Tag Archives: Witness

May 15, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good News!

Read Luke 2:25-35

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

This may sound a little morbid and/or macabre, but I thoroughly enjoy officiating funerals. Okay, maybe enjoy might not be the right word…indeed, it is not the right word…no, I feel fulfilled in the ministry of serving families in times of grief and despair. I love being present for people in those times, and I thoroughly am blessed to be able to assure the family that death is not the end, but the beginning of something new and eternal…something we all get to join in on…not just now in this current world order, but in the new, eternal kingdom to come.

What good news that is! What awesome news, that we are already citizens of a coming kingdom. In fact, we are not just citizens, but ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. What’s more, we are not just citizens or ambassadors, but heirs to the Kingdom. That means, we’ve been adopted into the family of God and are children of God. What great news that is and it is my honor to share that message with families, because it reminds them of the great hope we have in God through Jesus Christ.

Recently I officiated a funeral for a family of a relatively young man in his 50s. I had deliberated on whether or not I should wear my suit jacket as I was wearing my short-sleeved collared clerical shirt and my tattoos, of which I have many, would be showing. It was summer and no one would blame me for showing up in a short-sleeved dress shirt; however, some might not be thrilled to see a tattoed minister! In my deliberations, I got distracted and ended up forgetting about making the decision.

Of course, that meant that I showed up to the funeral home and then realized I was not wearing my jacket. I was instantly self-conscious about it, but then a peace came over me. I was there to serve that family and I would not let a jacket stand in the way of that mission. I walked in, introduced myself to the family, got ready and officiated a celebration of life that seemed to be really meaningful for those who were gathered to remember the person who had died. I had created a space where they could grieve and celebrate freely.

Afterward, a woman who was probably in her late 60s or early 70s approached me and said, “Reverend, you are truly as cool as your tattoos!” I was taken back by her comment. I was not expecting that comment at all and was left somewhat speechless. All I could muster was an awkward, “Thank you.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she continued, “I have waited my whole life to see this…to see a minister who isn’t afraid to show their humanity.” Again, I was taken back, but managed to say, “Thank you so much, you’ve really blessed me with your words.”

“You are the one who blessed me,” the woman said assuredly. “Thank you so much for being here and for your words.”

I was stunned. I have had people comment on my tattoos before. Usually, I am asked whether or not my congregation knows I have them. I can appreciate the question because that is the perception of the church, a perception the church created itself by forgetting that it consisted of sinners redeemed by grace…not saved by the law or legalism.

This woman who approached me had clearly experienced that somewhere along the way in the church too. This woman so clearly articulated that church was the place where people shed their humanity and act like they are something better that human. The truth is that is NOT THE GOSPEL MESSAGE. We are not better than humanity, we are among those who make it up. We are sinners saved by a gracefuly, compassionate, merciful, and loving God. That is the Gospel message.

Just like Simeon, who had waited all his life to see the Christ child, this woman had waited all her life to see the church reclaim its humanity. It’s not about me and I am certainly not the only minister with tattoos…not in a long shot; however, it is about each of us being true to who we are…because Jesus accepts us for who we are. More than that, Jesus uses our uniqueness for the glory of God and the coming Kingdom. Submitting to Christ means being who we uniquely are for the sake of Christ and following him faithfully in that freedom.

Therefore, let us put on Christ and carry him out into the world in our unique way. Christ’s Kingdom is made up of a vast army of unique people, unified but NOT UNIFORM in Christ’s mission and ministry. If we do that, there will be no stopping what Christ will do next for the transformation of this world into the Kingdom God.

God didn’t create us to be robots, but to be autonomous, individual people with the freedom to use our unique gifts for the glory of God.

Lord, use me in ways that are unique to who I am so that others may come to know you and your love for them through me. Amen.

