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A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 138: Joseph

Read Matthew 1:18-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”  (Luke 2:4-5 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JosephFatherofJesus

Part 138: Joseph. One of my favorite Christmas films, a must watch annually on Christmas Eve, is The Nativity Story. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph, the story chronicle Mary’s betrothal (aka engagement) to Joseph, her becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit, Joseph’s initial reaction and final acceptance of her. It follows them as they make the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and concludes with what everyone is there to watch: the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.

This is my favorite portrayal of the Nativity because the actors really pull off their roles convincingly. The vulnerability that both of the actors bring out of their characters helps the audience to connect with them on a most personal level. This is especially true for Joseph. Oscar Isaac takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride as he falls in love with Mary, is broken by her seeming betrayal when she comes home pregnant, to accepting her story as truth, to supportive husband caring for Mary on the journey to Bethlehem (even to the point of short changing himself.”

Of course, Joseph was a flawed individual, just as we all are. It would be easy for us see the final result of Jospeh, rendering him to a two-dimensional character. It would be easy for us rush to the Joseph who was by Mary’s side in the manger. Yet, the reality is that Joseph almost broke off his engagement to Mary because he could not believe that she had conceived of a child through the Holy Spirit.

Honestly, which one of us would actually believe that if someone came to us and said that they got pregnant by God without having sex with anyone. Most of us would have a hard time believing that. So, we cannot judge Joseph for his disbelief; however, he did struggle to believe Mary.

That left him with two options, to keep Mary as his wife and take her shame upon himself. If he stayed with Mary, people would think the two were sexually active, which would put both of them in a bad light socially speaking. The other option would be to break off the engagement and distance himself from Mary. That would keep the shame from falling on him; however, it would put Mary in a dangerous situation. If that became public she could have been stoned to death for adultery. This was serious business.

Scripture tells us that Joseph was a just (aka righteous) man and did not wish to disgrace her publicly. So he was going to quietly break the engagement off. How he would have pulled that off without others knowing, only one can guess; however, he came very close to ending the relationship with Mary for fear that her “shame” would fall upon him and his “good name”. In other words, he was putting his own “name” and reputation in society before the woman, the human being, he was engaged to.

It took an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that he need not fear taking Mary as his wife, for all that Mary had told him was true. Thankfully, Joseph listened to the voice in that dream. The question for us is this, how do we let fear take control of our lives? Do we allow fear to dictate our actions and do we allow fear to make our decisions for us? The challenge for us is to listen to God’s voice over the many voices of fear. Let us seek God’s voice out in all things and allow God, not fear, guide us in our lives and in our decisions.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from allowing fear to take control. I put my trust in you. Guide me in your love. Amen.

Episode 223 | GOD WITH US, part 2: God With Joseph, the Dutiful

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-vwqwu-1149992

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses how sometimes God calls us to go beyond duty for the glory of God.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ worship livestreams on Sundays at 9:00 a.m. (Contemporary) 10:30 a.m. (Traditional). Join us for worship in-person or 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

December 5, 2021 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 9:00 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Services for December 5. Today we learn how sometimes God calls us to go beyond duty for the glory of God.

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 LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 139: Elizabeth

Read Luke 1:5-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed…when I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.”  (Luke 1:42, 44 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

elizabeth-and-john

Part 139: Elizabeth. Here, in the New Testament, we come across a familiar tune as we saw with women such as Sarah in the Old Testament. Elizabeth, who is Mary’s cousin according to Luke, is an older woman who is married to a priest named Zechariah. Luke says that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous in God’s sight; yet, he also records that Elizabeth was unable to conceive a child and, thus, her and Zechariah never had a child. On top of that, Elizabeth and Zechariah were both very old.

We don’t know very much about Elizabeth other than that she is the much older cousin of Mary of Nazareth. I think, for that reason, it is important to pause and add some perspective to this story. In the end, the perspective will help us to look inward at ourselves and so that we might find areas in which we, as God’s people, can grow.

First, it must be noted that there is a trend in the Bible to paint the women as being the ones who are barren. It must not be passed over that the Bible was written mostly (if not entirely) by men, and the society in which it was written was very much a patriarchal society. What does that mean? Patriarchy is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.” Thus, the focus is centered much more on Zechariah than it is on Elizabeth.

