Keep Alert!

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Luke 21:34-38 (NLT)

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him.

When Jesus said, “Watch out,” he was ending a discourse on the coming of the Son of Man, what we sometimes call “the last days” or even “Judgment Day.”

During his prophecies about the future, Jesus talked about signs that would rattle the world, but he also indicated his return could be immediate. Apparently, it’s possible to be so swept up in earthly living that we could miss even dramatic signs and be caught flat-footed.

“Keep alert at all times.” Those words should shape how we live as Christians. In the midst of life, we need to carry within us an understanding that a full encounter with our creator could happen at any moment, and then adjust our lives accordingly.

The last two sentences in today’s Bible passage seem almost tacked on, or the beginning of a new story. They are important, though. Jesus, knowing he is headed for his moment of trial and testing, modeled single-mindedness.

By day, he went about the work of the Savior. In the evening, the Son communed with the Father, drawing on the strength he would need to continue.

It’s a good pattern for children of God to follow, one that keeps us ready.

Lord, when the moment comes, may we be found expectantly waiting and thrilled to see your face. Amen.

Strange Signs

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Luke 21:25-28 (NLT)

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

This season of Advent is in part about anticipating Christ’s return, knowing God’s promises will be fulfilled. Evil and death will be cast away forever.

It is the lead-up to Christ’s return that can scare the jujubes out of us. When we’re told all people will be perplexed by sudden changes in the sea and sky, the word “cataclysmic” comes to mind.

We are left to decide how we are going to read Jesus’ statement. Is this symbolism, perhaps even hyperbole, an overstatement designed to indicate the serious nature of Christ’s words?

Was Jesus speaking of ongoing events, which certainly can be dramatic, or are the hurricanes, earthquakes and strange events in the sky (think conjunctions and Oumuamua) merely foreshadowings of more shocking events to come?

As Christians, we are to understand that this encounter with Christ, the beginning of the eternal experience of his full presence, will dwarf all other events in human history. The language used to describe this great day may be poetic, but the day will not disappoint us. Those who get to experience it from an earthly vantage will no doubt be astonished.

The very biblical concept of Christ’s return is critical to our understanding of the work Jesus did on the cross, a redemptive act still moving toward completion. The hard part is done; as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” and the rest is inevitable.

Those blessed to see that day will be rattled to the depths of their souls. If you are among them, just remember, it’s all for the best.

Maranatha, Lord.

The Christ Child in Mind

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Ephesians 5:4: Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Conflicts among shoppers aside, people generally are nicer to each other this time of year. That’s one of the happy side effects of drawing close to Christmas, as the lights and general tenor of the season take effect.

Let’s enjoy it while we can. Projecting niceness—politeness, thoughtfulness, sensitivity to others—is a dying art. I don’t think the pandemic was the beginning of our decline, either. It simply aggravated a growing tendency toward incivility.

Lately, I’ve noticed this tendency extends even into the way companies market their products. There’s a kind of ugliness designed into some brands and packaging. I assume professional marketers peered into peoples’ hardening hearts with their surveys and focus groups and said, “We can make money off this trend.”

For decades, we’ve had products with names and packaging that you wouldn’t want children or teens to see. They were kept away in special stores or catalogs.

What’s surprising is how these products now encroach on everyday places, like the shelves of big-box stores, bookstores and mom-and-pop businesses. I went to pay for my takeout at one of my favorite little family restaurants recently, and was surprised to see at the register a professional display of seasoning products, each item’s name a variation on a crude word for excrement.

I normally let such things go, fearing I’m somehow playing into the stereotype of the uptight or judgmental Christian. That day, I did comment to the young woman who rang up my order that I was glad I wasn’t standing there with a child or a youth group. I was imagining the conversation I would have to have later with a kid just learning to read, or a teenager confused about social boundaries.

Maybe we do need to speak up more, in a gentle way. I don’t want our culture to end up like other places in the world where I’ve seen nudity and bawdy jokes displayed on highway billboards.

More than ever, I appreciate Paul’s exhortation to avoid crude words and actions. By themselves, these social transgressions can seem relatively unimportant. But we have to consider how they slowly poison us, creating patterns of thoughtlessness that quickly devolve into meanness and sin.

Hey, when it comes to crude behavior, I’ve shown my ugly side much too often over the years, and I don’t guard my speech and behaviors enough now. But it’s time for a change, and the image of the Christ Child before us certainly should help.

Lord, in all situations, help us to bring gentleness into the world with our words and actions. Amen.

Give Thanks! Exercise 4

Psalm 100

First, meditate for a bit on the Contemporary English Version translation of Psalm 100, linked above.

With Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, let’s circle back to the one whom we thank, and let’s remember again what God has done for us.

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV)

However you may be in contact with others on Thanksgiving Day, it is my prayer that Christ is at the center of your celebration, remembered constantly as the source of your joy!

Life Talk devotionals will resume Monday, Nov. 30, God willing.

