“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
One of the great pleasures of being a pastor is the fact that I get to lead in worship week in and week out. I love worship because it brings people together with a common purpose, which is to refresh and renew our connection to our Lord and God. One of the most important elements in worship, for me, is music. I love singing hymns, singing and/listening to “Special Music”, centering myself on the prelude and greeting people during the postlude.
Many people don’t know the actual purpose for hymns. Most people sing hymns in church because it is an “age-old” tradition, never giving it a further thought beyond that. But hymns do play a very important part in the worship service in that they impart important Christian theology to the congregation as they sing them.
One popular hymn tells us that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” This hymn suggests to those singing it that Christians are distinguished from the rest of the world by our love for each other and our love for all of God’s creation. This is one of those hymns that informs us of Jesus’ words to his disciples and for his will for us as his followers; however, when we look at the history of Christianity, and even at Christians today, are we living up to the love for each other that the hymn speaks of? Are we graceful toward one another, are we accepting of difference, and patient with those who don’t see eye-to-eye with the way we believe and understand things?
I remember a couple of years ago, Rob Bell came out with a book titled “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person That Ever Lived.” Up until the writing of this book, Rob had garnered quite a following and was well-liked by most in the Christian world, including Evangelicals; however, once the title of this book was released in order to promote it, that acceptance quickly turned into anathema. People, including the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, were calling Rob Bell a “heretic” and denouncing this book which, according to the critics, claimed that hell doesn’t exist.
The odd thing is that these criticisms of Rob’s book came out BEFORE the book was released for people to read. That means, in case you didn’t catch it, that people were claiming the book said something without ever having read the book. Their assessment was based off of the title of the book and a promotional video where Rob poses some provocative questions…again, not giving the answers to them but just posing them. After actually reading the book, which was provocative for sure, I did not discover “heresy.” I simply found Rob wrestling, in a relevant way, with a theology that many people wrestle with. Nor did I find him EVER claiming that hell does not exist. Quite the opposite, actually.
The point of this is not to endorse Rob Bell or his book, but rather to put a caution on something that should, by this point, seem obvious. Christ called us to love one another…that people will know we are his by our love of one another. Let us not be so quick to judge, to anathematized, and to demonize fellow Christians who might think differently than we do. If we cannot love our own family in Christ, how can we ever love our neighbors? What’s more, if we cannot love our own spiritual kin, how can we ever love our enemies? Christ has set the bar high for those wishing to follow him, and when we fall short of that bar, we do not reflect Christ. Remember, they will know we are Christian by our love.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY In Christ love ALWAYS wins.
PRAYER Lord, teach me to be more loving of my fellow Christians, especially those who think and believe differently than me. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
I just recently saw the movie “Devil”, which was a film that was produced by and based off of a story written by M. Night Shyamalan. For those of you unfamiliar with his name, he is the one who wrote, directed and produced the widely successful supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense.” While many of his other films have not garnered the success that his first film did, I have always been prone to watching them and have found them meaningful and thought provoking. “Devil” certainly is both meaningful and thought provoking.
In this film, five people get on an elevator together. None of them know each other, yet when the elevator breaks down and they are stuck in it for hours, each of them gets to know one another perhaps a little more than they’d like to. Each character has a flaw, which I will not reveal here; however, one of the five characters has a little more than just a flaw as that character (again I will not reveal who) is the incarnation of Satan. Sounds like a real wholesome family film, right? Well, to use a perfectly good pun, the devil is in the details here.
Every so often, while on this elevator, the lights flicker and then go out, leaving the victims and the viewers in the dark. When the lights come on, one of the characters is dead in a weird and gruesome way. This continues to happen through out the film. Meanwhile, a detective, the police and firemen are all trying to get these people safely out of the elevator. They, too, watch in horror as the lights flicker, go out, come back on and they see yet another dead person.
While I will not spoil the whole of the movie, I will spoil it’s message a little as I believe it is so very relevant to us as people of faith. Each person in the movie is being killed by the devil, their souls taken, as a result of their unwillingness to see that they have sinned and are flawed individuals. The result of that is that these individuals never, ever seek forgiveness for what they’ve done, because they continually justify their own actions and, therefore, are blinded to their own sins and sinful nature.
