The Big Promise

Genesis 12:1-3 (NRSV)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”


I find myself repeatedly referencing these promises while I’m preaching or teaching. The last one, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” is one of those linchpins of the Bible, firmly connecting the Old and New Testaments.

Abram, of course, eventually was renamed “Abraham” by God, who worked through this man to establish a people, the Israelites, with whom God could be in relationship. Sin had broken the relationship between God and humanity, but God has from the earliest pages of the Bible wanted it restored.

What a sweeping promise: All the families of the earth shall be blessed! When we really start to think that through, it boggles the mind.

Yes, Abraham is known widely, having influenced the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But being known and being the conduit of a blessing spanning millennia are two very different matters.

As Christians, we understand that God came among us in flesh through the Israelites, the promised descendants of Abraham. Jesus Christ died on the cross because “God so loved the world.” Through the work of Christ, restoration to God—the great blessing granting us forgiveness from sin and eternal life—is possible.

The promise to Abraham seems to go beyond mere possibilities, though. “All” and “shall” hint at the completeness of God’s plan, which will play out in ways that should astonish us. Salvation through Jesus Christ will be global; no family will be untouched.

The astounding quantity of God’s grace should fill us with hope, whatever our circumstances.

Lord, we seek new visions and evidence of how widespread your loving work extends, and we look forward to the day when it is complete. Show us our role in all that is to transpire. 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.

Potential Unleashed

John 1:29-34 (NRSV)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”


John—prophet in the wild and Jesus’ cousin—offered a different kind of baptism than what we undergo today to become Christ’s followers. It was a traditional Jewish baptism of repentance, designed to ready people for the coming Messiah.

When Jesus underwent this baptism despite his lack of sin, he demonstrated solidarity with the people he had come into the world to save. John also declared something about Jesus’ baptism that we should see in our own baptisms, too, despite their different natures.

In Jesus’ baptism, great potential was revealed; in our baptisms, great potential is made possible. Because Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins, the Holy Spirit is able to descend on us, too. When we declare our belief that the cross is effective for salvation, the door to a relationship with God is reopened for us.

Whatever we are after baptism is much more than what we would have been without baptism. It is only natural that we move toward “better” in relationship with the eternal, holy God.

Of course, we do have to let the Holy Spirit remain at work throughout our lives if we want to see continual spiritual progress. Thanks be to God, who has made this process relatively easy.

He has told us there are intersections of heaven and earth where we can go to allow the Spirit to penetrate our souls more deeply. Studying the Bible, immersing ourselves in prayer, receiving communion, and being in fellowship with other Christians are some prime examples.

God only knows what wonderful things might happen if we go to those intersections again and again.

Dear Lord, thank you for the potential you give us. Help us to develop it and live fully as the people you would have us be. Amen.

Into 2021!

John 3:16 (NLT)

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.


If there’s anything we’ve learned from 2020, it’s that we have no idea what a year might have in store for us. With one exception.

I have no insight regarding when the pandemic will end. I do have high hopes for the vaccine, and I’m praying for something resembling normal worship during the Easter season. (Easter Sunday will be April 4.)

I’m also praying that wonderful events during 2021 will lift us up globally. Perhaps a powerful outbreak of the Holy Spirit, another true Great Awakening regarding Jesus Christ’s work in this world? I would so like to see that happen.

About that exception I mentioned: I can promise you this, the grace poured out on us by God will remain available. It has remained available in 2020, and it will always be available, until we turn off the calendar and simply stand before God in full, rejoicing and worshiping our savior into eternity.

By “grace,” I mean the love God continually shows us despite the fact we do not deserve it. It is a great, continuous gift, one we simply have to agree to receive.

Grace is available even before people acknowledge God exists. It tugs at us; it exists as a feeling there is more to life than what we simply see.

Grace washes over us and into us at the moment we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. From then on, grace changes us, as much as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.

Based on the truth of ever-present grace, I can say that 2021 will be an important, powerful year. People will find Jesus Christ and eternal life through simple belief. People will grow to be more like what God would have them be.

Any more good news will simply be additional evidence of how much God loves us.

Have a blessed, grace-filled 2021!

We Are Family

Matthew 12:46-50

While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”


The fifth of the Ten Commandments is, “Honor your father and mother.” When we remember how important family is in Jewish culture, Jesus’ above statement becomes more startling.

Family was important to Jesus, of course. He was an obedient child; likewise, as he was dying on the cross, bearing the burden of the sins of the world, one of his concerns was who would care for his mother.

As important as family is, however, there is a greater concern. Even family cannot interfere in our relationship with God. Walking with God, understanding God and following God’s will are the most challenging and critical activities in our lives.

It can be tough when God’s will for us is out of alignment with what the family wants. I will always remember a little girl in the Czech Republic who learned in Vacation Bible School the story of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. She lived in a nation with a shockingly high percentage of committed atheists, a vestige of communist rule.

Having learned how to tell the story on her own, she said, “I will tell my family. But it will make my grandmother very angry.” The interpreter and I teared up simultaneously.

Jesus knew such conflict would arise when he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-52.)

If you and your family are aligned in the pursuit of God’s will through Jesus Christ, know what a tremendous blessing you have. And if you are not so blessed, know that your global family prays for you, and that through your witness, your biological family has hope.

Lord, give special strength and new gifts of the Spirit to those who go about the particularly difficult task of telling non-believing family members the Good News. Amen.

Getting Christmas

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.


If we are able to pause here and “get it,” we’ll have a proper understanding of the meaning of Christmas. I’ll be the first to admit, however, that these can seem like dense and lofty words.

