Tag Archives: hope

god’s People, part 295: John of Patmos

Read Revelation 1:1-9

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

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables uas to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 294: Jude

Read Jude

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us”(Mt 13:55–56, NLT).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 294: Jude. There has been much controversy and misunderstanding when it comes to the “Holy Family”. First, is what I will call the Roman Catholic/Protestant controversy, which is the controversy of whether Mary only had one child or if, after the virgin birth, she consummated her relationship with Jospeh and had other children. The Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians maintain that Mary remained a virgin and that James, Jude (aka Judas…but not to be confused with Judas Iscariot) and the other siblings were either Joseph’s from a previous marriage, or that the sibblings were actually cousins whose Mother, also named Mary, were kin to Joseph and taken in by the Holy Family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2, 2021 – Sunday Worship Service

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

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

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

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

RECLAIM, Episode 8: Listening

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

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

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

God’s People, part 293: Philemon & Onesimus

Read Philemon 1

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

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

God’s People, part 292: Opposed & Abandoned

Read 2 Timothy 4:9-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near.” (2 Timothy 4:6).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The Prison Cell of the Apostle Paul

Part 292: Opposed & Abandoned. Before we discuss the Scripture passage at hand, I first want to address the two-ton elephant in the room. When it comes to the pastoral letters of 1 & 2 Timothy, most modern scholars do not consider them to be authentic Pauline letters. What that means is that most scholars do not believe Paul wrote them. The evidence they point to consist of different writing styles, missing theological themes such as the unity of Christians in Christ, and also the fact that the letters presume a more structured Church heirarchy than existed in Paul’s time.

Some scholars argue that 2 Timothy was authentic, while 1 Timothy and Titus are not. To be clear, inauthentic does men unauthoritative. It was common in the ancient world for students to take on the persona of their teacher, writing their teachings down for others to learn from. Of course, said students would also add to those teachings. Plato was the most famous student to do this, as he wrote under the persona of Socrates.

Still, the debate of authorship continues on. It must be stated that it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that serious doubt was cast on Pauline authorship. The early Church Fathers, dating back to the second century accepted Paul as the author. This doesn’t mean they were correct, but they were much closer to Paul’s world than we are. Regardless of the authorship debate, for the purpose of this devotion, I will be referring to the author is he refers to himself in the letter.

At the end of his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote about a number of troubling things that happened to him. I must be noted that Paul is writing what has been considered to be his last epistle before his death, which means that he was writing it (or having it written for him by his secretary) from within the Mamertine Prison in Rome. It is in this context that we need to place Paul in order to understand the deep pain he was feeling.

In verses 9-10, he was pleading for Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible. “Demas has deserted me,” Paul wrote, “because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica.” In other words, Paul’s last remaining caretaker left him alone in prison abandoned. We cannot possible know what drew Demas to do so, or what Paul meant by saying that Demas loved the things of this life, but the implication is clear enough. Demas’ style was being cramped staying there and caring for Paul in prison and so he left.

Paul was literally abandoned, rotting within a prison cell, with no one to look after him. This was the same Paul who poured blood, sweat and tears into people like Demas. This was the same Paul who treated his disciples as if they were his own family. This was the same Paul who put his fullest trust in his followers. Yet, none of them could stay with him anymore. The loneliness, the spiritual and emotional pain, must have been unbearable. Christians should not abandon their sisters and brothers in Christ; yet, tragically, we often do.

The only person to stay with Paul was his beloved disciple, Luke. Luke, being a physician, knew the importance of caring for people; however, Paul knew what a burden it was on one person to take on all the responsibility of care and so he was asking for Timothy to come to him as well, asking him to bring Mark with him. Demas, Crescens, and Titus all abandoned Paul. That kind of hurt cuts deep and Paul also knew his expiration date was coming soon. That was the Roman way for prisoners, especially under Nero as Caesar.

To make matters worse, he was being opposed by someone referred to as Alexander the Coppersmith. We don’t know what kind of opposition it was or why Alexander was opposing Paul to begin with; however, Paul states that this coppersmith had done him much harm. It seems possible that this Alexander may be the reason Paul is imprisoned in Mamertine. He seemed to oppose what Paul was teaching and brough formal charges against him. Paul also stated that when he was brought before the judge, no one went with him. He had to stand trail by himself with no support from whoever was with him at the time. It seems clear that Luke had not been there. Whoever was with him abandoned him to his fate.

