Your God My God

Book of Ruth

By Chuck Griffin

There is no doubt that in churches all across America, we’re experiencing divisions that break along generational lines.

I don’t find satisfying the current approaches many churches are using. In some cases, they establish two cultures under one roof, leading to competition for prime worship times and resources. Other churches simply cater to a particular generation. They sometimes look successful doing so, but I wonder how they will fare as time passes. What do you do when you are 50 years old in a church aiming for an average age of 35? How does a church clinging to the old ways ultimately survive?

I do think I’ve glimpsed the beginning of an answer in the Book of Ruth, an Old Testament text taking us back to the early days of the Israelites, a time when the people were ruled by God-inspired judges rather than kings.

I’ll try to summarize a complicated story quickly; I hope you’ll take time to read it in full. To understand the Book of Ruth, it helps to grasp Old Testament concepts like the role of a kinsman redeemer, and how property rights were developed to protect family interests.

The story is primarily about a Jewish widow, Naomi, and her non-Jewish daughter-in-law, Ruth. Ruth and another non-Jewish daughter-in-law, Orpah, are widowed when Naomi’s sons die. Naomi had moved with her husband to Moab during a famine, but once all the men in her family are gone, she decides it is best to return home to Bethlehem. She tells her widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their Moabite families and find new husbands.

It is good advice; Naomi has nothing to offer the young women, and all three are in danger of dying in poverty or even by violence without male protectors. Orpah takes Naomi’s advice and departs. Ruth loves Naomi dearly, however, and cannot leave her.

“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth says. She even makes a poignant promise to die where Naomi dies, a statement rooted in the poor odds they face together. A sad, bitter Naomi accepts Ruth’s company from then on.

Once in Israelite territory, however, the situation improves dramatically for the two. Rather than rejecting Ruth as a foreigner, the people of Bethlehem are deeply impressed by this young Moabite woman’s devotion. A relative of Naomi’s husband also takes notice of Ruth. He first ensures Ruth and Naomi have plenty to eat, and ultimately he arranges through some complicated legal wrangling at the city gate for Ruth to be his bride. In the process, Naomi’s family name and property are preserved.

The story ends like a fairy tale; all involved find their happiness restored. Generations later, this non-Jewish woman who faithfully followed her mother-in-law despite their desperate circumstances is remembered by the Jews as the great-grandmother of King David. And according to Matthew 1, she also is in the lineage of Jesus Christ, making her a symbol of how God has used broken circumstances to redeem the world.

It all worked because two women from two generations loved each other to the point that each was willing to sacrifice for the good of the other. Ruth gave up all she had known to follow Naomi, with little hope in sight. Naomi risked being rejected by the people in her home village, her last safe retreat, when she brought home a Moabite woman.

Sacrificial, intergenerational love is an important concept if we are to strengthen our churches. When we as Christians focus on our own desires, we are being ruthless. When we are Ruth-like, and Naomi-like, each generation looks to the other’s interests, clinging to each other, refusing to depart each other, going so far as to say I will die where you die before I will allow us to be separated.

Who wins? In the Book of Ruth, everyone does, even as they fall over themselves to take care of one another.

This story of intergenerational sacrifice is part of the loving crucible in which Jesus Christ was formed. In our churches, similar sacrifice could spark a resurgence in the Holy Spirit’s willingness to work among us.

Lord, we are faithful to you first. May our love and obedience toward you be our common intergenerational bond, and may we walk together in your light from cradle to grave, accommodating each other’s holy needs along the way. Amen.

Let Justice Roll Down

Amos 5

By Chuck Griffin

The wisdom in Amos, much of which is about justice, has helped me to better understand tithing and other offerings, including our offerings of time.

Amos is famous for one verse in particular. The prophet says in chapter 5 that God no longer wants what the Jews would have considered “traditional worship,” music and animal sacrifices. Instead, he says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

In other words, the mark of a people truly in love with God is that justice is done in mighty and wonderful ways in their community. From that, we are left to ask, “What is justice?”

Scripture gives us a rich, clear answer. In fact, the answer is at the very core of Jesus’ message in the New Testament.

Just as Amos talks about a coming time of judgment, Jesus talks about judgment, too, and he tells us in Matthew 25 that our fate at the judgment will depend on whether we’ve brought justice into the world.

