What’s in Your Cabinet?

By Chuck Griffin

This Sunday’s worship at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be different, focusing specifically on healing. A formal Service of Healing, including communion and anointing with oil, seems appropriate as we continue to make our way through a pandemic that is impacting the world in so many ways. Of course, we have to acknowledge that because of the pandemic, many people will not be comfortable attending in person. The service will be viewable online.

If you would like someone’s name placed on the prayer rail during the service, simply email me, and I will make sure that happens.

Today’s Preparatory Bible Passage

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)


Cake and ice cream. Shoes and socks. Salt and pepper. Wife and husband. Sticks and stones, and their modern cousins, bats and balls. Or to quote Forrest Gump, “Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.”

There are many things in the world that can function alone, but that work better in conjunction with something else.

Let’s add this to the list: medicine and faith.

If we are to seek healing, we need to understand both are gifts from God. God pours his love into the world, and through faith some are reunited with the source of eternal life. God pours his knowledge and wisdom into the world, and some are so mentally blessed by the gift that from generation to generation, humans are better able to alleviate suffering.

A friend recently told me about a grandmother who kept her medicine cabinet stocked, but who also kept an empty bottle there labeled “Faith.” It was her reminder to get a dose of everything she needed to be well.

People of the Bible had little in the way of medicine and relied heavily on faith. We have so much in the way of medical care that we sometimes treat faith as an afterthought. Does this conversation sound familiar?

Friend: “I’m so sorry you’re suffering. What can I do for you?”

Suffering person: “Well, not much, really. Just pray for me.”

In this hurting world, we Christians should prayerfully pursue healing with the same kind of determination that dedicated doctors, nurses and researchers employ in their daily lives. Where healing is concerned, we all have God-given roles, and those roles work together for the betterment of those around us.

Lord, may we see an outbreak of healing, the kind of events that declare your kingdom is present. Amen.

God in Art

Today, LifeTalk introduces a new feature. Occasionally, rather than a written devotion, you will receive a work of art depicting a story from the Bible or some other aspect of our relationship with God.

If you’ve ever read Henri J.M. Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son,” a meditation on Rembrandt’s depiction of the moment of reunion, you will understand how to approach this opportunity. In fact, we will begin with that same work of art, based on the story found in Luke 15:11-32. Starting here seems appropriate on the heels of ‘Debo Onabanjo’s recent efforts to explore this parable.

The art you receive will be in the public domain or used with the permission of the artist. Submissions of original art are welcome, by the way. Send them in a large format to chuck@methodist.life.

Lord, reveal new truths to us as your holy word inspires the artists around us. Amen.

Division

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “A Straightforward Declaration.” It will be based on Mark 8:27-38. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text:

Luke 12:49-56

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”


By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday, we considered the very exclusive claim Jesus made regarding who he is. That exclusive claim obviously can cause division, something Jesus made clear in our reading from Luke today.

After a reading like that, I suppose I should begin with some comforting words.

Yes, God is love. Yes, grace is freely given. Our God is a patient God, doing all he can to draw lost people to him. Forgiveness and the gift of eternal life are being poured out on us in buckets, despite so many people standing under umbrellas of cynicism.

That said, at this point in Luke, Jesus has clearly gone apocalyptic on us. He uses language designed to remind us of the terrible suffering and sacrifice necessary to make all that grace and love possible. And ultimately, we are reminded that we are called to choose sides in a great cosmic battle, with no regard to what our choice may cost us in this life.

Jesus’ apocalyptic language forces Christians to consider our core beliefs. Fire and baptism are purification words. Jesus was saying that despite his lack of sin, he would go through the purifying fire of crucifixion for us, and that ultimately all of creation will be purified through this act. Humans can actually choose where to stand in all of this—with what is pure and what will remain forever, or with the dross to be burned away.

The great gift of the cross is that we now have a choice. Before, we were all just dross, lacking the purity to be in God’s presence.

