From There

Philippians 3:17-20

By John Grimm

“I am not good enough to be in heaven.” 

Did that sound humble?  For that is the truth.  Admitting that I need a savior to come from heaven is a humbling statement.  It is to admit that I have been an enemy of Jesus, an enemy of God! When we turn from our belly (which has become our god), and escape our shame (which we used to brag about), we also turn to heaven (before, our minds were focused on what is below our feet). 

Turning to heaven is to turn where Jesus Christ is located now.  We humble ourselves because we were not focused on his glory.  Now that we have turned to heaven, we see that Jesus transforms us!  As we continue to look to Jesus, he works so that we match up to his glorious body.  Jesus does this work in us.

Jesus came the first time to die for our sins.  Jesus will come the second time on this planet so that we may be fitted to live with him for all time.  Between Jesus’ first and second arrivals on Earth, we decide.  We choose either to humble ourselves or to not humble ourselves.  The apostle Paul and numerous other Christians have given us examples to live.  What will be our decision?

Father Almighty, we are getting to the point in which we know we need a savior.  We are sinners.  As we find healthy Christians in our midst, may we see how to stop living as enemies of the cross.  Prepare us for Jesus’ second arrival on earth.  Allow Jesus to use his power so we may match up with his glorious body when he returns.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Alien Lives

By Chuck Griffin

Remember the Coneheads skits on Saturday Night Live? Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman played aliens from the planet Remulak living among us.

The funny thing about the skits was not how different the aliens appeared—great comedians don’t rely on a costume to win a laugh.

I laughed the hardest when Beldar, Prymaat and their daughter, Connie, managed to blend in with humans despite their enormous, pointy heads and mechanical speech. Usually, the explanation “We’re from Remulak, a small town in France,” was enough to carry them through an awkward moment with the neighbors.

Good comedy often rides on currents of social criticism. The Coneheads skits were funnier because we’re all conscious of how the world wants us to blend in, making  it easy for us to conform. The Bible reminds Christians, however, that we are called to live as aliens in a strange world, knowing our citizenship lies elsewhere.

In Philippians 3:17-4:1, we hear Paul tell the fledgling church at Philippi that people of the world set their minds on “earthly things,” failing to understand the bigger picture of what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ.

“Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame,” Paul wrote. (We don’t have a lot of details about what was going on in Philippi, although elsewhere in his letter Paul does refer to the church as being in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation.”)

Not understanding the church, the nonbelievers even persecuted the Christians, becoming what Paul called “enemies of the cross.”

Clearly, the Philippian Christians were wavering, wanting to blend in by participating in the short-sighted living going on around them. To stiffen their resolve, Paul reminded them of their eternal citizenship in heaven and the promise that their current unglamorous position will be transformed into something glorious.

And yes, as they so often are, Paul’s words are very applicable today. Even where there is no persecution, secular society seems happiest with Christians who choose to be quiet and conform.

As long as we don’t interfere with the “consume mass quantities,” be-happy-in-the-moment forces that shape our lives, we usually are left alone, at least in the United States. We’re even allowed to make a lot of public noise about Easter, as long as we dress the story in bunnies and bonnets.

We cannot settle for blending in, however. The message of salvation through Jesus Christ is too powerful, and the eternal joy brought by the promise of resurrection is too great, even if it does make the non-Christian world uncomfortable.

We are aliens in a strange land, citizens under a coming savior king who will one day rule in both heaven and here on a restored Earth. And the news is too good to keep to ourselves.

During this season of preparation for Easter, don’t conform. Find new ways to stand out as you tell people where their true citizenship lies, in the kingdom of God.

Lord, help us to benefit your kingdom by being in the world, but not of it. Amen.

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.

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.

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.

Ongoing Concern

By Chuck Griffin

Philippians 2:12-18 (NRSV)

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you—and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.


Few pastors in our Western culture have been chained in prison like Paul, but I suspect most of us who have left a beloved church understand the poignancy of his message to the Christians at Philippi.

Even as we move on to new ministry settings, we want so much for those we led before. We pray their spiritual lives were on an upward trajectory as we left, and we pray they have continued in such a direction.

Paul was still able to advise the Philippians, if only in a letter dictated from his cell. In this part of the letter, Paul encouraged them to maintain that constant tension all Christians need to feel. Yes, it is God who does the work of salvation, and it is God who is at work in us to bring us toward holiness. But simultaneously, we also have work to do, reaching out toward God and each other to accept the grace so freely poured out through Jesus Christ.

As John Wesley wrote, “First, God works; therefore you can work. Secondly, God works; therefore you must work.”

Because of the value of the gift, eternal life, we are to take our very mild share of the responsibility quite seriously, enough so that we trigger both an emotional and a physical response.

Much of our work is rooted in the avoidance of evil and the pursuit of good. Paul described the dangerous people in the world as “crooked and perverse,” at this point feeling no need to define the specifics of crookedness and perversity.

