Category Archives: Devotional

REVISITED: Ixnay the Cliché

Read Micah 6:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:15)

highway-to-glory

The end justifies the means. That is a cliché that I think is predominant in our society and/or culture. The end justifies the means. All we need to do is turn on television and watch any of a plethora of television shows, all we need to do is to go to the theater and watch any given movie and we will see a whole lot of that cliché being played out. We see heroes compromising their values in order to bring about some supposedly better end…and using any means necessary to make that happen.

Beyond television shows and movies, politicians will often use any means necessary to bring about what they believe to be a better end. Politicians who cut people down and use political action committees to destroy the reputation of their opponents, simply because they believe they’d make the best leader. Businesses who look at the bottom dollar as the end goal and use whatever means necessary in order to make the bottom dollar work out in favor of the company. Often times, the means to attain that end involves coldly getting rid of people and treating employees as expendable numbers, rather than being compassionate and not treating people as if they are expendable.

We also see this cliché play out in our communities. We see our government take people’s homes and property away, declaring it as eminent domain, in order to better commercialize and bring more money into a town and/or region. We see people who will cut people off on the road to ensure they’re not going to be late getting to work, or to a play, or to the nearest roadside coffee shop. I have even witnessed people cutting around funeral processions in order to avoid getting stuck in those situations.

The point here is this, in order to live by the cliché of “the end justifying the means,” we have to ultimately compromise our character and our moral code. The cliché certainly, and explicitly, announces that. The end justifies the means. That is really a nice way of saying the following: while normally taking this action would be deemed bad and/or immoral, it is okay to do so here because, in the end, things will work out for the better. The end justifies the means. Whatever means it takes to reach the end is justified by virtue of the end that is trying to be reached.

The end justifies the means…or does it? When we look to Scripture we see a ton of examples as to how the end never, ever justifies the means. David is, perhaps the most compelling and obvious of people to look at in this regard. David would do just about anything to be king, and once he became king he did just about anything to keep himself and his family in power. He slept with Bathsheba and to avoid scandal had her husband killed. He offed his political rivals with shrewd and shady expediency, looking as if he had nothing to do with it. He knew he was God’s chosen king and that God was going to establish his kingdom forever, and he let that go to his head. As a result his kingdom, his reputation, his power, and his entire family came crashing down.

Not only does the end never justify the means, the reality is that often times the means changes and/or destroys the end. What’s more, the means changes and/or destroys us in the process. Let us not be a people who justify any and every means to reach an end. Let us not be a people who justify evil by the end we are trying to reach. Remember that our call, first and foremost, is to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, regardless of the end. In fact, there should be no other end but that, and that end will dictate the means. Live justly, love mercy, walk humbly. It’s simple, it’s honest, and it’s the narrow way that leads to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Jesus, the Christ (Matthew 7:12-14)


PRAYER
Lord, I want to follow you in all that I do. Lovingly hold me accountable to your way and steer me clear of sin and evil. Amen.

Episode 268 | No Longer

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-mtvxs-13114e7

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that all that despite its pervasive brokenness and iron fist, God promises that this world and its doom and gloom reality will one day ceas

November 13, 2022 – 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 November 13. Today we learn that despite its pervasive brokenness and iron fist, God promises that this world and its doom and gloom reality will one day cease to be and it will no longer hold sway over us.

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.

REVISITED: The Categorical Imperative

Read Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 23; Matthew 25:31-46

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:2 NRSV)

In the church and in the corporate world, the word “stewardship” often floats around congregations in the form of campaigns to raise “funds” for the mission and ministries of the church. As such, many people hear the word “stewardship” as just a church-speak for, “cough up some dough for us.” This particular perception has risen up as a result of the way stewardship has been discussed and handled in the church and corporate settings.

Yet, the word steward is used in other ways that point to the fact that, deep down, we know stewardship to be more than just monetary support. Back in the day, flight attendants were known as Stewards and/or Stewardesses. The steward, in the airline industry, is the person who cares for the needs of the customers boarded on the plane. They fetch pillows, bring food and drink, listen to and address issues specific travelers may be having, and they instruct people of safety procedures in case of an emergency. What’s more, in the event of an emergency, the steward risks their own safety in order to save lives and get people off of the plane (if it has been grounded). The role of a steward is the same on trains and ships as well.