For Jesus, justice is a straightforward thing. It happens when those who have resources help those who aren’t so fortunate. The hungry need food, the thirsty need drink, strangers need welcoming, the poor need clothing, the sick need care, and the prisoners need visiting.

Help them, he says, and it is as if you did it for Jesus.

That brings me to tithes and offerings. Too often, we’re so caught up in operating budgets and building needs that we forget the primary reason we exist as a church. We are to inject God’s justice into a broken world.

Buildings are important and lights are important, but they’re just the basics, functioning as tools the church can use. Here’s a tough question every church needs to face: Have we failed to bring justice to those who need it simply because we lack resources?

To do a noteworthy job in bringing real justice to the world, it takes more money and time than most American Christians seem willing to give. Yes, the coming of Christ did away with legalism in giving. But frankly, the coming of Christ—the coming of “Kingdom of God” justice—calls us to do even more than our tithing Jewish forebears were ever required to do.

The next time the offering plate goes by, or a call for ministry volunteers goes out, remember that you’re being given the opportunity to participate in the greatest event in history, the remaking of the world by God.

Lord, reveal to us the best way to spend our time and money on behalf of your kingdom and in thanks for eternal life. Amen.

Epiphany 2022

Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

By Chuck Griffin

Gerard David, Adoration of the Kings, National Gallery, London, circa 1515

I hope I’m not overplaying the Epiphany by spending two days on the subject. To me, it seems appropriate. Throughout much of Christian history, the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany was a much bigger deal than celebrating Christmas.

From that alone, we should assume the story associated with it, the story of the Wise Men, is important.  So what does the story tell us about God?

We receive little detail about these men chasing a “star” in search of a newborn king, a star no one else seems to have noticed. Tradition has led us to think of three wise men, but the Bible doesn’t give us an exact number.

Today, let’s simply consider some odd facts. As mentioned yesterday, an event in a tiny village was communicated via the stars and planets. We also should note that these wise men likely would not have understood God the way a Jew did, and yet God drew them into the story of his ultimate intervention in history.

It seems the big lesson God gives us in this story is how surprising he can be as he tries to shower us in grace and save us from sin. He not only will meet us where we are, he will work through our current practices to change us. (Methodists call this “prevenient grace,” the love God tries to show us even before we acknowledge who God is.)

When I think of the wise men seeing Christ’s birth registered in the sky, I also think of all the stories I’ve heard of nonbelievers discovering God in unlikely places: in bars, in prison, in dive hotels—any of those locations or moments where we might wrongly think God is not present.

The story peaks in a happy way. God led the wise men on from their visit with Herod, and there was the baby, just as promised. They gave Jesus gifts. What a joy that must have been, to give the Christ child a gift! And even better, they were able to kneel before him.

Was it worship? Translators debate how to deal with the word describing their act. We kneel in worship, but the wise men also would have been likely to kneel before a king.

We can say for certain that the moment marked a dawning awareness. These wise men would have understood God was working in the world in powerful ways, and that they had been drawn into the plan. They even would continue to hear from God in dreams, protecting the child and themselves in the process.

These wise men, these magi, were a foreshadowing of the purpose behind Jesus’ work on the cross decades later, and the church’s Holy Spirit-inspired work today. God truly calls to all people, regardless of their location or circumstances. After all, “For God so loved the world … .”

Lord, in 2022, may we with great joy worship the Christ. Thank you for the revelations about Jesus that we receive through Scripture and experience in our hearts. May we give him our gift of faithfulness, made possible by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Right Under Their Noses

Matthew 2:1-12

By Chuck Griffin

Today and tomorrow, we will consider the Epiphany, which marks the end of the Christmas season. The church traditionally associates the arrival of the wise men with this moment, officially on Jan. 6 each year.

From a distance, the wise men saw so much. At the same time, Jewish King Herod and his best advisers were oblivious to the most important moment the people of Jerusalem could imagine, the coming of the Messiah just six miles away from Herod’s court.

How do you see so much from afar? How do you miss such a big event when it’s happening right under your nose?

The wise men, most likely astrologers who advised rulers living in the area of modern-day Iraq, responded to a sign in the sky by packing their camels and making a months-long journey to Jerusalem. For them, whatever was going on in Jerusalem was huge, and they needed to get there despite the hardships.

When the wise men arrived, however, no one in Jerusalem seemed to know what they were talking about. Herod had to ask the wise men when the sign in the sky had occurred, despite having consulted with his chief priests and scribes.