I think even Christians struggle with some of this tough language because we confuse adherence to the truth with being judgmental. Clearly, it is God’s business to judge, not ours. My own personal approach to this is to be as laissez-faire (libertarian) in my approach to the secular world as possible, while at the same recognizing that the church in which I choose to live establishes higher standards based on Christ’s teachings. Included in those teachings is a demand that we clearly tell others who Jesus is.

This approach doesn’t satisfy everyone who claims membership in a church. As we discussed yesterday, some would like to dilute or explain away Christ’s very exclusive claims in Scripture regarding his identity, along with related concepts like the importance of a literal resurrection.

This approach does, however, let us focus on messages that have helped Christianity spread cross-culturally for nearly two millennia. Let’s consider those messages:

Christ is the answer. By that, we mean Christ stands at the apex of a sweeping story that answers all the big questions in life, questions like “Is there meaning to life,” “Why do we suffer,” and “Is there more than just this life?”

Being Christian makes you different. Welcome to a great countercultural movement, the one that challenged the most powerful empire on earth and continues to challenge worldly thinking today. It is a movement that truly changed the world, declaring early on that people are the same under Christ regardless of gender, color or social status. Yes, the body of believers can behave like clusters of big institutions, and yes, Christians often fail to act like Christ, but this differentiating truth remains.

There is clear guidance from God available to us. People are craving something to help them steer their lives.  They want something they can trust, something not likely to blow about in the ever-changing social wind. The Bible is God’s long-standing revelation to humanity. Even the newest material in it is nearly 2,000 years old. Its truths about God and how God wants to relate to humanity have served people well in a wide variety of eras and cultures.

Not everyone will agree with these basic messages. Some people, maybe people in your own homes, will become angry upon hearing them, turning on you or at least turning their backs on you.

That’s okay. Jesus said it would happen. He also said he would make it all right in the end. Look it up.

Lord, help us to establish peace wherever we go, unless that peace would force a denial of who you are and what you are doing in this world. Amen.

An Exclusive Claim

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “A Straightforward Declaration.” It will be based on Mark 8:27-38. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: John 14:6-7

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”


By Chuck Griffin

People struggle with the exclusive nature of Jesus’ words quoted above. Even churchgoers sometimes want to soften or reinterpret what he said.

An idea called “universalism” has come up repeatedly among religious people through the centuries. It focuses on the similarities many religions share, ultimately trying to describe them all as different paths to God.

For example, there are similar sayings by the Buddha and Jesus. The Buddha said, “Be lamps unto yourselves.”  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” 

The Buddha declared all matter in this world to be transitory, unworthy of our attachments. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” 

The Buddha’s last words are said to be, “Work out your own salvation with diligence.”  The Apostle Paul, inspired by Jesus, said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

But in John 14 and elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus is quoted as saying something very different from the Buddha or other teachers or prophets. Jesus staked claim to divinity, essentially saying he is God among us in flesh. His resurrection from the dead proves there was power behind his claim.

If we are followers who take Scripture seriously, we find ourselves with limited theological options.

C.S. Lewis discussed this topic in his book “Mere Christianity”.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

I hope all of you who are Christians can follow this line of reasoning. It goes directly to our relationship with our savior. When we call ourselves “Christian,” we have made a dramatic, life-altering choice. We have said, “Yes, Jesus Christ is the one. He is Lord, rightfully over all things!”

When we make such a choice, our relationship with Jesus cannot be distant or academic. We approach him as the Holy One, the one who lives now and forever, and his teachings left to us in Scripture become guidance from upon high.

Yes, it is a divisive concept. That’s why so many people try to avoid it. More on the subject of division tomorrow.

Lord, place in us once again a deep sense that through belief in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice we have found the way home to you, despite our sinful disobedience. May that truth color every moment of our lives. Amen.

Open Up!

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Demons and Deafness.” It will be based on Mark 7:24-37. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Mark 7:32-35 (NRSV)

A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.

Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!


By Chuck Griffin

You’re most likely reading this on the internet in some fashion, through Facebook, email or directly on the Methodist Life site. If you’re like me, this is not always the most conducive environment for slowing down and spending time with God.

