Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

What God Requires: Lent 2018 at St. Andrew UMC

Posted by on Monday, February 12, 2018 @ 9:56 AM

The season of Lent is a time for intentional self-reflection, preparation, and a commitment to deep, faithful, living. In the early days of the church new Christians would embark on an intense spiritual journey of fasting, praying, devotion, and discipline during Lent in anticipation of being baptized on Easter. Shedding their old self in preparation for receiving new life in Christ as was promised in his resurrection, they would endure sacrifice, spiritual refinement, and, at the other end of Lent, a strong, unshakeable, growing and maturing faith in action.

Today, faithful Christians give themselves to this Lenten journey with the same faith, hope, and love as those early converts. We fast and pray. We give up our old self-centered ways and strive to make God the center of our lives. We follow Jesus’ example of love and self- sacrifice. We anticipate fulfillment of God’s promise at Easter…   that from our imperfect, messy, and troubled lives, God can raise up new people, faithful people, powerful people capable of extending and expanding God’s Kingdom throughout creation.

This Lenten season, at St. Andrew UMC, we will take up the call for justice. Throughout the Old and New Testaments God’s primary and unwavering call upon all people is to submit fully to God in faithful obedience and to remember God’s mighty acts of love, liberation, and salvation. God’s call in this is unmistakable:

God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Pastor Erik

Endure to the End

Posted by on Monday, February 5, 2018 @ 9:16 AM

My wife Amy is always accusing me of having a negative attitude. Ok…   so maybe I do see the glass half-empty sometimes. Ok…   so maybe I take things too seriously sometimes. Ok…   so maybe I do think about the end of the world more often than I should.

Yes…   really…   I do. Not because of some morbid fascination though, but rather because I’m really honestly afraid for the survival of humankind. Our short-sighted, self-centered, drive for profits, penchant for war, abuse of our environment, and creation of menacing technology (like nukes, AI, weaponized diseases, etc.) vastly outstrips the maturity of our morality, spirituality, and wisdom. The human community is no better or worse than in any other era in history…   we’ve always been this way. What has changed is the capacity for destruction we wield. The human community is like a toddler behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler truck: more likely to crash and crash into others than to drive safely to our destination. At least in more primitive times when, like a toddler, the human community was just beginning to walk. We could make mistakes, fall down, ‘crash’ and get back up and try to do better the next time. These days, the stakes are so high and our very survival hangs in the balance. Any crash is a fatal crash.

It’s not surprising then that the brilliant astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, in a series of articles in 2016 and 2017, has warned that the human community must really try and colonize another planet (like Mars) within the next 100 years. He cites the cumulative increased odds of our demise on Earth resulting from everything from climate change to war to asteroid strikes. His reasoning goes that at least if we ‘crash the truck’ on Earth…   we have another ‘truck’ on another planet.

‘The end of the world’ is a feature in the expression of our Christian faith. The fancy word we use is apocalypse. It’s a Greek word meaning to reveal or uncover (by the way we get the title of the final book in the Bible from this: Revelation). Jesus speaks about the end of the world a few times in his teaching and ministry. One such time is in Matthew 24:

Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

Its scary amazing how accurately Jesus’ description of the end of the world reflects the trials and tribulations of the human community. But, its not like we’ve just been getting worse and worse and worse through the ages…   we’ve stayed the same sinful, arrogant, wealth and power-hungry human community that we’ve always been. So, its’ no wonder that Jesus should be able to describe ‘the end’ with accuracy. Since Jesus’ days our capacity for destruction has just continued to increase exponentially.

The politics and political currents of this world are just an extension of the flaws of our humanity. Just as one toddler can’t drive the 18-wheeler…   no group (or government) of toddlers can. The ‘end’ is still inevitable: crash.

Jesus gives us hope though: “the ones who endure to the end will be saved”. The Kingdom of God is coming…   indeed, it is already here…   breaking into our midst everyday as a counter-example to the madness all around us: love in the face of hate, peace in the face of war, justice in the face of oppression, healing in the face of disease, hope in the face of despair. When we, as Christians, live in courageous defiance of all that is wrong in the kingdoms of the world today, we bear witness to that coming kingdom that is making everything right. Yes, there will be a crash, but the politics of Jesus promises us that, from that point on, God will be in the driver’s seat.


