Tag Archives: Church

Episode 206 | Kingdom Questions

WelcWelcome to our Homecoming Sunday Worship Service for June 13, 2021. Today we will be discovering the importance of asking the right questions. Asking the right questions can lead us toward a more faithful witness of God’s Kingdom.

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god’s People, part 295: John of Patmos

Read Revelation 1:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).

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 uas 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 295: John of Patmos. So, this is it. This is the last part of what turned out to be a 295 part series exploring all of the major and many of the minor people in the Bible. Of course, I will continue on writing general devotions just as I have since 2012; however, this devotion is bitter-sweet to write as I have been working on and off on this series since May of 2017.

In this devotion, we will be looking at our final person, John, who wrote the book of Revelation. When it comes to the Book of Revelation, there is much mystery, confusion and controversy. Often times people will accidentally refer to it as “Revelations”, thus making it plural; however, this is incorrrect. It was one revelation given to the author, John, who recorded it down for the seven churches of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). These churches were located in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

The full title of the Book of Revelation is actually, The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John. Thus, John was less the author and more of the scribe. Jesus dictated to John what he was to write down for the seven churches who had been under, presumably, localized persecution. On top of that, there were many false teachers turning people within those congregations away from Christ and all that the apostles had taught them. Revelation is considered to be a part of the Johannine community because of it’s theological similarities to the Gospel and, especially, the letters of John.

The Gospel of John, and the epistles, never identify who the author was. Church tradition has presumed that the Apostle John, son of Zebedee was the author of these texts; however, it must be said that all were written anonymously. The author of the Gospel only ever refers to himself as the one whom Jesus loved. Christians have identified this author with the Apostle John because he was never mentioned by name in the Gospels, and therefore it seems as if he could have been writing it.

It is clear that the epistles (letters) of John were written by the same author or community, hence the name Johannine Community. As for Revelation, there has been much dispute as to who its author was. Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165 AD) and Bishop Iranaeus   (c. 130 – c. 202 AD) identified the author of Revelation as John the Apostle, son of Zebedee; however, this was later rejected by Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria (d. 265 AD) and an influential elder named Gaius, who also lived in the third centruy.

While Justin Martyr and Irenaeus were closer to the time that Revelation was written, Bishop Donysius and Gaius were probably correct in rejecting the Apostle John as the author. The author of Revelation introduces himself merely as John, a servant of Christ, who was exiled to the small, rocky island of Patmos for preaching and teaching about Jesus; therefore, it is best to refer to this author as John of Patmos, for if John was the apostle, he would have identified himself as such. Furthermore, John refers to the twelve apostles in Revelation 21:14, as if they were distinct from himself.

Revelation is a tough book to decipher because it is filled with tons of metaphorical and apocalyptical imagery, numerology and code language that is hard for one to decipher, especially if one is reading it in an English translation. John wrote the book because he was given a vision of Christ return to earth, where he will one day establish God’s Kingdom on a newly reborn earth. Sin, death, evil, and opression will cease to be. There will be no more mourning or pain, no more suffering or sorrow.

Thus, Christ’s Revelation to John, despite all of its weirdness and horrifying images and events, is a book of hope. John of Patmos, suffering for following Jesus, was given a message, a vision, a revelation about the HOPE we have in Jesus and that HOPE will one day become a reality that will forever end our current state of hopelessness. How awesome is that?

I challenge you to read the first three chapters of Revelation. How do you fit in with Christ’s assessment of those churches? In what ways can you remove the things that are hindering your relationship with our Lord. Revelation is best read as a mirror, as opposed to a measure for other people. Let us find blessing in the fact that Jesus Christ revealed to John of Patmos the ways in which we all can improve for the glory of God and his coming kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Look, I am making everything new!” – God (Revelation 21:5, NLT).

PRAYER
Lord, help me to keep my eye on you so that I may not stray from the path you have set me on. Amen.

