Category Archives: Devotional

REVISITED: Denial and the Cross

Read  Mark 8:34-38

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)


If you are Christian you have, no doubt, come across today’s scripture reading before. In one fashion, or another, you have heard that following Jesus means that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Part of the problem of being a Christian is that, all of these centuries later, we hear Jesus’ words in ways that I believe he never intendeded them. For instance, when we come across today’s Scirpture passage we often interpret it in ways that both trivialize the cross and demonize ourselves into something less than valuable in the eyes of God.

An unhealthy understanding of Bible passages such as these can lead to an unhealthy, and perhaps damning perception of self, of neighbor and, ultimately, of God. So let me begin by stressing what this passage is NOT saying. First, this passage is NOT saying you should hate yourself or deny yourself your basic needs. It is not saying that at all! God created you and God does not create junk or rubbish. God created you, and all, with a divine and holy purpose in mind. Thus, Jesus is not telling us that in order to be his disciple we need to hate ourselves, look down upon ourselves, or neglect to take care of ourselves. To do such would be sinful and would not be in line with God’s will for us. After all, God calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation (in which we are included) and to go against that would be to go against God’s call.

Second, this passage is not intended to trivialize the cross. There is a TobyMac song called Irene, in which TobyMac sings “Pick up your cross and where it everyday.” This is both a reference to Luke’s parallel passage (Luke 9:22-25) and to the trinket people often where on a necklace fastened around their necks. But this is not what the passage is referring to at all. It’s not referring to a necklace, nor is it referring to a lamented obligation, or a personal challenge one has been going through; rather, Jesus is referring to the instrument of capital punishment he would be affixed to as a means of painfully and humiliatingly exterminating his life.

What Jesus is ultimately saying in this passage is that, if anyone wishes to be his follower, we must deny any part of us that would hold us back from following him. Regardless of what those things are (e.g. our sins, our hangups, our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, etc.) we must be willing to put them aside and be willing to pay all costs for being associated with Jesus. Even if the cost is our very lives, we must be willing to give it all to follow Christ. It has nothing to do with self-loathing, though. It has to do with one’s identity! If one truly identifies as a Christians, and sees him/herself as belonging to Christ, then that will be the most important thing to him/her over and above anything else, including his/her own life.

There are numerous examples of people who saw Christ as being at the core of their identity. This week it behooves us to look at the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a disciple of Christ who denied the fears and things that held him back from following Christ. Dr. King certainly picked up his cross, the burden of fighting for equality and freedom for all people regardless of their skin color, and ended up paying the ultimate price for doing so. When we look at Dr. King we see a man who certainly denied himself, picked up his cross and followed Jesus.

The question for us today is this, will we let our fears and our desires keep us from accepting Christ as our Lord? Will we refuse to pick up our cross because of the possible consequences? Will we deny Christ, or deny the parts of ourselves that keep us from accepting Christ? Will we be ashamed of Christ, Christ’s message, and the way of the Cross because it is more convenient for us to do so? Or will we deny our own convenience for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others and for the sake of God’s Kingdom? The choice is ultimately yours and I pray that your response is one of affirmation rather than one of denial and embarrassment. The world could use more disciples of Christ and the hope, healing and wholeness that such disciples bring in Christ’s name.

When we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. – Jacqueline Novogratz
Lord, I give me the strength to deny the things that hold me back from you, to pick up my cross, and to follow you at all costs. Amen.

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

Read Matthew 5:43-48

“God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth” (Matthew 5:5 NLT).

While I know this might be a hot take being that there are so many different sports out there, each with there own die-hard fans, I believe that American Football is the greatest sport ever invented. It is a hard-fought, physical, and mental battle on a battlefield that spans 100 yards. In fact, that is every sport (minus the 100 yards); however, there is something about football that just grabbed hold of me the second I played it.

Recently, I revisited an old football movie that I used to love: Friday Night Lights, starring Billy Bob Thorton as Permian High School coach, Gary Gaines. The story follows the true story of how Coach Gaines built a team unity, a family, out of players that were all in it for their different reasons. It turns out, Texas football is quite a huge thing at the High School level, each team having their own stadiums and rabid fans. They treat High School football almost as a religion down there.

