Category Archives: Devotional

God’s People, part 251: Rhonda

Read Acts 12:6-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17, 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 251: Rhonda. I am willing to bet that most people did not realize there was a Rhonda in the Bible. Everytime that I hear that name, I cannot help but think of the Beach Boys song, “Help Me, Rhonda”, which would not be completely inappropriate for this particular passage in Acts. Granted, the story of Rhonda in Acts is not centered on her helping getting a broken relationship out of another guy’s heart; however, the phrase “Help Me, Rhonda” itself speaks to what happens in the account.

To summarize, Peter had been imprisoned and awaiting a public trial by King Herod Agrippa I. If you recall, Agrippa had just had James, son of Zebedee, put to death. This, evidently, went over well with public opinion and so Agrippa had Peter arrested so that he might stand trial and be put to death as well. While, in prison, the Angel of the Lord broke Peter out of jail and set him free. Following that, he went straight to John Mark’s house and knocked on the door.

This is where Rhonda comes in. She was a servant of John Mark’s household and was the one who first answered the door. Before even opening the door, Rhonda recognized Peter’s voice and was so overjoyed that she forgot to even open the door. Instead, she ran back into the household and began to proclaim the good news that Peter was no longer in jail. Peter, confused, continued to knock until he was eventually let in.

Of course, what was good news for Peter, Rhonda, and company was not good news universally. Back at the jail the guards had to deal with a very miffed and hostile King Agrippa I. After searching the cells, he ordered the execution of the soldiers who were keeping watch. Agrippa, clearly, was not a man of patience or mercy. If he would not have Peter’s blood, he would have the blood of the ones responsible for keeping watch.

For us, as Christians, we could use the excitement that Rhonda has for serving God. Of course, she was overwhelmed to find out that Peter had not been harmed and that he had escaped from prison; however, her excitement went beyond that. Instead, she took it upon herself to let everyone in the household know that the Lord rescued Peter and he was standing at her door. The others thought she had lost it; however, she persisted and, when they opened the door, they were amazed to discover that Peter had, indeed, been resuced.

As Christian, we can so easily fall into the trap of not truly believing in the unbelievable. Sure, we know that Christ was resurrected, sure we know that God has the power to make miracles happen; however, we simply don’t have the faith to believe that such miracles can be worked out in front of us, much less through us.

By miracles, I do not mean God somehow working out our greatest desires list; rather, I mean the kind of happenings and events that show the power of God and bring glory to God’s name. We somehow believe that such things are the things of the past, of the Bible; however, God is working miracles out in our lives and the lives of others everyday. Even in situations that seem less than miraculous, I have seen God’s ability to transform hearts and lives. As Christians, we need to trust as Rhonda did. We need to know that, no matter what, Christ is always a knock away and be willing to share the good news with others. Let us grow to be such Christians.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Every day we have to share the Good News is a miraculous day.

PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me to become a great and powerful witness to your presence among us. Amen.

God’s People, part 250: Agrippa I

Read Acts 12:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”  (Philippians 2:3-5, NLT)

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

Part 250: Agrippa I. King Herod Agrippa’s rise to power and reign is one of the most fascinating out of all of the kings in the Bible. His story is one of politics, deception, backstabbing, and vying for power. Born Marcus Julius Agrippa, he was the son of Aristobulus IV, and was grandson of King Herod the Great. Aristobulus the IV was one of two sons that King Herod had strangled to death on charges of treason; however, King Herod showed favor to Marcus and his other grandchildren despite this. In fact, Herod the Great had Marcus sent to Rome where he became beloved of future Emperor Tiberius, and received an education alongside the future emperor’s son.

While his early adulthood years were nearly squandered, he was able to pull through because of Tiberius’ love for him. Despite being accused of accepting a bribe by his own brother, and being exiled by King Herod Antipas, Agrippa was well-received back in Rome by Emperor Tiberius. It was there where he formed a close relationship with future Emperor Caligula. Having been overheard wishing for Tiberius to die so that Caligula could ascend as emperor, he was thrown into prison; however, that was short lived because, once Caligula became emperor, he released Agrippa and appointed him king of the regions of Auranitis, Batanaea, Gaulanitis, and Trachonitis, all of which his uncle Philip the Tetrarch had held. Eventually, Agrippa brought about the banishment of his uncle, King Herod Antipas, and ascended to rule over Galilee and Peraea.

