At the Movies

Some movies entertain us. Some make us laugh. Others inform us.  The best ones inspire us.  They have a way of communicating unlike any other art form.  They often tell powerful stories of human experience that draw us to the edge of our seats.  We can become so enmeshed in the story lines that we begin to see ourselves and our lives played out on the big screen. 

And, whether filmmakers know it or not, God’s imprint can be found all over their stories. Many films contain messages of hope, images of the Savior, inspirational stories, and encouragement for those struggling with life.   Starting June 25, I will be beginning a new Sermon series:  At the Movies.   This series will feature several of our church leaders’ favorite movies. 

The series is not a critique of the movies.  They are not intended to be an endorsement the movies. Nor are they meant to be lightweight sermons for us to take a break during the summer from biblical truths.  Instead, they will be an opportunity for us practice the art of “noticing” where God’s story creeps in unintended or uninvited into today’s culture.

Like Jesus used stories and parables to point to spiritual truths, we will be using Hollywood’s best as illustrations for divine instruction.  We will compare the twists and turns of the theatre with the realities of our lives and learn where God has called us to grow more like him. 

While we will not be taking a break from biblical truths, we will be changing up the worship service a little bit.  It is easy for all of us to get into a rut with the way we do things.  Summer is a great time to break away from the Sunday morning routine for a moment and, to allow God to jar us back into appreciating the gift of traditional worship.  It is also a great time to invite others to meet Jesus in a new way. 

It might even be fun to invite a few people over to your home the week before the sermon to watch the featured film. (Some movies will be available to check out through the church office.) Fellowship together, talk about the movie, and start noticing where God’s story can be seen.  God came to people at a wedding, at a kingly coronation, on the side of a road, at a well, in a cave, in a bush, through a star, and even through a donkey.  Let’s let God use the movies for something more than lining Hollywood’s pocketbooks. 

June 25 – The Shack

July 2 – The Patriot

July 9 – Casablanca

July 16 – Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

July 23 – The Incredible Mr. Limpet

July 30 – TBD

So grab some popcorn and come and find a seat, the movie is about to begin!


New Year…New Day, New Me

It’s a new year, and with the new year typically come “new year’s resolutions.”  When I was a teenager, I would put a lot of thought and energy into creating a sacred list of things that I wanted to change in my life. 

 

On January 1st of any given year, many people do the same.  They’ve resolved to change their lives. They start out with good intentions and maybe even a plan of success, but around February 1st, something happens.  Our list of resolutions quickly finds itself in the trash can, or at least mine did.  Why is this?  For me, I forget the reason I started out on the “new year, new me” journey.  I forget the goals I set, or the target I was aiming for.

 

But what is the big deal about New Years?  What is it about changing the last two digits of the year that makes us feel like our life (or at least parts of our life) are a clean slate? It’s not like January 1st
has some kind of magical power that renders the choices, events, and circumstances of the previous days and months no longer valid. 

 

This year, Facebook reminded me of something from five years ago: “My only New Year’s resolution is to live each day as though it truly is new: the past does not hold it, and the future cannot not rush it. Today will simply be…today!” I read, and re-read this simple statement with tears in my eyes, and the Holy Spirit nudged my heart: 

You can begin again every day. “Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended;[f] certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!  They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.  I think:[g] The Lord is my portion! Therefore, I’ll wait for him. The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the person[h] who seeks him.”  Lamentations 3: 22-25 (CEB)

We don’t have to wait for New Years Day, or the 1st of a month, or even a Monday to start fresh.  Today is a new day.  The love and compassion (the consideration, care, kindheartedness, and benevolence) of God is refreshed, restored, revived each, and every day.  Whoa!!

Will we make mistakes? Of course!   

But if we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.” (1 John 1:9) 

Let’s not focus on things we could have done better, or should have done.  Let’s be bold, ask for God’s forgiveness, and let’s keep moving forward toward the Prize, which is Christ. 

Father God,

You are so good!  Your word brings us life.  Help remind us that Your mercies are new every day, and You desperately want to start each day with us, guiding us, and enjoying life with us.  Thank you for your forgiveness, your grace, and your love.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.



Advent Reflections: Love and Christ

conducting-at-the-cross

This cross is on the back wall of our choir loft.  It was lovingly hand crafted by Mr. Leo Carlton, a longtime member of the church.  I can’t even imagine the time and care it took to make such a magnificent work of art; and act of worship.

