“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.”

Proverbs 1:5

I remember showing up for my first day of college in 1971. I was eager and excited about this new chapter in my life. I had my books and notebooks ready. I was organized, and I even had my fancy Texas Instrument calculator, which had cost me a lot of money—$99 at the time, equivalent to $752 in today’s dollars. As an accounting major in my college’s business school, I knew I would definitely need the calculator, as I had to take two accounting courses each semester.

In my very first class, the professor called out each of our names to learn our faces. When he got to Hartman, I raised my hand, and the professor stopped. He looked at me sternly and said, “Mr. Hartman, I noticed you brought a calculator to class. Just to let you know, no calculators are to be used in my classroom or for homework. If you do, I will treat it the same as plagiarism, and you will fail the course and be placed on academic probation.”

The other students in the class widened their eyes in surprise. This statement seemed strict and unyielding. In fact, in 1971, you couldn’t use a calculator for the CPA exam in Massachusetts.

I didn’t understand why the calculator couldn’t be used; in my opinion, it would make me a better student. I believed it would allow me to spend more time studying theory and understanding how accounting systems worked together. Later, I found out from one of the younger professors that this had been a significant debate among the business teachers. Some felt the same way I did, that the calculator could enhance learning and understanding of business and accounting, while others believed it was cheating.

By my senior year, calculators had won the debate, and we were allowed to use them. Professional exams also permitted calculator usage, and the large accounting firm I went to work for had calculators throughout the office. For accounting companies, the calculator became a productivity tool, allowing them to increase their output and revenue.

Recently, I asked my granddaughter, who is in high school, if she wanted to use my artificial intelligence software to help her with her homework. My granddaughter was alarmed and told me she couldn’t use AI for her schoolwork. If the teachers found out, she would face suspension. She told me about an all-school meeting where the principal had laid down the law. Clearly, she had received the message!

I was immediately reminded of the professor wagging his finger at me fifty years earlier. My viewpoint is very different; I believe that AI enhances the education process. If you have a science class and want to do a study on Mars, you can simply type in your topic and ask for sources. Voilà, you have all the information you need. After you write your report, AI can even edit it and point out any grammatical and spelling mistakes you made.

Some may argue that using AI feels like cheating. But is Wikipedia any different? And Wikipedia isn’t always accurate. I remember doing a lot of research while pursuing my doctorate degree. Most of my time was spent online researching, and the biggest task after writing a paper was editing it. Microsoft Word has a proofreading function, but it’s only 50 to 60% accurate. The majority of my time was either spent researching or editing. AI would have allowed me more time to think and less on editing.

The biggest issue with research is citing your sources. I recently asked ChatGPT, my AI software, “Do you cite sources in your research?” Here is ChatGPT’s exact response:

“Absolutely, when I perform research using external resources, I always cite them. For calculations based on historical data, such as inflation rates, I typically rely on well-known and reputable sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or similar authoritative entities for the relevant country.”

You might argue that you didn’t read the entire journal or book, but researchers don’t do that today. You can simply search for a relevant article on a database. At Drew, we used ATLA for this purpose. I continued to use ATLA until AI became available. ATLA performs a similar function to AI but doesn’t organize and doesn’t find the relevant all information for you. In other words, AI acts as an organizer and research assistant.

I have both ChatGPT and Claude as AI resources. They are both free, but for $10 a month, you can use them on an unlimited basis.

However, it’s important to know that you still have to do the writing and organizing your thoughts. AI software can’t perform these functions as well as a human can. While AI can proofread and find information, it can’t organize as effectively as the human mind.

Some may argue that students can cheat using AI. Let me be the first to say that no matter what productivity tool you use, whether it’s a calculator, Word’s spellcheck, or AI, if a person wants to cheat or create havoc, they will find a way, regardless of how much you try to control it. Plagiarism has existed long before AI.

The tools themselves do not cheat; it is people who do. Throughout history, whenever a revolutionary tool has emerged, there has always been resistance and claims that it is cheating. Take the Gutenberg Press, invented in 1450, for example. It allowed books and pamphlets to be mass-produced. Instead of printing one book by hand in a month, thousands could be produced in a day. Ideas flowed across Europe in the late 15th century, marking the end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. While there was cheating, the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks.

