A Message from Pastor Craig: 1-29-2023

Last Sunday Netflix sent out a tweet.  Now, let me just stop here for a minute.  I have to recognize, first, that we don’t have Netflix (too expensive), and second,  I don’t use Twitter (seemed too time consuming when I tried it).  But still, last Sunday Netflix sent out a tweet.  It asked the people that follow Netflix (why would they do that?)  “what character would you swap lives with?”

Now, because I don’t watch Netflix and don’t follow Twitter, I live in a pop culture bubble.  Or I guess I live outside the bubble.  I don’t know a lot of character names, and so many of the responses people gave didn’t mean anything to me.  But some people mentioned characters outside the Netflix world like Iron Man and Harry Potter.  For some odd reason many people said “Joey” from the old sitcom “Friends.”

In my bubble, I am more prone to think about Biblical characters.  Maybe those would not qualify because they were historical people.  But there are many fictional characters, particularly from Jesus’ stories, in the Bible – think the woman who lost a coin, or the prodigal son, or the two sons who responded differently to their dad’s request.

Netflix’s question was interesting and I hope you’ll indulge in the question.  It seems to me you would think of a character you identify with because they lead the ideal life you’d like to have (I doubt anybody really can identify with Iron Man).  Conversely, you could think of a character that you identify with because their life mimics yours so closely.  The “Joey” choice comes better into focus with this understanding.

Have you thought of anybody yet?  This will show my age, but I always identified with Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties – not because I looked anything like Michael J. Fox (or have his money or talent), but because his character thought just a little more of himself than his capabilities warranted, had a loving family that compensated for his weaknesses, and, well, I like the combo of jeans and a tweed blazer.

Biblically, I identify with the older brother in the Prodigal Son story.  (Like him, I have one younger brother.)  He diligently did what was expected of him and I have always felt that need, too.  I can also get resentful when the wayward one gets celebrated.

When you talk about ideal characters, well, that’s another matter.  I can’t possibly begin to identify with Jesus.  Do I want to be like Him?  Of course, I try to model my life after His teachings.  But HE is God.  And I ain’t.  So, what about the disciples?  I am eternally indebted to them.  But be them?  I don’t know…  Would I trade places with the Apostle Paul?  No, not really.

When you think about the question like “trading places” with somebody, suddenly I become grateful for who I am, who I am with, and the place that I am sharing this with.  I’m not sure I need to, or want to, trade places with anybody.  And enough people, plenty in fact, tell me that they would hate doing what I do for a living.  That keeps me humble.  But the exercise does make me grateful.

So, did you come up with somebody?

Back at work,

Craig

But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.
1 Samuel 12:24

A Message from Pastor Craig: 1-22-2023

Driving down Federal Highway is always an adventure. For one thing, you never know what it’s called in any given town. Some people call it US1. Some people call it South Dixie Highway (yes, for us those are two different things, not for others). So it’s confusing enough just to be on it.

The other day, a city bus was driving Northbound, pretty close to the Broward/PBC line. Nothing unusual or adventuresome about that. But it’s route sign (I’m sure there is a proper name for that) displayed something unusual. Usually, you look at the electronic sign and see what route the bus is taking. It displays its final destination. And in the modern day, they have made those with a dot matrix so that you can change the sign so the bus can go in different directions when needed.
Brilliant!- as the British say.

Well, this one displayed something not so helpful. It said “User Error, improper code.” To my knowledge there is no place called “User Error,” at least not in Florida. And all routes have a number, so, well… I know, this is silly.

But the sign raises questions rather than answering them. Where, indeed, is that bus going? But also, should you trust the driver? Obviously he or she has some issues. Do you get on a bus that says “User error” right up front?

Now, we all know that whatever little keyboard they give the driver to enter that data had to have been experiencing technical difficulties that day, and that the error of a code doesn’t necessarily originate with the driver. But it got me thinking.

How obvious is my destination to people? How plainly do I display where I am headed? Can people see that I am a Christian, that I am Heaven bound? Can they interpret by what they see in my behavior and my speech that I belong to a particular Way (that’s what we were called in early Christianity). Or are the signals that I give out incongruous? Do my speech and behavior display a user error or mixed signals of Whose I am and where I am going?

I can imagine that the bus driver was aggravated by that sign. Not only did it insinuate that he or she didn’t know what they were doing, it also obviously had not cooperated with them after what I am sure were multiple attempts at making it work. And, everybody getting on the bus had to ask where it was going.