God’s People, part 271: A Growing Fellowship

Read Acts 20:1-6

“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. ” (Matthew 5:16, 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 271: A Growing Fellowship. If there is one thing that we notice about Paul as we journey with him through Acts, is that he is a magnetic individual. He starts off with Barnabas and overtime, though he and Barnabas part ways, he ends up with an enite entourage of co-workers in Christ, a growing fellowship if you will. Of course, as with all magnets, when two of the same magnetic pole come together they repel each other; however, while Paul did repel some away from him, he attracted a large number of people through his teaching, charisma, and passion for the Gospel.

In today’s reading we see the list has grown. We already knew that, by this point, he was traveling with Luke, Titus, Timothy, and others. From that, we now learn that ” Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia” were all traveling with him. He, indeed, had a growing Fellowship.

This is because Paul understood the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is not a private, personal affair. In his preface to his 1739 publication, Hymns and Sacred Poems, John Wesley wrote, “Solitary Religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy Solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than Holy Adulterers. The Gospel of CHRIST knows of no Religion, but Social; no Holiness but Social Holiness.”

In other words, the American/European model of Christianity, that one must keep it private and not share it with others lest you offend them, is NOT in line with the Chrsitian Gospel. In fact, it is the antithesis of the Gospel. First, it is important to remember that Jesus and Paul and the original Apostles were all Jewish. Judaism is a communial, social religion. That was one of the things that separated and distinguished it from pagan religions, which were mostly personal and private.

Thus, so was Christianity, which branched out from Judaism. Christ did not come, teach, die, and resurrect for his followers to keep that to themselves. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus commanded before ascending to heaven: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19, NLT).

The commandment is a SOCIAL COMMANDMENT. Go. Make disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is the Christian game plan. Paul understood that and he followed that game plan to a “T”. He engaged people, got to know them, befriended them, and witnessed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. I am sure that not everyone who he befriended became Christians, and it is certain he offended a great many people; still, he carried out the Christian mission with utmost faithfulness!

That should challenge us as well. Remember, the Gospel of Jesus Christ knows of no SOLITARY RELIGION. The American message of keep your faith to yourself is NOT a Christian message. It is a civic religion message. Civic religion teaches a FALSE GOSPEL. Let us be a people who break the chains of civic religion and pick up the cross of the Gospel, so that others may see and know that Christ lived and died and rose for them!

“Faith working by Love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian Perfection.” – John Wesley

Lord, let us be a people who follow you boldly and socially so that we may be your witnesses to all around us. Amen.

God’s People, part 256: Missionaries and Friends

Read Acts 13:14-52; 14:1-28; 15:1-41

“As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”  (Galatians 2:13, 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 256: Missionaries and Friends: Barnabas and Paul are two names that should be known; however, people who are not Biblically literate have most definitely heard of Paul, but may not have heard of Barnabas. This is because, truthfully, Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament and Barnabas did not. Paul’s name is synonymous with early Christian theology, almost as much so as Jesus’.

Obviously, the entire New Testament is centered on Jesus and, rightfully so, that makes him the MOST known and certainly Christianity comes from his title, the Christ. With that said, Paul is the second most known person. Sure there’s Peter, James, John, Andrew, Mark, and Luke; however, it is Paul who is second most known in the New Testament. Even if people don’t know his name, you can bet that they will choose his passages for celebration of life services and for weddings. It is Paul who is quoted (whose quoting Jesus) when we celebrate Eucharist (aka Holy Communion).

Barnabas, on the other hand, is less known on the broad scale. If people have heard of him, they more than likely know him as Paul’s trusty sidekick; however, that is only slightly true at best. In fact, as has been mentioned before, Barnabas started off as Paul’s mentor. Paul was his trusty sidekick. That did change over time; however, the majority of time that Barnabas is seen with Paul, he was leading Paul and not the other way around.

With that said, these two were also very close and became more than just missionary partners. They were friends; they were brothers in Christ. This can be seen in Paul’s horror, expressed in Galatians, when he finds out that Barnabas was choosing James and Peter’s side on the issue of Gentile inclusion. He wrote, “even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” It’s as if Paul is crying out, “not Barnabas too!”