Cheating is like weeds in a garden; no matter how hard you try, they will always be there. But you don’t stop planting because of the weeds. In fact, I asked ChatGPT to plagiarize and here is its exact response:

“No, I can’t assist with copying a document word for word for you to use as your own work. This would be considered plagiarism, which is the act of using someone else’s work or ideas without giving proper credit. Plagiarism is unethical and often violates academic and professional standards.”

In Romans [3:23], it says about humankind not AI, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The trade-off lies between preventing sin or cheating and allowing us to learn more and faster. In Proverbs 1:5, we receive God’s point of view: “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.”

AI is here and is a wonderful gift for humankind, but it won’t cheat or connive.

“It is Finished.”

An eerie gloom fell over the area and the bystanders. As the hours went by, Jesus’ breath became more and more labored. Beyond his severe physical pain, Jesus began to feel the indescribably intense pain of all of humankind’s sins being borne by him. Sins of a mundane nature and sins of great depravity became Jesus’ to absorb. Jesus was now the sacrificial lamb, absorbing all of humankind’s sin.

Finally, in his full humanity, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. [15:34]).

Those who were standing near heard this and said, “Listen, he is calling Elijah” (Mk. [15:35]). Those standing by missed that Jesus wasn’t crying out to the prophet Elijah, but Eloi. Eloi is another expression of God and literally means, in Hebrew, “God of me.” An awful darkness fell over the area as Jesus hung, suffering.

Jesus’ human body was shutting down. He was suffocating and quickly losing body fluids. Each of his major organs was failing. His heart and lungs were stiffening from the loss of blood. His human end was near.

It was now mid-afternoon; knowing this, the soldiers did not want to leave Jesus on the cross with the approaching Sabbath. They discussed breaking his legs to hasten his death. As they were discussing this, Jesus said, “It is finished” (Jn. [19:30]). Then, he released one last groan and his human form died.

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was declaring he had completed God’s will. His physical pain and the absorption of all human sin was over. He had finished the brutal part of redemption. Now only his wonderous divinity was left. He had come to serve humanity as human and had finished his difficult task.

At the same time, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. A Roman soldier who stood nearby and watched the whole crucifixion said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mk. [15:39]).

The tearing of the curtain, which separated the sacred temple room of the Holy of Holies, was symbolic of the new life Jesus had just created for the world. No longer was the temple in Jerusalem the way to God. But through faith in the blood Jesus had shed for humankind, all people could find God. Essentially, God had moved from the temple.


Yet Not my Will, But What You Will

Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, went into the labyrinth of the olive trees. As they walked, Jesus’ anxiety grew further, and he became more troubled. He was breathing heavily, at times gasping and shuddering when he was confronted with the reality of his immediate future. Finally, he stopped, bent over, and took a deep breath. Jesus then told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death … Stay here and keep watch” (Mk. [14:34]).

Jesus walked further into the grove of trees by himself. Overwhelmed by his human fear, he went to his knees, and each time he thought about his future, he trembled. He was consumed with anxiety.

Finally, he began to pray. In his prayer, he sought another way. His mind was filled with many competing thoughts, but mostly, he just wanted to find a different way because he knew the pain that was coming. His eyes were clenched, and his face was contorted; he desperately sought clarity and an end to his confusion.

Then, lifting his head heavenward, he said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk. [14:35]). This prayer revealed his inner struggle. In his humanity, he wanted a safer way to complete his task, to avoid the painful drama that was coming. Yet in his divine state, he knew God had a plan and trusted God.

He rose from the ground, feeling somewhat relieved, and walked back to where he had left Peter, James, and John. Stunningly, when he arrived at the spot where he had left them, Jesus found them asleep, oblivious to the cosmic struggle he was undergoing. He needed them, but they had succumbed to their fatigue. Jesus woke Peter and said,

Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mk. [14:37]–38)

Jesus needed Peter. In his disappointment, he had addressed Peter by his former name, symbolizing how Peter had drifted away while Jesus was grappling with mental anguish. Dismayed, Jesus turned and retreated into the grove.

