Open Up!

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Demons and Deafness.” It will be based on Mark 7:24-37. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Mark 7:32-35 (NRSV)

A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.

Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!


By Chuck Griffin

You’re most likely reading this on the internet in some fashion, through Facebook, email or directly on the Methodist Life site. If you’re like me, this is not always the most conducive environment for slowing down and spending time with God.

A computer or smartphone can buzz with activity. Other windows, apps or browser tabs may be open, streaming music or television. Little pop-ups may be appearing and disappearing, telling you “important email” or alerting you to an incoming text or instant message.

Try something before you read any further. What you’ll experience is really important as we look at today’s text. Find a way to sit in silence, even if just briefly—say, five minutes. It helps to take some deep breaths.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

My premise today is a simple one. We are like the deaf man in our story in Mark. We’re just deaf for a different reason. He had a physical problem. We have an environmental problem that causes spiritual deafness.

Something had stopped up his ears. Perhaps it was a disease. Perhaps it was a head injury. He began to speak as soon as he was healed, so he apparently remembered sound and speech. But at some point in his life, the sound had no longer come in and intelligible words had stopped coming out.

The cure was not a simple one, not even for Jesus the miracle worker. This was no time for a spectacle. Jesus pulled the man aside to a private place. (It strikes me that the deaf man must have had little understanding of what was going on; he had to trust Jesus.)

Put your pandemic-induced anxieties aside for a moment and imagine what it would feel like to have Jesus stick his fingers in your ears. Imagine what it would be like to have him take his spit and put it on your tongue.

Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus pray for you in the common Aramaic his very common followers spoke, a prayer so deep that it comes out in a groaning command: Ephphatha. Open up!

When it comes to hearing Jesus, to really hearing what God has to say to us, we’re stopped up, too. The world is in our ears. We’re clogged with work, sport and school schedules, with plans, with worries, with diversions like television and video games. We’re so stopped up that we’re in danger of remaining deaf to God’s continuing call on our lives until the day we die.

This deafness also makes us spiritually mute. How can we declare what we have not recently heard?

May we go to private places with Jesus long enough that our ears be unstopped. May we hear his message well. And may we declare the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior with great excitement.

Dear Lord, give us the same healing command: Ephphatha!

Essentials for Success

During this Sunday’s sermon, we will return to the theme of the Lord as shepherd, probably most familiar to us in Psalm 23. The sermon will be available on Holston View United Methodist Church’s website.

Today’s preparatory text:

Mark 6:34 (NLT)—Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.


By Chuck Griffin

When I first established the Methodist Life website, I had two basic intertwined purposes. One was to provide Wesleyan meditations through the “Life Talk” blog, and the other was to create a space for basic small group information. Both, I hoped, would encourage deeper, more communal discipleship.

The Rev. ‘Debo Onabanjo’s Monday LifeTalk contribution, combined with my preparatory work for this Sunday’s sermon, caused me to think about the basics of living as Methodists once again. Most of us are aware there are big changes coming—in a little over a year, we hope to see the activation of a denomination firm in its support of traditional Methodist principles.

As we consider our verse from Mark today, I want to reassert something, a forecast that frankly has annoyed or perplexed at least a few of my fellow conservative Methodists. This impending division, and all the strife surrounding it, will prove useless if we do not become a different kind of church than the UMC currently represents.

It is not enough to say, “We are traditional,” and then think everything is fixed once we’re operating under a new name and logo. Like the excited but confused crowd waiting for Jesus’ boat to arrive, we have to relearn how to hear the one true shepherd’s voice and function as a unified flock.

Early Methodists were good at this. First, they took the Holy Bible seriously, intelligently approaching it as the inspired word of God. They let it guide them in their understanding of the earliest church doctrines, and then they did their best to live their lives according to those principles. In particular, they met in small groups, holding each other accountable regarding their regular engagement with God and their pursuit of holiness.

Let’s remember that the current United Methodist Church already is traditional—on paper. If we were still living as people of God’s word, bound tightly in communal accountability, no changes would be required to our Book of Discipline. I believe we would be a force against the creeping secularism infecting parts of the global church today.

In a new denomination, we still can be such a force, but we who call ourselves traditional Methodists have to understand that most of us fail to live according to the Methodist model, at least in America. (We have much to learn from our more communal brothers and sisters in places like Africa and Asia.)

