A LOOK BACK: Go with the Flow

Read Philippians 4:4-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Imacon Color ScannerMy family and I just recently went on a vacation down to South Carolina. The first four days of our vacation were spent at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort. One of the things my wife, daughters and I did was go on a two hour kayaking tour of the bay. We all have been kayaking before and we thought that it would be a relaxing way to spend the last morning of our stay at Hilton Head. As we got into our double kayaks, paired up with our children, we quickly realized that the kayaking tour was not going to be a “relaxing”, lazy river experience. The winds had kicked up and the current became rather strong.

At one point, my youngest daughter and I started to get pulled in the opposite direction from the way that the group was going.  I started to paddle harder and harder, but it was to no avail. The current was simply to strong. My arms got tired and I became panicked and concerned that we were in a hopeless situation. No matter how hard my daughter and I rowed, we just could not get our kayak to turn around and head in the right direction.

Finally, a light went off in my head. I realized that the whole time we were trying to row against the current. We were trying to rely on our own strength to turn ourselves around and row upstream.  Yet, the forces of nature were simply too powerful for my arms and the arms of a 9 year old to row against.  But what if I began to row with the current, what if I let go my desire to go against the current, what if I stopped fighting so hard to do what was ultimately impossible?

“Row right, row right,” I called out to my youngest daughter! The second she heard me she caught on to what I was trying to do and began to row with the current in synch with me.  As we began to pick up speed, I plunged my paddle into the water on the left side of the kayak and began to feel the vessel turn around. “Shallow ro, shallow row,” I called out! With those words, my daughter began to row quickly on both sides using the double paddle. As she rowed the kayak picked up momentum, turned and before we knew it, we were paddling quickly upstream. With in a moment or two, we caught up to the group and, shortly after, were able to see a pod of dolphins swim gracefully by us only a few feet away.

What this experience taught both my daughter and I is that, often times, we find ourselves caught in a current. Rather, than letting go of our fears and going with the flow, we often find ourselves fighting the current. At best, we find ourselves paddling in place and never going anywhere. At worst, we find ourselves exhausted, lost and hopeless.

If you find yourself in such a situation, if you find yourself rowing against the stream, if you find yourself fighting the current, today’s challenge for you is to let go. Allow yourself to go with the flow and to gain momentum. Remember, you do not have the strength alone to fight the tide. But if you let go of your fears and go with the flow, through the grace of God, you can build moment enough to turn yourself around and paddle to where God is calling you to be. With God, there is no such thing as hopeless. Remember that, let go, and let God take you to those rewarding, refreshing waters.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Don’t stand about on the edge of life afraid to venture in. go with the flow of circumstances. Follow the voice within.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, help me to realize that I have little control over the circumstances in my life; however, I do have the choice to hand my desire for control over to you. Guide my life in the direction you see fit and lead me to where it is you are calling me. Amen.

Good Vibes

Read 1 John 5:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4, NLT).

Just recently, I was listening to the 60s Essential Rock Playlist on Apple Music. For those who may be unfamiliar, Apple Music is a subscription service that allows you the ability to download and/or stream any of the millions of albums that they have. Virtually, any and every  artist’s album is released on Apple Music as well as in it’s physical CD or record form. It’s a really great subscription for those who love music…and who doesn’t love music?

Anyway, back to the playlist. As I was listening to it, the song “Good Vibrations” from the Beach Boys came on. My goodness what a great band they were and, no doubt, when their music comes on…the good vibes are certainly flowing! Just pause for a moment and remember that song. Listen to it through your memory. Hear the beat percuss its way across your head. Ba bum bum bum bum good vibrations. Hear the harmonized bops and the feel of summer in the air!

Yeah, what a great song from a legendary band! It truly spreads good vibrations when you listen to it. The song itself is about how he is checking out a girl and, as he does, he notices her checking him out back…through a subtle, playful, side-glance. That side-glance sets off those good vibrations and the rest is history. Of course, that song could be about blowing things up and it would still give you those good vibes. It’s just the way it is.

Seriously, who doesn’t like good vibes? I mean, isn’t that the greatest part of summer. It’s warm, free, and filled with sand, beaches, waves, picnics, hikes, and of course, good vibes. Yet, the truth is, humanity often falls way short of producing the kind of vibes that the Beach Boys created with their music. Why is that? Because we are human.

This is true in the church as well. The church is made up of broke n human beings who sometimes end up being good vibe killers.

In church, I am doing a worship series called “Summer of Love”. To compliment the series, we have decorated the sanctuary in tie dye, wallflowers, lava lamps, and other late 60s décor. As for me, I am wearing each week a long-haired wig, a tie-dye bandana, a psychedilic paisley shirt, a peace sign, earrigns, and a bracelet. Some people will come in and feel the good vibes when they see that décor in church; however, others are not going to appreciate it as much. The vibes might be a little too good for their liking and they might complain about it.