Once more, his knees grew weak, and his breath became labored. Confronted again with the daunting reality of his imminent fate, he fell to his knees to pray. Sweat, born from his inner turmoil, dripped from Jesus’ face. Torn between God’s design for him and his human longing to find another way, he fervently sought clarity. In his mind, the same plea continually formed: “Not my will but yours.”

This internal battle persisted. While he recognized the necessity of following God’s plan, his human nature gave way to doubt. Each time he felt prepared, dread overwhelmed his humanity. And so, the struggle endured.

After some time, Jesus stood and approached the trio. To his dismay, he found them sleeping once more. Overcome by fatigue, their eyelids were heavy. In this moment, Jesus realized the depth of his solitude in this conflict.

For a third time, he ventured into the grove. With each passing moment, Jesus’ prayers grew more determined. When he finally submitted to God’s plan, a newfound clarity arose, and his determination solidified. During his third and concluding prayer, he declared with unwavering conviction, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. [26:39]). Upon these words, a spirit of resolution enveloped Jesus. He was fortified, and prepared to enact the divine blueprint.

His grueling journey to fully accepting his mission had been completed. As Jesus made his way back to the apostles, his stride was firm and unyielding. Upon reaching them, he pronounced:

Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer! (Mk. [14:41]–42)

Even though Jesus was the Son of God, he consistently identified himself as the Son of Man, highlighting his commitment to serving humanity. With unwavering resolve, he was set to fulfill his terrestrial mission.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash 

The Blood of the New Covenant

After Jesus had washed their feet, suddenly he again dramatically shifted the mood in the room by saying, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me” (Mk. [14:17]).

Heads turned to Jesus, shocked by his statement. Everyone but Judas searched their minds to consider if it was them. Eleven of the apostles were saddened by Jesus’s comment; then, one by one, they all replied, “Surely you don’t mean me?” (Mk. [14:19]). In turn, Jesus replied,

It is one of the Twelve … one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. (Mk. [14:20]–21)

After hearing Jesus say this, Judas grew uncomfortable and uneasy on his cushion. He was the one who had shared the bowl with Jesus for dipping the unleavened bread. Frantically, he wondered what Jesus might know.

Judas remained silent, hoping the moment would pass and no further conversation about betrayal would occur. He was embarrassed but did not let it show. Silently, he wanted to leave so he would no longer be twisting inwardly with anxiety.

The room grew uncomfortable—some thought it was Judas Jesus was talking about. Stillness and stiffness filled the air. Not knowing what to do next, the apostles returned to eating their meal, this time in silence.

Then, Jesus stood up and took the bread, which he broke into pieces, and gave it to everyone in the room. When all had received the bread, Jesus said, “Take it; this is my body” (Mk. [14:22]).

This moment harkens back to when John the Baptist first saw Jesus. John had been quizzed by the religious leaders as to whether he was the Messiah or a prophet. John the Baptist replied, “He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Jn. [1:27]).

Later, when John the Baptist saw Jesus walking, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. [1:29]). This statement, made at the beginning of Jesus’s earthly mission, is directly connected to the Passover lamb, but it is also connected to the crucifixion and its purpose. Jesus’ body would be broken during the crucifixion for all believers to share. Symbolically, Jesus was also the Passover lamb, who would save and redeem those who believed in him.

While the Twelve were trying to understand Jesus’ comment about the bread and his body, Jesus picked up a cup of wine and said,

Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matt. [26:28]–29)

Jesus drank from the cup and gave it to John, who also drank from it. John passed it to the right. And on the cup went, passed to the person on the right. Finally, Judas received the cup and drank from it as well.

The statement “this is my blood of the covenant” draws parallels with the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible. The concept of a covenant was introduced by God when he pledged land and a future to Abraham and his lineage.

In biblical terms, a covenant signifies an agreement God forms with his people. Not limited to Abraham, God also made covenants with figures like Moses and Noah. While the Twelve might have grappled with Jesus’ words, they paid close attention. Jesus was ushering in a new covenant, offering forgiveness of sins and a renewed life to believers.

In the present day, the bread and wine are similar to this inaugural communion. It is our affirmation of belief in both the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Though Jesus initiated the first communion, its significance remained elusive to those present. They struggled with concepts like being “poured out for many” and Jesus’ vow of abstaining from drinking until the advent of God’s new kingdom. Their comprehension, however, was on the horizon.

