Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

REVISITED: WORKS OF THE FLESH: Idalotry

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3 NRSV)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

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WORKS OF THE FLESH: Idolatry. When Christians hear the word idolatry, they seldom think that Paul is really speaking to them. Why would the apostle be warning followers of the “the way, the truth and the life” of idolatry? Christians today know better than to make idols and worship them, right? If Paul is warning Christians, he must be warning “those” Christians over there. Perhaps he was warning “those” Gentile Christians he was teaching. Perhaps Paul was warning “those” Christians who are in other denominations? But Paul would never be talking to us Christians, would he?

It is true that in Paul’s time, there were more and more Gentiles starting to believe in Christ and Paul played an instrumental part in that reality. It is also true that Paul’s Gentile converts were non-Jewish, many of whom were Greek and Roman. They were raised to believe in many gods, to worship in temples filled with many idols, and to even worship living people such as the Roman emperors; however, in context, Paul is not addressing “those” Gentile Christians, though his message would certainly apply to them as well; however, Paul’s message was addressed to the Jewish Christian community that was trying to force “those” Gentile Christians to be circumcised. It is to his fellow Jewish followers of Christ that Paul is speaking.

For Paul, the Jewish Christians weren’t literally worshiping idols; rather, they were were placing their traditions and their understanding of the law before what Paul believed God was doing in the world. What was God doing? God was radically opening up the covenant from being a Jewish-specific covenant to being a global covenant. All the Gentiles had to do was believe in Jesus Christ, to confess him as their Lord and Savior, and to dedicate their life to Christian service and they were brough into this covenant. No circumcision and no dietary restrictions were needed. To stand in the way of that, to put any agenda over and above God’s plan, was to participate in idolatry.

The question for us then is this, do we worship God above any other? Or do we put other things before God and God’s will for us? Do we worship the true God, or do we make gods of ourselves, our ideas, our agendas and our regulations? Do we put God first in our lives, or do we put money, success, doctrine, dogma, polity, sports, and other things before God? If we do the latter, then we have become idolators. If we have become a people who worship other gods, if we are a people who make gods out of the stuff WE DEEM to be important, then we are producing works of the flesh; rather than the fruit of the spirit. Let us put down our gods and pick up the Spirit and the love of Christ, for God is calling us to be open and LOVING and ACCEPTING of “those” people just as God has been open and LOVING and ACCEPTING of us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“To get overprotective about particular readings of the Bible is always in danger of idolatry.” – N. T. Wright

PRAYER
Lord, guard my heart away from false idols that lead me away from your Spirit of openness, love, and acceptance. Amen.

July 3, 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 Sunday Online Worship Services for July3. Today we learn that celebrating new life is about celebrating how we are transformed for joy and to thrive.

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.

REVISTED: WORKS OF THE FLESH: Licentiousness

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

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WORKS OF THE FLESH: Licentiousness. Paul now moves onto licentiousness. Now, this is not a word that gets tossed around too often now-a-days. If you are like me, you’re probably scratching your head asking, “Licentiousness? What on God’s green earth is licentiousness? What does it mean to be licentious?” If you are like me, you will probably end up Googling the word, and there you will find out that to be licentiousness means to know no bounds, to lack in moral restraints, especially sexual restraints. Human sexuality, when expressed in healthy ways, is one of the most beautiful thing shared between two people; however, when one abuses sexuality and uses it as a means for a selfish end (whether that end is power or pleasure), then human sexuality takes on an ugliness that God never intended for it.

As with fornication, however, the word licentiousness need not only apply to human sexuality. More generally, as mentioned above, licentiousness means to know no bounds, to lack moral restraints. To be licentious is to be a person who acts on impulse, to be a person who seeks to bring oneself pleasure without any regard of the other. To be licentious is to live in an unrestrained way to the detriment of friends, family and/or community. As such, licentiousness is the epitome of self-indulgence, of a life that thinks it has no limits, of a person who could careless about anything but what satisfies the boundless hunger for pleasure and power.

The truth is that we very much live in a licentious world, a world that tells us we can have anything we want, that we can be anything we dream of, and a world that tells us that there are no limits to what we can do or accomplish. What’s even more sad, is that many Christians and Christian leaders propagate such a message to their followers. The Gospel, for such people, gets relegated to obtaining prosperity and earthly success. When we buy into the message of this world, when we begin to believe that there are no limits for us, we begin to be filled with the spirit of licentiousness.

