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Margins of Miraculous: Pilate by Shawn Blythe

How will people remember you?  It’s a question that many of us ask ourselves as we seek to live our lives in accordance with God’s will, but keenly aware of our abundant shortcomings.

Pontius Pilate is a classic example of a man for whom a single incident over-shadowed a lifetime of service to the Roman Empire.  Decisions made over the course of only a couple of hours would ultimately define him.  When somebody mentions the name of Pontius Pilate, nobody mentions his standing in the Roman equestrian order, nobody remembers his likely notable family roots back in Italy and nobody references his relatively long tenure as the governor of Judea. We all remember him as the man who (at least in earthly terms) condemned Jesus to the cross.

Pilate, like any prefect or governor, was a politician.  His ability to maintain his role as governor required a careful balance between the forces of Rome and the local Jewish population.  If he leans too heavily towards Rome, the people revolt, and he fails.  If he leans too heavily towards the local Jewish population, Rome sees him as a traitor, and he fails.

Pilate was the 5th Roman prefect of Judea to attempt this balance – following Coponius, Marcus Ambibulus (or my favorite alternative spelling for a politician: Ambivulus), Annius Rufus and Valerius Gratus.  The first three served roughly three years each, while Valerius Gratus and Pilate each served approximately eleven years.  Each of them worked with, but kept a tight reign over, the local leadership (Sanhedrin).  In fact, it was the Roman governor who appointed the high priest who led the Sanhedrin.

This relationship led to the potential for ‘conflicts of interest’ for the high priest as they sought to balance their responsibility to the Jewish people as both an administrative and religious leader, while at the same time keeping the Roman governor satisfied enough to maintain them in the position of high priest.  The high priests under Pilate’s predecessor were unable to maintain that balance.  Valerius Gratus went through several high priests before settling on Joseph Caiaphas in AD 18.  Caiaphas apparently learned from his predecessors mis-steps and managed to keep this role as high priest through the remainder of Valerius Gratus’ rule – and throughout the entirety of Pilate’s reign as prefect.  This is a significant length of time to serve as high priest and suggests a reasonably congenial relationship with the Roman government.

In fact, Caiaphas was only replaced after Pilate was recalled to Rome by Tiberius, likely due to Pilate’s mishandling of a revolt in Samaria.  Vitellius (Governor of Syria – under whom the rule of Judea fell) appointed his colleague Marcellus as a replacement for Pilate.  Marcellus in turn immediately replaced Caiaphas with Jonathan ben Ananus as high priest in order to wipe the slate clean.  The death of Tiberius ends the written record of Pilate as there is no indication of the disposition of his hearing, nor any further reliable record of his life.

Pilate was not known for running a clean administration and is often accused of collusion with Caiaphas to spend Temple treasury funds for projects outside their intended purpose.  He likely significantly mis-handled the sensitivities of the local population on at least three occasions, the last of which led to his recall to Rome.  His apparently cozy relationship with Caiaphas was ultimately not seen as a positive factor for either one of them.

But it is less than an hour or two of interaction with Jesus for which he is best known.  He came face to face with the human incarnation of God – but somehow managed the situation as just another task in a long list of tasks requiring his daily decisions.  He met Jesus for the first time early on Friday morning and by 9:00 a.m. Jesus was already being crucified (Mark 15).  Pilate likely went about his normal daily business for the rest of the day but was aware enough of the crucifixion timing to be surprised that Jesus was already dead when Joseph of Arimathea requested his body later that afternoon (Mark 15).  Pilate’s agreement to allow Joseph to take Christ’s body is the last Biblical record we have of Pilate.

All four gospel writers record Pilate’s role that day.  The Believer’s Prayer (Acts 4) also references Pilate’s actions.  Paul does the same in his sermon at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13).  More contemporarily, Pilate’s deeds were incorporated as early as the eighth century into the version of the Apostle’s Creed that we know today.

Pilate was a man who believed that he had the power and authority to make decisions on his own accord (John 19).  I fear that he is very much like us in that regard.  We go about our lives pleading with God about the jobs we need, the healing we desire or the relationships we want created, ended or mended.  But we do so without the humility of Jesus’ addendum to his own pleadings “Yet, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26).  We proceed without recalling the answer Paul received to his own supplications “My grace is sufficient for you” (II Corinthians 12).  Don’t get me wrong – God wishes to hear our prayers, but His answer will be within the context of God’s plan based on infinite love for us. 

Pilate’s interaction with the Savior of the world was limited in his view to the confines of his duties as Prefect of Judea.  He never allowed it to get any bigger than that.  He never permitted Jesus to become personal for him.

The final historical verdict for Pilate is somewhat mixed.  Some believe that he was convicted of crimes by Caligula (Tiberius’ successor) – perhaps even exiled or executed.  While others believe he may have taken his own life in remorse, or simply moved on to his next assignment, or just retired.  Some even treat him as a saint (e.g., Ethiopian Orthodox) and believe he and his wife eventually become Christians.

