When the Bottom Falls Out, Part 1

Job 1:20-22 (NLT)

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”  In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

People have always asked the questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Where is God?” when it appears our world is spiraling out of control. Even though it is no longer breaking news, some reading this can still recall the tragic Surfside, Fla., high-rise building collapse that occurred on June 24, with a final death toll of 98.

In last Saturday’s early hours, another devastating earthquake struck Haiti, with about 1,300 reported dead thus far and thousands more injured. Search and rescue teams continue their search for survivors with distraught and grief-stricken family members of the missing hoping somehow for a miracle. The clock continues to tick. 

Theodicy is the part of theology that attempts to provide an explanation for the problem of evil in our world. If you have been a Christian or believer for some time, there is no doubt you have heard people utter the phrase, “God is good, all the time, and all the time God is good.” But how can a good God allow evil things to happen? 

The simple answer is that the Bible assures us that our God is a good God and while some things occur in our world as a result of pervasive sin and human brokenness. Regardless of what we face, we can trust in the unfailing steadfastness and goodness of God. The idea that God would offer his innocent Son Jesus as propitiation for the sin of the world is a mystery that defies human logic.

No story in the Bible speaks more than Job to the challenges evil poses. The opening chapter tells us, “One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. ‘Where have you come from?’ The Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, ‘I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that goes on.’” (Job 1:6-7.) 

Peter, who was specifically targeted by Satan (Luke 22:31-32), later wrote to warn other believers, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5:8-9.)

Originally an angel of the Lord, Satan became corrupt and rebelled against God because of his pride, leading to his expulsion from God’s presence. Satan continues to stand against anything good and will always oppose anything good.

The fact that Satan came to present himself before God tells us that God is superior to Satan. God created all things and no one created God. Then in a strange twist, we read from the story that the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless–a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” (Job 1:8.)

Satan responded that Job had good reason to fear God because he enjoyed the Lord’s protection and everything seemed to be going well for him. Satan then suggested that if all the good things in the life of Job were taken from him, he would surely curse God. (Job 1:9-11.) It is true that some folks serve God when things are going well for them and turn away from God when the bottom falls out of their world. 

But the Lord had strong confidence in Job and gave permission for him to be tested by Satan. The Lord told Satan, “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” (Job 1:12.) Satan left the Lord’s presence and in a series of cataclysmic events, Job lost everything. (Job 1:2-3, 13-19.)

As we would expect, Job was hit very hard by the unexpected turn of events and stood up and tore his robe in grief. He shaved his head and fell to the ground in worship, speaking these poignant words: “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”

How will you react when the bottom falls out of your world? Will your character come shining through or will you walk away from the Lord? May God grant us grace to persevere like Job. 

Merciful God, your Son warned us that we would face trials and tribulations in this world. Like Job, help us to be of good cheer even in the face of situations we cannot understand. Let us always trust in your goodness. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wrist Holds and Grace

1 Peter 5:1-5 (NLT)

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”


By Chuck Griffin

Today’s Bible passage from the daily lectionary was written by a church leader to leaders, encouraging care of the flock through suspension of self-interest and a focus on humility. The timing is most excellent.

More than anything today, I wanted to be sure readers of this LifeTalk blog have had an opportunity to read an April 23 article by the Rev. Carolyn Moore, a Georgia pastor and one of the leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Entitled “There Is a Simple Solution,” Rev. Moore makes a gentle, grace-filled appeal to United Methodist bishops, saying they have the power to end the painful struggle we find ourselves in, allowing churches wanting to leave the denomination to do so with their property and without punitive costs.

I’ll let her article make her appeal. I can add to it only by way of analogy.

I have practiced martial arts for four decades as of this year. As part of that practice, we spend time learning various ways to escape all sorts of grabs and holds.

One of the most basic holds we learn to deal with is the wrist hold, where someone grabs your wrist to prevent you from escaping whatever attack might follow. There are lots of ways, some simple, some elaborate, to free yourself from a wrist hold.

For example, if you raise your grasped wrist high, turning your palm in, it’s easy to use your other hand to take hold of the back of the attacker’s hand, free yourself, and then use both your hands to apply painful pressure to the attacker’s wrist. If you’re standing, you can use your own body weight to drive your opponent backward into the ground.

If the attack proves to be ongoing and powerful, the defensive responses inflict higher levels of pain and violence. For example, if the attacker locks down really hard, making it difficult to get loose, a swift kick or stomp will allow the release to work, a technique known as “loosening.”

Here’s what we don’t bother practicing in a martial arts class: Always presuming we prepare for violence, we don’t waste time looking at the opponent and saying, “Would you please let go of my wrist?”

Reading Rev. Moore’s article, I had a realization. Progressives, institutionalists and traditionalists in the United Methodist Church have been circling each other as if we are presuming violent intent. We strategize, we project ideal outcomes, and we take defensive or offensive postures over the issue of church property. 

Church is not a martial arts class, however. As peaceful, grace-filled Christians, we should be able to look at each other and say, “Please, let go of my wrist,” and receive a graceful response.

