Episode 24 | Break It Down

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-vuv87-da40f5

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal and Todd are joined by singer/songwriter Gene Taylor for a special “social-distanced home edition”. Listen in as they sip on some amazing drinks and engage in conversation. Plus, Gene debuts the first live performance of his latest single for the first POJCast live performance EVER!

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EPISODE NOTES:

He Brews Segement:

Gene

Sal

Todd

Most Excellent Music Segment:

Gene Taylor Edition

A LOOK BACK: Context is Everything

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms 119:18)

Context Is EverythingWhat if I were to tell you that the Bible says that “there is no God”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible comes to the conclusion that “everything, including life, is meaningless, like chasing the wind”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that God wants people to endure slavery because God put the slave masters in authority over them? Or that God punishes generations of family members for the sins of their ancestors. Or that women are inferior to men and should be silent in churches as they are not fit to teach? Or that the Bible says that women are saved through childbearing?

On the one hand, the Bible does say such things. The words “there is no God” can be found in Psalm 14:1; the words “everything is meaningless” can be found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and elsewhere in Ecclesiastes; God wishing people to remain slaves can be found in Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18. That God punishes the descendants of sinful ancestors is found in Numbers 14:18, among other places. That women are inferior to men, are to be silent in churches, are not fit to teach and are saved through child bearing can be found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

On the other hand, each one of these verses has something in common tying them together. That common thread is that they’ve all been taken out of context, perhaps in different ways, but they are definitely all out of context. In Psalm 14:1, the Psalmist is ACTUALLY saying that “the fool says in his or her heart that ‘there is no God.'” The words “there is no God was taken textually out of context. Ecclesiastes 1:2 is the opening to a philosophical treatise on how life, and all of its trappings, leads to emptiness and that, at the end of the day, people need to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). While Ephesians and Colossians do state that slaves are to obey their masters, the historical context of this passage shows us a Christian community that is reacting to accusations that Christians are inciting slaves to riot against their masters (which was one of  many accusations that Romans were levying against Christians of the time period). That doesn’t justify the passage, but helps us understand it so that we don’t fall into the same trap.

It was a common tone in the ancient world that if you make God angry, God will punish you. Some of these texts were written in times of tribulation, such as the Babylonian Exile where people were wondering why they had been exiled to begin with. What had they done to deserve such an awful fate…or what had their parents or their parents’ parents done? This understanding is less “God’s word” as much as it is people grappling with their circumstances, though there certainly are many unintended and far reaching consequences to sin. And the bit on women is also a reaction to the fact that women, up until that point, had played prominent roles in the church (e.g., Romans 16:1-4, 7) and the Romans were levying that against Christians as yet another example of how Christians were vile and against Roman order.  Again, this historical context (plus Paul’s commendation of women leaders) helps us to discern and affirm that indeed God DOES call women into ministry and leadership, and that they are saved equally and in the same manner that all human beings are: through faith (Romans 3:19-25; Galatians 3:28).

This is not an exhaustive discussion of those particular topics, but hopefully makes the point that CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. The Bible is THE MOST IMPORTANT, and INSPIRED, source of our faith; however, it can be made to say anything when the context (textual, socio-economic, and/or historical) is missing. Don’t just read your Bible, but study it. Get into a good Bible Study that dives deep into the texts and gives you a good foundation not only on what the Bible says (keep in mind that we are not reading it in its original languages), but the context behind what it says. Buy books that delve into the Bible and provide the context behind it. Today’s challenge is for you to begin to not only read the Bible, but to build up a solid means of understanding it so that you can relevantly apply it to your life in a way that is true to the Spirit of the Word.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Context is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay

PRAYER
Lord, guide me in my studying of Scripture so that I may grow, not just in knowledge but also in understanding. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Turning Scars Into Stars

Read John 19:20-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Look at My hands. Look at My feet. You can see that it’s really Me. Touch Me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” (Luke 24:39, NLT)

StarsA couple of weeks ago I was eating out at a restaurant with my wife and daughters. During the meal we were sharing in memories of the home we used to live in and we were laughing about how our cat, Sophie, was so cute and adorable when she was little. At one point, I looked up at my youngest daughter and I was reminded of a not so good incident that we had with the other cat we used to have, George. On my daughter’s right cheek is a huge scar and seeing that scar reminded me of the horrible memory of George, what he did to my daughter, and how we could not longer keep him.

