First Baptist Church of Rahway, 177 Elm Ave., Rahway, New Jersey 07065 is a multi-cultural congregation that has a Blended English Service on Sunday Mornings, a Latino Service at 12:00, and a Service in Telugu at 3:30PM. For more information, call (732) 388-8626. Or click here to send an email. If you wish to help the Mission and Ministry of First Baptist financially click the Donate Button.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Real Story of Christmas

This is the story of how we have come to celebrate Christmas today. The story starts with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth either in the year 6 BC or 6 AD. Both dates have pros and cons. The earlier one would have the baby Jesus born during King Herod’s lifetime (Matthew 2:1), before his death in 3 BC. Jesus would also be in his thirties (Luke 3:23) during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, from 26 AD to 36 AD. In 6 BC there was a conjunction of planets that could have been what the Magi saw (Matthew 2: 1-2). However, there was no census (Luke 2:1) that we know of taken in Palestine in 6 BC. We do know that there was a census taken in 6 AD while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1). However if Jesus were born in 6 AD he would not have begun his ministry in his thirties and still face Pilate at a trial. Another date to consider would be 3 BC, but this date has problems too. All we really know is that Jesus didn’t say what year he was born in or what day. In fact, Jesus probably didn’t want anyone to make a fuss, and so he kept quiet about it. And this silence left the door wide open for people to make Christmas into whatever they wanted.
The earliest celebration of the birth of Jesus was called the Theophany or manifestation of God. Today we call it Epiphany and it is celebrated on January 6th, which was the beginning of the year in the days of the early church. The celebration included more than Jesus’ birth, it included the concept of God being with us always. This celebration was split into two holidays in the 4th century AD. At that time the Christmas celebration competed with the pagan celebration of the birth of the Unconquered Son which was placed on the winter solstice (the calendar in those days was off by four days). When the Roman Empire became Christian, December 25th became Jesus’ birthday. Epiphany was then considered the day Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit became manifest to all (Matt. 3:16). And Advent came about as a civil law that required all citizens to be in church for forty days before Epiphany! For over a thousand years Christmas was a midwinter religious celebration. But it changes dramatically in the last several hundred years.
Our modern celebration begins in the fourth century AD in the Turkish town of Myra. Bishop Nicholas was known for his generosity and kindness to children and after his death was canonized as Saint Nicholas. The day of his death, December 6th became a major holiday around Europe and people celebrated it by exchanging gifts. Protestants in the 16th century banned the celebration of saint’s days and so people moved the day of celebration to Christmas. German traditions have Nicholas giving gifts to children and a ghost-like Christ child hovering around him called Christkindl (Kris Kringle). Dutch settlers in New York brought with them the story of Sinter Klaas (Santa Claus) who was plump and smoked a pipe. And in the early eighteen hundreds in America Clement Clarke Moore wrote the words, “‘Twas the night before Christmas…” which cemented the story of Santa in the minds of every American. In his story St. Nick rides a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, is a jolly old elf and delivers toys to children through the chimney. Our modern Santa is dressed in red and white because in the 1930’s Coca-Cola used him to sell soda in the winter. And so there you have it - the story of how the birth of our savior and a kindly saint became tied up with gift giving and soda pop!
Isn’t this an amazing story! Isn’t it astonishing how St. Nick became Santa and was thrust into the Christmas story? I hope you can see that many of our Christmas traditions have very little to do with Jesus of Nazareth. Fortunately the core message of the religious celebration still survives in our churches today. And that is the message of God becoming manifest to people in a very real way. God came to our world, as a real living person to show us how much He loves us. And He lived His life as an example of how to serve our Father in Heaven as well as serve other people. This is the real message of Christmas. And the message is more important than all of the gifts and all of the celebrating in the entire world. It is my hope that as we are opening presents and drinking soda, we keep in mind a child in a manger who came to give us the gift of light and life.
Blessings, Pastor Bill

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Storm Strikes Philippines

A terrible storm struck the Philippines before Christmas leaving a thousand people dead and tens of thousands homeless. Please pray for the people of the Philippines today.
President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines declared a state of national calamity on Tuesday after visiting areas in the south of the country that were devastated by a tropical storm over the weekend.
The death toll continued to rise from Tropical Storm Washi, which has left tens of thousands of people homeless as aid agencies struggle to deal with a growing humanitarian crisis.
Read the rest of the Story…

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

German Muslim Student Banned from Praying


A recent story caught my attention this week. A German Muslim student has been banned from praying in the hall corridors of his public school.

