Jeshurun

Isaiah 44:1-4 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

What names do we go by?  Some of us have nicknames.  Some of us are known by our middle names.  We are known by our name.

God uses several names when he is talking to his people.  Israel and Judah, though designating the northern and southern kingdoms, are used in the prophets.  We are familiar with Zion, which typically refers to Jerusalem.  We call the land of Israel the Holy Land.  Here we read God calling Israel both Jacob and Jeshurun.  The name Jacob goes back to the time before Jacob wrestled with God and won. 

Jeshurun.  That is not a name we know for Israel.  God knows it.  He is letting Israel know that the same God who blessed them in Deuteronomy (32:15), is the same God who blesses them through Isaiah’s prophecy.  What a word of promise for Israel as they are facing dry ground and have little hope for their offspring!

How does God speak with us?  Do we hear God speaking our names?  Do I hear God speaking my name, a name that only God and those close to me use?

Lord, thank you for speaking through the prophets.  Thank you for speaking to us.  It is by listening to you that we find how well you know our situations.  You give us reassurance and promises for what is happening in our lives.  You do know us!  In the name of Jesus Christ, may we find all the blessings you have for us.  Amen.

That Constant Presence

 Deuteronomy 26:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

The above text will be, God willing, the heart of my sermon this Sunday. When I wrote about it here more than a year ago, I focused on our dependency on God.

I had this Jewish offering recitation on my mind yesterday, which was very different from my usual Monday. I had a midday church-related meeting in Alcoa, Tenn., and being in the area, I had dinner with a clergy friend in Knoxville that evening.

In between these events, I worked in some sermon planning, but I also had about an hour to walk around the University of Tennessee campus, something I had not been able to do in several years.. I graduated from UT’s College of Communications in 1988.

The nature of change was on my mind all day. I had spent time discussing the impending split of our denomination; later, my friend and I talked about the terrible personal change he has experienced.

The campus walk seemed surreal. I passed from the completely familiar to the astonishingly new as I moved from block to block. Buildings where I had once taken classes—buildings that had been surrounded by large swaths of green space—now sat huddled in the shadows of gleaming new structures.

I actually was excited by all I saw. The new buildings are wonderful additions, and the campus seems to have a sense of continuity that it lacked 34 years ago.

Strangest of all: There are wheeled delivery robots roaming the streets, less than knee-high and politely waiting their turns at the crosswalks. They must be very new, as the students were as intrigued by them as I was. One young man bent over to examine one, and then patted it as if it were a dog.

A day like I had yesterday, a day marked by thoughts of change and evidence of change, can startle us. Sometimes, it can even depress us. It helps to have some sort of recitation in our minds, a narrative account of how all that we experience fits into a larger story, one with some constancy to it.

When good Jews recited these words from Deuteronomy, they were anchoring themselves in the great truth that God loves them. When there was change, God was there to lead them through it all. Disease, invaders, famine, whatever, they remembered they were children of a wandering Aramean, and ultimately, the children of God.

As Christians, we use a similar strategy. The Apostles’ Creed reminds us of all those points in history where God has intervened to make us, redeem us and sustain us, and it promises God is in control into an eternal future. In our individual lives, we learn to tell the stories of how God has reached out to us, incorporating us into that larger story.

When faced with change, perhaps we could learn to recite a story beginning along these lines: “Mine was a wandering heart, brought home by an always present and loving God.”

Lord, keep us constantly mindful of your presence. Amen.

Do Not Forget the Lord Your God

Deuteronomy 8

By Chuck Griffin

In this season of Thanksgiving—this coming long weekend where we count our blessings and look toward God in gratitude—we Americans find ourselves in a good land.

Some would call such an assertion debatable, citing a pandemic, inflation, a strange job market, and social unrest as their evidence. And these problems do exist, causing suffering.

We still live in a good land, however. If for no other reason, it is good because it remains a place where we can freely remember and worship God. I also think there are many other reasons it remains a good land. Despite the current gloom, I’m an optimist, and I’m mindful that we’ve faced much worse as a nation.

To me, the parallels between our situation and the situation the Israelites were in as they prepared to enter the Promised Land are striking. The book of Deuteronomy largely is Moses reminding the people of their history and their relationship with God, preparing them for Moses’ imminent death and their first steps into a long-anticipated future.

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper,” Moses told them, his words recorded in the eighth chapter. “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.”

With a few modifications to the types of crops and some additions to the minerals, this could serve as a description of North America.

There also is a warning: “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God,” Moses said. After reminding them once again of all the perils God had brought them through, Moses added, “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ “

I would not go so far as to describe the United States as some kind of new Promised Land. Our nation was not designed to relate to God through a direct covenant. It is, however, structured so that individuals can enter into any kind of covenant with God, assembling with those of like mind without fear of persecution. That freedom has allowed Christianity in all its variations to thrive here.

