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.

Satisfied

Psalm 145:10-18 (NRSV)
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
    and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord is faithful in all his words,
    and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
    and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
    satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
    and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.

By John Grimm

When our dogs are ready to eat, they will let us know they need food.  Even if we arrive home after being gone for a while and the dogs have been in their kennels for many hours, they want their food.  Once we feed our dogs, then they will settle down.  Not only are the dogs satisfied by our presence, but their satisfaction is enhanced by having some food in their bellies!

We have felt that our effort to rescue dogs is how God satisfies the desires of these particular canines.  We also notice God provides food for squirrels, deer, and even birds from our bird feeders!  It is a joy to hear the birds sing praises to God when the Lord satisfies them.  The animals depend upon God and those the Lord has created to care for this world’s inhabitants.

Calling upon the Lord Jesus in truth has been helpful for me.  As people read this devotion and this psalm, perhaps we all can find it is good to call upon the Lord.  We all can be honest with God regarding our failures, our sins and our needs.  The Lord is faithful and gracious.  The Lord is near to all who call upon him.  If we need to be satisfied, maybe it is time for us to call on the Lord.

Jesus, thank you for satisfying the needs of every living thing.  Knowing how the Lord’s kingdom and dominion continues from the first of creation until now, we discover how good you are.  Thank you for using us in caring for creatures both great and small.  Thank you for satisfying us in this lifetime.  Amen.

The One Most Offended

This Sunday’s sermon will be a reflection on deep brokenness and the power of God’s grace, considering what we find in 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, the message will be available online.

Today’s text: Psalm 51:4

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.


By Chuck Griffin

Psalm 51 shows us the three R’s we should hope to experience after sinning: remorse, repentance and restoration. In its introductory header, we are told the psalm reflects what King David felt and cried out after he came to his senses and realized the terrible stench he had become in the nostrils of God.

The fourth verse is particularly enlightening to me. It reminds me that the effects of sin go far beyond human perception. For us, the problem of sin ultimately lies in what God experiences when his creation, made in love, turns against the maker.

When we think of sin, it’s not unusual to consider its effects in human terms, thinking of the people damaged by sin. Certainly, in the 2 Samuel stories tied to this psalm, we’re quick to consider how Uriah lost his wife and his life because of David’s lust and murderous efforts to conceal his shame. It’s also possible to argue that Bathsheba was a victim of power rape.

The losses they experienced certainly should be remembered. When Jesus summarized the law, he placed love of neighbor right up there with love of God for a reason—created as images of God, people matter.

Psalm 51:4 calls us to remember the source of holiness, however. God defines what is holy simply by existing, and as the only all-powerful, uncreated, eternal being, God has the right to immediately destroy that which he finds obnoxious.

How remarkable that we continue to exist! We should be astonished that remorse, repentance and restoration are available to us.

Yes, God truly is love—love is the only divine emotion that could hold the holy hand in abeyance.

Lord, we thank you for your patient love, expressed so clearly when Jesus Christ went to the cross to expunge our sins. Continue to grow us in grace so that sin comes to an end and we live fully in your eternal presence. Amen.

New Wine and Old Wineskins

We welcome the Rev. ‘Debo Onabanjo, an ordained elder in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, as a contributing author to Methodist Life’s “Life Talk” column.

Matthew 9:16-17 (NLT)

“Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Jesus said these words to the disciples of John the Baptist when they asked why Jesus’ disciples did not fast like they and the Pharisees did.  Even though there was little connecting the teachings of John the Baptist, who came to prepare the Jews for the arrival of the Messiah, and the teachings of the Pharisees, the two groups did share an emphasis on the spiritual discipline of fasting.

Jesus wanted them to understand that his disciples did not have to go through the rituals or spiritual practices like fasting simply to be acceptable to the religious elites.  To be clear, Jesus was not opposed to fasting.  He simply was saying the time had not yet come when his disciples would fast.

Jesus was not sent by God to patch up the old religious system but to institute a new approach to worshiping God in spirit and in truth. If we are not careful, it is easy for us to miss the profound revelation found here.

As United Methodists prepare for change, it is important not to approach the next Methodism in the same way and manner. This has nothing to do with theological differences. What comes next must be treated as new wine that can be accommodated and preserved only in new wineskins. 

For those who have been part of the church for so long, change is usually the most difficult thing to embrace.  Even though the disruption to church as we knew it by the Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt been devastating, there are those who are quite eager to go back to their “old normal.” These folks represent the old wineskins that Jesus talked about. If there is anything that church experts are telling us, it is that the church and indeed our world has been altered, and having the mindset of “business as usual” will not be helpful. 