Here is the Link.

I am curious about your comments to this story. Stories like this one are popping up all of the time. What do you think? Should he be allowed to pray in public or not?

Keep in mind these two stories from the life of Jesus.

  • And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6 (Jesus saying not to publicly make a fuss)

  • On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ Mark 11:15-17 (Jesus very publicly making a fuss)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Am I To Be


( A Poem by Ted Zendarski)

If it's your will, am I to be seen
And if that's so, will anyone look
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be heard
and if that's so, will anyone listen
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be touched
And if that's so, will anyone feel
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be fed
And if that's so, will anyone feed
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be held
And if that's so, will anyone hold
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be loved
And if that's so, will you love me
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be
And if that's so, do you really want me
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
It was her will, and given free
And so long ago, she accepted it to be
But now it's in your hands
Please give me a chance
As Mary did He

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Religion at Christmas

AdventCandlesBokeh (1)

This Christmas Eve there will be candles burning. Lots and lots of candles burning. Our church turns off the lights at the end of the service and we light our candles and sing Silent Night. The more traditional churches like the Roman Catholic Church probably have enough burning candles in them to outshine New York City on New Year’s Eve. Some contemporary churches will have their congregants holding battery powered electric candles. Safer, but not very cool. All throughout the world this week there will be praises, prayers, singing and burning candles. This is how we Christians worship during the Christmas season. However, this is not religion.
That last statement has probably gotten some of you to shake your heads or wrinkle your noses. If our celebration of Christmas is not religion then what is? It depends on how you define the term, as opposed to how I define the term. Most people define it in a very broad sense. If a person is worshipping something whether it is God in Heaven or a dandelion, then that person is practicing religion. I do not define religion in this way. In my definition it is not enough to worship God or whatever it is you believe in. It is not enough to light a candle and sing a song. It is not enough to believe in something. These aspects are all a part of how we express our religious belief, desires and feelings. However, they are only a very small part of what religion is.
When asked “which is the greatest commandment”, Jesus responded; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). Notice that neither of these are in the 10 Commandments. Instead Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The Deuteronomy passage is part of the Shema, the foundation of the Law of Moses: “Here O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is One”. The worship practices cited above would fall under this commandment. Religious people are to worship God with everything they have and everything they are. And so those of us who have faith in God do just that, at church services, synagogue services, etc… For Jesus, this commandment is not enough.
His second command is to love your neighbor. This comes from Leviticus and is surrounded by a host of laws some of which we wouldn’t consider too important today. “Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (Lev. 19:19). I think I’m in trouble with The Lord because of my cotton/polyester blend sweater. And yet, Jesus lifts up loving your neighbor as the second most important law besides loving God. And though I have said that these two commandments are not in the 10 Commandments, they are the foundation of the 10. The first 5 commandments are all concerned with loving and honoring God. The second 5, are concerned with loving and honoring people. I hope that you can see, being a religious person is more than being a devote worshiper. It is also about treating each other with dignity, love and respect.
Whether you agree with me or not, my definition of religion is; Loving God and Loving People. It’s as simple as that. A so called religious person is not religious if he/she do not place both of these concepts at the foundation of their life. All of the candles, all of the prayers and praises, all of the religious practices in all of the world do not amount to a hill of beans if the people involved do not love their neighbors. You can pray to a dandelion all you want, and it can make you feel good, but if you treat the people around you like garbage, your prayers and your good feelings will disappear like your godlike weed when the winter sets in.
So when you light your candles and sing your songs this Christmas, just remember as you step outside into the cold. Love God and Love People, religion hangs on these two commandments.
God bless you and Happy Christmas,
Pastor Bill