Eventually, through supporting Claudius as Emperor following Caligula’s assassination, Agrippa was given dominion over all of Judaea and Samaria, and was king over a domain that equaled that of his grandfather, Herod the Great. As can be seen by this abbreviated historical biography, Agrippa was politically savvy, shrewd, and willing to do whatever it took to increase in power and authority. Nothing was off limits, and no one was going to stand in his way.

This is the same King Agrippa, simply named King Herod in Acts 12, who became a persecutor of the early Christian Church in Jerusalem. It was this Agrippa, who had James, son of Zebedee (one of the earliest of Jesus’ disciples), violently executed and Peter imprisoned in order to send a message to anyone trying to disrupt the religious and political status quo. In fact, the crowd loved seeing the death of James so much that, for good sport and public approval, Agrippa was going to have Peter put on public trial as well.

How does someone allow power and status to corrup them so? How does someone go from being the son of a murdered parent, to a murderous ruler willing to do anything to maintain control? This should be a warning to all of us. Power is intoxicating and corruptive and it can cause the greatest of us to fall. While this devotion might be centered on a King with nearly absolute power, granted to him by Rome, it still speaks to us as well because we in the church can be seduced by power too.

The church has long forgotten that the roles and heirarchy are meant to SERVE the body of Christ as opposed to making the body of Christ SERVE the people in those roles. We as the church, while we must respect the need for heirarchy and we must respect the offices of the Church, we also must never forget that the ONLY one we worship is Christ Jesus our Lord. Yes, I was called to be a pastor. Yes, others are called to be bishops, or church leaders. Yes, those positions are important in the life of the church; however, they are not more valuable than any other role in the church, no matter how big or small. Let us, as the Church, remember that all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are each other’s keepers, bound in love to all who are in Christ.

PRAYER
Lord, remind me that no matter my role or status, I am yours and am in service to all who are my family in Christ. Amen.

God’s People, part 249: Agabus

Read Acts 11:27-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”  (John 13:34, 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 249: Agabus. There’s not much to be said about Agabus, as there are only several verses in the entire New Testament, all with in Acts, that are in reference to him. In today’s Scripture, we learn that prophets from Jerusalem were coming to the city of Antioch in Syria and prophesying to the people there. Before we talk about Agabus himself, we must first understand a little bit about Antioch.

Though there were other cities named Antioch in the ancient world, the one described in Acts 11 is the city was located in what is now the modern city of Antakya, Turkey. Syrian Antioch, as it is known by historians and scholars, was the seat of the governor of the Roman Province of Syria. This city was a major center of early Chrisitanity and it was traditionally first evangelized by Peter and, later, by Barnabas and Paul. It was a beneficial to be located because it existed along the silk road, the spice trade, and the Royal Road, making it a major travel hub.

Christianity utilized such routes and major hubs to spread from city to city throughout the Roman empire; thus, it is not shocking that the first major center of Christianity outside of Jerusalem would be Syrian Antioch. It also makes sense why Jewish prophets from Jerusalem would travel to Antioch, which was the region’s example of Hellenistic culture and Roman rule. Again, we don’t know much about these prophets, but every indication is that they were Jewish Christians.

Agabus was one of these prophets and he came to the city of Syrian Antioch in order to warn the citizens there that a great famine would be falling upon the entire Roman Empire. While, I am sure that many in Antioch laughed at Agabus and his prophecy, and Luke shares that it wasn’t fulfilled until sometime during the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD), the Christians in Antioch from taking him and his prophecy seriously.

The early Christians had plenty in Antioch and, out of concern for their mother church, they sent supplies to Jerusalem to ensure that they had enough to survive the famine. What an amazing act of faith and self-sacrifice. They didn’t horde what they had in order to make sure they were safe and sound; rather, they shared their resources with those they knew were less fortunate than them.

First, what a blessing that Agabus answered his call to warn people of the coming famine. Second, how amazing is it that the earliest Christians heeded that warning, even if others didn’t, and shared their resources with their sisters and brothers in Jerusalem. We should be challenged by this. We who are the church, we who are followers of Christ, should be willing to share what we have with other Christians who are in need. If we are to take care of those who do not currently belong to our divine family, we must first be willing to take care of fellow family members.

What a witness to the world we would be if we, as Christians, made such hospitality and mutual love a part of our identity. Such a church would attract people like a magnet, just like the church in Antioch attracted many to it. Imagine a world where we care for each other and, together, we care for the least of these regardless of who they are or what creed they do or don’t follow. Such a church would certainly begin to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Let us be such Christians who make up such a church.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
LOVE is the order of the day, every day, for all days.

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and create in me a loving, generous and hospitable heart. Amen.