It is there that we see the first sign of a split between the two. Clearly, Barnabas disagreed with how far Paul was willing to take his mission to the Gentiles. Sure, they could become followers of Christ; however, could we really eat and drink with them if they were breaking Jewish kosher rules? Wouldn’t that be to forsake the Law given to Moses by God for the Jews to follow? While Acts says the split was over John Mark, and I have no doubt that was the final straw for Barnabas, this rift over Gentile inclusion clearly went unanswered and Paul presents no winning conclusion to it in Galatians.

What is sad is that Barnabas and Paul had been inseparable partners and friends for years and, because of theological and personal differences, they ended up going separate ways. As such, Barnabas falls out of the pages of Acts and all we learn about is Paul and ministry to the Gentiles. What did Barnabas do? What miracles did he perform, how many did he bring to Christ? All of that is lost beyond his association with Paul. We can be assured he continued to be a missionary and, he no doubt continued to nurture his cousin John Mark; however, we know no details.

This should challenge us because we have a sort of hindsight that Paul and Barnabas did not. We can see the real tragedy in the separation of these two faithful apostles, missionaries and friends. I am not saying they should or should not have parted ways. Perhaps it was for the best. I am also not saying that Christians today shouldn’t part ways when there are severe disagreements; however, we should be challenged to have enough humility to see the tragedy in that, for such severe separation has consequences beyond our control.

We can still express Christian love through it and, Paul and Barnabas did so. Paul never besmirched his former partner. He went his separate way and so did Barnabas. Still, we as Christians need to be cautious in how we approach one another and, if separation is inevitable and necessary, we need to still show a love for the other that witnesses to the power of Christ in both parties’ lives. Let us, consider all of this and begin to grow in Christ’s grace and love.

They will know we are Christians by our love.

Lord, help me be a great witness of your love and your grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 239: Stephen

Read Acts 7

“None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.”  (Acts 6:10, 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.

Craughwell-STEPHENPart 239: Stephen. When it comes to Stephen, not a lot is known about him prior to becoming a Christian. One can assume he was Jewish because, unlike “Nicholas of Antioch”, a foreign location was not added to his name. Aside from that, all we have to go on is what is found in Acts 6-7.

We first learn of Stephen in Acts 6, where he was described by Luke as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (v. 5) and “a man full of God’s grace and power.” He was one of the seven deacons that the Apostles appointed to judiciously take care of the distribution of food to the church. Thus, Stephen was one of the seven people ensuring that everyone would get food and not be discriminated against.

At some point a group of Diaspora Jewish freedmen, or freed slaves, got into a debate with Stephen. It is not certain where this happened; however, the result of the debate did not end well for Stephen. According to Luke, he evidently won the debate, which further enraged these Hellenistic Jews. Luke says that they persuaded some men to lie about overhearing Stephen blaspheme against Moses and God. To “blaspheme against Moses”, more than likely, meant to blaspheme against God’s Law or Torah, which was given from God to the Israelites through Moses.

Thus, as a result of that charge, Stephen was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin to be tried for blasphemy. Of course, the punishment for blasphemy was death by stoning. Thus, Stephen’s life was very much in jeopardy. These were serious charges, as was the fact that Stephen was following Jesus, whose death the Sanhedrin was partially responsible for.

Before we go further, I want to clear something up. I have seen Stephen’s words used by ultra-conservative Christians as a way of perpetrating anti-semitism. I have also seen ultra-progressive Christians call Stephen’s speech as the most antisemitic speech in the Bible. Both sides are wrong. Stephen was not an antisemite, as he was Jewish. He also was not speaking out against ALL JEWS, but rather against the Jewish Religious Leadership…aka the Sanhedrin! That context matters and needs to be acknowledged.

Stephen, knowing the jeopardy he was in, did indeed give an impassioned speech that brought his audience on a journey through Jewish history. He honored Moses and the prophets in his speech, but he also called out the pattern of resistance and persecution that were inflicted on the prophets by the religious establishment and Jewish leadership. In doing this, he severely angered the members of the Sanhedrin and, consequently, was stoned to death for blasphemy. His last words as he died were, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin.” In other words, his last words were a prayer for forgiveness for those who were killing him.