A computer or smartphone can buzz with activity. Other windows, apps or browser tabs may be open, streaming music or television. Little pop-ups may be appearing and disappearing, telling you “important email” or alerting you to an incoming text or instant message.

Try something before you read any further. What you’ll experience is really important as we look at today’s text. Find a way to sit in silence, even if just briefly—say, five minutes. It helps to take some deep breaths.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

My premise today is a simple one. We are like the deaf man in our story in Mark. We’re just deaf for a different reason. He had a physical problem. We have an environmental problem that causes spiritual deafness.

Something had stopped up his ears. Perhaps it was a disease. Perhaps it was a head injury. He began to speak as soon as he was healed, so he apparently remembered sound and speech. But at some point in his life, the sound had no longer come in and intelligible words had stopped coming out.

The cure was not a simple one, not even for Jesus the miracle worker. This was no time for a spectacle. Jesus pulled the man aside to a private place. (It strikes me that the deaf man must have had little understanding of what was going on; he had to trust Jesus.)

Put your pandemic-induced anxieties aside for a moment and imagine what it would feel like to have Jesus stick his fingers in your ears. Imagine what it would be like to have him take his spit and put it on your tongue.

Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus pray for you in the common Aramaic his very common followers spoke, a prayer so deep that it comes out in a groaning command: Ephphatha. Open up!

When it comes to hearing Jesus, to really hearing what God has to say to us, we’re stopped up, too. The world is in our ears. We’re clogged with work, sport and school schedules, with plans, with worries, with diversions like television and video games. We’re so stopped up that we’re in danger of remaining deaf to God’s continuing call on our lives until the day we die.

This deafness also makes us spiritually mute. How can we declare what we have not recently heard?

May we go to private places with Jesus long enough that our ears be unstopped. May we hear his message well. And may we declare the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior with great excitement.

Dear Lord, give us the same healing command: Ephphatha!

What Miracles Accomplish

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Demons and Deafness.” It will be based on Mark 7:24-37. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Luke 18:27

[Jesus] replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”


By Chuck Griffin

Why might we seek a miracle?

We do pray for miracles, particularly when lives seem to be in jeopardy. As we move toward Sunday, however, we need to consider the purpose of miracles.

If we seek miracles strictly to bypass suffering or impending grief, we likely are missing their larger point. Certainly, when we are praying over an immediate, very personal crisis, our minds might not be processing broad theological concepts. But that is simply an argument for thinking about such matters in calmer moments, so we can better understand what it is we are seeking when times of crisis come.

An important fact to remember: As far as we know, every person Jesus healed from illness, brought out of a tomb or raised from a deathbed or funeral bier died later. If we look at these miracles simply as stories of what these people escaped, then Jesus’ work had temporary effects.

Miracles do so much more, however. First, they are evidence of God’s presence in a world where we otherwise see things as if “in a mirror, dimly,” to quote Paul. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) For just a moment, divine possibilities shine through, and the presence of the dawning Kingdom of God is easily, if briefly, seen.

Miracles were signs of God’s presence in Jesus. Miracles are signs of God’s presence in the church, by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

We also should understand that miracles come with responsibilities, both for their recipients and their witnesses. Someone needs to testify as to what has happened!

Belief also should naturally spread in the wake of miracles. It is a response we see throughout the Bible. God is seen, and therefore, people change their lives dramatically as they begin to believe.

Lord, we are not afraid to pray for miracles, and we pledge to testify to what we have seen as we receive them. May lives be changed! Amen.

A Shocking Assertion

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Investing In the Future.” It will be based on Jeremiah 32:6-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: 1 Timothy 6:9 (NRSV)

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.


By Chuck Griffin

A couple of times before on Methodist Life, I have referenced a John Wesley sermon, “The Danger of Riches.” As we look toward Sunday’s Jeremiah text and consider how to live boldly, I thought it would be useful to consider what the sermon has to say.