For the coach, this meant that he is under constant scrutiny week-in-week out, with random visitations on and off the field by different community members trying to “remind” him how imporant Permian football is. If he loses, he and his family could be finding themselves out of a home and searching for the next town to hire him as the coach. The stress this puts on him, his wife Sharon, and his daughter Jennifer is tremendous.

For the team, the pressures are felt in many different ways. You have the talented James “Booby” Miles, who’s only skillset, or so he says, is to play football. He’s put all his eggs in that basket and it is essential for him to play the best game he can every week to try and get a scholarship to college and hopefully make into the NFL, the odds of which are against anyone who tries out for pro-ball. You have to the best of the best, fast, strong, big, and…in many ways…a little lucky to make it. Why does luck factor in. In one word: INJURIES. There’s only so much control one has to prevent them.

You have the QB, the tight end, and all of the players trying to do the same thing. Yet at the same time, life throws curveballs their way. Mike Winchell, the Quarterback, is the sole person taking care of his mom who suffers from mental health issues. Don Billingsly, the team’s running back, has a dad who was a former Permian High School football star. The problem is that he has also become a severe alcoholic who verbally and emotionally, maybe even sometimes physically, abuses his son when he feels he isn’t playing enough.

The point being, the game of football in this film becomes a metaphor for life. Life is messy, it throws curveballs into your plans, it can be fun and beautiful, but it can quickly turn to be ugly, messy, tough, brutal and can wreck you as quickly as it makes something out of you. That is football. That is life. The question for the team, and when it comes to life we are all on the team, is this: What are you going to do when you are down in the game, stuck in the mud? Do you give up and accept “fate”? Do you turn in and complain about all of the things that are going wrong? Or do you fight back and give it your all.

During one of the games, the team finds itself down at halftime and they are just two quarters away from watching their dream of winning slip away. The coach at halftime reminds them that he always expects them to be perfect. This time though, he defines what is perfect to him. It is not winning games. It is not shutting teams out and receiving glory as the victors. For him “perfect” is about the players and their relationship with each other, their family, and their friends. He said, “Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And the truth is that you did everything that you could, there wasn’t one more thing that you could’ve done. Can you live in that moment as best you can with clear eyes and love in your heart…with joy in your heart. If you can do that gentlemen, then you are perfect.”

Amen. This is the kind of perfection that I believe Jesus is eluding to when he tells his disciples, and us by extension, that we ought to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect. Jesus is not saying that we need to be flawless, perfect in the sense of never doing anything wrong or making mistakes. Just as coach says, it’s not about winning or losing, getting it right or getting it wrong. Rather, Jesus…and coach…are telling us that it’s about sincerity, TRUTH, and LOVE.

In the TV series of the same name, Coach Eric Taylor puts it this way, “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t lose.” And I believe that is exactly what Jesus is telling us, when he talks about the kind of LOVE that our hearts should be full with. We are to love to the point of loving our enemies. That does not mean we will always flawlessly do that; however, that is what our hearts should be full of: LOVE.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. Why? Because clear eyes recognize that we are all enemies of God at some point and God loves us so much that he died and rose again to forgive us. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. Why? Because hearts filled with love of God leads us to hearts filled with love for all. Clear eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t lose. Why? Because there is NO losing in following God. Even when we get things wrong, God forgives us, picks us up, and puts us back on the path to victory. And that, my friends, is good news. So, remember this: Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. Amen.

“Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.” – Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights (TV Series)

Lord help me to have the humility to have clear eyes. Let my heart be filled with your love. I know with you in my heart there is no losing. Amen.

REVISITED: The Inner Skeptic

Read Psalm 14

“And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.” (Jude 1:22)


Everyone knows that I am a HUGE fan of Star Wars. Recently, the latest film in the Star Wars Universe was released, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”. The film follows a series of mostly new characters who are on a mission to get the blueprint plans of “The Death Star” from the evil Galactic Empire. If they succeed, it is possible that they can find a weakness that will help them destroy a weapon so powerful that it can eliminate entire planets in a matter of seconds.

