All posts by Rev. Todd R. Lattig

Episode 131 | Move Mountains, part 4: Yes, You Move Them.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-n5e9q-e537f8

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the humongous opportunities we have to serve God. This message is based on Hebrews 12:1-2.

 

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams 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.

Episode 27 | Dark Corner Providence

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-492he-e537b0

Episode 26 | Let Freedom Ring

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal and Todd are joined by Dylan and Devin of the band DD Canfield. Listen as the discuss DD Canfield’s music, sip on excellent beverages and have a way out there good time.

 

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. On Twitter you can also follow Todd and Sal on Twitter at @trlattig and @SalvatoreSeirm1 respectively.

 

EPISODE NOTES:

He Brews Segement:

 

Dylan

Sal

Todd

Most Excellent Music Segment:

God’s People, part 257: Judas Barsabbas

Read Acts 15:22-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”  (Galatians 2:16, 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.

Part 257: Judas Barsabbas. There isn’t too much known about Judas (also known as Barsabbas), other than that he seen as a prophet and that was chosen along with Silas to accompany Paul on a trip to churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia to read a letter that came out of the Council of Jerusalem. Clearly, Judas must have been someone who was known and respected by the Council as well as churches, and so they chose him along with Silas to carry out this important mission.

Since there isn’t much known about Judas himself, let’s discuss the council first, and then it will be clear what Judas’ mission and role was. Up to this point, Paul had been preaching an unrestricted Gospel to the Gentiles. What does this mean? It means that Paul felt that the Gentiles should not be bound to or restricted by a Law that they were not born under.

Therefore, Paul reasoned, a Gentile could enter God’s covenant through faith in Christ. For him, the Law all pointed to being in right relationship with God; however, none of us, not even Jews, follow the Law perfectly. Christ is the only answer to that problem, for he did follow it perfectly and became the sacrificial Lamb of God for us all. Christ is the One who saves, not circumcision. Thus, while Paul was an observant Jew, he put aside such traditions when it came to the Gentiles. This became a MAJOR controversy among Jewish Christians, who felt Paul was abandoning the Torah and the very faith of Christ himself.

Some of these Jewish Christians took it upon themselves to oppose and counter Paul’s teachings in the communities he had established Gentile churches. They were telling the Gentiles that they HAD to get circumcised if they were to have any part in Christ. This enraged Paul and the controversy grew to the point that the Apostles and Elders of the church called together a Council to weigh in on the matter. In the end, according to Luke in Acts, the council agreed with Paul and wrote a letter to be read to the churches. This letter stated that the Apostles had no part in countering Paul’s ministry and that, officially, Gentiles DID NOT have to adhere to circumcision.

This was a MAJOR win for Paul who had been advocating for this from the beginning. Judas and Silas were to accompany him to read this letter to the churches. As for Judas, he was also known as a prophet. In other words, he was someone who was known to have been gifted with the ability to prophesy by the Holy Spirit. His being one of the ones to deliver the message would only lend credibility that this decision was not just that of the Council, but of Christ.

As we can see, the earliest Church was not always a cohesive group. They had quarrels, disagreements, cliques, and even backstabbers. We often look back to “old time religion” as if they were on a higher pedastal than where we find ourselves today; however, that is not the case. The only real difference between then and now is that they TRULY looked to God to guide them in their decisions and, when push came to shove, they humbled themselves and opened up to the possibility of change. We should be challenged to model ourselves after that approach to the Christian witness. Holy compromise and the middle way (via media) are essential in the Body of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” – Rev. John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, though we be of different mind on different issues, help us to be of one heart and to live in LOVE with our sisters and our brothers. Amen.

God’s People, part 256: Missionaries and Friends

Read Acts 13:14-52; 14:1-28; 15:1-41

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”  (Galatians 2:13, 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.

Part 256: Missionaries and Friends: Barnabas and Paul are two names that should be known; however, people who are not Biblically literate have most definitely heard of Paul, but may not have heard of Barnabas. This is because, truthfully, Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament and Barnabas did not. Paul’s name is synonymous with early Christian theology, almost as much so as Jesus’.