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Star of Bethlehem Part 3

Of course, it didn’t work out the way they had planned. There was no royal birth in the family of King Herod the great of Judea in the spring of 6 BC. This was a catastrophe for the Magi. They had invested a ton of money into the enterprise and so far they had nothing to show for it. What does an ancient astrologer do in a crises like this? They consulted their star charts and astrology tables for the answer.
What they saw there was Jupiter entering retrograde motion in the house of Taurus on August 23rd. Retrograde motion of the outer planets is a wonderful optical illusion. The Earth’s orbit is shorter and faster than Jupiter’s, and so every so often we catch up to Jupiter and pass it. When that happens, Jupiter appears to stop against the background of stars for a week. Then the big planet moves in the opposite direction than it normally does for several months. It then stops a second time for a week and proceeds on its merry way. A modern astronomer knows that Jupiter never stops and also knows that retrograde motion is due to the different speeds of the planets and the changing angle of view. However, to an ancient astrologer, planetary retrograde motion was an amazing phenomenon that portended great things. The meaning they assigned to this event was that it enhanced greatly whatever qualities the portents were predicting. In other words, if I was born under a sign that foretold I would be a leader, and Jupiter was in retrograde motion at the same time, the portent would mean that I would be a great leader. Thus when the Magi looked at their tables, they saw that Jupiter would move backwards out of Taurus and back into Ares and stop for a week on December 19th. They would have interpreted this to mean that the royal birth would happen in the winter of 6 BC rather than the spring. They were back in the hunt.
I would also like to point out that during planetary retrograde motion, the wandering star, in this case Jupiter, stops in the sky. “And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:9). The planet (wandering star) was “moving before them”, which meant that it was moving against the background of stars. The language used in these quotes is exactly the same language ancient astrologers used to describe retrograde motion.
How did the Magi find Jesus? At the time there were several prophets proclaiming the coming of the Messiah in the Jerusalem Temple. Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) and Anna (Luke 2:36-38) were probably typical of the people who came to the temple and prophesied in the outer courts. Word may have reached the Magi of their preaching and they went to speak with them. Both Simeon and Anna were aware of Mary and Joseph and so they could have sent the Magi to Bethlehem. Of course this common couple and their new born were not what the Magi expected. But what the heck? Prophets had proclaimed Jesus the King of the Jews, and that meant the Magi could return home and proclaim victory. And of course, cash in.
One last detail before I wrap up our Christmas story. Why would a good Jewish boy like Matthew associate the worst of sinners, astrologers, with the coming of the Jewish Messiah? Deuteronomy 18:10 condemns anyone who practices divination or reads omens, which is what astrologers did. No good God fearing 1st century Jew would have anything to do with someone who cast horoscopes. So why would Matthew write this story? Because it is true. As strange as it sounds, the more unlikely a story is the more likely it is to have happened. For the simple reason that if Matthew was to make up a story about the birth of God’s anointed King, he would follow the OT tradition of miraculous birth announcements, like Sarah and Abraham in chapters 17 and 18 of the book of Genesis. Instead Matthew tells his mostly Jewish audience that the birth of Jesus was predicted by sinful Babylonian diviners. It’s so crazy it must be true.
So, next time someone brings up the question of The Star of Bethlehem, you can say; why it was Jupiter in retrograde motion, of course.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief explanation. If you wish to know more, I heartily recommend the books I listed in the beginning of this narrative.
God bless you,
Pastor Bill