To embody the new wine by becoming grace-filled disciples of Jesus, we first need to unlearn old habits. Then we can understand and fully assimilate the new teaching that will help us develop new, healthier habits and rhythms of discipleship.

Paul sums it up for us this way: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17.)  Are you ready to become new wine prepared for a new wineskin? Is your old life truly gone and is the new life you are living now being lived in Jesus and not dependent on your old experience and knowledge?  

It is a good thing to examine ourselves and tell ourselves the truth.  And as we know this truth that is embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are set free from old “stinking thinking” and released into the new life for which God designed us.  I believe we can join David in asking the Holy Spirit to create in us all a new heart as we become malleable clay in the hands of the potter

Lord, we want to be rid of our old wineskins of malice, prejudice and idolatry and put on the new wineskins of love, mercy, compassion and justice. We know that even in this challenging season, you are doing new things.  Open our spiritual eyes so that we may perceive where you are acting, both in our lives and that of others.  We humbly offer ourselves to you in the precious name of Jesus our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

Mercy and Contempt

Psalm 123 (NRSV)
A Song of Ascents.

To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
    look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
    to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    until he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
    for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill
    of the scorn of those who are at ease,
    of the contempt of the proud.

By John Grimm

I noticed something cool about my dogs.  When they are lying on the floor or on the ground, they will look up at me.  When they greet me when I arrive at home, the dogs will look up at me.  They look up to me because they know they can trust me.  Or they are looking for their next treat!

Yes, it is about trust when we are lifting up our eyes to the Lord our God.  It is God who can be trusted to give us mercy.  God will correct us, but he also has mercy for us.  Sometimes, we will have to continuously look to the Lord our God.  In the process, it will be a good idea to repent of known and unknown sins.  God hears the prayers of a repentant heart.

Now, those who have been contemptuous toward us and scorned us, what do we do about them?  As this psalm leaves out any retribution, we also leave out any retribution.  It has happened that as God has had mercy on people, those others who have had contempt and scorn towards God’s people actually turn to God.  God will take care of those who give contempt and scorn.  We need not concern ourselves with that.  We do continue to look for the one enthroned in the heavens so we may see him and receive mercy.

O Lord, more than our master or our mistress give us their attention, you give your attention to us.  When we seek you, we find you.  May we know your mercy as people give us contempt and scorn.  May even those who give us contempt and scorn receive your mercy, we ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

At the Funeral

Psalm 130
A Song of Ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

By John Grimm

When attending a United Methodist Church member’s funeral, we most likely have heard this psalm read during the “Entrance” of the Service of Death and Resurrection.  This service is found in the United Methodist Hymnal, 870, and the Book of Worship.  After acknowledging our grief, this psalm is read.  It is both a confession of sin and an expression of hope.

As we are all created equal by God, hearing this psalm read at numerous funerals is appropriate.  To humbly ask the Lord for something can be hard.  It is at funerals of our loved ones and friends that we seem to be begging for hope for our life without the departed.  As this psalm moves toward hope, it sets the tone for the rest of the service as Old and New Testament Lessons, Psalm 23, and a Gospel reading are read during a funeral.  It is these lessons that draw out what hope in Jesus Christ looks like.

We know our sins.  Our iniquities are ever before us.  Our transgressions weigh us down.  By going to God in prayer, we confess our wrongs.  This psalm reminds us of the Lord who redeems and forgives.  That is where hope comes, knowing that the Lord redeems and forgives us, and our departed loved ones.

Almighty God, thank you that when we cry out to you, you hear our confessions.  It is by your steadfast love that we have hope.  We thank you for forgiving and redeeming us.  Our hope in you is what carries us through times of grief.  Thank you that Jesus is our hope.  It is in Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Redeemed from Trouble

Psalm 107:1-3 (NRSV)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

By John Grimm

It is fascinating to hear the statement: “You are not from around here.”

My accent shows that I am not from around here.  As we are preparing to live in the kingdom of God, then each redeemed person will know that we are not from around here!  It will be a joy to tell the Lord how good he is when we are living fully in the kingdom of God.

In the meantime, we get to give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love.  It is now, today, that we can say that the Lord has redeemed us from trouble.  Was that trouble of our own making, an addiction or decision we made?  Was that trouble of someone else’s making, an accident or a decision they made, and we allowed ourselves to sin in response to those circumstances?  Through Jesus Christ, we discover that we are redeemed, brought out of trouble.  We get to say that Jesus has redeemed us.

Even today, we can hear how the Lord has redeemed people from all over the world.  It is a time of thanksgiving when we hear how God has redeemed people not from around here.  No matter our accent, we can give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love redeeming us from trouble.  Will we start saying that we are redeemed so people not from around here can know the goodness of the Lord?