As we consider how we might be remembered, we should strive to leave no such ambiguity.  Our interactions with God should not be treated as distractions from the life we ARE leading.  They should be a continual reminder to repent of the life we WERE leading.  We should not try to place our exposure to the miraculous within the tidy box of our plans for the day.  It is an opportunity to unpack the box, examine each of the contents, and consider what should be kept and what should be thrown away. 

We should not make the same mistake that Pilate did in assuming that our interactions with Jesus fit within the confines of our world; rather we need to constantly remind ourselves that Jesus’ interaction with us has no such boundaries.


Margins of Miraculous: Midwives to the Hebrews by Shawn Blythe

We often encounter Biblical characters at a crossroads, brought to our attention at a pivotal moment in which they either rise to God’s calling or fall to their own misgivings and fears.  These crossroads raise questions regarding the “right” decision or why we are in this situation at all.  I am often reminded of Mordecai’s advice to Queen Esther (Esther 4) when she struggled to handle a difficult situation (paraphrased) “Perhaps you have been placed in this position for such a time as this?”  Midwives Shiprah and Puah find themselves in just such a time when they are introduced in Exodus 1.

The profession of midwives is mentioned or indirectly referenced a few times throughout the Bible, with no explanation of its origin or how one came to be a midwife. The position is first mentioned in Genesis 35, describing the comfort that the midwife provided during Rachel’s difficult delivery of Benjamin.  It is mentioned again in Genesis 38 as the midwife tried to manage the identification of the first-born during Tamar’s delivery of twins.  These passing references suggest the midwife’s role was common and well-understood, with no need for further explanation. 

In contrast to these midwives whose decision-making was focused on a single pregnancy, Shiphrah and Puah, midwives to the Hebrews during the time of captivity in Egypt, were faced with a much greater decision. In fear of the growing Hebrew population within his borders, the King of Egypt ordered these midwives to kill all the male children upon birth.

Many have questioned the origins of these women (Hebrew or Egyptian?), their specific roles (were they actual midwives or supervisors of all the other midwives?), and even the depth of their theological understanding.  But what we can’t question is their resulting action.  Forced to choose between obedience to a direct order from the King and their desire to do what was right in the eyes of God, Shiphrah and Puah followed God’s leading.

Scripture does not dwell on the decision-making process, but one can imagine fervent discussions as Shiphrah and Puah weighed the potential consequences of disobeying the King—not only to themselves, but to their families, and to the other midwives and their families.

After making the decision and acting upon it, additional stress must have arisen from the subsequent summons to the king for some explanation as to their failure. The desperate search for a strategy that would placate the king sufficiently to spare their lives must have been a critical concern.  The King’s question “Why did you let the boys live?” was direct and confrontational.

Unlike other Biblical episodes in which bold proclamations of God’s guidance were used as a defense, Shiphrah and Puah settled on a less dramatic, but apparently equally effective, route. They simply blamed the continued survival of Hebrew male children on the vitality of their mothers.  In other words, it cannot be the midwives’ fault if Hebrew women give birth before the midwife can get there!

The impact of the midwives’ decision to let the male children live was extraordinary. Based upon Genesis 46, it is well understood that approximately 70 people (“Jacob and his descendants”) originally entered Egypt. Exodus 12 tells us that 430 years later 600,000 men left Egypt on foot when Moses led them out of bondage. The total number of men, women, and children is estimated to range from two to four million. What percentage owed their lives—either directly or indirectly—to the decision made by Shiphrah and Puah? Given that their actions occurred at least 80 years prior to the departure from Egypt, it is likely that each surviving male was responsible in part for three or four generations of Israelites marching through the Red Sea.

It is a pleasure to read this feel-good story and joyfully acknowledge how God saved a generation or even a nation—a nation that would ultimately become the source of our own salvation. The midwives and the Israelites received a happy ending.  Exodus tells us that the midwives’ decision was rewarded with an even greater increase in Hebrew population and, more specifically, the blessing of families of their own.

But not all prayers are answered this way. In fact, the King of Egypt later took a different tack, ordering all newborn Hebrew males to be thrown into the Nile River. This time there would be no reprieve. Moses was spared  (Exodus 2), but it is likely that most of the Hebrew male babies were not so fortunate. Were the prayers of their mothers any less passionate than those of Moses’ mother, or of the Hebrew mothers during the time of Shiphrah and Puah? Unlikely, yet there was a very different result. 

This is a reminder that we are simply called to live our lives by faith, following God’s leading. Although we may never be in a position to make life and death decisions, daily we address the ramifications of living a life subject to God’s will, rather than our own. The results are outside of our control, with potentially far-reaching consequences. Perhaps they won’t affect a nation—but they may affect our families, co-workers, neighbors, or friends. In some cases, our choices may be rewarded, confirming our decision to do the right thing. Other times, they lead to outcomes far from our liking; when this occurs, we must also stand firm in our decision to do what is right.

