Justice Is a Holy Word

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View United Methodist Church, “Justice in the Gate,” will explore Amos 5:6-15. If you cannot be with us in the sanctuary Sunday, you are welcome to join us online at 11 a.m., or view a recording later.

Today’s focus text: Matthew 5:38-42 (NRSV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”


By Chuck Griffin

“Justice” fits into all sorts of slogans: Justice is blind. Justice will prevail. No justice, no peace.

Here’s what I and a lot of other Bible-focused people might add. Justice is about relationships; perfect justice requires holy relationships. From a Christian perspective, God’s justice is constantly trying to expand its influence in our sin-wracked societies as we better learn to relate to one another as children of God.

Thousands of years ago, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a radical expansion of justice. Before that concept developed, only the rich and powerful had anything resembling justice. The weak and poor just lost a lot of teeth and eyes. What sounds like Old Testament vitriol to us now was in fact an attempt to guarantee everyone would be treated the same.

Sure, there often was a gap between intent and implementation, and we still see unequal applications of justice today. Dear Lord in heaven, did I even need to say that after these last few years? We harden our hearts against one another because of race or economic status, and we fail to offer a holy relationship to someone we think of as “other.”

And by the way, no, I did not just offer a wholesale restatement of the progressive left’s justice message. We are all guilty as we peer at each other from our various vantage points in the public square. When it comes to ensuring justice for all, most of us remain in the stage where we shout across the pavement, “You go first.”

Jesus’ difficult-to-accept description of kingdom justice is largely about deciding to go first, and it is hard to embrace because he asserts that change can happen when a victim begins the process. The great hope is that when people turn the other cheek, give the litigious more than they sought, and freely help beggars and borrowers, they trigger life-changing responses from these recipients of unexpected grace.

I know, I know. It’s so hard to follow Jesus’ teachings consistently. These recipients of grace often take advantage of the giver. They don’t seem to change, and we find ourselves constantly compromising when it comes to reaching out to really difficult people.

Let’s remember that it took centuries for most of humanity to be able to agree that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” sounds primitive—that there might be a better way. It may be a little longer before Christ’s vision of justice fully prevails. I suspect Christ will have to return to make his work complete.

That doesn’t mean we stop striving for justice now, though, establishing new, holy relationships wherever we can.

Lord, where we see injustice, give us the words and actions you would use if standing in our place, and then fill us with your courage. Amen.

A Need to Relate

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View United Methodist Church will explore Genesis 2:18-24. If you cannot be with us in the sanctuary Sunday, you are welcome to join us online at 11 a.m., or view a recording later.

Today’s focus text: Matthew 22:36-40 (NRSV)

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


By Chuck Griffin

Sunday, I will explore the specific plan God has for relationships between men and women, a plan rooted in what we now think of as Christian marriages. And beyond marriage, we are made to relate to one another in all sorts of holy ways.

That shouldn’t surprise us. God made us in his image, and even before God began to create our cosmos, he was mysteriously able to relate to himself, never alone. While God is one, we also understand God to be triune, capable of relating within as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

You know how the song goes: “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” 

Such a state of being would likely render humans insane, but for the holy, perfect God, this internal dynamic is perfectly normal and manageable. God didn’t create because he needed friends; as best we can tell, he created simply because he is creative.

For humans to experience “other,” we need other people. Even if marriage isn’t right or timely for us, we still are made for community, for the love of neighbor.

For many of us, the most painful part of the pandemic has been a reduction in communal interaction. We may not be truly alone, but we may have a sinking feeling we are being pushed in that direction.

I say all of this today to encourage something simple. Be sure you are experiencing all the holy relationships you need right now, even if they have to be maintained through technology rather than in person. And certainly, be sure your neighbors haven’t become isolated, remembering Jesus’ expansive definition of “neighbor.”

It is God’s plan that we be together.

Lord, keep us from loneliness, and give us clear visions of those who may feel isolated. Amen.

The Wise and Foolish Builders, Pt. 2

Luke 6:46-49 (HCSB)

46 “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

In last Tuesday’s devotional, we learned that the difference between the wise and foolish builders is not what they know, but how they act based on what they know. The wise builder builds on a solid foundation, which represents the teaching of Jesus. The foolish builder serves as a metaphor for ignoring the teaching of Jesus, building his house on sand.