That hasn’t happened yet, thankfully, but I use it as a hypothetical that points to the fact that some people just kill good vibes. In fact, to give us a dose of humility, we all are good vibe killers. In fact, conversely, my setting up hippie decorations and dressing in “far out” threads, might kill what others see as the good vibes of a traditional, reverent church.

The truth is that killing good vibes is a part of reality and one person’s good vibes is another person’s fingernail down the chalkboard. Still, shouldn’t the church generally be seen a place with good vibes? Shouldn’t people see a church and instantly think, “that is where we go to be a community, help others, and feel good.” Yet, friends, most people (if there are any at all) do not think that when they pass a church.

What’s more, they might not even have noticed they passed a church at all. That is the case for more people than not, I think. People who are busy going about their day and not paying attention to all of the locations along the way. But if somone is specifically seeing the church as they pass, they most likely are thinking, Wow! Pretty building, or that’s where people go to worship, or I would never step foot in that place, or my mother got married there. Or, as mentioned above, most people are probably not even noticing the church let alone thinking about attending it.

In other words, when thought of, churches are seen as places. They’re pretty buildings, places one would go to worship or places one would never step foot into. With that said, few churches ever get to the place where people think, Wow! There’s where those nice, friendly people with the good vibes hang out.

So, how do we, as Christrians, begin to promote good vibes? Well, let’s think about what constitutes as good vibes. That is simple evidence to produce. Anything that makes you to feel good would constitute as “good  ibes”. What could more great about the news that we are saved from the things that make humanity suck!?!?! That is truly good news and that should transform us into a people who are not only hip…but also a people who spread good vibes and invite others to do so as well!. Let us plant the seeds of the kingdom of heaven to grow and flourish! Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If you won’t plant the seeds, who will?

PRAYER
Lord, give me the strength and the conviction to sprerad the Good News!

July 25, 2021 – Sunday Worship Livestream

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)
on Sunday, July 11, 2021.

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for July 25, 2021. Today we will be discovering the importance of loving friendships and how we are called to be loving friends to those we may not know yet.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

Episode 208 | Summer of Love, part 1: Loving Friends

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-iiuqq-109907f

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the importance of loving friendships and how we are called to be loving friends to those we may not know yet.

EPISODE NOTES:

First UMC of Newton, NJ premieres worship online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Join us for worship on YouTube.

If you worship with us online and/or you would like to give to First UMC of Newton, your generosity will help us sustain with our mission and ministries during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are still paying our staff and we are still ministering to people in our community and beyond. Your support is vital to us being able to do so. Thank you for considering giving at https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc.

Sign up for bi-weekly devotions at Life-Giving Water.

Subscribe to Life-Giving Water Messages, also on iTunes and Google Play Music.

Subscribe to the Party on Johncast, co-hosted by Rev. Sal Seirmarco and Rev. Todd Lattig

Ride the Waves

Read John 21:1-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me” (John 14:1, NLT).

I LOVE THE OCEAN. No, seriously, I do. As much as I have traveled, have been to places like Pittsburgh, PA, Columbus, OH, Indianapolis, IN, and Denver, CO., I do not think I could ever live in an area that is extremely far from the ocean. My whole life, I have lived with in an 1 ½ – 2 hours from the shore and day trips to the beach are commonplace.

When I was a young boy, I remember being afraid to go into the ocean. It all started when I was “down the shore” (this should clue you in as to where I live if you are not already from my state) with my parents. I was super young, but old enough to remember the experience. My dad took me in to the ocean and I clung to him, enjoying the waves but also fightened by them.

That day the water was particularly rough and the undertow was strong. At one point, a large wave overtook my dad and I became separated from him. Tumbling through the water and foam, I can remember my terror in slow motion. Of course, I did eventually get my bearings as I washed up on the sand; however, that certainly put a fear of the ocean in me.

For the longest time, I would not go into the ocean. Eventually, I got enough courage to stand at the edge and allow the waves to crash on me where I could stand and they hit no further up than my legs or hips. But the fear of wiping out and possibly drowning kept me from experiencing the sort of freedom and adrenaline the ocean offers.

Eventually, as I got older I became more and more courageous because I knew that  a grown man couldn’t be afraid of the ocean. Eventually, I would have children and a family of my own and would bring them to the shore. So, eventually I forced myself to go in the ocean, but I still felt the fear crop up every time I entered and exited through the waves.

