Toward Solid Food

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

Hebrews 5:12-14

1 Peter 2:1-3

Yes, we are saved by simple faith, but yes, Christianity also calls us to a lifetime of learning. Peter, Paul and the author of Hebrews give us similar clues about what progress should look like.

Much like when we are learning to eat, our faith journey begins with “spiritual milk.” Literally, these apostolic fathers mean we have to begin with the basic core truth of Christianity, the idea that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

To grasp that earliest of Christian creeds, you have to understand what the name Jesus means historically—how Jesus’ existence was the fulfillment of promises made over thousands of years to the people of Israel. You understand that calling him “Christ” roots Jesus in promises of a messiah to come, that this little creed is in present tense for a reason, and that the term “Lord” places Jesus over all creation.

As all three of our Scripture selections affirm, some people cannot get past their reliance on milk, or even learn to handle milk in a sustained way. That’s sad, because there is so much more for Christians to consume, a lifetime of ever-increasing richness.

In my mind, this all translates into a structured system of learning in the church, something to sustain us from cradle to grave, assuming we are so blessed as to be born into a Christian family.

Our educational programs are suffering mightily right now. The pandemic has shut down many of our traditional means of Christian learning. But this is a good time to consider which efforts were working before the pandemic, and which weren’t working so well.

I like to think about Christian education in three tiers, which are age-related for people carried into church as babies. Adult converts have to go through similar steps, although obviously they would be guided through them in a different setting using adult education techniques.

Tier 1 (from birth through about age 12): Learn the stories! Not only that, learn them in a way where they become beloved stories.

The broad themes in these stories teach us about the nature of God, how humans become broken by sin, and what God wants to do in love to restore creation to a holy state. The story of Jesus Christ is the climax of the great story told in the books of the Bible.

Tier 2 (from adolescence to young adulthood): Consider in a deeper way how those stories apply to life, in particular, life’s difficulties. Any teacher of this group should welcome questions, and be mature enough to handle the challenging ones.

It’s important at this stage to acknowledge that we sometimes do not have easy answers before us—occasional debate, rooted in Scripture, should be encouraged. This can be an exciting phase as students discover that salvation is initially easy to grasp, but becomes an intriguing mystery to explore as we go deeper.

Tier 3 (adulthood): Here, we should enter a stage I call “relational learning.” Small groups and mentoring arrangements become important in the life of the Christian. Someone who has grown up in the church should, by this point, have a scripturally inspired sense of right and wrong.

Such a person also should be ready to humbly submit to God’s calling, which easily can lead to a servant leadership role based on the gifts God has placed in that person.

In all three tiers, a lot of detailed planning is required, of course. But here’s a simple question for any church: Are we moving a significant number of people into mature Christian leadership roles?

I have no doubt that churches answering “yes” are doing great work for the kingdom.

Lord, may your Spirit guide us toward an honest assessment of what’s happening in our churches. Where we need to adjust, may we have the courage to do so. Amen.


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Like a Child

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 18:1-5

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.”


To see how we fit into the Kingdom of Heaven, it helps to look to our earliest days.

The above verses from Matthew have some important context. Just prior, Jesus and his disciples have been discussing worldly power, the temple and taxes. (A fish ends up covering what Jesus and Peter owe.)

The disciples’ question regarding who is greatest in Jesus’ promised kingdom is similar to questions they ask elsewhere in the gospels: Who will sit nearest Jesus when he is on his throne? And what kind of power will we have?

Jesus’ response forces any thoughtful reader to consider what we had as very small children, and what we have lost as we have grown.

Some words we can meditate upon: Trust. Dependence. Simplicity. Wonder. Innocence.

As we grow older, we find ourselves surrendering such notions to survive. Power structures are in place wherever we go, and they will consume us if we don’t learn to defend ourselves, gain some control, master the system’s complexity, and ideally, learn to run the part of it affecting us.

Blessed are those who don’t have to learn these hard lessons too early in life.

It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus understood the compromises we have to make in the here and now. Sin remains in the world, and it is very dangerous, leading to terrible events that consume even the most innocent of children.

Earlier in Matthew, in the 10th chapter, Jesus said, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.”

This is a delicate balance for a Christian to maintain. We have to learn to navigate the world, but at the same time, we want to retain an adult version of what we had as small children.

Assuming we were blessed with good parenting, our feelings of trust and dependence flowed toward those who raised us. As adults, we can sense something similar in our relationship with God.

Knowing God should restore our sense of wonder, too. If we call him Creator, an examination of his creation should be enough to boggle any mind. And through Jesus Christ, we even can regain innocence, trusting that Christ on the cross cleanses us of our sins.

There also is much to anticipate. When the kingdom completely arrives—when we stand before God, seeing our savior, with the broken world behind us—I expect our childlike states will be fully restored.

Unlike children, we will comprehend everything, but innocence will remain, and God will call us great.

