Tag Archives: God

May 22, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.

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

Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.

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

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

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

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

REVISITED: Our Existential Problem

Read Proverbs 3:5-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the LORD grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6, NLT)

EyeKnow

In the Garden of Eden story we learn that humanity’s downfall was in it’s desire to have wisdom and the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. Humanity, in its infancy, sought to become independent of God and doing things for itself. Those things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad; however, the desire to have something NOW, rather than trusting that God will provide those things at the right time, is where the downfall begins.

The author of the Garden narrative saw the attaining of widsom as the downfall of humanity because the “wise” know, and what they know obligates them. In other words, once humanity could discern good from evil, people were then obligated to choose to do good over evil. But that knowledge wasn’t they only knowledge the ended up acquiring; rather, they also attained self-knowledge.

The story recounts how, following eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They became keenly aware of themselves and became self-aware and self-conscious. In the feeling of shame of their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to cover their private parts. Prior to them eating the forbidden fruit, of course, those parts were not private and there was no need to be ashamed of them.

This is where I believe the real fall took place. Prior to the deception of the serpent on the tree, Eve and Adam saw each other as one. They did not look at the other as an entity unto themselves. They did not see each other as being separate, distinct, unique or individual. Instead, they saw one another as complimentary parts of the same whole. Hence Adam’s reaction at the creation of Eve, “ “At last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'” (Genesis 3:23 NLT)

Yet, when the forbidden fruit was eaten, man became separated from woman, and woman became separated from man. They hid their bodies away from each other, and then hid themselves away from God. This is important to note because, in this we see what was common understanding in the ancient world: God created us to be in community, to be one with each other, and when we fail to do so we not only separate ourselves from each other but from God as well.

What compouds this reality even more is the fact that humans, even though they had been separated from each other down gender lines (and many more lines that followed that), they still believed they had knowledge of each other. What’s more, humanity grew in confidence in its ability to discern right from wrong, except that it was no longer utilizing that discernment in self-reflective ways, but in ways of judgement against other human beings.

Whether we take this story literally or not is really beside the point. Humans were created to be subjects, in that we are under the dominion of our own personal thoughts,  and are subjective by nature. While we think we know, and we think we have the ability to grow in our knowldedge, the truth is that we are limited in our knowledge, if we know anything at all.

Thus, our discernment is really based more off of what we think as opposed to what we, strictly speaking, know. The best we can say is that we think we know, which betrays the fact that our knowledge is dependent on our thoughts which are processed through our own subjectivity. Confused? What should be pulled from is this, humans have the ability to discern what is right and wrong; however, as subjective human beings, we cloud our judgment of right and wrong with our own personal feelings and justifications. We do so to our advantage and often to the detriment of others.

We should NOT rely soley on our own ability to discern right from wrong, but we should rely on God’s. What that means is that we will envelope ourselves in communities of service and loving accountability (aka churches), we will study the Bible (and its historical contexts), we will model ourselves off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and we will begin to live in a way that truly reflects our TOTAL TRUST in God. Acknowledge your subjectivity, refrain from judgment, embrace humility, and allow God to guide you in your discernment.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When the Bible says to seek and cherish Wisdom, it is pointing us to Jesus Christ who is God’s Wisdom personified.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me NOT with my understanding, but with your wisdom. Amen.

REVISITED: Deception

Read Genesis 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NRSV)

Serpent

When we think of the Garden of Eden, we think of Adam and Eve. We think of a vast and luscious garden filled to the max with vegetables and fruits. We think of humanity and the animal world living side-by-side in peace with one another. We think of people living in a complete and perfect relationship with God and of pure, unadulterated innocence.

With that said, let’s be honest. That is not all we think of when we think of the Garden of Eden; rather, we think of human sin, of the forbidden tree with the forbidden fruit. We think of humanity’s desire to have knowledge of Good and Evil, to be like God with the ability to judge. We think of the Eve being duped by the deceptive snake that caused the fall of humanity from innocence, from paradise, and from the grace of God.

All of this, of course, assumes that we are reading the story correctly and not reading into it our own theological understanding that has been imparted to us by people within our own traditions. On the one hand, there can be no doubt that the Garden of Eden story tells a tale of a perfect creation that ends up becoming less than desirable due to sin. There can be no doubt that paradise falls into the hellish reality that we find in our world today. There can be no doubt that the Garden narrative tells the tale of how the evil in this world came to be.