Obviously, the entire New Testament is centered on Jesus and, rightfully so, that makes him the MOST known and certainly Christianity comes from his title, the Christ. With that said, Paul is the second most known person. Sure there’s Peter, James, John, Andrew, Mark, and Luke; however, it is Paul who is second most known in the New Testament. Even if people don’t know his name, you can bet that they will choose his passages for celebration of life services and for weddings. It is Paul who is quoted (whose quoting Jesus) when we celebrate Eucharist (aka Holy Communion).

Barnabas, on the other hand, is less known on the broad scale. If people have heard of him, they more than likely know him as Paul’s trusty sidekick; however, that is only slightly true at best. In fact, as has been mentioned before, Barnabas started off as Paul’s mentor. Paul was his trusty sidekick. That did change over time; however, the majority of time that Barnabas is seen with Paul, he was leading Paul and not the other way around.

With that said, these two were also very close and became more than just missionary partners. They were friends; they were brothers in Christ. This can be seen in Paul’s horror, expressed in Galatians, when he finds out that Barnabas was choosing James and Peter’s side on the issue of Gentile inclusion. He wrote, “even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” It’s as if Paul is crying out, “not Barnabas too!”

It is there that we see the first sign of a split between the two. Clearly, Barnabas disagreed with how far Paul was willing to take his mission to the Gentiles. Sure, they could become followers of Christ; however, could we really eat and drink with them if they were breaking Jewish kosher rules? Wouldn’t that be to forsake the Law given to Moses by God for the Jews to follow? While Acts says the split was over John Mark, and I have no doubt that was the final straw for Barnabas, this rift over Gentile inclusion clearly went unanswered and Paul presents no winning conclusion to it in Galatians.

What is sad is that Barnabas and Paul had been inseparable partners and friends for years and, because of theological and personal differences, they ended up going separate ways. As such, Barnabas falls out of the pages of Acts and all we learn about is Paul and ministry to the Gentiles. What did Barnabas do? What miracles did he perform, how many did he bring to Christ? All of that is lost beyond his association with Paul. We can be assured he continued to be a missionary and, he no doubt continued to nurture his cousin John Mark; however, we know no details.

This should challenge us because we have a sort of hindsight that Paul and Barnabas did not. We can see the real tragedy in the separation of these two faithful apostles, missionaries and friends. I am not saying they should or should not have parted ways. Perhaps it was for the best. I am also not saying that Christians today shouldn’t part ways when there are severe disagreements; however, we should be challenged to have enough humility to see the tragedy in that, for such severe separation has consequences beyond our control.

We can still express Christian love through it and, Paul and Barnabas did so. Paul never besmirched his former partner. He went his separate way and so did Barnabas. Still, we as Christians need to be cautious in how we approach one another and, if separation is inevitable and necessary, we need to still show a love for the other that witnesses to the power of Christ in both parties’ lives. Let us, consider all of this and begin to grow in Christ’s grace and love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
They will know we are Christians by our love.

PRAYER
Lord, help me be a great witness of your love and your grace. Amen.

Episode 130 | Move Mountains, part 3: Humongous Opportunities

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-85wnn-e45f54

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the humongous opportunities we have to serve God. This message is based on Luke 1:39-45.

 

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams 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.

God’s People, part 255: John Mark

Read Acts 13:13; 15:37-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, 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.

Part 255: John Mark. Traditionally, John Mark has often attributed as the “Mark” who wrote the New Testament, also known as Mark the Evangelist. He was first introduced in Acts 12:12 as being the son of a woman named Mary. He was introduces as “John who was also known as Mark.” In that time period, it was not uncommon for Jews to have their birth name and also have a Hellenistic name as well. John was a Jewish name and Mark was a Greek name. So, this person’s name was actually John and Mark was not his surname, but another name he went by.

Still, he is known to us as John Mark to distinguish him from other Johns in named in the New Testament. John Mark was the cousin of Paul’s mentor, partner and friend Barnabas. In Acts 12:25, we find out that he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Paul (Saul at the time), an indication that he was now working with them as a missionary.