Shiphrah and Puah had to make a difficult decision, and they rose to the occasion. Faced with our own dilemmas, we should be reminded, like Queen Esther (paraphrased from Esther 4): “Perhaps we have been placed in this position for such a time as this.”


Want to hear more about Shiphrah and Puah? The Christian Missionary Alliance has included these two midwives in the CMA Core Values video series, as an example of taking a “faith-filled risk.”  Watch Faith Filled Risks now


Margins of Miraculous – New Testament Mailman

Mentioned only five times in the Biblical record, Tychicus is indirectly responsible for the availability of at least two—and likely three—books of the New Testament. Unlike Paul, whose exploits are well chronicled, and Luke, who assured his renown by authoring some of the most documented accounts of the early church, Tychicus has no such name recognition—although he accompanied these well-known figures on all or most of Paul’s last two missionary journeys.

Tychicus never met Jesus. His knowledge of Christ came the same way ours does: someone shared it with him. His contributions to God’s plan were directed second-hand.  He had what we would call a “supporting role” in Paul’s ministry, but this did not prevent Tychicus from providing significant contributions to something much larger than he could have ever imagined.

We first encounter Tychicus as one of Paul’s companions on the third missionary journey, from Ephesus back to Jerusalem via Macedonia (Acts 20). Tychicus—and fellow traveler Trophimus—were initially described as coming from a province of Asia (Asia Minor). Trophimus was later identified more specifically as being from Ephesus (Acts 21), lending some credence to the theory that Tychicus was also from that city. If so, he may have been one of the original disciples greeted by Paul upon his arrival (Acts 19). Most certainly, Tychicus would have spent significant time with Paul, a firsthand witness to his ministry and the resulting successes—and near disasters—that marked Paul’s multi-year stay in Ephesus.

Whether he returned with Paul all the way to Jerusalem is not explicitly stated, but Tychicus was definitely with him at Crete and Rome towards the end of Paul’s ministry and life, a partner in the ministry. Describing Tychicus, Paul uses terms such as “dear brother,” “faithful servant,” and “faithful minister,” and he was one of two people considered as a replacement for Titus at Crete, so that Titus could rejoin Paul at Nicopolis (Titus 3).

Most interesting to me is the near certainty that Tychicus was responsible for delivering Paul’s letters to the churches at Ephesus and Colosse. He was most likely the courier for the letter to Philemon as well, accompanying Onesimus on the journey back to his former master at Colosse.

In the Biblical account, these journeys are mentioned almost in passing. Paul writes that he is sending Tychicus to them, a brief notation in each book, with little fanfare, about a journey from Rome to two cities in what is now Turkey. It is effectively a postscript, an administrative update. But the journey this suggests was in no way an insignificant undertaking.

The trip would have been nearly 1,100 miles, requiring one or two sailings and approximately 500 miles of walking. Gordon Franz, in his article Tychicus: On the Road Again, provided this contemporary U.S. example:

“This trip would be like getting on a sailboat at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and sailing down to New York Harbor, and then walking from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio. In other words, go to the George Washington Bridge; get on Route 80 and head west on foot! (It would probably take about a month to do the hike.)”

This was, of course, in addition to the journeys Tychicus had already taken with Paul, which probably encompassed another one to two thousand miles of travel. We can only imagine the bond that must have grown between them, traveling together over such long distances on foot and by boat, particularly at a time when travel was risky, accommodations uncertain, and safe return home more hoped for than expected.

Although not a perfect analogy, this brings to mind the 1,500-mile drive that I undertook in the immediate aftermath of 9/11—from Dallas, Texas, back home to New Jersey. During this period of uncertainty, I traveled with two colleagues from my company, relative strangers to me. Yet, over the course of that 24-hour drive, a bond was forged that has connected the three of us over the past twenty years. I suspect Tychicus had something much stronger with Paul and Onesimus.

I wonder if Tychicus had any idea of the importance of the letters he carried? They were, after all, relatively short communications from Paul to some small churches. I picture a rolled-up parchment stuffed in a bag, arriving at Ephesus significantly crumpled, torn at the edges, and slightly stained from the journey. Did Tychicus envision the impact of these letters over the following 2,000 years?

If we just consider the letter to the Ephesians, it was a document of only about 3,000 words.  However, an search today reveals over 1,000 books written about those words. Commentaries comprising hundreds of pages scrutinize a letter that, in my Bible, fills just over five pages. There are also sermons, study series, and PhD dissertations, all focused on this single letter.

It was a letter that needed to be delivered, not only for the Ephesians, but for the countless millions who have read its words down through the ages. It was God’s message, communicated through Paul’s writing—but it was Tychicus who delivered the goods.

Willingness to hold the ministry of Christ first in his life put Tychicus in position to be of service to God in ways he could not possibly have imagined. He was a companion, not the main event. He carried the letter, but did not compose its message. He did not receive top billing; instead, his name is buried in the credits. Despite this, the contributions of Tychicus were critical to the existence of the New Testament as we know it. 

