Time Out

Methodist Life’s LifeTalk blog is going on hiatus through August. John Grimm and I need the break as both of us deal with important developments at our churches. During that time, you still might see an occasional blog item tied to a current event.

God bless all of you, and thanks for the support you show us!

With Christ’s Love,

Chuck Griffin

The Value of Life

Psalm 139:13-15 (New Living Translation)

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.

By Chuck Griffin

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, sending the regulation of abortion back to the states, has generated plenty of news the past few days.

For me, it seems like the news has come full circle. In the late 1980s, I spent some of my earliest days as a reporter covering Operation Rescue blockades of abortion clinics. These events seldom became violent, but they certainly were tense and sometimes loud, with a heavy police presence always nearby.

Even then, it wasn’t hard to grasp that the two sides were at an impasse. One group passionately argued for women’s rights, while the other group, equally passionate, argued for the rights of the unborn child. Two opposing worldviews were present, each with a very different emphasis on which life to value, the mother or the infant inside of her.

As Christians, we do not have Scripture overtly telling us, “Thou shall not abort babies.” Those of us who see life as being present and worthy of protection from the moment of conception have to rely on a broader view of what God has revealed about life.

The above verses from Psalm 139 are clearly poetic, but Scripture in all of its forms reveals truth, and these words reveal something important about God’s love for life. The God who knows when a sparrow falls also is aware of even deeper, tinier matters—the complex, rapid division of cells that align to make reality from a unique, microscopic DNA blueprint.

Even in our brokenness, with our bodies and souls damaged by sin from the start, God sees enormous potential in us as we are being made. I am glad Roe v. Wade was overturned simply because there now are new conversations to be had about the power of what is happening in those wombs.

I also need to remind myself, however, that a court cannot resolve the real problem of abortion, and state legislatures will not resolve it either, regardless of the direction they go in their lawmaking. Women mostly seek abortions because they perceive their circumstances as being  desperate. Right or wrong, they fear the future, believing the birth of the babies they carry within will irreparably harm their lives, or that the children’s lives will not be worth living.

As we go about properly fulfilling the mission of the church, we promote hope over fear. When we are effective, we move beyond words to actions very quickly. More churches need to do a better job of offering desperate women both the spiritual guidance and the resources they need, helping them to incorporate their children’s existence into a bright vision of the future.

Abortions will not end in our lifetimes. Sadly, some occur as part of a culture of callous convenience, and the hearts of those women will be much harder to reach.

We can prevent many abortions, however, simply by being the people who look at the frightened woman and the child inside her and say, “You both count. You both are valuable—you both are children of God.” And then we take action to prove what we say.

Lord, there’s so much to do in regard to abortion and many other difficult matters troubling our society. May every living Christian find his or her niche in the kingdom, going to work on your behalf. Amen.

A Man of God

2 Kings 1:1-12 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

What could we do if we had the Spirit of the Lord upon us like Elijah did?

Three groups of fifty men, along with their captains, came to Elijah.  Each time these groups approached Elijah, he said to them: “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.”  Each time he said these words, fire came down from heaven.

Maybe we are like the captains and their groups of fifty men.  We follow orders from the rulers.  Following orders is not all that we can do in our lives.  Instead of seeking other gods, we can seek the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus, the Giver of the Holy Spirit. 

Elijah listened to the messenger of God.  That is what a man of God does.  Can we have men and women of God today who listen to the messengers of God?  God will show that we are men and women of God so that the world around us knows whose we are.

Lord God, you have given us your Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we are men and women of God.  However, we do not think that we are like Elijah, who had your Spirit upon him.  Work in us, please, so that we are known in our communities to be men and women of God.  We ask for this assurance through the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

For Such a Time as This, Pt. 2

2 Corinthians 13:5-10

By Chuck Griffin

Tuesday, I began moving toward Sunday’s sermon with an exhortation: Theologically conservative Methodists positioned by God to lead should do just that in our current environment, employing a little creativity and a lot of grace in the process.

I am not naïve. Once people become entrenched in institutional power and lucrative privilege, they very often will place their own interests above scriptural principles. (Another exhortation in Philippians 2:4-5 comes to mind.) So I exhort with only faint hope of a real response from anyone already positioned to make a difference.

That failure at the top continues to reverberate throughout the United Methodist Church, as it has done for decades now. Basic biblical concepts long preached and taught by Methodists have fallen by the wayside as the people once most able to encourage them grew silent in the face of secular pressure.

You can test how heavily your particular church has been affected by all of this. Look at today’s text from 2 Corinthians and ask yourself if it sounds like something anyone has taught or preached there.

The church at Corinth had very modern problems, the people immersed in “impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.” Paul expected that when he arrived, he would find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorderly behavior among them, too. (Read chapter 12 for the context I am citing here.)