In the midst of adversity, Stephen’s love for Jesus Christ took over and he did not let fear or consequence stand in his way of preaching the Good News. It cost him his life; however, his witness (martyr is Greek for witness) has endured the last 2,000 years. As people of God, we are being called to have Stephen’s passion for Christ.  We are being called to stand up for the truth and to preach the Good News to all people everywhere, even if that means facing the consequences for doing so. There are different ways in which we are each called to be faithful witnesses. I hope you will reflect on how Christ is calling you to be his witness in your community.

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” – Søren Kierkegaard

Lord, help me be as faithful a witness as Stephen so that, through me, others may see the glory of your salvation offered freely to them. Amen.

God’s People, part 163: Ascended

Read Acts 1:6-11

“Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God.”  (Luke 24:50-53, 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.

Ascension-of-Jesus-GettyImages-182188871-5807a21e5f9b5805c2aba36fPart 163: Ascended. In today’s Scripture we have an account of Jesus’s ascension as provided by Luke. Both the main Scripture reading and the second Scripture reading come from texts that were written by Luke. In Acts, Luke elaborates a little more on the ascension and the disciples’ reaction to it, as the Acts of the Apostles was written to account for the ministry and struggles of the early church. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, just gives us a synopsis of the ascension as a brief conclusion of the Gospel. It is important to note that Luke wrote the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles back to back as a two-volume collection.

To many people today, it may seem insignificant that Jesus ascended. In other words, people might wonder why it matters so much that he ascended into heaven. What gives if that was a literal event or if it was more metaphorical? The same people might wonder why it is such a big deal if Jesus physically rose from dead as well. “Perhaps”, they might think, “those things were metaphors that provided people with hope that there was hope in the midst of death on some sort of “spiritual” level. Perhaps, the ascension is also a metaphor as well. Does it really need to have historically happened for it to not be meaningful?

First, the answer to the last question is no, it does not have to have historically happened for it to have meaning. Stories such as the Lord of the Rings are deep with meaning even though they never historically happened. Fables such as the Tortoise and the Hare are not historical accounts, but are rich with meaning. So, it is true that something does not have to be historical to have profound meaning.

With that said, the disciples and the early church were not looking to convey deep, personal meaning to people. What I mean by that is that the earliest Christians were not writing the Gospels as some sort of meaningful fiction that the readers could walk away from feeling spiritually fed. Yes, they understood that reading the Gospels would nurture and feed, but not just for the sake of doing so.

Instead, these accounts were written as a witness to identity of a historical figure. Was Jesus merely another crucified Jewish traitor in a long, bloody history of crucified Jewish traitors? Was he merely a failed rabbi and revolutionary? Or was there more to this man that met the eye. The disciples who had spent three years in itinerant ministry with him…who traveled with him, who learned from him, who witnessed his sacrifice, who witnessed his physical resurrection, and his ascension…they were witnessing to the IDENTITY of Jesus.

He was not merely another man. Sure, he was human who lived in a specific time and place in history; however, he was so much more than that. He rose from the dead and, in doing so, conquered sin and death. How? Because the wages of sin are death. Jesus took on those wages on the cross, but he resurrected, appeared to his disciples and, when the time was right, ascended into heaven where he sits with God Almighty.

Jesus was no ordinary man. Though human, he was also fully divine. That is HIS IDENTITY and it is that identity that gives us the assurance that God will conquer sin and death in us too, through faith in Jesus Christ who died, rose and ascended before us. If that is just a “metaphor” Jesus is no more than Heracles/Hercules, Achilles, Perseus, etc.

The disciples who witnessed Jesus resurrect and ascend were adamant witnesses to the REALITY of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. What’s more, they went to their deaths proclaiming that REALITY. The question for us is this: Do we think ourselves to be so knowledgeable to be able to discount the mystery of IMMANUEL: God with us? The challenge for us is to humble ourselves and trust in the One who is the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Have faith and believe that Jesus who conquered sin and death on the cross, who rose to life and ascended to heaven, can be a conqueror, miracle worker, and Savior in your life as well. He is risen, and ascended, indeed!