My youngest, at the time she was around 7 years old, was playing in a big box as children often do. When she came out of the box, George attacked her clawing at her face. He severely scratched her on her right cheek and nearly got her left eye with the other claw (literally only a centimeter away). This wasn’t the first time he had done this. He had attacked her while she was hugging her mom, and had attacked her another time severely scratching up her legs. The first two times we passed off as being an accident. Perhaps our daughter was playing with him and he was playing rough. But the third time pushed us over the edge. We knew we couldn’t keep him, especially after he nearly took my daughter’s left eye.

The horror of that moment had flooded me and I started my shaking my head in disbelief. “What Dad,” asked my daughter? “I just can’t believe he did that to you,” I replied. “Perhaps we can get that cream the doctor had said helps to remove scars,” I said to her. My daughter put her hand over her face and shook her head no. “I don’t want to get rid of my scar,” my daughter protested. “I want to keep it because so I can remember George.”

George was her favorite cat. She loved him and it was very hard for her when we took George to the animal shelter, especially when we learned what they were going to put him to sleep because they could not give him to another family if he had a history of attacking people. It still hurts me to think of it and, clearly it still hurts my daughter as well. Even more that that, my daughter still loves him and wants to keep her scar because of her love for him. The more I reflected on that, the more I realized the truth behind it.

How often we go through life, picking up scars along the way. We get battered down by circumstances and, sometimes, we even get battered down by other people. Many of us try to hide those scars, to mask them, and to pretend they were never there to begin with; however, scars never truly go away, do they? There really isn’t some special cream we can rub on our hurts, our fears, our insecurities and all of the other scars we collect throughout life. There isn’t any magic elixir that will remove the scars we carry with us.

Even Jesus, in a post-Resurrection body, had scars to show his disciples when he appeared to them. The holes in his hands, feet and side were still there, still visible. In fact, those scars were very much a part of Jesus’ transformed identity, in the same way that my daughter’s scars are a part of hers. Rather that trying to erase the scars, rather than trying to bury them or hide them or pretend they never existed, we should acknowledge their existence. We should grieve the loss, the hurt, the circumstances that caused them and, just as importantly, we should also acknowledge the person we’ve grown to be as a result of them. While no amount of reflection will justify the suffering we’ve been through, it will help us to move beyond the suffering, remembering where we’ve come from, and resurrect into a person transformed by the grace of God in spite of the experiences that tried to keep us down. Allow God to, as Robert Schuller once coined, “turn your scars into stars.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Turn your scars into stars.” – Rev. Dr. Robert H. Schuller

PRAYER
Lord, help me to turn my scars into stars so that I can move beyond them, without forgetting them, into the life you’ve called me to. Amen.

Eipsode 121 | Special Episode: In Times of Trouble

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-uy43f-da5927

In this episode, Kathleen Meredith, Lay Leader and Certified Lay Servant of First United Methodist Church of Newton shares a much needed message during this time.

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.
  • Sign up for bi-weekly devotions at Life-Giving Water.
  • Subscribe to Life-Giving Water Messages, also on iTunes and Google Play Music.
  • Subscribe to the Party on Johncast, co-hosted by Rev. Sal Seirmarco and Rev. Todd Lattig.

God’s People, part 243: Paul

Read Acts 9:1-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.”  (Galatians 1:14, NRSV)

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.

PaulPart 243: Paul. We often look at Saul of Tarsus’ journey to Damascus as his big “conversion” experience. Most who grew up going to Sunday School know the story:

Saul of Tarsus was this really, really mean, bad guy who hated Christians so much that he hunted them down, arrested some and had others killed. One day, while traveling on the road to Damascus to arrest and kill more Christians, Saul saw a great, blinding light. It was so bright that it stopped him in his tracks and he fell off of his horse.