Paul did not dance around those problems. He did not accommodate the social trends of the day. Instead, he relied on his humble subservience to God, letting God speak through him, employing the Scripture of his day and his direct encounters with the Holy Spirit to define right and wrong.

“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.”

If you’re unfamiliar with such language in church, you are in a congregation that has lost sight of what once was a basic Methodist concept, the pursuit of holiness. In church, this is a group effort to create an environment where people can, with the help of God, find their actions more closely aligned with God’s will each passing day.

Missing that in your church? Well, here’s the good news. Unworthy leaders can be ignored and even replaced. Paul ultimately aimed his message at all the Christians in the Corinthian church, giving everyone an opportunity to respond, and we can consider his words a message to us, too.

Know God’s word. Seek the presence of God’s Spirit through prayer, fasting and worship. As more of us do so, we will begin to recover what was once a bright, vibrant form of Methodism, a kind of Christianity that changed lives for the better.

Lord, we give thanks for the leaders who will arise among us, and we pray that they be graced with a double portion of your Spirit. Amen.

The Greatness of God

Luke 9:37-42 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Wow.  That is what can be said about Jesus casting out a demon from a boy.  We should be astounded at the greatness of God.  For the man to see his son free from the demon would have been spectacular!

When is the last time we were astounded by the greatness of God? 

Did this astonishment happen when a confirmand felt the Holy Spirit present in her?

Did this astonishment happen when a loved one quietly died after battling a terrible disease?

Did this astonishment happen in a worship service as Jesus healed a broken relationship?

Maybe we are like the generation who watched Jesus cast the demon out of the boy.  Maybe we are faithless and perverse.  It might be that Jesus needs to rebuke us so that we can see the greatness of God.

God, we want to see your greatness.  However, our lack of faith and our perverse ways keep us from noticing your power at work in this world.  Heal our lack of faith and drive out our perverse ways.  We want to see you work in our world.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

For Such a Time as This, Pt. 1

Esther 4 (NLT)

By Chuck Griffin

I am moving toward a sermon this Sunday that has been stirring in my heart for some time. It will be based on Luke 9:51-62, the story of Jesus resolutely heading toward Jerusalem to do what must be done.

I want to focus my two Methodist Life devotions this week on ideas that will come out in the sermon. Today, I want to go back to a particular moment in the story of Esther—I hope you’ve already taken time to click the above link and read the fourth chapter of that Old Testament book.

In short, the Jews seemed doomed, destined for slaughter by a powerful enemy. But through a miraculous set of what humans call coincidences, a Jewish woman became queen of the dominant Persian empire. In terms of power, she was not much more than a crowned concubine, but she did have direct access to the king—assuming he was agreeable to her presence.

Her uncle told her she must do something to save her people, but her hesitancy and fear were obvious. Then she heard the obvious question, the words that stirred her to action: “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

Most of us have a hard time imagining ourselves in such a situation, but I think these moments arise for us more often than we might guess—perhaps at least once in a lifetime?

We find ourselves comfortable and content. We don’t want to be bothered by what looks to be a massive personal complication. And yet, we are where we are because God has been preparing us and positioning us for an important moment.

The moment arrives. Do we lie back as if our God-granted situation is a comfortable hammock, or do we stand alert and ready, saying to God, “I am in place. What would you have me do now so that your will is done?”

None of this is theoretical right now for Methodists. Certainly not as Scripture is being compromised, and certainly not as ministry assets developed by our very orthodox-minded Methodist ancestors are threatened.

I am not speaking to so-called progressives. They are who they are, and it’s unlikely that anything I might say would move them.

I do speak to conservative, scripturally sound thinkers in the United Methodist Church, particularly those who have risen to comfortable, well-paying positions of power and influence—people prepared by God for particular tasks.

With courage, a little creative thinking and the proper application of grace, you could quickly end the conflict we are experiencing. I have no doubt God placed you where you are for such a time as this.

Lord, move the hearts of the right people. May the great gift of the scriptural movement we call Methodism once again bless your kingdom in its unique ways. Amen.

The Promise

Galatians 3:15-22 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

For us, Paul clarifies the promise made to Abraham.  Paul and the rest of us realize it is Jesus Christ who is Abraham’s offspring.  Look in Genesis 12 for the promise made to Abram/Abraham.

What God has promised, He will bring to completion.  Abraham and Sarah did receive a son, as promised.  Now that Christ Jesus has come, we see more of God’s promise being fulfilled.  There is a catch.

We have faith in Jesus Christ to receive the promises of God.  We believe that God delivers us from sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So, why was the law given 430 years later than the promise to Abraham?

So that we would know what Jesus is delivering us from.  Jesus is saving us from our choices to break faith with God.  Once we admit our sins, then we can live our faith in Jesus Christ.  We can accept the promise of God to Abraham through faith in Abraham’s offspring, Jesus Christ.

