What’s in Your Cabinet?

By Chuck Griffin

This Sunday’s worship at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be different, focusing specifically on healing. A formal Service of Healing, including communion and anointing with oil, seems appropriate as we continue to make our way through a pandemic that is impacting the world in so many ways. Of course, we have to acknowledge that because of the pandemic, many people will not be comfortable attending in person. The service will be viewable online.

If you would like someone’s name placed on the prayer rail during the service, simply email me, and I will make sure that happens.

Today’s Preparatory Bible Passage

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)


Cake and ice cream. Shoes and socks. Salt and pepper. Wife and husband. Sticks and stones, and their modern cousins, bats and balls. Or to quote Forrest Gump, “Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.”

There are many things in the world that can function alone, but that work better in conjunction with something else.

Let’s add this to the list: medicine and faith.

If we are to seek healing, we need to understand both are gifts from God. God pours his love into the world, and through faith some are reunited with the source of eternal life. God pours his knowledge and wisdom into the world, and some are so mentally blessed by the gift that from generation to generation, humans are better able to alleviate suffering.

A friend recently told me about a grandmother who kept her medicine cabinet stocked, but who also kept an empty bottle there labeled “Faith.” It was her reminder to get a dose of everything she needed to be well.

People of the Bible had little in the way of medicine and relied heavily on faith. We have so much in the way of medical care that we sometimes treat faith as an afterthought. Does this conversation sound familiar?

Friend: “I’m so sorry you’re suffering. What can I do for you?”

Suffering person: “Well, not much, really. Just pray for me.”

In this hurting world, we Christians should prayerfully pursue healing with the same kind of determination that dedicated doctors, nurses and researchers employ in their daily lives. Where healing is concerned, we all have God-given roles, and those roles work together for the betterment of those around us.

Lord, may we see an outbreak of healing, the kind of events that declare your kingdom is present. Amen.

Continuing

John 8:31-38 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word.  I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”


By John Grimm

As of right this moment, as we are reading this devotion, we are continuing in Jesus’ word.  It takes our time to read the Bible.  It takes our effort to study the words so we can know how free we are in Jesus. 

Over the span of our lifetime, as we continue in Jesus’ word, we can live lives free from sin.

Continuing in Jesus’ word is not only a reference to making time to study the Bible.  Verse 38 points to the fact that our doing what we have heard from the Father is included in the method of continuing in Jesus’ word.  When we know Jesus’ word, we are free from sin and free to obey the Father. This obedience to the Father means we can live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus’ word.  Through Jesus, you have given us freedom from sin.  Show us in Jesus’ word how we can do what we have heard from you.  Guide our steps as Jesus’ disciples so we can know and live the truth that sets us free.  In the name of Jesus, we can be obedient to you.  Amen.

God in Art

Today, LifeTalk introduces a new feature. Occasionally, rather than a written devotion, you will receive a work of art depicting a story from the Bible or some other aspect of our relationship with God.

If you’ve ever read Henri J.M. Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son,” a meditation on Rembrandt’s depiction of the moment of reunion, you will understand how to approach this opportunity. In fact, we will begin with that same work of art, based on the story found in Luke 15:11-32. Starting here seems appropriate on the heels of ‘Debo Onabanjo’s recent efforts to explore this parable.

The art you receive will be in the public domain or used with the permission of the artist. Submissions of original art are welcome, by the way. Send them in a large format to chuck@methodist.life.

Lord, reveal new truths to us as your holy word inspires the artists around us. Amen.

Salvation Is Free—Stop Slaving!

Luke 15:24b-32 (NRSV)

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

As I mentioned in last Tuesday’s devotion, Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son gives all of us wonderful insight into the loving heart of our heavenly father. He also used the story to remind us of a profound truth. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn God’s grace or to make God love us any better than he already does.  While God would very much prefer that we all live a life that is pleasing to him, he is always willing to extend compassion to those who repent of their sins and return home as the prodigal son did.  

As Jesus continued with the parable, he cleverly reintroduced the older son. Many of us would have conveniently forgotten the older son by this time, but Jesus used him as an object lesson for all of us. Truth be told, not everyone in the church (represented by the 99 righteous sheep that did not stray, as mentioned by Jesus in Luke 15:4-7) rejoices when the lone stray sheep returns. 