There are other examples of stewardship as well. Rather, than belabor the reader with a million examples of stewardship, it is more important to point to the definition of what a steward is, in order to better grasp the concept of stewardship. A steward is a person how cares for the needs of other people, organizations, events, and/or places. Thus, stewardship is the ethos that embodies the responsibility of caring for those needs, which absolutely includes the management and planning of resources. With that said, let us not simply limit resources to money. Google defines a resource as, “a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively.”

In other words, stewardship is the embodiment of managing and planning resources, whether those resources are monetary, material, human, natural, or any other resource. Being a good steward is about managing those resources well; however, this sounds more corporate and less spiritually worded. In terms of being Christian and living out our Christian faith, being a good steward means taking good care of all that God has given us and making proper use of the resources God has given us. If we don’t share our resources with others, we are not being good stewards, and the same is true if we neglect, abuse, misuse, or mismanage the resources shared with us.

Thus, to be a good steward, spiritually speaking, we must recognize that ALL THINGS are FROM GOD. Our money, our natural resources, our real estate and property, our congregation members (in the case of churches), our staff members (in the case of corporations and/or organizations), and all other resources are from God. If we do not recognize the divine value within each of the non-living resources, and the divine presence and/or image in all living resources (especially in humans), then we are not embodying the ethos of good Stewardship. We cannot abuse/neglect the environment, be misers, and/or see our congregation members, our staff, our friends and family as expendable means to an end, and still call ourselves good stewards, let alone stewards in any sense of the word.

This latter part is often overlooked in stewardship talks and campaigns and, yet, is the most important part of stewardship. PEOPLE MATTER and are to be valued. LIVING BEINGS are ends unto themselves and never should be seen as a means to an end (to summarize Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative). So, today I challenge you to start evaluating your stewardship and start working toward being the best stewards you can be. That is what it means to be disciples of Christ, that is what it takes to truly follow Christ and uphold Christian values. STEWARDSHIP IS VITAL. Be good stewards and work to user in God’s Kingdom on Earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.” – Immanuel Kant
PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for when I’ve used people as a means to an end. Help me to treat people as divine persons and not tools. Amen.

REVISITED: I WILL BE

Read 2 Samuel 7:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
God said to Moses, “I [WILL BE] WHO I [WILL BE].” (Exodus 3:14)

foZt7gK

Limited. If there is one word I can come up with when thinking about human beings, it is “limited.” We are limited in our perceptions, limited in our abilities, limited in our vision, and limited in just about every other aspect of our being. This is not a negative judgment, but rather an observation. In our minds, we love to imagine ourselves as being limitless. We watch TV shows and movies about superheroes who seem to be unlimited in their abilities, heroes who can literally fly to the moon and back in a single bound.

Yet, our reality is far different from the ideal we hold in our heads. The truth is that, as much as we would love to not have limits or bounds, we are totally limited. We are limited in our physical abilities, our psychological abilities, and we are limited emotionally as well. While all of this seems pretty pessimistic, and I am sure you are wondering what kind of point I could possibly be leading up to in this dour opening to a reflection, the truth is that this is not pessimistic. In fact, it is neither pessimistic or optimistic; rather, this is realistic.

What’s more, not only are we naturally limited in our capabilities but we limit ourselves in ways we should not be limited. While this is the case in a wide range of things, and across a wide range of people, I want to focus on Christians. While we are called to be a people of faith, we limit ourselves by our fear. We allow our fears to take over in our lives and we make them our lord rather than following our true Lord and Savior. We limit our understanding and conception of God as well. We build up church institutions, create polity to govern and control them, raise up church buildings, and fill those buildings with people. Over time, the people get so caught up in the institution, the polity, the buildings and their own little cloistered community that they end up limiting God to their own time, place and context.

In other words, they try and box God in. That’s not to say that God is actually boxed in or that God is actually limited; rather, it is people’s perceptions of God that are limited. This is nothing new, David wanted to box God in when he wanted to build God a house. God’s response to David was this: “Do I need you to build me a house? Am I not the God who created the world and all that is in it? Am I not the God who wandered with my people through the wilderness without any temple or house to live in? Do I really need a home? No, David! You will not build me a house.”