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Star of Bethlehem Part 2

Astrology 001
(Above, the great conjunction of April 17th, 6 BC)
And now a quick explanation of what the ancient art of astrology is all about. The stars move across the sky at night because the earth rotates creating a 24 hour day. The stars shift position from night to night because the earth revolves around the sun in a 365 day year which changes what part of the sky we can see. But moving across this slowly changing background are the wandering stars, the planets. Across the background of stars they move at their own pace through the constellations. Ancient scientists realized the planets and the sun follow a line across the sky called the ecliptic. Today we know it as the plane of our Solar System. Because the planets constantly changed positions compared to the stars and each other people created meaning in the movements. They saw portents in the sky that foretold events on earth.
There is a trick to this whole astrology thing. The movement of the planets through the ecliptic has to match the calendar. The twelve month calendar is based upon the 28 day moon cycle. That cycle creates an imperfect 12 month year (it took until the 1600’s to fix the European calendar). The ancients needed 12 constellations along the ecliptic to match the months, but there are actually 13 constellations, and their boundaries are not evenly spaced. So, astrologers just changed the organization of the celestial sky to suit their purposes. The boundaries were shifted into 12 equally spaced zodiac signs that matched the calendar and Ophiuchus the thirteenth constellation was dropped from the list. Ophiuchus is the Serpent Bearer, and I don’t like snakes, so I’m good with this. What is important to understand is that people 2,000 years ago derived great meaning from this system. It doesn’t matter whether the system makes sense to us. What matters is what the Magi saw in the sky and the meaning they derived from it.
What they saw coming up was a major conjunction of the planets in the House of Ares in March and April of 6 BC. Not only was it major, it was a portent of a royal birth in the land of Judea. And if they could be the only astrologers to claim to have predicted it, they could really cash in. As the sun moved through a zodiac house, it meant that the portents the planets pointed had a great effect on the people born while the sun was in that sign. The House of Ares was associated with the Kingdom of Judea. From March to April Jupiter rose ahead of the Sun, which is what the phrase “we have seen his star in the east” meant to the Magi. Jupiter was associated with royalty, and was surrounded by the other planets. The other planets became the attendants in a royal procession. At the same time the Moon occulted, or passed in front of, Jupiter on March 20th and April 17th. The occultation of Jupiter was seen as a portent of a royal birth. All of these signs pointed to a royal birth happening in Judea in the spring of 6 BC. Upon seeing this in their tables, it was time for the Magi to hit the road.
Traveling in the ancient world was a dangerous and expensive proposition. It meant hiring security and servants to accompany the group. It meant spending more money on food and sleeping arrangements. And it meant losing potential income while on the move. The Magi could set up shop in a friendly community once they arrived in Palestine. A friendly town would have lots of Greeks, Persians and Romans in it. The Jewish community of the time period considered astrology a pagan practice and thus a terrible sin. Another cost was the gifts they had brought to present to the Judean King when the royal announcement was made. One always brought gifts to a King. However, they also hoped to receive gifts in return as a reward for successfully predicting the birth. These gifts would be further proof of their success back in Babylon. I hope you can see the motivation for this long and expensive trip. Predicting this birth was a home run for the Magi, and they hoped to parlay it into a big reward.
Tomorrow, catastrophe strikes when there is no royal birth. Jupiter goes into retrograde motion and they find the baby Jesus.
God bless you,
Pastor Bill