God’s People, part 294: Jude

Read Jude

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us”(Mt 13:55–56, 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 294: Jude. There has been much controversy and misunderstanding when it comes to the “Holy Family”. First, is what I will call the Roman Catholic/Protestant controversy, which is the controversy of whether Mary only had one child or if, after the virgin birth, she consummated her relationship with Jospeh and had other children. The Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians maintain that Mary remained a virgin and that James, Jude (aka Judas…but not to be confused with Judas Iscariot) and the other siblings were either Joseph’s from a previous marriage, or that the sibblings were actually cousins whose Mother, also named Mary, were kin to Joseph and taken in by the Holy Family.

Initially, Protestants didn’t argue against perpetual virginity because they were trying to walk the line of splitting from Rome but maintaining the essential doctrines of the Roman Catholic. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and even Wesley upheld their views in the perpetual virginity of Mary. It didn’t take long after the establishment of Protestantism, however, for the notion of Sola Scriptura to cause Protestants to question and eventually drop belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Why? Because sex was something God ordained and blessed within the covenant of marriage and Mary is not any less holy for consummating a marriage that God clearly blessed. Moreover, the Gospels explicity contradict the perpetual virginity doctrine. Beyond the fact that both Mark and Matthew explicitly name Jesus’ siblings (which they refer to them as siblings of Jesus), Matthew also wrote that Joseph “…did not have sexual relations with [Mary] until her son was born…” (Matthew 1:25).

That verse alone Scriptural proof that Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage and had more children following the birth of Jesus. There would be no need to write it otherwise. If Joseph and Mary never had sex, the author would have NEVER written that verse. He would have, instead, written that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before or after her son was born; however, that is not what the Scripture verse says. Furthermore, Luke writes that Mary “…gave birth to her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7). If there was only ONE son, then it would have been said by Luke that she gave birth to her ONLY son; yet, that is not what Luke wrote.

As a Protestant, we have to put Scriptural evidence above the later teachings oof the church Father’s and church tradition. Jude, like James, was one of Jesus’ many siblings. He is also traditionally viewed as the author of the epistle of Jude, which is the second to the last “book” in the New Testament. At the outset of the letter, the author does introduce himself as Jude, the brother of James. Despite scholarly debate, I tend to give credence to tradition when there isn’t clear evidence against it. Thus, I tend to think of the author as being Jude.

The letter itself was written against Christian teachers and leaders who were living and and leading people to live lives of immorality. It is a letter that is short, but strong in it’s advocating in mainting a holy and moral life that reflects the Lordship of his brother Jesus. The irony there is that Jude, along with James and the other siblings, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or the Son of God before his resurrection and ascension.

In Mark 3:21, we learn from Mark that his family tried to take him away because they felt that he had lost his mind. Mark does not explicity say who in his family, so we have assume that they all were worried that Jesus was going to get himself killed if he kept going on the path he was on. In verse 31 of the same chapter, Mary and his brothers actually showed up to talk to Jesus while he was teaching his disciples and others. We can successfully presume that this in relation to what was said ten verses earlier. They were coming to “talk sense” into Jesus and take him back home.

In Acts 1:14 we learn that Mary and Jesus’ brothers were among the believers who met to decide Judas’ replacement. By that point, Jude and James were believers and were going to become influential in carrying on the ministry of their half-brother. From there, we learn that James becomes the more prominent, leading the church of Jerusalem. Jude, though not as prominent as James the Just, still had influence and traveled with his family to bring the Good News to people. He also ended up writing a letter to correct Christians who were following false teachers.

The point of this is that we all come to Jesus in our unique ways. Jesus’ half-brothers were no different; however, when they saw their brother resurrect and they saw him ascend into heaven, there was no doubt that they were not only going to believe, but that their lives were forever transformed. The same is true for us. How have you encountered the Risen Lord? How have you come to know Jesus? Reflect on that and appreciate how the Lord reached out to you and established his Kingdom in your heart.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Mark 3:34b-35, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to appreciate my relationship with you and use me to introduce you to others. Amen.

God’s People, part 293: Philemon & Onesimus

Read Philemon 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, 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.

Part 293: Philemon & Onesimus. Philemon is certainly Paul’s shortest letter and it is one of his most intriguing letters as well. It was most likely written by the Apostle during his imprisonment in Ephesus and it is a letter that bears so much import and urgency that Timothy was listed as one of the people sending the letter with Paul, possibly acting as a notary to verfiy authenticity.

