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Episode 249 | To Be or Not to Be (The Church), part 4: The Church of Pentecost

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-gaj7c-12411ee

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that with the gift of God’s Spirit, we are learning to live into God’s divine purpose, just like the Church of Pentecost.

June 5, 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 JOY Fellowship Worship Service for June 5. Today we discover that with the gift of God’s Spirit, we are learning to live into God’s divine purpose, just like the Church of Pentecost.

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: Wrath of God, part 2

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So the LORD was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart.” (Genesis 6:6 NLT)

broken-heart

In the Beginning, God desired to create a world in which God could raise and nurture all of creation. So God set about in that Creation and saw all that was created as divinely good. Finally, God decided to make a creature that would be fashioned in the very image of God. In God’s image (imago Dei), human beings were created and set apart from the rest of Creation.

Now, humans were not set apart so that they could feel superior to God’s creation, for God loved all of Creation; however, God hoped to have a special relationship with humans, a mutual relationship that would be founded on the love of which God created them. God gave them everything they could ever need, and God made sure that they were cared for and nurtured.

Created in God’s image, humans had sharp intelligence and were filled with the creativity of their Creator. They were filled with compassion and a profound sense of their connection with the rest of Creation, so much so that they first people began name the creatures God created and began to be there caretakers, just as God was the care takers of them. Thus, they were living into that very image in which they were Created. To God, everything seemed perfect.

Unfortunately, humans quickly grew to resent their dependence on God and they became bored and complacent in their relationship. Like young adults seeking their independence from their loving parents, they first people chose to do things their own way and to make their own way in the world. They sought out their own wisdom and disregarded the wisdom God had already given to them. They ignored the warnings of God and, as a result, humanity fell into a state of sin. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate. Perhaps this was the final step of Creation, where humans could “fully mature” and could now choose for themselves to have a loving and mutual relationship with God. Perhaps, this was more of a fall than a blessing as humans began making poorer and poorer choices. Or, as I have come to understand it, it was a little of both.

Regardless, overtime humans when from being in a loving, mutual relationship with God to being in a tenuous, and often dysfunctional relationship with God. This was sadly reflected in the dysfunctional relationships that began to plague the relationships humans had with each other. Patriarchy started to develop, where men saw themselves as better, superior, and in control of women. Brothers rose up against their other siblings out of competition and jealousy, murdering their siblings in cold and sadistic blood.

All of God’s creation began to suffer as a result of this terrible imbalance in the world God had created. People started owning animals, owning land, owning other people, ruling those they conquered, and killing all who stood in their way to attain absolute power. The green fields, the deserts, the streams, ponds and oceans went from pure to running red with the blood of the destruction humanity was reigning upon the earth!

God, seeing the terrible turn that creation had taken, began to grieve so deeply that God began to question why God even created anything at all! God’s grief moved from questioning to remorse and that remorse grew into anger. God was angry that Creation had fallen into such a state of disrepair. God was angry that humans were killing humans, that they were denying their divine connection to Creation, and that they were denying their divine connection to and relationship with their Creation. In that deep anger, God also found compassion, and set out to redeem this Creation that had become so tragically broken!

This is, obviously, just the beginning of the narrative of God we find in the Bible. This is just the Genesis, if you will. I fully admit that lots of theological questions pop up in regard to how a perfect God could create a world that went so tragically wrong. I also fully admit that there is no answer out there that fully satisfies those types of questions. But this narrative shows us that God’s reaction to the evil in the world is not unlike ours and that our righteous anger over the brokenness of this world comes from that divine image of God within us. Let us reflect on that for today, and in the days ahead, just as surely we will reflect on the evil that is currently and consistently plaguing this world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the world, in its brokenness, through your eyes. In my anger, help me to discover the compassion from which it stems and allow it to fuel me to be even more compassionate. Amen.

REVISITED: Wrath of God, part 1

Read 1 Kings 21:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. (Psalms 7:11 NRSV)

lightning-storm-at-sea-wallpaper-2

Anger. It is a natural response to things that not only “upset” us, but things that shake us to our very core. We as humans get angry at a lot of different things for a whole host of different reasons. We get angry when we experience injustice, when we lose loved ones, when we aren’t validated, when we feel out of control, when we feel threatened, and when we are stuck in a world of uncertainty.

I am not referring to petty anger, I am not referring to someone getting “mad” because they didn’t get their way, or because they missed their favorite show, or because their best friends suddenly became super annoying. I am not referring to any sort of petty, temper-tantrum, stubborn anger that wells up out of self-absorption.

Rather, I am referring to the deep, gutteral, extremely emotional, often times physical reaction our souls, minds, and bodies have to the evil in the world that surrounds. This week we do not have to look far or wide to get a sense of what I am talking about. The mass shooting that took place in an LGTBQ nightclub in Orlando, Fl and claimed the lives of 50 people is such an example.