How many of us are truly immersed in God’s word, treating the revelations there as a life-or-death matter? How many of us find ourselves committed to a properly organized Christian small group, one determined to reach lost sheep and grow its members into reflections of Jesus Christ’s glory?

Restless sheep, gather into flocks to listen to the shepherd’s voice. Listen intently, as Christ still has great compassion for us. He will teach and guide us, and we will move as one.

Lord, as you do new works through the movement called Methodism, keep us rooted in your very biblical truths about community and holiness. Amen.

Clear Signs

Mark 6:45-52 (NRSV)

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.


By Chuck Griffin

This passage reveals much about the internal confusion the disciples faced as they followed Jesus. I feel certain that many of us struggle similarly from time to time.

Just before this walking-on-the-water event in Mark, we have an account of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitudes, demonstrating that five loaves of bread and two fish will feed 5,000 men and their families when God takes direct action.

The disciples had powerful evidence at the impromptu banquet that God was in their midst, but from the later remark that “their hearts were hardened,” we can discern they were not accepting this great truth when Jesus sent them to cross the Sea of Galilee without him.

They needed another miracle, one they could interpret more clearly.

Just as they struggled with spiritual understanding, they struggled to cross the sea, the wind against them. But what impeded them was not a problem for Jesus, walking on the water and against the wind with ease.

Once he was in the boat with them, the struggle ceased―the one who made the wind and sea had rejoined them.

Jesus’ statement, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” is particularly telling. What we translate as “it is I” can also be translated as “I am,” evoking memories of God’s early revelation of himself to Moses.

It can be difficult to recognize when God is with us. If these men strained to understand, it is no surprise that sometimes we struggle. I do not fully understand why we resist the truth of God’s presence in our lives. I just know it happens.

The brokenness of the world and our need to deal with what seem like immediate, pressing problems certainly can interfere with our perception of God.

Perhaps we also have a certain level of discomfort knowing that the presence of God calls for change, and we don’t like the idea of changing.

Those responses are rooted in fear, though—fear that if we don’t control a particular situation, no one will, or fear that in being transformed, we somehow might lose something. And if we spend a few minutes thinking as Christians about each scenario, it’s not hard to see that both fears are irrational.

Jesus often said in one way or another, “Do not be afraid.” I suppose we need to take his advice to heart if we are to develop a full and complete kind of faith.

Lord, thank you for evidence of your presence. May these experiences burrow more deeply into our souls. Amen.

Those Who Would Lead

Mark 10:42-45 (NLT)

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


By Chuck Griffin

Don’t be distracted by the “rulers in this world” reference. Self-promoters will always be with us, making up the vast majority of those who lead in secular settings.

Jesus’ message is aimed squarely at leaders in the church, and that is where our minds need to be today. They are supposed to lead in very different ways, perhaps influencing the world just a little by their example.

Pastors need to take all of what Jesus says to heart, of course. Certainly, pastors who rise to positions of higher authority (and higher pay, accompanied by other trappings of success) need to take Jesus’ words quite seriously.

And let’s never forget that lay Christians need to lead, too. If we don’t have laity taking a strong hand in running the church at all levels, we are going to be disappointed in our results for the kingdom.

So, what do servant leaders look like?

Well, such people have Philippians 2:4 hearts: “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” They plan their day around what they can do to improve other people’s situations. In particular, they’re thinking how they can help others receive eternal life and peace in this life.

That alone is not enough to make them leaders, though. Another step is required; leaders also take measures to ensure godly order.

In other words, they seek God’s will through prayer and Scripture, and they work to structure the church at all levels in accordance with what they find, usually building on what previous generations of leaders have determined. After all, the Holy Spirit works in each generation, and the Holy Spirit always gives consistent answers. Think “mission.”

Obviously, servant leaders also need to be bold. No hiding allowed. As Jesus indicated, the world and the church are two very different settings, so Christian leaders shouldn’t be dissuaded or deterred simply because the world sniffs in disapproval of their actions.

Servant leaders should have at least mild disdain for the prosperity the world may offer them. At a minimum, they don’t see what resources they control as really being theirs. It wouldn’t hurt servant leaders to read John Wesley’s sermon “The Danger of Riches” from time to time.

