The Wise and Foolish Builders, Pt. 1

Matthew 7:24-27 (HCSB)

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

The world’s tallest building, The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is a staggering 2,716.5 feet tall, more than half a mile high. It easily overshadows the previous tallest building, the Taipei 101 in Taipei, which stands at 1,671 feet.  The Burj Khalifa is nearly double the height of the Empire State Building in New York City. 

While most people are intrigued with the height of the building, perhaps what lies buried beneath the building should attract more attention.  Without a solid foundation, the world’s tallest building would be a disaster waiting to happen.  The foundation for the Burj Khalifa extends 164 feet under the building itself and includes 59,000 cubic yards of concrete weighing over 120,000 tons.  It took a year just to build the foundation.

What is a foundation, and why is it important?  In one sense, it can be described as the lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground.  It is usually a stone or concrete structure that supports a building from underneath. When developing skyscrapers, the building type, design and soil type, along with some other variables, will determine the type of foundation used.

Thankfully, the word of God is a one-size-fits-all type of foundation for the church and all its believers within.

In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 -7, Jesus wraps up his teaching with a careful warning.  He uses the analogy of building a house to identify two different sets of people, the wise builder and the foolish builder, one who ends up with a sturdy house, and one who ends up with a heap of rubble.

As we can infer from the passage, both kinds of builders experience the same set of life circumstances—the rain falls, rising rivers causing floods, and blowing winds pound all the houses. These situations represent the different trials and tribulations that we will all face in this world. Yet, the house built on solid ground, which represents faithful and consistent practice of the teaching of Jesus, remains standing, while the house built on sand collapses because the builder failed to put into practice the wise teachings of Jesus. 

When it comes to the word of God, we always have two sets of people–those who merely hear, and those who hear and do. James, the half-brother of Jesus, tells believers, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” (James 1:22.)

Whatever we become in life is a function of how we faithfully put into practice the teaching of Jesus and the lessons from Scripture. God created us for a purpose, to do his will and bring him glory in all that we do.

It is one thing to listen to or be familiar with the teaching of Jesus and another thing to practice it. We build a life that will endure vicissitudes when we follow through on what Jesus commands. Half obedience is disobedience. 

Our lives are defined by how much of God’s word truly lives in us and what we do with it.  In John 15:7, Jesus tells us, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.”

The word of God contains nuggets of truth that will help us in our journeys through life.  Are you a wise builder or a foolish builder? Perhaps today is a good time to reflect on what represents the foundation of your life–the constantly changing culture or the settled teaching of Jesus. We cannot have it both ways. 

Our Father in heaven, thank you for your Son Jesus, who represents your wisdom and the solid rock on whose teaching the wise build. Help us to demonstrate our love for Jesus and affirm his lordship over our lives as we consistently practice his teaching, even when it is unpopular to do so. May we not just be hearers but also doers of your word. This we ask in Jesus’ holy name. Amen. 

When the Bottom Falls Out, Part 2

Job 2:6-10 (NLT)

“All right, do with him as you please,” the Lord said to Satan. “But spare his life.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

As noted yesterday, Job had reason to blame God for the calamity that befell him, but the Bible tells us that Job did not blame God. In fact, in the book’s first chapter, Job habitually offered burnt offerings to the Lord just in case his children “sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (see Job 1:5). Job was a worshiper of God. Through his life and response to the unexplainable evil that befell him, he proved himself worthy of the things that God had said about him. 

The Lord who knows the end from the beginning knew that Job would remain steadfast during severe testing and consequently gave Satan permission to once again attack Job, but without taking his life. Satan subsequently struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot and he became a pathetic sight.

To ease the pain of the boils, Job would scrape his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. (Job 2:7-8.) Although we do not have details as to the nature of Job’s illness, it must have so devastating and horrible that even his wife could not bear it anymore. 

While we expect that marriage should be a lifelong experience between the man and the woman until they are parted by death, Job’s wife was done with living with her terribly sick husband, whose sight she could no longer bear. She angrily told him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9.)

Job’s stoic response to his wife demonstrated his unwavering commitment and trust in the Lord: “ ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’  So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.”  (Job 2:10.) Job’s response should make us reflect on our commitment to the Christian journey.