Jesus then led them in a final hymn and ended the meal. They all rose from the table and headed back to Bethany and the Mount of Olives.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

On Monday of the Holy Week was the day to act and make the temple a holy place again. Jesus was going to defend his father’s house. The Courtyard of the Gentiles in the Temple area had been turned into a money-making scheme, which took advantage of the masses used to buy sacrificial animals and money to make their temple donations.

It wasn’t that Jesus was upset by economic activity. In his youth, Jesus and his earthly dad, Joseph, had made furniture to sell. What Jesus saw in the temple wasn’t hard work but rather scheming in the name of God to gain money without effort. Greed drove the temple leaders who used inappropriate power to earn money.

When Jesus arrived in the Courtyard of the Gentiles, he surveyed the scene to decide what to do next. He then gathered up some of the whips from nearby livestock booths. Next, Jesus called his disciples together, giving each of them a whip and telling them, “Follow my lead.”

Purposefully, Jesus walked to the closest booth, flipped over the table, and used his whip to drive away the livestock. Upon seeing this, the Twelve did the same to the other tables and booths. Then, some in the crowd joined in as well. The scene became quite chaotic as Jesus, the Twelve, and people from the crowd flipped over tables―livestock were driven out of their pens, pigeons were released, and coins spilled out on the floor.

The vendors raised their voices and yelled for Jesus and everyone to stop. Shoppers were left stunned and unsure of what to do.

On it went with tables being quickly turned over. At first, it was just a few, but soon, there was a sea of flipped tables. Looking across the Courtyard of the Gentiles, the scene had the appearance of rippling, as one table after another was tipped over. The mayhem started with Jesus and spread quickly throughout the courtyard.

Everyone else who was present was frozen with disbelief. The priests and merchants had been caught off balance mentally; they stood absorbing the scene and were unprepared to act. When Jesus was done, the Courtyard of the Gentiles, which once had tables and booths lined up in an orderly fashion, was a scene of chaos with loose livestock roaming the courtyard area and the wings of birds flapping. Money collectors fell to their knees frantically scouring the ground to pick up the loose coins. Jesus had put an end to the charade.

Image by Christina Gottardi

Of particular concern for Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin was Jesus raising a local man from the dead three months earlier. This incident had caused many to cross over from just wondering about Jesus to believing he was their answer—perhaps the long-awaited Messiah.

While Jesus was on the eastern shore of the Jordan, two sisters, Martha and Mary, who lived in Bethany, faced a crisis. Their brother, Lazarus, had fallen ill and was on the brink of death. Martha and Mary were early believers in Jesus as the Messiah, particularly since Jesus had healed their father from the debilitating effects of leprosy. In gratitude, the sisters, along with Lazarus and their father, became devoted followers of Jesus. Due to their deep faith, Jesus had developed a special bond with the family. Thus, when Lazarus became critically ill, they immediately sent word to Jesus, seeking his help.

When Jesus received word of Lazarus’s illness, he said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (Jn. 11:4). Remarkably, Jesus didn’t go to them immediately; he waited two days. Then, on the third day, he told the Twelve,

“Let’s go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” (Jn. 11:7–10)

After this, Jesus told them Lazarus had only fallen asleep. But still fearful, the Twelve said, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better” (Jn. [11:13]). But the Twelve still didn’t understand.

Then Jesus became franker and said, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (Jn. [11:14]–15). Jesus had a plan. While it included saving a close friend, it also included showing many others the glory of God.

As they approached Bethany, Martha met them and said to Jesus,

“If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Jn. [11:21]–27)

Martha’s faith in Jesus was very evident; her faith exceeded that of many, including the Twelve who had been traveling with Jesus.

Martha went back to Mary and told her Jesus was coming. Ecstatic, Mary and many friends immediately went to the outskirts of Bethany to meet Jesus. The many friends who were with Mary to comfort her because of her brother’s death followed her.

As she approached Jesus, he could see she was crying. He also saw the many friends with her, and, in his full humanity, he became deeply moved and troubled. He said:

Where have you laid him?