For those of us who are professionally trained, it’s also a good exercise to reflect on our original sense of calling and what we were imagining during those earliest years in licensing school or seminary.

Did we really make all those life changes and commitments to pursue what we pursue now? (We did see this as a calling, right?) Has the maintenance of an institution taken priority over Christian mission?

If preaching Christ crucified is no longer your focus—well, please go seek a worldly path to riches and power. The church is no place for such games.

Lord, raise up new servant leaders among your laity and clergy so we may be your vibrant church. Amen.

Imagine No Resurrection

Mark 12:18-27 (NLT)

Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”

Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.

“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”


By Chuck Griffin

In the daily lectionary readings, we last considered in October this exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees, hearing the story in the Gospel of Matthew. In this Easter season, it’s always appropriate to consider the critical importance of Christ’s resurrection, as well as the resurrection we will experience one day.

After all, there are modern-day Sadducees who will tell you there is no such thing as a resurrection, sometimes while standing in a pulpit.

Suppose you were to pick up the newspaper and find this headline: “Christ’s Body Found!” Under this headline is a story saying that Jesus’ body has been located in an ancient tomb. Documents and artifacts nearby prove it is Jesus’ body. The evidence is irrefutable.

What would such facts do to your faith?

A professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky used to ask his students this question. He would get a variety of answers.

Students often said something along these lines: “Jesus was a great teacher. I still would want to devote my life to passing on his teachings about love and forgiveness.”

There was a time when I might have given the same answer. I’m convinced now, however, that such an answer demonstrates a poor understanding of the radical nature of Christianity.

Here’s my response to the hypothetical newspaper story: I would quit the ministry and return to my former career, public relations, where I could make more money and use it to enjoy life before I die. Absent a real resurrection, Christianity loses all its meaning.

If Christ were not resurrected, then he was just another person spouting high-minded words, preaching ideas that got him killed.

If Christ were not resurrected, we have no hope of resurrection, and we should call him crazy. Remember, in the Bible Jesus repeatedly says he is the Son of God and that he has to suffer, die and rise from the dead. If he merely suffered and died, it’s hard to take anything else he said seriously. People who erroneously claim to be God are delusional.

If Christ were not resurrected, then we would be better off spending our energy wielding as much power as possible, taking what we can from this world before the world swallows us. Jesus’ teachings about loving our enemies, caring for the poor, and suffering for the benefit of others simply don’t make sense in a world where God has not demonstrated that sacrificial love overcomes all, even death.

Fortunately Christ is risen—as we say on Easter Sunday, he is risen indeed!

Christ’s resurrection is God’s way of proving that selfless, sacrificial acts generate the greatest power in this world, the infinite kind of power needed to break the deadly grip of sin.

For Christians, the resurrection really is everything.

Lord, help us to preach and teach the concept of the resurrection fully and completely so others may understand the gift we have been granted. Amen.

Enduring Love

Psalm 118:1-2 (NLT)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.

Let all Israel repeat:
    “His faithful love endures forever.”

By Chuck Griffin

The opening to Psalm 118 asserts a truth that some people find difficult. Perhaps that’s why it is worth repeating.

In the midst of life’s problems, we can feel God has forsaken us. Those dark times can be deeply frustrating, at least until the moment when God does break through to remind us of his grace.

The Easter season is a good time to remember just how powerfully God has broken through and will continue to break through. For no clear reason, other than the fact God is eternally loving, our savior came among us in flesh to die for our sins, making eternal life for us possible.

While dying, Jesus Christ also felt that loneliness we sometimes feel: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His cry from the cross was a quote from Psalm 22, another place in Scripture we can go when we feel forgotten.

Yes, Jesus died, but always remember, the stone was rolled back. Morning light made its way into the tomb, and the resurrected Jesus stepped forth. The resurrection proves Christ defeated the darkness that sometimes seems to surround us, including what can seem like the deep darkness of death.

Remember this, too: Until Christ is seen in full, we are to be voices in the darkness, offering hope to those who think they will never see light again.

Lord, in difficult times, give us unique signs of your presence to carry us through. Amen.

Those Ordinances

Mark 9:28-29

And when [Jesus] had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”


It’s Monday, and we continue our devotionals that point to spiritual practices we can develop throughout the week.