Is our love for the Lord and our faith based on what we get from the Lord? I know some folks who in the face of terrible tragedy, like the loss of a child or spouse, have walked away from God. They could not understand why a God they trusted would allow their child or loved one to die. Is your faith conditional?

When the bottom falls out of your world and you are faced with unexpected tragedy, how will you respond? This reminds me of the response of my late mother to the tragic news of the death of my younger brother Gbenga on Monday Aug. 25, 2003, at the age of 24 years. My mother went to the Mount Carmel Hospital East in Columbus, Ohio, to identify the lifeless body of my brother, and she later shared with me these painful words she had uttered: “Gbenga, your death will not destroy my faith.” 

We all know that as parents, we are not created to bury our own children, but in the face of a most tragic event that she could not understand, my mother testified to her strong faith in the Lord. Of course, my brother’s death rocked our world as a family, but it did not destroy our faith in the goodness of the Lord, who has continued to sustain us almost 18 years after Gbenga’s demise. This same faith has sustained us since my mother, Ibidunni Onabanjo, succumbed to her illness and joined the saints triumphant on Sept. 4, 2012. 

I have no doubt that most if not all of us have experienced painful and devastating events. As Jesus clearly tells us in John 16:33, in this world we are going to face trials and sorrows, but we can hold on to his peace.

How do you respond in the face of tragedy and bad news? Do you blame God or accept the event as part of the consequences of living in a sin-infested and broken world? It is important to note that while we do not have any control over the things that will be done to us or that will happen to us, we have control over how we react and respond to them.

Job, a man described by God as the finest man in all the earth, blameless and of complete integrity, provides a clear example for those of us living the life of faith. He shows us how we should respond in the face of situations that we have no control over.

The question that I often ask myself when I read the Book of Job is, What will God have to say about me? Is my life pleasing to God? Can God boast about me and ask Satan, “Have you noticed my servant ‘Debo?”

Satan had the wrong idea about Job. Even when all his possessions were taken from him, including his ten children, Job worshiped the Lord instead of blaming the Lord. May that be our approach no matter what comes our way.

Loving God, you became heartbroken because of human sin, but out of love you sacrificed your beloved Son to purchase our pardon. In the face of devastating life situations, help us to remain unwavering in our faith like Job.  Help us to be willing to endure pain and suffering as part of our devotion to you and grant us the grace to witness to the strength you alone provide. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

The Constancy of Blood

During August, the Sunday sermons will be rooted in stories from the Old Testament. This Sunday’s story is found in Genesis 4:1-16, where we learn about Cain and Abel. If you want to watch the sermon but cannot attend Holston View United Methodist Church, it will be available online.

Today’s text: John 19:33-34 (NRSV): But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.


By Chuck Griffin

Christianity links the earliest stirrings of ancient faith to a glorious future. It is through Christ that we discover radical ideas about peace and love, giving us visions of a world where all is set right under God, with healing and rest available for those he calls his children.

We need to remember how such visions are made possible, though. The tapestry of our faith is spattered with blood—in places it is soaked in blood. Sin has forced us to live as primitive people, and God had to debase himself through the Son for us to have any hope of eternal life.

This Sunday I will preach about the first murder recorded in the Bible, Cain’s killing of his brother Abel. Even this is not the first case of blood flowing in Scripture, though. When Adam and Eve realized they were naked, God fashioned animal skins to clothe them, a process that must have been horrifying for these shocked new sinners.

The Old Testament stories in many ways seem bound by blood. Brutal wars and repetitious sacrifices all play their part in a cycle of rejoining God and turning away from God, the people never finding a way to full union with the Holy One.

Even The Way is built upon a bloody path, with Jesus scourged and nailed to a cross to die for our sins. The spear thrust and ensuing discharge from Jesus’ side, recorded in John’s crucifixion account, evoke the image of the blood and water gushing from the temple drainage system, as the priests rinsed away the blood of the animal sacrifices. We are to understand that Christ’s body became the temple for all people.

Let’s not forget, however, that in Scripture, blood equals life. That shedding of Jesus’ divine blood was so perfect a sacrifice that it is continually purifying. We simply have to believe in its effectiveness.