The crowd replied, “Come and see, Lord.” (Jn. [11:33]; 34)

Jesus, seeing the outpouring of grief, in his humanness, began to weep as well.

Many in the crowd exclaimed, “See how he loved him.”

But some cynically asked, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Jn. [11:36]-37).

As he usually did, Jesus ignored the cynical and doubters, continuing toward Lazarus’s burial tomb. Upon his arrival, Jesus asked that the stone be removed. Martha, worried about the potential bad odor after the body had lain there for several days, warned Jesus against removing the stone. However, Jesus looked at Martha and said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Jn. [11:40]). Those near the tomb then removed the stone.

Looking around at the crowd, Jesus knew many in the crowd would become witnesses of his upcoming actions. Raising his head with his arms outstretched, he looked up to the sky and said,

Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I say this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me. (Jn. [11:41]–42)

After saying this, Jesus loudly commanded Lazarus to “come forth.” Lazarus emerged from the tomb, wrapped in strips of linen with cloth on his face. Jesus asked those nearby to unbind him and dress him.

Many of the crowd who had come to comfort Martha and Mary saw this and were amazed. Weeping, some even fell to their knees and looked up to the sky and thanked God. Most who were present now believed Jesus was more than a great healer; he was their Savior.

But some, hoping to gain favor, went to the leaders in Jerusalem and told them what had happened.

Upon hearing about this event, Caiaphas, the chief priest quickly convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin to discuss the reports surrounding Jesus and the resurrection of Lazarus. Caiaphas requested a detailed account of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Those who had gathered information from the attendees relayed what they had learned. By and large, the accounts from these individuals were consistent with the testimonies of eyewitnesses. The more Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin heard, the more alarmed they became.

Many who witnessed the event came to believe that Jesus was sent by God, a belief that deeply concerned Caiaphas and the other leaders. Distraught and fearful, some members of the Sanhedrin posed a question to Caiaphas, “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many miracles. If we allow him to continue in this way, everyone will believe in him. The Romans will then intervene, seizing both our temple and our nation” (Jn. [11:47]–48).

The gravity of both scenarios was becoming increasingly evident. Undoubtedly, Jesus was presenting a novel way of life to the common people, one that wasn’t predicated on fear. The Romans recognized that the Sanhedrin and the priests held sway over the masses, which facilitated their governance. Jesus’ burgeoning influence among the locals jeopardized this delicate balance.

Caiaphas realized that it was time to address the threat of Jesus. He also understood the Sanhedrin needed to not act rashly. Jesus’ removal would have to be executed with care and tact to avoid inciting public unrest. It would be challenging but achievable with skillful action. They needed to remain calm as they moved against Jesus.

News of this meeting reached Jesus through those who had overheard the discussions and the subsequent decisions. Knowing it wasn’t yet his time to confront the leaders of Jerusalem, he withdrew from the public eye, retreating to the wilderness and the ancient tribal community of Ephraim.


Photo by Eddie & Carolina Stigson on Unsplash

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,”

– Hebrews 12:1


All Saints’ Day, a revered tradition in the Methodist church as well as in many other Christian denominations, was celebrated in our congregation on the first Sunday of November. This day, deeply embedded in the fabric of ecclesiastical observance, was marked by a poignant and reflective service. Our pastor, with careful consideration and pastoral sensitivity, led us in honoring the memory of the dearly departed members of our church family, of whom we had lost five in the preceding year.

The sanctuary, usually filled with the voices of an active congregation, took on a reverent silence as candles were lit, one for each soul that had left an indelible mark on our community. The gentle glow stood as a testament to the lives they had led among us—lives of faith, service, and love.

In a deeply moving extension of this ritual, the pastor invited each member of the congregation to come forward. With solemn steps, we approached the altar, each carrying a candle, ready to ignite it in memory of someone who had touched our lives profoundly. The invitation was not limited to the remembrance of those within our local congregation but was extended to any personal saints we held dear in our hearts. As we lit our candles, the altar became a beacon of remembrance, with every flame representing a story, a life, a sacred memory.