What was so important that Paul drafted a quick and urgent letter, sending it with his most trusted disciple in order to ensure it was properly delivered? The letter was written in regard to a runaway slave named Onesimus. Before I get into the specifics, we need to acknowledge proverbial monster under the bed: SLAVERY. Slavery was a given in the ancient world. They were seen as a part of the natural order of the world. What’s more, though hard to do given our own Euro-American context, we have to lay aside our understanding of what slavery is.

In the ancient world, people were captured in war, or by their debts, and were enslaved. This wasn’t just a Roman reality, but an ancient world reality. There were slaves in Israel, in Mesopotamia, in Greece, in Rome, in Asia Minor, and throughout the entire world. There were elements of slavery that were similar to what we understand slavery to be. Slaves were not free to runaway, they were not free to do as they pleased, and they were expected to fulfill their role in society obediently. There were slaves that were beaten and abused and there have always been cruel slavemasters. Those are realities of human enslavement sadly.

With that said, especially in the context of the Roman empire, there was upward mobility for the slaves that excelled. Slaves could earn their freedom and become a part of free society. Some slaves even became members of the senate and other positions of power. In Euro-American slavery, there was no such reality. Slaves were not seen as people with potential, but animals who were nothing more than property.

That is what made American slavery so heinously distinctive from any other form the world has known. In fact, John Wesely once wrote to Wilbur Wilberforce, who successfully put an end to the British slave trade, “Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.” Wesley despised all forms of slavery, and having been the Rector of the Savannah parish in the Georgia colony, he knew full well that American slavery was “the vilest that ever saw the sun.”

What I have written, thus far, is only meant to provide historical context to the word slavery and what it meant in Paul’s time. I am certainly not justifying any form slavery in any society. All slavery is immoral, evil and in the spirit of antichrist. In Paul’s time, though, abolishment of slavery was not an issue even being thought of, let alone considered. What this means is that, while the letter to Philemon shows that Paul was ahead of his time, he doesn’t go as far as we in the twenty-first century would like him to.

Back to Onesimus, who was a slave owned by Philemon. He found Paul in prison and pleaded for his help because he ran away from Philemon and evidently stole something in the process. It’s unclear how Onesimus was being treated or whether or not Philemon was a cruel master. What we do know is that Philemon led church in his house and even Philemon converted to Christianity.

As a side note, it was not uncommon for mistreated slaves to run away and seek assylum from their master’s master. This was what Onesimus was seemingly seeking to do. Paul, being Philemon’s spiritual “master”, wrote a letter to him telling him that he had received Philemon and he was now sending him back home. (This is where we scratch our heads and say, “Really Paul? Was that a good idea?”) With that said, Paul did not leave it there; rather, he strongly appealed to Philemon to not only welcome Onesimus back mercifully, but to welcome him back as a Christian brother. You heard me right, Paul was telling Philemon that, being that Onesimus was a Christian, he should not be welcomed back as a slave. Paul uses judicious and rhetorical wording, but he is not being soft at all. He even wrote, “That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. 9 But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you…” (vv. 8-9a).

Again, we don’t find Paul taking on the whole of the Roman slave system, nor does he even address whether Christians should own a non-believing slave or not, but we do have Paul addressing slavery within the context of the Christian church. It’s a NO GO. Paul made it very clear that all Christians should be considered family, not owned as slaves. This does give us a pretty clear view of Paul’s thoughts on slavery, even if he does not go as far as we would like him to. What’s more, we do know that Philemon did as his teacher asked. We know this because Onesimus went on to be a prominent Christian leader and is probably the same person whom Ignatius (died 107 AD) named as Bishop of Ephesus.

What’s important to note here is that Paul, just like Jesus, saw justice to be a part of the Christian witness. We cannot be witnessing the power of Christ in the world, when we are living in solidarity with the world and it’s way of doing things. This should challenge us in our daily walk as well. Do we reflect Christ? Or do we reflect our world? Do we promote Christ, or do we promote partisan politics and our own twisted worldviews. For Paul, and for me, the answer is simple, if you are a Christian, you are obligated to foresake that which stands opposed to Christ. I pray we all seriously reflect on this.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I received therefore your numerous body in the name of God in the person of Onesimus, whose love surpasses words, who is, besides, in the flesh your bishop.” – St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch[1]

PRAYER
Lord, help me to incorporate justice into my Christian faith and give me the strength to fight for it. Amen.