With that said, Luke is somewhat aware of that in his Gospel, for he tells how Zechariah ends up as the one who is silenced and Elizabeth becomes the one who has the voice. In fact, one cannot fully appreciate that until they realize that the society in which this Gospel was written was patriarchal. With that said, the Bible is filled with accounts of barren women, but there are no accounts of infertile men.

This was not necessarily intentional, but it does reflect the way that their society looked at men versus women. If a couple could not have a child, it was the woman paid the social price. She was considered “barren” and not able to have a child. If you stop and think about it, it is quite possible that Elizabeth was fertile and it was Zechariah who was infertile. Luke records that Elizabeth was barren, but how did they really know it was her and not her husband who was unable to reproduce.

I state this not to counter what the Bible says, but to make us aware of how easily we can scapegoat and stereotype people in way that are not so healthy. Regardless of who was infertile or not, God caused a miracle to happen and Elizabeth and Zechariah conceived and gave birth to a child. The challenge for us to reflect on how society informs who we are, both positively and negatively. In what ways do our social norms, rules and regulations form in us biases that are not of God? In what ways do we judge people based off of our social standards as opposed to God’s? Let us reflect and tweak where God is call us to change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christ is our footing, our foundation, our structure, our walls, our ceiling, stairs, windows, and doors. Make Christ your home, not society.

PRAYER
Lord, immerse me in your presence and help me to make you my home.

Episode43 | The Nightmare Before Christmas

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-3d9gt-114517f

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal, Todd and Blake talk about their fave Christmas movies, while partying it up over hot and iced brew. Are you interested in being on the Party on JohnCast? Email us at partyonjohncast@gmail.com.

Party On Patrons: You can totally support us by subscribing to us on Patreon and, by doing so, you will be signing up for exclusive, bonus content, such as episode wrap-ups, extra segments and the like. We have three tiers of support and each level bears more rewards. Lots of great reasons to join. Click here for more information.

Other ways to Support: If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify. The more we get rated and reviewed, the higher up on the giganto totem pole we get on those respective platforms.

Also, interact with us on our social media, on our Facebook Page, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also reach out to us via email partyonjohncast@gmail.com, though, please keep in mind we are more active on our social media accounts and do not check our email as often. On Twitter you can also follow Todd and Sal on Twitter at @trlattig and @SalvatoreSeirm1 respectively.

EPISODE NOTES:

He Brews Segment:

Todd

  • Dunkin’ Donuts Blueberry Pomegranate Refresher

Sal

  • Dunkin’ Donuts “Death Swirl” (aka Large Iced Coffee with a splash of Skim Milk).

Blake

Most Excellent Music Segment:

Sal

Todd

Blake

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 140: Zechariah

Read Luke 1:5-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Zechariah 1

Part 140: Zechariah. In the Gospel of Luke, we receive a unique Nativity account to the one that is found in Matthew’s Gospel. It is important to realize some facts about the Nativity before talking about Zechariah and his story. First, out of the four canonical Gospels, only two included the Nativity story. Mark does not, nor does John.

Second, Matthew’s account is quite different than Luke’s account. In Matthew, we have Mary, Joseph, King Herod, and the Wise Men as the predominant characters. There are no choirs of angels, shepherds, Wise Men, and certainly no manger in Matthew’s version. In fact, there’s not even a mention of Nazareth or any journey to Bethlehem. Rather, it reads as if Joseph and Mary were from Bethlehem and only ended up in Nazareth because they fled to Egypt from soldiers carrying out Herod’s villainous orders, later returning and settling in Nazareth.

In Luke, on the other hand, we have Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, August Caesar, Quirinius, Shepherds, Choir of Angels, Simeon, and Anna the prophet. It is Luke’s account that is most familiar to us as the Nativity story, but our typical picture also includes pieces of Matthew’s account blended into the story.

Zechariah, according to Luke’s account, was the husband of Mary of Nazareth’s cousin Elizabeth. He was a priest and a person who had status, power and authority in terms of the religious life of Judah. In fact, he was in the temple performing his priestly duties when an angel spoke to him and told him that he and his wife would have a child and name that child John.