God’s People, part 248: Christians

Read Acts 11:1-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.”  (Galatians 2:11, 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 248: Christians. The suggested Scripture above continues on with the account of the beginning of Gentile inclusion in the early church. While Luke didn’t have the time or space to fully recount the difficutlies in that debate of whether or not to include them, and the concessions that would need to be made to do so, it goes without saying that it was more difficult than the text lets on.

Peter’s reporting to the church leadership, of which he was a part, is a literary way of saying that eventually the church came on board, which is true; however, it would be more accurate to say that they did not come on board easily or right away. In fact, more than changed minds and hearts, circumstances are what led to the eventual acceptance of Gentile Christians.

The Apostle Paul’s own writings paint that picture all too clear. In Galatians 2, we learn that while Peter was eating with Gentiles when he was not in the presence of James, Jesus’ brother, and the other leaders, he kowtowed to them when they were around. According to Paul, he angrily scolded Peter and called him out publicly in Antioch. He basically called Peter a hypocrite and then argued the case that Gentiles should be included and that Peter was in the wrong. What’s more remarkable than what Paul wrote was what he did not write. Paul stated his case and then abruptly ends without sharing the conclusion to the big debate. The truth is that is probably indicative of the probability that the debate did NOT end there.

Peter and the rest of the Apostles, no doubt, continued to wrestle with this issue and Paul continued…FOR YEARS…to advocate for Gentile inclusion. In fact, his letter to the church in Rome shows us that his advocacy of Gentile inclusion led him to his eventual arrest, trip to Rome and, eventually, death.

This brings us to an important fact, the earliest church was distinctly Jewish and did not so easily want to blur the lines around that identity! The earliest Jesus followers were not known as “Christians”; rather, they were known as The Way. Make no mistake about it, they saw themselves as the The Jewish Way, meaning that they saw themselves as the fulfillment of Judaism as followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The term “Christian”, which means Christ Followers, was only later attributed to them by outsiders in Antioch. Like other great movements, such as Methodism, the Jesus followers did not choose their name; rather, it was given to them and it eventually stuck. These Christians would eventually go on include Gentiles, thanks largely to people like Paul, Luke, Timothy, Silas and probably Peter in the end; however, Christianity would eventually grow into a predominantly Gentile religion thanks the Great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Western Christianity’s center, from that point forward, slowly (or quickly in the grand scheme of things) moved from Jerusalem to Rome. Eastern Christianty moved to Syria, Egypt, India, and even as far east as China.

We should be challenged by these facts. We should, first and foremost, reflect on the fact that Christianity has never been a homogeneous group and that there was never that “old-time religion” where everyone agreed on everything in perfect harmony. That may be idyllic, but it certainly is not a realistic view of Christian history.

Whe should also be challenged by another fact: despite it’s bumpy history, Christians became known by outsiders as those who followed Christ and became like “little Christs”. In other words, despite human bickering and differences of opinion, God’s glory and self-revelation in Jesus Christ was still made known to the world through those Christians, which set Christianity on a historic and baffling rise to prominence and power. We can argue the pros and cons to such an assent, but there can be no doubt that Christians throughout the past two millennia have sough to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to a broken world still very much in need of Salvation. For that, we should all praise God and be thankful.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is. Jesus Christ is LORD.

PRAYER
Jesus, you are our Lord, and I submit to you and your authority. Amen.

Episode 25 | Fear Not, More Cowbell!

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-kvfad-de3b87

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal and Todd are joined by Sal’s better half, Alison, and their newborn son Calvin, for another special “social-distanced home edition”. Listen in as they sip on some amazing drinks and engage in conversation on fear and more shithouse theoloy, COVID-19 Edition.

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:

Alison

Sal

Todd

Most Excellent Music Segment:

Alison

Sal

Todd

Episode 126 | God’s Fellow Workers

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-jzmzy-dd7c27

In this episode, the Rev. Dr. Eunice Vega Perez, Skylands District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church of Greater NJ shares a message.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Join us for worship on YouTube.
  • If 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 ministering from home remotely. 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 125 | What to Do?, part 5: Celebrate God’s Grace

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-maini-dd7c02

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses God’s grace and the reason we ought to celebrate it. This message is based on Ruth 4:3-17.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Join us for worship on YouTube.
  • If 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 ministering from home remotely. 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 124 | What to Do?, part 4: What to Do When You’re Not Okay?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-gsuu6-dd7be8

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that it is okay to not be okay as well as the need to trust in God. This message is based on Ruth 1:11-22.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Join us for worship on YouTube.
  • If 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 ministering from home remotely. 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.