Tag Archives: Religion & Spirituality

May 30, 2021 – Sunday Worship Service

Worship service premieres at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)
on Sunday, May 30, 2021 on YouTube. Starting at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 6, we will resume in-person services as well as stream live on YouTube.

Welcome to our Pentecost Sunday Worship Service for May 30, 2021. Today we will be discovering the importance of the Holy Spirit as one of three coequal persons in the Holy Trinity. Let us discover how this can bring us toward spiritual maturity as well as toward 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.

May 23, 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 Pentecost Sunday Worship Service for May 23, 2021. Today we will be discovering the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Holy Spirit guides us in being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Let us discover how this can bring us hope, healing, and wholeness to others as well as ourselves.

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.

May 16, 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 16, 2021. Today we will be discovering that, while we are diverse, Christians are called to seek unity under ONE vision…that of Jesus Christ. In fact, diversity actually strengthens our carrying out that vision. Let us discover how this can bring us hope, healing, and wholeness to others as well as ourselves.

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 11: Unity

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 unity as a God-given requirement. Pastor Todd discusses what unity is and why it is so important.

Pedestal

Read Exodus 20:1-6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 14:15, NLT).

Growing up, there were many things that I aspired to be. I wanted to be an astronaut, an author, a poet, an explorer, a rock star, a web site developer, and a computer programmer. There were so many things, as a child, that I dreamed I would grow up being. Certainly none of them included most of the labor intensive jobs I did end up holding as a young adult: at Burger King, Arbys, in a factory that made rubber hubs and things for technology, in a factory/warehouse that specialized in professional kitchenware, and as an Iron Worker.

From the youngest age and my earliest memories, I wanted to be a pastor. I would pull out my mom’s 8-track tower (yes, this dates me) and would use that as a pulpit to preach from. I would stand at that “pulpit” and preach that “God tells us to love one another”, in my 3-4 year old voice. I loved my Bible, even if I fully didn’t understand it and I just had a connection with Jesus that was unique, especially for someone my age at the time.

Of course, as a teenager, I fell away from my call and wanted to be all the aforementioned things I dreamed about. That, honestly, is not all that unusual. There are so many career paths for kids to follow that it can be overwhelming to just settle on one and, like most kids at the age of 15-17, I was not looking to serve in a church. In fact, from the age 17 and onward, I left Christianity and practiced another religion for several years.

Eventually, however, Christ brought me back to the call He had placed on my heart all those years ago as a young child. So, at 26 years old, I came back to the church and immediately began working toward my call. By age 27, I was enrolled in community college to finish out my associates degree. By 28, I was enrolled at Montclair State University in order to get a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy and, by 29, I was enrolled at Drew Theological Schoool to work toward a Master of Divinity degree.

That year was 2007 and, given that I had a family and children, and was working as a youth pastor at my home church, as well as a substitute teacher, I could not afford to finish in 3 years. I ended up graduating in 2011 with an M. Div. From 2011 onward, I worked toward ordination. I was appointed pastor of small church in 2012 and also served as the Director of Mission and Pastoral Care (aka chaplain) at a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). It took me from 2011 to 2017 to get through the process and be ordained. In 2017, I was appointed to my current appointment, where I serve my congregation full-time.

Over the years, as a pastor, I have noticed that I often get put up on a pedestal as if I am the epitome of faith and faithfulness. Because of my role, people in my congregation and in my surrounding community look up to me as if I am “holy”, “Godly”, and as if I have everything together in my life. My family, similarly, gets viewed in the same light. Because they live in my household, they must all be fluent in the Bible, the doctrines of the church, and they must have a joy to do all things “church” and nothing else.

Of course, these perceptions and expectations are not accurate, to say the least, and they are not healthy for the pastor, the family of the pastor, or for the congregation. As a pastor, I am constantly having to remind people that I am merely human and while, yes, I have been set apart to serve God, I am not superhuman and I do not always have everything together. In fact, if you look at the people who served God in the Bible, this could be said about all of them except for Jesus.

There are, therefore, a couple things that need to be addressed for the good of the order. First, as Chrsitians, we are ALL set apart for faithful service to God. Not all of us are called to serve as pastors, but all of us are called to SERVE. Second, the only One who has it all together is God/Jesus Christ. All other people are sinful and in need of God’s grace. To put anyone but God on the pedastal is to make an idol of him/her. Of course, idols ALWAYS fail to deliver the goods, as it were, and that eventually sets the pedastal person up to fail…and FALL…HARD.