When I first heard of the shooting in the early morning of Saturday, June 12th, I was at first deeply saddened and, if I am honest, a bit numb. How many times are we going to have wake up to hear that more people have been shot, stabbed, and/or maimed? How many times are we going to see images of bloodied, frantic, and devastated people in our streets? While there has always been violence in the world, and in United States, this is not the country or world I remember growing up in.

Of course, others in our country have a far different and more painful memory of the past than I do. Plenty of people in our country have experienced violence and discrimination against themselves because of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their age, and their ability. The more I thought about the mass shooting, those suffering as a result of it, and those suffering throughout our country and world because of senseless violence and hatred, the more angry I became.

I am angry that people perpetuate the evil of hatred, of bigotry, and of violence. I am angry that our politicians keep perpetuating an evil divisiveness in their rhetoric toward one another. I am angry that we, as human beings, fail to see the humanity, and the divine image, in one another. I am, pardon the phrase, pissed off that my children have to live in perpetual anxiety of the world around them…that their innocence is gone forever. I am angry.

Most people can accept that I am angry. People get angry, right? That is normal and natural, and the anger above is called for. But what about when we talk about God getting angry. That begins to make us uncomfortable doesn’t it? I recognize there is a flipside to this, but for now I will stick with this side of the topic. For those of us who are in the mainline tradition of Christianity, we get very uncomfortable talking about God’s anger and/or the wrath of God.

Perhaps it is because we have seen evil wrought in the name of God. Perhaps it is because we have heard egregious theology from the mouths of Christians that explain natural disasters, diseases and terrorist attacks to be the wrath of God on a “Godless nation.” Whatever the case may be, we find it challenging to except a God of anger, judgment and wrath.

Today, I beg you to pause and reflect on this. What is the alternative? At what cost do we avoid paying attention to the anger and the wrath of God? Would we prefer an apathetic and aloof God that is disconnected from the painful and horrible realities of evil in the world. The fact that we have a God who DOES get angry, who DOES seek to weed out injustice (aka wrath), means that we have a God who is passionately in love with us, who is actively grieving with those who are in grief, who is actively hurting with those who are hurt, and who is actively seeking to put an end to ALL evil, sin and suffering! Instead of ignoring God’s anger and wrath, let’s deal with it and try to gain a responsible understanding of it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There’s nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively.

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to trust that, even in your anger, you ARE LOVE! Amen.

Episode 248 | To Be or Not to Be (The Church), part 3: Be Tranformational

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-c96df-123872a

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that transformation is communal and requires intentionality.

May 29, 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 JOY Fellowship Worship Service for May 22. Today we learn that when we lose ourselves in following Jesus, our true identity is revealed as a beloved child of God, created to love and serve alongside God’s beloved children.

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: Unlock the Cage

Read Revelation 5:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For thus the LORD said to me, as a lion or a young lion growls over its prey, and–when a band of shepherds is called out against it–is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill.” (Isaiah 31:4 NLT)

lion2

As a lover of animals, I find it hard to utilize the animal imagery that is sometimes found in Scripture. The last devotion that was written was utilizing the image of a prowling, hungry lion waiting to devour it’s prey. While the image itself is not unrealistic, it paints a lopsided view of the animal itself.

On the one hand, it is not an unrealistic image of a lion. They do tend to get hungry and prowl around looking for food. That’s natural. To be fair and honest, humans do the same thing. On the other hand, to connect a lion to the devil takes away the natural understanding, and superimoses a supernatural one. The lion is now seen to be like the devil, like Satan, prowling around looking to devour and destroy! While 1 Peter 5:8 is a simile, people unfortunately begin to view and judge the animals as being beastly, primal, and even evil. Throughout history, certain animals have been categorically hunted and eliminated in immoral ways, with such passages in the Bible being used as some sort of theological justification.

But this is not the fault of the Bible, nor is it the fault of its authors who were simply trying to convey ideas through real-life images. For anyone living in areas that are inhabited by lions, the lion poses a real threat when it gets hungry and is on the prowl looking for food. It’s a threat to people and their livestock alike. Rather, this is the fault of people who take things way to literally and interpret the Bible in irresponsible ways.

The Bible itself, actually portrays most, if not all, animals in a very balanced way. Let’s look at the lion. Just as the lion is used to represent the devil on the prowl, so too is the lion being used to represent God. In Isaiah 31:4, God is likened to a lion who will not be scared and will not cower before the Egyptians who were looking to overtake the Kingdom of Judah; rather, God will directly face them and boldy ward them off, just as a lion does against anything that threatens its pride.

What’s more, the risen Christ is called the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” who has conquered sin and death and stands ready to reign as King. There are many such references to God as a lion in the Bible and all of those references utilize the stately, the bold, and the protective power of the lion as a description of God.

