What Might Be Lost

Deuteronomy 11:13-17 (NRSV)

If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul—then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill. Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them, for then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain and the land will yield no fruit; then you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.


By Chuck Griffin

When I was in college, I learned an important concept in economics class: “opportunity cost.”

Essentially, when we make decisions, we need to account for more than just the gain we believe we will experience by going in a particular direction. We also need to assess what we lose by not making an alternate choice.

As Forbes magazine once wrote, “It’s a core concept for both investing and life in general.”

It’s easy to analyze opportunity costs with hindsight. For example, a lot of us may have spent $10,000 or so on a nice little car or truck in 1997. We probably enjoyed driving our little cars and trucks.

We had another option, however—we could have instead bought $10,000 worth of Amazon stock in May of that year, when it was first publicly offered. In May of 2020, according to Investopedia, that stock would have been worth $12 million.

The problem, of course, is that none of us has clear information about the future, so it’s hard to guess what our opportunity cost for a particular decision is going to be. Don’t ask me for a loan. I bought the little car.

As we see in our Deuteronomy text, God did the Israelites a real favor. He laid out what would happen if they chose to love the Lord with all their hearts and souls, and what would happen if they chose to turn away from God and sin.

One choice promised a sort of paradise on earth. The other offered a miserable existence and widespread death. The opportunity cost of each choice was made clear. But even with all that clarity, they chose poorly.

God is gracious, of course. He presents the lesson in new ways. Now he presents it to us through Jesus Christ. Choosing to reconcile with God through Jesus actually offers us peace and joy in this life, and ultimately eternal life in the presence of God!

Sin often is attractive in the short-term, offering what we think we cannot live without. To combat sin, it helps to measure the opportunity cost of straying from God’s love and guidance. Ongoing joy and eternal life are a lot to lose.

Lord, may your Holy Spirit grant us a fuller and more complete picture of where our decisions lead us. Amen.

Gracious Words in an Ungracious World

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.—Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

Normally, these devotions are based on Scripture from the daily lectionary readings. Every now and then, however, a verse that really speaks to me pops up elsewhere—in this case, on last Saturday’s front page for  the Bible Gateway website.

As the world around us seems to become less Christian, and consequently, less loving and forgiving each day, what are we to do? Some churchgoers seem to think the right response is to become more strident and defensive. That’s certainly the impression I get when I look at social media.

Paul would take us in a different direction, however. If the world is lacking grace, Christians are best equipped to inject this great gift of God into the veins of a sick society.

For people unused to grace, loving actions and words of forgiveness are downright perplexing. The daily lectionary readings have pulled us toward the concept of evangelism a lot lately; perplexing people with unexpected kindness and warmth is a great way to open the door to deeper conversations about the source of such behavior.

Paul is telling us to be winsome. Note what you get when you break that word in two: “Win some.”

I’m going to start this week right and look for opportunities to be a bearer of grace to those around me. Let’s all try it, and perhaps we can share some stories about what happens.

Lord, let us be the center of calm in the midst of the storms around us. Amen.

Those Who Would Lead

Mark 10:42-45 (NLT)

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


By Chuck Griffin

Don’t be distracted by the “rulers in this world” reference. Self-promoters will always be with us, making up the vast majority of those who lead in secular settings.

Jesus’ message is aimed squarely at leaders in the church, and that is where our minds need to be today. They are supposed to lead in very different ways, perhaps influencing the world just a little by their example.

Pastors need to take all of what Jesus says to heart, of course. Certainly, pastors who rise to positions of higher authority (and higher pay, accompanied by other trappings of success) need to take Jesus’ words quite seriously.

And let’s never forget that lay Christians need to lead, too. If we don’t have laity taking a strong hand in running the church at all levels, we are going to be disappointed in our results for the kingdom.

So, what do servant leaders look like?

Well, such people have Philippians 2:4 hearts: “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” They plan their day around what they can do to improve other people’s situations. In particular, they’re thinking how they can help others receive eternal life and peace in this life.

