Tag Archives: God

REVISITED: The Unknown God

Read Acts 17:16-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)

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One of my favorite accounts of Paul is in Acts, where he traveled to Athens, Greece. There he walked among the temples and the markets, marveling at all of the different sights that he saw. Just think of a large city you’ve yet to visit and imagine what it would be like to go there for the first time. The towering buildings, the crowds of people bustling by, the bright lights and the busy roads. Paul would have been equally amazed upon arriving at Athens, the epicenter of western philosophy and cultural significance.

While walking through the temples, he saw the great statue of Zeus, as well as the statue of Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens. Paul even saw an altar that had inscribed on it: “to the unknown god”. Paul was taken back by that. These people had a god for everything and for every god they had a statue; however, they didn’t just stop there, they also alotted for gods they might not know. I can imagine the excitement welled up in Paul, who was a deeply educated person. I imagine that the creative wheels began to churn in his philosophical mind.

Before going on with this story, before I tell you what Paul did in response to this experience he had, I would like to tell you what Paul did not do. He did not scoff at or reject the Greek culture. He did not storm out of Athens in order to get far away from “those heathens” or “those pagans.” He did not march up to the town center and begin to tell the people there that they had it ALL WRONG. He did not tell them things in a language foreign to them, nor did he expect them to come to him to learn about what he believed in.

I raise up what he DID NOT DO because I find that those are the exact things many Christians and many churches are doing. We scoff and/or reject the culture. I have seen churches collect “secular” CDs and DVDs from their youth and destroy them so that they purge their youth of the secular culture. We  often look at non-Christians and/or those who do not attend church judgmentally, we approach people with different beliefs and let them know how right we are and how they should see things our way. What’s more, we also speak to them using church language if we speak to them at all. That leads me to my final observation, churches often expect people to walk through their doors seeking “the truth” rather than the church seeking to bring the truth out to others.

Paul did none of the above; rather, what Paul did was brilliant. He took something from their own culture and religion (the altar to the unknown god) and used it to spark a conversation that led people to a conversation about Jesus Christ. He did not scoff at them, but praised “how religious” they were. He did not judge them, but praised them for having such devotion that they would leave room for an god not known to them. He did not tell them what imbiciles they were and that they should listen to him and he spoke to them using their own language and their own culture as points of reference. Finally, he did not wait for them to find him, but he found them and intitiated the conversation.

This sort of ministry model is the one that the church needs to begin to master if it is going to reach those who are desperately in need of the hope, the healing, and the wholeness that Christ has to offer. The church needs to get off of its pedastal and humble itself so that it can effectively engage with people at THEIR  level. The church needs to heed Christ’s warning to “judge not” and start recognizing the good in people who are different from them. It needs to listen as much as it speaks and it needs to speak in a language that makes sense to the people it is speaking to.

Most importantly, the church needs to realize that it is NOT SOMETHING SPECIAL for spectators to come and see. The church, to the contrary, is the body of Christ and is called to be out where the people are. The church is called to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world. The building should be nothing more than a resource to help in that mission. I pray that you will read today’s Scripture and reflect on Paul’s ministry model. I pray that we all will be challenged to see the wisdom in it, so that we can all become better witnesses of God’s unconditional, inviting, and transformational love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Evangelism is not an option for the Christian life.” – Luis Palau

PRAYER
Lord, help me to reach people where they are, with words and deeds that they understand, so that I may effectively witness to the Gospel. Amen.

REVISITED: Psalms

Read Psalm 137

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? Why are You so far away when I groan for help?” (Psalms 22:1 NLT)

psalms

One of the most profoundly beautiful, haunting, and human books in all the Bible is the book of Psalms. It is literally a collection of poems and/or songs that were written by people who were going through a widely varying range of emotions. Some are extremely happy and ecstatic. Some are extremely melancholy with a sense of foreboding loss. Some are filled with hopes, others are filled with fears. Some are an emotional mulatto rollercoaster ride that truly leave the reader hanging on every word for the duration of the ride.