Slight switching directions, but still utilizing the theme of God as the lion, we Christians tend to forget that God is our lion. We forget that we serve a God of great power and we feel that we have to prove to others (and to ourselves) just how powerful our God is. I have seen many Christians set out to be “lions” of the faith in order to guard and protect God.

Here’s the problem, God doesn’t need, require, or even want our protection. God does require us to try and prove anything and, more times than not, we not only fail in our attempt to win anyone over, we often do more damage than we do good. The heart of the Gospel is God’s power to forgive, reconcile and restore a broken world back to the paradise it was once created to be.

By trying to prove God and/or by trying to protect God, we inadvertently try to cage God in. We can only prove what we fully know; yet, we try and prove the one who is beyond our full comprehension. The reality is that anytime we try to prove God, or try to “protect” God, all we are really doing is proving or protecting our idea or understanding of God…which amounts to a false god.

The challenge for us is to be responsible in our interpretation of the Bible, and to be humble in it. It is the authority by which we found our faith; however, it is not the foundation. God is! The challenge for us is to stop trying to cage God, but rather for us to unlock the cages we’ve built so that the true LION, the true God, can come forth, rally the pride, and begin to reign in our hearts once and for all.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Trying to prove God is like trying to defend a lion. [The lion] doesn’t need your help, just unlock the cage.” – Jason Petty

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stop trying to be right in my understanding, so that I may be open in my heart. Amen.

REVISITED: Adversary

Read Zechariah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NRSV)

lion

I just got finished participating in an observance of Memorial Day in my community. Prior to the observance that the memorial park, we start off with an ecumenical service at the Presbyterian Church in my community. This year it was my turn to preach and so, in preparation, I began by reflecting on Memorial Day, on those who gave their lives in defense of their country and its interests, as well as on our society.

Instantly two Scriptures came to mind. The first was that of Jesus being accused of being an agent of Satan by the religious leaders in his day. That Scripture can be found in Luke 11:14-17. The second Scripture is of the division that came to mind was that of Zechariah 3:1-8, where the people are divided against the new high priest, Joshua (Yeshua in Aramaic and Jesus in Greek). Though this is not the same Jesus, from Nazareth, this Jesus is experiencing people throwing accusations against his leadership as the High Priest.

This latter text is the one that is most revealing in terms of what  I want to write about today. In that text, God has it out with the people through the voice of Zechariah. “The Lord rebukes you, Adversary,” Zechariah proclaims. “The Lord, who chooses Jerusalem, rebukes you, Adversary!” The fiery prophet’s word must’ve sounded quite harsh to those on either side of the division.

There, in the midst of the division, Zechariah denonces the “Adversary”. Now, this English word may not sound too harsh on the surface; however, the English is derived from the Hebrew word “Satan” (והשׂטן, pronounced shaw-tawn). In other words, Zechariah is denouncing and rebuking the work of Satan, the Adversary, the arch-enemy of good, amid the people of Jerusalem.

One thing to note here is that Zechariah is pointing out the key function of the Adversary’s role in opposing God. This key function is creating division. While God is trying to establish the divine Kingdom on earth through unity and peace, the Adversary is actively standing in the way of us reaching God’s divine purpose through division and disunity.

How terribly tragic that is. Just pause for a moment; just pause, close your eyes, and begin to reflect on the division you see going on in the world around you. Look at the political climate in our country. For each of the political candidates out there, there is a group of people who hate them. What’s more, they hate those who support the candidates they hate.

Look at the Church, for the church is terribly divided. Now, we in the church all talk about Christ’s call for unity, about the need to “worship without walls”, and yet we divide the body of Christ over politics, over polity, over doctrine, over gender, gender identity, over human sexuality, over theology, over race, over views on other faiths, and just about every other thing imaginable.

Here’s the thing, when we get divided, we are failing to follow God and choosing to follow the Adversary. Let that soak in. When we are divided we are NOT following God or Christ, but are following the Adversary. That is not to say that we cannot disagree on issues. That is human and can be quite healthy in the life of the church. BUT DIVISION IS NOT! Our challenge is to, like Zechariah, rebuke the Adversary and choose to be an agent of unity and peace, rather than an agent of division.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we don’t unite in Christ we are bound to fall, with the Adversary, in division.

PRAYER
Lord, protect me from the Adversary and keep me far from the sin of division. Make me an agent of unity and of peace and of love. Amen.

Episode 47 | To Be or Not to Be (the Church), part 2: Be a Disciple #NotJustAChurchGoer

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-xb522-12300cb

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that when we lose ourselves in following Jesus, our true identity is revealed as a beloved child of God, created to love and serve alongside God’s beloved children.

May 22, 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 JOY Fellowship Worship Service for May 22. Today we learn that when we lose ourselves in following Jesus, our true identity is revealed as a beloved child of God, created to love and serve alongside God’s beloved children.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

A biweekly devotional