This kind of abandonment happens all the time. In the Church I have seen it happen to different groups of people. For instance, if a church member is alleged to have committed a crime, I have seen Christians look down their judgmental noses and distance themselves from that person. Given our Christian theology of sin, we know we are all sinners and we all do wrong, yet we commit the gravest sin by taking on the role of God and judge our sisters and brothers. Ironic, no?

I have also seen the church abandon people they call “shut-ins”. For those not familiar with churchese, “shut-ins” are people who cannot physically come to church do to health conditions. These are mostly elderly people, but they can be any age. How do church’s abandon “shut-ins”? Simple, they don’t call, they don’t write and they don’t visit people who are no longer able to attend. They sit back and expect the pastor to do all the visits as if the pastor is the church. If the pastor can’t visit as often as they they s/he should, they take issue with the pastor rather than offering up their help.

Abandonment is a serious issue in the church. Friends, we should never abandon anyone. This is simply not Christian behavior. We see how Paul was abandoned to rot in jail until he was beheaded and we cannot fathom the pain that caused him. It must have been devastating. It is equally devastating to abandoned Christians today when we fail to value them equally due to their not living up to our expectations and/or not being able to be present in the church. Let us open our hearts to Christ and follow him as Luke and Timothy did. Let us be present for peple in need. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
While love sometimes lets go, love never abandons.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be faithful and true. Steer me away from abandoning of others. Amen.

April 25, 2021 – Sunday Worship Service

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

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for April 25, 2021. Today we will be discovering the importance of listening to others. Failing to listen to others creates all sorts of hurt and pain to those we ignore. Let us discover how listening can bring us hope, healing, and wholeness.

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

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

RECLAIM, Episode 8: Listening

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

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

This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM listening as a wholesome and healthy part of our daily lives. Pastor Todd discusses what it means to truly listen to other voices and how that helps you grow spiritually and as a person.

A LOOK BACK: Playground Christianity

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8 NLT)

St.-Johns-Wood-Adventure-Playground-London-Hurtwood-1968

I am one who believes that God can and does reveal truth in all things. Something need not be “Christian” for God to use it for the revelation of truth. Over the years, I have been finding truth in the unlikeliest of places. I have found God’s truth at a Krishna temple in India, I have found it in films, in novels, in Walt Disney World (I mean, who wouldn’t), and I have found it in other faiths, old and young alike.

One such place that I have found some truth is in a book by James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy. James Redfield was brought up in a Methodist Church that he described as being “loving and community-oriented”; however, he now is an influential person in the New Age movement. He was no doubt influenced by his Christian upbringing, but he also studied Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Zen while a student at Auburn University.

Though he spent more than 15 years as a therapist for abused children, he left that and, since he published the worldwide bestseller, The Celestine Prophecy, he has become an bestselling New Age author, lecturer, screenwriter, and film producer. The book itself follows the protagonist, never actually named in the book, on a truth-seeking, soul searching adventure in Peru following the loss of a job and other personal crises that arise in his/her life.

In the film version of the book, there is a quote between the protagonist and someone else. While I don’t remember the quote exactly, word for word, I remember the gist of it, “When people have the true God-experience, the debate over whose religion is right or wrong fades away.” That quote truly struck me as provocative and something worthwhile writing about.

First, let me be clear that I DO NOT endorse the theology behind The Celestine Prophecy. As a New Age theology, it is quite simplistic with many glaring holes, inaccuracies of other religious beliefs and is, in many regards, without much substance in terms of a cohesive theology. Its mish-mashing of different theological ideas from different religions is intriguing, but often falls short and does a disservice to all the religions involved. But that does not mean that truth cannot be found within it.

Now, on to my point. One thing I have noticed in Christianity, is that some Christian circles are filled with some of the most insecure people ever. For instance, if one was secure in their faith in Christ and in God, why would they feel the need to demonize others who disagree with them or other religions that are not in line with theirs? If one were not operating out of fear and insecurity, there would be no need to participate in the whole, “My God is bigger than your god” debate.

Yes, there are times that one must defend their faith and their religious beliefs, especially when others are mischaracterizing them. Yes, one should stand up for their faith when others are pressuring him or her to deny it. Yes, one should represent their faith well and should teach people what they believe to be correct and theologically sound. However, one need not go on a crusade against other ideologies, other religions, or other people who differ from him or her.