That’s what Rev. Moore asks in her article. The trust clause, which the bishops control, has become the wrist hold binding traditional Methodists to a system they want to escape.

It’s a simple request. Please, let go of our wrists.

Lord, in times of strife, let grace and mercy among brothers and sisters in Christ reign. Amen.

You Are That Temple

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV): Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.


Some ideas we considered in last week’s devotionals (and Sunday, if you worshiped with my church, Holston View UMC) come together in a personal way for us in today’s verses from 1 Corinthians.

Last Thursday, we heard the Apostle Peter tell us to behave like “living stones,” joining together to build a spiritual house, with Christ as our foundation. If you heard Sunday the story in the Gospel of John about Jesus cleansing the temple, you should have been reminded of the holiness of that place, and a need for zeal now in regard to the holiness of God.

Today’s reading in this season of Lent tells us that just as Jesus’ body became the new temple, destroyed but rebuilt in three days, the Christian church now acts as God’s temple on earth. The collection of people calling themselves Christian is where God’s Spirit resides and can be met by those seeking God.

The metaphor easily operates on both the corporate and individual levels. If something is holy, every part of it is holy. If it is God’s intent for the church to be holy, it is God’s intent for each individual in the church to be holy.

We of course cannot achieve holiness on our own; that is the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, to make us holy despite our sin. We believe, and it is so. We need to cling to that belief, however, and live in awe of God so that we are making every effort to avoid sin, asking God to give us the power through his Holy Spirit to do so.

There is no doubt sin creeps into our lives and into the church. Satan is relentless. Some of the stones resting on the foundation of Christ become fractured. Let’s go back to the concept of “living stones,” however—those fractures can be healed.

The trick, it seems, is to not crumble in a way where we threaten the holy structure. Church leaders, we who are preachers, teachers and administrators, take special note!

We are trying to use these Monday LifeTalk articles as an opportunity to establish a spiritual practice for the week. This week, let’s do a very Lenten thing. Asking God to guide us, let’s search our souls thoroughly for the sins we need to surrender, making new space for God to be at work.

Not only will we strengthen ourselves, we will strengthen the church as a whole, the temple in which we play an active role.

Lord, we surrender to you. Make us whole and holy so that we may better work with the living stones around us. Amen.

Living Stones

1 Peter 2:4-5 (NRSV): Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.


These two verses serve as a meditation point regarding our role in Christ’s church. I’m going to raise some questions, and we can each seek our own answers.

What does it mean to be a “living stone”?

What sort of usefulness do I provide to Christ’s spiritual house?

How do living stones work together, and how well am I working with the ones around me to support and build the house?

What does it mean to think of Jesus Christ as the cornerstone? How does that truth define my role?

The metaphor shifts to that of “priesthood.” What does it take for a group of people to act as priests to the world, and how does that concept tie to the “spiritual house”?

What spiritual sacrifices have we made, and must we still make?

Lord, may the answers we find today move us toward holy action. Amen.

The Christian Presence

1 Peter 3:8-9 (NLT)

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.


You may have heard this St. Francis of Assissi quote: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

Nearly short enough to fit on a bumper sticker, the saying stays with us. And frankly, it sometimes is misused as an excuse to not speak the Good News when the opportunity arises, giving the quote more play than it might receive otherwise.

St. Francis did have a point, though, one rooted in what the Apostle Peter emphasized in his letter. Every day, Christians have the opportunity through attitude and behavior to inject a little of their faith into the world.

The secular world isn’t going to pay much more than lip service to Peter’s principles. Worldliness dictates that when push comes to shove, people had better be ready to demand their rights, defend their positions, and dish out more than they receive.

As Christians, we don’t want to be pushovers to the point of accommodating evil, but on the vast majority of our days on this earth, we have the opportunity to change hearts simply by injecting blessings in the midst of conflict.

Tenderheartedness and a humble attitude do much to create a fertile environment for the gospel, and a few words can then become very effective.

Lord, as we are confronted today by conflict, let us be the ones who bring calm and blessing to the situation. Amen.

On Brevity and Eternity

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”


The psalter reading for today is actually much longer, but sometimes one verse really leaps out.

This one little verse also brings to mind other Bible verses about how short life can seem. For example, James 4:14: “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.”

Or 1 Peter 1:24: “As the Scriptures say, ‘People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades.'”

Having passed the age of 50 a few years ago, I’ve noticed how these verses become more poignant and pointed. Not that there are guarantees at any age—as a young reporter covering crime and disasters, I learned that life can be surprisingly fragile. We are blessed with each new day we receive.

It’s just that for me, anyway, crossing 50 made me more mindful of how quickly life goes by. Awareness of life’s brevity does bring a certain focus to the mind, and with focus there is the possibility of new wisdom.

Regarding that 1 Peter quote above: Pulled out like that, it lacks context. Peter is being much more hopeful than we might initially think.