We who have been believers for so long can easily forget that our salvation is a gift and not a reward for something we have done. We are sometimes quick to show disdain when God pours out the richness of his grace on others. Even though it is never right, we can sometimes see others as undeserving of God’s grace. 

The older son saw the feasting and merry making and became very angry when he found out the party was for his younger brother. If you were an older sibling who received the news that your long-lost younger brother had returned home, and your father was celebrating his return, how would you react?  

Quite typical of Jesus, he did not leave us guessing and revealed the brokenness in us all, using the older brother as the example. Like the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law that Jesus constantly denounced for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion, the older brother did not want to be part of any celebration or gathering for his renegade younger brother.   As far as he was concerned, he was much better lost. 

Even when the loving father begged him to join the celebration, the older brother refused and castigated their father for his kindness. He displayed a warped sense of entitlement and selfishly wondered why their father had not celebrated his long years of slaving. Like the older brother, there are folks who have the wrong impression that salvation is something we earn through our hard work for God.

As Paul reminds us, “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:9.)

The older brother in this parable, like some of us who are long time followers of Jesus, chose to stay at home not out of love for the father but for self-preservation.  He was slaving to retain his part of the inheritance. Even while he lived with the father at home, the older son, just like the younger son, lived in a distant land. He did not take the time to get to know the heart of the father. He had no relationship with his father and was only slaving daily with the expectation of earning his way into the inheritance when the father passed away. Our salvation is a gift and not dependent on any legalistic keeping of the laws or reward for our hard labor.  

The older son even disowned his younger brother and described him as a bum and scum who had dared to come back home “after squandering” his own share of the inheritance on “prostitutes.” How did he even know how the younger brother lived? 

He could not believe that his father killed the fattened calf for such a reprobate. The older brother, like the pompous Pharisees and teachers of religious law who looked down on sinners that came to be with Jesus, despised his younger brother.

Here is the moral of the parable: All of us have sinned, either in the manner of the older or younger son. We do not deserve eternal life, a gift from our eternal father.

I don’t know about you, but I am thankful that salvation is free. 

Compassionate and loving God, thank you for reminding us through your loving Son that we cannot earn our way to salvation. Help us to labor out of love and not because of what we hope to gain. Grant us compassion for everyone who is struggling with sin today and help us to offer a helping hand when needed. Grant us grace to be like our father in heaven, who is merciful and gracious to all his children without showing favoritism. Amen. 

Division

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:

Luke 12:49-56

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”


By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday, we considered the very exclusive claim Jesus made regarding who he is. That exclusive claim obviously can cause division, something Jesus made clear in our reading from Luke today.

After a reading like that, I suppose I should begin with some comforting words.

Yes, God is love. Yes, grace is freely given. Our God is a patient God, doing all he can to draw lost people to him. Forgiveness and the gift of eternal life are being poured out on us in buckets, despite so many people standing under umbrellas of cynicism.

That said, at this point in Luke, Jesus has clearly gone apocalyptic on us. He uses language designed to remind us of the terrible suffering and sacrifice necessary to make all that grace and love possible. And ultimately, we are reminded that we are called to choose sides in a great cosmic battle, with no regard to what our choice may cost us in this life.

Jesus’ apocalyptic language forces Christians to consider our core beliefs. Fire and baptism are purification words. Jesus was saying that despite his lack of sin, he would go through the purifying fire of crucifixion for us, and that ultimately all of creation will be purified through this act. Humans can actually choose where to stand in all of this—with what is pure and what will remain forever, or with the dross to be burned away.

The great gift of the cross is that we now have a choice. Before, we were all just dross, lacking the purity to be in God’s presence.

I think even Christians struggle with some of this tough language because we confuse adherence to the truth with being judgmental. Clearly, it is God’s business to judge, not ours. My own personal approach to this is to be as laissez-faire (libertarian) in my approach to the secular world as possible, while at the same recognizing that the church in which I choose to live establishes higher standards based on Christ’s teachings. Included in those teachings is a demand that we clearly tell others who Jesus is.