When I behave in ways that are inconsistent with the Christian label that I have taken on, people wonder, people are uncertain, and they have to ask where I’m headed with whatever behavior I’ve displayed. I want to be consistent. What I proclaim as my faith needs to match what I say, and where I go, not unlike a bus that clearly labels itself as (in this case) a Broward County bus, but whose destination has been messed up by the “user.”

Back home,

Craig

These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and
judgment for peace in your gates. Zechariah 8:16

A Message from Pastor Craig: 1-15-2023

Last week I had to go to a funeral in Bushnell, FL (a wonderful friend and colleague, Allen Jefferson had passed away—our accountability group loved him and misses him).  I’d never been to Bushnell.  Very few people have.  Maybe if you have driven I-75 in Central Florida, you have seen signs for it.  I doubt you’ve gone to see it though.

If you go there you also see signs for the Dade Battlefield State Park.  As a resident of South Florida for so many years, I’ve always wondered why there was a “Dade” Battlefield up there, and “Dade” City pretty close by, when in fact “Dade” County is down here.  Too lazy to look it up, I just left it under the shroud of indifference, assuming that it would turn out that “Dade” was some dude that belonged up there and not down here.

Which, as it turns out, was true.

Major Francis Dade lived in Tampa, and volunteered to lead a troop out of there to go up towards Ocala to fight the
Seminole Indians, but they were massacred enroute.  That is what the Dade Battlefield commemorates.  Now, losing that battle meant a greater resolve to win the war from the Federal Government’s point of view.  And while the Seminole Wars lasted an incredible amount of time, and the Seminoles put up a remarkable fight, the war was ultimately won by the
government.

But it sure seems that the battlefield, and the city, and the county were all named after a guy who made a really bad
decision.  The battalion he was leading could hear the Seminole scouts the first night they were out.  So they knew they were being watched.  Yet they forged ahead.  I am not a student of history (I know some people who are!).  I will not pontificate on what I don’t know.  I don’t know the motivation or the disposition of Francis Dade.  Was he an impulsive guy?  I don’t know.  Was he presumptuous?  It appears so.  Did he assume he could outgun them?  I suppose so, why else would he continue?

The Psalms say: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  Trusting our own resources, be that guns or money or whatever, is not sure footing suggests the Psalmist.  My natural instinct is to trust what I know, what I feel.  I don’t always start with trusting, praying, “in the name of the Lord our God.”  Too often we do that once the bullets (or whatever) start flying.

I really like the words of Proverbs that make the suggestion that our path will be lead by God if we acknowledge Him (the verses are below).  Many times the way is not obvious to us.  By our own estimation we find two options equally good, or equally bad, or equally ambiguous, but God knows, and God cares, and we can lean on Him.  That’s the way I want to go through this next year—not leaning on my own understanding, but on Gods. 

Back from the woods of Bushnell,

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

A Message from Pastor Craig: 1-8-2023

 This Christmas brought several books under the tree for me. Friends and family decide that I need to read particular things, and for the most part, I resolve to read them for the New Year, but then never get around to it. But, I decided to read one book that was given to me by a friend at the church before the New Year. That way no New Year Resolutions are broken (or made for that matter).

The book was titillatingly called “The Physics of God.” How could a pastor turn down reading such a tome! It wasn’t written by a Christian, and so I read it with some reserve. The author wasn’t a scientist either, so my reservations grew on that side also. But what this guy who is dedicated to the religion of yoga, has to offer is the ability to explain scientific concepts. I actually have an inkling as to what string theory is now. I now understand that there is a difference between Einstein’s relativism and quantum mechanics (not a clue as to why or how, but just that there is). I now know why scientists talk about wave-matter (something you just hear all the time strolling the aisles of Publix!), and what they might be thinking about when they talk about black energy.

I brought a manifestly theological mind to his discussion about a nonlocal NONSEQUENTIAL 2D reality that interfaces with our 3D world. But when he talked about that 2D world transmitting holograms with so many pixels that you can bump into them in the 3D world, I had to stop, and well, just take a nap – my head couldn’t handle it any more.

When I woke up and thought about this potentially holographic world, I realized he was presenting an old religion called
Gnosticism in pseudo-quantum physics terminology. Gnosticism long ago espoused the idea that our world is just an illusion created by a reality that is beyond us. As it sought to penetrate Christianity, it suggested that since nothing was truly real, Jesus laughed on the cross because “really” he felt no pain. Pain is just an illusion on Earth.