Beyond what is true in our telling of the story, we often view the serpent as the deceptive one. It is true that the snake was revealed as the most cunning (עָרוּם, ‛ârûm, pronounced aw-room’) of all of the animals. Cunning, of course, is the skill of being able to attain one’s end through deceit. So, the snake was written in as a deceptive character for sure. With that said, the snake’s deception came through the truth, that Adam and Eve would not die (physically at least) if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Yet, the snake was not the only deceptive one and, contrary to popular belief, Eve was not guilty of causing the fall of humankind. Let us not forget that Eve was never given the direct command from God not to eat from the tree; rather, Adam was. The story assumes the reader understands that Eve was given her instructions from Adam, but one can also presuppose that she wasn’t given much more information. Eve was deceived by the cunning serpent, but Adam should have known better.

When God finally tracked them down and asked Adam if they had eaten from the forbidden tree, Adam responded with deception of his own. “The woman ate the fruit and then gave it to me.” While that is technically the truth, it is deceptive in that it implies that the real one at fault is Eve. It is the first example of humanity throwing the other, the innocent, under the proverbial bus. People will do anything to cover their own hides, and that is exactly what Adam does. He points the finger at Eve in order to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions.

This sin does not stop with Adam but passes down to his son Cain who murdered his brother Abel and tries to deceptively dismiss himself of the responsibility of that murder. From that point on, humanity became mired in its sins and the propensity to pass the buck and place the blame on others rather than taking responsibility.

In God, there is no deception and in God we cannot hide from the truth. For those who live in deceit, the presence of God is a scary thing because it brings them into the presence of the truth, which sears their souls with their responsibility in their sins. For those who live in the truth, they grow from their shortfalls and sins into a life that is centered on God and on community.

Rather than passing the buck, they take responsibility for their mistakes, pay the consequences, and grow into better people. This path, not the former, is the one that God is calling us all to. If we follow it, if we follow the path of the truth, then we will rise above the deceit and become godly people of character and integrity and we will begin to put an end to the deceptive work of the serpent in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
You may be able to deceive yourself and others, but you cannot deceive God who is the author of Truth.
PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your truth, no matter how painful it is, so that I may live in your light. Amen.

May 15, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.

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

Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.

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

Welcome to our JOY Fellowship Worship Service for May 15. Today we learn that that to be a witness is to be empowered by experiencing the risen Christ to point others to an encounter with the infinite risen Christ. Our encounter (mountain experiences) with the risen Christ empower us to be witnesses going out to make other witnesses beyond our church buildings.

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

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

REVISITED: Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

TheWitch01

The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like seraded steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.

REVISITED: Walls

Read Joshua 6:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus replied, ‘Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!’” (Mark 13:2, NLT)

dungeon-tunnel_0005

In my late teens (17-19 years old.), I was rebellious against authorities. This, honestly, is nothing too uncommon. Teenagers are trying to define who they are and what their purpose is. They are able to think for themselves, do things for themselves and yet they are still very much dependent on their parents and/or guardians. Older teens tend to have more and more responsibility put on their heads and at eighteen they are considred responsible enough to hold guns, shoot at people and get shot at in defense of their country; however, they are not considered adult enough to smoke cigarettes, have a beer, and gamble, among other things.

So, it goes without saying that I had a bit of angst toward authorities when I was a teenager. One of the songs that I always related too was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” I think the lyrics really point to the distrust of the system and the realization that, as much as one wanted to be an individual, we are all becoming “just another brick in the wall.” In an individualist society such as the American society, there can be nothing scarier than realizing that your individuality is more of a ruse, more of an illusion, than it is a reality.

As a teenager dealing with angst toward the system, distrust for the authorities, and a general distrust of my peers, I found myself building walls all around me. I literally boxed myself in and built up walls all around me with the hope that no one could ever break through. In doing so, I literally shut nearly everyone (barring a few people) out of my life.