Yes, earthly life seems to fly by, but Peter talks about the shortness of life in the context of being “born again.” He notes that the Christian life is rooted in the word of God—the divinely given message that declares Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior—and in doing so, he also uses the word “eternal.”

Through simple belief in the work of Christ on the cross, we who are fleeting fog or wilting flowers become something that can last forever.

Lord, thank you for the miracle of life, and for the great miracle of life extended into eternity. Amen.

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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Being Immediate

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 15:1-4 (NLT)

Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your works,
    O Lord God, the Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and glorify your name?
    For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
    for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”

When exploring ideas about the end of time, thoughtful Christians have to piece together a lot of Scripture from various books of the Bible.

As we see in today’s text and the verses further into Revelation, we are promised there will be an end to the influence of evil, a completion of Christ’s work on the cross. Sin and death have already been defanged by Jesus’ sacrifice, but they still have to be put down completely, rabid dogs of Satan that they are.

Much of the Book of Revelation is highly symbolic, the images depicting events in the past, present and future. Complicating interpretation further, the reader’s perspective in Revelation keeps changing between heaven and earth.

As we study and process what is written there, one conclusion seems certain to me. We should sense a responsibility to let people know that heaven and earth will be remade one day, for the better, after terrible birth pangs. God is very much at work in the world.

Simultaneously, we should understand that we cannot know with any real certainty the what, where and who of Revelation, the apocalyptic sections of the Book of Daniel, or other biblical references to the last days, and we certainly cannot know the when.

“No one knows when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself,” Jesus said. “Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36.)

To process and live out what we are taught about the end times, I find it useful to cling to “immediacy,” the idea that God’s redemptive work in this world could end and Christ could return at any moment.

In the same section of Matthew, Jesus’ words continue:

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 24:37-39

I think it’s dangerous when people claim certain events have to happen before Christ returns in full—even as believers, we can be lulled into apathy by such thoughts. The Apostle Peter had this in mind when he wrote, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8.)

A proper understanding of our own mortality should also give us a sense of immediacy about conforming to the will of God. None of us truly knows whether a particular day might be our last. We tend to imagine observing the end of days with an earthly view, when there’s a significant chance we will have a very different perspective.

So, what to do? Well, today’s text has one image that should give us inspiration and joy. This side of heaven or the other, let’s be sure that first, we are praising God, who through Jesus Christ has saved us from what should have been the eternal grip of sin and death.

Let’s praise God here on earth with our voices and whatever musical instruments we may have on hand, just as we will praise him one day in a new heaven and earth. Perhaps we will even lift these praises with harps in hands, standing on something like a brilliant sea of fire-imbued glass.

Lord, let today be about you, and then let each day that follows be the same. Amen.


Website image courtesy FantasyStock at fantasystock@deviantart.com.

Small Groups, Day 3

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Peter 2:2-3 (NLT): “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.”


I’m going to say what you probably expect a pastor to say about core practices in a small group: We need to read our Bibles and pray for each other.

I hope I can also clearly communicate how prayer and Scripture take on new life in the context of a small group. If you find prayer difficult, or if you find sustained time in God’s word unrewarding, it may be that you’re not cut out for the life of the lone-wolf Christian. (Few are.) You need a pack.

A successful small group usually has a specific mission-within-a-mission, the overarching mission being to make and grow disciples of Jesus Christ. With that broader goal always in mind, a group might exist to focus on outreach to a particular segment of the community, or to bring people together who have the same set of skills or interests. A general exploration of the Bible and a mutual agreement to pray for each other would still be important for the education and spiritual bonding of the group, however. The Bible and prayer keep us on mission.

I can testify as to how much fun it is to explore the Bible in a small group, and how incredibly sustaining it is to know others are praying for you each day.

It’s also exciting to figure out as a group how to make that exploration. I’ve been in groups where we’ve tried various techniques. Once, a group used a book focused on the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We would read a portion during the week and discuss our questions about what we had read at our weekly meeting. It was great!

So great, in fact, that we got another book by the same author. It stunk! About four weeks in, we gave up on it, but then we tried something different, something that might sound boring to the uninitiated. We started direct study of individual books of the Bible, buying journals that contained Scripture on one page and an empty ruled space on the opposite page.

When we came together each week, we shared what we had circled, underlined, questioned and commented on. Those ruled pages were sometimes surprisingly full. And we learned a lot together. Perhaps more than anything, we learned to take Scripture very seriously—we experienced God working through the Bible to shape our attitudes and actions.

By the way, I was the only clergy in that all-male group, and the lay people had a variety of education levels. Some had been Christians for decades, others for only a short time. It was a great mix, and everyone contributed. New Christians have a particular knack for asking the difficult questions.

Yes, “read your Bible” and “say your prayers” amount to very basic advice. But they are basic for a reason, and I’m convinced we best understand why in a small group.

Tomorrow, I want to focus on what is both frightening and rewarding about small groups: achieving mutual accountability.

Lord, open your holy word to us in new, dynamic ways, and when we pray together, may we be one with your Spirit. Amen.