Rather than licentiousness, Christ is calling you to give up the hunger to be limitless. Ironically, that hunger to be limitless is deceptive, for the more one strives to be limitless the more limited in their sinful licentiousness they become. True limitlessness can only be found through the power of restraint. The licentious seek power; however, true power is restraint. The person who lives in God is the person who knows and embodies restraint. The person of restraint is not one who deprives his or her body of what it needs but, rather, the person of restraint avoids the temptation to be limitless in obtaining what he or she lusts after; in that avoidance, the person avoids being a slave to his or her lust. Christ is calling us all to drop the licentiousness of this world and to embody God’s divine power of restraint. The power to do so is God’s gift to you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is his restraint that is honorable to a person, not their liberty.” – John Ruskin

PRAYER
Lord, show me the power of restraint that lies within me so that I may use it wisely and stand in firmly in that power. Amen.

July 3, 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 Sunday Online Worship Services for July3. Today we learn that like Abraham, we can embrace God’s calling on our lives, believe that God will do what God promises, and take courageous action.

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.

REVISTED: WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (Colossians 3:5 NRSV)

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In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

THE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication. Oh boy, nothing like starting off the list of sinful works than with the biggie of fornication! Hey Paul, why don’t you just cut to the chase! We all know, or should know, what fornication is. It is the act of having a sexual relationship with someone outside of a marital covenant. Fornication is an umbrella word that houses more specific words underneath it; words such as adultery and promiscuity. For Paul, the idea of having sex in any context outside of the marital covenant was against his Jewish sensibilities; however, it was not necessarily outside the sensibilities of his Gentile audience. Paul was adamant that sex was meant to be shared between a LOVING and MARRIED couple.

In light of past history, as well as a more scientific understanding of human sexuality, fornication has become a loaded word for us in the twenty-first century. Since the time of Paul, we have 2,000 years of history that we need to be aware of. While we certainly want to honor and respect Paul’s warning against fornication, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming like one of the Puritanical finger pointers of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” What’s more, while sexual immorality (aka promiscuity and adultery) is certainly what Paul is referring to, we all have participated in a fornication of a different kind at one point or another. And that is what I would like to focus on.

According to Christian theology, we Christians are in union (aka marriage) with Christ our Lord. What this means is that we are joined in a spiritually intimate relationship with Christ and, as it is within a marital covenant, we are called to remain faithful to Christ just as he is faithful to us. Faithfulness means that we will give of ourselves wholly to Christ just as spouses give of themselves to each other…meaning that we will live and breathe the risen Christ in all we do and/or say. We will feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, take care of the “least of these,” avoid judgment, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. When we fail to do these things, and are pulled away by the attitudes and behaviors of this world, we are d in a spiritual sense.

Just as God has been faithful to us, so to we are being called to remain faithful to God. Straying from our purpose of serving others to self-centered living is but one of the ways we end up fornicating in a world set on fornication. The word fornicate, I am sure, makes most of us squirm around uncomfortably…and it should. Let us strive to remain faithful to God and what God is calling us to do. Let us strive to model our lives after that of Jesus’ life. Let us all model a life of bold compassion, love, peacemaking, service, respect, stewardship, radical hospitality, and self-sacrifice. Then we will be sure to steer clear of the pitfall of spiritual fornication.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.” – Jane Addams

PRAYER
Lord, purify and sanctify me. Keep me from straying from your all-encompassing love. Amen.

The Heart

Read Romans 3:9-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong” (Romans 7:21 NLT).

“Lil’ Heart Just for You” by Casia https://www.flickr.com/photos/mysza/4065127339

One of the things I remember being told from grown-ups as a kid was, “always follow your heart”. The truth is, I have mostly lived my life that way. What was meant by that was that one should follow their conscience and live with compassion. At least, that is how I have come to interpret it as an adult. With that said, I have also found that the phrase has more problems than it is worth hanging on to.

Theologically speaking, following the heart is dangerous and can lead to all sorts of trouble. It makes me think of Anakin Skywalker in Episodes II & III of Star Wars film franchise. In those films, Anakin is a Jedi Knight in training and he’s being taught to use the Force. In order to master the force properly, though, the Jedi has to be able to empty him or herself of all attachments and devote onself to living a life of balance.

