An Exclusive Claim

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “A Straightforward Declaration.” It will be based on Mark 8:27-38. 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: John 14:6-7

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”


By Chuck Griffin

People struggle with the exclusive nature of Jesus’ words quoted above. Even churchgoers sometimes want to soften or reinterpret what he said.

An idea called “universalism” has come up repeatedly among religious people through the centuries. It focuses on the similarities many religions share, ultimately trying to describe them all as different paths to God.

For example, there are similar sayings by the Buddha and Jesus. The Buddha said, “Be lamps unto yourselves.”  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” 

The Buddha declared all matter in this world to be transitory, unworthy of our attachments. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” 

The Buddha’s last words are said to be, “Work out your own salvation with diligence.”  The Apostle Paul, inspired by Jesus, said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

But in John 14 and elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus is quoted as saying something very different from the Buddha or other teachers or prophets. Jesus staked claim to divinity, essentially saying he is God among us in flesh. His resurrection from the dead proves there was power behind his claim.

If we are followers who take Scripture seriously, we find ourselves with limited theological options.

C.S. Lewis discussed this topic in his book “Mere Christianity”.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

I hope all of you who are Christians can follow this line of reasoning. It goes directly to our relationship with our savior. When we call ourselves “Christian,” we have made a dramatic, life-altering choice. We have said, “Yes, Jesus Christ is the one. He is Lord, rightfully over all things!”

When we make such a choice, our relationship with Jesus cannot be distant or academic. We approach him as the Holy One, the one who lives now and forever, and his teachings left to us in Scripture become guidance from upon high.

Yes, it is a divisive concept. That’s why so many people try to avoid it. More on the subject of division tomorrow.

Lord, place in us once again a deep sense that through belief in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice we have found the way home to you, despite our sinful disobedience. May that truth color every moment of our lives. 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. 

Building Up the Neighbor

Romans 15:1-6 (NRSV)

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


By John Grimm

Do we label the weak in our local church?  If we do, are they those who have less money than us?  How about those who are chronically ill?  Would the weak be those who are always complaining about something or other in the church?

It might turn out that as we are attempting to label the weak that we discover we are the weak.  For our labeling the “weak” may be an insult to all others in the local church!

Paul is instructing the church in Rome to not please themselves.  For when we are pleasing ourselves, do we take notice of our neighbors?  Thankfully, we have the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, to instruct us on how to be steadfast in the faith God has given to us.

It is God who brought us together to be the local church.  For it is in the local church, and not denominational offices, that disciples of Jesus Christ are made.  Since God has brought us together, he knows we can have harmony with one another, rather than labels.  Through the harmony that God grants to us, we do give glory to God.  Our voices are united in praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God, we have often labeled our neighbors within our local church as being weak or strong.  Forgive us for attempting to please ourselves with lofty thoughts of ourselves and insulting other disciples of Jesus Christ.  As we read the Bible, show us how to live in harmony with one another.  We praise you for Jesus and for drawing us to faith in Jesus through the local church.  As we live in harmony, may we be found to be living in the Name of Jesus Christ.  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.

Do We Stink?

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 (NRSV)

When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.


Knowing Christ permeates every aspect our lives.  This fragrance of knowing Christ in us comes through knowing Jesus.  We know Jesus through devotions like this one.  We experience Jesus by worshiping with other Christians.  We know Jesus in all aspects of our lives.  The Spirit of God uses these means to attract non-believers to Jesus by the fragrance we put off.

We can ask ourselves, “Do we stink?”  When we taste and see that the Lord is good, our aroma will be sweet.  However, we Christians do stink to high heaven at times!  We know of times that our fragrance has been putrid as we have not lived like ones knowing Christ Jesus. Yet, in Christ our fragrance is attractive.  That is the key for us.  

Christ, you take us from death to death and from life to life.  It is when we are found in you that we live.  You have done what is necessary for us to have salvation.  We want to be found as persons of sincerity, as being in you.  We have not been fragrant with the fragrance that comes from knowing you.  We have stunk.  We turn to you so we can know you.  We turn to you so we may be found to be standing in your presence and the presence of God.  Lead us in triumphal procession all the way into the kingdom of God.  Amen.

The Big Promise

Genesis 12:1-3 (NRSV)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”


I find myself repeatedly referencing these promises while I’m preaching or teaching. The last one, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” is one of those linchpins of the Bible, firmly connecting the Old and New Testaments.

Abram, of course, eventually was renamed “Abraham” by God, who worked through this man to establish a people, the Israelites, with whom God could be in relationship. Sin had broken the relationship between God and humanity, but God has from the earliest pages of the Bible wanted it restored.

What a sweeping promise: All the families of the earth shall be blessed! When we really start to think that through, it boggles the mind.

Yes, Abraham is known widely, having influenced the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But being known and being the conduit of a blessing spanning millennia are two very different matters.

As Christians, we understand that God came among us in flesh through the Israelites, the promised descendants of Abraham. Jesus Christ died on the cross because “God so loved the world.” Through the work of Christ, restoration to God—the great blessing granting us forgiveness from sin and eternal life—is possible.

The promise to Abraham seems to go beyond mere possibilities, though. “All” and “shall” hint at the completeness of God’s plan, which will play out in ways that should astonish us. Salvation through Jesus Christ will be global; no family will be untouched.

The astounding quantity of God’s grace should fill us with hope, whatever our circumstances.

Lord, we seek new visions and evidence of how widespread your loving work extends, and we look forward to the day when it is complete. Show us our role in all that is to transpire. Amen.