“At His Ascension our Lord entered Heaven, and He keeps the door open for humanity to enter.” – Oswald Chambers

Lord, give me the strength to overcome the trappings of this world and to see you as you truly are, revealed to me by the faithful witness of Scripture and those who came before me. Amen.

God’s People, part 162: Appeared

Read John 20

“He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.”  (1 Corinthians 15:5-8, 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.

The entrance to the tomb of St. Thomas in Chennai, India. Taken by Rev. Todd Lattig
The entrance to the tomb of St. Thomas in Chennai, India. Taken by Rev. Todd Lattig

Part 162: Appeared. People who have a hard time believing, or who flatly refuse to believe that Jesus resurrected, will often suggest that perhaps Jesus’ followers were hallucinating. Another suggestion out there is that the Twelve stole Jesus’ body and/or made a story in order to keep Jesus’ legacy going. Scientists such as Richard Dawkins, posit that Jesus is the result of a superstitious people who lived in an age where one did not have a choice but to believe in gods and religion. (For a full discourse on this, check out Special Episode 16a and 16b of Life-Giving Water Messages).

These possibilities are coming from people who pride themselves in their ability to “reason”. In fact, most people, myself included, would consider these people rational and intelligent human beings. There’s no doubt about that; however, when one weighs the facts, it becomes clear that the likeliness that the disciples were merely making up a lie, or were themselves hallucinating and believing in delusional mythological happenings is, to put it mildly, rather slim.

First, we have Saul of Tarsus, who was a Pharisee and a major opponent of the Jesus movement. He approved of and oversaw the stoning and martyrdom of Stephen, who was the first Christian executed for his faith in Jesus. He persecuted and arrested countless Christians before suddenly becoming a Christian himself. If the disciples had merely made up “seeing” Jesus, how would that translate to a highly educated, zealous Pharisee suddenly doing a 180 degree turn and following this resurrected Messiah? Paul, formerly Saul, of Tarsus wrote:

“You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors. But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles…” (Galatians 1:13-16a, NLT).

This same Pharisee, now known as Paul, ended up in the heart of the Roman Empire preaching the Good News of the same Messiah whose followers he once persecuted. He had endured traveling the known world at the time, had been persecuted and nearly killed, abandoned by many of his friends, and eventually sent to Rome under arrest, all for this Jesus’ sake. He eventually died for his new-found faith.

Add in the fact that all of the disciples, minus John, died for their faith after much laborious traveling and preaching. Thomas, the one who did not at first believe Jesus rose from the dead, ended up traveling to India and started preaching in Kerala (where one of the oldest Christian communities in the world exists) and zig-zagged across the kingdom-states in that land, all the way to the Chennai off of the Bay of Bengal, where he was martyred.

Why would these men, including a persecutor of early Christians as well as a skeptic, die for a myth? Even more incredulous, why would they die for an elaborate hoax? This hardly seems reasonable, let alone probable. The witness from Paul is that the risen Christ appeared first to Peter and the Twelve, and the Gospels let us know that, in fact, the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women who first came to the tomb that Easter morning. After that, he was was seen by more than 500 believers. Then, finally, seen by Paul himself as he was on his way to arrest more Christians in Damascus.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus’s body did not just disappear from a tomb, but he physically appeared to many people who went on to form the earliest Christian communities. Those communities spread from Judaea through Asia, Africa, Europe and eventually throughout the entire world. All of this because JESUS APPEARED.

Actually, Jesus has never stopped appearing. I have witnessed him in my life and so have countless other Christians. The challenge for us is to open our hearts to Jesus and to allow him to appear to us. He will if you just open up to that experience. Read the Gospels. Read the account of the Acts of the Apostles. Read the letters of Paul and the earliest Apostles. There you will be introduced to our Lord and, if you are open to it, you will meet him in your own life too, face-to-face, and you will be transformed. This is not a hoax, but the Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ.

“Few people seem to realize that the resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone to a worldview that provides the perspective to all of life.” – Josh McDowell

Lord, reveal yourself to me and transform me from who I am to who you created me to be. Amen.