Some of the Psalms are filled with love, and some are filled with bitter anger and hatred. One such Psalm, number 137, is written by a person who is grieving the loss of his or her homeland in the midst of exile. The smoke could still be seen arising on the horizon from Jerusalem. The former jewel city of Judah, was lying in ruins. Bodies of the dead men, women and children still lying up and down the streets, which were running with the blood of the innocent. The author of Psalm 137 is bitter, angry and wants justice. Correction: This psalmist wants vengeance!

I can relate with the psalmists because I, too, write poetry and I have written my own psalms in the past. Here is one such Psalm that I wrote during a time where I was going through a pretty rough situation:

My God! O, my God!
Help me to escape
This darkened, shadowy
Valley of peril and death.
I am not far away from
The edge of the cliff.
Destruction awaits me
And despair consumes me.

O, the melancholy kills me!
Sadness enslaves me!
Should I be angered by
This senseless betrayal?
Or should I embrace my fate
Like an outcast child
Who is abused and abandoned
By those closest him?

My Lord, You are also outcast.
My God, you have been rejected!
I should rejoice, and praise my God
As Jesus first instructed.
It is hard to endure the pain.
Help me, O LORD,
To remain humble and to be
Made righteous in your sight.

Help me, my God,
to go your way.
As long as I dwell South of Heaven,
I shall be your disciple.
You will never leave me,
Nor will you forsake me,
For you are always faithful!
You never abandon your children.

You never discourage
Nor do you tear down your beloved.
Your love is encompassing
And your forgiveness is endless!
You are always present
And you are full of compassion!
Give me strength,
And grant me wisdom.

Bless the fruits that I produce
For your Kingdom.
I only serve you, my God,
Only you, do I worship!
Your name is EL Shaddai;
You are everything I need.
Your name is EL-Roi;
You know my heart!

Your name is EL Haggadol;
Great is your glory!
Your name is EL Chayim;
I am your child!
Your name is Immanuel;
I know you are with me.
God knows my brokenness
And continues carrying me.

My God, my Lord,
My everlasting Father,
Do not pass me by
But give me sanctuary.
Hear my petition, my God!
I cry out to you.
Let not your disciple
Succumb to his enemies!

I don’t normally share my poetry; however, psalms are meant to be read or sung collectively by the people. They witness both to our brokenness as human beings and they also witness to the power of God in our lives. If God can walk the Psalmist of Psalm 137 through the horrific tragedy of the Babylonian Exile, then God can walk me through the situations I find myself in. If God walks me through my situations (and God does)…I who am an unworthy sinner…surely God walks you through yours too!

Not only do I challenge you to journey through the Psalms, I also challenge you to begin to share your psalms with others as well. You don’t have to be a talented poet or songwriter to share your psalms, and there is no rule that states psalms can only be written in words on paper. Your psalm is any expression that shows your faith journey and how God is working in your life. Show people that they are not alone. Show them that you, too, have periods of doubt, of despair, of hope, of happiness, of joy, of anger, and of every other human emotion. Take the mask off and show people that they are not alone and, then, be willing to walk with them as they share with you that you are not alone either. That is what the Psalms do for us, and that is what we are called to do for others as well! Make your life a living psalm.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalms 46:1 NLT)


PRAYER
Lord, I lift my psalms up to you. Make my life a living psalm, a witness to all. Amen.

February 12, 2023 – 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 live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for February 5. Today we learn that with Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate expression of love, we can surmount any situation we find ourselves in and we can ultimately love others as God loves them.

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: Believed

Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I will comfort you there in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child.” (Isaiah 66:13)

conjuring2

I used to faithfully watch the show, “Ghost Adventures.” The show aired on the Travel Channel, and it followed these three independent paranormal investigators who would lock themselves into a supposedly haunted building and try to agitate any spirits who might be there and waiting. I always found it fascinating because they were exploring the unknown and some of the evidence they would find, so far as I could tell, was quite compelling.

I just recently watched “The Conjuring 2”, which follows Ed and Loraine Warren as they investigate the Enfield House. For those of you not already aware, the Enfield House is one of the most documented “hauntings” ever. Located in the London area, Enfield was called “the Amittyville of England”, because of some similarities between the two cases and also the fact that the two hauntings happened in the late ‘70s, around the same time as each other.