This past Sunday I had the honor of conducting our chancel choir in our Christmas cantata: “Let Earth Receive Her King.”  What a wonderful joy. Together, as we made beautiful music for the glory of God, I stood in front of this cross. 

During rehearsal, the day before, the Holy Spirit stirred something in my heart: “You are conducting at the foot of the cross.”  After pondering that statement for a bit, the truth of it seeped into my very core.  My directing the choir is an act of worship.  Just like Mr. Leo’s cross, my musical gifts have been crafted, shaped, and tempered over many years, and I have surrendered them to the cross – to be used as the Lord sees fit.

As I reflect on the candle lighting from yesterday, Love, and the one coming on Christmas Eve, the Christ Candle, I am awestruck.  The God of the Universe, whose spirit hovered over the depths and created life with the breath of His words, desperately wanted a relationship with His creation.  And even when His creation rejected Him – He made a way for us to return to Him through the birth, death, and resurrection of His own son. 

His Own Son.

  O what wondrous love is this, oh my soul!
As we celebrate the season, remember the love. The love of a Father, who prepared a gift for

us

at the manger in His Son who is Savior and Redeemer to all who would receive Him, and unwrapped that gift at the cross.  What gifts can we prepare at the manger, and offer at the cross?

Dear Heavenly Father,

We are so thankful for all that You’ve given to us, through Your Son, Jesus, especially the opportunity for new life in You.  Be with us through the Advent season and into the new year.  Speak to our hearts, and draw us close to You.  Fill us with Your Spirit so that we have the strength to follow You wherever You lead us.  Amen.

 



Advent Reflections: Joy

by: Courtney A. Hulsey

For those of you who don’t know, I love to sing.  When I sing, there is a part of me that unlocks and my heart is flooded – with Joy.  But what is Joy? I believe that Joy is an inward delight which is not bound by circumstance. 

There are many things going on in the world, in my state, in my town, in my home, and within me that do not understand.  Many are angry, and full of hatred marring the face of humanity with their acts and words of violence.  Others are grieving and hurting; looking for comfort. 

How, then, can we possibly find Hope, Peace, or Joy? Through a relationship with Christ. Psalm 16:11 says this, “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy.”  No matter where we are, or what circumstances we find ourselves in, if we make our way into the presence of the Lord; we will find the fullness of joy [that inward delight.]
 

Just this morning I experienced this very thing.  As I spent time at the piano in worship before the Lord, Joy filled my heart so much that tears streamed down my face.  Here I was, alone in the sanctuary, spending time with my Father; offering the only thing had – tearful singing.

So, during this time of Advent, I encourage you draw closer into the presence of the Lord.  It is there we find Joy.  Offer to him all you have: your time, your treasures, and your talents. You will not be disappointed. Like the wise men, bring your gifts to the manger.  I’ll be there giving Him my song.

“Joy to the Word! The Lord is come.  Let Earth Receive Her King!!

Let every heart prepare Him room.  Let Heaven and nature sing.”


Advent Reflection: Peace

by: Courtney A. Hulsey

Peace is defined as: “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.” But, let’s face it: our world is far from peaceful:  wars, violence, financial stress, and societal pressure.  How do we even begin to find ‘peace?’  When I ask myself this question, one word reverberates in my spirit: Jesus.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  In John, Jesus (after the Resurrection) says “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27 (NASB)
 

It is in Christ, through His Holy Spirit, that we find a freedom from disturbance that goes beyond what our five senses can experience.  I believe it is a profound stillness and faith within the deepest parts of our being.  Because we belong to Christ, we don’t have to be afraid.  We may not know what the future holds, but we are aware and can walk in the knowledge that we know who holds our future.  That knowledge; that faith brings peace, His peace.

During this season of Advent, we take pause to celebrate that God, in His unfathomable love, sent His Son to us.  He was born to a teenage girl, who didn’t fully understand what God was doing, but she had an inner stillness and faith to respond to the angel of the Lord, “may it be done to me according to your word.”

 We also wait with expectation for the second coming of Christ.  Even though the world is in turmoil and we do not fully understand what God is doing; let us dwell in the shadow of the Almighty.

“Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. 7 And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].” Philippians 4:6-7 (AMP)



Advent Reflections: Hope

by: Courtney A. Hulsey

I had the joy of lighting the first Advent Candle. This candle represents Hope.  Here is a selection from the reading:
 

“When our hope is in Christ, we can rest in knowing, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. When our hope is in Christ, we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil for God is with us. When our hope is in Christ, we look to the hills from whence our help comes. Our help comes from the Lord. As we light our candle of hope, we lift our hands in praise. Jesus Christ is our Healer, our Keeper, our Living Hope.”

