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A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 147: The Baptist

Read Luke 3:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother.”  (Mark 6:27-28, 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.

john-baptist

Part 147: The Baptist. Virtually everyone, at least in the Western World, has heard the name of John the Baptist. They may not know much about him or his theological significance; however, they have at least heard about him and probably have visions of a wild, hairy crazy man shouting at people while standing in the middle of a muddy looking river. Even so, that image is not too far from the truth and it was certainly how Herod and some of the Jewish religious leaders thought of him.

No doubt, in first-century Judaea, John was a little too fiery for his own safety. His sharp words and accusations against sinners in general, but specifically against the political and religious authorities, were dangerous because of the constant threat of revolt. The last thing Herod or the High Priest at the Temple needed was someone to come along and stir up a revolt. Such a revolt could cost all of them their positions and their lives under Roman rule.

John’s message was clear and consistently recorded in all four of the Gospels. Mark wrote: “This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (Mark 1:4, NLT). Matthew wrote: “‘In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’” (Matthew 3:1-2, NLT).

Luke wrote: “Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (Luke 3:3, NLT). Finally, John’s Gospel does not reveal John’s actual message; rather, it echoes the Synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Gospels’ account of John’s prophetic purpose: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!’” (John 1:23, NLT).

But that is not the message that got John in trouble. What caused him to be so dangerous is that he called out the religious leaders for being a brood (or family) of snakes. He told them that they would not escape God’s wrath or fiery judgment. He also called out Herod Antipas for having an affair with his brother’s wife, Herodias, and “Many other things.” Because of his persistence in challenging people to repent of their sins and follow God, John the Baptist was arrested and eventually beheaded.

The truth is that NOBODY likes to be called out or challenged. For instance, some people have told me that they didn’t like my Advent sermon series, including my Christmas Eve service, because it used Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hitler as an illustration as to why this dark world needs Christ and why it is important we “pledge our allegiance” to Christ and make room for him…and him ALONE…at our inn! But my job is not to make people feel comfortable; rather, my job, like the Baptist’s, is to prepare the way of the Lord, and to clear the road for him.”

The question to be asked here is this: how do you react to being challenged? Do you reflect and change, if there is need to do so? Or do you have a knee-jerk reaction and lash out in defense of yourself? I, to be completely honest, have found myself on both sides of that question. The challenge for us is to heed the warnings of the prophets in our lives. Let us NOT be a people seeking warm and fuzzy comfort, but a people who seek to prepare the way of the Lord and clear the road for him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Having our fundamental assumptions about life challenged is never a comfortable thing.” – Maajid Nawaz

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be receptive to the ways you are challenging me. Lead me from who I am to who you created me to be. Amen!

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 146: Anna

Read Luke 2:36-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.”  (Luke 8:1-3, 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.

anna-rembrandt

Part 146: Anna. In the last devotion, Jesus’ parents brought Jesus up into the Temple to be circumcised on the eighth day, according to Jewish custom. Following the ceremony, they ran into an old man named Simeon who blessed the child and prophesied on the significance of his birth. This man had been promised by God that he would see the coming of the Messiah and now, having witnessed the Christ-child, he was content to die.

The story does not end there; rather, it continues on in a woman named Anna. Before getting into Anna’s story, there needs to be a basic awareness of the social norms of first century Judaea. Typically, society did the value that women had in society was relegated to childbearing, childrearing and housekeeping. The women were responsible for passing down the faith to her children as a part of her childrearing duties; however, that was the basic extent of women’s value in first century Judaea.

Men, on the other hand, had the real voice. Thus, it makes sense that someone like Simeon, in the context of the times, would be the one to prophecy and proclaim the coming of the Christ. It makes sense, within the first century social framework, that visions and proclamations would come from men and not women. In fact, if you look at the Gospel of Matthew you will notice that the visions and actions were done on the part of Joseph, not Mary. Mary has absolutely NO VOICE in that Gospel.

But Luke is not Matthew and his Gospel operates counter to the way the other Gospels operate. Sure, Simeon gets his moment in the Temple to see visions and proclaim the Christ child; however, he is merely a common person. He’s no prophet or soothsayer; rather, he is just an old man holding on to the promises of God.

Anna, on the other hand, is described by Luke in the following way: “Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years” (Luke 2:36, NLT). Simeon was a common man, and Anna was the prophet. As is always the case, Luke flips the social conventions of his day on their head.

While Simeon saw a vision and shared that vision with Mary and Joseph, Anna began praising God and proclaiming to the whole Temple that the Messiah had arrived. While Simeon was blessed with holding the child and praising God before the child’s parents, Anna was tasked by God with proclaiming the Good News to the whole Temple that day.