Christianity rejected this. And so do I. Maybe God used energy to create the reality we know as the world today. Einstein told us we are all just energy anyway, the formula E=mc 2 and all that. But Christianity held onto a material reality that was created by a
benevolent God which has a universally shared experience. Anyone, and everyone, for instance, who jumps into the ocean will get wet. That which is universally (or at least here on Earth) experienced is what we call “real.” And adhering to that reality will keep you dry, or will dictate whether you are sick or well, etc.

And of course, reality continues in spheres that we do not understand. The spiritual world is that way. But we are not an illusion of God’s own thinking. We are beautiful expressions of His creative power. We are sculpture more that hologram-made, not projected. And the reason that I value you, yes, you who are reading this today, is because you are a fellow creation of the powerful God who lovingly created us both. You are real. And full of purpose and goodness, and yes, energy (although we all have varying degrees of that!). I pray that this new year finds us living into the real presence and purpose of God in our lives. I pray that we grow in our faith, deepen our convictions, fulfill our purposes in ways that God has for us to discover as we go through the next year together.

This train is bound for glory!

Ready for a New Year,

Craig

Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in

the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:3,4

A Message from Pastor Craig: 12-18-2022

In the coat closet right by the front door of my grandparent’s house, placed right next to the old Carom board, was a box with my name on it.  The box was about two feet tall and quite narrow.  It looked brand new, and could have been taken as straight from the store save for my name being prominently written on it.  Somebody, whether me or some other family member, placed that box there when I was about 5 years old, and it stayed there as long as I can remember.

The box, as you might guess, had a toy in it.   And again, you won’t be surprised to find that it was a vehicle.  The box had a toy airport tanker truck with the Texaco label branded on the side.  Most uniquely, you could ride this truck.  And when you put pressure on the cab, it would turn to the right or left.  A boy that looked a lot like me was pictured riding it, leaning on one side so as to turn the wheels.  Proudly the box proclaimed that this feature was the “first on a toy.”

Neither my Mom nor I know what happened to that truck in later years.  Throughout my childhood, I delighted in seeing that toy in the closet of that beloved home in Altoona, PA.  Too big to fit in our VW Bus when we drove to Costa Rica, it sat untouched for the years that we were away.  And while I couldn’t ride it by the first time we came back to the States, I still delighted in pulling it out, driving it around the (then apparently much bigger) living room, and then parking it back in the box and the closet.  I was an older teenager when I finally just smiled at the box without pulling it out.

So last summer, up in Maine, Janice and I weren’t so much “antiquing” as we were taking a walk in an Antique Mall.  We do that a lot.  Those malls can be big, always have bathrooms, and provide a most interesting context for a walk.  The antiques used to be of bye-gone days, requiring some imagination or questions to figure out what the pieces were.  Now, not so much.  We tend to recognize the antiques nowadays.  A rotary phone for instance.  Our kids never heard the tic-tic-tic-tic-tic of those phones.  We not only recognize the objects, but remember the sounds too!

And so there, in Maine, on a bottom shelf, was an unblemished box of a Texaco Jet Fuel Truck.  The smile of the grandson in Altoona came over me, and I had to open the box, just to see if the truck itself matched the condition of the box, which it did.  I didn’t tell Janice, but I looked for my name on the box, it was that close a match.  It didn’t.  But I still loved seeing it.

Fast forward to last week.  My daughter-in-law came into the house bearing birthday gifts, one of them quite large.  After supper, and after a lot of serious unwrapping and unpacking, out came the Texaco tanker from Maine. 

Janice had clandestinely purchased the truck after we left, had it shipped to my son’s house, and there it was!  That Altoona grandson smile came again, and while it is a little more prominently displayed now, the truck sits ready to elicit a smile whenever opened.

This is the season of giving gifts.  Not always do we get to give such nostalgic gifts.  But they can be thoughtful.  Janice worked hard to keep the truck a secret all these months.  And the surprise had as much to do with the smile as the truck itself.

That forethought, as awesome as it was for me, pales in comparison to the forethought God had in the gift He presented at Christmas so long ago.  The Apostle Peter said that “God chose him as your ransom long before the world began” (1 Peter 1:20).  Now that’s a long time to wait for the surprise!  But Oh! the value of the gift!  We can’t describe our reaction as a mere smile – it is a reaction of joy, just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds that first Christmas night so long ago.

Are you ready for Christmas?  I am.  This has been a great Advent season. 

Merry Christmas!

Craig

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!  1 Corinthians 9:15

A Message from Pastor Craig: 12-11-2022

Do you get nostalgic around Christmas time?  Are there fond memories of Christmas that you carry, that you wish you could recreate, or are very keen to recreate from year to year?  From a very young age, I was aware that the way my family celebrated Christmas was a little different than the people around me.  I suppose that’s true for everybody, that your neighbors or friends have slightly different traditions from yours but since I grew up in a different country it was just more evident.