The commemoration of All Saints’ Day varies widely across Christian denominations. Its origins can be traced back to the early Christian practice in the Catholic Church, which formally set aside November 1st to honor saints and martyrs. For Western Christians, this day is fixed in the liturgical calendar, while Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

In the Catholic tradition, All Saints’ Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, calling the faithful to Mass and to reflect on the exemplary lives of the saints who have achieved the beatific vision—the direct experience of God in Heaven. The broader Christian perspective also embraces this day as an opportunity to honor all believers who have departed this life in the hope of the resurrection, thus maintaining a spiritual connection with the entire communion of saints.

Following All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day on November 2nd is observed, which is especially dedicated to praying for the faithful departed who are believed to have been in Purgatory, undergoing purification in preparation for Heaven. These sequential days of observance encapsulate the Christian doctrine of the afterlife and the enduring community that includes all believers, transcending the earthly plane.

There is a common misconception, which I once shared, that the gospel song “When the Saints Go Marching In” is associated with All Saints’ Day celebrations. While not specifically written for this day, many churches embrace it during their services because its chorus resonates with the day’s themes. The yearning expressed in the lyrics, “Oh, when the saints go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number,” expresses a personal sentiment to be counted as a saint and mirrors the intention behind All Saints’ Day—to honor the holy and the faithful.

This song’s origins are as spiritual, and its rise to prominence was significantly influenced by the iconic recordings of Louis Armstrong in the 1930s. Since then, it has become an emblematic tune of hope and celebration in the face of life’s adversities. I have included at the bottom of this blog a link to hear Louis Armstrong’s version. Simply click on the link to hear his wonderful rendition!

Denominational practices do vary: some focus strictly on honoring recognized saints, while others, like our Methodist tradition, take a different approach. We use this day not only to honor the canonized saints but also to remember all who have lived out their faith in Jesus Christ and have been a beacon of His light in the world.

This year’s service was particularly personal for me. The pastor’s call to remember those who have gone before us widened the scope of our commemoration. I lit candles for my father and grandmother, two pillars of my life whose presence I’ve felt continuously since their passing. Their memory does not eclipse the central place of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the source of my hope but rather complements it, offering a comforting presence in significant moments of my life.

Such experiences are not unfamiliar to those in pastoral care professions. Chaplains, grief counselors, and hospice clergy frequently encounter individuals who sense the nearness of their ancestors, especially as they navigate the profound waters of grief or approach life’s end. Some report visions or a palpable sense of those who have passed on being near, offering comfort or guidance.

Our scripture for All Saints’ Day, Hebrews 12:1, beautifully encapsulates this sentiment. It acknowledges the saints as a “great cloud of witnesses,” whose lives and legacies continue to inspire and encourage us in our own faith journeys. This imagery of being surrounded by the faithful who have finished their race challenges us to live with perseverance and righteousness, just as they did.

Reflecting on this, it is both humbling and comforting to realize that we are accompanied not only by the Holy Spirit but also by the legacies of our ancestors. And so, with a sense of unity that spans beyond time, we can look forward to the day when we too will join that holy procession, as we continue to sing in hope and anticipation, “Oh, when the saints go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number,” longing for the day we stand together with all the faithful in the eternal presence of God. On this All Saints’ Day, we are reminded of our sacred connection to the past and the future, united in the present by our shared faith and the love that transcends all boundaries.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

– Revelations [3:20]


A close friend recently shared his newfound journey of faith, expressing his decision to attend an Eastern Orthodox church. As he narrated his story, he carefully watched my reaction, perhaps anticipating surprise or concern. I, however, was simply overjoyed that he had found a spiritual home. Intrigued, I inquired about his choice of denomination, to which he expressed a deep appreciation for the rich tradition, symbolism, and formalities that the Eastern Orthodox Church offers.

Indeed, the Eastern Orthodox Church stands out with its unique practices and traditions, especially when compared to the more commonly recognized denominations in America. Its closest counterpart would be the Roman Catholic Church, which boasts a substantial following, comprising sixty percent of Christians worldwide, amounting to 1.4 billion members. In contrast, the Eastern Orthodox Church has a more modest membership of 18 million.

The history of these two major denominations stretches back to a time when they were unified. It wasn’t until 1054 AD that a schism, driven by theological, political, and cultural differences, led to their separation. This marked the first major division within the Christian faith.