God’s People, part 160: The Tomb

Read Mark 6:1-8

“Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.”  (Mark 15:47, 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.

SONY DSCPart 160: Tomb. The English word for heresy comes from the Greek word, αἵρεσις. In Greek, it originally meant “choice” or “thing chosen”, but eventually came to be also seen as the “the party or school of a person’s choice.” In Christianity, it came to have an added meaning, especially in the 2nd century. This can be seen in the writings of the Church Fathers such as, Tertullian and Irenaeus. During that time heresy came to mean a school of thought or teachings that was contrary to the teachings of Christ and the orthodox doctrines of the church. Anyone who follows such schools of thought or teachings were considered to be heretics, and those who were responsible for first espousing them were considered heresiarchs.

The word, unfortunately but for good reason, has gotten a bad wrap as a result of some of the historical responses the Church had toward heretics. Initially, excommunication and exile were common responses; however, as the churches grew in power under Constantine and subsequent emperors and popes, the responses became more and more vile and unChristian. I need not go into detail here. We all have heard of the Witch trials and burnings in Europe, the witch trials and hangings in America, the Inquisition and other such horrific and evil historical events.

What’s more, not all of the supposed “heretics” were actually heretics, especially during the time of the Inquisition and the European/American “Witch Craze”; rather, some were more or less scapegoats. With that said, the church needs to reclaim the language all the while guarding itself against graceless responses to it. The reason I say this is that the church is threatened by people who would like to succumb to modern understandings over and above ancient wisdom. While the church must find graceful, loving, ways of defending the faith, it is imperative that we do so.

To be sure, we need to consider what heresy is and what it is not. It is NOT a difference of opinion on non-doctrinal and non-essential doctrinal matters. For instance, Calvinists hold to the doctrine of double-predestination and Wesleyans hold to the doctrine of free will; however, neither could be seen as heretical because they are not essential to what it means to be a Christian. They maybe essential to their prospective schools of thought, but not to the universal Church. Also, many conservative Christians believe that we should have traditional views on human sexuality, and many progressive Christians view the need for a change toward inclusion of the LGTBQ community. Neither view can be viewed as heretical because neither view is essentially definitive of what it means to be Christian.

Areas that are DEFINITIVE, however, iare doctrines such as the death, burial, and physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning, orthodox (or traditional) Christians have affirmed the physical death, burial, resurrection and bodily ascension of Christ. In the early church, groups like the gnostics tried to deny such physicality. They tried to say that Jesus was merely a spirit and that the person who died on the cross was not actually Christ, because Christ’s spirit transferred into Simon of Cyrene. Thus, to the gnostics and others, the body on the cross was that of Jesus…but the spirit was NOT that of the CHRIST’s. Others tried to deny that Jesus was ever crucified and buried at all and that he was taken up to heaven much in the same way that Elijah was.

Such views were considered heretical because they directly opposed the earliest Christian witness of the apostles and the Church Fathers who followed them. Today, we face similar views because people see such beliefs as being in conflict with our scientific understanding. There is a fear that holding such views will shout to the world that Christians are ignorant.

Friends, we as Christians need to uphold the traditional, orthodox doctrines of the church for they best express the faithful witness of those closest to Jesus and his apostles. To do otherwise is to separate oneself from Christian thought and the true power of the risen, resurrected Christ. Jesus did die, he was buried in the tomb and his physical death was real and final. By final I mean that he truly died in the physical sense, his life ceased, as it does under such terrible abuse and torture. He stayed dead for two full days before rising on the third day. His resurrection was the power of God, bringing life to his dead body. While the church ought to cherish the beauty of diversity, it must also make the boundaries firm so that we are faithful to the Christian witness.

The tomb reminds us of the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and it also witnesses to the absolute sovereignty and power of God over the created order. We should not choose the wisdom gathered from the created order over that of the Creator. Rather than try to explain the mystery of the tomb, let us embrace it, feeling both its despair, its finality and, on the other side, the hope found in it being EMPTY. Let us avoid the heresies of the past and let us avoid falling into new ones. Let us be guided by the witness of the earliest Christian Church that came before us. Christ is risen and, if we acknowledge what God has done, we too can rise up from the tomb into the LIFE God has set before us!

Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine. Let us not mistakenly turn the wine back into water.

Lord, help me to hold fast to the orthodox, early Christian witness and help me profess it in all that I do. Amen.


Read Mark 4:1-9, 13-20

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NLT)

TheThornsFor those who may be reading one of my devotions for the first time, or for those who may need to be refreshed, one of my favorite bands is the Christian heavy metal band, Demon Hunter. On their album, Storm the Gates of Hell, there is a profoundly powerful song entitled, “Thorns”. The lyrics utilize the imagery of the thorns to both symbolize the brokenness of humanity and the salvific wholeness that comes through Jesus Christ.

The song came out of the Ryan Clark’s interaction with Demon Hunter fans. He had been hearing about how their music was giving hope to countless people. In each story they heard how the music and the lyrics had helped pull people from the depths of despair into the heights of hope. Many of these people talked about their struggles with cutting and/or harming themselves, which got Ryan thinking about cutting in general.

Here were people who were lost, people who were in so much psychological, emotional and spiritual pain that they would cut themselves to try and “take some of that pain away.” That may seem counter-intuitive; however, psychological, emotional and spiritual pain can be far greater than any physical pain that one can endure. The truth is that the adage, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, is actually the furthest thing from the truth.

Words do hurt, and they do far more damage than sticks and stones. What’s more, depressed minds, souls, and hearts suffer in a hell that seemingly one seemingly has NO EXIT from. On top of that, they are alone in their suffering because, while people can see and tend to physical injuries, they cannot see and often dismiss psyhcological and emotional injuries.


So, Ryan began to think about how people get so lost in their own hurt and pain that they try to cut their way out of it; however, the tragedy beyond their suffering is that Christ endured being cut (e.g. crown of thorns, whip, nails, and spear) so that we might find THE EXIT from the hells we find ourselves in. While SIN put Jesus on the cross, it could not keep him there. Christ’s resurrection was Christ conquering sin and death, and we can share in that resurrection and rise up out of the sin and death we find ourselves so lost in! There’s HOPE in that, for Christ is the EXIT from our hellish suffering that we so long for.

This song also makes me think of the “Parable of the Sower.” In that parable, Jesus likens God’s Word (both Scripture and Jesus. See John 1:1-4, 14) as seeds in that a farmer scatters on soil. One of the types of soil mentioned is soil that is filled with vines with thorns. Those seeds begin to grow as plants; however, the thorns quickly choke the life out of them. Jesus goes on to explain to his disciples that the thorns represent all of the things in this world that act as distractions and pull us away from the SOURCE OF LIFE (aka GOD).

We get crowded by worries, by the lure of wealth, the desire for more stuff, the need to be accepted by other people, our body image, the hurtful and injurious words of others, and a whole host of other things. Even if we know in our heads that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), our hearts are choked by the other things that are possessing us. Whether it is self-inflicted, or inflicted on us by others, those things take root and choke the very life out of us.

Today’s challenge is for us to pause and reflect on what in our lives is choking the life out of us. Do you suffer from body image issues? Do you suffer from psychological, emotional and spiritual pain? Do you find yourself surrounded by abusive people who do not value you as a child of God? Do you long to be accepted by others, and find yourself doing whatever it takes to attain that acceptance? Do you suffer from the disease of wanting more? Are you lured by wealth? Are you constantly worried about EVERYTHING?

What is it that is choking the life out of you? What is it that is plunging you deep into the very pit of hell? Remember, you NEED NOT suffer! You need not accept the burden of your suffering as “your cross to bear”. For it is NOT YOURS TO BEAR. There is One who has born it for you! There is One who has carried that load, and who has “stormed the gates of hell” in order to FREE YOU from it! That One is Jesus Christ and he has conquered sin and death through his resurrection so that you can be resurrected with him. Place your faith in Christ and take the steps you need to be liberated from your suffering. Find a community of like-minded believers who will support you and help FREE YOU from the chains that this world has bound you in! You are profoundly loved, and you are FREE in Christ! Amen.