Tychicus may have operated on the margins of our world, but he was a central figure in God’s plan, creating an impact that far surpassed what could have been reasonably expected from the simple delivery of a letter. This is a great reminder not to underestimate the importance of the tasks set before us.  Our life is a journey of uncertain length and unknown destinations that fits within the context of a heavenly itinerary far beyond our understanding.  Like Tychicus, we are unlikely to know the ultimate impact of each step of our journey.   


Margins of Miraculous

MARGINS OF MIRACULOUS – Bethlehem by: Shawn Blythe

Had we lived in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth, it is quite likely we would have missed the entire event—or at least its significance. The ongoing census made Bethlehem a busy place, with travelers trying to meet basic needs for food and shelter. The birth—or death—of any single individual would not have distracted most people from more immediate concerns related to hungry children, tired spouses, and a place to spend the night.

Mary and Joseph were two weary travelers lost in a crowd of weary travelers. We envision them approaching an inn—only to be turned away—after which Mary immediately gives birth in a stable around back; yet the scriptures provide no such clarity. We only know for sure that the couple traveled to Bethlehem for the census, arrived safely, and “while they were there,” Mary gave birth.

Traveling alone would have been unwise, and certainly unsafe, so we might surmise they must have been accompanied to Bethlehem by fellow travelers. Perhaps they had made arrangements to stay with distant relatives, or with a friend’s family. Jesus’ birth could have occurred minutes, hours, or even days after their arrival. We really don’t know.

What we do know is that it was unlikely Mary and Joseph were turned away from an “inn”—as we understand the concept today. Childhood visions of an innkeeper closing the door to them fade quickly when we discover no such person exists in the scriptural record. In fact, one could argue that there was hardly an inn.

The term in Luke 2 that is translated as “inn” is the word “kataluma.” Its actual meaning is closer to “a place to stay” or “guestroom.” Inns, as we know them, likely did exist, for Luke used a very different word in his explanation of the place where the Samaritan left the injured man for recovery. In Luke 10, that place is described as “pandocheion,” which means something closer to “all received.”

So, it is much more likely that the accommodation referenced in the story of Jesus’ birth is best described as a guest house or room, which simply had no space to hold additional travelers; however, the manger would have been nearby. Animals—valuable commodities—were kept very close to the house, in a common area immediately outside the sheltered living quarters. The fact that there was no space in the residence suggests that it was full of people; therefore, the couple would not have been alone, and Mary probably had some assistance during her labor.

I often think of these first neighbors of the Savior. They could have been fellow travelers from the Nazareth area.  Alternatively, they could have come from other regions, perhaps connected to Mary and Joseph only by a common need to reach their ancestral home for the census. Regardless, a crying baby was likely not anyone’s first choice for a night of peace and quiet. It would not have made matters any better when the shepherds trudged in later that night, babbling on about angelic beings and a message from God. Whether or not the shepherds’ story was believable, surely it could wait until a more acceptable hour!

But of course, we are judging them because we know the outcome. We know the identity of the Child. We know the shepherds told the truth. We know the magi were coming. We know Simeon waited in Jerusalem to greet the Lord’s Christ.

The neighbors didn’t know any of this. They were oblivious—just like us, as we make our way through another day. We encounter circumstances or people, and we position them in our lives as facilitators or roadblocks to our objectives. We categorize and fit them into nice boxes that complement our childlike understanding of our world. What wonders have we missed? What glories have we overlooked because we were so busy surviving and thriving in this world that we have forgotten we are not of this world?

That there was no space in the guesthouse for Christ on the day of his birth is poignant enough. But it is even more sobering to think of the neighbors who were so close to the Savior—but never knew it, and perhaps never crossed paths with Him again.

It is interesting to note that the Greek word “kataluma” is only used twice in the entire New Testament.  Once to describe the place in which there was no space for Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:7) and the second time to describe the upper room (Mark 14:14, Luke 22:11). It seems somewhat fitting to me that the beginning and end of Jesus’ life would be associated with guest accommodations. He was, as we should be, transient in this world. We are temporary sojourners, visitors in a place that should not define us. 

Like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, we are just passing through. But as we are passing, we should take notice of our fellow travelers, take care of our neighbors, take time to consider the stories of God’s message, and observe the miracles around us—whether we have made room for them or not.


