Spiritual Gifts

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 12:1-3 (NLT)

Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.


During last Sunday’s Holston View UMC worship service, I talked about spiritual gifts. Part of my sermon was an invitation to explore what gifts we have among us, using what some may think of as Covid-19 “down time” to study, train and prepare.

I’ve long been perplexed by Christians who remain disinterested after learning that spiritual gifts await them. I have a working theory about the problem.

Some Christians are like kids who fear they may get push mowers for Christmas. Open that present and there’s nothing ahead but work, work, work.

If I’m right, we need to get past that unfounded fear. If I’m wrong, one of Satan’s most influential demons must go by the name Apathy.

I’ll not spend much time on specific spiritual gifts today; there are about 30 described in the Bible. Sunday, I mentioned the ones Paul listed in Romans 12:1-8. First, let’s understand the great gift we are given, an ongoing encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is received in a moment, but it’s also the gift that keeps on giving. Through our belief in Christ, we open ourselves fully to the influence of God’s Spirit. We are offered ongoing transformation.

This first great gift includes a kind of freedom we cannot experience otherwise. We live securely as people who know they will live forever. Even if we find ourselves with challenging God-given work to do in this life, we can trust our tasks will ultimately be joyful because of this promise.

Opening spiritual gifts, which God may bestow at different times in life, also brings a sense of renewal. Even if you’re already a highly skilled person, you may find the gifts of the Spirit flowing through those skills in new ways. Spiritual gifts often become a holy enhancement of the person you already are, reinvigorating you.

I’m praying some of you feel a new sense of excitement about your unopened spiritual gifts. I am willing to devote some serious time to those of you wanting to explore this subject. I’ve made this offer to the Holston View UMC family, but as so much of it will have to happen online, I’m also making it to other LifeTalk readers who might want to join us.

Just let me know, and we’ll open those gifts together, knowing all of our churches will be stronger in the process.

Lord, bless us with a renewed sense of excitement about the gifts you give every follower. May we long to open these gifts and use them! Amen.

Bad to the Bone

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Romans 3:9-20 (NLT)

One night in my college dorm room I was awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. For some reason my roommate also was awake. Out of the darkness, he asked me, “Chuck, do you think people are basically good or basically evil?”

Remember, I was maybe 20 at the time. My non-pastoral, non-theological answer was, “For crying out loud, Derek, I’m trying to sleep.” Derek has always been persistent, though.

“No, really,” he said. “What do you think? Are we good, or are we bad?”

I drew on the distant memory of a Sunday school lesson and said I suppose people are basically bad—that’s why we need Jesus. Derek seemed unsatisfied, though. He’s always been the kind of guy who looks for good in people.

Judging from our text today, Paul would agree with my answer. Or more accurately, I was in agreement with his, my subconscious vaguely remembering these or similar verses. Making it a satisfactory answer for genuinely curious people takes a little work, though.

“All have turned away,” Paul wrote. “All have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”

And it’s not just Paul’s opinion. Most of what he writes is a collection of quotes from the Old Testament, the result of his years of Jewish theological training. He quotes from six different psalms and the 56th chapter of Isaiah to make his point.

Every time I hit one of Paul’s discussions of sin, I think of some of the really powerful sermons in history, the kind designed to crush listeners so they would run to the altar, weeping. There is Jonathan Edwards, of course, with that famous sermon many of us were required to read in high school or college, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Remember this part?

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

Jonathan Edwards, 1741

One man in attendance at this sermon wrote, “The hearers groaned and shrieked convulsively; and their outcries of distress once drowned the preacher’s voice, and compelled him to make a long pause.” I wonder what it would take to get such a reaction today.

Our own John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was no slouch when it came to fiery sermons, either. In “Original Sin,” Wesley takes the account of the depravity of people in Noah’s day and considers whether modern people are any different. 

In 21st century language, Wesley says we’re not only bad, we are so spiritually broken from birth that we cannot sense how bad we are.

I think this somber message is much more difficult to preach than it was just a few decades ago. As a people, we are becoming more humanist in our thinking every day. By that, I mean there is this undercurrent of thought where people assume the best aspects of being human can eventually overcome the worst aspects.

I have trouble seeing how humanism is actually achieving much, though. The modern world seems able to collapse into a heap of evil rather quickly.

Humanist thinkers also become comfortable with a relative kind of morality, a line of thinking not particularly useful for people seeking a relationship with a perfectly holy God. Moral relativism makes possible thoughts like, “Well, I’m not perfect, but at least I’m better than the creeps I have known and read about.” Jesus has a parable along those lines.

Well preached, this topic should go to a very positive place, however. Relating to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ opens us to a healing power we could never find through human means. God intended us to be good, God still wants us to be good, and God has provided a way to goodness.

We begin with belief, and the Holy Spirit guides us from there.

Lord, it is helpful to consider our sins and brokenness. In repenting and following Christ, may we become sources of your goodness in a hurting world. Amen.

Hellish Behaviors

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Galatians 5:15 (NLT): But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

As painful as it is to consider, let’s take a few moments to imagine what life in hell must be like. I’m not going to deal with all the fire-and-brimstone imagery—while there are some fiery biblical images associated with Satan or hell in the Bible, much of what we imagine is rooted more in secular literature.