Lord, thank you for being good.  Your steadfast love endures forever.  You are redeeming people from all over the world.  Gather these redeemed people in our local churches so we can start living in your kingdom even now.  Guide us in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Restore Us, O God

Psalm 80:1-3 (NRSV)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

By Chuck Griffin

What we now call the Old Testament is full of oscillation, the relationship between God and his chosen people moving in and out of harmony.

God’s abundant love and astonishing holiness never change, of course. It is people, then and now, who draw near to God in works of mercy and piety or run away from God as they sin. Sometimes we run so far that God seems to have slumbered or even poured out wrath.

For the fallen—and we all have been among the fallen—that plea, “Restore us, O God,” is an excellent starting point. Of course, we cannot say “restore us” as we continue to run away. We have to at least turn toward God, like the prodigal son climbing out of the pig sty and taking his first step on the walk home. We have to repent.

While sin deeply offends God’s holiness, God’s love keeps our creator alert to our return. Through his chosen people, he has even made the return easy, ready to embrace us with outstretched arms. He came among us while we were deep in sin, living among us and ultimately paying for those sins on the cross.

“Stir up your might, and come to save us!” the people prayed in Psalm 80. And God did, in ways with far greater global impact than they likely imagined.

Can we lift up the same cry, in our own lives and on behalf of our own people, whomever they may be?

Lord, let us see a turning toward you, moving us into a time when your grace abundantly flows, bringing healing and salvation to all. Amen.

Let the Music Play

Psalm 150 (NLT)

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

By Chuck Griffin

As someone regularly involved in leading worship, I have to acknowledge where I am and am not gifted. Music is definitely an area where I need to step back and let others take charge.

I love worship music, though, and singing is a critical part of worship. When the singing has to be muted or subdued, as it has been during the pandemic, I am among the first to recognize how we suffer.

Psalm 150 makes it clear how noisy worship should be, at least at times. (There’s a place in worship for deep, meaningful silence, too.) The word “exuberance” comes to mind.

One thing I’ve learned over the years—musical exuberance comes in many forms. I’ve been blessed to pastor churches employing all sorts of music styles, and I’ve seen how every style has the potential to glorify God.

Some rural folk would immediately reject the idea of “high” worship being inspiring, but some of the best worship I’ve ever experienced was at a Methodist church that focused on the organ, the choir, and a highly disciplined, classical sound. These people knew how to inspire worshipers with music that often was centuries old.

I’ve also been blessed to have a similar experience during so-called “contemporary” worship in its many different forms. (This style should significantly change how it sounds every decade or so if it’s going to stay contemporary. Otherwise, it is just a particular generation’s preference.) I have been in services with a bluegrass or southern gospel sound that have brought me to tears, too.

Here’s the key: It’s not the style of the music, it’s the intent of the music leaders and the worshipers as they follow along. If God is praised through the music, if God is glorified, God’s Spirit will flow through what is happening, and we will feel inner transformation during the experience.

If the music comes across like a performance—if someone other than God is glorified—the whole service is likely to fall flat.

I thank God regularly for those of you with musical gifts, whether you are pianists, organists, guitarists, singers, fiddlers, banjo pickers, saxophonists, drummers, cymbal crashers or tambourine shakers. Keep doing what you do to the glory of our Lord and Savior.

Lord, thank you for the gift of music. It touches our souls in places words can never reach. Amen.

There It Is!

Psalm 133 (NRSV)
A Song of Ascents.

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

By John Grimm

The kindred we know and appreciate in the church are all those who believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord and their Savior. This news seems self-evident. However, we know from experience that we do not treat each other as kindred. As Jesus’ people, we may even show preference to those who act, think, and smell like us! Yet, living our preferences keeps us from seeing unity.

Being who we are as children of God, even brothers and sisters in Christ, is ordained by God. We get to recognize the joy of the oil running down upon Aaron’s beard when we have unity. We get to relish the pleasantness of the dew on Mount Hermon when we have unity. The early church discovered this fact as they kept on loving each other through the growing pains of thousands being added to their number in Acts 2.

It is in unity that we discover the Lord’s blessing. Are we experiencing unity in our local church right now? Are we seeing life forevermore being lived within our congregation? We know what to do. We say those wonderful words to each other. Go ahead and say them, we will not hurt ourselves. We tell each other, “I forgive you.” Then we get to experience the Lord’s blessing in our local church.

Forgiving and blessing God, thank you for making a way for us to have unity in our local church. Your Son did not die and rise again so we could fight among ourselves. You want to give us your blessing. As you forgive us, we love each other enough to do the same. May we experience life forever more as are united in Jesus’ name and with each other in our local church. Amen.