Lord, in the midst of our strategizing and surviving, may we be humble, seeking to live as much as possible in your kingdom now. May our way of living make the kingdom more real to us and those around us. Amen.

Witnesses

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (NRSV)

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.


People who doubt the validity of the core Christian message often ask something along these lines: “Okay, what proof do you have other than the Bible?”

The question, however, dodges a consideration of the key evidence. We’ve gotten used to the Bible’s existence, treating its details as if they need to be re-proven. But the Bible in and of itself is astonishing in regard to what it offers in the form of witness accounts and narratives generated by people who had direct access to those witnesses.

Yes, the accounts differ somewhat in detail, but oddly enough, those differences should encourage rather than discourage us.

To recapture how astonishing the Bible is, we first have to remember that it is not one document. Instead, it is a library of writings, tied together with some common themes: God is outside all things and the creator of all things; creation turned against God; God still loved his creation so much he immediately went to work to bring it back into conformity with his will; Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection mark how the work ultimately is completed.

Thought Experiment: An Alternate Timeline

Imagine all these texts had been completely lost. Centuries later, in our day, they are found sealed in clay jars. After a long period of validation, translation and sorting, I think the world would be amazed upon their publication at the radical ideas within, ideas including a loving God who teaches deep, abiding forgiveness.

They also would be astonished at the sheer number of documents and the millennia they span—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament, assuming we were to count and sort them like Protestants.

And yes, thoughtful people would be encouraged by the minor differences in the accounts, in particular the accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These variations would be clear evidence the documents were written from different perspectives, with no collusion by conspiratorial authors.

The most intriguing revelation, however, would be the repeated, unchanging assertions in the gospels. God came among us in flesh and died for our sins. He was buried, he was raised from the dead, and then he was seen by a remarkable number of witnesses. Who knows, a whole new religion might form around these ideas.

The Joy of Reality

We are so blessed to have the story of Christ before us now, scrupulously translated and searchable, with nearly 2,000 years of interpretive work to aid us. In fact, we would be fools to ignore what is available.

About two decades after Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul recorded in 1 Corinthians the progressive way the risen Jesus availed himself to witnesses before ascending into heaven. Focusing first on the male witnesses—in Paul’s day, only men had legal standing—he went on to note how eventually more than 500 women and men saw and interacted with the risen Christ. Many of them remained alive in Paul’s day, available to repeat their testimony!

Not that we need absolute proof. We do, after all, practice a religion based on faith. As Jesus said to doubting Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

And yet, to believe, it helps to have astonishing evidence we can initially trust, a word from witnesses who seemed to have nothing but our best interests in mind.

The Bible is that evidence.

Lord, may we grow in our faith as we trust the witnesses you have given us. Amen.

Specific Gifts

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 12:28 (NLT)

Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.


Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve referenced spiritual gifts while preaching, and last Friday I issued an invitation to those of you who might want to learn more about your gifts, regardless of whether you’re a regular part of Holston View UMC. Today, please let me provide you with just a little more detail.

There are lots of ways to assess spiritual gifts, some formal, some informal. At previous churches, I’ve used the “3 Colors of Your Gifts” book and tests as part of an introductory church class for visitors and new members. I like these materials, and most people have found them useful. I think such a formal approach is at least a start in the right direction.

These tests usually work best in a small group setting, with a leader who has some training in the materials (I do). If you also have an interest in small groups, it’s fun to use spiritual gifts discovery as a starting point for a group.

Whether your search is formal or informal, you of course want to start with prayer. Simply ask God to reveal to you the gifts that will make you a more effective Christian. If you’re going the informal route, at least talk with a pastor and with other mature Christians around you about how they see God working in you, and consider how what they say lines up with a list of scriptural gifts, like this one:

Trusting your likes and dislikes is an important part of your discernment. If you find yourself on a planning committee and not really happy about it, you’ve learned something—you probably lack the spiritual gifts that go along with such service.

That’s okay! Don’t give up, just change up how you serve, and find what gives you joy while bearing fruit for the kingdom. Again, trust the guidance of mature Christians around you.

I promise you this: No sane pastor or church leader will try to prevent you from exploring different forms of gift-based service. We never have enough people in the church doing kingdom work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We want you to find your place, and in the process, find the kind of joy that helps you experience eternity now.

Lord, thank you for the ongoing grace you pour on us in the form of spiritual gifts. Help us to see how we fit into your plans to change the world. Amen.

Spiritual Gifts

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 12:1-3 (NLT)

Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.


During last Sunday’s Holston View UMC worship service, I talked about spiritual gifts. Part of my sermon was an invitation to explore what gifts we have among us, using what some may think of as Covid-19 “down time” to study, train and prepare.

I’ve long been perplexed by Christians who remain disinterested after learning that spiritual gifts await them. I have a working theory about the problem.

Some Christians are like kids who fear they may get push mowers for Christmas. Open that present and there’s nothing ahead but work, work, work.