This is very hard for Anakin, in part because he is young and angry. He was born a slave and, though now he is free, his mom is still a slave. What’s more, he’s been having terrible nightmares and fears she is in trouble. In one of the scenes, Anakin (who is supposed to be protecting a senator) tells the senator that he has to leave because he knows his mom is suffering. In other words, he abandon’s his post in order to follow his heart, which was bleeding for his mother.

Now, that doesn’t sound so bad right. Shouldn’t he have done that? Well, this is where it gets complicated. You see, he did find his mom; however, not in time to save her life. His HEART was crushed and rage flooded him. Burning hot with anger, Anakin killed every one of the raiders who kidnapped and hurt his mom. Not just the men but all of them, including the women and children. Should Anakin have followed his heart?

Theologically, we know that the human heart is rife with sin. As our Scripture today indicates, no one is good. All have fallen short of the glory of God. What’s more, we also know that the human “heart”, or human nature more specifically, is always bent toward sin. Though we know we should not do something, we do it anyway; when something needs to be done, we fail to do it. Paul was blunt about that nature within himself so that he could put himself up as a mirror for us to look into.

So, as you can see, “following the heart” can be a devastatingly destructive thing. We should NOT follow our hearts; rather, we should follow Jesus! The even cooler thing is that Jesus resides in our heart through the Holy Spirit! That means that Jesus will actually begin to align our heart with God. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing God’s will as the foremost desire of our heart.

Still, you are not following your heart, but the one who resides within it. You are following Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior of the world, who has given you the Holy Spirit to guide you each step of the way. It is the Holy Spirit, working within us, that gets us to realize that our way is inferior to God’s way. It is the Holy Spirit that moves us to follow Christ rather than ourselves. So, let’s not follow our hearts; rather, let us turn to and follow Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Turn to the Bible, not society, for wise phrases to follow.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for revealing yourself to me and for transforming my heart to be bent toward your will. Amen.

June 26, 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 Sunday Online Worship Services for June 26. Today we learn that to celebrate unity does not mean uniformity! Our diversity is knit together in the unity of faith as we grow into Christ.

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.

June 19, 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 June 19. Today we learn that as the body of Christ, we are called to celebrate the diverse ways God is reflected in each and every person.

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: Wrath of God, part 6

Read Ephesians 2:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NRSV)

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If you have been reading this series of devotions on the wrath of God, we have certainly been dealing with a subject that most people avoid like the pestilences found in Egypt and Revelation. With good intentions perhaps, many clergy steer clear of talking about the wrath of God so as to not “scare people off” and/or because they themselves are uncomfortable with the topic. The very clergy who organized the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) have often focused on the “happy” and/or “positive” images of God, only to skip over many of the wrathful images.

Of course, there are some clergy and some Christians who ONLY focus on the wrath of God. These Christians often sit on their perches like hawks, looking down on whom they can throw the Bible at and whom they can warn of hellfire and damnation. Unfortunately, these Christians (and not the Scriptures) are largely responsible for scaring people off and for the bad image that God has received throughout the years. Equally as unfortunate, the silence of responsible theologians on the subject of God’s wrath have also served to be a detriment to the image of God because in the silence the unsilent extreme have been given an unfettered platform to define God through their theology.

It is because of the outspokenness of the Christian extreme and the silence of the more responsible Christian majority that anti-theists, and a growing number of people in our world, have come to reject God and some have even deemed religion to be an evil that the world needs to be rid of! For example, prominent anti-theist Richard Dawkins has written, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” He also has written, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”

Of course, while I respect Dr. Dawkins’ opinion, one could say that his simpleton, straw-man, and heavily skewed understanding of religion can and has led to dangerous folly as well (e.g. any communist nation, take your pick). So, in light of all the terrible things happening in this world, some of them indeed happening in the name of God and/or Allah, I have found it necessary to talk about God’s wrath and I feel is it fruitful for all people to wrestle with what “the wrath of God” really is.

For me, it can be summed up in this manner. The God we worship is the God who created all that is out of love and a desire to be in relationship with that creation. As such, it pains God to see creation suffer and it angers God to see creatures do harm to other creatures. God’s anger can be felt burning in the souls of humans as they witness suffering as a result of sin and evil. That anger is heard in the voices of those who protest against the injustices in the world. I would even say, dare I say it, that God’s anger can be heard through Richard Dawkins whose opinion has formed out of a disgust with religiously motivated ignorance and evil.