Monday, December 19, 2011

Magi and the Star of Bethlehem


This is a long post so I’m going to chop it up into several pieces. The Astronomy and Astrology research comes from “The Star of Bethlehem” by Michael R. Molnar a retired Rutgers professor. Some of the historical and biblical research comes from “The Birth of the Messiah” by Raymond E. Brown one of the most amazing biblical scholars of our time. And some of the historical, cultural and biblical research comes from me. I tried not to make it too technical, but if you have questions, please contact me and I’ll fill you in as best I can. Enjoy, Pastor Bill.
I’m sure at some point you have wondered what the Star of Bethlehem could have been. I’m sure you have heard many possible explanations. Most of those explanations haven’t panned out. This week, I’m going to give you a plausible explanation that makes the most sense within the Biblical, historical, cultural and astronomical information we have available. To answer the question in one sentence, The Star of Bethlehem is Jupiter in retrograde motion. Now that the cat is out of the bag I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck is he talking about? And so it is time to plunge into the ancient biblical and astrological world in search of The Star of Bethlehem.
Our story starts with attempting to establish the year in which Jesus was born. There are two dates that best match the biblical story, 6 BC or 6 AD. Both dates have pros and cons. The earlier one would have the baby Jesus born during King Herod’s lifetime (Matthew 2:1), before his death in 3 BC. Jesus would also be in his thirties (Luke 3:23) during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, from 26 AD to 36 AD. In 6 BC there was a conjunction of planets that could have been what the Magi saw (Matthew 2: 1-2). However, there was no census (Luke 2:1) that we know of taken in Palestine in 6 BC. We do know that there was a census taken in 6 AD while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1). However if Jesus were born in 6 AD he would not have begun his ministry in his thirties and still face Pilate at a trial. The 6 BC date matches more of the story than the 6 AD date. Plus there is a possibility that there was a census in Palestine in 6 BC. Roman records show that there was an Empire wide census in 8 BC. However Palestine was exempt. It could be that the Romans took a census of Palestine after the census was completed in the rest of the empire. Most biblical scholars feel that Jesus was born sometime in the year 6 BC.
The next important question in our story is, who were the Magi and why did they travel to Bethlehem? The Magi were astrologers; they studied the stars to predict a person’s fortune. The Magi followed a very ancient tradition of star gazing in the Middle East. The oldest astrological records come from Babylon and list the appearances and conjunctions of the planet Venus. Records of the planets and constellations spread into Persia, India, Egypt and Greece. The movement of the planets against the background of stars was recorded for hundreds of years. These records were compiled into tables which predicted the movements into the future. Astrologers studied the tables and interpreted them for their paying customers. Ptolemy, a Greek astrologer from the second century BC instructed his readers on how to do this, which is why we know so much about this practice today.
For the Magi, this was a business. They needed to make money, and the meaning they derived from the movement of the heavens was their trade. To advertise they sent their servants out into the busy streets to shout out their masters accomplishments. The better their accomplishments the more they stood out from their competitors and the more money they made. A home run prediction for a Babylonian astrologer was predicting the birth of the future king. If a Magi could send his servant out to announce that, he would have customers standing in line. So when our Babylonian Magi looked at their celestial tables several months into the future, they saw something that got their hearts racing.
Tomorrow, how ancient astrology works and what the Magi interpreted from the movement of the spheres.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Progress for Eric LeGrand


The latest news from paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand is very good. He says he can sit up in a chair without support for an extended period of time. Eric sends out progress reports on his Twitter feed; @BigE52_RU. Little by little Eric is making amazing strides. Keep praying that God will make the day come when Eric walks again!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Is Advent?


Advent is the season that begins the liturgical year. It consists of four Sundays starting with the Sunday closest to November 30th. The word advent is derived from the Latin adventus, which means "coming" or "arrival."  In the societies of the Roman Empire, the word adventus referred to the arrival of a person of dignity and great power -- a king, emperor, or even one of the gods.  For Christians, Advent is the time when the church patiently prepares for the coming of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.

Advent is the first part of a larger liturgical season that includes Christmas and Epiphany and continues until the beginning of Lent.  Even though Advent occurs in the month of December and is usually considered to be a prelude to Christmas, it is not simply about waiting for the birth of Christ.  Advent is as much about preparing for Christ's return on Judgment Day.  Indeed, the Advent season focuses on Christ's threefold coming -- past, present, and future. First, we remember the Lord's humble first coming in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Second, we give thanks for His present and continual coming to us through Word and Sacrament. Finally, we look forward with hope and longing to His second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.

Purple is the traditional color for the season of Advent. Purple was the most costly dye in ancient times and was therefore used by kings to indicate their royal status. Purple also signifies the repentance of God's people as they patiently await the arrival of their Lord. In more recent times, some churches have adopted blue as the color for Advent.  Blue represents hope, expectation, and heaven.  It is also the color associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary in art and iconography.