Needless to say, tales about hauntings and possessions have always intrigued me because they seem so out there, and fanciful, that one is left wondering if they are ACTUALLY true. On the other hand, so many people throughout history have had some sort of paranormal experience that there must be some nugget of truth, right? Whether that is right or wrong, these films certainly capture the imaginiation and cause one’s skin to crawl when watching them.

As I was watching the Conjuring 2, I also picked up on something equally as intriguing. The story is about a girl and her family who live in a house that increasingly becomes an inhospitable place to live. To start out, we find out that the dad has bailed on the family and left them to fend for themselves. We don’t ever find out why; however, we see the results of his decision to abandon his family. The mother is left to figure out how to support her children and pay the bills. The daughters are each struggling to deal with the loss of their father.

The youngest daughter, Janet, is being bullied by other kids, who are calling her vulgar names and tormenting her. To add insult to injury, when the haunting begins to take place the mom calls the police come to investigate as she believes someone could be in the house. After witnessing paranormal activity, they report the “haunting” to the media who then interview the family and put it all over the tele (aka TV). Fojllowing that, all of Janet’s remaining friends abandon her, join in making fun of her and/or totally avoid her.

In other words, Janet’s life was HELL! The Catholic Church ended up sending Ed and Lorraine Warren to investigate because they did not want to risk their reputation on a potential hoax. While that is both understandable and a theological travesty at the same time, Ed and Lorraine do show up and they DO believe this girl and her family. That’s enough of the back story without giving anything else away.

The point of this is that, what ultimately ended up bringing healing to this girl and her family was the fact that someone ACTUALLY believed them. Someone took the time to listen to them, empathize with them, and not dismiss what they were going through. There is nothing worse than suffering through something and no one truly caring enough to understand or believe.

The challenge for us all is to be more empathetic and compassionate with others. We should believe them when they say their struggling. Even if it becomes discerned that they are not struggling in the ways they have expressed, it does not mean they are not struggling at all. We never truly know what they are going through and Christ calls us to witness to the compassionate, healing presence of God in the lives of others. We are not their judges, we are their servants. We should be open and willing to be present in the lives of those who are down and out.  We would want no less for ourselves and we should be willing to do to others as we would have them do to us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”  – Albert Schweitzer

PRAYER
Lord, guide to those who need help and grow a more compassionate and empathetic spirit within me. Amen.

REVISITED: Running in the Rain

Read Matthew 5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When clouds are full, they empty rain on the earth; whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.” (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

Running in the RainTypically, my days to jog are Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Every week I plan on running first thing in the morning on those days so that I can continue to keep my heart, body and soul healthy. With that said, a few days ago I decided that I was going to change things up a bit. I had a lot of work to do, as well as having to travel to different places to accomplish some of the work and so I decided that I would run later in the day. This was on this past Tuesday, and the weather was about as wonderful as it had been in a while.

My wife and daughters had to get their teeth worked on at the dentist and I would go running at a park I used to run at while waiting for them.  Now, have you ever noticed that when you plan on doing something, the universe seems to align itself against you and your plans?  This is what seems to always happen and certainly, as we were getting closer to the dentist, the drops of rain started to fall on to the windshield.

I dropped my wife and daughters off at the dentist and tried to hurry over to the park, but by the time I got there it began to rain steadily. I was totally bummed out; I mean, if I had only ran earlier I could’ve gotten a run in with sunlight and everything. Yet, there I was looking out at the dismal gray, rainy and dusk filled skies wondering whether I should run or not. And that is when I decided…I was going to run.

I ran two and a half miles and was soaked to the bone; however, I realized that I totally enjoyed myself out in the rain. Sure I was wet, and I did spend the remainder of the time waiting for my wife with my socks and shoes hanging over the heater vents, yet there I also felt good about accomplishing that run in the rain. I felt good about not giving up on what I knew I needed to do, just because the circumstances were different.

Often times, we go through our lives hoping that every day will bear sun and warmth, that every day the universe will align itself with our hopes and dreams. Yet, the reality is that the universe isn’t aligned with any of our hopes and dreams. Nor, is the weather or anything else for that matter. Life goes on with or without us and the fact of the matter is that, as Jesus says, the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

People always question why bad things happen to good people, but who says that bad things don’t happen to bad people? Who says that good things don’t happen to good people? I know, when I reflect on my life, I have had my share of good and bad things. The good things fly by, often with me taking them for granted; however, the second bad stuff happens, I begin to groan and moan about how terrible things are for me.