That alone is not enough to make them leaders, though. Another step is required; leaders also take measures to ensure godly order.

In other words, they seek God’s will through prayer and Scripture, and they work to structure the church at all levels in accordance with what they find, usually building on what previous generations of leaders have determined. After all, the Holy Spirit works in each generation, and the Holy Spirit always gives consistent answers. Think “mission.”

Obviously, servant leaders also need to be bold. No hiding allowed. As Jesus indicated, the world and the church are two very different settings, so Christian leaders shouldn’t be dissuaded or deterred simply because the world sniffs in disapproval of their actions.

Servant leaders should have at least mild disdain for the prosperity the world may offer them. At a minimum, they don’t see what resources they control as really being theirs. It wouldn’t hurt servant leaders to read John Wesley’s sermon “The Danger of Riches” from time to time.

For those of us who are professionally trained, it’s also a good exercise to reflect on our original sense of calling and what we were imagining during those earliest years in licensing school or seminary.

Did we really make all those life changes and commitments to pursue what we pursue now? (We did see this as a calling, right?) Has the maintenance of an institution taken priority over Christian mission?

If preaching Christ crucified is no longer your focus—well, please go seek a worldly path to riches and power. The church is no place for such games.

Lord, raise up new servant leaders among your laity and clergy so we may be your vibrant church. Amen.

Clean and Unclean

Acts 10 (NLT)

By Chuck Griffin

Today’s reading is an extended narrative from Acts. I would encourage you to spend a few minutes reading the story of Cornelius, Peter and a rooftop vision, either by using the link above or finding it in your personal Bible.

From there, let me simply provide you with a guide to meditating on this important story.

Most of you raised in church likely have at least a rough understanding of what Jews meant by “clean” and “unclean.” As a people set apart by God, it was the Jews’ role to demonstrate ritually their separateness by avoiding activities and objects the non-Jewish world might find normal. Certain actions unique to Jews at the time—circumcision, for example—also were required to set them apart.

This story in Acts is critically important because it demonstrates that the Jewish messiah’s death on the cross has made it possible for all people to be restored to God. A common theme of the New Testament is how difficult it was for Jewish Christians, Peter included, to let go of this separateness in order to spread the Good News. Many were reluctant to go among Gentiles, and some demanded the Gentiles adopt Jewish behaviors in order to follow Jesus Christ. A council of Christian leaders finally had to settle the matter.

We who are of non-Jewish descent should be particularly thankful for the expansive nature of God’s grace. “For God so loved the world ….”

This story also should challenge us now, just as the Jewish Christians were then challenged.

  • How do we let our own ideas about cleanliness and uncleanliness impact where we tell the Good News?
  • Can people be so different from us that we ignore their need to hear about Jesus Christ?
  • To be Christian, people need to reject sin and accept Jesus Christ as Savior. But do we sometimes try to impose additional burdens?

Let’s always be watching for a good-hearted Cornelius who awaits word of salvation.

Lord, thank you for your ever-expanding grace, which is capable of penetrating all cultures and all individual circumstances. Amen. 

Restore Us, O God

Psalm 80:1-3 (NRSV)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

By Chuck Griffin

What we now call the Old Testament is full of oscillation, the relationship between God and his chosen people moving in and out of harmony.

God’s abundant love and astonishing holiness never change, of course. It is people, then and now, who draw near to God in works of mercy and piety or run away from God as they sin. Sometimes we run so far that God seems to have slumbered or even poured out wrath.

For the fallen—and we all have been among the fallen—that plea, “Restore us, O God,” is an excellent starting point. Of course, we cannot say “restore us” as we continue to run away. We have to at least turn toward God, like the prodigal son climbing out of the pig sty and taking his first step on the walk home. We have to repent.

While sin deeply offends God’s holiness, God’s love keeps our creator alert to our return. Through his chosen people, he has even made the return easy, ready to embrace us with outstretched arms. He came among us while we were deep in sin, living among us and ultimately paying for those sins on the cross.