The Advent wreath is one of the most popular symbols used by Christians during the season of Advent. These wreaths, consisting of a circle of evergreen branches set around four candles, are used in both churches and Christian homes. The evergreen circle stands for the eternal life that Christ has won for all believers. The burning candles represent the coming of Christ as the light of the world (John 1:4-9). The colors of the Advent candles can vary.  Traditionally, three purple candles and one rose-colored or pink candle are used. The purple signifies that Advent is a season of repentance as well as expectation. Many churches use blue candles in place of purple ones to emphasize the hopeful anticipation of the season.  A candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, with another one lit on each succeeding Sunday. The joyfully colored pink candle is reserved for the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete, which means "rejoice" in Latin, is the opening word of the Introit for that Sunday: Rejoice! the Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4).
Some Christians attach a specific interpretation to the four Advent candles.  The first candle, or the Prophet Candle, symbolizes the hope and anticipation of Christ's coming in the flesh as prophesied so many places in the Old Testament.  The second candle recalls how Christ appeared in the flesh in humble manner, being born of a virgin in the insignificant village of Bethlehem.  This is why this candle is often referred to as the Bethlehem Candle.  The third candle is known as the Shepherds' Candle.  It recalls the rejoicing of the shepherds when they departed after having seen the Christ-child in the stable.  The fourth candle is the Angels' Candle.  It reminds us of the heavenly host that announced the good news of our Savior's birth.

In addition to the four Advent candles, some Advent wreaths have a white candle in the center called the Christ candle. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve and throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas.

While the rest of secular society is already caught up in the frantic rush of shopping, decorations, parties, and other distractions, the church takes pause during Advent to contemplate the wonder of God's underserved mercy and love in Jesus Christ. Christians approach the Advent season much as expectant parents approach the months before a child is born. There are feelings of exhilaration, uneasiness, longing, and awe as the day of arrival approaches. Just as parents do everything they can to get ready and put things into good order, God's people prepare themselves at home and at church for the coming of the Lord by exercising the disciplines of Advent: confession and repentance, fervent prayer, immersion in Scripture, fasting, and the singing of seasonal hymns and anthems.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Clinton Calls for Release of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Iran to release a Christian pastor facing death due to his faith in Jesus.

Nearly 200,000 Americans have signed a petition for the US government to intervene and help gain freedom for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.

In calling for Nadarkhani’s unconditional release, Clinton said Saturday, “Today, we call on every government to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.”

Read the rest of the story…

Please pray for Pastor Nadarkhani, his family and all persecuted Christians around the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Charlie Brown Christmas Almost Didn’t Happen


Few headlines about network television make me giddy. Fewer still make me hopeful that all is good in the world. But back in August of 2010, I read the following headline from the media pages with great excitement: “Charlie Brown Is Here to Stay: ABC Picks Up ‘Peanuts’ Specials Through 2015.” The first of these to be made, the famous Christmas special, was an instant classic when it was created by Charles Schulz on a shoestring budget back in 1965, and thanks to some smart television executives, it will be around for at least another five years for all of us to see and enjoy.

What people don’t know is that the Christmas special almost didn’t happen, because some not-so-smart television executives almost didn’t let it air. You see, Charles Schulz had some ideas that challenged the way of thinking of those executives 46 years ago, and one of them had to do with the inclusion in his Christmas cartoon of a reading from the King James Bible’s version of the Gospel of Luke.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Continue Reading the story…

Monday, December 12, 2011

Merry Tuba Christmas NYC

Rahway HS band director Robert Van Wyke and six of his students performed at Rockefeller Center yesterday. Listen to what 582 Tubas sound like.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bishop Eddie Long; Success Ain’t What it Used to Be


Another Mega-Church pastor goes down. Facing charges of sex with young men, Bishop Eddie Long stops preaching at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, the church he built into one of the biggest in the USA. It’s been a year since this scandal broke, and in that time I’ve been wondering what kind of meaning I can derive from this and other scandals that have rocked the church world. I have often dreamed of building a mega-church like New Birth. I guess that hasn’t happened, seeing that my church is struggling to pay the bills, struggling to keep the building from falling apart, struggling to do relevant mission in our community, struggling, struggling, struggling, etc… So as the pastors that I used to envy climb the ladder of ministerial success, only to come crashing down, I ask myself what have I learned? The answer; our definition of success is wrong.