If I’m right, we need to get past that unfounded fear. If I’m wrong, one of Satan’s most influential demons must go by the name Apathy.

I’ll not spend much time on specific spiritual gifts today; there are about 30 described in the Bible. Sunday, I mentioned the ones Paul listed in Romans 12:1-8. First, let’s understand the great gift we are given, an ongoing encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is received in a moment, but it’s also the gift that keeps on giving. Through our belief in Christ, we open ourselves fully to the influence of God’s Spirit. We are offered ongoing transformation.

This first great gift includes a kind of freedom we cannot experience otherwise. We live securely as people who know they will live forever. Even if we find ourselves with challenging God-given work to do in this life, we can trust our tasks will ultimately be joyful because of this promise.

Opening spiritual gifts, which God may bestow at different times in life, also brings a sense of renewal. Even if you’re already a highly skilled person, you may find the gifts of the Spirit flowing through those skills in new ways. Spiritual gifts often become a holy enhancement of the person you already are, reinvigorating you.

I’m praying some of you feel a new sense of excitement about your unopened spiritual gifts. I am willing to devote some serious time to those of you wanting to explore this subject. I’ve made this offer to the Holston View UMC family, but as so much of it will have to happen online, I’m also making it to other LifeTalk readers who might want to join us.

Just let me know, and we’ll open those gifts together, knowing all of our churches will be stronger in the process.

Lord, bless us with a renewed sense of excitement about the gifts you give every follower. May we long to open these gifts and use them! Amen.

Troubled Church

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 6:1-11 serves as an excellent reminder of how far churches can drift from their reason for existing.

It is a very old problem, reminding us of the lament in Ecclesiastes 1:9-11. “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old, nothing is ever truly new.”

The young church in Corinth was troubled, although probably no more troubled than large portions of the American church are today, constantly struggling with the secular pressures around them. Gordon Fee, in his 1987 commentary “The First Epistle to the Corinthians,” wrote that the Corinth of Paul’s day “was at once the New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas of the ancient world.”

Paul was blunt about how the Christians in Corinth kept jumping with both feet back into the world, rather than living as people bound together in Christian discipleship. They sued each other when they had disputes—Paul said it would be better for them to accept injustice than to provide such a poor witness about the church to nonbelievers.

Paul also left a list of sins, many of them sexual in nature, that were creeping into the church from the world.

Paul was making a straightforward point. The church should be different. We should be distinguishable from what is going on around us. Once we blend into the part of our culture that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our ability to act as witnesses to Christ’s redeeming, life-change work in the world vanishes.

We should not cut ourselves off from the world—Jesus’ mandate for the church at the end of Matthew makes that clear. But the holy nature of the church, which is dependent on the holy nature of the individuals within, has to be maintained.

We are the primary way the Holy Spirit is at work to move the world toward a complete relationship with God. We are to permeate the world, not vice versa.

As church members, it’s good to always be asking, “How different are we from the world? Do we stand together in holy ways, changing our own lives and then the people around us?”

Lord knows, we need more people willing to treat the church as their primary, life-altering community, studying God’s word together, worshiping together, and holding one another accountable in loving ways. Do that as a church, and others will notice.

Lord, where we are weak, give us a renewed vision of what it means to be a church. Amen.

Psalm 119, Day 2

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Let’s continue our meditation on Psalm 119:105-112. Yesterday, we got through the first two verses; we’re picking up at verse 107.

I have suffered much, O Lord; restore my life again as you promised.

Our lives exist in the midst of a sin-broken world, and suffering is a given. Absent an understanding of God, life at times might not seem worth living. But we know God, and we know he is the God of hope.

Almost immediately after human sin fractured this world, God went to work making our restoration possible. He made promises in the process. For example, he told Abraham that eventually, “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

The culmination of that work is in Jesus Christ, God in flesh walking among us and dying on the cross to break the hold sin had on us. Restoration is ours.

Lord, accept my offering of praise, and teach me your regulations.

We do not fully understand God’s plan or God’s timing, of course. First Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

But it is enough to know we are saved! The gift of eternal life and its accompanying joy, a joy we can experience now, should trigger great acts of praise. It also should be natural for us to want to understand God’s will and abide by it. The pursuit of holiness is the obvious way to say thanks and signal others that our lives are truly changed.

My life constantly hangs in the balance, but I will not stop obeying your instructions. The wicked have set their traps for me, but I will not turn from your commandments.

Hey, back to the here and now. Life with God currently can still be hard—bad things happen to good people. Preachers of the so-called prosperity gospel mislead their flocks.

We find ourselves thrown into a spiritual war, a battle for the souls of those who have yet to commit to God through Jesus Christ, and the enemy will shoot back. Like soldiers, we must discipline ourselves. Some commitment is required.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk a little more about joy.

Lord, we thank you for the salvation and hope we are given. Again, guide us down the paths you would have us follow! Amen.