Luke lets us know that Anna was an old woman, who had been widowed for many years. Widows with no sons to care for them often became homeless. This may have been the case for Anna, who is said to have NEVER left the Temple day or night since the death of her husband. But there’s more to it than that. The reference of never leaving the Temple also suggests that Anna was in close and never-ending communion with God! Wow, right?

This aged widow, this “nobody” in terms of first century social standards, was in direct communication with God through fasting and prayer. Rather than having been voiceless, Anna is the one who tells everyone the GOOD NEWS! You see, God cannot be imprisoned or contained by our social standards. God transcends them and empowers those we would rather keep in their place.

The challenge for us is to reflect on this. We are being to challenged to reflect on the ways in which we try to keep people in their places by placing our social standards like giant cinder blocks around the necks of the voiceless. Remember, God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s wisdom far surpasses our own. Let us be a people who step out of the way and defer such judgment to God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  – Paul of Tarsus in Galatians 3:28

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see past my own biases and the biases of my society in order to see people as you see them. Amen.

January 2, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

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

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

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

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Services for January 2. Today we learn how God is always with us, no matter where in the world we find ourselves.

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.

Episode 44 | The Zaniest Show on Earth

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-46rkw-1160347

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal, Todd and Blake remember the past year and talk about what is to come. PLUS: Blake and Sal surprise Todd with a unique and crazy song. You don’t want to miss Todd’s reaction. Are you interested in being on the Party on JohnCast? Email us at partyonjohncast@gmail.com.

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. You can also reach out to us via email partyonjohncast@gmail.com, though, please keep in mind we are more active on our social media accounts and do not check our email as often. On Twitter you can also follow Todd and Sal on Twitter at @trlattig and @SalvatoreSeirm1 respectively.

EPISODE NOTES:

He Brews Segment:

Todd

  • Dunkin’ Donuts Blueberry Pomegranate Refresher

Sal

  • Dunkin’ Donuts “Death Swirl” (aka Large Iced Coffee with a splash of Skim Milk).

Blake

Most Excellent Music Segment:

Todd

chosen by Blake and Sal for Todd to react to.

Blake

Sal

Other Stuff

Todd’s Tattoos:

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 145: Simeon

Read Luke 2:25-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.”  (Joel 2:28, 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.

Simeon

Part 145: Simeon. In the Gospel of Luke we get a little more of Jesus’ back story than we do in the other three Gospels. In Luke and John, we really get no back story at all. In Matthew, we learn that Jesus and his family flee to Egypt to avoid being slaughtered by Herod. After some time, no one really knows how long, Jesus’ family take him back to Israel and settle in the town of Nazareth, which a backwater town that was inconspicuous and far enough away from King Herod’s sons reach.

In Luke, however, Joseph and Mary were originally from Nazareth, traveled to Bethlehem to participate in Caesar Augustus’ census, and gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Eight days later, as per Jewish Law, Jospeh and Mary brought their son to the Temple to be circumcised. Following that they return to Nazareth and raise their son there. From there we are told that Jesus’ family went to the temple annually to partake in Passover and, when Jesus’ was twelve years old, he gives his parents a heart attack when he decides to stay behind as they were traveling home in order to school the religious leaders in the Temple.

But that is getting ahead a bit. After Jesus was circumcised, his parents and him ran into an old man named Simeon. Like most observant and devout Jews, Simeon had spent his life wondering when the God would deliver God’s people from the oppression of foreign occupation. In fact, Simeon not only wondered but, at least as an old man, was lying in lament and wait for this event to happen.

We are told that Simeon was a righteous man, meaning that he lived in right relationship with God and with neighbor and that he was a just man. The Holy Spirit was upon him and revealed to him that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. We are also told that on the day Jesus was circumcised, the Holy Spirit led him to the Temple.

Friends, this is an amazing account because it shows the powerful workings of the Holy Spirit. God’s guidance is given to those who seek God out and open themselves up to what God is doing. That is exactly what happened here to Simeon. As such, not only did Simeon get to see the Christ, but he also was the beginning of the fulfillment of what was prophesied in Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.” Joel was not yet fulfilled, that would happen later at Pentecost, but this was a sign of what was to come.

Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed him and praised God for fulfilling God’s promise to him. He then, again a sign of what was to be fulfilled on Pentecost, prophesied: “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)

Sisters and brothers, the Holy Spirit IS REAL and works through those who seek out the LORD. The challenge for us is to open ourselves, as Simeon did, to the presence and the working of the Holy Spirit. The time for complacency is over. Christ came, Christ lived, Christ died, Christ rose again and ascended into heaven, and Christ will come again in final glory. We are here in advent of that coming and there is much more work to be done to prepare the way of the coming Lord. Let us be the ones who do not oppose him, but proclaim the Christ’s holy name. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Yea, amen! let all adore thee, high on thine eternal throne; Savior, take the power and glory, claim the kingdom as thine own: O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly! Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.” – Rev. Charles Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, spark your passionate fire within my soul and use me to prepare Your way in this broken world. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 144: Magi

Read Matthew 2:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”  (Genesis 12:3, 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.