Yes, we debate loudly about politics, and the price of a Thanksgiving meal is up; yes, gas is once again over $3 a gallon where I live, and as high as $6 a gallon in other parts of the country. But this land remains a great blessing to its inhabitants and the world as long as our principles of freedom remain. Less stuff would not diminish our connection to God.

The lesson from Deuteronomy is simple, and as relevant to us as it was to those desert people longing for a little variety in their diets and a constant water supply. Remember God—remember the one you follow, the one you have declared to be above all creation.

Worshiping God in good times and bad is our primary task.

Dear Lord, your first blessing was to give us life; help us to use our lives as ongoing acts of thanksgiving and praise. Amen.

Children of the Aramean

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

When we think of Old Testament texts on giving, our minds often go to the tithe, the giving of 10 percent of the harvest or income to support what would eventually become the work of the temple, work that included care for the poor. Today’s Deuteronomy text really doesn’t take us into the concept of the tithe, however.

What we hear is a recitation, a declaration of what God had done to help his chosen people. From a practical perspective, the offering brought to the altar was a mere token, but theologically it was huge. The head of a family was acknowledging that all he had truly came from God.

I believe in hard work. I believe in the idea that if we are to succeed in life, there is a need to use our bodies and minds to the best of our abilities.

But at the same time, as people who acknowledge we were made by God and saved from sinful brokenness by God, we have to be the first to say we are dependent on God.

If we think about it, we do owe everything to God, even if we’ve done all we can to succeed. If we’re intelligent enough to make the right choices, it’s because God made us so. If we have been able to succeed through hard physical labor, it is because God at some point graced us with healthy bodies.

And we can never forget that there is at least some randomness in how well we do or don’t do in life. If we’re not careful, we will simply stumble into success and then start thinking we are brilliant.

A good Jew acknowledged these truths with his recitation and offering. We do much the same when we declare ourselves followers of Christ—for example, if we recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship. We declare God Creator. We then retell the story of Christ’s life, sacrifice and resurrection, following that with the story of God continuing to work in the world up to this very day through the Holy Spirit.

That true understanding—that perspective regarding who God is and who we are—should shape every nook and cranny of our lives. For many, that deepest, hardest to reach cranny is where we store our attitude about income and possessions.

As I said before, this text isn’t really about tithing. Tithing was a powerful Old Testament concept, of course, but a text like we have today shows us that tithing was just a beginning point, a rule designed to lead a person to a right way of relating to God through our income and possessions.

John Wesley preached 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 a business we may operate. Beyond those provisions, everything we are given counts 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.

Even for a tither, this is a concept that requires thought. It forces a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions, simply because we learn to say, “It’s not really mine, anyway.”

If you find this idea a little daunting, be encouraged. Look back to today’s verses; notice how our little scene at the altar closes. There is celebration in the house of God, the kind of joy to be shared even with the dependent and disenfranchised people among us.

I wonder what we miss when we fail to embrace such a powerful attitude about income and possessions.

Lord, give us the spiritual strength to turn every aspect of our lives over to you, and may the celebration that follows be most rewarding. Amen.

What Might Be Lost

Deuteronomy 11:13-17 (NRSV)

If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul—then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill. Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them, for then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain and the land will yield no fruit; then you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.


By Chuck Griffin

When I was in college, I learned an important concept in economics class: “opportunity cost.”

Essentially, when we make decisions, we need to account for more than just the gain we believe we will experience by going in a particular direction. We also need to assess what we lose by not making an alternate choice.

As Forbes magazine once wrote, “It’s a core concept for both investing and life in general.”

It’s easy to analyze opportunity costs with hindsight. For example, a lot of us may have spent $10,000 or so on a nice little car or truck in 1997. We probably enjoyed driving our little cars and trucks.

We had another option, however—we could have instead bought $10,000 worth of Amazon stock in May of that year, when it was first publicly offered. In May of 2020, according to Investopedia, that stock would have been worth $12 million.

The problem, of course, is that none of us has clear information about the future, so it’s hard to guess what our opportunity cost for a particular decision is going to be. Don’t ask me for a loan. I bought the little car.

As we see in our Deuteronomy text, God did the Israelites a real favor. He laid out what would happen if they chose to love the Lord with all their hearts and souls, and what would happen if they chose to turn away from God and sin.

One choice promised a sort of paradise on earth. The other offered a miserable existence and widespread death. The opportunity cost of each choice was made clear. But even with all that clarity, they chose poorly.

God is gracious, of course. He presents the lesson in new ways. Now he presents it to us through Jesus Christ. Choosing to reconcile with God through Jesus actually offers us peace and joy in this life, and ultimately eternal life in the presence of God!

Sin often is attractive in the short-term, offering what we think we cannot live without. To combat sin, it helps to measure the opportunity cost of straying from God’s love and guidance. Ongoing joy and eternal life are a lot to lose.