Let Faith Rise Above Politics

Posted by on Monday, January 29, 2018 @ 10:41 AM

Too many Christians make the mistake of letting POLITICS define decisions of FAITH. Our political system (especially in these divisive times) drags us down, creating winners and losers on the ‘battlefield’ of society and culture. And, the results may not really be what we intend.

In the news over the past few years has been the ‘battle’ in which Christian bakery owners have refused to bake wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples who are getting married. They cite the prohibition of same-sex relationships in the Bible and invoke their POLITICAL right of religious freedom to refuse to serve these couples.

This is a problem. Not all people (and certainly not all of our political laws and rights) are Christian. There is a diversity of faith perspectives in American culture and society and people are free to live as they choose so long as it is legal. And, while our deepest hope as Christians is that ALL people come to know Jesus, it just doesn’t seem right to use politics to ‘win’ this battle. This is because it creates ‘losing’: a couple who is free to live as they choose is intentionally excluded, and the witness of Christians as people of God’s love is tarnished.

The better way and higher ground for Christians is to let FAITH rise above issues of POLITICS. It may seem like a small, subtle difference…   but, in fact, it is huge. This way, it’s not our political system creating winners and losers, it is our faith rising above the politics of the day to embrace greater, more unifying and transforming truths. Jesus faced this with a much different issue but with similar dynamics in Matthew 22:15-22:

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

If Jesus let conventional politics define this as a decision of faith (the mistake we have been talking about) it would have been a mess. On the one hand, he could have said “NO, it is not right to pay the tax”. After all, a faithful Jew (as he was) couldn’t condone the payment of taxes to an oppressive regime that prevented them from the full-expression of their religious life. On the other hand, he could have said “YES, it is right to pay the tax”. But then, the religious leaders would have him condemned for legitimizing an oppressive regime. All of this creating winners and losers in a divisive battlefield of society and culture.

In a move that impressed everyone present (and all of us through the ages), Jesus flips the question and lets FAITH rise above the issue of POLITICS. “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

The politics of Jesus calls us to remember that we are IN the world but not OF the world. Our first allegiance is to God and God’s Kingdom. This allegiance MUST govern all areas of our lives. However, because we are ‘in the world’ we are enmeshed in the kingdoms of this world and their politics. We shouldn’t let our faith get ‘dragged down’ into political battles, policies, and politics of this world…  we should rise above the politics of the world by our timeless and tireless faith in God as the real center and authority of our lives.

By the way…   what does it look like for our faith to rise above politics in this circumstance?  Can a Christian bake a cake for a gay or lesbian wedding? Of course. The no-win scenario of politics is seeing the issue as either expressing religious freedom (that results in hurting and excluding others who are different), or being compelled to betray one’s religious convictions by the wider society. The politics of Jesus might suggest flipping the question: let’s give to people what is owed people: love, justice, fairness, equity and let’s give to God what is owed God: love, obedience, and ultimate allegiance.

Pastor Erik Hall

The Greatest Shall Serve

Posted by on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 @ 9:17 AM

The average person born after 1980 is expected to take approximately 25,000 selfies in their lifetimes. That’s a whopping 395 per year! Social media gives us a ready platform for all these selfies and the daily stories that go with them.  It feels like we are starring in our own blockbuster movie day after day with likes and follows and comments from all of our adoring fans.

It is (and maybe always has been) a ‘me-me-me’ culture. We are obsessed with ourselves…   our looks…   our money…   our fashion…   our careers…   our toys…  our homes…   our families…   our happiness…   our happiness…   our happiness. Still, the United States is the number one consumer of anti-depressant medications. Still, most our children grapple more with ‘teen-age angst’ (the feelings of emotional turmoil and being misunderstood in ‘finding themselves’) and ‘affluenza’ (the malaise that comes from having everything money can buy but still feeling unfulfilled, unmotivated, and ungrateful) than they do with existential threats to their existence (like war, poverty, disease, or natural disasters that are faced by the less-fortunate).

In a me-me-me culture then, it is no surprise, that we elect politicians that reflect these me-me-me values. We elect the super-rich. We elect the super-famous. We elect the super-strong. We applaud ‘me first’ policies. We applaud tough talk that raises ‘me’ up even if it’s by beating others down. We reward our political leaders (both Republican and Democrat) who appeal to our me-me-me sensibilities…   ones that are strong, no bull, fighters that will fearlessly lead us into a world in which we get everything we want.