God, we have sinned.  The multiple sins in our many lives damages our relationship with you.  However, you promised through Abraham for us to have one whom we could believe in.  That one is Jesus Christ!  Increase our faith as we keep pursuing Jesus Christ.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we know our faith can be found in Jesus.  Thank you for making us righteous through faith.  Amen.

The Righteous Heart

Romans 2:17-29 (NLT)

By Chuck Griffin

The early church in Rome was a mix of Jews and Gentiles, and sometimes they had trouble combining their world views. In today’s text, Paul clearly addresses the Jewish portion of his audience.

Paul begins with a call for an attitude adjustment, upholding the value of the law but emphasizing how knowing the law was supposed to move the Jews toward something greater.

I suppose I should pause and make sure we have a basic understanding of what Paul means by “the law.” Certainly, Paul is talking about the laws spoken by God to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai, what we call “The Ten Commandments.” He references three of those commandments, ones related to stealing, adultery and idolatry, when he accuses the Jewish Christians of hypocrisy.

He also may have been thinking of additional, more culturally specific rules God gave Moses to establish a covenant with the Israelites. He may even have been referencing the interpretations of the laws developed by rabbis over the centuries.

To a good Jew, the Mosaic law was everything. How well you followed every jot and tittle of the law served as evidence of your righteousness to God and the people around you. Let’s not forget Paul himself had once been a Pharisee, a sect of Jews known for their rigorous adherence to the law.

And yet, Paul had seen the true purpose of the law through his encounter with Jesus Christ. He wanted to be sure these early Jewish Christians saw it, too.

It helps to think about the law in a big-picture way. You may recall that a lawyer once tried to trap Jesus by asking him to name the most important commandment.

Jesus replied: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus took the law and explained it as a matter of the heart. He then lived out that truth in how he lived and died. In Romans, Paul developed his message along the same lines.

The Jewish mistake was simple enough; it even seemed noble and holy. God gave the Israelites the law to live by, and those who wanted to be obedient saw the law as a call to action.

There were rituals, sacrifices and festivals to be performed. There were specific actions to be avoided, the “thou shalt nots” that were always to be kept in mind. The pursuit of obedience seemed paramount, and we can tell from Paul’s writings in Romans and elsewhere that Jews who followed Jesus as their promised Messiah continued to emphasize obedience to rules.

In the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts, we see this problem reach a crisis point. At this point in the life of the church, there was a lot of friction between the Gentile followers of Christ, who were drawn to a message of universally available salvation and grace, and certain Jewish followers of Christ, who essentially believed all converts needed to follow Jewish law as well as Jesus. Perhaps the harshest requirement: The Jewish Christians said the Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved.

In what is now called the Council of Jerusalem, the early church leaders, including Peter and Paul, decided Gentiles did not need to be burdened with rituals and behaviors that had never been part of their culture. Instead, they simply asked that the Gentiles abstain from sexual immorality, food offered to idols, and from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals. The ones related to food may have been simple measures of politeness, as Jews found such consumption detestable, making it difficult for the community to eat together. Acts tells us the Gentile Christians rejoiced greatly when they received word of this lenient decision.

Paul and the other early church leaders understood the law was intended to be more than just a call to “head knowledge” or a series of repeated actions. The law was a call to transformation. Understanding the law was supposed to change the heart, bringing a person into a full relationship with God and a proper relationship with others.

This is the full meaning of the word we translate as “righteous.” It’s not just getting certain actions right—it’s having our innermost being aligned with God’s will.

Lord, may your Spirit help us pursue that true, scripturally sound heart righteousness, knowing that once we have that, our actions will fall into alignment with your will. Amen.

Taking Sides

Psalm 124 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

How can we get the Lord on our side?  Is it through rigorous campaigning? Is it through generous giving?  Or could we get God on our side by belittling the other side?  These questions seem to be missing the mark.

It would be better for us to consider if we are on the Lord’s side!  Then, we would know that God is on our side.  For when we are trusting Jesus, obeying God, and following the lead of the Holy Spirit, then we are on the Lord’s side. 

Being on the Lord’s side is not always easy.  We many times will escape our enemies like a bird from the snare of the fowlers.

Enemies will attack us.  Our pasts will be brought up.  Our inconsistencies will be brought to light.  Our stumbling in the faith will be used as a weapon against us.  Thankfully, we do not need to depend upon ourselves to escape from our enemies.

The Lord’s name is our help.  The one who made heaven and earth is with us when we are attacked.  Our responsibility is to be on the Lord’s side before, during and after any attack we face.  Will we be found on the side of the Lord?

Lord, thank you for delivering us from past attacks.  It was not because of our merit that you did such work.  We have trusted you.  You have delivered us.  Thank you for being with us as we escaped.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.