For Such a Time as This, Pt. 2

2 Corinthians 13:5-10

By Chuck Griffin

Tuesday, I began moving toward Sunday’s sermon with an exhortation: Theologically conservative Methodists positioned by God to lead should do just that in our current environment, employing a little creativity and a lot of grace in the process.

I am not naïve. Once people become entrenched in institutional power and lucrative privilege, they very often will place their own interests above scriptural principles. (Another exhortation in Philippians 2:4-5 comes to mind.) So I exhort with only faint hope of a real response from anyone already positioned to make a difference.

That failure at the top continues to reverberate throughout the United Methodist Church, as it has done for decades now. Basic biblical concepts long preached and taught by Methodists have fallen by the wayside as the people once most able to encourage them grew silent in the face of secular pressure.

You can test how heavily your particular church has been affected by all of this. Look at today’s text from 2 Corinthians and ask yourself if it sounds like something anyone has taught or preached there.

The church at Corinth had very modern problems, the people immersed in “impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.” Paul expected that when he arrived, he would find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorderly behavior among them, too. (Read chapter 12 for the context I am citing here.)

Paul did not dance around those problems. He did not accommodate the social trends of the day. Instead, he relied on his humble subservience to God, letting God speak through him, employing the Scripture of his day and his direct encounters with the Holy Spirit to define right and wrong.

“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.”

If you’re unfamiliar with such language in church, you are in a congregation that has lost sight of what once was a basic Methodist concept, the pursuit of holiness. In church, this is a group effort to create an environment where people can, with the help of God, find their actions more closely aligned with God’s will each passing day.

Missing that in your church? Well, here’s the good news. Unworthy leaders can be ignored and even replaced. Paul ultimately aimed his message at all the Christians in the Corinthian church, giving everyone an opportunity to respond, and we can consider his words a message to us, too.

Know God’s word. Seek the presence of God’s Spirit through prayer, fasting and worship. As more of us do so, we will begin to recover what was once a bright, vibrant form of Methodism, a kind of Christianity that changed lives for the better.

Lord, we give thanks for the leaders who will arise among us, and we pray that they be graced with a double portion of your Spirit. Amen.

The True Temple

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.—Revelation 21:22.

By Chuck Griffin

This single verse is part of a much longer passage near the end of the Bible regarding the New Jerusalem, the holy city that is part of the remade heaven and earth. We see the fulfillment of God’s desire to reunite with humanity.

I want to focus on this one verse because it reminds us of worship in its purest form, a kind of worship that is possible now, even before the events that will close the era of broken creation and begin eternal life with God for the redeemed. It is a form of worship many Christians have experienced at least briefly, and it has a kind of power in it that can sustain us for a lifetime.

I am talking of worship that is not dependent on a particular time or place. It may happen as part of a scheduled event, inside a building made for the purpose, but if any of those elements are present, they are merely conduits for the real experience.

Those of you who have had this experience instinctively know what I’m talking about. Place and time seem to dissolve, and what remains before us is God, certainly felt and for a very blessed few even seen. We better understand what it means to describe Christianity as “mystical.”

While the conduits—the steeples, the sanctuaries, the altars, the pulpits, the stained glass, the paraments, the instruments and more—can be very helpful, there also is a danger in their use. We can become dependent on them, even in love with them, in the process forgetting about who it is we actually pursue in worship.

Few Christians would walk away from the buildings they often call “the church.” And often, there is good reason. I call it the “holy ground” problem. So much has happened in the space. Baptisms, weddings and funerals, all with their associated memories, are just the obvious events.

The solution, I think, is to be careful about how we walk toward worship. Have we arrived to visit a place or a memory, or are we moving expectantly into an encounter with God?

The right mindset can help us worship God in full now.

Dear Lord, give us deeper and even unexpected encounters with you in worship. Amen.

Psalm 118, Meditation 4

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

There is nothing more timeless than salvation.  As Chuck pointed out yesterday, the psalms have a timelessness to them.  The timelessness of salvation is what we all want to know.  This desire is ingrained in our lives.  We want to be secure in our living now and our hope for the future.

This salvation comes only from the Lord.  We see verses 21-25 pointing out how God becomes our salvation.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!

Jesus was rejected by those who were attempting to build Israel into a great nation.  It is by knowing Jesus as the chief cornerstone of life that we have salvation.  We can sing about Jesus delivering us from our sins and ourselves.  Jesus will give us success over the sins we have committed and the nature of sin in us.

Salvation is not merely being delivered from sin. Salvation involves us discovering how we can be made new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17ff.).  Salvation is lived in our lives during this day and all the following days.  We marvel because, like God’s mercies being new each day, he continues to renew us in the image of Christ.  This is salvation, being made to bear the image of Christ fully and completely in our lives.

Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ.  We are looking for success in bearing the image of Christ in our lives.  As we seek you, we can rejoice in how you are working in us so that we live like Jesus, even today.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we ask that we may be found to be like him more each day.  Amen.

Every Generation

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NRSV)

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

By Chuck Griffin

America and many parts of the rest of the world have embedded in their culture a love of youthfulness. In the media and elsewhere, we often glorify the young people of our world, even as we get older on average.