[1] Srawley, J. H. with St. Ignatius. (1910). The Epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (Second Edition, Revised, Vol. 1 & 2, p. 42). London; Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

God’s People, part 291: Nympha

Read Colossians 4:15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

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 291: Nympha. We come to another point of mystery and controversy as we approach another important person in the Bible. In verse 15 of the fourth chapter in Colossians, Paul wrote: “Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house” (NLT). Clearly, Laodicea is a community known to Paul and so is this person named Nympha. So, you might be questioning, where’s the testimony? For that, I need to point to a different translation of the Bible.

In the King James Version of the Bible, here’s what Paul wrote in Colossians 4:15: “ Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house”. Read it closely. Do you see the subtle, but IMPORTANT difference. The interpreters of the King James Version states that Nympha is actually Nymphas and is a guy. So, how can this be? Clearly, both translations can’t be accurate in the context of the first century. Either it is Nympha (feminine) or it is Nymphas (masculine).

So, who is right? Was Nympha a man or a woman? Before we answer that, let us peel back so more layers regarding this verse. First, it is important to recognize that this person was an important figure in the Laodicean church. How do we know that, because Paul used the phrase, “and the church which is in her/his home.”

Paul commonly used this phrase in regard to leaders who where holding Christian worship in their homes. He refers to Priscilla, naming the wife first, and Aquilla in the same manner (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:9), as well as to Philemon (Philemon 1-7). In each of the cases just referenced, Paul is writing directly, or sending greetings, to the heads of the specific churches. That is the consistent pattern we see in Paul’s writings and it would be the case for this mystery person in Laodicea.

What’s more, it was not uncommon for wealthy women to lead, support and even protect the church. There are 16 women mentioned in the NT who are directly named by Paul in the New Testament, one who Paul considered himself a benefactor of (Romans 16:1-2). There could be no better way to protect the church then by inviting them into one’s own home so that they can gather and worship safely without notice, and it must be pointed out that both women and men are named by Paul as hosting and leading worship.

Finally, let’s look at how there could possibly be gender confusion in regard to our Laodicean church leader. Many of the earlier manuscripts use the word Nympha, but they write it in the accusative or object case Nymphan. In order for for Nymphan to be masculine, it would have to be written as Νυμφᾶν as opposed to Νύμφαν. It is the accents, as you can see, that describes the gender; however, the earliest manuscripts did noto include the accents.

In later manuscripts, scribes who were copying them onto new parchment, added the masculine accent, probably because because they could not fathom women being leaders of the church. It is ironic, because we tend to look at societal views progressing; however, the earliest church was more progressive in terms of how it viewed gender equality under Christ.

Don’t mistake my use of the word progressive to mean today’s understanding of socio-political progressivism. I am merely using it in the traditional way, meaning that the earliest church was further along in gender equality that the times that followed. As the church advanced through the centuries, its views became more and more restrictive toward women in a way the earliest church was not. Also, do noot read into what I wrote about the scribes. They were not adding accents in order to pull of a Dan Brown-esque DaVinci Cod cover up. Rather, the accents were not their and as they transcribed, they added them in believing that Paul must have been referring to a man. This assumption was due to their own understanding of social norms. It was an honest mistake, but a costly one for women in the church throughout the two millennia, and women in denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention are still being restricted and oppressed as a result.

The vast majority of Biblical scholars affirm that Nympha was a woman and a prominent leader in the Laodicean church. What we ought to reflect on is just how our societal norms can negatively affect our interpretation of Scripture. How do we allow our worldview to take over the Bible; rather than letting the Bible overtake our worldview. This is a fine line to walk, because we can go too far in either direction. There have been great advances in understanding socially and scientifically that need to be weighed when it comes to interpretation; however, there are also things that should not change even if it means we stand out in society. Let us continue to study our Bibles and allow God to guide us in our quest to live it out in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.” – Galileo Galilei

PRAYER
Lord, place the desire in me to study the Bible and to understand it in a way that truly reflects your will and your love. Amen.

