Idols?

Jeremiah 10:1-16 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Idols?  Yes, sometimes Christians do have idols.  Maybe our idols are wood with silver and gold on it, like an ornate cross or a home.  Maybe our idols are our electronic devices that we carry constantly.  As we know, our idols cannot do evil or do good.

It is possible that we can learn once again to fear the King of the Nations.  Besides, it is the Lord who made the wood, the metal, and everything else we see and touch.  We can have a healthy respect, an awe, toward the true God.  That prospect is better than continuously turning to unwise idols, of whatever design!  When a people continually turn from God, then the people, the nation, will be punished by God.

Thankfully, we can trust Jesus Christ.  For it is when we turn to Jesus, and not to idols, that we can know and enjoy the living God and the everlasting King.  Knowing that God has come in the flesh, that is Jesus, we gain much wisdom.  Fearing the Lord is better for us than honoring idols.

Almighty God, we have placed things of our own making as higher than you.  We have worshiped things instead of you.  As we place faith in Jesus, repeatedly, we find that you forgive us.  Thank you that our fear, our awe, and our respect for you grow as we continue to follow Jesus.  Help our neighbors and loved ones discover you as the living God, before any nation endures your indignation.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

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. 

Seeing the Plan Play Out

Jeremiah 29:10-14

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.


Just before these verses, the political leaders, craftsmen and other fine minds of Jerusalem, living in captivity in their conqueror’s homeland, received bad news from the prophet Jeremiah. They were not going home from Babylon any time soon—they might as well build houses and gardens and settle down.

God’s chastisement of his chosen people, caught up in sin, would ultimately lead to restoration and the continuation of his plan to bring salvation to the world through them. We are reminded, however, that God’s plan plays out over generations, centuries, and even millennia. God plays a long game, one so long that even the devil cannot keep track of it all.

I am struck by how blessed most of us reading this are, living as we have lived. Alignment with God does not automatically mean having a comfortable life. Throughout history, it’s been common for people to have the opposite, forced to live according to the whims of powerful, ungodly people.

We particularly are blessed to live in the time after Christ, making a fully restored relationship with God individually possible through simple faith. On top of that, most of us are blessed to live in places where we have the freedom to worship as we want and live as we want.

Yes, this is another one of those “count your blessings” devotionals. As you make your way through the day, appreciate what you have, and remember how we are called to seek God with all our hearts, using our freedoms to play a part in God’s great plan to redeem all of creation.

Lord, help us through faithfulness and devotion to you to preserve the great gifts we have in this life. May exile never be our state, and may those who find themselves in it also find rescue by your hand. Amen.

Ultimate Covenant

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Jeremiah 31:31-34

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”


If we are going to grasp what’s going on in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, there are a handful of critical concepts. Two major ones are in this prophecy from Jeremiah.

First, there is the idea of “covenant.” God’s covenants with humanity evolve through time, growing ever more expansive regarding whom they reach. You can see the potential for expansion was there from the start, when God entered a covenant, a holy contract, with the man we would come to know as Abraham.

Genesis 12:1-3: “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.'”

Followers of Jesus Christ see his death on the cross thousands of years later as establishing a new covenant that makes salvation possible for all the families on earth. 

As covenants are established through time, we better understand a second critical concept, the idea of holiness. As God expands his relationship with humanity through Jesus Christ globally, he also begins to penetrate the hearts of his followers more deeply.

Jeremiah speaks of a time when holiness is complete, when God’s followers are so closely aligned with him that they have no need of written or spoken instruction. God will be so present within us that we simply will know God’s will for ourselves, enabling us to live in perfect harmony.

We obviously are not there yet. But as we practice faithful discipleship, it’s good to know where we are headed.

Lord, help us grow in holiness as we accept the eternal covenant offered us through Jesus Christ. Thank you for meeting us in our imperfect states, rescuing us from sin and death. Amen.

God and Governance

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NLT)

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.


In these highly politicized times, Paul’s words to a young pastor will make some of us squirm.

Obviously, we are polarized as a nation. We’ve seen the left and right run toward their extreme edges, leaving a void in the middle. Far behind us are the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill sitting down in a room and hashing out a way to govern despite their political differences.

So, let me ask you the tough questions the Apostle Paul has raised for us. For the last four years, have you been praying for our president? Regardless of what you may think of him?

Will you pray for our next president, regardless?

I suspect some of us are blanching at the idea. Me, pray for him? Me, lift that guy up to God for support and sustenance?

Our situation could be worse, much worse. Just in case you’re thinking, “How could Paul suggest we do such a thing,” let’s take a moment to consider the context of his words.

The worldly leader of leaders in Paul’s day was the Emperor Nero. Yes, that Nero. The Nero who persecuted the Christians, having them dipped in tar and turned into human torches, or letting them be torn apart by wild animals for sport. The insane Nero, the evil Nero, the guy likely assigned the code number “666” by the author of Revelation.

Paul was telling Timothy to pray for the worst leader you could imagine, and for all of his flunkies. And frankly, as strange as Paul’s request sounds, there is some incredibly powerful Christian logic here, a logic rooted in Old Testament teachings.

Proverbs 21:1 makes clear God can control the will of any leader. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in exile to pray for their captors, knowing that if their captors were at peace and blessed, the Jews would be at peace and blessed, too.

We pray assuming God can change anyone so he or she is inclined to do God’s will. It is of course a good thing when our leaders follow God’s will, even if they have not done so in the past. Paul is essentially saying, “If they begin to listen to and follow God, things will be better for all of us.”

He goes on to emphasize there is but one path, one God and one mediator, Jesus, who is the Christ. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, regardless of whether we sit in a palace or sift through a dung heap for a living.

In a way, Paul’s (and Timothy’s, we must presume) prayers do seem to have borne fruit, although not in time to save Paul from martyrdom. Nero’s empire eventually passed into the hands of other emperors, until one day it finally belonged to Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion.

Some people debate whether it was really a good thing for countercultural Christianity to suddenly be acceptable in the halls of power, but one thing is for sure—the alignment of the empire’s leaders with the faith sped the spread of Christianity.

So, if you’re one of the many folks who lie awake at night worrying about this nation’s future, quit worrying and start praying. Certainly, pray for the leaders you like. But also pray fervently and regularly for the leaders you feel are not aligned with God.

Pray for all the people who might lead us soon. God may do great things in their hearts, working through them to awaken this nation to its role in Christ’s kingdom.

Lord, bless all of our civic leaders with a deep sense of your presence and guidance. Amen.