Margins of Miraculous

MARGINS OF MIRACULOUS – Last Supper  by: Shawn Blythe
Most of us live on the margins of the miraculous. Although undeniably possible, certainly a matter of Biblical record and, of course, dependent on how one defines miraculous – few of us personally experience the miraculous on a regular basis. We are, more likely than not, observers or witnesses to the miraculous, rather than direct participants.
When Jesus healed the man who was blind from birth (John 9), that individual was unlikely to be the only blind person in Jerusalem. It is likely that others heard about this miracle but never experienced first-hand the healing that Jesus bestowed upon that particular man on that day.  Many people waited to be healed at the pool at Bethesda (John 5), but we have record of Jesus healing just one man that day—an invalid of 38 years. The others were witnesses to, rather than recipients of Christ’s healing power.  On the night when Jesus and his disciples celebrated their last Passover meal together, one of the most momentous events in all of history was going to happen but, apart from Jesus, no one—not even those directly involved—had a clear understanding of the implications.
First, there was a man carrying water. There is no indication that this man had any understanding of the role he would play in leading the disciples to a specific house. He was unlikely to have been a successful man, as carrying water was often a woman’s role at that time. (For example, in Joshua 9, Joshua punished the Gibeonites by forcing them to chop wood and carry water, so it is unlikely to have been a glamorous or respected task.) There is no reason to believe that this man realized he was being followed—or that he would have cared, even if he did know. He was likely a servant of some sort, simply going about his daily business and unaware of the historical events unfolding around him.
Next, there was the owner of the house. Although there are many Jewish traditions about who this man may have been, the Scriptures shed no light on his identify. It is unclear what his expectations may have been, as he prepared the room that day for guests yet unknown. The owner was likely a reasonably wealthy man, since he had available a large, furnished guest room. I often wonder if anyone else inquired about the availability of the room—perhaps even offered money for use of the premises—before Jesus’ disciples came calling. I think about the owner’s family: did they question what the room was being saved for, or have an opinion about how the room should be used that night? The owner may or may not have known who the disciples meant when they referred to “the Teacher” but, given events in Jerusalem during the previous week, he may at least have wondered if this group was related to the rumors about a Messiah.
Finally, no review of that evening’s events could be complete without mentioning the Sanhedrin, local leaders with rights granted by the Romans to make certain governance decisions in Jerusalem. Although a subject of much debate, it is at least plausible that the Sanhedrin of this time was a mixture of Pharisees and Sadducees. Pharisees were largely religious scribes and, in theory, followers of the rabbinical traditions and their application to everyday life. Sadducees, on the other hand, represented the Jewish aristocracy. They had generally aligned themselves with Rome and possessed significant societal power and wealth. The designated leader of the Sanhedrin was the High Priest, a position typically filled by a Sadducee.
The Sanhedrin had a vested interest in maintaining the peace, neither doing anything that would cause the Romans to replace them with some other governing body, nor allowing a situation that the Romans would consider rebellion, which would lead to direct intervention by force. In fairness to the Sanhedrin, this was not the first time they had been faced with potential unrest, as Acts 5 clearly indicates that they had earlier grappled with this issue with both Theudas and Joseph the Galilean. As a group, they had a lot to lose if they allowed this situation to get out of control.
As a result, the Sanhedrin was less interested in the veracity of Jesus’ claims than in ensuring that Jesus’ popularity did not rise to a level that threatened their position or, to put it more charitably, the relative independence of their country. In John 11, Caiaphas (the High Priest) famously chastised the Sanhedrin with the equivalent of “You know nothing! It’s better for this man to die than for us to allow him to jeopardize our position and country.” As individuals, Jesus may have given pause to the members of the Sanhedrin regarding exactly who He was (for example, Nicodemus the Pharisee, in John 3 and 7) but, as a group, that evening their interests were largely political and/or national, rather than spiritual.
And so, we see a mixture of people going about their daily lives. Some, like the man carrying water, were simply doing their jobs and possibly more concerned with sore feet or an aching back, and perhaps calculating how many additional trips to the well before the day was over. Others may have been more aware of the somewhat mysterious nature of unfolding events but focused on various administrative duties, such as the owner of the house, who readied his guest room. Still others, like the Sanhedrin who had significant “skin in the game,” were more concerned with mitigating the potential risks associated with this latest “Messiah” than with considering spiritual salvation.
Life is a continuum of events and, despite the line we Christians have drawn between the sorrow of Friday evening and the joy of Sunday morning, life in Jerusalem carried on.  The water carrier likely continued his daily work, not knowing or caring about the events of the weekend which, at that point, probably had no personal impact on him. The homeowner may have been somewhat concerned if he put two and two together, connecting the group who used his upper room with the events in the Garden of Gethsemane and the subsequent trial and execution. After all, the last thing a businessperson needs is to be associated with a treasonous criminal convicted of capital crimes.  The Sanhedrin had their own problems: there was an unfortunate scene at the execution (including an earthquake, darkness, and some apparent issues with the temple curtain), along with reports of trouble at the gravesite that included the fact that the body was missing. Ahh, politics.
They all lived on the margins of the miraculous. With the possible exception of Nicodemus, none of them appear to have been personally impacted by the events of that weekend. They were just like us, with jobs, money concerns, status concerns, and egos. If successful, they had gripes with those who threatened the status quo; if unsuccessful, they had gripes with those who failed to resolve their grievances.
In Jerusalem that weekend, a person was much more likely to be on the margins of events than directly involved. It is no different for us today. We need to get comfortable operating in the margins, ever aware and always ready for our Savior to call upon us, always prepared for the God of all creation to call our name. But in the meantime, we must remain actively engaged as witnesses to the extraordinary interventions of our Father. No matter the circumstances, understand that the miracle is always for the glory of God, and the glory of God must be recognized.
Whether direct recipients or observing from the margins, we are witnesses. And witnesses have an obligation to tell their story.