As Christians, we of course value young people deeply. Every new generation is in danger of missing out on the precious message of Jesus Christ as Savior, so we want to do all we can to reach the children and young adults around us. Sadly, American Christians as a group have not done a very good job of transmitting the message to younger people the past few decades.

As we realize our failure, some among us panic, and that can cause church leaders to fall into a kind of ageism. While wishing for more young people among us, they also begin to disdain all that white and silver hair that still arrives every Sunday.

It’s as if some church leaders are thinking, “These old people are the problem, and without them, everything would be okay.” This, of course, is silly—a lot of churches would end up with a mostly empty building.

As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37.) And certainly, we shouldn’t chase away the workers we already have.

We do slow down some as “our outer nature is wasting away.” Older people, however, have an advantage, particularly if they have been in the faith a long time. Many have a deep sense of inner renewal—what we might call spiritual depth—and the life experiences they bring to a church’s outreach can be invaluable.

These people not only know how to plan and execute, they also often have more free time than your typical young adult! We also have to acknowledge that with medical advances and a better understanding of lifestyle choices, there are people in their seventies who can run circles around some people in their thirties when it comes to work.

Church leaders, don’t push these active older people away, even if they seem a little disengaged at times. Have you drawn them into the heart of your plans? Do you treat their worldview as something that remains relevant?

Once these experienced Christians are equipped with a proper understanding of the Great Commission (something lost on so many churchgoers for too long now), they can be a tremendous force for the kingdom.

Several years ago, I was doing ministry work in the Czech Republic. Senior Christians there were unusual because Soviet-enforced atheism had dominated their society and their minds for so long. The young Czechs proved to be more open to the gospel shortly after the Iron Curtain fell.

One Sunday, I worshiped with a small church made up mostly of families with young children. There was a white-haired exception among them, however. After the service, she asked me through an interpreter, “In your country, are there many older Christians, people like me?”

I suppressed a smile as I replied, “Oh, yes—most of the people in our churches are about your age.”

“Ah,” she said. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!”

It is wonderful. Let’s never stop valuing what we have, and let’s get all the folks we have with us recommitted to the mission.

Lord, you work in our lives from the womb to beyond the grave, and every person is precious in your sight while here in this world, young or old. Give us the vision and the energy we need to grow your kingdom now. Amen.

A Sermon: “Headed Home”

Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.

Headed Home”

New Wine and Old Wineskins

We welcome the Rev. ‘Debo Onabanjo, an ordained elder in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, as a contributing author to Methodist Life’s “Life Talk” column.

Matthew 9:16-17 (NLT)

“Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Jesus said these words to the disciples of John the Baptist when they asked why Jesus’ disciples did not fast like they and the Pharisees did.  Even though there was little connecting the teachings of John the Baptist, who came to prepare the Jews for the arrival of the Messiah, and the teachings of the Pharisees, the two groups did share an emphasis on the spiritual discipline of fasting.

Jesus wanted them to understand that his disciples did not have to go through the rituals or spiritual practices like fasting simply to be acceptable to the religious elites.  To be clear, Jesus was not opposed to fasting.  He simply was saying the time had not yet come when his disciples would fast.

Jesus was not sent by God to patch up the old religious system but to institute a new approach to worshiping God in spirit and in truth. If we are not careful, it is easy for us to miss the profound revelation found here.

As United Methodists prepare for change, it is important not to approach the next Methodism in the same way and manner. This has nothing to do with theological differences. What comes next must be treated as new wine that can be accommodated and preserved only in new wineskins. 

For those who have been part of the church for so long, change is usually the most difficult thing to embrace.  Even though the disruption to church as we knew it by the Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt been devastating, there are those who are quite eager to go back to their “old normal.” These folks represent the old wineskins that Jesus talked about. If there is anything that church experts are telling us, it is that the church and indeed our world has been altered, and having the mindset of “business as usual” will not be helpful. 

To embody the new wine by becoming grace-filled disciples of Jesus, we first need to unlearn old habits. Then we can understand and fully assimilate the new teaching that will help us develop new, healthier habits and rhythms of discipleship.

Paul sums it up for us this way: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17.)  Are you ready to become new wine prepared for a new wineskin? Is your old life truly gone and is the new life you are living now being lived in Jesus and not dependent on your old experience and knowledge?  

It is a good thing to examine ourselves and tell ourselves the truth.  And as we know this truth that is embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are set free from old “stinking thinking” and released into the new life for which God designed us.  I believe we can join David in asking the Holy Spirit to create in us all a new heart as we become malleable clay in the hands of the potter

Lord, we want to be rid of our old wineskins of malice, prejudice and idolatry and put on the new wineskins of love, mercy, compassion and justice. We know that even in this challenging season, you are doing new things.  Open our spiritual eyes so that we may perceive where you are acting, both in our lives and that of others.  We humbly offer ourselves to you in the precious name of Jesus our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

The Gift of Giving

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (NRSV)

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.


By Chuck Griffin

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was writing to a church in an affluent part of the world, with well-off people mixed into the membership. (Sound familiar?) But when he wrote about an offering being taken up for the destitute Christians in Jerusalem, he cited what had already been raised among other churches nearly as poor.