Overtime, though, I learned that, while it is important to respect the ocean, there is no need to fear swimming in it. The key is to ride the waves. If you are entering and you cannot get over a wave, ride it and head back out. Or, better yet, you could dive into the wait and ride the water underneat the wave. Either way, you are going with the flow, or underneath it, as opposed to resisting against it. It saves a ton of energy and is a rather fun experience as well.

In our lives, we often try to have such control over our situations that we find ourselves resisting the waves. When things don’t go according to the plan and we find waves pushing us back from where we want to be, or we find a rip current pulling us further out when we want to stay comfortably close to shore, we are best to not resist, but to let go, trust God, and go with the flow. Ride the waves, follow the current, and trust that Jesus Christ will bring us back to the shore at the place we need to be.

Do you trust God that much? Are you willing to let go and let God guide you through the waters? Will you be willing to let go and ride the waves? Will you be willing to ride the current and not resist the movement of the Holy Spirit? If so, you will eventually find that you belong in the ocean, you belong riding the waves, you belong catching the current of the Spirit and that you would want it no other way!

Let us be a people who fully put our faith back in God. Let us trust Jesus Christ when he tells us to NOT BE AFRAID. Rather, let us ride the waves and let God carry us to the next place the Gospel is needed to be shared. That way, we will be effective and faithful ambassasors to the Kingdom of God, in which we have our membership.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If you stand on the beach staring at the waves, you’ll never be refreshed by the water.

PRAYER
Lord, remove my fear and help me to put my trust in you so that I may go wherever you send me. Amen.

The Good News!

Read Luke 2:25-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

This may sound a little morbid and/or macabre, but I thoroughly enjoy officiating funerals. Okay, maybe enjoy might not be the right word…indeed, it is not the right word…no, I feel fulfilled in the ministry of serving families in times of grief and despair. I love being present for people in those times, and I thoroughly am blessed to be able to assure the family that death is not the end, but the beginning of something new and eternal…something we all get to join in on…not just now in this current world order, but in the new, eternal kingdom to come.

What good news that is! What awesome news, that we are already citizens of a coming kingdom. In fact, we are not just citizens, but ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. What’s more, we are not just citizens or ambassadors, but heirs to the Kingdom. That means, we’ve been adopted into the family of God and are children of God. What great news that is and it is my honor to share that message with families, because it reminds them of the great hope we have in God through Jesus Christ.

Recently I officiated a funeral for a family of a relatively young man in his 50s. I had deliberated on whether or not I should wear my suit jacket as I was wearing my short-sleeved collared clerical shirt and my tattoos, of which I have many, would be showing. It was summer and no one would blame me for showing up in a short-sleeved dress shirt; however, some might not be thrilled to see a tattoed minister! In my deliberations, I got distracted and ended up forgetting about making the decision.

Of course, that meant that I showed up to the funeral home and then realized I was not wearing my jacket. I was instantly self-conscious about it, but then a peace came over me. I was there to serve that family and I would not let a jacket stand in the way of that mission. I walked in, introduced myself to the family, got ready and officiated a celebration of life that seemed to be really meaningful for those who were gathered to remember the person who had died. I had created a space where they could grieve and celebrate freely.

Afterward, a woman who was probably in her late 60s or early 70s approached me and said, “Reverend, you are truly as cool as your tattoos!” I was taken back by her comment. I was not expecting that comment at all and was left somewhat speechless. All I could muster was an awkward, “Thank you.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she continued, “I have waited my whole life to see this…to see a minister who isn’t afraid to show their humanity.” Again, I was taken back, but managed to say, “Thank you so much, you’ve really blessed me with your words.”

“You are the one who blessed me,” the woman said assuredly. “Thank you so much for being here and for your words.”

I was stunned. I have had people comment on my tattoos before. Usually, I am asked whether or not my congregation knows I have them. I can appreciate the question because that is the perception of the church, a perception the church created itself by forgetting that it consisted of sinners redeemed by grace…not saved by the law or legalism.

This woman who approached me had clearly experienced that somewhere along the way in the church too. This woman so clearly articulated that church was the place where people shed their humanity and act like they are something better that human. The truth is that is NOT THE GOSPEL MESSAGE. We are not better than humanity, we are among those who make it up. We are sinners saved by a gracefuly, compassionate, merciful, and loving God. That is the Gospel message.

Just like Simeon, who had waited all his life to see the Christ child, this woman had waited all her life to see the church reclaim its humanity. It’s not about me and I am certainly not the only minister with tattoos…not in a long shot; however, it is about each of us being true to who we are…because Jesus accepts us for who we are. More than that, Jesus uses our uniqueness for the glory of God and the coming Kingdom. Submitting to Christ means being who we uniquely are for the sake of Christ and following him faithfully in that freedom.