In Acts 13:13, something inexplicable happened. We are told that, on one their missionary journeys, John Mark abruptly left the company and returned home to Jerusalem. We cannot be sure why he left as Luke never elaborated on that; however, you can feel the abruptness in the way Luke writes about it: “Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.” From there Luke carries on with Paul and Barnabas and John Mark falls out of the account for two chapters.

He’s next mentioned in Acts 15:37-39. In that passage, Paul invites Barnabas to go with him to visit the cities they’ve visited in the past to check on the believers there. Barnabas agreed to go with Paul, but he wanted to bring John Mark along. Paul strongly objected to this. It says in verse 38, “But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.”

It is here where we get to see into the event back in chapter 13. We still don’t know why, but it becomes clear that John Mark’s abrupt exit from their missionary journey was viewed by Paul, if not Barnabas and his other companions, as a desertion. Paul felt he abandoned them and he would not have such an unreliable person joining them, for obvious reasons.

While we cannot be sure what Barnabas felt at the time that John Mark abandoned them, John was still his cousin and wanted to include him in their journey. In fact, he not only wanted to, but was sharply insistent on it. As a result, Paul and Barnabas could not come to a compromise and ended up ending their partnership. They chose to separate. We cannot really judge either one of them because, again, we don’t know the details and why Paul felt this was an unacceptable desertion; however, both felt so strongly in their opposing viewpoints that they could no longer work together. This was tragic turn of events for sure.

Still, what we, as Christians, should pull from this is the importance of being reliable and faithful to our local church community. When we commit to something, we should remain committed. We should not desert our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ and put others in the position of having to defend or oppose our involvement, as sometimes can happen.

This is not an uncommon thing in our time. Many people abandon their church family for lots of frivilous reasons. Disagreements or a disliking of the pastor, sports or other child/teen activities, wanting to sleep in, and other various things can cause people and their families to drift away from their commitment to the Church and it’s mission. People vow to serve the Christ’s church when they become members, but don’t really view that vow as binding or important. As a pastor, I have seen the hurt that causes relationally, and I have seen it also cause division in the church. What’s more, it can cause the church to fall into despair over a perceived and real decline in church family members. It is a loss the church can’t help but sincerely grieve.

Friends, this should challenge us. Why do we, as Christians, feel that our faith vows are secondary at best to the other things the world is offering? Shouldn’t that be reversed? Shouldn’t our vows to God and each other hold far more weight than personality differences, sports, laziness, and other things? Let us be challenged to return to our vows and uphold them. Let us put Christ and His church first in our lives, so that we can once again instill a foundation of faith in our children, and further the work of bringin heaven, and the reign of God, on earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James the Just (James 5:12, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, keep me and my family on the path that leads to the fulfillment of my vows to you. Amen.

God’s People, part 254: Bar-Jesus

Read Acts 13:4-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A false witness will not go unpunished, and a liar will be destroyed.” (Proverbs 19:9)

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.

Part 254: Bar-Jesus. Here is another example of an obscure person mentioned in the New Testament. We don’t have much to go on in knowing who this Elymas was, except what we are told about him by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. So, in order to pull anything meaningful from this text, we need to first examine what is known.

Elymas is first introdcued as Bar-Jesus, or son of Jesus (Greek: βαριησοῦς, pronounced bar-ee-ay-soos), who is a “magician” (in Greek: μάγος, prounounced magos) and as a “false prophet” (in Greek: ψευδοπροφήτης, pronounced pseudoprophētēs). The reason I am giving you the Greek is because it is important to understanding the implications of who this man is according to the original language the Bible was written in. This Elymas, son of Jesus, was a Jew living on the Island of Cyprus and he was seemingly a spiritual advisor to the Roman governor of that island, named Sergius Paulus.