Christians who aggressively attack other belief systems than their own, who pass out tracts warning people of a religious group that they’re going to be damned to hell, or go on long diatribes online as to why they think someone else has it so wrong, are practicing what I like to call, “Playground Christianity.” They’re acting like elementary-aged bullies on the playground fighting over whose daddy is bigger and can be the other’s dad up. It’s silly and it completely misses the heart of Christ’s message: LOVE.

The “true God experience”, as I see it and certainly as Redfield sees it as evidenced in his book, is the experience of God’s wild, untamable, unconditional LOVE. When one is enveloped and filled by that LOVE, one cannot help being transformed by it either. LOVE begets more love. God’s love transforms us to be creatures of love, to be agents of love, to be bearers of love. When one has the true God experience, when one truly knows and enters a relationship with God, the debate over who’s right or wrong, who’s holier and who’s not, and any other nonsensical comparison fades away. All that remains is LOVE. This doesn’t mean that LOVE doesn’t hold others accountable to truth and justice; however, there is no room for pettiness or divisiveness in LOVE.  I would like to invite you to search God out, to have that true God experience in the context of a community of believers, and let go of anything that counters God’s LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (John 13:34-35 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love and transform me into an agent of love. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Xtreme

Read Mark 1:29-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25 NLT)

ChristianLove

When I was a youth pastor, I attempted to write a weekly devotion that was directed toward teenagers. I called it, “Xtreme Faith”, because it was edgy sounding and it reflected well the reality of what it means to be a Christian, a person of faith, in today’s times. It also drew a parallel to the ancient church and what it meant to be a Christian in those times as well.

I decided to spell it, Xtreme, because X is the Greek letter in the word χρηστος, which transliterates to the word Christos (pronounced kr-eest-os), which translates in to the word Christ. X was often used as the shorthand for Christ in ancient Christian circles. (Side note: The next time you see Xmas instead of Christmas, don’t get mad, but rejoice because it means the same thing). So, I spelled the word Xtreme, because it pointed to Christ and how extreme following Christ can be in this culture.

I am not sure how successful that short-lived devotion was; however, I believe the name of it, as well as the fundamental message that was being conveyed is vitally important for us as Christians in an increasing secular, and even anti-religious, American world. What’s more, even many professing Christians choose to only halfway follow Christ in ways that are neglectful of, if not antithetical to, the Christian faith we claim to profess.

We don’t like to think of him this way, but Jesus of Nazareth was a pretty extreme individual. He called people to give up their careers and social status to follow him (Mark 1:16-20; 2:14). He told people that they were not worthy of following him if they did not forsake all things, including their parents, siblings and family (Luke 14:26). Jesus told people that if they wanted to be his disciples, they should deny their own hopes, dreams, and aspirations. That they should pick up their instrument of capital punishment and follow Jesus to their deaths (Matthew 16:24). I could go one with a plethora of other examples; however, I think the above three prove the point. Jesus was extreme.

Peter knew this to be true. I love the account of Jesus coming to Simon Peter’s home in Mark, because it shows exactly what was at stake for Peter and the rest of the disciples. They weren’t two-dimensional characters from a story book; rather, they were real, living, breathing human beings. Peter had a wife, he probably had children, he had an ailing mother-in-law, and a household to look after. When he chose to leave his career behind to follow this itinerant teacher from Galilee, he was giving up the only source of money he had, and that would affect his WHOLE FAMILY!

If you are still struggling with the idea that Jesus was extreme, let me ask you this: would you leave your ailing family members, your spouse, your children, your homes, and your careers to follow Jesus into the great unknown? Would you be willing to leave behind your cars, your boats, your lifestyles, and your dreams and hopes for the future to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth?

It takes and Xtreme faith to do that, and that is the kind of faith that χρηστος is calling you to. It may not mean that you leave your family as Christ did, but it means that you need to be willing to go wherever Christ is calling you. It means that, no matter what you are called to and no matter how politically incorrect it may be nowadays, a Christian is always willing to bear witness to their faith, to uphold Christ’s two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40) even if it means standing up against the status quo, and to strive to not let any part of your life become a denial of Jesus’ Lordship over you.

Sounds Xtreme? Certainly! But then again, so were the lengths Jesus went to in order to show us how much we are ALL LOVED. So, be Xtreme for χρηστος and be one of the vessels who are bringing Christ’s transformative love into the world!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Being Xtreme does not mean being an extremist; rather, it means following Christ over and above the ways of the world, even if people end up thinking you are.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be an Xtreme follower of Your way, an Xtreme speaker of your truth, and a witness to the Xtreme LOVE that leads to everlasting life.