When we take communion to access that purifying grace, we call the bread and juice the “body and blood of Christ.” Using strange, highly symbolic language, the author of the Book of Revelation is able to describe the robes of the believers as having been washed white “in the blood of the Lamb.” 

No doubt, we practice what many would call a blood religion, one with deeply primitive roots. It is astonishing how God has worked among our messes to lift us up to undeserved heights.

Lord, we thank you for your willingness to work through a gruesome and unholy history so that we may find you and establish a full relationship with you. Keep us mindful that while finding salvation is relatively easy for us, it was extremely difficult for Jesus Christ. We are so blessed! Amen.

Drink Up!

Note: The LifeTalk devotions from Methodist Life will be on hiatus for two weeks so the regular author can take some vacation. Regular devotions will resume Monday, June 7. John Grimm, an occasional author for LifeTalk, likely will be posting on his personal blog during this time.

John 7:37-39 (NRSV)

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


By Chuck Griffin

I offer you this reading from John as a prelude to this coming Sunday, when most of us will celebrate Pentecost and the presence of the Holy Spirit within the church.

Too often, we allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to seem so mysterious that we miss the outpouring of grace and joy available to us.

Are you thirsty? By that, I mean are you fading spiritually, declining in such a way that you’re receiving signals of impending spiritual death? Belief in Jesus Christ opens a spiritual tap, and we can be so filled with the presence of God that we begin to sustain others.

If you’re thirsty, open the tap now. Remember your belief in what Christ has done for us on the cross—dwell on what it means to believe. Engage with God in all those ways God loves to be engaged: in Scripture, in prayer, in fellowship with other believers.

Certainly, seek the Spirit in worship somewhere this Sunday.

Be blessed!

Lord, thank you for your constant presence. Help us to shake off the blinders this world places on us and let us see you once again. Amen.

For the One Who Owns Everything

By Chuck Griffin

Several of us in my family have birthdays in the spring months. I’ve had presents on my mind; most of us have a tendency to want to show love to someone having a birthday, and we often do so with a present.

For years, I had trouble finding a present for my grandfather around his birthday. As he got into his 80s and 90s, he had few real needs or wants that a present could cover. We still had that urge to give him something, however, if only to let him know how important he was to us.

The last few years of his life, we focused on simple gifts, mostly the kind my wife, Connie, could make in the kitchen. He seemed to genuinely appreciate her cakes and cookies more than anything we could have bought him in a store.

Why did he like them? Well, these gifts were sweet, and he liked sweets, particularly pineapple upside-down cake. I’m sure there was another reason, though. Connie’s work in the kitchen was a simple act of love. And as I dwell on that other reason, my mind also goes to how we respond every day to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has given us the gift of eternal life.

Obviously, there’s no way to buy something for the one through whom all things were created. We’re blessed, however, with a simple wish list left by Jesus, one expressed very clearly throughout the New Testament.

If we were to package Jesus’ gift, I imagine it going inside one those big gift bags. You know how people pack big gift bags; sometimes there is more than one item inside. I see two items in Jesus’ bag, both related to the love and gratitude we feel.

The first gift is our love for God. Again, we who call ourselves “Christian” understand what God has done for all of us. Once true belief has washed over us, this gift is easy to give. Our awareness of eternal life should cause us to race toward our prayer and worship times with thankful arms held high.

First John 3:14-18 talks about the second gift. Once we’ve experienced that overwhelming love for God, we are told that we should next feel a similar love for those who share our belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. He even positions our ability to love one another as a test of our faith, a determination of whether we are believers or “murderers,” people who abide in death.

As I meditated on this text, I began to wonder if this is the real point of struggle for the modern church. Maybe it always has been; the letter of 1 John was written for a reason. Within the church, starting at the level of a local congregation, have we achieved the kind of mutual love described in these verses? Do we love each other to the point of being willing to lay down our lives for one another? We’re always going to have disagreements, but do we hear each other with patience, forgiveness and openness to the influence of the Holy Spirit?

Lately, as we in the United Methodist Church find ourselves in what seems to be a mission-stalling irreconcilable disagreement over how we read Scripture, I also have to ask this: For the sake of Christ, do we love each other enough to set each other free, to release the unwanted holds we have on each other? Even Paul and Barnabas, out of love for Christ and each other, had to seek such a mindset in the early days of the church.