Jonah Was a Prophet

Read Jonah 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!” (Matthew 12:39 NRSV)

JonahVeggieTales

Have you ever read the book of Jonah? It is one of the most interesting books in the Old Testament. Let me sum it up for you. There was this well-known prophet in Israel by the name of Jonah. The Lord called upon this prophet and told him to go to Nineveh and give them the warning that God’s wrath was about to fall upon them. Nineveh was an Assyrian city and it’s inhabitants were enemies of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As a result of their ongoing and wicked brutality toward the the northern Israelites, God told Jonah to go there and proclaim God’s judgment against them.

Presumably, but not necessarily, out of fear, Jonah disobeyed God and tried to run away from God and the call God was placing upon him. He fled to Jaffa and from there sailed to Tarshish, trying to go as far in the opposite direction from Ninevah as he could go. On his way to Tarshish, however, a great storm came over the ship he was on and, after determining that it was Jonah who brought the storm upon their ship, the sailors aboard through him overboard. It was then that he was swallowed up by a gigantic fish (note, the Bible does not say it was a whale).

For three days and three nights, Jonah was in the belly of that fish. He prayed to God during that time, begging God to spare him. In an answered prayer, Jonah is spit out of the fish and saved. God again tells him to go to Nineveh and this time he listens. He goes to that city and fiercely proclaims the judgment of God upon them, but something unforeseen happens: they repent and God forgives them. That’s right! God forgives them. Jonah is enraged! How dare God forgive them! How dare God not follow through on God’s word. How dare God make Jonah out to be a false prophet! How dare God! Jonah was so enraged that God could not comfort him. He sat out in the middle of the desert hoping to die from heat exhaustion and dehydration! That’s how angry Jonah was!

So often, this story is told from the angle of Jonah getting swallowed up by the fish. Usually the focal point is that Jonah tried to run away from God and tried to hide from God’s call. The moral, as it is typically conveyed, is that you cannot run and hide from God, that God’s will comes to pass one way or the other. Yet, if we read the story properly, we will see that this is missing the point. God’s will did not have to come to pass at all. Jonah ran, got thrown overboard, and God saved Jonah by having a big fish swallow him and spit him up on shore. God then told Jonah to go to Nineveh, a demand Jonah could have once again rejected.

The moral of the story has little to do with how Jonah get’s to Nineveh, but has everything to do with Jonah’s attitude the whole way through the story. He did run from his call, for whatever reason, but his attitude was no better when finally did decide to go to Nineveh and deliver God’s message. In fact, one could say he begrudgingly went and was defiant in his answering God’s call. What’s more, when God decided to renege on his promise to bring judgment upon Nineveh, Jonah became downright indignant and refused to have a relationship with God even if that meant denying the protection God was trying to provide in order to save him from dying in the desert.

The lesson here is this: God is calling each and every one of us to serve in ministry. Some of us are called to be prophets, others healers, others still are called to speak in different languages. Whatever you are called to, whatever your gifts are, God is calling you. But God’s call does not come with a guaranteed ending. God’s call does not come with certainty. We have a choice to answer God’s call willing, to turn and run from it, or to obstinantly and defiantly answer it for all of the wrong reasons. Only one of those paths leads to the Kingdom of God. The other two lead to the depths of sea and the scorching hot desert. The choice is ours: God’s way or our way. Let Jonah’s story be a reminder of what our way leads to.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your purpose.” – Aristotle

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart to answer your call  and to use my gifts willingly for the transformation of the world. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Truth Vs. Fact

Read John 14:6-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, NLT)

Tropical big fish in a small fish bowl

One of the things that intrigues me most about the Bible is about how the Bible interacts with history. I love reading the stories about Esther and the Persian King Ahasuerus who, for good reason, is believed to be King Xerxes I of Persia. I love reading about archaeological finds that corroborate the stuff found in the Bible. One such example is the discovery of Caiaphas’s ossuary, which is a chest containing the bones of the high priest who found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and had him handed over to Pontius Pilate. It intrigues me when I learn that we have discovered Pontius Pilate’s name inscribed in stone. This kind of stuff makes me feel like a boy watching Indiana Jones and relishing in the history and the adventure.