God WILL NOT be boxed in. Up on Sinai, when Moses asked who he should tell had sent him to free the Hebrews, God responded by saying “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them that I AM has sent you to them.” That phrase, “I AM WHO I AM”, can in Hebrew also be translated as “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” God’s message to Moses, and to us as well, is that GOD IS. That God is with us, that God is always present with us. I AM WHO I AM. On top of that God is also reminding us, perhaps even warning us, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.

We cannot box God in. We cannot contain God and we can not have control over who God is or how God will manifest in the lives of others. Are you boxing God in? If so, in what ways? I challenge you to ask yourself those questions. Wrestle with them, for God wants you to trade in your perceptions for the reality and the universality of God’s presence and God’s love. GOD WILL NOT BE BOXED IN. The only house God wants to reside in is our hearts. I pray that, if you haven’t already, you open your hearts to the GOD. I pray that you are filled with the great I AM WHO I AM and that you are opened to the limitless possibilities of a God who WILL BE WHO GOD WILL BE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Boxes are square or rectangular, have a beginning, an end, and are not infinite or eternal. God is not a box; rather, God is a circle of which has no beginning, no end and is both infinite and eternal.

PRAYER
Lord, help me not to limit who you are in my life or in my world. You are the great I AM, as well as the great I WILL BE. Amen.

Episode 267 | RELEASING GOD’S BLESSINGS, part 3: Overflowing Blessings

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-xtv5b-1306e3f

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that all that when you release the blessings you have been given, they will overflow into the world in indescribable ways.

November 6, 2022 – 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 November 6. Today we learn that when you release the blessings you have been given, they will overflow into the world in indescribable ways.

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.

REVISTED: I AM

Read Exodus 3:1-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58 CEB)

i-am

One of the most powerful stories in all of the Bible, for me, is the story of Moses and the burning bush. While the concept of a bush that is on fire but not consumed is pretty cool in and of itself, but that miracle is not what draws me to the story. It is also pretty awesome that a voice is coming from this burning bush, but that is not what draws me in. I mean sure, that would be pretty powerful to witness, at least in the moment. It might even be powerful and remain cool the next couple of days; however, overtime it would end up getting stored on the back shelves of cool things in my mind, right along with sightings of ghosts, my first kiss, and other such things.

As we know, Moses was tending sheep at the base of Mount Horeb (aka Mount Sinai) when he looked up on the mountain and saw an odd flickering light. It looked to him like a fire and, like most people would, Moses went up on the mountain to check it out. Upon reaching the flickering light, he noticed that it was a bush that was totally caught up in flames, but wasn’t actually burning. In fact, it is kind of ironic that this bush became known as the “burning bush” because it wasn’t burning at all. Naturally, and probably cautiously, Moses began to step closer and closer to the bush. As he approached it, a voice cried out from the flames, “Moses, remove your sandals for you are standing on holy ground.” Now, I don’t know about you, but if I heard that I would have thrown myself off the mountain in fear. Moses was far braver than I and he did as the voice instructed him.

To make a long story short, and so as to not completely repeat the story you already just read in your Bible or e-Bible, Moses ended up having a complete conversation with this disembodied voice emanating from the not-so-burning bush. This voice told Moses that he was the voice of God and that it wanted Moses to carry out a very important task: to go back to Egypt and meet with Pharoah, telling him to let God’s people go. Moses tried to turn down God’s call, but to no avail. Finally, after Moses realized that God had convinced him to go, he asked, “Who should I tell my people sent me when they ask?” God’s answer is what, for me makes this one of the most powerful stories. God replied, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM sent you.”

Now, on the one hand, that must have thrown Moses for a loop. How could Moses even consider that an acceptable answer? Would people really get what he meant when he said “I AM” has sent me to you, let alone believe him? Yet, Moses carries that message to the Hebrew slaves, “I AM” has sent me to you. What is powerful about that is that it fundamentally shows us who our GOD is. Our God is our I AM. God is always with us, present with us in all of our struggles and trials. Our God is always with us, celebrating with us in our joys and triumphs. Our God is the great I AM. There could never be any greater hope than the hope of God’s presence with us.