Without spoiling the story for you (as I run a strict, no spoiler, ship), the characters of Jyn and Cassian are the unlikely leaders of a slim-to-none chance to infiltrate the enemy base and steal the plans of the dreaded battle station, “The Death Star.” All throughout the film, the characters are constantly being tested in their abilities, in their trust of one another, and in their faith.

In fact, wrestling with faith is a MAJOR theme in this film. Each of the characters, in their own way, find themselves wrestling with their faith in the existence of the force. One of the characters, Chirrut Îmwe, is a member of the Guardian of the Whills, which is a religious order that at one time were protectors of the Temple. Following the Temple being raided by the Galactic Empire, the Guardians remained true to their beliefs and sat out in the streets preaching about the Force.

What’s important to note is that thought the age of the Jedi and their use of the force, are not far removed from the time period that this takes place, many question the existence of such a “Force”. The Jedi themselves are quickly fading into mythological obscurity. How quickly hope fades, how quickly people fall from faith into the hopless state of despair. This is, honestly, the human condition.

When Jyn runs into Chirrut, he asked her if she knew what she was wearing around her neck. The crystals she was wearing were what the Empire had come to the Temple to raid, they were what powered the lightsabers. Chirrut sees it as a sign that the Force was alive and well. In fact, throughout the film, this monk kept reciting a powerful mantra, “I am one with the Force,  the Force is with me.”

Throughout the film, there are many skeptics who question this monk’s devotion to what they see as nothing more than a fairytale. Yet, his unwavering faith to the Force witnesses to these people and causes them to see beyond the inner skeptic within them. One by one, each of them is confronted with the choice between placing their faith in the Force or in continuing to deny the Force that is within them and all around them.

What I want to make clear is this, today’s Scripture is NOT calling the one who wrestles with his/her faith a fool. Everyone should be wrestling with their faith in God. It is was makes that faith real and it is how one grows in faith; however, the Scripture is stating that the one who concludes, absolutely and definitively that THERE IS NO GOD is foolish. Such an absolute proclamation leads nowhere but placing oneself in the place of God.

To make that proclamation is to shut oneself off from the discovery of the divine. There is not a single human being that can definitively know Ultimate Reality and, therefore, it is ultimately foolish for them to shut themselves off to the possibility of God based off of whatever limited “evidence” they may think they have. Not one of us can possibly have ALL of the evidence to make any conclusive and definitive proclamation.

We all operate on faith. We operate on the faith that there is a God or we operate on the faith that there is no God. Skepticism is good and healthy; however, it only gets us so far. The question for us is this, can we silence the  inner skeptic? Can we get to the place where we move beyond skepticism and acknowledge the faith that we are already operating on? If so, we can continue to wrestle with our faith and grow in it. I pray that, if you are struggling with your faith, this devotion may be your inner Chirrut Îmwe, reminding you that you are one with the Force (aka God) and that the Force/God is with you. I pray that you choose to move beyond faith in “no God” to faith in the God who is wanting to work miracles in you and through you.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. Amen.

Even If It Cannot Be Known

Read Mark 8:27-34

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

In 2022, Amazon Prime Video came out with an original series called, The Rings of Power, based off of J .R. R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion and Appendices, which map out the history of his beloved Middle Earth and how the evil we see in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings came to be.

Anyone who know me knows my love of Tolkien and his Middle Earth. I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and I am planning on reading the Silmarillion as well; so, when I learned this series was going to be released, I was sure to watch it and, of course, I LOVED IT.

The next several devotions I will be writing on certain nuggets of wisdom that I found to be profound in the series. No worries, I won’t spoil anything. Today’s devotion takes place aboard a ship in Middle Earth. This is the ship of the Queen Regent Míriel of Númenor, the kingdom of men on the island originally called Elenna, which was brought up out of the sea by the Valar, mighty beings who were called the Holy Ones and came out of the thoughts of Eru Ilúvatar, the god of Arda.