I read this several times before Sunday Morning, and one question that I asked myself was “What exactly is hope?”  Hope is an expectation of trust, desire, and confidence. When my trust, desire and confidence are in Christ…I can rest in knowing that even though tears may stain my pillow at the close of the day, joy will come in the morning.  I can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without any fear of evil because My God is with me. 

When my hope is Christ I am at peace. When my hope is in Christ, He may not calm my storms, but He calms me instead. 

As we continue into this season of Advent: we can celebrate that the Hope of Mankind came into the world, and we wait expectantly for Him to come again.

“Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth, Thou art.
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”
                                                                                      –
Charles Wesley



Vote for the King

It is only one week until the presidential election.  You would have to be living under a rock to not know that.  The political ads and candidate bashing is at an all-time high.  Facebook posts and Tweets spew with indignant self-righteousness as individuals choose sides dividing family and friends over which candidate to support.  Families are, literally, fighting over it.  People are “defriending” each other and hiding posts from those they think are just plain wrong.  All kinds of half-truths and “leaks” about candidates are splashed across the headlines and news reports. 

 As a pastor, I recognize people are passionate about their politics and candidates.  So, I try not to preach from the pulpit about who you should vote for during election time.  Oh, I have my opinions, believe you me.  But I value my head and love my job too much to lose it over political jocking.  Recently, however, a fellow pastor posted the following bipartisan view that I thought might challenge each of us as we consider casting our vote.

From the Facebook Post of Rev. Derek Porter

Here are my politics.

When a mass shooting occurs, I look forward to the day of weapons being beaten into plow shares.

When natural disasters kill hundreds and thousands, I look forward to the day God heals this broken and scarred creation and death will be no more.

When I think of unborn children aborted, countless children abandoned and untold lives needlessly taken through war and famine, I beg for the day when the trumpet will blow and the physical arms of Jesus are offered to our most vulnerable.

When I think of our culture that celebrates the individual as gods, I look forward to the day where all people of all nationalities and cultures kneel at the feet of the one true God.

Believing in and surrendering my will to the Kingdom of God does not blend well with our current political climate. It just doesn’t. So here is what I do.

I remember and try to act on Jesus’ words, “If someone is hungry, give them something to eat. If someone is cold, give them a coat.” “The people that you despise, they are your neighbors, love them as you love yourself.” When the rips and tears in creation show themselves, it’s the only thing that gives me hope.

At the end of the day, I could care less who becomes our next President. I know my King.”

 

Amen and Amen. 

 



Storm Preparedness

Last week as Haiti was being pounded, the people along the coast all of suddenly realized they needed to get ready for the approaching storm.  Every year beginning in April  the media, utility  companies and government agencies repeat the message along the coast, in advance, urging people to be prepared for hurricane season.  Apparently, many had not heeded the advanced warnings.  Candles, flashlights, batteries, gas cans, small propane canisters, bottled water and other emergency items were gone.  Stock clerks were stalked as they came out of the back of the store as patrons desperately searched for needed items.  Stores were reporting they were selling out of electric fans as people were concerned that they would have AC for a while. (So why would you think electric fans would work?)  Home improvement stores sold out of plywood and drills as people began anxiously trying to board up their homes.

Mitchell Dillion writes:

  “I’ve just finished two long days of putting up storm shutters, stocking up on supplies, and dragging lawn furniture into my house, all in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. But while I was scrambling, there was one man on our block who had time to chat with the neighbors, and even offer help to several families that found themselves rushing to finish before the Category 4 Storm arrived.

The reason this man wasn’t harried like the rest of us was because he was well prepared. His supplies were purchased early, he installed accordion shutters years ago to avoid the time consuming process of putting up the old-fashioned drill-in kind, he filled his cars and generator with gasoline long before the lines formed, and was now enjoying the fruits of his labors (and so were his neighbors!).”

The well prepared person isn’t the one who prepares just enough to finish at the last minute, but the person who prepares well enough in advance to be able to help others. 

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8). 

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35).

As Christians we are prepared for the hereafter.  We have made peace with our maker, God, and know (I hope you know) that we have been accepted, loved and forgiven.  We can have peace in our daily lives because we have a loving Father and Son who are walking with us.  There is an inner strength given to us through the Holy Spirit to help us with stand the inevitable storms of life.  And, we often live and think as if that is the end of the story. But, it isn’t.