From this account of God’s eternal presence comes a powerful message for us. If our God is the great I AM, and if we are the children of God, then it follows that WE ARE. Each and every one of us ARE. We have been created to celebrate the I AM within us. We have been created to live and to live abundantly. We have been created to BE, and celebrate our BEING. Do you do this? Do you celebrate who you are? Do you celebrate the divine I AM that resides in you? Do you see yourself as a child of the great I AM? Today’s challenge, and really everyday’s challenge, is this: look at yourself in the mirror. Stare into your own eyes. Stare deeply, get lost in the iris sea and peer into your soul. When the moment feels right, I want you to say the following words out loud to yourself: “I AM.” Seriously, look yourself in the mirror, get to know yourself and tell yourself, “I AM.” Then, go out into your day, everyday, and see the divine I AM in others. In that I AM will set you and others free.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am what I am. I love me! And I don’t mean that egotistically – I love that God has allowed me to take whatever it was that I had and to make something out of it.” – Stevie Wonder

PRAYER
Lord, I am because YOU ARE. Thank you for making me who I am and help me to fully realize who I am. Amen.

REVISITED: The Gospel Truth

Read Luke 20:9-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.’” (Matthew Luke 20:9-19 CEB)

copy-of-jesus-face

If I were to walk into any given church, or up to any random person, and ask them what the heart of the Gospel message is, I would more than like receive something like the following: “The Gospel message is that God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because Jesus was perfect and without sin, he became the spotless lamb led to the slaughter in order that he may die the death we deserve in order that those who believe in him might be atoned to God and saved.” This is the, in essence, the modern, popular Christian understanding of the heart of the Christian Gospel. Jesus came to die so that we might live.

Yet,  when you read the Gospels themselves, we find that Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins is just a part of the Gospel story. It is not the whole of it. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection are vitally important to Christian theology, Christology, and the Gospel message; however, only so when it is told in the context of the other components that we find in the Gospel. When those components are missing, what we end up is with a skewed, inaccurate portrait of the purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as a skewed and inaccurate portrait of God’s purpose for sending Jesus, the Christ.

While it is certainly true that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought about salvific and transformative atonement from our sins, to only tell that part of the story does an injustice to the life and the teachings of the Christ. In fact, it not only does a disservice, but it completely ignores Jesus’ life and teachings altogether, as if they are simply secondary and/or non-important. Yet, was Jesus’ life and teachings trivial? Was his life and teachings secondary, just a necessary back-story to his ultimate death and resurrection? If that is the case, if Jesus’ teachings are trivial and secondary to the work of salvation in the world, then why go down the route of teaching and preaching at all. The Gospel writers could have simply just had Jesus proclaim that his the messiah and the son of God, have people reject that, have him crucified, died, buried, resurrected and be done with it.

But that is not what the Gospel writers did. Rather, they included the whole of Jesus’ life and they dedicated most of their time on Jesus’ teachings. For them, the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings were both as integral to God’s salvation plan as his death and resurrection were. Jesus came, not to die, but to bring TRUE LIFE into the world. To show them what God means by LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR. Jesus came to set the example and to personally deliver the beginnings of God’s reign in the world. But, like Jesus’ own parable of the wicked tenants suggests, some of those in the world to whom the father sent the son (e.g. the Romans, the politicians, some of the religious leaders, etc.), rejected his identity, as well as his authority, and tried to eliminate him.

That plot, though, ultimately failed; rather, what happened was that God made the greatest good EVER come out of both the life and the death of Jesus. Instead of remaining dead, Jesus resurrected and now sits in power and authority in a complete union with God. Those who believe in him have found the power of redemption, as well as the transformative presence of the Holy Spirit and the perfecting grace of God in their lives. They are not saved, but are transformed and are living out their FAITH in real and tangible ways.

The challenge for us is this, don’t be misled by a lopsided and misguided Gospel. Jesus wasn’t born merely to die. What kind of God would scheme up that kind of plan? Rather, Jesus was born so the he might LIVE in the world and that through him we might attain TRUE LIFE. Even in the face of evil, and even when finding himself in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus perservered and triumphed over death because in him was a presence greater than death…the very presence of GOD. Through our belief in Christ, through our following his example as detailed in the Gospel, and through his death and resurrection, we have found REDEMPTION and have been placed on the narrow path that leads to life. Let’s start walking it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We cannot have the fruits of the gospel without its roots.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

PRAYER
Lord, I open my heart to the truth of your Gospel. Perfect me in it and set me a part a witness to its power. Amen.

Episode 266 | RELEASING GOD’S BLESSINGS, part 2: Blessed People Bless Others

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-p5jds-12fd72e

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that all that we are and all that we have come from God. We are stewards through whom God is blessing the world.