First, let’s look at Elymas name, if that be his name. In fact, Acts tells us that Elymas means magician/sorcerer/wise man, so it is likely that his real name is not even Elymas. Another important thing to grasp is that Jesus (Greek: Ἰησοῦς, pronounced ee-ay-soos) was the Greek equivalent to Joshua and it was a common Jewish name. Just because this Jewish religious adviser was known as the son of Jesus does not mean he was claiming to be the son of Jesus/Joshua of Nazareth; rather, it simply means that this Elymas was the son of a man named Jesus/Joshua. This man’s name is not what makes him suspect to Paul and Barnabas, nor is it why he’s considered to be a false-prophet.

The reason he is considered to be a false-prophet is, as far as we can draw from the text itself, is because he is falsely advising Sergius to not listen to the words of Barnabas and Saul (who, at this point, is evidently starting to use his Roman name Paul). Instead, he wants the governor to listen to him, as if he is the one truly speaking for God. In terms the title magos, it is not clear whether he calls himself that or not. Magos can be interpreted as magician, sorcerer, or even as wise man. The magi (plural for magos) in Matthew’s Gospel is often translated to wise men as opposed to sorcerers or magicians.

It seems likely to me that this term was given to him for, as a Jew, he would not call himself a sorcerer or magician. If he did, why would a God-fearing Roman governor listen to him? The term was a slight against his character as sorcerers were seen to be deceitful and false. This would seem to being consistent with his being called a “false prophet” by Luke. Thus, by calling him a magos, the author is calling into question his character. He is seen by Luke as a shady, deceitful person who has the ability to “put someone under his spell” with deceitful, yet charming, words.

With that being the best educated guess we can now discuss the conflict. Barnabas and Paul went to Cyprus to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Cypriots. While there, Governor Sergius Paulus heard of them and their miraculous deeds and invited to them to speak with him about this Jesus of Nazareth, of whom they preached. This was did not make Elymas Bar-Jesus happy because it threatened his very position as a religious advisor to the governor. Think of it this way, if Governor Paulus became a Christian, what need would he have for Bar-Jesus who doesn’t accept Jesus Nazareth as the Christ?

Thus, Bar-Jesus began to counter the Christian witness of Barnabas and Paul right in front of them. As a result, Paul called out Bar-Jesus and cursed him with the same temporary blindness that he had suffered earlier on as a persecutor of the Church. Of course, this curse acted more as a “miracle” as it was a witness to the power and presence of God being upon Barnabas and Paul. Thus, the governor instantly became a Christian believer.

I am sure that Bar-Jesus thought he was right. I am sure he felt that Barnabas and Paul were the deceivers; however, deep in his heart he had selfish motivations for believing that. While I am have no reason to presume he wasn’t sincere in his Jewish beliefs, he was also concerned about his status and position and that was, at least in part, his motivation for opposing the Good News.

This should challenge us. How many times have we rejected God’s Good News in order to hold onto our status, our positions, our friendships, our wealth, our jobs, etc.? In this age of political extremes, how many ditch the good news of Christ, or even pervert it, in order to hold on to their political worldviews and agendas? Notice that I didn’t name any specific party or affiliation. That was done intentionally, because it happense across party lines and affiliations. Let us be challenged to be open to Christ’s Good News. Let us be challenged to prioritize it over everything else, lest we find that we too have been blinded.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Without Christ, we are like the blind leading the blind.

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on us, sinners. Amen.

Episode 129 | Move Mountains, part 2: Seeing Past Obstacles

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-qnknn-e3a540

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses God’s continual movement in the world and our lives. This message is based on https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+12%3A1-9&version=NLT.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams 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.

God’s People, part 253: Viral

Read Acts 13:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, 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.

Part 253: Viral. We westerners in the 21st century, and in previous centuries to be honest, love to look at the declension of the Christian church. What is declension? Simple, declension is the declining numbers of people who identify as Christian and/or, concerning local congregations, attend worship services regularly and are active in the life of the congregation.