Bold behavior for the kingdom doesn’t have to involve money, of course. But let’s be realistic. Money does make the modern world go around. When we are bold for the kingdom, we likely run into one of two scenarios. We either give from our abundance or we make life decisions that reduce our opportunity for abundance.

As we make these choices, we need to fix in our minds a question, one along the lines of what I wrote for Wednesday. Do we live as if this life is the only one that counts? Or do we live as people who believe something greater is happening—that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity!

Once we choose the latter option, we’re ready to hear what Wesley said as he expanded on 1 Timothy 6:9.

In the sermon, Wesley asserted that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even businesses we may own. What we own beyond those basic provisions count as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.”

Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Wesley offered us an interpretation that might even surprise a tither. I have no doubt someone accused the founder of Methodism of having “gone to meddling.”

His very correct interpretation of Scripture should force a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions. When we learn to make such decisions in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth.

In other words, we become quite bold.

Lord, the world needs people who look to you as the source of all that matters and then act accordingly. Raise up a bold generation so that your Holy Spirit may rush through them, making your Kingdom work complete. Amen.

The Emboldening Truth

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Investing In the Future.” It will be based on Jeremiah 32:6-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 (NLT)

But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.


By Chuck Griffin

When we fully understand what it means to follow Christ, Christians should, in theory, stop thinking of our interests as existing solely within the nine decades or so we hope to live.

We look back to Jesus hanging on a cross and then exiting a tomb nearly 2,000 years ago, and we see how our lives are changed now. We understand salvation because earlier Christians made great sacrifices to ensure the message of Jesus Christ spread from one generation to the next.

We also look forward to a day when the Redeemer will restore us from death in the resurrection.

Job expressed it well centuries before Christ was born:

“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!” (Job 19:25-27.)

We should stay overwhelmed at the thought. And if others are to share that thought, then we may need to chase objectives that might seem irrational to the secular world.

When we reach that thought’s fulfillment, I wonder what we will regret more as we stand before the holy Savior. Will it be the wrong things we did, or the right things we failed to do? Sometimes we are so focused on sins of commission that we’re not thinking about sins of omission.

Often, I think, sins of omission are simply failures to be bold, to live bravely as citizens of a dawning kingdom.

I don’t know what your bold move might be. It may involve your time or your money. It may involve the direction of your life.

All we can do is ask God to reveal what seemingly irrational steps he may ask us to take, and then pray for the courage to take them.

Lord, once again root our souls in the truth of Jesus Christ, and let us see what you would have us do now as people who will live forever. Amen.

Results

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Samson!” It will be based on stories found in Judges 13-16. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Take time to read the story of Samson.


By Chuck Griffin

With his massive strength and what sounds like really great hair, Samson had the kind of advantages that a leader in any era would find helpful.

Like many such leaders, though, he fell short of what was possible. Certainly, God was with him. Certainly, he did a lot of damage to the Philistines, the enemy God intended Samson to vanquish.

When all is said and done, however, the final results are what matter. The earliest judges, the people empowered by God to lead Israel, brought their people to a time when “the land had rest,” a phrase indicating peace and prosperity. Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Gideon seem to have had success.

There is no such indication at the end of Samson’s story, or at the end of the story of some of his predecessors. Instead, we simply receive a report of how long they led.

As I read Samson’s story, I try to spot his shortcomings as a leader. I noted Wednesday how he seems to lack humility, even though it is quite possible to be both strong and humble. He kept forgetting the source of his strength, God, and spent much of his time pursuing what Samson wanted.

Trusting in the power of his arms and legs, Samson also tried to do everything on his own. The earliest judges were able to rally the people. To one degree or another, God’s power flowed through them to strengthen the Israelites.

It seems like Samson wanted to underscore the notion that it is lonely at the top, even though that old adage can easily be overcome by a savvy leader who deliberately calls on the help of the best and the brightest available.

Samson’s story is an ancient one, yet the themes within are timeless, and certainly applicable to situations playing out right now in the world. May God guide all who lead, and may those who lead humbly follow God’s guidance, helping their troubled people find a time of rest.

Lord, once again we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.