So much for the “Little Drummer Boy” television version of Christ’s birth, where a star shines so brightly that its tail points toward the manger like a neon sign at a roadside motel.

The best astronomical explanation for the wise men’s sign in the sky probably lies in a series of conjunctions involving Venus and Jupiter near the constellation Leo and its bright star, Regulus. Such conjunctions would have screamed “a king is born in Judah” to these astrologers while going unnoticed by others. It’s also possible the star was a supernatural event, unusual in that it was intended for the wise men and no one else.

Regardless of exactly what motivated the wise men, it seems God spoke to them in signs for a simple reason. They were seekers. They spent their lives anticipating great events, looking for signs in the skies. God grants guidance to those who actively seek his will.

I’m not suggesting everyone take up astrology to hear from God. In this case, I think God simply was speaking to these seekers in a language they understood.

They also were the kind of men who were not afraid to go out into the world. These weren’t ivory-tower academics. They knew how to get those camels across the desert; with God’s guidance, they knew how to deal with the evil, wily Herod, heading home “by another way” to keep the Christ child safe.

And perhaps most importantly, they were ready to respond to the truth that had been revealed to them. They accepted God’s revelation, and they acted accordingly, honoring the Savior of the world.

The wise men stand in stark contrast to the corrupt King Herod, a man who sought his own glory rather than that of the God he should have been serving as the leader of the Jews. In many worldly ways, Herod was a great king. Certainly, he was a great builder, expanding the Second Temple and building the fortress at Masada.

He also was mercilessly shrewd, murdering his own wife and two of his children when he began to consider them threats. That ruthlessness is seen again in what we call “the massacre of the innocents,” the slaughter of all children in Bethlehem under the age of 2 in an attempt to kill the Messiah. Blinded by his worldly concerns, Herod could not have seen God’s glory if the baby Jesus had been born at his feet.

It’s not hard to see which model we should follow. Like the wise men, Christians should be seekers of God’s truth, listening for God’s sometimes subtle answers.

As seekers who begin to hear, it also is important to respond bravely. Do we put our possessions and even our lives at risk? What is our equivalent of getting on a camel and riding into the desert?

I would like to know more of the wise men’s story. I feel certain they were changed forever by the experience. For some reason God chooses not to give us those details through Scripture, however.

At least we are allowed to make a similar journey. We can be wise men and women ourselves, pursuing and worshiping Jesus as the Christ.

Dear Lord, show us the way. Amen.

Confusing to Satan

Philippians 1:12-19 (NRSV)

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.

By Chuck Griffin

The words of Paul we find in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God,” were more than just an idea to the apostle. He saw them come true in his own tribulations.

Paul suffered mightily during his service to the Lord, and by the time he was writing to the church at Philippi, he was in prison. And yet, he was able to observe the effect his faithfulness continued to have on those around him, even those charged with keeping him imprisoned.

It’s a story repeated throughout the history of the church. Some who are against Christ attack those who stand for Christ, and the faith exhibited by those brave, Spirit-filled Christians makes strong disciples out of weak ones and believers out of skeptics. Somewhere in their minds, these witnesses to the suffering look at those under attack and think to themselves, “I want what they have.”

These moments surely send Satan into a frenzy. Just when he thinks he has those Christians where he wants them—just when they should be in despair—the Holy Spirit works through them, and he loses more of his minions to the dawning Kingdom of Heaven.

Even those who preach Christ with wrongheaded motives can end up doing good. The growing presence of the kingdom is inexorable. It will not be stopped, and it continues to creep into the world in the oddest ways.

Well, Jesus did tell us the kingdom would be like yeast, eventually permeating the whole loaf.

Lord and Savior, work your way more deeply into our lives so we may withstand any time of trial and draw others to you. Amen.

God in Art: Christ’s Lament

This Sunday at Holston View United Methodist Church, we will hear Mark 13:1-8, where Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. In this passage, Jesus is straightforward about what would happen.

There are other passages, however, where his pain regarding the future of Jerusalem is evident. In Matthew 23:37, he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” In Luke 19:41, we are told Jesus at one point wept over the city.

In 1892, the artist Enrique Simonet imagined this emotional moment.

Lord, like chicks who know their mother, may we in faith huddle beneath your wings. Amen.

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.