“Don’t sever what you are for what you couldn’t be.” – Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter, taken from the song, “Thorns”.

Lord, reveal the truth of your love to me. Save me from the thorns that are choking me to death. Amen.

The Sermon, part 3: The Light and the City

Read Matthew 5:14-16

“He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6 NLT)

r4x3-1600Have you ever been in hiking in the woods at night? I have been. For anyone who has been camping, you know that it is pitch black in the forest at night. When I was a teenager, I went on an all night excursion on the Appalachian Trail with a couple of my friends.  I can remember how our parents were not so happy with us for doing that because of the danger of walking around the woods, over rough terrain, in the pitch-black darkness. Thankfully, we did have a couple of flashlights, otherwise we may not have been so lucky as it was really dark in there.

Speaking of flashlights, that brings me to this devotion’s focus within the famed Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. What could Jesus possibly mean by saying that the disciples are the light of the world? What is the purpose of a light, such as a lit candle, a lantern, a light bulb, or a flashlight? Why would anyone turn on a light?

For those who are thinking in terms of a “spotlight”, I would caution them to pause and look at the context of the passage. Jesus calls his disciples the light of the world and then reminds them that the purpose of a light and/or a lamp is best served on a stand, as opposed to being hidden under a basket. Why is that? Because, a lamp on a stand gives off light to everyone in the house, allowing them to see their surroundings and find their way from room to room without stumbling.

In other words, the light Jesus is referring to is the kind of light that points the way. It is the light that illumines the area for all to see where they are going. The purpose of the light is not to draw attention to the lamp, but to “The Way.” The disciples, according to Jesus’ metaphor, are the lamps that shine the light out for the world. The light is not shining for the world to see them, but for the world to see “the Way”, which is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Along side of this metaphor Jesus puts forth another one, only that this one stands in contrast to the other. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” This metaphor points us to an inherent truth of what it means to be Christ’s disciples, as well as what it means to be the bearer of the light. Though these two metaphors are in contrast with one another, they are so purposefully and the one cannot work without the other.

If you have ever gone to the city of San Francisco, it is a magnificent city to see. It rolls up and down hills and is impossible to miss as you approach it. Jerusalem was also a city on a hill and Jesus’ metaphor is also a warning. In Isaiah 2:2-5; 42:6; 49:6, we see that God refers to Israel, and Jerusalem, as being the light for the gentiles. God had planned for God’s people to be the city on the hill, for all to see. It was by the example of Israel, by their righteous (just) living, and by their visible relationships with neighbor, with each other, and with God that the world was to be redeemed. God had hoped that people would see Israel, as a younger sibling looks up to their older brother or sister, and follow their lead.

Unfortunately, time and time again that had failed to come to fruition. Israel split from Judah, Judah became as corrupt as the next kingdom, and the people had failed to truly witness to the world the hope, healing and wholeness that God was offering to the world. Jesus’ metaphor is reminding his disciples that Israel’s call is their call, that God is wanting them to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their Lord. In doing so, the world would see them and follow their lead. Yet, as the light metaphor reminds us, it wouldn’t be them that the world would be actually seeing and following, rather it would be “The Way” to which they are pointing.

In order for people to see Christ through us, we have to be visible to them. We have to truly display Christ in our lives, in our attitudes, in our actions, and in everything we do. When our actions, words, thoughts, and examples are mirror reflections of the world around us, we fail to be the city on the hill, we fail to be the lamp on the stand, and we fail to be the light of the world. The question for us is, will we let the world get the best of us and fail in our mission. Will we be agents of division, politics, biterness, strife, enmity, and the things of this world, or will we be Christ’s lamp on a stand, like a city on a hill, visibly representing Christ and shining the light on “The Way” that is Jesus Christ? Now is the time to choose.

“The lamp burns bright when the wick and oil are clean.” – Ovid

Lord, clean my wick and fill me with your holy oil that I may burn bright and shine the light on the way. Amen.