Tag Archives: Courage

May 2, 2021 – Sunday Worship Service

Worship service premieres at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)
on Sunday, April 25, 2021 on YouTube.

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for May 2, 2021. Today we will be discovering the importance of listening to God and leveling the playing field for others. Let us discover how this 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.

RECLAIM, Episode 8: Listening

RECLAIM premieres on YouTube every Saturday at 9:00 a.m. EST (GMT -400).

In this brand new video series, Pastor Todd of First United Methodist Church of Newton, NJ brings passionate awareness and helpful tips on various transformational Christian practices and theology. Each episode will inspire and motivate spiritual growth through time-tested practices and and wisdom.

This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM seeking after justice as a God-given requirement. Pastor Todd discusses what justice is and what it means to seek it out.

God’s People, part 113: Esther

Read Esther 1-2


“Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭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 113: Esther. We have, up to this point, spent quite a bit of time looking at the Jewish people, their leadership, their priests and their prophets who returned to Jerusalem following Cyrus’ decree that they were no longer exiled and could return home. While many certainly did return, in waves as has been stated in previous installments of this series, the reality is that many also chose NOT to leave.

Think about this for a minute. How many of you have had to move? Following moving, following settling in and creating a new home for yourselves, did you feel like uprooting once again? What’s more, many of the Jews living at the time of Cyrus had been born in Babylon/Persia and that was the only home they had ever known. Persia WAS their home, why would they wish to return?

This is the reality that we come upon in the Book of Esther, which is a narrative centered on a diaspora Jewish girl who became Queen of Persia. Before we get into the nitty gritty of this story, it is important to note that this is the ONLY book in the entire Bible that does not explicitly mention God. There is, in fact, no mention of God at all, but it can be presumed a belief of God is implicit in the story and the actions of Esther and Mordecai.

Esther was born in Persia as Hadassahm, a Jewish girl in a fairly well-off family. As a young woman, perhaps as young as 14 years old, she was taken from her home and from her cousin Mordecai (who had adopted as his own daughter when her parents died) and brought to King Ahasuerus’ palace to live in his harem as a sex slave with benefits. What were the “benefits”, you might be asking? Simply put, if she was found to be super “pleasing” to the king, she could get picked to be his queen. Yay, right?

Hold your horses, for this is not as “awesome” as it might sound. First off, a Jewish girl losing her virginity pre-marriage would have been shameful to her and her family. That act would have defiled her and forced her to break the covenant between her and God. Secondly, if she were to be picked as queen, she would not rule equally with the king. The queen’s job was to be the king’s plaything and to be an appendage of his at public functions whenever he demanded. That’s about it. Oh, wait, of course there was one other function: to bare the king a male heir.

She would be taken care of and could have whatever the king afforded her; however, it would come a very steep cost, one that Hadassah would have wished she didn’t have to pay. But she wasn’t so lucky and she went to live with the king, taking on the Persian name Esther so that the king would not know she was Jewish. She hoped that would give her a better chance to be married, which would at least give her back some of her honor.

I recently heard podcast hosts criticize Esther saying that she should not be looked up to as a role modely because of her “immoral” character. In fact, they likened her to Stormy Daniels. This, of course, has to do with the fact that she lived in a harem and had premarital sex with another man. Let me just say that this is horrendous theology. She was no more immoral than Daniel was for serving the Babylonian king. Neither of them had a choice. What’s more, implicit to the story is the fact that God (again, not explicitly mentioned in the narrative) gave her the strength and the courage to overcome her terrible circumstance and become the savior of her people.

So, back to the narrative. Esther did find favor with the king and was picked to be his king. Overtime, however, he bored with her and didn’t call her to be in his presence very frequently. During this period of isolation, her uncle contacted her and informed her of a plot by Haman, the King’s advisor, to commit genocide against the Jews. He wanted to kill them all. Though hesitant at first, Mordecai convinced Esther to do the right thing and go before the king unannounced, an act that could have gotten her killed as it was illegal to be in the king’s presence without being invited. Esther did just that and, to sum it up quickly, she was able to inform the king of the plot.

Esther, like the rest of us, was afraid to act and hesitated. Even if it was momentary, it was a moment that showed her humanity and her fear of the unknown. That makes her relateable to us as we fear to do the right thing. How many of us stay silent against wrongdoing, for fear that we might get caught up in a conflict? How many of us fear “stirring the pot” and calling the status quo into question because it could backfire in our faces? Let Esther be a reminder that we can AND SHOULD overcome such fear and trust that God is calling us for such a time as this.


Remember, “for such a time as this” we are where we are, being asked by God to do what is right.


Holy Lord, while you don’t put bad circumstances upon us, you do ask us and strengthen us to do what is right when those circumstances arise. Give me the strength to rise up to righteousness. Amen.

God’s People, part 32: Gideon

Read Judges 6-8

“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.” (Hebrews 11:32 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.

GideonPart 32: Gideon. If there is one thing that is consistent, it is that people forget quickly the things that lead them astray. This is true in the accounts of the judges. Following each judge, it reads, “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…” This is usually followed by God handing them over to their enemies. While that is the way the authors articulated it, what really happened was that the Israelites got too big for their britches and found out that they were no match against some of their enemies. God was not punishing them; rather, their own sinful propensity of ignoring God left them facing the unintended consequences of their own designs.