All those names need not mean anything to you, but they are important to the history of Middle Earth. Now, back to the Queen Regent. She is alone with her captain, Elendil. She can see the pain and anguish in his eyes. Without going into detail, he had suffered great loss in the battle to fight the evil leader Adar (who was created for this show and was never in the books) and his army of orcs and Uruks.

The Queen Regent too had suffered great loss and she is looking at her seemingly broken captain with compassion and regret. She tells him that she would understand if Elendil decided to retire following their return to Númenor. The Queen Regent Míriel had brought them into this fight with the hope that she could fight Adar in Middle Earth, across the sea from her homeland of Númenor, with the hopes of establishing Númenor once again in Middle-Earth. The truth is, in the First Age, the race of men was defeated by Morgoth and Sauron, and they fled middle earth and reestablished Númenor on the Island of Elenna. The Queen Regent, after much deliberation, came to the decision to act and save the people of Middle Earth from the great evil that Adar was spreading through the land.

In this scene I mention on the ship, though, they realize that they have not one and all seems lost; however, with that said, the Queen Regent’s knows the fight is not over, but has just begun. Elendil, following Míriel’s kind and compassionate words, tells her that he is not looking to quit, and that everything he has done to that point was done intentionally, though he never imagined it would lead to the situation they were currently in.

In her wisdom, Queen Regent Míriel tells him the following: “My father once told me that the way of the faithful is committing to pay the price, even if the cost cannot be known and trusting in the end it will be worth it.” Elendil followed with, “Sometimes the cost is dear.” The Queen Regent acknowledged, “It is.” After a pause, Elendil nodded, “Then the only choice we have is to keep serving.” Amen.

That is the way of the faithful. They sign up because they think it will be easy, a smooth ride if you will. They don’t give up because the times have gotten tough. They endure even though they did not know what the cost would be and they know that, no matter the cost, the mission is too important to abandon. In other words, they are willing to keep paying the cost until they have completed what was needed to be done.

Jesus calls us to THAT kind of faith too. The fact is that Jesus demanded of his followers that they deny themselves…in other words, that they turn away from their own selfish desires and will. Jesus demanded that they deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him. In other words, prepare to be willing to die in order to preach the Good News, because the world is not going to like it and who knows what in the end discipleship will cost? It could even cost one her or his life.

Are you walking the way of the faithful? Are you willing to? There’s no telling where journey will take you; however, we know where the destination is: The Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. Let us reflect on Queen Regent Míriel’s wisdom and take it to heart, for as Jesus said, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Amen.

“Too many Christians have a commitment of convenience. They’ll stay faithful as long as it’s safe and doesn’t involve risk, rejection, or criticism. Instead of standing alone in the face of challenge or temptation, they check to see which way their friends are going.” – Rev. Dr. Charles Stanley

Lord, lead me down the narrow hard path. Though I know not the cost, I commit my life to be in service of you. Amen.

Episode 278 | FRESH START, part 2: Hens and Chicks

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that a fresh start requires steadfast purpose and accepting God’s embrace.


Read Matthew 6:25-34

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NLT)

Anxiety is a serious human condition that every human being experiences in some, way, shape, form, and at differing levels throughout their lives. For some, it’s just some butterflies before a big audition or performance. For others, it is a crippling mental illness that shuts down peoples lives with a vengeance. For some, it is mere stress that comes and goes naturally on its own; for others, it is a hell they’ve been locked in for years if not their whole lives.

When it came out in 2022, I watched the movie Scream, which is the fifth installment in the Scream film franchise. For those who have never heard of or seen the films, the original was a witty horror film that was a loving tribute and satire of 1980s and 1990s slasher horror films. I recognize that is not everyone’s ball of tea, but I do find many a good moral tales and theological musings within the horror genre.