Therefore, let us put on Christ and carry him out into the world in our unique way. Christ’s Kingdom is made up of a vast army of unique people, unified but NOT UNIFORM in Christ’s mission and ministry. If we do that, there will be no stopping what Christ will do next for the transformation of this world into the Kingdom God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
God didn’t create us to be robots, but to be autonomous, individual people with the freedom to use our unique gifts for the glory of God.

PRAYER
Lord, use me in ways that are unique to who I am so that others may come to know you and your love for them through me. Amen.

Sent to Siloam

Read John 9:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus told him, ‘I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’” (John 9:39)

siloam

At church I have been leading a summer Bible Study for those in our church that teach Children’s Sunday School during the year, so that they have time to be enriched as well as being an enrichment for others. The Study we have been doing is one called “Unusual Gospel” by Rev. Adam Thomas. In he covers the unusual Gospel of John and the unusual healings, the unusual people, and the unusual questions found throughout it. It is a very engaging and refreshing study.

One of the unusual healings is that of the man who was born blind. You may be wondering what is so unusual about that healing. Jesus healed many people, and he’s known to have healed the blind. The story of the man born blind is a very familiar one and is certainly one that many of us have heard if not have memorized. So what exactly is unusual about it?

In the story, Jesus approaches the man born blind, spits on the ground, makes mud and rubs it on the man’s eyes. Yuck! Then he tells the man to go and wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam. The man, who now has Jesus saliva and dirt mixture smeared on his face, goes to the pool and washes his eyes. As he does so, he finds that he is healed. When he returned from the pool the people around him were astonished. In fact, they were more than astonished…they were confused. Something looked familiar about this man…but they just couldn’t place him.

“Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg,” his neighbors and other witnesses asked each other? Some replied, “Nah…this isn’t that man, he just looks like him.” The beggar kept assuring “I am the same one…I am the same one!” No one seemed to listen or recognize him…and when they did recognize him, they were more concerned with who healed him than the fact that he had been healed. The irony is that this man at one point could not physically see; however, his healing had revealed who was truly blind.

The people were blind to the blind man. They never really saw him for who he was. They only ever saw his limitation. When they looked at the blind man, they only ever saw blindness. And notice what I, the writers of the Bible, Jesus’ disciples, and the Bible translators often do…we all tend to label this man as “The Blind Man” or “The Man Born Blind”, despite that he was healed and HIS BLINDNESS wasn’t who he really was!

Jesus revealed that to him and to the disciples. Through the healing, Jesus also revealed the blindness of the man’s neighbors. They didn’t know anything about this man, but that he was blind. That is how they identified him…as blind. And Jesus revealed their own blindness to them. Through this unusual healing, Jesus reveals our blindness to us as well. How often do we identify people by their limitations. How often do we name them after their limitations. The Blind Person, The Drunk Person, That Suicidal Person, those Old People, that Young person. How often do we only see the label, the supposed “limitation”, but are blind to the actual person…the actual child of God that is before us.

Like he did in this unusual healing, Jesus is showing us our blindness and he is offering us healing from that blindness. If we humbly recognize that we have mud of our own on our eyes, if we obediently wash that mud off, if we open our eyes to the people that we’ve been blind to, we will be healed from that blindness. God wants us to see people as they really are, not for what we’ve deemed them to be. God is sending you to Siloam. Be healed and transformed!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hate and mistrust are the children of [spiritual] blindness.” – William Watson

PRAYER
Lord, open the eyes of my heart for I want to see you in the people around me. Break me free from the chains of my blindness and give me the ability to see through your eyes. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Task at Hand

Read Acts 20:20-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“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)

1600x1200-11587-nosferatu-wallpaper-hd

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.

Episode 207 | Party Time

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-e74bn-1085780

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the nature and purpose of worship. Discover the life God created us to live.

EPISODE NOTES:

First UMC of Newton, NJ premieres worship online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Join us for worship on YouTube.

If you worship with us online and/or you would like to give to First UMC of Newton, your generosity will help us sustain with our mission and ministries during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are still paying our staff and we are still ministering to people in our community and beyond. Your support is vital to us being able to do so. Thank you for considering giving at https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc.

Sign up for bi-weekly devotions at Life-Giving Water.

Subscribe to Life-Giving Water Messages, also on iTunes and Google Play Music.

Subscribe to the Party on Johncast, co-hosted by Rev. Sal Seirmarco and Rev. Todd Lattig

July 11, 2021 – Sunday Worship Livestream

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)
on Sunday, July 11, 2021.

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for July 11, 2021. Today we will be discovering the nature and purpose of worship. Discover the life God created us to live.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

A biweekly devotional