With the Holy Spirit working through the gracious revelation of Scripture and within us, it should not be difficult for a committed Christian to spot what is crooked and what is perverse. That remains true today, even as the world tries to make up new definitions to suit itching ears.

Heavenly Father, as we move into the weekend and toward Palm Sunday, help us to work on our salvation to the point where we do experience fear and trembling. We know your Holy Spirit will comfort us quickly enough, giving us loving assurance we are your children. Amen.

In Christ

By John Grimm

Philippians 2:1-4 (NRSV)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.


I like to have my own personal time of devotion with God.  I need that time to confess sin, hear his forgiveness, and bask in the wonder of God.  My life, however, cannot be only about my own personal time of devotion with God.  For the same Holy Spirit of Christ that resides in me also resides in each disciple of Jesus Christ.

With Christ being in me and my being in Christ, it is reasonable to be in full accord and of one mind with other disciples of Jesus Christ.  This fact assists us in going beyond our own personal agenda, or as Paul writes, we are encouraged to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.

Loving others in the body of Christ therefore is not optional nor a strict mandate.  Loving others by looking to the interest of others happens because in Christ we do have consolation from love, we share the Spirit, and we do have compassion and sympathy.  It is in Christ that we do not struggle against other disciples.  It is in Christ that we can will and work for God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  Thereby, with the Holy Spirit of Christ in us, we live in humility.

Having our own personal time of devotion with God is necessary for our personal faith in Christ.  However, it is when we are with other disciples that our faith and love for Christ is lived.  How good it will be for all disciples to regard other disciples as better than ourselves!

God, thank you that all disciples of Jesus Christ share your Holy Spirit.  As we spend time with you as individuals and as the body of Christ, we look forward to having love, compassion, and sympathy for one another.  Forgive us where we have fallen short of realizing our life together is in Christ.  May we have the mind that Christ has.  In the name of Jesus, we seek to live.  Amen.

Start Right

Psalm 86:8-13 (NRSV)
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and bow down before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

When life seems complicated, it is good to lift up a simple prayer. If the news is any indicator, this week could prove to be complicated, so let’s prayerfully turn our eyes toward our wisest guide, as revealed in Psalm 86.

There is none like God. How can anything created be like the one who creates? At best, we can hope to be a reflection of God, an image pointing toward what is holy.

And what is holy will be revealed in full. Despite the turmoil, the striving, and the evil within the nations of the world, all people will one day conform to God’s will. It simply is part of God’s plan.

The greatest and most wondrous thing God has done is to give sinful beings a path home to their creator. We now understand that this reconciliation occurs through Jesus Christ, God Among Us.

In a great, mysterious act of love, Jesus died on the cross, bearing the burden of our sins so we do not have to do so. Simply through our belief in this act, we are restored, made worthy of eternal life in God’s presence.

Teach us, O Lord; help us to put aside what is not of you and live every moment of our lives for you. As we better recognize the incredible gifts you have given us, may we be a people filled with thankfulness, and may you be glorified in all we do.

Lord, carry us through this week and beyond; hear our prayer. Amen.

Giving and Receiving

Proverbs 3:9-10

Honor the Lord with your substance
    and with the first fruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

As we launch into the first work week of 2021, let’s think about what we plan to dedicate to the Lord this year, supporting the work of the church.

It’s good to start a new year deliberately praying about how we will participate through our tithes and offerings in the kingdom work that will happen. If we seek guidance from God, we will find clear answers, and from there we can make commitments satisfying to our souls.

In the Old Testament, a “tithe” usually is a reference to 10 percent of what a herd or field produces. That concept, of course, can apply to monetary income, too.

Mainly, I want us to understand the value of thinking in percentages—a percentage commitment can be made before we know for sure what we will receive. Wherever I have led as a pastor, I have encouraged people to write down a percentage commitment early in the year and post it where they will see it regularly, for example, on a bathroom or dresser mirror.

Once you’ve faithfully and bravely done all that, the rest is just a matter of following through.

I have to be careful with what I next say. The above proverb also promises abundance to those who make and keep such commitments. I don’t want to sound like a prosperity gospel televangelist, saying $10 will return to you for every dollar you contribute.

But simultaneously, I will always affirm that a life lived with God, a life where we conform our resources to God’s unselfish plan, is better than a life where we simply look out for ourselves. After all, we live as reflections of the God who rained manna where needed, who turned a few loaves and fishes into great abundance, and who gives us eternal life through the cross.

As we are blessed through our close walk with God, we may even find ourselves making offerings above our basic commitments, if for no other reason than to show gratitude.

Lord, guide us in regard to how we are to use our resources in 2021. We trust we will receive our daily bread; knowing that, we seek to better understand the purpose of any abundance we see. Amen.

Joy

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

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

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

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

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

Why? Think what we have been given:

Eternal life!

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

The experience of God in this life, now.

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

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