive, or distant (never mind non-existent), then you can’t trust those most precious to you to Him.  With that image of God, we understand Him to be out to get them.  If, on the other hand, we understand God to be good, then we can trust our loved ones to Him.  We can trust their health, their wellbeing, to that Good Father.

Wesleyan theology suggests that God’s goodness, His grace, extends to all of us, whether we are aware of it or not.  God’s grace is around us whether we know God, or even if we do, when we are not aware that we need it.  This is called “Prevenient Grace” in Methodist circles.  And it is a most comforting thought.

Before you drove out this morning, God’s grace was in front of you.  Sometimes we need a little finesse, I mean grace, and sometimes we need a lot.  (You have to be a certain age to catch that reference).  Those times when we need a lot, when we find ourselves dependent on God’s grace and mercy, we become truly grateful for it.  Every time I have had to let go of my children, a project, job, or whatever, I have been mindful that God’s grace is out ahead of them, out ahead of me, caring for them, caring for me, in ways that exceed my own capacity to do, or even imagine.

Prevenient Grace, how sweet the sound!  I hope you will bask in it.  And allow it to point to the many other graces that God makes available to us.

May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Craig

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad His gifts to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” 2 Corinthians 9:8,9

A Message from Pastor Craig: 8-28-2022

It’s really romantic the first time that you find yourself finishing the sentence of your new boyfriend or girlfriend. It seems like some confirmation that you’re “soulmates” or something. After years of marriage, I must confess that there is delight in finding that still true.  Added to that, now at this age, there’s some solace found in that ability – sometimes the word fails you, and your spouse can come to the rescue. It’s a great gift.

When coworkers, or strangers, or in this case a machine does it, that’s a whole ‘nother matter. Let me explain. We lost our church Business Administrator about a month ago, and we have not been quick to replace her. Some of us in the office have taken on some of her responsibilities, and among other things, mine has been to tend to all the emails that come to that position. This is not a huge task and I’m glad to do it.

But she had a feature turned on in Outlook that really annoys me. It’s this feature that tries to guess what you are going to say next, and it prints it out ahead of the cursor. So as you type, it throws suggestions at you right ahead of the last character you typed, suggesting to you that you press “Tab” instead of typing out the word whole or even phrase.

Call me old school, call me a curmudgeon, but I don’t want the machine to do this for a couple of reasons! One, it insinuates that it can think faster than I can. It has a possible next word typed all the way out before I have finished typing the last one. Two, it bothers me that my pattern of thinking and writing is so pedestrian that some algorithm-builder in Silicon Valley has compiled enough people saying the same thing that the machine can predict what I am going to say. Am I that mundane? And finally, does my thought pattern so conform to the patterns of this world that I speak the world’s thoughts with its vocabulary? 

The Apostle Paul told us to “NOT conform to the patterns of this world” (Romans 12:2).  Playing this video all the way through makes me worry that the machine will eventually dictate what I say. That is, opting for the word it suggests may be the easiest thing to do right now, but then eventually I may modulate my vocabulary, or worse yet, thought, to conform to the path of least resistance on the keyboard.  Fight the power!!

OK, so, this is a feature that can be turned off.  And while I have not done that on the Business Administrator’s computer, I certainly have not turned it “on” on mine.  (Although my machine just pointed out that I used “on” twice in that sentence).  Maybe my little rant here pursues an unnecessary complaint.  What I do know is that we have to be very careful what voices we allow to reside in our heads, and finish our sentences.  If it’s a lover’s voice, we might finish their sentences because we are thinking, and caring, about the same things.  This is a good thing.  If it’s the voices of attack ads on TV, or hurtful videos on YouTube, that’s not so good.

In Philippians, the Apostle Paul said: “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  I’ll put the whole verse below, but I think that God calls us to search the Scriptures (John 5:39), to let those words reside in us (Joshua 1:8), and thus break those “patterns of this world” that are so predictable, and quite frankly, boring.

I believe the best thoughts that I have are God given.  I think the most beautiful thoughts I have, or words that I express, are gifts from God.  The new song in my heart is because of the work that God is doing in me, not my taking on the cause “du jour” from the news, or the style presented in the latest clothing ad, or the preferences of some influencer on TikTok.  Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy… let’s use the vocabulary of that source instead.

Still reading the emails,

Craig

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

A Message from Pastor Craig: 8-21-2022

Backing out of the driveway the other day, I saw something in the sky.  They call it skywriting.  A plane, way up there in the sky, spelled out letters that, in my case, stopped traffic while it happened.  OK, so I just stopped at the end of my driveway, but still.

What I first saw was a smiley face.  Before it, the plane had already spelled out “God.”  So, naturally, I smiled anticipating some message to follow about God’s love.  But I lost interest as the plane started spelling out the name Steve.  Janice told me later that a last name appeared after that.  So, it turned out to be just a novelty over the skies of Boca.

As I drove towards the church, I noticed that the plane had spelled out a couple of letters, now cloudy (pun intended), in the wind.  So something preceded the word “God,” and I had no idea what that was.  Suddenly, the smile on my face from seeing the smiley face and God together furled as I pondered what those letters might have been, and hence what the message truly sought to communicate.