As Christians, let us remember that we are to look to God, and to God alone for our salvation. Only God has everything altogether. Only God is faithful without fault. We should respect the offices of those who are serving God; however, we should not view such people, pastors or otherwise, as “holier than thou”. To do so is to turn our back on the One who can actually save us…the one who called your pastor and all pastors, the one who called you and all Christians, to join in the building of God’s heavenly kingdom. Let us turn our eyes upon Jesus and follow him from where we are to where he’s called us to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” – Helen H. Lemmel

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from idolatry, false hope, and unrealistic expectations. Guide my eyes to look upon you Lord. Amen.

Them

Read Deuteronomy 10:14-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked” (Psalm 146:9, NLT).

There’s a series on Prime Video that was recently released, entitled, “Them”. It was conceived of and produced by Little Marvin who, up until this series, was a little known actor and producer. From the get go, I could tell that this series was going to be edgy to say the least and that it was likely to keep anyone watching it at the edge of their seat, if not scared out it. Yet, the edgy horror that I was expecting watch was not what I discovered in this film; in fact, this film’s horror was far more dark and REAL.

The film follows the Emorys, who are a black family living in Jim Crow North Carolina. The show opens up with a scene that immediately sets you on edge and it soon becomes clear that being black in North Carolina was not ideal. The very first scene shows the horror of Jim Crow and the way blacks were treated less than human, even though Federal law technically said they were free citizens of the United States.

Without giving away what happens at the beginning of the show, suffice it to say that the experience is the last straw that causes the Emorys to uproot and leave North Carolina behind in search for a place to live where they will be treated like the free citizens they are. This show, of course, takes place in 1953 in the midst of what has since become known as the Great Migration, where countless black families uprooted and left the Jim Crow South for the American Promised Land, places that actively promoted themselves as places of opportunity and the American Dream.

Sadly, black families soon realized that the land of opportunity was not TRULY for them. Places like the Bronx, the South Side of Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and West Compton were lily white suburbs that were as hostile as the Jim Crow South, but in more pernicious and hidden ways. Areas that blacks moved into were zoned off to be “red zones”, meaning that they were beyond help and that the local and state governments would not send funding in for infrastructure or anything else. Property sales dropped in neighborhoods where black families moved in, furthering the already racially charged resentment against these new, and most unwelcome neighbors.

In the neighborhoods themselves, white people did everythign they could to rid themselves of black neighbors. Some white folks uprooted and left right away. Others took measures to ensure that their neighborhood would not be overrun by blacks. Sitting outside their homes, staring in their windows, placing signs and whatnot on their lawns, all in an attempt to intimidate the black families and scare them out of the neighborhood. When those attempts failed, and eventually they did, white folks left those neighborhoods en masse and the money followed them. Businesses and jobs dried up as a result of white people fleeing away from their black neighbors. This flight of white people became known as white flight and, when we look at patterns of moving today, it still exists.

All of this racism not only had a negative effect on beautiful, loving, and hopeful black families looking to leave Jim Crow behind, but it also destroyed what were once beautiful neighborhoods that offered hope and promise to all who lived within them. Let’s be clear, it was not the black families who destroyed those neighborhoods, it was white families and systemic racism that brought about their demise. Sadly, as has been all too often the case, racism destroyed perfectly good neighborhoods and left black people to fend for themselves in a system that saw them less than human.

The challenge for us is to recognize that the “us” vs. “them mentality is, at its core, sinful. It results in the evils of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and plenty of other evils. Christ has not called us to view people as “other” than us. There is no “them” in God, there is just US. Regardless of what one’s views, we are never called by God to dehumanize others or see them as less than us. We are always called to LOVE and treat people equally as created in imago Dei (aka the image of God. Let us shed our biases and fears off of us and live as Christ calls us to live.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Racism comes in many different forms. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s overt. Sometimes it’s violent, and sometimes it’s harmless, but it’s definitely here. It’s something that I think we’re all guilty of, and we just have to make sure that we deal with our own personal racism in the right way.” – Jordan Peele

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for my biases and help me to overcome viewing other people as “other” or less than I am. Help me to view all people as equally made in your image. Amen.

May 9, 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 9, 2021. Happy Mother’s Day!!! Today we will be discovering that showing respect and hospitality toward the stranger is a requirement for Christians. Let us discover how this can bring us hope, healing, and wholeness to others as well as ourselves.

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 9: Hospitality

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 hospitality as a God-given requirement. Pastor Todd discusses what hospitality is and why it is so important..

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.

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.