In fact, the whole premise of the Scream franchise is that there are certain rules that need to be followed in order to survive in a slasher film. First, you totally cannot have [premarital] sex. Once you do, you are as good as dead. Second, don’t ever drink or do drugs, or you are as good as dead. Don’t ever under any circumstance get over-confident and say out loud, “I’ll be right back”, otherwise you’re the next victim and your as good as dead. I would probably avoid thinking it too.

In the second film, the rules expand to Slasher sequels. First, the body count is always larger. Second, the death scenes are much more elaborate. There’s more blood and there’s more gore. Third, don’t ever assume the killer is dead. And there’s an unsaid fourth rull that carries out throughout the franchise: the orginal rules still apply…until they don’t. Fun right?

Well, after watching the latest installment, I realized that there is a common thread throughout all of these films, and in the horror genre over all. ANXIETY. Horror plays off of our own human fears and anxieties. For instance, in the Scream franchise, the anxiety of phone calls and of being stalked is what the film is using to invoke horror/terror within the audience. For some, phones are the greatest thing ever. For others, phones are hellish devices that they dread to use. It took me a long time to get over my anxiety about answering and making phone calls. I think that anxiety started in me when I was a telemarketer as a seventeen year old and they nasty, rude, and sometimes evil comments people would say to me. I have gotten better at that, but still it produces anxiety in me.

Then, add to that, the fear of someone stalking us and you’ve just taken that anxiety up another notch. When I was a young adult, I knew two people (one a minor, the other a young adult), who used pay phones to order pizza and have it delivered to an abandoned house. Many pizzerias turned them down, but one of them…the one me and my family went to as we knew the owner…didn’t realize the address was an abandoned house and accepted the order. When the delivery boy, who I was also friends with, couldn’t find the house, the owner went with him to help. They were both shot by the two mentioned above. It was a horror scene, senseless and bloody, as those two sat down to eat the pizza before leaving the scene.

So, horror films use our fears and anxieties to teach us lessons, often filled with morality and, believe it or not, theology. That is true; however, we live in a horrifying world that we have no control over whatsoever. In reality, this world doesn’t teach us anything and it is not just using our anxieties; rather, it is preying on them. The news and media, the banks and our financial situations, our broken medical system, our lack of any sort of hospitable immigration system, and a whole plethora of other things fill us with all sorts of anxiety. We don’t feel safe and we worry about everything all the time and all at once.

In our scripture passage, Jesus warns us against that. Prior to this passage Jesus revealed that one cannot serve both God and money. You’ll only ever serve one and not the other. Then he addressed the financial and economic anxieties of his time. While he does not bring in other possible anxieties, it is clear that this message applies to other circumstances as well. In verse 27, Jesus asked, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”, and in verses 33-34 Jesus teaches, “ Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

While the world offers us more trouble, fear and anxiety, Jesus offers us true and everlasting peace. He gets us as the recent television spots have been proclaiming to the world on major networks. Jesus. Jesus gets us. That’s not just crafty wordplay, but it is the absolute truth. We, as Christians, need to root our faith in Christ and TRUST him to provide us with all we need. If we do that, we will EXPERIENCE everlasting joy and peace.

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” – Charles Spurgeon

Lord, help me overcome my anxieties so that I many walk in your footsteps once more and root my faith deeply in you. Amen.

Lord of the Dance

Read 2 Samuel 6:16-22          

“And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns.”

I have always loved dancing and the physical bodily expression of music…art. That is perhaps why the hymn, Lord of the Dance, has always been one of my more favorite hymns. Here’s are some of my favorite parts of the hymn:

“I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame; the holy people said it was a shame. They whipped and they stripped and they hung me on high, and they left me there on a Cross to die…

“I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black; it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back. they buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the Dance, and I still go on…

“They cut me down and I leapt up high; I am the life that’ll never, never die; I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me – I am the Lord of the Dance, said he…

“Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he, and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.”

Recently, I rewatched the 2022 film, ELVIS, as I love a good rock biopic and ELVIS is an extraordinary rock biopic. Seriously, if you have not watched it, you should do so now, even though I am not going to give any big spoilers in this at all. You know me, I run a tight no-spoiler ship. I promise you though, the film will shed light on things you probably did not know about Elvis, and one of those will be discussed in this devotion. Reader be warned.