In the U.S., Fewer and fewer people attend churches and, out of that number, there is a rise in people who claim none when asked their religious affiliation. For instance, in 2018-2019 Pew Research phone surveys, “65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.”[1]

In the suggested reading for this devotion, we see a different situation than what we see in the U.S. and other parts of Western Civilization. In Syrian Antioch, a new and young Christian teacher by the name of Saul, was commissioned by other Christian leaders to go out with another Christian leader, named Barnabas, as missionaries to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world.

According to Acts 13:1, “Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were…Simeon (called “the black man”, Lucius (from Cyrene),” and “Manaen (the childhoold companion of King Herod Antipas”, as well as Barnabas and Saul. According to the account given by Luke, these Christians were in prayer when the Holy Spirit guided them to appoint Barnabas and Saul as missionaries.

As a result, Barnabas and Saul had hands laid on them and then they were sent out as missionaries. I will, of course, discuss their mission in another devotion; however, for the time being there is something important to point out about this short passage in Acts. In the church at Antioch of Syria, there was a black man, a Cyrenese man  (from Cyrene in modern day Lybia), a childhood friend of King Herod Antipas, a Jew from Jerusalem, and a Jewish Pharisee originally from what is now modern-day Turkey.

Such diversity was found in this Syrian church within the first 15-20 years following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How insane is that?!?!? We in the 21st century are familiar with the term viral, describing the nearly instanteous global viewership of news, memes, social media posts and videos. Of course, we have technology that connects us to the rest of the world in a matter of milliseconds.

The Church in the first half of the 1st century A.D. did not have such technology. So, let’s pause to think about and appreciate what has just been learned. Within 15-20 years, the News of Christ had been received by people from Syria, from what is now Turkey, from Lybia in North Africa, and it spread to differing social classes too. No doubt, Manaen, was of noble birth and wealthy. After all, he was a childhood friend of King Herod Antipas, who put Jesus on mock-trial in his court only 15-20 years earlier! All of this doesn even mention, let alone trace, the spread of Christianity Eastward into the Parthian Empire and Asia.

It can’t be clear how the Christian Witness reached people from those regions. For sure, early Christian missionaries travelled the Roman road system to different places; however, some of them may have learned of the good new while traveling to Syria, Jerusalem and other areas. It is pretty likely that both scenarios were the case; however, it must be said that the earliest Christian movement went viral in lightning speed despite the fact that the Internet did not exist.

How did this happen? The answer is rather simple and obvious. It spread through word of mouth. Christians were so convinced that Jesus was the not only the Messiah, but the embodiment of God who brought salvation into the world, that they could keep their mouths closed about it. They went into the Jewish Temple, into synagogues, marketplaces, public forums and even pagan temples to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

One may be reading this and thinking, “Well, sure, but they didn’t have to deal with societal pressures that pull people away from God. They didn’t have to deal with sports on the Sabbath, an increased belief in the natural sciences, hostile atheists, indifferent agnostics, and an increasingly godless society.”  Yet, if one stops to think about it, that reasoning is does not hold up.

Societal pressures existed in far more extreme ways in the first century A.D. The pagan Roman society didn’t have a “Sabbath” day and the Jews were ridiculed for observing such a “a day of rest”. The natural and philisophical sciences were pursued as vigorously then as they are now. Some Greek philosophers were agnostics and many in that society were hostile to these Christians who came to them preaching of a resurrected “Son of God.” Others were indifferent to their message.

As Christians in the 21st century, we have no excuse to not be just as convicted and passionate about spreading the Good News to others. The only reason the church is in decline is because it has grown apathetic to the urgency and importance of the Good News. We’ve grown wishy-washy in our conviction and afraid to stand out for what we believe to be Ultimate Truth. Let this challenge you to reflect on where you are in your faith as Christians, and begin to examine how you can grow in evangelism…in spreading the Good News.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Do you believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ?, enough to passionately share that Good News with others?

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be a faithful, bold and passionate part of the Jesus Christ’s viral church! Amen.


[1] Pew Research Center. “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace: An update on America’s changing religious landscape”. October 17, 2020, https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/. (Accessed July 14, 2020).

God’s People, part 252: James the Just

Read Acts 12:17; 1 Corinthians 15:7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When [Jesus’] family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.”  (Mark 3:21, 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.