The previous two Mondays, we explored the first two General Rules for traditional Methodists, do no harm and do good. Today we’ll look at the third and last rule, “attend upon all the ordinances of God.”

A United Methodist bishop named Rueben P. Job, a former editor of The Upper Room publishing house, boiled this rule down to “stay in love with God.” That’s an excellent starting point for understanding what John Wesley was saying in his 18th-century way. The third rule is about what we do to maintain the relationship with the one who creates, redeems and sustains us.

By “ordinances,” Wesley meant those spiritual activities we do methodically so we position ourselves to meet God, receiving God’s constantly available grace.

Wesley specifically listed what he thought of as ordinances: the public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures; and fasting or abstinence.

Our challenge this week is simple. How many of these have we incorporated into our lives? Are there new practices we can add?

I used the Mark passage today in association with this third rule because our relationship with God gives us the power we need to participate in kingdom building. We contend with unseen powers that would do the world harm. We need to tap into what God offers us if we are to carry out the Christian mission.

Lord, as we go to those places where you say you will meet us, may we receive new understanding and new grace. Amen.

We See You!

Mark 3:7-12 (NLT)

Jesus went out to the lake with his disciples, and a large crowd followed him. They came from all over Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him.

Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him. He had healed many people that day, so all the sick people eagerly pushed forward to touch him. And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him, the spirits would throw them to the ground in front of him shrieking, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus sternly commanded the spirits not to reveal who he was.


The religious phrase “Great Awakening” has been borrowed by some who badly abused it in secular settings the last couple of years. Today’s text reminds us of what it means for people to leap to their feet and respond to the clear presence of God.

Jesus’ ministry, of course, was the ultimate Great Awakening, as he first revealed an expanded understanding of God’s plan and then, in his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit, made an ongoing, living connection to God possible.

Any later Great Awakening simply was or will be a revival, a renewed understanding of what has come before. As in Jesus’ day, when such an event happens, people more easily recognize miracles past and present. They may travel great distances to hear what God has to say, even though these truths have long been available to them in God’s word.

I particularly like the idea that the spiritual world in contention with God trembles at the idea of such moments that lead to movements. Unseen evil beings trouble us all the time. Why should they not be troubled, too?

Hear the Good News: Jesus Christ is Lord! The evil in this world is in retreat and the brokenness of creation is being healed. It is a truth established for you and for me. It is simultaneously personal and global; it will change our lives forever.

Lord, may we see such an Awakening in our day, to the benefit of our families, friends, neighbors, enemies, and of course, ourselves.

The Chosen Ones

Mark 3:13-19 (NLT)

Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, giving them authority to cast out demons. These are the twelve he chose:

Simon (whom he named Peter),
 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”),
 Andrew,
 Philip,
 Bartholomew,
 Matthew,
 Thomas,
 James (son of Alphaeus),
 Thaddaeus,
 Simon (the zealot),
 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

What an odd mix.

Among them are fishermen, a tax collecting bureaucrat, a rebel who under different circumstances might try to kill the tax collector, some loud, pushy brothers, and a petty thief who would eventually prove to be a traitor. Their de facto leader, functioning like a senior student, is one of the fishermen, good old foot-in-mouth Peter.

Other than being Jews, the common denominator in the group was that they would all abandon Jesus after his arrest. I once knew a seminary professor who referred to them as the “duh-sciples.”

Out of the larger crowd of people following Jesus, these were the 12 deemed worthy to be part of the inner circle, the ones charged with spreading the Good News about Jesus, proclaiming to the world that salvation is available.

In them, I see what has been evident far too often in me: inattentiveness, dull wit, self-centeredness, impatience, insecurity, striving, and yes, the failure to perceive what is godly and right in front of me. And when I consider these flawed men, I take great comfort.

As we assess these men charged with the role of apostleship—the spread of the Good News and the growth of the church—here’s what’s incredible: They got the job done! The fact that there are more than 2 billion people calling themselves Christians nearly 2,000 years later is the proof.

Well, let me rephrase that a little. God got the job done through them, and through many who followed them. The key, it seems, is that the apostles who remained after Jesus’ resurrection were willing to let the Holy Spirit fill them and guide their work. Grace began to pour forth from these badly cracked earthenware vessels, and it just kept on pouring.

Never doubt for a moment that God can work through any of us.

Lord, thank you for the blessing of broken people who give themselves over to you. 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.