The politics of Jesus is just the opposite:

25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Jesus’ disciples often argued about who of them was going to be given the positions of greatest power and prestige when Jesus would come into power. They were thinking the way many of us think today in our me-me-me culture: how can I advance my position, become powerful, and get what I want. Jesus, however, had come to give himself away for others…   to serve others…   to sacrifice for others. He loved others and counted that love and service as more desirable than anything he could gain for himself. Of course, in giving himself away, paradoxically, he is given power and authority over all of creation. In giving himself away, he extends grace, forgiveness, and opportunity for salvation to a sinful me-me-me first world.

In Matthew 16:25, Jesus describes this way of life perfectly: “those who want to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. Maybe if we cared to serve and give more than to rule and receive we would actually be happier, more fulfilled, more content. Maybe in losing our me-me-me first lives we will find a much better and fuller life for ourselves and the world. Maybe if we extended that to our politics and political leaders we could replace divisive, partisan, mud-slinging, saber-rattling, me-first bravado with unifying, bridge-building, generous and compassionate servanthood.

Erik Hall,


The Kingdom Has Come

Posted by on Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 9:33 AM

A ‘flip-flop’ is when a political leader changes their position on a particular issue or set of issues and begins to speak, act, and legislate in a way contrary to their original position. We hear examples of it all the time. Its not ALWAYS a bad thing…   sometimes a political leader grows in their understanding, sometimes their views evolve with changes in the society, sometimes their personal experiences impact and change their perspective.

Aaahhh….  But most of the time it is not so noble, not so evolving, not such a personal development. The truth is, most flip-flopping happens when a politician’s interests (usually re-election prospects) are no longer served well by their stance on an issue. They simply change their position in order retain their political position as a matter of expediency.

Money, favor, power, fame….   these, unfortunately, are a very powerful currency in the politics of our day, as they have been throughout the politics of human history. Justice, liberty, human rights, civil rights…   these, while given a whole lot of lip-service, have never moved the needle very much in comparison.

And so, this creates a culture and society in which there is no foundation of commonly held and cherished, commonly protected and served, set of ideals by which we chart our course forward and fulfill our greatest potential. Sure, such ideals are spoken about. There is given the vague illusion that they still command our respect and allegiance. But, in truth, the fickle political winds blow and our politicians bend and sway and flip and flop to achieve their up-side as much and as often as possible.

Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:25-28)

In this passage, Jesus is defending John the Baptist after John, possibly in a moment of weakness of faith, sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is REALLY the coming messiah. John had already staked his life and reputation on the claim. John had already acted to his own personal sacrifice to proclaim justice and righteousness. He had repeatedly confronted King Herod on his adulterous relationship, and has now found himself in prison. John the Baptist was no flip-flopper!

Jesus, in his defense of John, contrasts him with the rich and powerful of his day. Jesus is attempting to show the crowd what true greatness is…   not the greatness that comes from political power, fame or fortune:

Not a reed swayed by the wind

Not a man dressed in fine clothes

Not a man indulging in luxury

Not a man in a palace

John, Jesus proclaims, is a prophet and more than a prophet. A prophet is one who truthfully speaks the reliable word of God to the people. John does this as well as preparing the way for the coming messiah and the Kingdom of God.

This task can only be given to one who is 100% committed to the values of the Kingdom of God…   obedience, repentance, justice, righteousness, mercy…   even if it means sacrifice and the loss of his own life (which by the way is exactly what happened…   he was beheaded by Herod while in prison). John was so committed that no matter what ‘better offer’ might have come along to benefit him personally, he would have remained a steadfast champion of the Kingdom of God.

We may never be able to achieve a culture and society in which there is a foundation of commonly held and cherished, commonly protected and served, set of ideals by which we chart our course forward and fulfill our greatest potential. The rampant practice of political expediency will not allow it.

But, thankfully, as Christians, we are not primarily citizens of the kingdoms of this world. We are not primarily dependent upon the promises of flip-flopping politicians. We belong to God and we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom does not bend or sway. It has a firm foundation in Jesus. And if we hold true to the Kingdom values of obedience, repentance, justice, righteousness, and mercy with honesty and integrity, even in the face of personal sacrifice, we too shall be called great just as John was.

Erik Hall,


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