This approach doesn’t satisfy everyone who claims membership in a church. As we discussed yesterday, some would like to dilute or explain away Christ’s very exclusive claims in Scripture regarding his identity, along with related concepts like the importance of a literal resurrection.

This approach does, however, let us focus on messages that have helped Christianity spread cross-culturally for nearly two millennia. Let’s consider those messages:

Christ is the answer. By that, we mean Christ stands at the apex of a sweeping story that answers all the big questions in life, questions like “Is there meaning to life,” “Why do we suffer,” and “Is there more than just this life?”

Being Christian makes you different. Welcome to a great countercultural movement, the one that challenged the most powerful empire on earth and continues to challenge worldly thinking today. It is a movement that truly changed the world, declaring early on that people are the same under Christ regardless of gender, color or social status. Yes, the body of believers can behave like clusters of big institutions, and yes, Christians often fail to act like Christ, but this differentiating truth remains.

There is clear guidance from God available to us. People are craving something to help them steer their lives.  They want something they can trust, something not likely to blow about in the ever-changing social wind. The Bible is God’s long-standing revelation to humanity. Even the newest material in it is nearly 2,000 years old. Its truths about God and how God wants to relate to humanity have served people well in a wide variety of eras and cultures.

Not everyone will agree with these basic messages. Some people, maybe people in your own homes, will become angry upon hearing them, turning on you or at least turning their backs on you.

That’s okay. Jesus said it would happen. He also said he would make it all right in the end. Look it up.

Lord, help us to establish peace wherever we go, unless that peace would force a denial of who you are and what you are doing in this world. Amen.

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.

For My Welfare?

Isaiah 38:10-20

By John Grimm

For my welfare?  We think we know what is best for ourselves.  We plan, we maneuver, and we make connections so that we can have the best life possible.  Then troubles come our way and we are at a loss.  Getting through the troubles strains us.

We then ask ourselves, is the trouble because of my own sins?  Are we the ones who caused our own souls to be bitter?  Or is the truth that someone else caused our misfortune and our problems?  Is it not that since we live godly lives, we can escape such bitterness?

When we know that we have caused our own bitterness, then we repent of our ways.  We confess our sin to God and he restores us.  We may even eventually see that God had been protecting us, despite our willful rebellion against him.  As soon as we recognize the good God was keeping us for, we thank him that he did not allow us to be punished for all time because of our rebellion. 

When we do not know the source of the bitterness in our life, we should keep turning to God.  It is through Jesus that we find salvation, even in the midst of bitterness.  It is during these times that we catch a glimpse of how much evil that God has kept from us.  Yes, going through the bitterness was for our welfare!

It is by living through bitterness brought on by our own sin or someone else’s sin that we can praise God!  Then we get to be in the sanctuary with other believers to sing and praise God for his work in our lives.  What a witness we have when those around us know of the bitterness of our souls and they get to hear us praise God.  Maybe it is during this pandemic that the bitterness of our souls is for our welfare.  It seems like a good time to praise God for getting us through these days.  What better way to shrug off bitterness than to be in the house of the Lord, thanking God for our deliverance?

God, we know who and what has caused bitterness in our souls.  It was not you.  We allowed that bitterness to grow.  Yet, you are using the state of our souls so that we may see how you are working to deliver us.  As we become content in your faithfulness, may we see the bitterness washing away and hear chords of praise coming from our lungs.  It is in Jesus’ name that we thank you for making a way for our welfare even when we could not grasp what was happening.  Amen.  And Amen!

No Longer Worthy

Luke 15:17-24 (NRSV)

“But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Growing up as a kid, it was always very important to me to please my parents, but I sometimes let them down by doing stuff that went against their expectations. While my strict Christian parents always held me accountable, there was never a time that they stopped loving me or told me that I was no longer worthy to be their son.

As a parent of three young boys, my wife and I take our responsibility to train and nurture our children in the ways of the Lord very seriously. When they drop the ball or fail to meet the expectations set for them, they are held accountable. But there is absolutely nothing they can do to no longer be worthy to be called our sons!