God’s wrath, on the other hand, is not something that GOD is bringing upon people! I want to make that clear. Yes, the Bible has articulated it that way, for sure! Yes, people tend to understand it that way; however, that understanding is also countered in the same Bible by the reality that the wrath that was experienced was brought about by the wickedness of humans. God does not punish, nor does God need to. Humans, far too often, punish themselves. Their wickedness brings destruction upon themselves and, unfortunately, upon the innocent as well.

Our God, on the other hand, is grace, mercy, compassion, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. Our God, through prophets, humanitarians, and good Samaritans alike, is actively working to bring about hope, healing and wholeness in the world. God’s wrath is spoken through the voices of prophets, but the consequences are the result of human wickedness and NOT God.

The good news in all of this is that we serve a God who is EMPATHETIC to our suffering, a God who stands in solidarity with those suffering, rather than an aloof God who simply does not care God who simply doesn not exist. Like Elijah, like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, let us call upon our God in times of distress that we may be given strength to voice God’s anger and wrath, as well as God’s grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, to those who have strayed into wickedness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The hallmark of intelligence is not whether one believes in God or not, but the quality of the processes that underlie one’s beliefs.” – Alister McGrath

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the strength to speak against injustice, rather than remain silent. Amen.

REVISITED: Wrath of God, part 5

Read Jeremiah 31:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25, NLT)

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Jeremiah stood there in the midst of the city. Everything had been destroyed and burned to the ground. The houses were smoldering furnaces with smoke billowing to the heavens. Corpses were lying everywhere and the stench of decay filled the air. Jerusalem had her share of sorrows in the past, but they all paled in comparison with the Babylonian seige.

The Temple was in ruins and not one stone remained on top of the other. The holy place of God was a ransacked pile of rubble, laid to waste by the gentile Babylonians. The survivors were left without their Temple, without their homes, without the property, and without anyone of their spiritual leaders. King Zedekiah, his cabinet of advisors, his family, his priests and all of the leaders and their families were all exiled from Jerusalem and taken back to Babylon as spoils of the war. The future of Judah, the future of Jerusalem, were uncertain.

Jeremiah stood there that day, having been released from the prison by order of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. He was imprisoned by King Zedekiah for speaking out against the corruption of the King and the king’s government. Nebuchadnezzar had him released because word reached him that there was a prophet who prophesied in Babylon’s favor. Jeremiah stood there, horrified at the site of the utter and complete destruction, and he wept.

“If only they had listened,” he thought to himself. “If only they had turned from their wickedness, from their corruption, from their greed, they would have avoided all of this. How many innocent lives had been destroyed by the evil perpetrated by those who refused to live justly, who refused to love mercy, and who refused to walk humbly with their God?

But as sad Jeremiah was that day, he was not without hope for he knew that God was not the God of eternal judgment but the God of endless and ever abounding grace! God would not abandon the people of Judah, but would be working to bring them home and to restore them back to the people they were created to be. God would be showing them forgiveness and working toward reconciliation. This was not so just in spirit and in truth, but through the leadership of those who were still open to God’s wisdom and guidance; through the leadership of people like Jeremiah and those who followed him.

What is important for us to gather from Jeremiah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians is that GOD is not the GOD OF WRATH, but the GOD OF GRACE. When looking at the wrath of God, ask yourself this question: Is God reigning wrath down on the people? Even if it is being articulated that way by the Biblical authors, is that really what is going on? Or is the wrath of God, properly speaking, the natural consequences to the evil that people perpetuate? People may get away with being wicked for so long, but eventually (as the phrase suggests), “every dog has its day.”

What’s even more important to glean from this narrative, is that while we do often bring the wrath of our actions down upon our heads, God never gives up hope on us. God is always forgiving us, always working to restore us back to a place of righteousness, and always working to reconcile us with God and with our neighbor. In wrath, in the natural consequences of our sinful and evil actions, there is still GREAT HOPE. Today’s challenge is to see the hope in the consequences we, and the world, are facing today and to begin to be God’s mouthpiece for the proclamation of the Good News of God’s reconciliation and restoration!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do.” – Shane Claiborne

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not only seek justice, but to seek reconciliation for myself and for others. Amen.