Lord, may your Holy Spirit grant us a fuller and more complete picture of where our decisions lead us. Amen.

The Q Recovery

2 Peter 1:20-21 (New Living Translation)

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.


Discerning whether supposed prophets speak for God can be difficult. The task becomes even more difficult when their audiences desperately want to hear someone assert that change is swiftly coming.

Such an environment is ripe for abuse by hoaxsters, con artists and power mongers. This is an ancient problem; nearly 3,500 years ago, God gave the Israelites simple instructions regarding how to discern whether a prophet is true or false. In short, God told them, time will tell.

Deuteronomy 18:22: “If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.”

I raise this subject today because the ancient problem remains a current problem, and I am genuinely concerned for a group of people. They are or were followers of an anonymous self-styled internet prophet called Q, forming a fringe movement which began to develop many of the traits of a religion. In some places, people even have attempted to blend Q with Christianity, resulting in a voodoo-like mashup of ideas.

I don’t spend any time drifting about in the part of the internet where Q followers share their thoughts, but people who monitor these places say many of these folks are struggling. Q’s prophecies regarding the Trump presidency and what was supposed to happen by now in U.S. politics simply have not come true.

People with a strong stake in profiting from the movement—think of online donations and Q-emblazoned sweatshirts for sale—already have begun to adjust their interpretations to stretch the timeline. A lot of these Q followers remain disillusioned, however.

I don’t know if any of them would ever see what I write today, but I do want to offer them some comfort and a new path to consider.

You clearly are passionate people, and you have a deep desire to participate in important change in this world. Someone took unfair advantage of these powerful traits you carry within you, but those traits are gifts from God!

I so want you to examine prophecies that have come true, ancient promises from God fulfilled by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is no way I can unpack that statement for you in a short blog item, but it is my prayer that despite your frustration, you will explore this idea: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

If this is a new idea, consider it for the first time by picking up a simple translation of the Bible, something along the lines of the New Living Translation I’ve been quoting today. Start at Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.

If you were disillusioned by a bad church experience, or if you realize you’ve drifted from core, traditional Christian beliefs, please consider doing exactly the same thing. Let the Holy Spirit rather than human beings do the talking through God’s word, and you then will know what to do next.

I pray you also will see how the Holy Spirit brings about true Great Awakenings, those moments when communities rapidly grow in their understanding that the work of Jesus Christ is setting all of creation right. This holy process happens not via politics, but through the peaceful transformation of hearts, and Christ’s followers have a critical role to play in the change to come.

I seek nothing from you. If I or people in similar roles can help, don’t be afraid to ask.

Lord, speak your empowering word to passionate hearts, and may your truth resound in them like a tolling bell calling the faithful home. Amen.

Dark Nights

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 90:13-17 (NLT)

O Lord, come back to us!
    How long will you delay?
    Take pity on your servants!
Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
    so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
    Replace the evil years with good.
Let us, your servants, see you work again;
    let our children see your glory.
And may the Lord our God show us his approval
    and make our efforts successful.
    Yes, make our efforts successful!

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by doubt or abandoned by God, take heart. The best of Christ’s followers have such experiences.

The Israelites, including today’s psalmist, regularly expressed the sense that God was no longer with them. And God did sometimes abandon them for periods of time in response to their forgetting who is Creator and Rescuer.

Just before Moses’ death, God explained to Moses and his replacement, Joshua, the pattern the Israelites would find themselves experiencing over the centuries.

“After you are gone, these people will begin to worship foreign gods, the gods of the land where they are going. They will abandon me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will blaze forth against them,” God told the two. “I will abandon them, hiding my face from them, and they will be devoured. Terrible trouble will come down on them, and on that day they will say, ‘These disasters have come down on us because God is no longer among us!’ At that time I will hide my face from them on account of all the evil they commit by worshiping other gods.” (Deuteronomy 31:16b-18)

God did give Moses and Joshua a song to teach the people for such times. While lengthy, its elements are obvious: Declare who God is, confess the sins of idolatry and forgetfulness, and recognize God’s goodness and desire to restore his people.

Sin obviously separates us from God, taking us to the dangerous point where we might question God’s love or even his existence. Christian mystics have also recognized through the centuries that Christ’s closest followers can experience similar feelings, what a 16th-century poet called St. John of the Cross described as the “dark night,” sometimes now referred to as “the dark night of the soul.”

The mystics see these moments as a time of spiritual purging. This includes a simultaneous acknowledgment that God is unknowable in full but also worth pursuing.

Regardless of the cause of why we may feel abandoned by God or filled with doubt, the appropriate response remains the same. Never stop acknowledging who God is. Root out sins, confess them to God, and take the necessary time to grow in understanding of what God is doing in the world through Christ’s sacrifice.

Fear not, the morning does come.

Dear Lord, pour out new grace on those who struggle with their dark nights. Return them to a sense of assurance and keep within them a deep desire to serve your kingdom. Amen.