LOVE, THE OPPOSITE OF SELFISHNESS    by: Pastor Raphael Giglio

As the Valentine’s Day flowers begin to fade, the cards and love notes sink underneath stacks of bills and junk mail, and the mushy “love posts” on our social media feeds get swallowed back up by the usual political rants and selfie madness, we have to ask ourselves “what do we really believe about Love?”
Love is probably one of the most overused and misunderstood words in the English language. It’s a beautiful word, with many common applications, but the essence of true love is often lost due to the word’s familiarity. We can use the word “love” to describe our feelings about anything we like. We can say we love chocolate cake in one breath and tell our children we love them in the next.
When we try to define love, we usually come across the usual descriptions; · an intense feeling of deep affection. · a great interest and pleasure in something. · sentiment of deep romantic or sexual attachment These are good functional definitions and can apply to most situations, but what about true love? What could describe the sense of deep devotional love and selfless commitment that you have for someone you would do anything for, even sacrifice your own interests, possessions or life for without hesitation. The unwavering willingness to lay your life down for a child, parent, spouse or even friend is more than what could be described simply as; an intense feeling, great interest, or some kind of sentiment. It is best described as true love, real love, divine love or what the Bible calls agape (sacrificial love).
The Bible is not short on defining and declaring the true meaning of love, so it’s worth looking at what it has to say, considering that the one who inspired every word in the Bible (God) is himself the embodiment of Love. (1 John 4:8 “God is love.”). Paul describes agape love in his famous “Love Chapter” using a list of what love “is” and what love “is not”.
In 1st Corinthians 13 he writes: • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. • It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. • Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. • It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
This is a beautiful description of selfless, others-oriented love, but seems so different than the me-centered love we often encounter in our world. So often the message we get in media, songs, and even some of the most romantic love notes is; “I love you because of how YOU make ME feel”. This message, as well-intended as it might be, is actually the opposite of the love Jesus taught about.
In John 15 Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is the love He loves us with, and tells us to love others with as well. To do this we need to be God-inspired and others-oriented, not selfish or self-seeking. That’s why when I’m asked to define love, I often respond with a definition of what it “is not”, to allow the truth about what it “is” to be easily understood. Love, (in its truest form), is “the opposite of selfishness”.

Time and Purpose – Pastor Raphael

The passing of time is one of the most mysterious sensations we experience. Have you ever said or felt: “I can’t believe so many years have passed since … ” or “It seems like only yesterday when … ?”

It should feel ordinary and natural that time passes as it does because we’ve been on the same time clock our whole lives. Certain events and experiences, however, surprise us when significant amounts of time have passed.

As I write the date “2018,” just the appearance of the numbers looks daunting. Then when we consider that next year’s New Year’s Eve celebration will be welcoming in the third decade of the century, “The ’20s,” it’s crazy!

Watching the Winter Olympics with our 10-year-old twins is one of the reminders of how quickly time passes. They are now intelligent young people who have been waiting for the games to begin and are intrigued by every event.

Last time, however, it was all new to them, and we had to explain it in language they could understand. The time before that they were babies, and the next time they’ll be teenagers.

These types of markers are reminders that we are temporal, and the passing of time is constant and inevitable. So why is that so hard to fathom and accept? 

Here’s why: “We were made for eternity.” Not our bodies, of course, but our “hearts,” the spiritual essence of who we are. Solomon the Wise tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” 

Since God set eternity in our hearts, things that are temporal seem unusual or peculiar and sometimes hard with which to get comfortable. Ultimately, God desires for us to spend eternity with Him, but here in this life, we live under the “Tyranny of Chronology.”

The good news is that this is not a mistake. God has intentionally given us a limited amount of time to achieve a designated number of purposes. How do we know this? We look again to Solomon: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“A time for every purpose” means that each of the dots in the timeline of our lives has a specific purpose to be fulfilled. It makes it exciting to live out our days knowing that for each moment we live, God has plans for us to fulfill and purposes for us to achieve.

So, although I am still a bit uncomfortable with the rapid passing of time from year to year and decade to decade, I am also excited to discover God’s purposes for those times as each day begins.

My hope is to fulfill each one of them the best I can and to enjoy every passing moment along the way.


“Make America Grateful Again” – Pastor Raphael

“MAKE AMERICA GRATEFUL AGAIN” – by: Pastor Raphael Giglio
Thanksgiving is a great holiday for people of faith, because scripture speaks so much about being grateful forall that God has done for us. It is mentioned over 100 times in the Old Testament and over 70 times in the New Testament.