“Stir up your might, and come to save us!” the people prayed in Psalm 80. And God did, in ways with far greater global impact than they likely imagined.

Can we lift up the same cry, in our own lives and on behalf of our own people, whomever they may be?

Lord, let us see a turning toward you, moving us into a time when your grace abundantly flows, bringing healing and salvation to all. Amen.

Confident Hope

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

—Romans 12:12 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

If we are able to understand what our confident hope is, this becomes a simple verse to live by.

Paul wrote these words in a chapter of Romans where he also talked about making our bodies a living and holy sacrifice. Paul regularly spoke of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the central message of Christianity, and it is clear he wants us completely “sold out” on the idea, committed to its meaning in good times and bad.

The cross, of course, means freedom for us. Think of your sins for a moment; briefly experience them as the crushing weight they should be. (I feel a slight shudder when I do this.) Now remember, that weight has been lifted by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross! Sin should lead to death, but both have been defeated by Christ.

Thus, the resurrection, the Easter event. It is our proof the cross is effective, and a promise of what is in store for us.

The cross also is the source of our confidence. We certainly will experience negative and even frightening moments in this life, but the fear they are somehow terminal, a full-stop end, is unjustified. We will pass through—life goes on, even after our bodily deaths.

This great truth of Christianity should shape every moment of our lives. Even in sorrow, joy lingers nearby because the truth of our salvation is constant.

Romans 12:12 is a simple Bible verse worth memorizing.

Lord, keep the cross before us in all circumstances. Amen.

Methodism 101

Galatians 5:16-26 (NRSV)

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.


By Chuck Griffin

When it comes to living by the Spirit or succumbing to the desires of the flesh, most of us find ourselves being pulled back and forth. Our hope is that over time, we get so close to the Spirit that the desires of the flesh lose their grip on us.

The fancy Methodist term for the process is “sanctification.” More and more each day, we should grow in our ability to love as Jesus loves. We show God love by seeking the divine will and following it. We show other people sacrificial love, in part hoping that they find God through what we offer them.

Welcome to Methodism 101. This emphasis on sanctification is what largely distinguishes us from other denominations, at least historically. If you’re in a United Methodist Church and are saying to yourself, “Haven’t heard that in awhile,” you’re not alone. Institutions have a tendency to slip from their moorings over time.

The coming new, traditional Methodist denomination likely will move us back toward an emphasis on sanctification, as well as other important related concepts like small-group accountability. That denomination may take a little time to develop, however, and there’s no reason we cannot get started living as true Methodists now.

Don’t be afraid to explore your Methodist roots, which simply are expressions of what God calls us to do in the Bible. Look for books that are helpful; explore websites designed to get you started.

In short, seek the fruit that only the Holy Spirit can place in our lives.

Lord, bless and empower our efforts to be more like what you created us to be. Amen.

Who Owns Whom?

“Peter’s Conflict with Simon Magus,” Avanzino Nucci, 1620. Simon is on the right, in black.

Acts 8:18-25 (NRSV)

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.


By Chuck Griffin

Earlier in Acts, we learn that Simon was a magician, one so clever he astonished the people of Samaria to the point they thought he was tapping into the power of God.

But even this trickster was drawn to the message of Jesus Christ as Savior. Impressed by the signs and great miracles that truly flowed from God through Philip the Evangelist, Simon received baptism and began to follow the preacher about.

Pretty soon, two apostles, Peter and John, arrived on the scene, laying hands on those who had claimed Christ as Savior so the Holy Spirit would go to work in their lives. In other words, new spiritual gifts became available to this fledgling church in Samaria, expressed visibly in new signs and miracles now flowing through these recent converts.

As we see, Simon had heard the message in only a kind-of-sort-of way. It had not moved his heart to a new place. He saw the world as transactional, all about gain and loss. He thought money could somehow let him control this Spirit power.

Here’s what Simon was missing: We do not control God, and God’s work is never intended to glorify us. Instead, we let God control and guide us, giving the glory to him. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross removes the offense of sin from the relationship, and we are able to resume the role of created beings serving the loving Creator.