In our focus text for today, we find a slight variation on this teaching of Jesus, although he once again underscores the importance of people coming to him, listening to his teaching and then following through on the instruction they receive.

I have a hard time believing someone would build a house without a foundation, but we do have many people around us who have either chosen to build their lives with no foundation or at best a sandy foundation. Some people have built their lives on their personal careers, their wealth, their position in society, their kids or their fame.  Such lives are in constant danger of collapsing.   

As John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was prone to remind us, not all who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ are doing the will of God.

We can deceive others about our faith journey, but we cannot deceive Jesus.  Christ makes it clear that just as a tree is known by its fruit, people will be known by their actions. (Matthew 7:15-23.) Christ warns us that he will shock people when he tells them he never knew them.  People who talk about heaven or appear pious don’t necessarily belong to the Kingdom of God.  Other humans see what we display outwardly, but God sees every heart, and nothing is hidden from God’s all-seeing eyes. 

While there may not be immediate noticeable differences in our lives when we follow Christ, if we are truly building on the right foundation, the genuineness of our faith will be revealed with time.  

Help us heavenly Father to build on Jesus Christ the Solid Rock. Holy Spirit, teach us to build on Jesus the foundation of our faith with the right materials that will withstand the test of time and the challenges that will come along our journey. May we be fruitful and faithful to the end so that when our time here on earth comes to an end, we can hear you say to us, well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master. We pray with confident assurance in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

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. 

In Meekness, Strength

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Samson!” It will be based on stories found in Judges 13-16. 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: Matthew 5:5 (NRSV)

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”


By Chuck Griffin

When we hear the story of Samson, it’s unlikely the word “meek” immediately springs into our minds.

Samson was all bluster and fury, set aside to do God’s work in driving back the Philistines. He also was a lover of war and women. He was monstrously, supernaturally strong and at times showed hints of cleverness. He had seven long, flowing locks of hair that I’m sure caused many young women to love him back. He was gifted the way a Hollywood action hero seems to be gifted.

His story begins in a manner similar to others in both the Old and New testaments. A need arose in history, and God filled that need by providing a child through a previously barren couple. In Samson’s case, at God’s instruction he was set aside from birth as a nazirite for life, a person dedicated to do the Lord’s work. (Typical nazirite vows were temporary.)

We need to be very clear about one aspect of Samson’s story. Nothing about his life prevented him from being meek. It’s an unfortunate circumstance of the English language that “meek” rhymes with “weak,” and we can be guilty of imposing the meaning of the latter onto the former.

Some translators of Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes, the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, use the word “humble” rather than “meek.” That’s helpful. I’m sure many of us can think of an example of the dynamic but humble man or woman, a presence that could merely loom over us but instead brings comfort.

Sadly for Samson, he found humility the hard and painful way. He had to lose his eyes to gain perspective. We can have similar devastating experiences when we forget that God gave us whatever gifts we have, and that those gifts exist to serve God. We are not to toy with them or misuse them.

As Christians, we are to be a humble people, regardless of our strengths. We are blessed to know that Jesus Christ came and died for our sins. That truth alone should astonish us into meekness, as we consider how the strongest of all humbly sacrificed himself for us.

Lord, help us to count our blessings and spiritual gifts, and then having made an accounting, let us be mindful that any successes we have should be for the benefit of your kingdom. Amen.

The Game of Life

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Seeking Signs,” based on Judges 6:36-40. 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: Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NLT)I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

By Chuck Griffin

I play backgammon, mostly online with other people. The game can be maddening―your moves are limited by rolls of the dice, and dice are fickle.

It is quite possible to lose at backgammon while making no obvious mistakes. Chance simply smacks you down. Of course, on the other side of the board, your opponent benefits from the randomness, having made some mistakes but rolling three doubles in a row, or some other combination that looks like wizardry.

Skill does remain important. Players who understand the principles of risk management and employ them early in the game win more than they lose. Mostly, they keep themselves positioned to take advantage of good rolls while minimizing the impact of bad rolls.