You are ready.  Now, go help your neighbor. 



Nothing Hidden

by Courtney A. Hulsey

 

I have a nice commute to work during the week, so I have been listening to various podcasts and audio books.  One audio book, in particular, is entitled “So Long Insecurity” by Beth Moore.  In this book, she talks about how damaging it can be to be ruled by our insecurities, and she addresses the beginning of the journey to overcoming them.  When referring to being vulnerable about her own insecurities, she summarizes that it can be a challenge to be transparent with people, because people often view things through the lens of their experience, pain, and their own insecurities.  But she has no problem being vulnerable with God because she has been in relationship with Him for so long, she knows Him; she trusts Him and His heart implicitly.  She understands that nothing was hidden from Him, and He views things through the lens of Christ.

One of my favorite parts of Scripture is the book of Psalms, I think, in part, because it was the first music book.  I could always imagine David tending his sheep on a hillside, singing his prayers before the Lord. Nestled within the book of Psalms is Psalm 139, a beautiful song to the Lord, reminding us that the Lord knows us more intimately, more transparently than anyone else.  God created our inmost being…the deepest parts of who we are where no one dare tread because it is reserved for the Holy One.  That part of us where the first breath of God was breathed, giving us life.  David, in beautiful poetry, assures us that nothing about us is hidden from the heart of the Lord.

My moments of true joy and laughter…He sees them.  My moments of deepest struggle and tears…He feels them.  Those moments I find myself in the chapel praying for the music ministry…He hears me.  Those moments when I feel so alone…He is beside me.  When I wake up grumpy…He knows.  When I go to bed exhausted…He’s there.  The time of day doesn’t matter, nor do the circumstances; The Lord is with me.  There is nothing hidden from Him.

He is not just a “Sunday morning, only within the walls of the church building” God.  His is an “everywhere, every moment, every place” God.  Even as I write this, I am awed by the knowledge that He is here in the office. Oh, that I would be more mindful of the Lord’s presence.

 

Oh Lord,
You know me!  You know when I sit, and when I stand.  You know when I sleep and when I wake.  All of my days were planned out in Your book before even one came to pass.  You, alone, hold my moments and my days.  There is no where I can go that You’re not there.  No mountain top, nor dark pit where I am totally alone; You are with me. You collect all my tears in Your bottle and my name…MY name is written on the palm of Your hand.  Help me, help us to be more aware of You.  Teach us to see things, including ourselves, through the same lens as You do.  Amen, and Amen.

 



A Work In Progress

by: Courtney A. Hulsey

“He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be…” Do you remember this childhood song? I sure do, but there’s something I didn’t know.  Hidden away a couple of stanzas down from the opening line is this: “There really ought to be a sign upon my heart: Don’t judge me yet, there’s an unfinished part. But I’ll be better just according to His plan, fashioned by the Master’s loving hands.”

Our sanctuary renovation is done.  The walls have been painted, the carpet replaced, the pews reupholstered.  Flowers have been planted, the grounds have been tended to, the parking lot repaved.  She [the church] is beautiful. But when the renovation started, it was not beautiful at all.  It was quite chaotic.  Tools and materials were everywhere. Everything was dusty.  It was hard to envision what the outcome might look like. 

Aren’t we the same? When Christ is allowed to become King of our hearts, we enter into a refinement process; a renovation, if you will.  Walls are torn down and foundations are replaced.  It is hard for us to envision what we might finally look like after all the renovating is done. The process is not a pretty one. As God begins to chisel away at our old selves, we stand in the midst of rubble and dust, pain and heartache. 

Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, makes references to God ‘refining’ His people like gold.  Gold refinement is a long, tedious process.  The gold is heated to extreme temperatures to allow the impurities to rise to the top.  Then, those impurities are scraped off the top.  This refinement process is repeated several times until only the purest, most valuable gold is left behind.

God is constantly working on us, refining us, both as individual worshippers, and as the body of Christ.  It is not always a clean or tidy process, and it is often times painful and humbling.  He allows us to sit in the fire and He patiently waits for our impurities and imperfections to surface.  He removes those imperfections, and then allows us to repeat the process. Why? So that our faith can be proven genuine. Our faith is of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though it’s refined by fire. [1 Peter 1:7]

Until the glorious return of Christ, we will always have unfinished parts; we will always be in a work in progress.  God will always refine our faith in some way.  Just as our Sanctuary is beautiful and will draw the community in; so we are – where Jesus is lifted high, He will draw all men and women unto Himself.