With all this emphasis on “Thanks,” we should be the most thankful people in the world.

From 1st Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Even beyond Thanksgiving, our celebration of gratitude should last all year long. When we consider God’s love for us, His protection and provision in the big and small things in life, our best response is to say “Thanks.”

As we give thanks, we are expressing a heart of gratitude to God and to those to whom we are grateful. Gratitude is contagious. It’s hard not to be grateful when youare around someone who always is.

The word gratitude has its origin in the words “gratus” and “grace.” This is why “thank you” in other languages sounds so similar: Latin: “gratias,” Italian: “grazie,” Spanish: “gracias.”

“Thanks” and “grace” go hand-in-hand. This is why we often refer to the “giving of thanks” before a meal as “saying grace.” Many families give thanks, or say “grace,” before every meal, some only on holidays like Thanksgiving. Others don’t say it at all.

I grew up in a Catholic family that said grace before dinner every evening. We were a large family of six sons and six daughters. My mother would sit on one end of the long table, my father on the other. We were lined up on benches according to age — boys on one side, girls on the other, oldest to youngest. No one could touch the food or eat a morsel until my father said “grace,” which was always the same:

“Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”

After the “amen,” it was a free-for-all of food, plates, silverware and serving-dishes being passed around in a wonderful frenzy that lasted until the final portion was eaten and every casserole dish was empty. It was crazy and chaotic, but we were all grateful.

Today, I carry on this tradition with my small family, but we offer a more casual, less-scripted thanks, and there is not nearly as much food consumed.

I have found that it’s not the “saying of grace” that’s important, but having thankful hearts. Having “thankful hearts” means that we remain in a posture of receiving and recognizing God’s grace. When we recognize the nature of grace, it’s very easy to be grateful.

Jesus gave thanks

Jesus was always giving thanks. Both times that he fed the multitudes with fish and bread, he began by “giving thanks.” On the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, he initially fooled the apostles he was walking with into thinking he was someone else, but he was recognized by them by the way he “gave thanks.” During the Last Supper, which was essentially a Passover Seder meal, He broke bread and served wine. Before breaking the bread, and passing the cup however, He gave thanks. (Baruch a Ta Adonai … .)

Jesus also appreciates being thanked. There is a story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, where Jesus healed 10 lepers. Of all those who were healed, only one returned to say thanks. In Luke 17:17 “Jesus asked, “Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other nine?” He was told that only one of those who were healed returned to him to give thanks. This is the one whom He blessed.

Sometime it’s difficult to be grateful when circumstances are hard and things did not go our way. There are times when we face tragedies and grief and it seems impossible to utter anything that even remotely sounds grateful.

These are the times when we need to receive “grace.” Grace is God’s free gift to us of His love, compassion, mercy and understanding. When we understand the depth of His grace toward us, in spite of circumstances, it’s easy to be grateful.



Advice from the Bible: “Have Fun!” – Pastor Raphael

   I RECOMMEND HAVING FUN – by: Pastor Raphael Giglio
 “I recommend having fun!” That doesn’t sound like a typical Bible verse does it? We all know summer slips by way too fast, whether you are a kid enjoying the long-awaited summer break from school, or an adult who has been waiting all year for those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”

If you like summer the way I do, you want to bottle it up and save it for a time when you either have some days off to enjoy it, or better yet, save it to pour out on one of those bitter cold, dark, miserable days of winter. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a bottle of summer to dispense at any time you wished?

Unfortunately you can’t. You must enjoy it while you can and make the most of each sun-filled day while they’re here.

Life is like that, too, isn’t it? Some moments are so precious and enjoyable, that we wish we could capture them and revisit them any time we want. We scroll through old photographs and videos of happy days and meaningful moments and wish we could transport back to them somehow. But real-life isn’t still-life. Much like summer, it passes quickly and we have no choice but to enjoy the moments, in the moments.

So what does the Bible say about this? The Bible seems to have all the answers we need about so many other subjects and issues we face.

Solomon, the wisest king of all, wrote a peculiar and unusual book called Ecclesiastes that in many ways seems more straightforward in its approach to common human emotion than any other book of the Bible. In it, he spends time analyzing common daily life and offering practical wisdom on a variety of subjects including; life, death, youth, work, eating, drinking and even the passing of time. His observations of life always revealed a deep understanding of God that has inspired readers with their own relationships with God for 3000 years.

So what would Solomon say to people like us, who want to find a way to get the most out of each waning day of summer and for that matter, each rapidly-passing year of life?

In Ecclesiastes 8:15 he says: “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” (Ecc. 8:15 NLT)

God is concerned with everything that concerns us. He is with us in our troubles and our triumphs and even though He is eternal, He understands mortality. That’s why He offers the reward of eternal life for those who believe, but He still wants us to enjoy each day of the lives He gave us. They won’t always be happy days, they may not always be good days. But His love for us never ceases, and His mercy is endless. Psalms tells us; “He shows us the path for our lives and in His presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11).