We, meaning good church going folk, think success is bodies in the pews and dollars in the plate. When we use that as our guide, Eddie Long was a tremendous success having 8,000 people in his church every weekend. But that kind of success appears to be fleeting, as we have seen with The Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim, CA. No pastoral malfeasance, just declining membership has put them into bankruptcy. They still have lots of bodies in the pews and dollars in the plate. But their definition of success changed for the worse and they are in a downward spiral they can’t seem to get out of. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, hundreds, possibly thousands cheered him. A week later the crowd cried out “crucify him”. It seems that the bodies in the pews can be very fickle, to say the least.

The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is wonderful in so many ways. Jesus risks the anger of a large crowd pressing around him, by showing kindness and mercy to a despised tax collector. In general people hate tax collectors. But in Jesus’ day tax collectors were seen as terrible sinners because they worked with the occupying Romans, and because the Roman protection, they could cheat people without worry of retribution. Touching a tax collector or entering his home was seen as a terrible sin. Thus Jesus risks alienating his audience by spending time with Zacchaeus. And despite Zacchaeus’ pledge to give to the poor, Jesus also risks a decline in long term donations to his cause. These two issues never seem to bother him. Instead, Jesus is always interested in the person right in front of him. He follows the guiding principle of his ministry; Love God and Love People. This simple concept always overrides the numbers.

So what does any of this mean to you and me? After all we are just trying to survive and be successful with work, friends and family. If you wish to be like Jesus and put God and people first in your life, then beware of the traps inherent in the pursuit of success. What the big numbers invariably do is boost our egos. A promotion and more money at work makes us feel great. A standing room only audience at church puts us on top of the world. The problem comes in when we put that ego boost ahead of loving God and loving people. If the charges against Eddie Long are true, then the ego boost he received from his success convinced him to act on urges that should have been buried under his desire to seek God’s will for his life. Success and its pursuit, can cloud our judgment because we allow it to.

I speak from personal experience. My own pursuit of success in ministry has hurt me a great deal. Now I try to focus on doing God’s work and let the numbers take care of themselves. It’s not easy because the realities of our world demand a certain amount of success. But Jesus pulled it off, and I hope to do the same. I hope and pray that we will all find that balance between success in this world, and success in the Kingdom of Heaven.

God bless you,

Pastor Bill

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pray for Rahway Habitat for Humanity


The picture above is an ongoing project for Greater Plainfield Habitat for Humanity. It is located in Plainfield, NJ. A small group of people in Rahway are hoping to do the same thing in our town. Habitat builds simple, new, affordable homes for middle class families who can’t afford to buy a home in their area. In NJ, a family of four cannot afford their own home if they make under $70,000 per year. Amazing! That number alone tells us of the need for this kind of mission.

Myself and several other residents of Rahway are looking for a property that we can purchase and build upon. We are working with Greater Plainfield Habitat for Humanity because they know how to get it done. Please say a prayer today that God will lead us to the right property so that we can bless a middle class family in our wonderful town.

God bless you,

Pastor Bill

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Let’s Put Christ-mas in its Place

santa-reading1 (1)

(This is an interesting take on the dilemma that has become our biggest holiday of the year. From USA Today)

Instead of engaging in a battle to reclaim Christmas, I propose an alternative. Let's take Christ out of Christmas. I know what you're thinking: What about "the reason for the season"? But that's precisely my point. Do Christians really want to think of the son of God as the reason for reduced-price waffle-makers and winter wonderland scenes at the local mall?

Read the rest of the article…