Lord, we so often find ourselves focusing on discord in church. Help us to show each other whatever kind of love is needed so we may better work on your behalf. Amen.

Sent with the Spirit

John 20:19-23 (NLT)

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”


By Chuck Griffin

To pick up where I left off Friday, there is a particular moment in this resurrection appearance story I want to explore.

When Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” he indicated the true role of the church, the global church of believers. We are to act as the body of Christ, as a group continuing the work Jesus began through his teaching, crucifixion and resurrection.

Here’s my immediate impression: What an honor! God allows us to participate in work he could easily do himself. We are reminded of how we were initially created, as images of the one who made us.

As mere reflections of God, we of course cannot continue Christ’s work while relying on our own power. We instead must depend on God’s power being present among us and within us. Which brings us to the next moment in the story.

Jesus breathed on these men who would be the early church leaders and planters, telling them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I think of this as a mini-Pentecost, an event we will celebrate Sunday, May 23. These men received early the gift that would fall upon the church in full after Jesus’ ascension.

Tired and afraid, hiding out, I’m sure they needed his power to begin their new roles.

The gift of the Spirit has been transmitted from generation to generation for thousands of years, and it will remain present somewhere in the world until Christ returns in full. We have to actively share the story of Jesus and bring people to belief, however, if they are to receive the gift.

Otherwise, we are in danger of living in one of those places on the planet where the Spirit once worked powerfully but now is not visible because of a lack of heart-felt evangelism and adherence to God’s teachings.

In this story, we also see a powerful concept we as the church are to offer to the world, the idea that forgiveness is possible even for what we consider terrible sins. True repentance—a desire to put sin behind us and turn toward God—is required, of course, but once we repent, God makes restoration easy, trusting the church to recognize it and declare it to have happened.

This message of forgiveness is something the world desperately needs to hear, particularly in our increasingly secular culture, where an escalating game of “Gotcha!” seems to be underway.

You’ve seen what I am talking about: Opponents dredge up sins from decades ago to use against each other, trying to tell the world, “That’s who that person really is!” Where there is no room for forgiveness, there is no room for restoration and growth, and we all are left to bite and devour each other until nothing remains.

As part of our efforts to evangelize the world, the most attractive part of our message may be the concept of forgiveness, of lives changed. As members of Christ’s global church, let’s remember to inject lessons of forgiveness into a gotcha kind of world.

Yes, Lord, sin remains in the world, even in our lives. Thanks to you for giving us and others a way out, a way to grow, a way to be more like what you created us to be. Amen.

Shocking Appearance

John 20:19-31 (NLT)

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.


By Chuck Griffin

This resurrection appearance by Jesus is packed with lessons. There’s one in particular I want to focus on while preaching this Sunday, a meditation on forgiveness I also will share in the Monday LifeTalk devotional.

Today, let’s take a quick look at some of the bigger points we can take away from the story:

Jesus’ resurrected body is simultaneously familiar and transformed. He bears the scars of his holy death, but he also seems to transcend what we think of as the material world, entering locked rooms at will. Certainly, Jesus performed similar miracles before going to the cross (walking on water, for example), but this seems different.

“Peace be with you” is more than just a greeting. It seems to be Jesus’ theme after the resurrection. What has happened should take away our fears, even when we are faced with unfamiliar and troubling situations.

Thomas clearly is the origin of the phrase, “Seeing is believing.” To say that phrase with conviction is to miss the point, however. Where Jesus Christ is concerned, the greatest blessing is for those of us who believe in the story without having seen. Our assurance comes directly from the Holy Spirit whispering to our spirits.

We are left to wonder about the stories we don’t have about Jesus. Surely they aren’t more dramatic than what we do have—water into wine, miraculous feedings, healings, people raised from the dead—but I have no doubt they would reinforce the principle we’ve learned already. Jesus Christ has the power to change everything.

Lord, thank you for the gift of the stories we have about the resurrected Christ. Amen.

He Is Risen!

By Chuck Griffin

Depending on which gospel you read, the resurrection story is told in slightly different ways. The core facts are the same, however: Jesus was definitely dead, crucified on a cross.