As a person who gets excited about history, I find the links between the Bible and historical records to be simply stunning and thought-provoking. I also love studying, apart from the Bible, the times and contexts of the areas that the Bible is referring to. For instance, the Bible says that Abraham came from Ur. Where was Ur? What did it mean to be rooted in the culture of Ur. What sorts of religious, cultural and social practices existed in that land and in that time? Or, what was it like growing up in first century Palestine? What did it mean to be a Jew in that time, what sorts of things did the people of Jesus’ time have to deal/cope with. What did it mean to be poor, sick, lame, imprisoned, etc., in the time of Jesus?

With that said, our culture has become too reliant on history as a measure of truth. For instance, were Adam and Eve literal people? Was the world created in six literal days? Was there really a Noah and did God literally flood the earth, killing everything on it? Did Jonah really get swallowed up by a gigantic fish? Did Elijah really get carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire? For some, perhaps for many in today’s day and age, these questions and more become the focal point. And this focal point leads us to even more questions. If those things weren’t historically accurate, if they didn’t literally happen exactly as it was written (word for word) in the Bible, then should we just discount the Bible as being nothing more than a fanciful fairy-tale, full of lies and superstition?

In today’s time, people equate fact with truth. People tend to hold the following proposition: “if it isn’t factual, then it isn’t true.” Then they will take a story like Jonah and search for historical proof that Jonah existed, they’ll search for historical and scientific evidence that one can be swallowed up by a fish. If they cannot find said evidence, they end up with the following conclusion: “there is no historical evidence to prove that this really happened; therefore, its historicity is in question and we must conlcude the Jonah story is not true.

Yet, the proposition is what lacks in truth and it leads to such a false conclusion. It can be said that in order for something to be truly and/or wholly historical, in must be factual. It can also be said that if something is factual, it must be true.  Yet, while facts are dependent on truth, it does not follow that truth is dependent on fact. Just because something didn’t actually happen, does not mean it is not true! Take Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Was there a Good Samaritan? Did such a Good Samaritan actually exist? Who knows?!?! It was a parable that Jesus told in order to convey the truth of what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Whether, it was a parable drawn from a historical event, or whether it was spun up by Jesus’ masterful storytelling skills in the moment is completely irrelevant!

The point of this is that, while we can get intrigued by the historicity of the Bible, we ought not get caught up in whether it is historical or not. The Bible was not written to be a history text book. Yes, it does include historical events in it. It also includes allegory, poetry, mythology, laws, songs, philosophy, and a whole host of other things. What the Bible was written for was to convey theology and spiritual truth. To stumble on our 21st understanding of history and whether or not the Bible holds up to it is to, quite frankly, foolishly and senselessly miss the point. Rather than seeking the historicity of the Bible, seek truth within its pages, for the Bible is spiritually authoritative and it is a profound part of the foundation of our faith, filled with the Truth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It’s like a finger pointing to the moon, don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all of that heavenly glory.” – Bruce Lee

PRAYER
Lord, rather than facts, fill me with your truth that I may be set free to live out that truth in my life. Amen.

Online Sunday Worship (March 14, 2021)

Unfortunately, due to copyright laws in different regions outside the USA, our service is being blocked in some countries, so we put together two services, a USA version and an international version, which includes a synopsis of the movie clip that is shown in the USA version.

USA Version

The USA worship service premieres at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT) on Sunday mornings on YouTube.

International Version

The international version of our worship service premieres at 12:00 p.m. EST (-500 GMT) this Sunday.

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for March 14, 2021. We will be continuing on in the Lenten worship series entitled, Purple Theory. Today we will be discovering the importance of confession as a spiritual practice, which makes us draw closer closer to God by laying our sin and burdens at the foot of the cross and turning back to God. Let us discover how this discipline can bring us hope, healing, and wholeness.

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 LOOK BACK: Not an Excuse

Read Luke 13:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6 NLT)

mass-crucifixion-appian-way-2I am sure everyone who has been consistently reading these devotions knows that I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead. For those of us who watch the show faithfully, we know that the opening to Season 7 was a doozy. I am not going to give away any major spoilers; however, I am going to discuss this first episode in a way that I think will lend itself to this devotion. The season kicked off where the previous season left off, with Rick Grimes and the leaders from the Alexandria community grouped together in a circle bound up and on their knees.