Jesus calls us away from that kind of thinking as such thoughts are terribly self-centered. That is not to say that we should be happy when bad things happen or when things don’t go our way; what we need to realize is that regardless of the circumstances, we can choose how we react and/or respond.  Sitting in my van, I could have chosen to drive back to the dentist office and mope about how much life stinks, or I could have chosen to suck it up, get out of the car and run the most refreshing 2.5 miles I have run in a long time. That is what I chose to do and that is what God is calling us all to do in the rainstorms in our lives. After all, we really do have much to be grateful for, so let our lives reflect our gratefulness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”  – Lord Byron

PRAYER
Lord, while I do not like it when storms hit, guide me through them and give me the wisdom to see beyond them so that I can truly be grateful for all of the blessings in my life. Amen.

February 5, 2023 – 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 live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for February 5. Today we learn that a fresh start requires being open to Jesus’ invitation to us as well as to those who are not valued in our community – the outcasts or the marginalized.

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: Denial and the Cross

Read  Mark 8:34-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

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If you are Christian you have, no doubt, come across today’s scripture reading before. In one fashion, or another, you have heard that following Jesus means that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Part of the problem of being a Christian is that, all of these centuries later, we hear Jesus’ words in ways that I believe he never intendeded them. For instance, when we come across today’s Scirpture passage we often interpret it in ways that both trivialize the cross and demonize ourselves into something less than valuable in the eyes of God.

An unhealthy understanding of Bible passages such as these can lead to an unhealthy, and perhaps damning perception of self, of neighbor and, ultimately, of God. So let me begin by stressing what this passage is NOT saying. First, this passage is NOT saying you should hate yourself or deny yourself your basic needs. It is not saying that at all! God created you and God does not create junk or rubbish. God created you, and all, with a divine and holy purpose in mind. Thus, Jesus is not telling us that in order to be his disciple we need to hate ourselves, look down upon ourselves, or neglect to take care of ourselves. To do such would be sinful and would not be in line with God’s will for us. After all, God calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation (in which we are included) and to go against that would be to go against God’s call.

Second, this passage is not intended to trivialize the cross. There is a TobyMac song called Irene, in which TobyMac sings “Pick up your cross and where it everyday.” This is both a reference to Luke’s parallel passage (Luke 9:22-25) and to the trinket people often where on a necklace fastened around their necks. But this is not what the passage is referring to at all. It’s not referring to a necklace, nor is it referring to a lamented obligation, or a personal challenge one has been going through; rather, Jesus is referring to the instrument of capital punishment he would be affixed to as a means of painfully and humiliatingly exterminating his life.

What Jesus is ultimately saying in this passage is that, if anyone wishes to be his follower, we must deny any part of us that would hold us back from following him. Regardless of what those things are (e.g. our sins, our hangups, our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, etc.) we must be willing to put them aside and be willing to pay all costs for being associated with Jesus. Even if the cost is our very lives, we must be willing to give it all to follow Christ. It has nothing to do with self-loathing, though. It has to do with one’s identity! If one truly identifies as a Christians, and sees him/herself as belonging to Christ, then that will be the most important thing to him/her over and above anything else, including his/her own life.

There are numerous examples of people who saw Christ as being at the core of their identity. This week it behooves us to look at the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a disciple of Christ who denied the fears and things that held him back from following Christ. Dr. King certainly picked up his cross, the burden of fighting for equality and freedom for all people regardless of their skin color, and ended up paying the ultimate price for doing so. When we look at Dr. King we see a man who certainly denied himself, picked up his cross and followed Jesus.

The question for us today is this, will we let our fears and our desires keep us from accepting Christ as our Lord? Will we refuse to pick up our cross because of the possible consequences? Will we deny Christ, or deny the parts of ourselves that keep us from accepting Christ? Will we be ashamed of Christ, Christ’s message, and the way of the Cross because it is more convenient for us to do so? Or will we deny our own convenience for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others and for the sake of God’s Kingdom? The choice is ultimately yours and I pray that your response is one of affirmation rather than one of denial and embarrassment. The world could use more disciples of Christ and the hope, healing and wholeness that such disciples bring in Christ’s name.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. – Jacqueline Novogratz
PRAYER
Lord, I give me the strength to deny the things that hold me back from you, to pick up my cross, and to follow you at all costs. Amen.