In effect, by putting up walls, I ended up walling myself in my own personal sepulchre. The result of that can be seen in the following poem I wrote back when I was only seventeen years old:

Visionary Madness

Destruction weighing heavily on my mind,
Confusion restraining my next move.
Darkness seeping into my eyes,
And attacking my vision.

Tormented, twisted paths of the brain,
A deranged, sadistic grin.
Hate distorts my evolution,
With a primitive dream.

Disconcerted by surrounding noises,
Fearing shadows on the wall.
Coughing up bloody solutions,
The vengeance of an angry ulcer.

Destruction, thoughts into action;
Restrained movement, no longer confused.
Blind to my surroundings
From a visionary madness within.

Human beings tend to build walls for all sorts of reasons, but the underlying reason for wall building is fear. I built up walls as a teenager because I was afraid to be vulnerable before my peers and others. I had been picked on and bullied throughout elementary school, was never popular, and had very few friends in High School (especially my freshman and sophmore years). So I built up walls to keep people out and as a result I felt even more isolated, alone, afraid, and vulnerable.

The fact is that walls are built to keep people separate from each other, and when we are separated we can no longer hear each other, see each other, and/or connect with one another. The church is excellent at building up walls. We build them around our theologies, our denominations, human sexuality, sexual identity, gender, religion, doctrine and an endless host of other things.

All those walls do is keep us separated from each other. Today’s challenge is for us to begin tearing down our walls and to reconnect with each other in divine community. To do so is to honor God. So, tear down those walls, commune with one another, and love one another regardless of the cost. That is what being “Christian” is all about.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Walls don’t make us safe; on the contrary, they seal our fate and entomb us.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to shatter the walls I’ve built around me and others. Amen.

May 8, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.

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

Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.

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

Welcome to our JOY Fellowship Worship Service for May 8. Today we learn that our faith in Jesus requires us to go all in. To not do so not only pushes Christ aside, it fails to witness the power and glory of God to a world desperately in need..

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

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

REVISITED: The Path to the Dark Side

Read 2 Timothy 1:6-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31 CEB)

yoda-jedi-council

One of my favorite film series of all times is the Star Wars saga. I grew up watching the original series of films, “Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, and “The Return of the Jedi”. While many people criticized the newer films, finding them to be more about special effects and less to do with plot and character development, I actually disagree with that. The Phantom Menace for example, which was my least favorite of the films, was still filled with the same story and character development as the others. And we find great wisdom in it as well.

In it we come across a young Anakin Skywalker who, as all fans know right from the get-go, will one day become Darth Vader. With that said, he wasn’t always bad and, in fact, a Jedi comes to see great hope in his abilities to naturally tap into the force and so he decides to train him. In order for Anakin to be trained, however, he would have to leave his mom (both he and his mom were slaves) as the Jedi could only secure his release. As it would any 9-year-old boy, having to leave his mother behind devastates and distresses him and he vows to come back and free her one day.

Yet, before any future Jedi can be trained, the council has to approve the person to be trained. Thus, the Jedi brings Anakin before the council to be questioned and, hopefully, approved. While they are impressed with Anakin’s natural ability to sense and use the force, Yoda (who is the head of the council) is concerned for this young boy as well. He states that he senses fear in Anakin. “You have much fear in you. You fear the loss of your mother, don’t you?” Yoda interrogated. Anakin replied defensively, “What’s that have to do with anything?”

Yoda’s face turned even more concerned. “Everything,” he exlaimed back! “Fear is the path that leads to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hatred. Hatred leads to suffering.” What Yoda is trying to convey to young Anakin is that, while fear is a natural part of life, if we allow it to control us it will lead us to dark and, often, deadly places. This is a profound truth and we don’t have to think far or wide in order to reach it. Look at post-World War I Germany. It lost a major world war, had been dumped with the expenses of that war by those who fought against them, and they had fallen into a terrible depression. Along came a young man, who was a former soldier, and would-be leader, who sensed the fear of the people, drummed up that fear, and used that fear to scapegoat groups of people as being the ones holding Germany down. Ultimately, Adolph Hitler’s personal fears, as well as the fears of Germany which he preyed upon, led to the rising up of one of the greatest evils in modern human history. Yes, fear is the path that leads to the dark side.