Then he was and is clearly alive, fully recognizable and yet transformed in a way that should still astound us.

We often rely on the gospel of John during Holy Week and Easter, if for no other reason than the precise detail provided there regarding both the crucifixion and the resurrection. Mary Magdalene, a woman who had been healed by Jesus and became his follower, finds the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.

She goes for help, returning with Peter and a disciple described as “the one whom Jesus loved.” The men see the carefully discarded burial linens and leave the tomb. Mary stays and sees the risen Jesus, mistaking him at first for a gardener before speaking with him. When she runs back to the disciples, she announces, “I have seen the Lord.”

Just as angels indicated at Jesus’ birth that the world was changing because God had come to live among humanity, Mary was saying that nothing will ever be the same now that Jesus has defeated death.

The Greek verb we translate as “announce” was used very specifically in Jesus’ day, indicating that previously unknown news was being delivered. Mary Magdalene was the first to deliver the Good News about Jesus Christ and his world-transforming resurrection.

And indeed, nothing is the same. Before Jesus, death was a frightening uncertainty, at best a descent into a shadowy existence. After Jesus, death is meaningless for those who follow Christ.

We don’t seek death—we certainly don’t relish what might accompany the dying process—but faithful Christians intuitively know they have nothing to fear. How can we fear what Christ has crushed? How can we be anxious about facing Father God when we know the resurrected Son will stand by us and say, “I have made this one holy!”

And more than just the afterlife is changed. This life now is changed.

In making us holy through the cleansing action of the cross, God can dwell in us. He gives us his Spirit to sustain us until all creation is set right in the general resurrection, the complete remaking of heaven and earth. (If you don’t know that part of the story, take hope—it is where history is headed.)

The joy of eternity with God begins now, not in our passing. Easter is a reminder that the resurrection happened in this world, impacting living people, including us today.

The resurrection is a story worth hearing again and again. Nothing can match it; certainly nothing can embellish the story that makes eternity possible. I pray you have the opportunity to celebrate this great story in some way today.

Lord, thank you for salvation and eternal life! May the hope of Easter fill our hearts each day. Amen.

Horror and Salvation

By Chuck Griffin

In terms of a devotional, you don’t need much from me today. It is Good Friday, and you have the ultimate action story before you.

As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his arrest, he sought relief from the terrible work ahead. But he heard clearly from Father God: It has to be done. Today calls for a simple response from Christians. Give thanks for the work that has been done, the work recorded here:

John 19

At the cross, Christ gathers us in his arms, yanking us from death’s tight grip and delivering us to eternal life. As you pray, try to come alongside Jesus as he walks to the cross. As he hangs on the cross, some ultimately run and some stay for the burial, but remain with him for as long as you can.

And remember, good action has good consequences. That’s a story for Sunday, though.

Lord, may the truth of the crucifixion be very real for us this day. Amen.

Staying So We Can Love

John 13:31b-35 (NRSV)

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now, I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


By John Grimm

Holy Week is that season of the year in which we re-learn a new commandment from Jesus.  The final instructions before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion are vital to our life here on earth.  As we recognize Jesus being glorified through his willingness to love us here on earth, we come to terms with how we can live as his disciples.

What are we to do?  This new commandment is how we live the eternal life we have from Jesus.  Because of Jesus drawing us to himself, we get to live here and now.  This eternal life is evident by our consistently, faithfully and persistently loving one another.  

As Jesus’ disciples, we recognize that Jesus has been glorified by his willingness to suffer and die.  We are cognizant of Jesus’ love because God came to dwell among us, in the flesh.  This truth is how we live the eternal life we have through Jesus.  It is in our flesh that we love one another.  The Son of Man walked among the unlovable, the intolerant and those ashamed of themselves.  How else are we to live our eternal life but by walking among the unlovable, the intolerant and those ashamed of themselves, even as we love those who are disciples?

Jesus, your instructions are hard.  We face the truth that we get to love one another for our eternal life here on earth.  In our own past, we have failed to love.  Yet, you still have been glorified!  Your Spirit is with us now so that can live this new commandment. Work in us the ability and desire to love one another so we may once again be known as your disciples.  May we be found loving one another when you return to reign on earth.  Amen.