Another significant moment in Christian history was the Protestant Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther in 1517. Luther’s act of nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, is often regarded as the catalyst for this religious upheaval. His propositions challenged the prevailing practices of the Catholic Church, particularly the sale of indulgences, which were believed to reduce the punishment of sin. Although Luther’s initial intention was to spark scholarly debate, his ideas rapidly gained traction, resulting in profound religious and social transformations.

In the subsequent centuries, numerous Protestant denominations emerged, including the Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, each with their own unique doctrinal and liturgical characteristics. Despite the multitude of denominations, consensus on religious matters remained elusive, even within the Catholic Church.

These religious disparities sometimes escalated to violence and warfare, with the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) standing out as a particularly brutal example. Initially a conflict between Catholic and Protestant states within the Holy Roman Empire, it eventually drew in most of the major European powers. This war had devastating effects on Germany, resulting in the loss of 25% of its population, either directly through warfare or indirectly through famine and disease.

These tumultuous times in history contributed to the establishment of religious freedom in the United States, a principle enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Even in England, where the national religion oscillated between Protestantism and Catholicism for nearly two centuries, leading to numerous casualties including the execution of King Charles I in 1649, there was eventually a return to stability with the restoration of his son, Charles II, in 1660.

These historical episodes of violence and discord amongst Christians prompt reflection on how well we embody the teachings of Christ, particularly the call to love our neighbors and live with kindness and humility. Gandhi’s observation that “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” is a poignant reminder of the discrepancy that can exist between faith and practice.

However, it is important to remember that these conflicts were not rooted in the teachings of Jesus but in human interpretation and disagreement. However, there is value in the plethora of denominations as it presents an opportunity for Christ to meet us wherever we are, responding to His knock as mentioned in Revelations [3:20].

When my friend chose to attend an Eastern Orthodox Church, I supported his decision wholeheartedly. I believe that the diversity of denominations enables Jesus to connect with people from all walks of life. Regardless of whether one is Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, or any other denomination, Jesus is ever-present and ready to engage with us.

Personally, I attend a Methodist church. This is not because I believe it is superior to others, but because it is where I feel at home. However, I also appreciate and enjoy experiencing Catholic Masses and Baptist services, finding that each denomination offers unique insights that strengthen my faith. Rather than debating which denomination is “better,” I choose to learn from them all.

In conclusion, Jesus never intended for His church to be divided, but He encourages us all to seek and explore our faith. Regardless of our denomination, we are all Christians. By responding to Jesus’s call and answering his knocking at our door, we allow Him to meet us exactly where we are, embracing the diversity of His body and growing in our journey of faith.

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. 

– Luke [15:32]


The parable of the Prodigal Son, narrated by Jesus in Luke [15:11]-32, stands as one of the most poignant illustrations of God’s unconditional love and the transformative joy found in reconciliation. In this story, Jesus extends a heartfelt invitation to embrace forgiveness.

The narrative unfolds with a younger son, impatient for his inheritance, taking his share and squandering it in a distant land on reckless living. When a famine strikes, he finds himself destitute, envying the food of pigs he is feeding as part of a job he has taken up. In this moment of desperation, he decides to return home, hoping for his father’s mercy, and ready to offer himself as a servant. Contrary to his expectations, his father, spotting him from afar, rushes to embrace him, celebrating his return with open arms. The father insists on marking the occasion with a feast, expressing joy that his lost son has returned to life. However, this celebration is met with resentment from the older son, who has remained faithful throughout. The father gently reminds him that all he has is already his, emphasizing the importance of celebrating the lost son’s return – once “dead,” now “alive.” This story encapsulates God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness.

Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Such a perspective highlights that forgiveness is a perpetual practice, challenging as it may be when we feel wronged. Our egos bruise, we feel violated, and our emotions are wounded. Questions arise: How could they do this to us? Why do we deserve this? These feelings are undoubtedly valid, and the father in the parable had every right to feel hurt and betrayed. Yet, upon his son’s return, his response is one of joy.