Here’s what I suspect is really painful about hell. It is a place where souls are cut off from the grace of God. (Grace simply is unmerited love, given freely to the undeserving.) In hell, God no longer gently tugs at people to make them aware of his existence; God no longer provides a way to escape the power of sin; certainly, God no longer works as the Holy Spirit to grow us toward a state of holiness.

And of course, if God is not present to inject grace into people’s broken existence, then people cannot possibly show grace to one another. If there’s any kind of society in hell, it is a nasty, backbiting, hateful, grudge-holding, vengeance-seeking kind of culture.

I fear some people are trying to develop a little microcosm of hell in our own culture right now. Popularly, it’s called cancel culture. If you’ve ever tripped up, letting poor judgment lead you to say or do the wrong thing, you’re liable to pay, big!

Criminal behavior needs to be dealt with, of course—under the rule of law. A lot of the criminal events triggering our current social unrest, such as the killing of George Floyd, will be settled under the rule of law. And if the rule of law needs to be changed, we have a process for that to happen. You go to the polls and you vote for representatives who will make that change.

What strikes me as strange are the efforts to destroy people for decades-old poor judgment, when the cultural context for what they may or may not have done was very different. We saw a glimmer of this when Neil Gorsuch was being vetted for the U.S. Supreme Court, as opponents went as far back as his high school years in an attempt to discredit him.

Such deep, unforgiving vetting is now a bizarre extension of the social unrest we’re seeing. It has gone so far that statues of brilliant-but-imperfect historical figures are being torn down. The basic complaint: People living in the 15th through the 20th centuries didn’t have 21st century values.

Well, duh. We honor most of these people with statues not because they had it all figured out, but because in difficult times they figured out important pieces of the grand puzzle, helping us see the clearer picture we have today.

Back to the need for grace from God and grace for each other. In the Galatians text above, Paul makes clear what happens as we begin to bite and devour one another—destruction! In Romans 3:23, he also notes another important fact: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

There do seem to be important developments that show the Bible to be right. Some of the people who might have initially supported much of this divisive behavior are now finding themselves bitten as their shortcomings become public, be it over the wearing of blackface, insensitive tweets or some other sin of speech or action. It helps when we remember the “everyone has sinned” part.

Perhaps we will soon get to a place where we all take a breath, rub our painful bite marks, and say, “Let’s show each other a little grace. Let’s try to work together as the people we are now, rather than fighting over who we used to be.”

In an environment like that, we will better deal with both our history and our current crises. God might even bless us anew.

Lord, give us the long pause we need to overcome animosity and rebuild our nation, trusting the scriptural truth that your forgiving grace is always available and can be imitated. Amen.

Put in Place

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Psalm 131:1-3

Lord, my heart is not proud;
    my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
    or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
    like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
    Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—
    now and always.

Scripture can be tough on free thinkers. The Bible reminds us from time to time that our thoughts must be kept in place.

If you’re an American, even a Christian American, there’s a good chance you’re already wriggling with discomfort. The idea of submission can sound very negative to us—it seems in conflict with favorite words like “freedom” and “independence.”

And yet, the notion of humility before God is a constant theme of the Bible. With no reference to the Garden of Eden or forbidden fruit, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1 about haughty, foolish thinking being the root of sin. Paul’s account does us a great service—he helps us see how we personally cause the cycle of sin to continue.

We also could categorize our problem as “overthinking.” We take our eyes off plain revelations about God to create notions of our own, a process that inevitably leads to idolatry. Our desire to be novel can quickly cut us off from what is eternal.

Real freedom, the psalmist tells us, is found when we humble ourselves, maintaining proper perspective about who we are in relationship to God. As Christians, we know we cannot grasp God in full, but we can cling to what God has shown us through Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture. 

God is the maker of all things, standing outside of creation and ruling over creation. God also is love, and because of love God keeps intervening to pull us back into a righteous relationship with our creator and with each other, despite our ongoing foolishness.

In particular, God has come among us as Jesus Christ, dying on the cross and demonstrating the defeat of death in the resurrection. We are restored to right relationships simply by believing Christ’s sacrifice is real.

Belief also should lead to enhanced creativity—it opens the door to the eternal mind of God. When we submit to the truth of the cross, the Spirit of God rushes into our lives, penetrating our souls and our minds. We become more than we ever could have been on our own, and we are freed to grow into the images of God we were intended to be.

These are broad concepts, but they have very current, specific applications. As a nation, we are embroiled by a serious, important debate, one that goes to how we best ensure that people have the same rights and opportunities regardless of skin color. The debate has been deeply complicated by a piling on of ideas and causes, some possibly holy, some likely foolish.

Is there any way we can take a step back and humble ourselves, putting our opinions and decisions in the context of who God is and what God has revealed? I cannot ask that of nonbelievers, but I certainly can ask it of people who claim the name “Christian.”

The ongoing debate is sometimes summarized in the question, “Should I take a knee?” Perhaps the Christian answer should be to get down on both knees, head bowed. That posture best prepares us for any conversation.

Lord, may we take time today to seek eternal wisdom, and may the Holy Spirit give us the strength we need to carry our understanding of your will to the places and people we affect. Amen.