Added to this wonder was the fact that the letters were all backwards, kind of like reading a message in front of a mirror.  The plane printed out a message aimed at somebody in Boynton, or some other point north of here.  A person facing south up there would have read it correctly, not us.  So the message was not for me, and maybe because of it, I didn’t understand it.  And I realized that I had projected my own proclivities into it, and they didn’t fit.

And, oh, isn’t that the way communication goes?  On occasion we hear something, and the message wasn’t intended for us.  So we try to decipher it, and it doesn’t make sense.  Or we read the message from a perspective that was not intended, and we can feel alienated or confused by it.  How often do we walk by a co-worker, only hear a snippet of their conversation, and we project a whole bunch of our own stuff on them?  I can hear Janice talking on the phone, I only hear one of her comments, and then I have to ask her “who in the world were you talking to?”  And sometimes the answer clarifies things, and sometimes it doesn’t!  The point is, we can hear parts of messages and misunderstand them.

The joke is told of a priest who was going through some recently discovered ancient documents, when he screamed out “it says ‘celebrate’ not ‘celibate!’”  I think we can misread God’s messages.  We can feel God is saying one thing, when He really was saying something else.  We can read the Scriptures, and just like I did with the skywriting message, project our own bias into it, and not understand the real, or intended, message.

That’s why it’s so important to read the Scriptures, for one thing, in their entirety.  Not the whole Bible in one fell swoop, that’s not what I mean, but honoring the context of the verse – not just latching on to one verse like I did the smiley face in the sky.  BTW, theologians call it “text-proofing” when you do that.

The other guard about overhearing the Word of God in disorienting snippets is to study the Scripture with other people.  We have those opportunities here, whether it be an adult Sunday School class that meets after the 9:30 service, to my Bible Study that will start in September, or groups the United Women in Faith have, there are opportunities to not just hear a snippet, but truly study the Word, and in so doing hearing from God what He truly intends us to hear.

The words in the sky eventually faded away.  I had forgotten about them by the time I got to work.  The Word of God does not fade away.  It’s eternal.  And a good, and loving message for you and for me.  Let’s watch and listen for it carefully.

Back at the church,

Craig

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.  Isaiah 40:8

A Message from Pastor Craig: 8-14-2022

I don’t know if it’s romance, or what the word is, but there is a certain fascination, attraction, delight, in finding lighthouses.  I have an image—a photo—sketched in my mind of a picture taken of a lighthouse out in the ocean withstanding enormous waves, and while one crashes against it, surrounding it with massive flows of water, the keeper of the lighthouse stands with the door open at the base of it.  Have you seen that one?

I have always wondered how they staged/timed that picture, but the image contained a sermon in it. It would make a wonderful stained-glass window.  But whether the lighthouse is in the Keys, or Jupiter inlet or Boston, these old bastions of navigational safety beckon to be admired, climbed, and photographed.

And that’s what we did up in Maine. Maine boasts 57 lighthouses.  We only saw a couple and visited just one. They call it the West Quoddy Head Light, which begs some explanation just in its name. The Quoddy Narrows separate the US and Canada.  So the easternmost part of the United States is actually west of Canada and the Narrows. Head Light refers to the actual lighthouse.  It’s not as tall as the lighthouse in Jupiter nor is it the earliest of lighthouses in the US (but it does boast the fact that it’s the closest point in the US to the continent of Africa—now THAT’s counterintuitive!).

We went there to say that we have been to the Easternmost point in the United States. The lighthouse was a bonus but curiously the pictures we took were mostly about the lighthouse.  Why?  Because it’s up on a cliff—it doesn’t have to be tall.  So it looks rather stubby.  It’s painted in red and white stripes, which make it stand out, but not because of artistic or architectural
splendor.  What is it about a lighthouse?

A lighthouse is both a symbol of warning and of hope. A lighthouse signals where the rocks are when navigating at night (and the day for that matter).  In one sense you stay away from the lighthouse.  But they also signal a bay—they mark the land.  After a long journey, the lighthouse beckons the mariner home.  I found this quote on lightbulbs.com, so I don’t know who to attribute it to: “A lighthouse is the face of sanctuary in the seas of adversity.  It symbolizes the light at the end of the tunnel; serving as an
encouragement for those who seem to have lost their one last try.”

Psalm 33:18 says “Surely the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His loving devotion to deliver them.”  Kind of sounds like a lighthouse, doesn’t it?  In our darkest moments, whatever those might be, we look around for signs of light.  We look for hope, we look for God.  And what does the Bible say: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5).

Our worship service today is a lighthouse—beaming the Light which is God, bringing hope to every one of us who come to worship.  But we are to be lighthouses ourselves, offering hope to those around us, not because we are the light, but because the Light is in us.  We may not feel like we have a lot of light to give, but again, it’s not our light anyway.  It’s the light that is in us.  And when we work together?  The light shines bright!

That’s something to think about.

Looking towards the Light,

Craig

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and
not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

A Huge “Thank You”

This week we are sending out a huge thank you to Debbie Woolsey, Jan Hennigar, Janie McMillan and other UMW members for cleaning and organizing the children/youth ministry storage areas in the LEC and the youth room. They put in weeks of hard work and even created an inventory so we know what supplies we have available as we re-launch and re-invent our family ministry programs! You are all truly a blessing to this church! (I wish I had “before” pictures so you could see the huge difference!)