For one thing, people from Latin America tend to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve.  Oh, they may have gone to church Christmas Eve, but they also opened presents on Christmas Eve.  So while my friends were out riding their new bikes, or playing with their new balls, I was stuck looking at the wrappings under the tree, waiting for Christmas Day.  It just didn’t seem right!  But don’t worry, as my parent’s only child, and the only grandchild of my grandparents in Costa Rica, Christmas tended to be pretty good to me! 

Now, there are some things that I miss living here that were celebrated culturally there. Bullfights, for instance. Now, when you think of a bullfight, that’s not what happens in Costa Rica.  In Spanish bullfights (in Spain), there is a “matador” (literally: one who kills) who toys with the bull and eventually weakens and kills it. That’s not how it works in Costa Rica. Anyone with a couple of bucks could pay to get in the ring themselves to try their skill at bull evasion. The promoters find the friskiest bull they can and release it into the ring with 50 or so guys, and, well, just let nature take its course.

Usually, some inebriated numbskull would try to yank the bull’s tail and would eventually be successful. Now the bull is after that person, and whomever else is in the way.  The ensuing mayhem delights the tens of thousands of people who had paid even more money just to watch the proceedings.  Spectating was in fact a contact sport too, as the bleachers looked like they were designed and built by the spectators themselves, not architects or engineers.  The bleachers swayed constantly, and if the bull ran into them, you could feel the bump.  Excitement was a 3D experience…maybe the original 4-D experience.  If you look this up on YouTube, you will not see the bleachers I am describing because somebody eventually complained to Building and Zoning.

But isn’t that what nostalgia is about?  It’s remembering a better time from long ago. You may remember this as a song by The Melodians back in the 1970’s, but Psalm 137 is a Psalm of reminiscing…oh, ok, it’s more of lament.  But it starts out by saying, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we wept, when we remembered Zion.”  They remembered with fondness the times of old when they lived in Jerusalem, back in a better time.

One of the reasons we have joy at Christmas time is because we are not relegated to nostalgia.  Nostalgia is a good thing.  It recognizes that we have been blessed in the past.  But the Good News of Christmas is that the Gift was not something that was left back in Zion.  The Gift is still here.  The Gift is only still in the manger figuratively, not literally.  Jesus was our savior back when He was born, and He is our Savior today.  Jesus’ birth not only transformed history, He is transforming us today. The tidings of Good News, of peace and joy, weren’t just for some wistful shepherds…the proclamation is for us today.

Nostalgia turns to joy when the thing remembered is continued or improved on in the present. I am grateful for the memories being created here—on Sunday mornings, at our concert last Sunday, of our Night in Bethlehem last night, and the Christmas Eve services coming up. And yes, maybe a gift or two under the tree.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Craig

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.  Psalm 47:1

A Message from Pastor Craig: 12-04-2022

The last two articles here have been about Italy, and specifically artwork at the Vatican, some of which I was impressed with, and some not. Continuing in that high-brow mode of art criticism, I want to share another rare cultural experience I had just last week. It was the extended Thanksgiving weekend, and while many went to stores to exchange aggravation for varying degrees of savings, my older son invited me to the drag races. The Bradenton Motorsports Park Drag races to be precise.

Twenty dollars they wanted for an entry ticket! For $20.00 you expect quite a show, at least I did. That’s three dollars more than the Vatican Museum with the Sistine Chapel tour included. Apparently, I was not the only person finding the entrance a little pricey—we were the only non-family members of the racers in the bleachers. And almost the only ones in the bleachers period.

There were a decent number of racers though. Heavily modified normal cars roared down the strip as we got there. Loud, but relatively quickly, they would zip by. I strained to see who won at the end of the strip, but found the times posted on the big boards half way down the track easier to decipher.

By the time we found the right seat (any concert has a sweet spot) the cars had turned to dragsters—those really long cars with skinny tires in the front, the driver in the middle, and the engine towards the back to give traction to the bigger back tires. We sat downstream from the start, looking at the back side of the “Christmas Tree,” the lights that count down to green. 

It was there that I found something unusual. The lights went green at different times for each of the cars. Why was that!? Who was setting the handicap on this one? So now I’m looking at the cars at the end, figuring that’s who would win the race – the guy who crossed that line first after the handicapping. But no, that wasn’t it.