Again, I will not even hint at how the film ends (you really do need to see it), but it is powerful in its message. We often talk of God as being merciful and loving, kind and compassionate, just and filled with unending grace. We often talk about God’s willingness to forgive us all, and we see Jesus Christ as the divine expression of that forgiveness; however, how can we be forgiven if we don’t see our need for forgiveness? How can we be forgiven if we are so blind to our own faults that we we fail to seek or accept forgiveness? What’s more, how can we receive forgiveness if we are unwilling to be forgiven and/or unwilling to give forgiveness to ourselves and to others?
Christ calls us to a life of forgiveness. We are called to a life of being forgiven and to a life of forgiving others. If we are unwilling to see our need for forgiveness and, therefore, are unwilling to be forgiven, then we cannot, and will not, experience the healing power of forgiveness; however, if we are open and transparent to God about our shortcomings, and we seek forgiveness, we will have it in abundance. With that said, we too have to be willing to forgive. For how can we seek forgiveness but not give it in return? How can we experience mercy and not be transformed by it? How can we receive grace but refuse to give it to others? Remember, the devil is in the details. Be transformed by God’s grace and be transformational by extending that grace to others.
THOUGHTS OF THE DAY “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
PRAYER Lord, soften my heart so that I may admit my faults and seek forgiveness. Also, soften my heart so that I may extend forgiveness to others. Amen.
JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.
Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.
Welcome to our live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for May 21, 2023. Today we learn that as communities work through inevitable conflicts, prioritizing grace can lead us to become stronger and healthier in our relationships with God and one another.
JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.
Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.
Welcome to our live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for May 14, 2023. Today we learn that as communities work through inevitable conflicts, prioritizing grace can lead us to become stronger and healthier in our relationships with God and one another.
“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)
I have been a life-long fan of the classic horror films. Lon Chaney, Sr.’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” F.W. Murnau’s “Faust”, Lon Chaney, Jr.’s “The Wolfman”, Henry Hull’s “The Werewolf of London”, Bela Legosi’s “Dracula”, Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy”. My all-time favorite horror film from the Silent Film era, is F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens” (translated as “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror). The film is a German Expressionist film about a vampire coming to Germany to prey on its citizens and it was loosely based on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.
What makes me love this film is its use of lighting and shadow to pull off eerie special effects, the makeup work that was done to Max Schreck who plays the infamous “Count Orlok”, as well as Schreck’s amazing character acting. When watching the film, it is impossible to see Schreck’s Orlok as a “human being.” His rat-like features, pointy ears, sunken eyes, long tallon-like fingers, gaunt and lanky stature, and pale skin really make this character appear to be the monster that he is. Looking at him would make anyone’s skin crawl. Murnau created a film that is timeless and never feels dated, even though it is in black & white and has no audio aside from the music that has been added to it.
Back in 2011, I embarked on a project to rescore “Nosferatu.” There have been many attempts to rescore it, each trying to “update” the music in a way that makes it feel fresh and new; however, I have found every attempt (for the most part) to fall short of the film. None of the soundtracks seemed, in my opinion, to do justice to this film. So I figured I would rescore it, not trying to “update” the score with bells and whistles but, rather, trying to keep it simple and foreboding. I wanted a score that would give one the sense that evil was coming, and the urgency to rid the world of it.
As with all “great” ideas, it sounded much easier than it turned out to be. It is now July of 2014, and I have yet to finish the score. Life came in the way and I became preoccupied in other things. Inevitably, I let the rescoring of “Nosferatu” take a back seat to the “busy-ness” of life. Just recently, I decided to pick the project back up and to work on it whenever I have to the chance too. The more I work on it, the closer I get to completing it, the more and more fulfilled I feel. To be honest, whenever I start something without completing it, I feel incomplete.
While I have been using a “hobby” of mine as an illustration, how much more true is it that we feel incomplete when we don’t finish what Christ has called us, the church, to do. We are all called to be agents of God’s Kingdom of Heaven, of God’s hope, healing and wholeness, and we are all called to do different tasks in order to continue to usher in that Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Yet, often times we get “burned out”, or the “busy-ness” of life gets in our way and we begin to fall away from the task that we’ve all been called to.