It’s a struggle that continues today. Even church leaders can become obsessed with the idea that they need to benefit personally from this kingdom work. Certainly, the “laborer deserves to be paid,” but beware of those whose only motive seems to be personal glory and a paycheck, preferably a big one.

Thanks be to God for all who serve the kingdom humbly and without thoughts of entitlement or reward, other than the joy to be found in eternal life with God.

Lord, may your Holy Spirit flow freely among your church, going to and fro to all who call upon your name. Amen.

Silver Lining

Acts 8:1-8 (NLT)

Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.


By Chuck Griffin

No one would ever look forward to persecution, but it’s amazing how resilient Christians can be in the face of such abuse. This particular outbreak of systematic oppression seems to have been led at least in part by Saul, more often called Paul after his later skull-rattling conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus.

Let’s focus, however, on the response of these Christians in the midst of this storm of hate. They prudently scattered, but as a group they did not abandon their mission. In fact, scattering them may have been the worst mistake their enemies could make.

They scattered not like frightened rabbits, but like seeds, blooming wherever they landed. Rather than being destroyed, the church grew, spreading beyond its Jewish base further into the world beyond.

When we think of miracle-workers in Acts, we tend to think of Peter and Paul. But here we learn about Philip the Evangelist’s work. The Spirit clearly was upon him, manifested in both miraculous signs and powerful teaching and preaching.

Those of you attending Weber City, Va.’s Holston View UMC or viewing worship online this Sunday will hear more about Philip and his work, God willing. To me, Philip seems like a quiet servant of God, humble but having a great effect on the world.

I realize some of you read these devotions in places where you perhaps face hostility and danger because of your faith. We who are in the United States face nothing like real persecution—our challenges rise only to the level of extreme nuisances, and those often are inflicted on us by other members of our denomination.

If you are in one of those dangerous places, know we are praying for you. We are conscious that martyrs are being made every day.

Thank you for standing strong and sowing seeds for the kingdom.

Lord, bless all who find their freedom and their lives jeopardized for believing in you. Please continue to astonish us with the ways you work in the midst of vicious non-belief. Amen.

In the Thicket

Micah 7:14 (NLT)

O Lord, protect your people with your shepherd’s staff;

    lead your flock, your special possession.

Though they live alone in a thicket

    on the heights of Mount Carmel,

let them graze in the fertile pastures of Bashan and Gilead

    as they did long ago.


By Chuck Griffin

This particular verse in Micah arises as part of a lament over sin and a longing for better days.

We can process this desire to be led back to the good life on so many levels. As a people, we can always look to aspects of a national past we believe to be better, the good old days, although we do have to be careful. People have a tendency to remember the good and forget the bad.

My wife and I like movies from the 1950s and early 1960s, the ones that fill the screen with images just a little too early for us to have seen with our own eyes. Think of the New York City street scenes in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” or Doris Day at the Automat, or Cary Grant in a finely tailored suit. How nice it would be to go back in time and experience all that—without polio, the Korean and Vietnam wars, racism, sexism bordering on misogyny, and those ever-present clouds of cigarette smoke, of course.

We can have similar longings on an individual level, too, desiring that “better time,” whenever that might have been—maybe when we were in high school, or first married, or when the kids were little. If we get stuck in that longing, the here-and-now can seem very much like a briar-filled thicket.

We cannot go back in time, and we probably would not want to do so, were we to think it through. What we can do is take the best of our past experiences, as a people or as a person, and find a way to carry what we learn from them forward. That’s where this verse from Micah becomes useful.

Followers of God know that the best of times always happen in conjunction with a deep relationship with God. When we are with God, we are tapping into promises of eternal joy, timeless truths that color any present moment for the better.

Whatever thicket we find ourselves in, God can lead us out, usually through fellowship with others who follow God. The Great Shepherd has even gone to the cross so we can forever escape the deadly consequences of sin.

Lord, as we walk with you, give us great optimism for the future, knowing you are leading us toward fertile pastures. Amen.