A voice cried out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul answered, “who are you Lord?”

“It is I, Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the voice answered back.

From that point on, Saul was blind and Jesus told him to continue to Damascus and await someone to meet him there. Three days later a Christian came, laid hands on Saul, prayed over him and he could see once more.” From that point on Saul became Paul and converted from being a Jew to a Christian.

This summary, while it may sound familiar and seem accurate, is actually significantly different from what actually happened. Sure, some of the details are the same; however, the subtle difference add up and significantly change the trajectory of our understanding. It is true that Saul of Tarsus detested Christians and persecuted them. It is also true that he traveled to Damascus to persecute more Christians and encountered the risen Lord along the way. Even more, it is true that his encounter with Christ brought from being an opponent of Christ to being his greatest proponent.

So, you might be wondering, what is different? First, Saul was not a “bad guy”. He was a Pharisee who believed in strict adherence to the Torah in order to live holy lives set apart from God. Anything that contradicted that understanding was false and needed to be shown to be false. It was Saul’s religious and moral duty, as a Pharisee, to counter false teachings that went against the Scriptures.

Second, while it is true that Saul encountered Christ on the Road to Damascus and that encounter dramatically changed the course of his life, he did not convert to Christianity. This may throw you for a loop and shock you. Some of you might think I am going against Scripture and falling into heterodoxical claims; however, if you read Scripture closely and understand the context, Saul never converted from Judaism to Christianity.

How do I know this? Simple, Paul wrote it. In Philippians 3:5-6, he wrote that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-8, NRSV). Though he came to accept Christ, Paul never, ever denounced his being Jewish. In fact, he saw his newfound faith in Christ as the perfect expression of his Jewishness.

Even still, the term Christian did not even exist at the time of Saul’s “conversion”; rather, Christians were actually a new sect of Judaism known as “The Way”. Thus, it is silly to refer to Saul’s Damascus Road experience as a conversion as all, as if he went from one religion to the other. Instead, it was a transformative encounter that illuminated his understanding of what it meant to be Jewish!

The third and final point is this, Saul did not initially change his name to Paul. In Acts, we see Saul still using his Hebrew name in Jerusalem and the people there were afraid to come and hear him preach for fear that he was the “same ol’ Saul”. At some point, during his missionary journeys through Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Greece and Rome, he began using his Roman name, Paul. This was no doubt done to make his evangelism efforts among Gentiles more effective.

What does all of this mean for us today? It means that God is not looking to bring us into a “new religion”, but is rather calling us to be transformed and brought into a NEW RELATIONSHIP with God. If Saul of Tarsus can be transformed into Paul the Apostle, we can too. Not all of us will have Damascus Road encounters, but God will reach us in the way that is best suited for us to receive and respond. Be open to transforming power of God through Jesus Christ and you will find that God can and will recreate you in powerfully miraculous ways.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”  (Romans 5:20, NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, open my heart and purge me from my unwillingness to be transformed by your grace through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

God’s People, part 242: Eunuch

Read Acts 8:26-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”  (Matthew 7:22-23, 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.

Moroe-ArmletPart 242: Eunuch. There is certainly a lot to unpack in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Before we can understand the account itself, we ought to understand the components of it. First, we all know of the Gaza strip, which is a contested strip of land that the Israelis fight over with the Palestinians who live there and govern it. It is a small strip of coastal and that strategically borders Egypt.

As far as Biblical history is concerned, the Philistines were located in Gaza originally. Of course, the Philistines and the Israelites did not have a good relationship with one another and it is this group of people which Samson, Saul and King David, among others, notoriously fought against. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered the area during his Egyptian campaign, and then it became a part of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Dynasties after that. By the time of Philip the Apostle, the Gaza strip was a part of the Judaean Province of the Roman Empire.