Give Thanks! Exercise 3

Psalm 100

First, meditate for a bit on the New Revised Standard Version translation of Psalm 100, linked above.

Sometimes we act like we shouldn’t focus on our stuff, but today we’re going to take a really good look at it. If you’re able, you may want to get up and walk about your home a little.

Look at your stuff closely. You possibly are so blessed with stuff that you have to look in boxes and such. Do you consider it all God-given? Is any of your stuff a burden?

Final question: Are you possibly missing some ways you can use your stuff for God?

Thanks be to God for any abundance we may have!

Give Thanks! Exercise 2

Psalm 100

First, meditate for a bit on the New King James Version translation of Psalm 100, linked above.

This is as simple as it gets, a count-your-blessings exercise. Make a list of all the people who love you. Remember, love in the Bible comes in many forms. The undeserved love poured out on us by God, the love of a spouse, the love within family, the love that flows through friendship, and the love we feel in community, like in a church, all count.

That’s it. Whether your list is long or short, remember you are loved.

Give Thanks! Exercise 1

Psalm 100

First, meditate for a bit on the NIV translation of Psalm 100, linked above.

Our first exercise in giving thanks is designed for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The way some of us are restricted in our movements, it may take about three days to find an opportunity.

Having received eternal hope, let’s see if we can use little acts of kindness to inspire hope in others. Regular readers may remember something I wrote recently about how important little acts of kindness can be toward those who serve us in some way.

First, find a note card or piece of paper and an envelope. Write, “This Thanksgiving, I thank God for you!” Then, start watching for an opportunity.

You don’t have to go crazy with the next part—do what you can afford—but inside the note, put what would amount to an exorbitant tip. Maybe a $20 bill? Simply give it to a service provider: the girl at the drive-through window, the guy who puts your groceries in the trunk, etc.

After you have done so, say a prayer of thanks for that person.

How Shall We Give Thanks?

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 100

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Our national day of Thanksgiving is a week away. Many of us won’t have our usual experiences, particularly where family gatherings are concerned.

We still need to give thanks, however—powerfully! Even in these less-than-ideal times, we remain a blessed people. I believe the freedom and hope we experience here flows from God.

Today’s psalm, which we will continue to meditate upon until next Thursday, reminds us of the deepest meaning of Thanksgiving. Thankfulness has to be directed somewhere, and God is the most appropriate recipient.

God is, after all, the source of life. God holds the blueprint of the universe, and it is drawn in the color of love.

God saves us despite our turning away from our creator. Lift up praises each day for Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, and the hope we receive in the resurrection!

During the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I’m going to offer us a short exercise in thankfulness to try each day. Check back here, or subscribe by entering your email in the subscription box found on any page of Methodist Life.

Lord, may a new sense of thankfulness overwhelm us this day and all the remaining days we have. Amen.

Houseful of Servants

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 24:45-51
Jesus Discusses the Need To Stay Ready

“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Just in case you’re missing the meaning—we are the servants. In a culture where we have a tendency to exalt ourselves, we can fail to recognize this all-important starting point.

We have hit a place in the cycle of Bible readings where we’re getting daily reminders that our situation is temporary. Christians believe Jesus Christ will return one day to set the world right, restoring holiness and driving away evil. This servant metaphor is embedded in a long section of Matthew where Jesus talks in very apocalyptic tones.

Servants have responsibilities; we are to understand ourselves as being in charge of each other’s well-being. Remember Philippians 2:4? “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

In a lot of ways, a narcissist—a psychopathically self-centered person—is the behavioral opposite of the perfect Christian. Most of us fall on a scale somewhere in between these two extremes, and we of course want to be “going on toward perfection,” to use an 18th-century Methodist term.

How will we be found? Caring for others, or obsessively taking care of our own needs and wants?

These are good questions to ask ourselves as we arise each morning. They could very well shape what we do each day!

Lord, help us to look out for those opportunities to support our fellow servants. As we care for each other, we know your household will grow stronger day by day, until the day we see you in full. Amen.

Those We Honor

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.

Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

While these verses serve as Paul’s exhortation to the Christians at Thessalonica, they also give us the opportunity to meditate a few moments on our own church experiences.

First, think for a few minutes about those who encouraged you when you were new to the faith.

I see a little parade of people in my mind. There are preachers and teachers from my childhood, relatives who exposed me to delightfully different expressions of Christianity, and people my age who seemed always to be one step ahead of me spiritually, setting good examples.

There are lots of ways for Christians to lead. Lord knows, we need more Christians willing to lead in public and private ways.

Also take a few minutes to think of the timid and weak Christians, the ones in an early or arrested stage of faith. What are their specific needs? How do we increase the amount of good they experience each day as members of Christ’s body?

As you meditate on the second question, you may find a calling welling up within you, a desire to help people grow in the grace of God. If so, lead on!

Lord, help us be mindful of how faith in Christ must be handed like a baton from generation to generation. Let us not drop the baton. Amen.