We all know “Elvis the Pelvis”, which the King of Rock himself thought was a rather juvenile jab at his style of dancing and gyrating across the stage. Most people know that he was known for such dancing, and that parents weren’t all that happy to see their teenage sons and especially daughters embracing his behavior. Most of us “remember” whether we were alive to see it at the time or not, Elvis not being shown from the hips down so that television stations didn’t get fined by the FCC for lewd and inappropriate content.

Here, on the other hand, is what you might not have known. From 1953 to 1958, Elvis was doing something very radical and forward for his time. He was taking black Rhythm and Blues songs, making them up-tempo, and recording them. Elvis had a kind of voice that made people initially think he was a black singer; however, news quickly came out that this was a white boy singing black songs. The black community at the time, for the most part, embraced him; however, the white community did not in the slightest.

When Elvis broke out on the National stage in 1956, he was immediately hit with controversy. Parents were outraged that their children were watching him move his hips the way that he was. Yes, they were upset with sexual implications of the movements; however, that is not at the heart of why they were upset. The idea of their children being influenced, or perverted as they would have called it, by black culture what not acceptable or appropriate to most white people at the time.

What’s more, to further prove the point, Elvis was creating modern “rock and roll” out of black rhythm and blues while Civil Rights Activists were pushing for the Segregation laws to be lifted across the country and for blacks to be integrated with whites. In just 8 years, segregation would be no more…and integration was implemented. The bizarre and sinful white societal fear of white children getting corrupted by black culture was very real and, let’s be honest, it still is today (e.g. look at white culture’s’ reaction to Hip-Hop, Gangsta Rap, and other current forms of black music.

But Elvis kept on dancing despite of it. At one point he was convinced to not dance; however, that was short lived. The boy just couldn’t help himself. He didn’t just sing music, he felt it, embodied it, and performed it with his very being. Why? Well, first off, Elvis had tremendous stage fright and dancing took his mind off of his anxiety. It was an outlet for it – a release. Also, he grew up in the black community because his parents were too poor to live in the white community.

So, he was a victim of classism growing up and that led to him being segregated along with the blacks. His friends were mostly black as there were only 4 white kids on that side of town. What’s more, he grew up in the black, Pentecostal church. Meaning, he learned how to dance and gyrate from church; except, in church we of faith know this as being “moved by the Spirit.” It was an expression of his deep religious faith, which Elvis had his whole life, despite his personal struggles.

So, while “good Christian” white folks were complaining about Elvis’ moves, he was just doing what the Good Lord gifted him, through the Holy Spirit, to do. Now, I am not saying that it wasn’t sexual or anything like that. For the time, it would have been a shocker to any parent with or without the racial reasons; however, the racial reasons cannot be dismissed or denied.

What’s more, it also cannot be denied that God loves dancing. Look at how King David brought glory to God after conquering Jerusalem…Wait a minute, wasn’t it through dancing through its streets angering his wife because she thought that sort of wild behavior was beneath a king? Yet, David danced onward, and did not heed the criticism of his wife or others who thought he was embarrassing or inappropriate, just as Elvis kept dancing despite the controversy.

Friends, as the hymn suggests, Jesus is the very Lord of the Dance. He is the one who turns the water into wine at a dance-filled wedding reception. He is the one who laughs and plays with the children, who causes the crippled to leap on two legs, and the blind to see where the dance floor is. Our whole lives are a dance and we should not be afraid move around as the Spirit leads!  Jesus is the Lord of the Dance and we should celebrate and honor God through our dance and through our very being. I believe, despite the controversies and personal struggles, Elvis did that and I believe we all should be doing that as well!

“I ain’t no saint, but I’ve tried never to do anything that would hurt my family or offend God…I figure all any kid needs is hope and the feeling he or she belongs. If I could do or say anything that would give some kid that feeling, I would believe I had contributed something to the world.” – Elvis Presley, 1950s

Lord, help me to learn to dance for you in all that I do, and to not be afraid to show my joy and delight in you! Amen.