TheMagiPart 144: Magi. Last year, the church I currently serve participated in a town event which was trying to promote Small Business Saturday. While my church was supportive of being involved in it, and many of our members were there singing Christmas carols (mostly Christian carols, mind you) there was some buzz from others who thought that was a bad idea because the theme of the event was Harry Potter, and the church should not be “promoting sorcery and witchcraft”. Of course, Harry Potter is a fantasy fiction, just like The Chronicles of Narnia (e.g. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, but from the viewpoint of some people, there was “evil” at work behind the fiction.

During Advent, I raised the issue in one of the sermons I preached, regarding the Magi. In that message I said, “I find it ironic that some Christians get up in arms over Harry Potter because it is a story about wizards, sorcerers, witches, magicians and astrologers; yet, their hearts get ‘strangely warmed’ when hearing the story of wizards, sorcerers, witches, magicians, and astrologers coming to visit baby Jesus in a manger.”

Okay, so I stretched it slightly using the words “wizards, witches, sorcerers and magicians,” but I did so to make a powerful point” of which I’ll explain in a little bit. Still, the principal behind the words above is not scandalous or heretical; rather, it is the truth. In the account of the Magi coming to visit Jesus, we must realize several things in order to truly grasp the power of the account. Let me list those things off for you:

  1. The Magi were not kings, and we do not know how many of them there were. We often think there were only three because of the gifts that they brought; however, there is no evidence whatsoever that there were only three.
  2. The word magi is plural of the Latin word magus, and the Greek word magos, which was derived from the Old Persian word magâunô, which was the priestly caste that Zoroaster was born into. Also, magi is the root of the English word magic.
  3. The Magi were, thus, Zoroastrian priests who were known for their practice of astrology (reading the stars), as well as divination, both of which are forbidden practices in Judaism.
  4. The Magi would not have been sorcerers or magicians, properly speaking, because sorcery was forbidden in Zoroastrianism, and they viewed astrology and divination as a science. Still, for the Jews, astrology and divination are linked to sorcery in Judaism. Jews were supposed to steer clear of such practices and place their faith in God, not in their own ability to see the future.

What we have in Matthew’s account is amazing, then! These Gentiles/pagans from Persia traveled from the East, following the stars and divining that a great King had been born in Bethlehem. Matthew does not record this event as scandalous, though others would have read scandal into it, but as something joyous!

This story reveals two great things about God! First, God can and does work through anyone! Pagan or otherwise, Jew or Gentile, God can work through anything and anyone to bring people to Christ…to Salvation. Second, the Magi showing up that day (Jesus could have been as old as 2 years by the time they arrived) gave us a divine epiphany: God’s salvation plan does not just include one group of “special” people, but that the WHOLE world was to be blessed with Salvation through the Christ, just as God promised Abraham!

To come full circle, the point I was making in the sermon was that if God can work through divination and astrology to lead the Magi to Christ, surely God can work through fictitious novels such as Harry Potter. These things only have as much power as we put in them. God, ultimately, is the only true source of power and we should trust that God is working through us in the world. That is why I choose to participate in community events, even if I don’t agree with everything going on at them. God is the one in control, not me. What’s more, we’ll witness far more to God’s LOVE by being present in community, rather than protesting in opposition to it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus met people where they were, he did not make people conform to him before engaging with them. We ought to learn to do the same.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to operate from faith instead of fear. Amen.

Episode 227 | GOD WITH US, part 6: God with the World

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-jangj-1162646

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses how God is always with us, no matter where in the world we find ourselves.

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ worship livestreams on Sundays at 9:00 a.m. (Contemporary) 10:30 a.m. (Traditional). Join us for worship in-person or on YouTube.
  • If you 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 still ministering to people in our community and beyond. 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

December 26, 2021 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

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

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

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

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Services for December 26. Today we learn how God is always with us, no matter where in the world we find ourselves.

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.

Episode 226 | GOD WITH US, part 5: God With Us

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-ufhpe-116263c

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses how there is a big difference between God for us and God with us.

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ worship livestreams on Sundays at 9:00 a.m. (Contemporary) 10:30 a.m. (Traditional). Join us for worship in-person or on YouTube.
  • If you 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 still ministering to people in our community and beyond. 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

December 24, 2021 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service: 7:30 p.m.

Candlelight Service streams live at 7:30 p.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. This evening we learn that God was with us there at the stable with the first witnesses to Jesus’ birth and that God is at any other “last place on earth” you might find yourself. God is with us here, right now, too.

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