We live in such a fear-driven world right now. We are a people who are fearful of each other, we’re fearful of our leaders, we’re fearful of people with different politcial viewpoints, we’re fearful of people from other countries, we’re fearful of people from other religions, and we’re fearful of terrorism and a very real existenital threat to our lives and to our way of life. All of these things strike fear into the hearts of people; however, it is in that fear that I hear people suggesting all sorts of things that, in another time and place, they would be horrified at hearing others even suggest.

For us, the question is not whether or not we will experience fear. We will! The question should be for us, in the voice of Yoda, is this: “What, to fear, will your response be? Hmmmm?” Will you succumb to your fears and place your faith wildly in the winds of rapid response? Or will you place your faith in force…rather, in the presence of God? Will you let your fears drive you, or will you let your God guide you? The one way leads to the dark side (e.g. anger, hatred, and suffering), the other way leads to forgiveness, mercy, compassion, hope, love, joy and peace. Yours to make, young padiwan, the choice is.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“To him who is in fear everything rustles.” – Sophocles
PRAYER
Lord, drive my fears far from me, for they are not of you. Fill me, rather, with faith and hope and love. Amen.

May 1, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Worship Service in Holland Hall: 9:00 a.m.

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

Worship Service in Main Sancutary: 10:30 a.m.

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

Welcome to our JOY Fellowship Worship Service for May 1. Today we learn that we are not loved by Jesus because we are perfect; rather, we are being perfected because we are loved.

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

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

REVISITED: Just Imagine

Read Zechariah 7:9-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:11 NLT)

Different_Shoe_Day

One of the things that God has gifted me with is the ability to imagine myself in other people’s situations, to have empathy, to have compassion and, as a result, to have a broader understanding of a situation because I was able to see mutliple sides and/or angles. This is something that comes rather natural to me and, because of that, I can be a rather sensitive person. Through the years, I have learned to manage my sensitivity so that it works for me and not against me; however, more often than not, my being sensitive has been an asset and not a curse.

Growing up there were times, even for me, where it was hard to see outside of my own circumstances. For instance, when people would make fun of me or bully me, it was hard to see past being bullied and made fun of. In those times, my mom would impart a wisdom that sticks with me until this very day. She used to tell me, “Todd, you don’t truly know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in there shoes. You don’t know what is going on to cause people to be the way they are. You don’t know what is going on in their home lives. You don’t know what kind of hurt is built up inside.” She would go on, “Not that what they’re doing is right. There are other ways to handle hurt and pain, but they are choosing to lash out at you and, no doubt others. So pray for them, Todd. Pray that they may be healed from whatever is hurting them.”

Those words still resonate in me to this very day. In fact, when I look around I see a world filled with people who are lost in their own situations and circumstances. Most people don’t know how to put themselves in another’s shoes, they don’t take the time to think about why someone is behaving the way they do or saying the things that they say. There is always more to a story than one side. We are very adept at knowing OUR SIDE of the story; however, we so often fail at seeing any other side but OUR SIDE.

I am not saying this to excuse or to take away accountability from those who are doing wrong. People need to be held accountable and action DOES need to be taken; however, I am saying this because people, far too often, react in negative ways based off of their internal emotions. We often fly off of the handle without giving even a moment’s pause to reflect upon what was done and what the appropriate response to it might be. We so often fail to ask the person why they are doing the things they’re doing and, even if we cannot ask them, we fail to pray to God for their well-being. What kind of world would this be if people started praying…seriously praying…before they acted? What kind of world would this be if people tried to put themselves in other people’s shoes?

Perhaps instead of being quick to judge communities for protesting police brutality, we might imagine ourselves as minorities and imagine what discrimination might be like. Perhaps instead of being quick to judge police for every shot fired, we might put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what being a police officer caught in a violent situation might be like. And those are just two examples pulled from current events. Just think of what this world would be like if people stopped judging, started praying, and allowed God to lead them in their against the circumstances that rise against them. Jesus of Nazareth did that. The Apostles did that. St. Francis did that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did that. Mother Teresa did that. Mahatma Gandhi did that. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did that. Those who have done such things have turned around, taken the appropriate course of action in their given situations, and have made a positive difference in our world. Just imagine what such a world would be like if we all started following their examples.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your compassion and insight so that I am have understanding and act in accordance with justice and mercy. Amen.