Episode 277 | FRESH START, part 1: Are You Sure You Are Up for This?

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that God can be found in even the least expected places.

January 15, 2023 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.

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

Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.

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

Welcome to our live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for January 15. Today we learn that Jesus is the way to life, and he calls us to make fresh starts in faith. A fresh start requires courage, focus, and practice.

Please support us by giving online: or 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.

The Beginning and the End

Read Revelation 1

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:12-13 NLT).

As a pastor, I do a fair amount of funerals. Sometimes they are for people I know, perhaps a congregant or someone I am connected with otherwise. Other times, they are for people I don’t know at all. I will get a call from the funeral home requesting me to officiate for someone who does not have or know a pastor. Whether I know the deceased or not, I am always happy to serve in that capacity, helping families walk through the grieving process and find closure.

In every funeral I officiate, I utter these profoundly powerful words of grace, “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am [the] life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I hold the keys of hell and death. Because I live, you shall live also.”[1]

What I love about those words, what I find to be so profoundly impactful about them is this: they provide the hope that ALL Christians have in Jesus Christ. One day, though our bodies may die, we will NEVER die because of the Salvific work of Christ on the cross. In those words of grace, are Scriptural quotes and promises made by God and by Jesus the Christ. All of the words are words that are uttered by God and Jesus in the Gospel of John and in the book of Revelation.

For instance, the phrase “I am the resurrection and [the] life” comes from John 11:25, when Jesus was pointing Martha to himself, letting her know that he is the RESURRECTION…and the LIFE…that he, in himself, has power over life and death. The proclamation that “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” comes from what God says in Revelation 1:8, and what Jesus says in Revelation 22:13. The proclamation, “I am the first and the last. I died and behold I am alive for evermore, and I hold the keys of hell and death”, comes from Jesus in Revelation 1:17b-18. Jesus’ proclamation, “Because I live, you shall live also”, is found in John 14:19.

What amazes me about these words is the BOLDNESS and DEFIANCE of them. They stand in the face of everything we know to be true…death is inevitable and unavoidable…and defiantly proclaim that DEATH IS A LIAR! God and Jesus tell us that they BOTH are the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the last. That they hold the keys to hell and death and that death has LOST!

But how can this be? How can those words even make sense when death is such a reality in our world? Because Jesus, in his words, is reminding us of who he is. He is not just a cool guy. He’s not just a teacher. He’s not just a prophet. He’s the very CREATOR of everything that is. He’s Alpha (the first letter in the Greek Alphabet), and Omega (the last letter in the Alphabet)…describing himself through letters as the Word…the Word made flesh who lived among us (see John 1:1-5, 14) and was with God at the Beginning and who IS GOD.

Jesus proclaims that he is the Beginning and the End, not just of the Christian movement, but of all creation. “He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him” (John 1:2-3 NLT). So, yes, this Jesus, who is the Word of God and who IS GOD, can proclaim to us that DEATH IS A LIAR! Because he is the one who has conquered death. He is the ETERNAL AUTHOR OF LIFE and death has no sway on him.

Though we may perish physically, God will one day restore us to new and immortal bodies, as Paul boldly proclaims 1 Corinthians 15:53. Just as we have physical bodies now, we will one day have spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:46) and we will LIVE FOREVER with God on a newly recreated heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1-7). We have this GREAT HOPE that this current broken world may die, and our physical bodies might perish, but we who are in Christ will NEVER die. Now that, my friends is GOOD NEWS!

“[Jesus] has a right to interrupt your life. He is Lord. When you accepted Him as Lord, you gave Him the right to help Himself to your life anytime He wants.” – Henry Blackaby

Lord, I open my heart to you and your rule. Employ me in any way you see fit. Amen.

[1] The United Methodist Church, “A SERVICE OF DEATH AND RESURRECTION,” Discipleship Ministries, October 2, 2019, accessed December 28, 2022,