In short, Jesus is God. Yes, we sometimes call him the “Son of God,” recognizing he is as fully human as he is divine. But he is God, and the divine aspect of Jesus has always existed—before the birth in Bethlehem and the manger, before the virgin conception, even before the universe and time existed.

If you agree with this assertion about Jesus, you are Christian in a scriptural, orthodox sense.

If you disagree, you stand outside that traditional understanding, even if you call yourself Christian. You at a minimum disregard or modify key portions of Scripture, particularly the early chapters of John.

This aspect or essence of God is called the “Word” in most English versions of John. “Word” is a translation of the Greek word “logos,” used by philosophers of the day to describe God’s wisdom. This logos was believed to hold the universe together, like stitches giving cloth its shape.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” John 1:14 asserts, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

The power that made all things and holds all things together lived in this world as one of us, an event we call the incarnation. We call this God-man Jesus Christ, and he surprised us with much of what he said and did, like forgiving his enemies and dying among criminals on a cross.

As we move through Christmas toward Easter, we will once again watch how Jesus lived and hear what Jesus taught. We should be constantly mindful that in doing so, we are experiencing a kind of wisdom far deeper than anything that could be contrived by human minds.

If we get it, we may find Christmas and much of the rest of the Christian year to be a serious challenge to how we live.

Lord, what a remarkable truth, that you came among us to teach us, love us, call us to obedience and die for our sins. This Christmas, may we celebrate well that moment of arrival. Amen.

Joy

Yesterday, I mentioned how biblical peace describes the current relationship between God and humanity, a state made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Bliss is a perfectly appropriate response to that peace.

There is a more exuberant emotion, too, the third theme of Advent. There is joy! It is so important, many churches use a pink- or rose-colored candle to mark the third Sunday of Advent. In some traditions the clergy even wear matching vestments, like these:

Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t want to wear that.

I do, however, want to celebrate joy! And when we talk about biblical joy, we mean an emotion that resides in us in all circumstances, even when we are experiencing what otherwise might be thought of as “bad times.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice,” Paul told the church at Philippi. (Philippians 4:4.)

Why? Think what we have been given:

Eternal life!

The promise that all that has gone wrong, is going wrong and will go wrong will be made right.

The experience of God in this life, now.

Therein lies our joy. We are able to look at any negative situation and say, “You know what? That has already been defeated.”

Lord, may our experience of joy be as emotional as it is intellectual. And again, may others see in us what you are offering them. Amen.

The God Who Speaks

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Hebrews 1:1-2 (New Living Translation)

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.


These words and what follows in the opening of Hebrews remind us of the astonishing change God wrought in the history of the universe through Jesus Christ.

Even in their sin-soaked brokenness, people had always received at least some indirect word from God. In particular, prophets would arise who would speak on God’s behalf, usually issuing a call to repent, an exhortation to live as God would have them live.

In those prophecies, there also were promises. God said he would provide a way out of sin, an opportunity for otherwise hardened hearts to be softened, beating once again to God’s rhythms rather than the world’s.

In this season of Advent, we move toward celebrating the incarnation, the strange fact that God actually took on flesh and lived among us. Not only that, God came among us not as a king but as a vulnerable, very poor baby, fully experiencing what it means to be human.

How does the Son speak to you? Are you in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, letting his words challenge and shape you?

Advent is a good season to reconnect with the one who is always available. God continues to speak a new, life-changing truth to all of us.

Over the next few days, try something. Read the first two chapters of each of the gospels. It’s my prayer that starting these stories will renew a desire to hear what the Son has to say.

Lord, thank you for the ongoing blessing of your holy word. We particularly thank you for the penetrating, life-changing words of the Messiah. Amen.

Give Thanks! Exercise 4

Psalm 100

First, meditate for a bit on the Contemporary English Version translation of Psalm 100, linked above.

With Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, let’s circle back to the one whom we thank, and let’s remember again what God has done for us.

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV)

However you may be in contact with others on Thanksgiving Day, it is my prayer that Christ is at the center of your celebration, remembered constantly as the source of your joy!

Life Talk devotionals will resume Monday, Nov. 30, God willing.

Bread Offered Every Day

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

John 6:25-35 (NLT)

They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”


You can live for the moment, or you can seek forever in the moment.

The crowds followed Jesus in part because he had demonstrated an ability to provide for their immediate needs. They hoped for ongoing provisions, along the lines of what the Israelites received in the desert for 40 years.

Now, let’s be clear—when people have immediate, pressing needs, it is hard for them to focus on much else. “How will I feed my children?” can be an overwhelming question.

That’s why James wrote, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:15-16)

For the simple sake of goodness, we are called as Christians to get people beyond worrying about their basic needs. Such relief also directly supports the mission of the church. Where basic needs are met, people can then more easily think about broader concepts, like a relationship with God and salvation.

A lot of this sounds like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The Bible basically came up with the idea first. Jesus’ Matthean concept of the judgment amounts to a call to lift people out of their day-to-day worries.

Once we’ve acknowledged the basic relief we should provide, we then must stay very conscious of that all-important next step, understanding who we are in relation to God. Having our daily bread, it’s important to move on to a contemplation of the Bread of Life, God’s gift to us.

Through Jesus Christ, we are offered a daily experience of God and his eternally life-altering plan, and once we’re on the way to grasping what this means, we need to invite others to explore and accept salvation, too.

It’s all so exciting, so mind-boggling, that we might even find ourselves forgetting to eat.

Lord, where we see earthly needs, may we respond quickly, and where we see openings to offer your eternal grace, may we move with utmost speed. Amen.