Unlike Elizabeth, Zechariah had a powerful voice in society. He was someone of prominence and religious leader in the community. If someone wanted spiritual advice, they would go to Zechariah or other priests, not his wife. He was someone who was supposed to be in tune with God and someone leading the people of Israel in the act of repentance, sacrifice and worship. Yet, Zechariah did not believe what God was telling him was going to happen.

To be fair, who would believe that two older people, past the age where childbearing is a possibility, could bear a child? But Zechariah, steeped in the Jewish religious tradition must surely have known better, right? He knew the account of Sarah, of Rebecca, and other women who God blessed with children. Yet, he vocally refused to believe what he heard from the angel Gabriel that day.

As a result, God took away his ability to speak. I guess one could say God gave Zechariah a time out. In fact, Zechariah would not get his speech back until after his son, John, was born. We must keep in mind that Zechariah had no way of communicating to his wife, or anyone, what he heard that day in the Temple. As such, we can deduce that Elizabeth probably had no idea that she was going to get pregnant.

This is important to note because, when she did conceive a child, she went into seclusion (probably to protect herself from the community who would be marveling at such a miracle) and spoke the following words: “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children” (Luke 1:25, NLT). Did you catch that, Zechariah’s pride rendered him speechless, yet Elizabeth, in her humility, found her voice. What’s more, she instantly recognized, believed and gave credit to God for her miraculous pregnancy. Her reaction to the news, as it were, was on the complete opposite spectrum from her husbands.

The challenge for us is to reflect on our own faith in God. Do we have faith? Do we believe God is God? Do we believe, for instance, Christ’s words when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father”  (John 14:12, NLT). The challenge for us is to reflect on our own belief and to grow in our willingness to TRULY believe that God’s power is not only at work within us, but THROUGH us as well.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

Episode 222 | GOD WITH US, part 1: God With Zechariah, the Skeptic

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-3t84q-11408ea

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the God’s presence with us, even when we are skeptical.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • Garth Brooks’ Unanswered Prayers (Lyrics Video)
  • First UMC of Newton, NJ worship livestreams on Sundays at 9:00 a.m. (Contemporary) 10:30 a.m. (Traditional). Join us for worship in-person or 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

A LOOK BACK: What Really Matters

Read Amos 5:21-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:6-7, NLT)

Like a River

Today is Black Friday, a day when much of America is seemingly out shopping in preparation for the largest gift-giving season in the world. The day became known as “Black Friday” because businesses were said to go from being in the “red”, meaning they owed more than they brought in, to being in the “black”, which means that their revenue exceeded what they owed. It is no wonder then that Black Friday has become Big Business’s happy holiday as billions of shoppers spend their money on Christmas gifts.

In the wake of the violent riots that broke out this week in Ferguson, Missouri, however, there is no doubt that this year black Friday may be seeming a little more trivial than it normally does. Of course, it really always seems trivial to many people, and rightfully so; however, as smoldering smoke rises from chain stores and “mom and pop” shops alike in Ferguson, it is perhaps time for us to pause and reflect on the things that actually matter. No matter where we fall in our understanding surrounding the death of Michael Brown this past summer, the fact remains that this country is still suffering under the injustices of the past that keep resurfacing to haunt us.

It’s unfortunate that it takes the death of an eighteen year old, the ruination of the lives of a police officer and his family, and the destruction of an entire community for people to see that we aren’t out of the water yet when it comes to the racial tensions that divide us as a nation. We so often try to bury the past and busy ourselves with trivialities in order to go about our lives “unaware” of the injustice that surrounds us. Again, I say that without making a judgment call about the particular case in Ferguson.

As I sit here and write this, I am shedding tears and praying prayers for Michael Brown’s family who are so torn with grief over the loss of a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, and a grandchild. I am also shedding tears and praying prayersfor Darren Wilson and his family as they, too, are caught in all of this. I am shedding tears for the black communities, and minority communities, who have endured a system that is skewed against them because of their race. I am shedding tears and praying prayers for police officers and first responders who go to work, and put their lives on the line everyday, only to be put in situations where they have their decisions scrutinized by people who are not in harm’s way or forced to make those decisions. There are a lot of tears to go around.