In effect, he was asking, blessed Church of Corinth, will you do your share?

For Paul, giving was a matter of the heart, and it only made sense that people blessed with abundant resources would give abundantly. Yes, the idea of the Old Testament tithe, the giving of 10 percent, became obsolete in the light of New Testament grace, but it appears most early Christians interpreted that life-giving grace as a reason to go much further in their giving than a simple tithe.

Acts 2:43-45: “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

This pooling of resources sounds strange and even shocking to us today. As members of a capitalist society coming out of the Cold War and headed toward similar tensions with China, a lot of us don’t like anything that smacks of communism.

Don’t get lost in modern politics as you consider all this. The early Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit and madly in love with Jesus. Their resources became a way to show that love even from city to city, and Paul was praying the Christians in Corinth would join that movement, imitating what the earliest Christians and the Macedonian churches already had done.

The current-day lesson in all of this is pretty obvious: Our giving reflects our love for Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Do we have a need to grow in love?

Dear Lord, inspire us with a deeper sense of your grace and a new understanding of how we are to use our resources to care for one another in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Love Christ Offers

Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.


By Chuck Griffin

I want to continue what we began yesterday, an exploration of the idea that God’s Spirit works within us, changing us. We basically are using the same text as yesterday, although I’ve offered you a different translation.

I run across people from time to time, some clergy, some laity, who struggle with the idea that God changes us. They will agree that God meets us where we are as sinners to save us, but they pooh-pooh the notion that God wants to take us far beyond where we are met, changing us dramatically through the relationship.

Usually we back into this conversation. Old Methodist notions of “holiness” and even “perfection” arise in small groups or in classes about Methodist history, and these skeptics adopt a posture ranging anywhere from amused to exasperated.

I once had a Methodist clergyman tell me it’s not right to preach and teach such things—the audience, he said, would only be disappointed in the long run.

So, we love a God who loves us just so much and no more? We love a God who goes great lengths to give us eternity, but doesn’t pour out enough additional grace to start preparing us for the full presence of the divine?

I’m not buying it. Particularly when I read about the love flowing through Christ being so wide, long and high that we cannot grasp it with mere human knowledge. Most of us know how human love changes us dramatically. Of course God’s love is going to change us.

I understand what drives the skeptics’ confusion. There are sins and other complications in life that seem insurmountable. Paul wrote today’s text, but he also puzzled over his thorn in the flesh that God would not remove. The undefined problem may have been physical, but it clearly was having emotional and spiritual impact.

Even when faced with complications, we should never fall into skepticism regarding what God can do. The key is to never stop engaging, loving God as best we can and trusting that God always works for our betterment, for as long as we allow.

We may not achieve spiritual perfection in this life, but that just means there’s room for improvement in the time we have left.

Lord, when we feel stuck spiritually, mired in sin or infirmity, first give us the strength to keep reaching toward you. Amen.

Do We Stink?

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 (NRSV)

When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.


Knowing Christ permeates every aspect our lives.  This fragrance of knowing Christ in us comes through knowing Jesus.  We know Jesus through devotions like this one.  We experience Jesus by worshiping with other Christians.  We know Jesus in all aspects of our lives.  The Spirit of God uses these means to attract non-believers to Jesus by the fragrance we put off.

We can ask ourselves, “Do we stink?”  When we taste and see that the Lord is good, our aroma will be sweet.  However, we Christians do stink to high heaven at times!  We know of times that our fragrance has been putrid as we have not lived like ones knowing Christ Jesus. Yet, in Christ our fragrance is attractive.  That is the key for us.  

Christ, you take us from death to death and from life to life.  It is when we are found in you that we live.  You have done what is necessary for us to have salvation.  We want to be found as persons of sincerity, as being in you.  We have not been fragrant with the fragrance that comes from knowing you.  We have stunk.  We turn to you so we can know you.  We turn to you so we may be found to be standing in your presence and the presence of God.  Lead us in triumphal procession all the way into the kingdom of God.  Amen.

Renewed and Ready

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NLT)

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.


Just prior to these words in 2 Corinthians, Paul has been laying out what is sometimes called his “doctrine of reconciliation,” where he says that Christ’s selfless sacrifice on the cross for all people transmits a powerful kind of love.

This love is so powerful that believers find themselves transformed, made into people they could not have been otherwise. I see it as an early stage of resurrection, a beginning of the transformation we are to receive in full one day.

With the transformation comes a shift in perspective. Thanks to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we see the big picture of what God is doing. Jesus came for all the world! It should astonish each of us individually that God cares enough to draw us into his plan.

Our astonishment should be so great that we joyously take on the task of helping others understand what God is doing. “Come back to God!” we should cry to others, in whatever manner we believe to be most effective.

Are we at least thinking about how we lovingly make this offer to those around us? Once we’ve thought about this awhile, are we willing to act?

Do we trust that the new people we have become have a new kind of power—do we trust that we have nothing to fear?

The vitality of Christ’s kingdom around us depends on how we answer these questions.

Lord, renew our sense of wonder about what has been done for us, and may others see you in us. Amen.


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