In the previous season, the Alexandria community decided to help the Hilltop community in fighting against a common threat: The Saviors. These supposed “Saviors” were anything but. They were some pretty bad dudes who were forcing other communities to either work for them or, if the community refused, killing them in brutally awful ways. So the Alexandria community attacked the Saviors outpost and killed everyone there, only to find out that the outpost the attacked was merely one outpost among many. There were far more Saviors than Alexandria could handle, and the plan ultimately backfired. The Alexandria leaders were eventually captured and grouped together in the circle we see them in at the start of Season 7.

What happened following that can only be described as horrific,  brutal and extremely hard to watch. To sum it up and spare you the emotional trauma that TWD fans had to endure, unless you are already among them, a bloodbath ensues. Negan (pronounced Nee-gan), the leader of The Saviors, plays a twisted game of “eeny meeny miny moe”, where he selects the person who is going to die. When he arrives at the person, he brutally bludgeons him to death with a barb-wire wrapped bat that Negan has nicknamed “Lucille”. Trust me when I say this, it wasn’t pretty. It was graphic, numbing, scarring, and certainly painful to watch. But it was not pretty. What’s more, Negan didn’t stop with the first victim, but ended up choosing a second one to kill in the same fashion.

The point of my bringing this up is because we can very easily imagine such violence existing in our world. As much as we try to pretend it doesn’t exist, we know it does. Honestly, it doesn’t take a zombie apocalypse for that kind of stuff to happen. Yet, while such senseless, brutal violence exists in our world, it is also true that most of us (in Western Civilization anyway) have the choice to be sheltered from it. We can choose to not watch the news, to not open our eyes to the suffering of others around the world, and to live as disconnected from such violence as we choose to be. Yes, I realize that some suffer domestic violence and that not everyone has this choice, but most of us do.

With that said and out there, there are many in our world who think that we can excuse ourselves, as Christians, from following in Jesus’ footsteps. We think that Jesus’ teachings were good for his time because he didn’t live in the age of terrorism. We think that Jesus lived in a golden age that allowed for him to be all “tree-huggy” and “hipster” like. First, Jesus was no tree-hugger nor was he a hippie. Those things come from our world not his. Second, if we truly think that Jesus’ world was less dangerous and less violent than ours, it is time for us to head back to World History 101.

God’s honest truth is that while the actions of Negan shock us because we NEVER see anything like that on a regular basis, Jesus and the people in 1st century Palestine would not have been shocked in the slightest. Growing up, Jesus would vividly remember the forest of crosses, upon which thousands of Galilean men and women were crucified on because of their trying to revolt against King Herod. He drew a reference to, and clearly was aware of, Pontius Pilate slaughtering the mob of people he lured to the public square to “talk” to them about their grievances. It is true, Jesus’ world was not like ours. It was much, much worse.

So, the challenge for us today is to show both a bit of honesty and a lot of humility. Comparing the things we face in our world to that of Jesus’ is NOT AN EXCUSE for us not following the Christ. If we believe in Jesus, then it is clear what we ought to be doing. If we don’t believe, or we don’t think that Jesus’ teachings make sense for us today, then at least be honest and admit that you don’t follow Jesus. This is not meant to push anyone way, but to draw the line so that we can honestly evaluate ourselves. As Christians, everything we do, say and believe ought to be measured by THE ONE who is THE WAY in which we follow. I pray that we all have a heart-to-heart with Jesus during this Lenten journey and choose to follow The Way, The Truth and the Life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.” – Pope Francis I
PRAYER
Lord, help me face the truth and shed the excuses. I am yours. I follow you. Amen.

Online Worship for Sunday, February 28, 2021

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for February 28, 2021. We will be continuing on in the new Lenten worship series entitled, Purple Theory. Today we will be discovering the importance of reading Scripture as a daily practice, which makes us healthier through connecting us and drawing us closer to God. Let us not forget about the power of the Bible!

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.