If your only exposure to backgammon is a James Bond movie, I should add that I don’t play for money. I wouldn’t want a district superintendent to get the wrong idea! I also have never worn a white dinner jacket during a game. Actually, I’ve never worn a white dinner jacket.

I do utter the occasional Homer Simpson “Doh!” or Charlie Brown “Aaaaargh!” after an unlucky roll, but I love the game because of the way it mimics life. I think the author of Ecclesiastes would soberly appreciate backgammon—the fastest, the strongest and the wisest don’t always end up winning.

My mind sometimes drifts to theology as I play backgammon. (A drifting mind will quickly put you on the bar, by the way.) At times, I’ve wondered whether it’s possible that original sin corrupted the holy math underlying creation.

The devil certainly seems to be in the dice some days, a miniature expression of the way evil impedes our progress through illness, accidents and other unwanted events.

If that’s true, then we can think of salvation this way: God loaded the dice to work to our advantage. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross rigged the game of life completely in our favor, even though we do not deserve to win.

Perhaps you don’t like my comparing salvation to a heinous act like cheating, but in his own way, Jesus went just as far, describing himself as a burglar plundering the house of a strong man, Satan.

There’s nothing wrong with cheating sin and death out of victory, our prize being eternal life.

Lord, help us to see the tremendous advantage you offer us through our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As we better understand the eternal life we are given, help us to offer your saving grace to others. Amen.

Marked for Life

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: Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV): “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


By Chuck Griffin

In the story I plan to preach this Sunday, God sentences Cain to the life of a homeless wanderer for killing his brother, Abel.

“Anyone who finds me will kill me!” Cain declares. By some mysterious method, God marks Cain in response to this expression of fear.

In the English language, saying a person has “the mark of Cain” is pejorative, and the story has been used foolishly to justify all sorts of ill treatment of people, including race-based slavery. Cain’s mark was really a blessing, shielding him from violence by others.

Whatever it was that made Cain stand out to those who would do him harm, the mark amounted to undeserved protection from God. We certainly should classify the mark as God’s mercy, and in a way, perhaps it even represents grace, an act of love offered by God to one who has grievously sinned.

We are all sinners, meaning we all deserve death. We all should hope to be similarly marked so we can be protected from what we deserve.

And in fact, it is easy to receive a protective mark, one far better than Cain could have imagined. When we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God marks us as his. We can think of baptism and confirmation as opportunities to formally accept the mark, which reads “Child of God.”

It also is easier than we might initially think to show our mark to others. As the Holy Spirit works within us, our lives should become signs of the presence of God’s kingdom.

Any time you show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control to others, your mark is showing.

Lord, make us wholly yours, and may your Holy Spirit continue to seal us and keep us from the works of the evil one. Amen.

Blameless Before God

Genesis 17:1-2 (NLT)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai— ‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Like any human, Abraham was imperfect, but 24 years after God called him out of his father’s land to the land of Canaan, he was challenged to walk blameless before God.  The Hebrew word tamin, translated as blameless, connotes an upright life, a life of integrity that is flawless and perfect before God.

Noah was described as “a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth” (Genesis 6:9). Noah, like Abraham after him, was far from perfect, but the Bible describes him as someone who walked in close fellowship with God. It was this same life of close fellowship that God called Abraham to. Hundreds of years later, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount told his listeners, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).  This requirement to walk blameless before God has not changed. 

Abraham (then Abram) had character flaws and often displayed a lack of candor when it suited him. He asked his wife to lie so he would not be killed by the Egyptians (Genesis 12:11-13). Abram went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan, but there is no biblical evidence that he consulted God on this move.

After God had promised him a son of his own (Genesis 15:4), Abram and his wife took it upon themselves to follow cultural norms by having Abram sleep with Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian servant, to have a child. Hagar became pregnant and later gave birth to Ishmael, precipitating a crisis in Abram’s household. The after-effects of this poor choice on the part of Abram continues to this day. Like Abram, some contemporary believers do not see anything wrong in telling lies to gain an advantage or sometimes adopting the ways of the world to achieve their goals. 