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

Read Matthew 5:43-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth” (Matthew 5:5 NLT).

While I know this might be a hot take being that there are so many different sports out there, each with there own die-hard fans, I believe that American Football is the greatest sport ever invented. It is a hard-fought, physical, and mental battle on a battlefield that spans 100 yards. In fact, that is every sport (minus the 100 yards); however, there is something about football that just grabbed hold of me the second I played it.

Recently, I revisited an old football movie that I used to love: Friday Night Lights, starring Billy Bob Thorton as Permian High School coach, Gary Gaines. The story follows the true story of how Coach Gaines built a team unity, a family, out of players that were all in it for their different reasons. It turns out, Texas football is quite a huge thing at the High School level, each team having their own stadiums and rabid fans. They treat High School football almost as a religion down there.

For the coach, this meant that he is under constant scrutiny week-in-week out, with random visitations on and off the field by different community members trying to “remind” him how imporant Permian football is. If he loses, he and his family could be finding themselves out of a home and searching for the next town to hire him as the coach. The stress this puts on him, his wife Sharon, and his daughter Jennifer is tremendous.

For the team, the pressures are felt in many different ways. You have the talented James “Booby” Miles, who’s only skillset, or so he says, is to play football. He’s put all his eggs in that basket and it is essential for him to play the best game he can every week to try and get a scholarship to college and hopefully make into the NFL, the odds of which are against anyone who tries out for pro-ball. You have to the best of the best, fast, strong, big, and…in many ways…a little lucky to make it. Why does luck factor in. In one word: INJURIES. There’s only so much control one has to prevent them.

You have the QB, the tight end, and all of the players trying to do the same thing. Yet at the same time, life throws curveballs their way. Mike Winchell, the Quarterback, is the sole person taking care of his mom who suffers from mental health issues. Don Billingsly, the team’s running back, has a dad who was a former Permian High School football star. The problem is that he has also become a severe alcoholic who verbally and emotionally, maybe even sometimes physically, abuses his son when he feels he isn’t playing enough.

The point being, the game of football in this film becomes a metaphor for life. Life is messy, it throws curveballs into your plans, it can be fun and beautiful, but it can quickly turn to be ugly, messy, tough, brutal and can wreck you as quickly as it makes something out of you. That is football. That is life. The question for the team, and when it comes to life we are all on the team, is this: What are you going to do when you are down in the game, stuck in the mud? Do you give up and accept “fate”? Do you turn in and complain about all of the things that are going wrong? Or do you fight back and give it your all.

During one of the games, the team finds itself down at halftime and they are just two quarters away from watching their dream of winning slip away. The coach at halftime reminds them that he always expects them to be perfect. This time though, he defines what is perfect to him. It is not winning games. It is not shutting teams out and receiving glory as the victors. For him “perfect” is about the players and their relationship with each other, their family, and their friends. He said, “Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And the truth is that you did everything that you could, there wasn’t one more thing that you could’ve done. Can you live in that moment as best you can with clear eyes and love in your heart…with joy in your heart. If you can do that gentlemen, then you are perfect.”

Amen. This is the kind of perfection that I believe Jesus is eluding to when he tells his disciples, and us by extension, that we ought to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect. Jesus is not saying that we need to be flawless, perfect in the sense of never doing anything wrong or making mistakes. Just as coach says, it’s not about winning or losing, getting it right or getting it wrong. Rather, Jesus…and coach…are telling us that it’s about sincerity, TRUTH, and LOVE.