In the Parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son in Luke 15, Jesus opens a beautiful window into the heart of a loving father who will never stop loving us. After squandering his inheritance on wild living, the younger of two sons in the story became desperate. After weighing all his options, the remorseful younger son decided to go back home to his father with a prepared apology and request: “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”’ (Luke 15:18-19.) Some folks argue that it was presumptuous on the part of this rebellious son to think that the father would even consider taking him back as a hired servant. 

But as he made his way back home, the father shocked him by not only welcoming him back but also throwing a party to celebrate his safe return. The prodigal son never expected to be received by his father with so much love and fanfare. Even though the decision of the father to celebrate the return of the younger son infuriated the older son, the father encouraged the older son to join in the celebration because of his wayward brother’s repentance.

The father in the story truly represents the Father in heaven. We should always rejoice when sinners come back home. 

Truth be told, there are times church folks believe that those who have no relationship with Jesus are unworthy and should not be welcomed back into the fold. Like the older son, as believers, we can sometimes fail to recognize that when it comes to the gift of salvation and eternal life, no one has the right to boast or brag because our salvation from beginning to end is all a work of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). The stench of sin can make us all feel unworthy, but the good news is that we can all come to the throne of grace just as we are. Our Father in heaven does not see us the way the world sees us.

Like the younger son, none of us is worthy to be called a son (or a daughter) of our heavenly Father based on what we have done. As Paul tells us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8.) Because of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, all those who feel unworthy because of sin have been made right because of the one who is worthy. 

Since Jesus the Lamb has prevailed and opened the scroll that no one in heaven or earth or under the earth was able to open, we do not have to be ashamed of our unworthiness (Revelation 5:1-5). Jesus through his atoning work has turned unworthy prodigals into co-heirs, sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

The fattened calf is waiting to be slaughtered. Why are we slow going home? 

Loving God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to die to make unworthy prodigals worthy sons and daughters. Help us to share this good news of redemption with others still outside the fold. It is in the name of Jesus that we do pray. Amen. 

Open Up!

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Demons and Deafness.” It will be based on Mark 7:24-37. 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: Mark 7:32-35 (NRSV)

A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.

Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!


By Chuck Griffin

You’re most likely reading this on the internet in some fashion, through Facebook, email or directly on the Methodist Life site. If you’re like me, this is not always the most conducive environment for slowing down and spending time with God.

A computer or smartphone can buzz with activity. Other windows, apps or browser tabs may be open, streaming music or television. Little pop-ups may be appearing and disappearing, telling you “important email” or alerting you to an incoming text or instant message.

Try something before you read any further. What you’ll experience is really important as we look at today’s text. Find a way to sit in silence, even if just briefly—say, five minutes. It helps to take some deep breaths.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

My premise today is a simple one. We are like the deaf man in our story in Mark. We’re just deaf for a different reason. He had a physical problem. We have an environmental problem that causes spiritual deafness.

Something had stopped up his ears. Perhaps it was a disease. Perhaps it was a head injury. He began to speak as soon as he was healed, so he apparently remembered sound and speech. But at some point in his life, the sound had no longer come in and intelligible words had stopped coming out.

The cure was not a simple one, not even for Jesus the miracle worker. This was no time for a spectacle. Jesus pulled the man aside to a private place. (It strikes me that the deaf man must have had little understanding of what was going on; he had to trust Jesus.)

Put your pandemic-induced anxieties aside for a moment and imagine what it would feel like to have Jesus stick his fingers in your ears. Imagine what it would be like to have him take his spit and put it on your tongue.

Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus pray for you in the common Aramaic his very common followers spoke, a prayer so deep that it comes out in a groaning command: Ephphatha. Open up!

When it comes to hearing Jesus, to really hearing what God has to say to us, we’re stopped up, too. The world is in our ears. We’re clogged with work, sport and school schedules, with plans, with worries, with diversions like television and video games. We’re so stopped up that we’re in danger of remaining deaf to God’s continuing call on our lives until the day we die.

This deafness also makes us spiritually mute. How can we declare what we have not recently heard?

May we go to private places with Jesus long enough that our ears be unstopped. May we hear his message well. And may we declare the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior with great excitement.

Dear Lord, give us the same healing command: Ephphatha!