When we adopt shortcuts like Abraham and Sarah did to meet a deep desire, we are demonstrating a lack of faith in God’s ability to keep his promises. Just as God challenged Abraham to a new way of life in our focus text, God challenges us to abandon the ways of the world.

Paul writes, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). God’s will for us is the same as it was for Abraham. We are to live a life that is blameless and free of sin. 

The only way to walk before God and be blameless is to study his written word and ask for grace to keep to his precepts. God told Joshua, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

Committed to living a blameless life before the Lord, the Psalmist declares, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11).  When Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, he overcame because he was grounded in the word of the Father.  We must note, however, that the devil also quoted from Scripture, taking the words out of context (Matthew 4:1-11). Like Jesus, we must declare and live the truth of Scripture if we are to walk blameless before God. 

I love the way the hymn writer John Sammis challenges us: “When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” 

I have taken it for granted that anyone reading this post desires to walk blameless before the Lord. As we purposely choose to honor God in our lives, we can count on our Lord to deliver on his many promises to us in Scripture.   To be clear, God’s call for us to walk blameless before him has nothing to do with our age.

If Abram was challenged to reconsider his ways at 99 years, God wants anyone reading this to do what is right. Our age does not matter. What matters is living a blameless life before God in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Loving God, you want us to live in close fellowship with you by rejecting what the world often calls acceptable. Grant us power through your ever-present Holy Spirit to walk blameless before you in all our ways. We believe we can do this through Jesus Christ, who alone gives us strength. We pray on the authority of Christ’s name. Amen.

A Vessel of Grace

This Sunday’s sermon will be a reflection on deep brokenness and the power of God’s grace, based on both 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and John 6:1-14. If you want to watch the sermon but cannot attend Holston View United Methodist Church, it will be available online.

Today’s text: Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV)


By Chuck Griffin

Today’s Bible passage is one of those accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes. These feedings communicate a very important message about God: His grace is abundant beyond human comprehension.

Sometimes that grace is so abundant that it pours through others in surprising ways. Let me tell you about an old friend of mine named Bob Loy, a fellow I really look forward to seeing again one day.

Bob had every reason to feel crushed by the world. He had lived for decades with about 30 percent lung capacity after an accident that nearly killed him. By the time I knew him, he was elderly. His wife became very ill; while staying with her at the hospital, Bob slipped and fell, breaking his leg near the hip.

While Bob was laid up, his wife died. He couldn’t go to the funeral. His sister also died about the same time. Again, he couldn’t go to the funeral. This was a man who had every reason to surrender to despair.

But not Bob. Through a haze of pain, he kept studying the people in what had become a very tiny world for him, a hospital room. He was certain every day somebody near him needed God’s grace, and he was going to be God’s vessel for that grace. I know for a fact that he brought at least one nurse to a belief in Jesus Christ while flat on his back in that hospital bed.

He also showed me a lot of grace. I was a new pastor, and he constantly was encouraging me, even as pneumonia took over those weak lungs and he had to keep pulling at his oxygen mask to speak.

There was a secret that explained his attitude, a secret he had shared with me not long after we became friends. When he was injured in that accident decades earlier, he saw a vision of an entryway to heaven.

His had been the classic case of dying on the table and being brought back. He said his experience was indescribably beautiful, a vision of a stream, a vast plain, and the most glorious mountain he had ever seen. He knew that God was there, and if he crossed the stream, he could not go back. He also knew he had a choice. A young man at the time, he chose to return to his family, he told me.

But he did not forget the vision. He had seen what eternal victory in Christ looks like, if only briefly, and from then on that vision shaped his life, even as he had intermittent struggles.

Again, I knew Bob only late in his life; when it came time to preside at his funeral, I heard story after story of the lives he changed through the decades as he shared his joyous version of Christ’s redeeming power.

I don’t think we are required to have a near-death experience to understand what Bob understood. We have embraced the truth of a Savior who shows us repeatedly that when it comes to the things that matter—love, hope, joy—there is eternal abundance. We simply need to learn to dwell in that abundance, and offer it to everyone around us.

Lord, fill us with your love so we may pour it out on a hurting world. We declare today that we have no fear of running out of the grace you offer us. Amen.