Perhaps forgiveness is more about our healing than it is about the other person. Consider a life devoid of forgiveness; a journey marred by grudges and resentment. Inevitably, we will encounter individuals who wrong us – are we to isolate ourselves from all? What does a lack of forgiveness morph us into?

Lewis B. Smedes sheds light on this, stating, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Unforgiveness binds us within ourselves, hindering our capacity to transcend our limitations. While it does not mean we forget, Jesus calls us to forgive. The ones who caused us pain are on their journey, and denying forgiveness robs us of witnessing transformative moments of faith.

People’s journeys are tumultuous, filled with highs and lows. Jesus accompanies us through every twist and turn, guiding us towards righteousness. I believe there is an innate goodness in every person, though our actions may not always reflect this belief – a shortcoming on our part, not theirs.

Forgiving oneself is equally challenging. The inability to release past transgressions can tarnish one’s self-image, a struggle often mirrored in our capacity to forgive others. Yet, it is crucial to acknowledge the innate goodness within ourselves, just as we do in others.

Some may contest the idea of universal innate goodness, but Genesis [1:27] reminds us that we are all created in God’s image. While we all are created in God’s image, we still falter from time to time. But Jesus, in his sacrificial death, bore the weight of all human sin – the ultimate act of forgiveness. Even those we see as perfect have had transgressions. Yet we are not the judges, because Jesus bore all sin. Ours is to move forward with ourselves and others.

Emulating the Father’s forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son is undoubtedly challenging, but it is a journey toward liberation and healing. Forgiveness frees us from our internal prisons, ushering us into a state of renewal and peace.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” 

– Philippians 4:4


In 60 AD, the Apostle Paul found himself sitting in a prison in Rome. Despite these dire circumstances, he penned the Epistle to the Philippians, a short book of only four chapters in the New Testament. From within the cold confines of his Roman cell, a letter of exuberant joy and profound thanksgiving emerged, arguably rendering it the happiest book in the New Testament.

Paul’s preceding years had been arduous. He had traversed the Mediterranean world on three extensive missionary journeys, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, an endeavor spanning over a dozen years. Yet, shortly after his return to Jerusalem, imprisonment clutched him.

King Herod Agrippa’s merciless persecution had compelled many early followers, including Peter, John, Thomas, and James, to flee Jerusalem. Alone and without protection, imprisonment was inevitable for Paul. However, claiming his Roman citizenship, he averted death and was sent to Rome for a trial.

The voyage to Rome was tumultuous. The ship, entrapped in the fierce grip of a severe storm, threatened the lives of all on board. Yet Paul, moved by divine reassurance, proclaimed the safety of every soul on board. All 276 people emerged from the ordeal unscathed.

Upon arrival in Rome, Paul’s imprisonment continued. Some scholars suggest he was under house arrest, guarded by a centurion, while others believe he languished in a prison cell, chained and confined. Yet amidst this, the Christian evangelist found a reservoir of joy.

The letter to the Philippians was birthed from these adverse conditions. Despite his circumstances, Paul’s words were infused with a spirit of joy and encouragement, with themes of unity, humility, and the imperative to rejoice in the Lord always punctuating every line.

In this remarkable letter, Paul details the four life practices that have been the bedrock of his unwavering joy:

  • Rejoice Always: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
  • Be Gentle: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)
  • Pray Without Anxiety: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
  • Focus on the Good: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

The crucible of many trials and tribulations had chiseled Paul, refining his faith and deepening his connection to Jesus. Every beating, shipwreck, and imprisonment had not been a deterrent but a conduit, ushering him into a profound realization of the unwavering presence of Jesus. He had witnessed miracles, experienced deliverance, and encountered Jesus in ways that severed his ties to the fickle afflictions of the world.

At this juncture in his journey, imprisoned yet unbroken, Paul was a man fully separated from the ways of the world and profoundly attuned to Jesus. Every word penned in the letter to the Philippians emanates from a soul anchored in this unyielding conviction – Jesus was not just a belief but an ever-present reality, working around and within him, a source of unassailable joy even within the somber confines of a Roman prison.

It’s a testament to grace that a man, surrounded by the imposing walls of a prison and having endured extensive trials while evangelizing in distant and often dangerous lands, could author what many consider the most joy-filled book in the New Testament.