In the process, we find ourselves feeling incomplete. We often find ourselves lost, literally, in things that fill our time, but not our souls. Christ is calling us to reprioritize and to recommit our lives to the purpose that God has laid out for us. Let us not be a people that only starts projects, but never sees them through to completion; rather, let us be a people that completes that task at hand. Let us keep fighting the good fight and continuing on in the race. Let us remove the distractions of purposeless “busy-ness” and remember what it is that we’ve been called to do. Once we are realigned with our purpose, we shall feel fulfilled!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F. Kennedy
PRAYER Lord, remind me of my purpose and spark a passion in me to see it through to completion. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:19 NLT).
I just recently watched a new film about Dracula, entitled Renfield. Well, just by the title alone you can tell that this film is really about Renfield, but Dracula features big in it because Renfield is Dracula’s familiar, or human slave, who can walk around in the daylight taking care of business for the count while he sleeps in his coffin. While definitely a gory film, it is mostly a dark comedy that explores the toxic, abusive relationship between Renfield and his master.
Prior to seeing this film, which stars Nicholas Cage as the age-old vampire and Nicholas Hoult as his eponymous servant, I had watched the trailers for the movie. In them, it shows the basic plot of the film, some funny parts, and some of the gory action that one will see if they choose to watch the film. The theme of the trailer, however, I found did not exactly match up to the movie. In the trailer, these words appear: “Don’t serve. Learn to live”.
That surprised me actually. Don’t serve? That seems to be rather bad advice. Service is an important part of being human. We serve our families, we serve people at our jobs. We serve our spouses and/or significant others and hopefully that is a two-way street. We, as Christians, are called to serve Christ and, if the trailer itself had the final say, it would seem as if the producers are drawing a comparison between Dracula and Christ or any other “master”.
Then I watched the film and I found that the message was not anti-service at all; rather, it was asking the question, Whom do you serve? The film does not state implicitly or explicitly that service ought to be avoided in order to truly live. Thank God for that too, because how could one truly live if they never, ever served anyone. That would be a very selfish life indeed, not true life.
True life is meant to be lived in love and love requires service. If we love those around us, we will serve them and, conversely, if they love us they will serve us too. So, the question is not whether one can truly live life if they are serving others, it is a matter of whom one is serving and the dynamic of that service. In the film Renfield, the eponymous character is serving an age-old vampire that lives in the shadows and feeds off of people as a murderous parasite. Renfield himself is there to serve his master’s needs and, as long as the needs get met, the old vamp is happy.
With that said, it is very much a one-sided relationship. If Renfield does not do exactly what his master wants, his master makes him pay…big time. He derides him, puts him down, makes him feel guilty for his failure to be a “good little servant”, and he kills anyone Renfield tries to have a relationship with. Dracula is your typical manipulative, bullish, abuser. The relationship between Dracula and Refield is not of mutual partners attending to and fulfilling each other’s needs, rather, it is that of a servant who must always keep serving to the master’s delight. That master never gives anything back, never cares for his servant, and certainly never gives in.
That, my friends, is not a healthy relationship and it is certainly not emblamatic of the kind of servanthood Jesus calls us to. Yes, Jesus is our Lord and we are his servants/disciples; however, our Lord also called us friends, which means we are NOT forced to serve like Renfield was; rather, the dynamic here is much different. Jesus gave us eternal life, free of charge. There is nothing we can do to earn eternal life. That is a gift given to us for free. Faith in Christ equals realizing and accepting that free gift. That is all that is required…our acceptance.
In Christ, we then serve as his disciples. Why? Because we are HIS friends and we desire to share the Good News of Christ’s salvation with people. More than that, we take on Jesus’ heart, we start to make note of the needs around us, and we try to fill those needs so that even “the least of these” are being shown love and inclusion. In other words, we serve because we have grown in Christ’s love. We serve because Jesus Christ, our Lord, first loved and served us. We have been served, therefore, we should serve others. Let us always be reminded of this as we joyfully join together in service of our Lord. Let us start serving and learn to TRULY live.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Serve and thou shall be served.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
PRAYER Lord, thank you for all that you have done to serve me in Spirit, in Truth, and through the lives of those who have been a source of help to me. Lead me to serve others openly and willingly, thereby serving you and your Kingdom. Amen.
JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.
Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.
Welcome to our live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for May 7, 2023. Today we learn that the risen Christ moves us from a place of judgement to a place of connection, so that we can work together for the sake of God’s kingdom.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too” (Matthew 5:38-40 NLT).