In the TV series of the same name, Coach Eric Taylor puts it this way, “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t lose.” And I believe that is exactly what Jesus is telling us, when he talks about the kind of LOVE that our hearts should be full with. We are to love to the point of loving our enemies. That does not mean we will always flawlessly do that; however, that is what our hearts should be full of: LOVE.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. Why? Because clear eyes recognize that we are all enemies of God at some point and God loves us so much that he died and rose again to forgive us. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. Why? Because hearts filled with love of God leads us to hearts filled with love for all. Clear eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t lose. Why? Because there is NO losing in following God. Even when we get things wrong, God forgives us, picks us up, and puts us back on the path to victory. And that, my friends, is good news. So, remember this: Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.” – Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights (TV Series)

PRAYER
Lord help me to have the humility to have clear eyes. Let my heart be filled with your love. I know with you in my heart there is no losing. Amen.

January 22, 2023 – 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 live-streamed Sunday Worship Services for January 15. Today we learn that a fresh start begins with living in awe and gratitude of God’s gifts.

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 Inner Skeptic

Read Psalm 14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.” (Jude 1:22)

chirrut-imwe-and-jyn-erso

Everyone knows that I am a HUGE fan of Star Wars. Recently, the latest film in the Star Wars Universe was released, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”. The film follows a series of mostly new characters who are on a mission to get the blueprint plans of “The Death Star” from the evil Galactic Empire. If they succeed, it is possible that they can find a weakness that will help them destroy a weapon so powerful that it can eliminate entire planets in a matter of seconds.

Without spoiling the story for you (as I run a strict, no spoiler, ship), the characters of Jyn and Cassian are the unlikely leaders of a slim-to-none chance to infiltrate the enemy base and steal the plans of the dreaded battle station, “The Death Star.” All throughout the film, the characters are constantly being tested in their abilities, in their trust of one another, and in their faith.

In fact, wrestling with faith is a MAJOR theme in this film. Each of the characters, in their own way, find themselves wrestling with their faith in the existence of the force. One of the characters, Chirrut Îmwe, is a member of the Guardian of the Whills, which is a religious order that at one time were protectors of the Temple. Following the Temple being raided by the Galactic Empire, the Guardians remained true to their beliefs and sat out in the streets preaching about the Force.

What’s important to note is that thought the age of the Jedi and their use of the force, are not far removed from the time period that this takes place, many question the existence of such a “Force”. The Jedi themselves are quickly fading into mythological obscurity. How quickly hope fades, how quickly people fall from faith into the hopless state of despair. This is, honestly, the human condition.

When Jyn runs into Chirrut, he asked her if she knew what she was wearing around her neck. The crystals she was wearing were what the Empire had come to the Temple to raid, they were what powered the lightsabers. Chirrut sees it as a sign that the Force was alive and well. In fact, throughout the film, this monk kept reciting a powerful mantra, “I am one with the Force,  the Force is with me.”

Throughout the film, there are many skeptics who question this monk’s devotion to what they see as nothing more than a fairytale. Yet, his unwavering faith to the Force witnesses to these people and causes them to see beyond the inner skeptic within them. One by one, each of them is confronted with the choice between placing their faith in the Force or in continuing to deny the Force that is within them and all around them.

What I want to make clear is this, today’s Scripture is NOT calling the one who wrestles with his/her faith a fool. Everyone should be wrestling with their faith in God. It is was makes that faith real and it is how one grows in faith; however, the Scripture is stating that the one who concludes, absolutely and definitively that THERE IS NO GOD is foolish. Such an absolute proclamation leads nowhere but placing oneself in the place of God.

To make that proclamation is to shut oneself off from the discovery of the divine. There is not a single human being that can definitively know Ultimate Reality and, therefore, it is ultimately foolish for them to shut themselves off to the possibility of God based off of whatever limited “evidence” they may think they have. Not one of us can possibly have ALL of the evidence to make any conclusive and definitive proclamation.

We all operate on faith. We operate on the faith that there is a God or we operate on the faith that there is no God. Skepticism is good and healthy; however, it only gets us so far. The question for us is this, can we silence the  inner skeptic? Can we get to the place where we move beyond skepticism and acknowledge the faith that we are already operating on? If so, we can continue to wrestle with our faith and grow in it. I pray that, if you are struggling with your faith, this devotion may be your inner Chirrut Îmwe, reminding you that you are one with the Force (aka God) and that the Force/God is with you. I pray that you choose to move beyond faith in “no God” to faith in the God who is wanting to work miracles in you and through you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. Amen.