The Eunuch that Philip runs into on the road to Gaza, was a high court official who was the head of the Queen of Ethiopia entire treasury. In the account, the Queen is seemingly named Kandake, or Candice; however, Kandake/Candice was not a name as much as a title. It is in dispute whether or not she was the the sole queen and ruler or if she co-ruled with a King; however, most scholars point to Amantitere as the name of this particular Kandake. Not much is really known about her other than that she was quite affluent. It has been speculated that she may have been Jewish; however, this is little more than speculation due to the fact that her Eunuch was reading Isaiah. It is possible, as there were Jewish settlements in the area; however, that proves little.

As for the Eunuch, he was clearly at the very least a “God-fearer”, or someone who was non-Jewish, but who believed in the Jewish God and came to worship in Jerusalem at the Temple. It is even possible that he, himself, was Jewish. As with all Eunuchs, he was castrated, meaning that he had at least his testicles, if not his penis as well, surgically removed. This form of emasculation was done on slaves who were assigned to the courts of royalty. These Eunuchs served in a variety of different positions, most notably but not limited to, guardians of royal harems.

Our particular Eunuch directly served the queen herself as her treasurer. He was a highly valued person in the queen’s court and was clearly permitted to travel to Jerusalem in order to worship in the Temple. No, doubt, he was probably also there on diplomatic business as well. When Philip ran into him, he was reading Isaiah 53:7-8, which is the prophecy of the Suffering Servant. When he asked Philip to explain to him what he was reading, Philip used that opportunity to talk about how Isaiah was prophesying about the coming of the messiah, who would be a suffering servant through whom God would bring about Salvation for the whole world.

The beauty of this is that we clearly see that the early Jewish Christians saw Isaiah 53 as clear prophecy of who Jesus was. Beyond that, we see how powerfully transformative that passage is in light of Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, prophecied about hundreds of years prior to the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Eunuch believed and got baptized, becoming an early convert to the Christian faith.

Following that Philip was “snatched away” by the Spirit of the Lord. Our fancies can get the best of us hear and we can imagine that Philip vanishing in thin air and appearing elsewhere; however, it would be a mistake to read it that way. Rather, this is poetic license to say that following the Eunuch’s conversion, Philip did not stick around; rather, he followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and found himself being led to a town farther North. The term “snatched” is from the Greek word ἁρπάζω (pronouced harpazō), which means “carried away”, “snatched”, “take away by force”. In other words, Philp felt compelled by the Spirit to go elsewhere and abruptly left the presence of the Eunuch.

We should be challenged by this. In this passage, we see how the Holy Spirit works. We get called to one thing and, then, the Holy Spirit compels us to go elsewhere. We, as God’s people, get too attached to the seasons we find ourselves in and we are being reminded that, at any moment, God could snatch us away and send us to serve Him elsewhere. Are you okay with that? Are you, like Philip, willing to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit? Are you willing to go where you are being sent? Or do you prize your comfort more than your faith in God?  I challenge you to reflect on your relationship with Christ and his Lordship over your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we are going to truly call Jesus Christ our Lord, we must be willing to submit our lives to his Lordship.

PRAYER
Lord Jesus, I submit myself to you. Help me to grow stronger in my submission to your way. Amen.

Episode 120 | What To Do?, part 1: What To Do When You Have to Wait

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-8k5qi-d98c8b

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the tremendous thirst we experience in the wilderness of our lives and the only way to quench it. This message is based on Luke 24:13-32.

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.
  • 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 120 | What To Do?, part 1: What To Do When You Have to Wait

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-8k5qi-d98c8b

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the tremendous thirst we experience in the wilderness of our lives and the only way to quench it. This message is based on Luke 24:13-32.

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.
  • 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 119 | The Case For Christ, part 7: Verdict: Good News

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-7spch-d98c82

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the verdict of the Case for Christ and it is GOOD NEWS! This message is based on John 20:1-18.

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 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.
  • 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.

A biweekly devotional