So it’s a very simple plan: Find His path for your life, spend time in His presence, and you’ll experience His joy. It’s the best way I know to have a great summer — and for that matter, a great life. So, how should we spend our summer? “I recommend having fun!”


Worry – Pastor Raphael

   WORRY – by: Pastor Raphael Giglio

  Someone told me one time that “worry is basically just a mild form of atheism.” You don’t really believe in God enough to trust that He will come through for you, or you’re not convinced that He has everything under control. You tend to think that your situation without your own intervention and manipulation will result in awful results for you. I worry a lot. I am told it comes from being Jewish, that somehow Jewish mothers impart “worry instincts” into all their children to help them cope with life to come. I am not sure about that but I actually think that worry is more like “reverse meditation.”

Think about it, when you worry about something you obsess over it. You think about it all the time until you wear yourself out with all of your attention on this one meditative thought. You try to think of other things but the object of your worry keeps coming back to you like an unwelcome memory or a melody you can’t get out of your mind no matter how hard you try.

I remember the day I got married. We made plans to have a beautiful wedding at the Jersey Shore with all our family and wedding party in a circle on the beach under a chuppa. I had prayed for months and months to have not only a sunny day but a sunny forecast on the weather channel a few days before to ease my mind.

Well as fate (God) would have it, the weekend drew nearer and the weather report became worse and worse. When they showed the weather map of our area, there was a big green blob of rain heading east all week and looked to have an E.T.A. exactly on Sunday afternoon, about the time we were to be married. I did what every Christian-Jewish-Pastor-to-be-wed would do, I prayed and I worried. I worried about the out-of-town travelers, I worried about the rehearsal dinner, I worried about the cake getting wet, the flowers getting ruined, the pictures turning out ugly, and about having a bad hair day.

The more I prayed, the more I worried, then I did less praying and more worrying until the morning of the wedding rolled around and I flipped on the weather channel and saw it…my worst fear…the big green glob of weather on the weather map was located directly over the area of the Jersey Shore where we were going to have our wedding in just a few hours. It looked more ominous than ever with patches of dark green mixed with light green and just a few breaks and holes in its ugly monstrous form. My worry became exponentially intensified over the next few minutes and my disgust and disappointment were too much to contain. I let out all my frustration, anxiety and discouragement in a short but pungent blast of emotion.

After regaining my composure I resigned to the fact that life is not perfect and prayers are not always answered the way you hope they will be. I muddled through the next few moments feeling sorry for myself but trying not to let it ruin the wedding. I grabbed my tuxedo, went to the beach, organized the seating and the preparations in the rainy drizzle and did my best to be hopeful yet unaffected. I remember sitting with Michael W. going over the order of the songs when he looked out the window and said “Bro, do you see that?”

I looked outside and saw two things, one was that the day had now become partly cloudy and there were splashes of sunlight flashing upon the sand and the waves. The other was even more breathtaking, a huge rainbow stretched over the beach where the chairs and chuppa were set waiting for the ceremony to begin. The sky dramatically became sunny and blue and the rainbow remained high in the sky as a vivid banner of love painted by the hand of God for our event, for our wedding, our marriage, for us.

This was the kind of rainbow that had to be planned and prepared. It needed a long day of sustaining moisture (rain) falling from the sky, saturating the earth. Then it needed the right temperature, sunlight, wind, and humidity to form to perfection. All the time that I was worrying, God was working. As I was praying my “non-rainbow producing weather report prayers,” God had something so much more amazing, and glorious in mind. My words of worry did not change His plan of providence and I was glad (although I did have a bad hair day.)

Jesus said: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes?…Who by worrying can add a single hour (or day) to his life?” (Matthew 6:25,27)

I believe that the opposite of “worry” is “trust”, and trust is the building block of our entire faith and relationship with God. The Greek word “pistis” is the same word used for both Trust and Faith. So then it could be said that worry is also the opposite of faith.

Trust in God, have faith in Him. He will not let you down, if you can trust that His ways are higher than ours and His plans are wiser than ours are.

by Raphael Giglio

Last night I couldn’t sleep,
I laid awake and tried to keep
from worrying about the days and weeks ahead.
And as I tossed and turned all night,
I closed my eyes and tried to fight
The desperate nervous feeling in my head.
But Your hand is strong, Your words are true,
And I just gotta trust them
That’s all I’ve gotta do…

When anxious worry finds me
Your precious word reminds me
Worrying won’t add a single day
At times I’m unfulfilled and
Forced to live by faith but still I
wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘Cause Your hand is strong, Your words are true
And I believe in You.

When I face anxiety and doubtful spirits lie to me
They say I can’t believe what I can’t see.
I put away the fear and doubt and quit trying to figure out
The questions of my self-sufficiency
‘Cause Your hand is strong, Your words are true
And I just gotta trust them,
That’s all I’ve gotta do


Because I know that there’s a plan that you have for me,
And it’s only plans for good and not reality
And it gives to me a future and a hope…