As we reflect on Ferguson and the larger issues that are facing our country, let us see where we all fit into the picture. Let us realize that we too have a part to play in all of this. Will we be a part of the effort to sweep our past under the carpet, or will we be a part of the long, and often painful, process to work toward HOPE, HEALING, and WHOLENESS. God has called us to be a people who seek to live justly, who love mercy, and who walk humbly with God. The question is, for each of us, are we willing to answer God’s call?

My ultimate prayer is that justice and mercy will simultaneously flow like a river. That people will take the hard steps to work together in order that we may truly, one day, call each other brothers and sisters. I pray that God will use each of us as vessels that not only bear witness to the presence of God in our communities, but also that bring God’s hope, healing, and wholeness to them as well! The time has come for us to drop the trivial pursuits and start working toward what really matters: justice and mercy!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, allow both justice and mercy to flow like a river through us and into our communities. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Thanksgiving Day

Read Psalm 100

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:7 NLT)

FirstThanksgivingBig

Well, it is getting to be that time isn’t it. Tomorrow is the holiday that we in America call Turkey day…I mean Thanksgiving Day. After all, not all of us eat Turkey, and all of the turkeys that survive T-Day are ever thankful for that! All jokes aside, this is the holiday that begs Americans to remember the story of the Pilgrims. When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620, they were not prepared for life in the wilderness and they did not really know what to grow or when to grow it. Enter in the Native Americans, namely the Wampanoag tribe, who taught the settlers how to survive (including how to grow and harvest their food) in exchange for protection against tribal enemies.

By the time of the first Thanksgiving meal, there were only 50 out of 100 Pilgrims alive to share in the meal. Half of them had died during the first winter in the New World. Those remaining Pilgrims invited 90 Wompanoag to share with them in a feast, as a way of giving thanks to them and to God for their alliance and survival. Of course there is a ton more to the history than what I have recounted here; however, this is the gist of the story that the Thanksgiving Day observance in the U.S. is centered on.

Of course, it wasn’t long before more settlers showed up in Massachusetts and it is quite unfortunate that the original thankfulness that the Pilgrims had shown toward their Native American neighbors had all but been forgotten. The rest is sadly history. The European settlers flourished and grew in numbers, while the Wampanoag suffered major losses in their population. The European settlers, unbeknownst to them, brought bacteria and illnesses which killed many within the Wampanoag tribe. On top of that, with the European settlers came Western Civilization and it’s wars. One such war was King Phillip’s war, where the English colonists and their Native American allies fought against other Native American tribes. During that war, the Wampanog lost over 40 percent of its population and many of the surviving males in their tribe were sold into slavery in the West Indies. On top of that, many of the women and children were enslaved in New England. So much for the spirit of thankfulness, huh?

While this may seem like ancient history, the fact remains that the very feast we partake in year after year is rooted in that ancient history. What’s more, like the original Thanksgiving between the Settlers and Wampanoag tribe, our Thanksgiving is so short-lived that we often forget what we were even thankful for before the turkey, or Tofurky, coma settles in. In fact, it seems like our thankfulness is, by and large, nothing more than a trivial tradition that bears little resemblance to true thankfulness.

The challenge for us is become a truly thankful people who do not trivialize such an important part of what we were created to be. Let us begin to truly be thankful for everything we have been given. Too often we express our thankfulness through words, but words are so often very cheap! The first Pilgrims did not express their thankfulness merely with words, but through their actions in protecting their Native American allies and through inviting them to share in their harvest feast! Let us, too, be a people who show God that we are truly thankful by sharing what we have with others, no matter how unlikely it may seem for us to have a relationship with them. God has created us all and has provided all of us with all that we need. If we are truly thankful for those things, and if we truly recognize that everything we have are gifts from God, then we will not hesitate in being generous in our giving and THANKFUL in our living! This Thanksgiving, make thankfulness the meat that you feast on!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melodie Beattie

PRAYER
Gracious God, I thank you for all that I have including my life. Give me the strength take what I have and share it with those in need, so that my thankfulness can move from words into action. Amen.

November 21, 2021 – Newton UMC – Contemporary Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 9:00 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Services for November 21. Today we learn the importance of giving thanks as we prepare for Thanksgiving.

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