Part 252: James the Just. Admittedly, there is often a confusion that arises when discussing some of the people in the New Testament due to the fact there are multiple people with the same name. Simon, for instance, could be Simon the Zealot or Simon Peter. Judas could be Judas son of James or Judas Iscariot. Mary could be any number of Marys, including but not limited to Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene or Mary, sister of Lazarus.

The same is true when it comes to James, who could be James, son of Zebedee, James son of Alphaeus, James father of Judas, or James, half-brother of Jesus of Nazareth. In today’s devotion, James, the brother of Jesus, will be discussed. He is also known as James the Just; however, before learning how he came about that descriptive title, let us first explore what we know of him.

Very little is written about James in the Bible; however, we can gather much about him from what little we have. First, he was not always a believer in his brother Jesus. Mark wrote in his Gospel that Jesus family, including James, thought Jesus was outside of his mind early on in his ministry and they sought to “take him away”, in order that they could silence him and keep him and their family out of trouble (Mark 3:21, 31-35).

The next we hear about James is in the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke. By that point, James is not just a believer in his brother, he’s one of the leaders and pillars of the Jerusalem Church. What can be gathered, though nothing is specifically written about it, James and his family did eventually become believers in Jesus. We all know that Mary, mother of Jesus, was one of the people was at the cross of her son, and that she carried on in the life of the early church, along with Mary Magdalene and the other women followers. We can, therefore, safely presume, that most if not all of Jesus’ family followed her lead, including James.

In 90 A.D., Flavius Josephus made reference to “the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, whose name was James” (Anitquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9, 1). In that account, the High Priest, Ananus son of Ananus, had James and some others arrested, tried them as law breakers, and had them stoned to death. What is striking is that the entire Jewish community seemed to be in an uproar over that decision because James and those were considered to be “the most equitable citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9, 1).

This extra-Biblical account is actually corroborated by what we know of James through the writings of Luke and Paul. We know that James and the Jerusalem Church were concerned with not breaking the Jewish law and challenged Paul in how far he should go to open up the covenant to Gentiles. James’ followers seemed to counter Paul quite a bit in his Gentile mission (see Galatians). In fact, it was James who turned down Paul’s collection and suggested he use it at the temple to show that he, as a Jew, still followed the Jewish law (Acts 21:17-40).

This is, in fact, how James came to be known throughout Jerusalem as James the Just, or, perhaps better translated as James the Righteous. Though he was a Christ follower, he was respected in the Jewish community as a devout Jew and follower of the Torah. That is why the community was outraged by his death and why Ananus got demoted and replaced as high priest (ironically by another man named Jesus).

The first thing that should challenge us about this is recognizing the inherent Jewishness of Jesus, James, Paul and the earliest church. At that time, there was no such thing as a separate religion called Christianity. The term Christian originally was meant to describe Jewish followers of Jesus the Christ. The original name for this Jewish sect was “The Way.

Secondly, we should recognize that Christianity has always been in the midst of give-and-take, when it comes to theology and inclusion. If it were up to James, God bless him, the chruch would have stayed in and around Jerusalem and, more than likely, it would have been eliminated in 70 A.D. with the destruction of the city and the temple. Because of Paul, Luke, Peter, and others, the Gentiles were eventually included. In fact, over time, the Gentiles became the majority.

As Christians, we should be pushing the boundaries of who we include as well. Christ did not come, nor die, to save the righteous, but to save sinners (of which we all are). With that said, we should also respect and honor those Christians who hold to a more conservative view, such as James did. Paul brought him a peace offering, even though the two vehemently disagreed. Paul also went to the temple to honor James’ wishes, which led to Paul’s arrest. Paul’s example should remind us that in Christ, we are all one (despite the fact that we don’t all agree). Let us be mindful of that now and forever. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem.” – Hegesippus, 2nd Century Bishop of Jerusalem

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stand firm in my beliefs, all the while humble and loving toward all my brothers and sisters in Christ in my heart. Amen.