Sam Obisanya was having a bad day, and extremely bad day. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sam, he is one of the footballers on the fictional English Premier Football team, AFC Richmond, on the Apple TV+ original show, Ted Lasso. This show has become one of my favorite shows and is now on it’s third season. I highly recommend it, though not for children as it does have language and mature themes throughout. Also, while I am not spoiling the whole episode, I will be discussing one scene in it, so if you are watching the show and haven’t seen Episode 7 of Season 3, I would recommend watching it first so as not to spoil this moment for you.
Back to Sam Obisanya. He is a soccer player from Nigeria and comes from a family that is very socially conscious. Why? Because in Nigeria people feel the weight of colonialism and the footprint of the West on them. As such, Sam is not afraid to speak out on social issues in order to do what he believes is right. Enter into the story fictional U.K. Home Security Minister, Brinda Barot. She is standing front and center on the television telling migrant refugees in a boat that they should go home and that she won’t permit them in England. Or at least that’s the gist of it.
Sam believed that he could at least appeal to her “better angels” through a tweet mildly and lovingly callinger her to have a little more compassion to people in need. Well, as is almost always the case with politicians on Twitter, she shot back and tweeted: “Footballers should leave the politics to us and just shut up and dribble.” This quote is actually a real quote from a host on an American conservative news channel who said that people like LeBron James and others should stay out of politics and “shut up and dribble.” So Ted Lasso is pulling from real-life situations, which is what makes this show so relevant and important.
Again, back to Sam. As these things often do on social media, the tweets escalated back and forth. That’s where the tragedy occurs. This is what makes Sam’s day so bad. He went at night, after his football game, to the Nigerian Restaurant he opened up to share Nigerian cuisine with the U.K. and give the British Nigerians a little taste of home. He named the restaurant, Ola’s, after is father. When got to the door, Sam found it smashed in. The restaurant inside completely destroyed, with the words, “Shut up and dribble”, spray painted across one of the walls. Sam was shattered.
The next day, as he was gearing up to practice, he had an angry outburst because he feels unwelcome in the U.K. and he knows people like Brinda Barot want to ship him and other immigrants right back to where they came from. His team members were confused because they didn’t at first know about his restaurant, but they all were there to listen and comfort him. Also, at the same time, his dad showed up for his planned visit to see his son, watch him play, and eat a meal at Ola’s, which obviously was no longer going to be able to happen.
His father gave him a big hug and sat down with him. Sam was sharing with him that he didn’t think he was going to reopen the restaurant just to see it destroyed again. His father countered him and told him he NEEDED to reopen it, not just for himself, but for his staff and for other Nigerian immigrants who would like a taste of home. Then his father told him this, “If you really want to piss them off, forgive them. No big deal. Just forgive them, like it’s no big deal. Don’t fight back Sam, fight forward.”
Now, I won’t share what happens from there; however, those words really stuck with me and they reminded me of the same thing Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 5:38-40 NLT), “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too”. Believe it or not, Jesus was talking not about fighting back, but fighting forward. This takes forgiveness and fortitude and faith, but it is the only way in which we end the cycle of destruction that we humans are so hellbent on carrying out against each other.
Turning the other cheek and giving people more than they want to sue from you is not giving up or taking the cowards way out. It is not a sign of weakness, either. It is quite the opposite. Walter Wink, in his book Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, interprets the passage as a way to be subversive to the power structures of the time. In ancient Judea, one asserted their authority and dominance by backhand striking a person on their right cheek with their right hand. If that person then turned their left cheek to be struck, the person with the higher social status had a problem. The left hand couldn’t be used to strike because it was used for unclean purposes; however, if one open-palm slapped someone on the opposite cheek, it would be seen as a challenge to a fight placing the other person at equal status.
Jesus, in calling people to turn the other cheek, was directing them to FIGHT FORWARD, publicly calling out the injustice by turning the other cheek rather than fighting back in retaliation. The same thing is true regarding giving one’s shirt too when one is being sued for their coat. Going over and above publicly displays that what is being done is an injustice.
Friends, we are called to fighting forward, not fighting back. It is so easy to get up in arms when we feel threatened or attacked; however, that does nothing to change the world. Let us be a people who follow Christ’s way, not the world’s, so that we can be public displays of justice, peace, and love as well as agents of hope, healing, and wholeness. This is the Christian way.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.” – William Shakespeare
PRAYER Lord, help me to have the strength and courage to fight forward and forgive. Amen.