Next up came the Junior Dragsters. They looked like regular dragsters, but at about 1/3 of the scale. With Briggs and Stratton engines (if you have ever mowed a lawn, you know what I am talking about), they cruised down the strip at a, well, lawn mower speed. 

And those boys, yes, it was for children, they also had the handicapping.  And the winner was not always the one that passed the line first. Then came people’s daily drivers. A loud raised diesel pick-up truck went up against a Tesla SUV. A Mustang GT against a Dodge Charger. Same thing, sometimes they left at the same time, sometimes they got to the end at the same time, but the winner was determined by another factor.

It turns out that when you get in line, you let the guy running the computers know how fast you think you will do the pass.  Down to the 100th of a second.  So you might say 14.56 seconds if you had a truck, or 7.32 if you had a dragster. Or 300 if it was a Briggs and Stratton.  Just kidding.  It just felt that way.

The goal was to do the run the closest you guessed you would go.  Down to the 100th of a second.  Getting the first digit as almost always right. The second occasionally. But down to the hundredth? Only once did I see that.

“Hitting the mark” was the goal of the race. The handicapping was just for the optics. Only the real close moved to the next round. Thus, a slow pick-up truck might advance against a quick Tesla just because the times were closer.

This made me smile. What we call sin in Greek is “ἁμαρτίαν” which literally means “missing the mark.” When we miss the goal that God has set for us, we sin. This is a different way of looking at it from just “doing bad things.”  It’s that we can miss, by varying degrees, the ideal that God sets for us. And kind of like the cars, what that goal is, what that desire that God has for us, can vary from one person to another, but we all “miss the mark.” (Romans 3:23) Striving for perfection varies from one person to another based on the gifts that God has given to each one of us. But our goal is the same – to hit the mark, to be Christlike in all that we do and say and think. With the gifts, graces and talents that each one of us has.

I’m glad I went to the races. I’m glad I had earplugs.  And it was a good lesson that the race is won by the one who most closely comes to their mark, not the one who was just faster, or louder or shinier.

Back in Boca,

Craig

Let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1,2

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!)

A Note from Our Staff Parish Relations Committee: April 28, 2021

by Cathy Herschelman, Chairperson

Last Sunday was announcement Sunday when all of the Methodist Churches find out about Pastoral transitions. I have some good news, some sad news, and some more good news so please hang in there with me.
The first is that Pastor Madeline will be remaining with us. I know that many of you are just getting to know her in real life but I have had the honor to work beside her with dinner church, and other projects. Considering that she joined us during a difficult time in our society when we couldn’t gather in our traditional ways, Pastor Madeline has shown creativity, strength and a real faith that I hope each of you can get to know.
Next is the sad news. If you have been in a Methodist church before you may know that Pastors don’t usually remain at a church for much more than 5 years. We had Pastor Ken here for a very long time so you may not be aware of that. In the Methodist Church when you are called to serve another community, Pastors have to trust in God’s plan and respond to the call. Pastor Marcus has been called to serve on the west coast of Florida beginning July 1. He will be taking over at a church where the pastor is retiring. Pastor Marcus has walked this church through some very challenging times. He did this by listening and caring about individuals. He may have helped your family through some difficult times as well by coming alongside you and your family. He may have even been part of a celebration moment such as a baptism or wedding. I know he’ll carry these memories with him as he serves a new church. I firmly believe that we are the church, we the congregation. Last year you might have thought that the church was a building and now we know that’s not true. You may have had moments when you thought the pastor was your church but it’s our job to build up the pastor as much as it’s his job to support us. We will find a way to celebrate and honor Pastor Marcus before he leaves and we’ll keep you posted on that.
craig nelson and janiceI want to let you know that this church will continue. We are the church and I am excited to tell you a little bit about our new pastor. First, I want to let you know that our District Superintendent, Dr. Cynthia Weems set up a meeting with SPRC and asked us what our church needed in our new pastor. We got to make a wish list if you will of the qualities that would best serve our church at this time. We were very pleased when sometime later Dr. Weems told us about Pastor Craig Nelson (shown in the picture with his wife, Janice). He is coming to us from his recent post in St Pete. He has a very diverse background. Pastor Craig crew up in Costa Rica as his parent were missionaries. He has lived in many different areas but has lived and worked in South Florida before and is happy to return to this area. He even has some family in Boca Raton. Pastor Craig worked as a District Superintendent in the south east district previously. Pastor Craig will transition to our area this summer and I hope you will all give him a warm welcome. Please click here to read Pastor Craig’s brief biography!