Out of those periods of unintended consequences, rose up new judges who were being called to bring people back to God. Gideon, was one among many of those judges. When one reads the three chapter account of Gideon, it is amazing how he was able to not only defeat the enemies of the Israelites, but he did so without ever forgetting who empowered him. When I think of Gideon, I think of people like George Washington who, after winning the Revolutionary War (a miraculous feat unto itself) and serving two terms as the first President of the United States of America, stepped down from the seat of power in order to hand it off to the next person in line.

Gideon was such a leader, for sure! When the Israelites begged the victorious Gideon to rule over them as a king, and to place his sons up as his heirs and successors, Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 NLT)! What faith, and faithfulness, it must have took for him to turn aside the lure of power.

Still, Gideon did not start off as such a commanding person of faith. As God called him, he found himself doubting that God was calling him. He puts God to the test to prove that God was really calling him. Even after the LORD proved to Gideon that it was God calling him, he still found himself fearful and in doubt. When God asks him to destroy the altar of Baal, and to cut down the pole dedicated to Asherah, he does so in the middle of the night so nobody sees him. Of course, one they see that both were destroyed, they end up finding out it was him anyway.

The point of this is that while Gideon’s story ends with him being shown as a warrior who protected his people against the vicious Midianites, he was far from perfect. He hesitated when he knew that God was calling him, stalling out of fear of failure as well as death. Instead of boldly stepping out in faith, he was sheepish and cowardly at first. Yet God did not hold that against Gideon at all. In fact, God humored Gideon in his tests and in his initial cowardice.

The point here is this, God is calling each of us into service. God is calling us to defend the defenseless, to speak out for those who have no voice, to protect those who are weak, to serve those in need of help, and to help people return to a right relationship with God. God has been calling us all our lives to such a divine purpose, but many of us have either ignored the call, or have been ignorant to it.

What’s more, when we do answer God here or there, it is often in a way that mirrors Gideon’s initial response. Yet God still called Gideon and patiently waited for Gideon to do what he was created to do, and God still calls you and is waiting for your repsonse as well. If you respond, if you make the effort to continually respond, over time you will become stronger in your faith and will begin to boldly step out with faith in service of God.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” – St. Augustine

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief so that I may grow in my faith as Gideon did, and answer your call to serve boldly. Amen.

Princes and Princesses

Read Psalm 31:19-24

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT)

Cinderella-2015-film-reviewBack in March, my family and I went to see Disney’s long awaited live-action film adaptation of Cinderella. As can be expected with anything Disney, it was simply magical. The film was very true to the spirit of their original animated classic; however, they updated it with more background and more context which led the audience to better understanding of who girl was and how she got the name “Cinderella”. Lily James was brilliant as this rags-to-riches princess and the entire cast added depth to their characters.

Since most people have seen the original Cinderella, I cannot really spoil the story since the film follows the same basic plot. This film centers on a girl named Ella. She was pretty well off and she lived in a home with her father and her mother. It was a happy life and she was a happy child but, as is always the case, happiness is fleeting and soon that happiness came to a bitter end. Ella’s mother fell ill and the first of many dark shadows was cast over her life. In her dying moments, her mother looked up at her and uttered these words, “Have courage and be kind.” With that, her mother breathed her last.

Those words inspire and define Ella throughout her life; however, they would become more and more challenging to live by. Her father ends up meeting another woman, one who is looking to be upwardly mobile, and this woman has two daughters of her own. They are cruel, prissy, and spiteful like their mother, and they treat Ella poorly. What’s worse, her father never returns home and dies while out on a business trip. Ella’s world comes crashing down around her and it seems like the darkness has finally won. Her wicked step-mother and step-sisters enslave her and make her live in the attic. They mock her and abuse her. It is because she looked dirty as a result of being made to literally do all of the dirty work, that she got named “Cinder” Ella…hence the name, Cinderella.

But this Cinderella does not give up hope…ever. Nor does she let her step-mother and her step-sisters change who she is. Rather, she keeps on remembering her mom’s last words, “Have courage and be kind.” While she does learn to stand up to her abusers, and she does eventually find away to leave them and their abuse (as the abused should never, ever, put up or stay with an abuser), she never stops having compassion on them. She loves them even though she doesn’t like them. She never let’s them control who she is. While she didn’t have control over anything else, she had control over who she was and who her mother (aka God) called her to be.

I would say that in her death, Ella’s mother parted the greatest gift to her child: LOVE. It is true that it takes courage to love and to be kind. Ella had that courage, and like Ella God is calling us to have the courage it takes to LOVE and to be kind. If you are abused or in an abusive relationship have the courage to do what it takes to get out of that relationship, seek help from anyone who will give it, even if that means going to the authorities if need be. Have courage and be kind and love yourself. God does not want you to be abused. Even for those of us who are not abused, we all have circumstances in our lives that can easily alter our call to have courage and be kind. Don’t let the dark days of life snuff the bright, bold and warm days of LIVING. God calls us all to have courage, to be kind, and to LOVE. Like Cinderella, we may have cinder and soot on the outside of us; however, within us are the princes and princesses of God’s glorious kingdom.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia

Lord, I want to utilize the courage you have given me in order to be kind and to love. Guide me in this, I pray. Amen.