Clear Signs

Mark 6:45-52 (NRSV)

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.


By Chuck Griffin

This passage reveals much about the internal confusion the disciples faced as they followed Jesus. I feel certain that many of us struggle similarly from time to time.

Just before this walking-on-the-water event in Mark, we have an account of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitudes, demonstrating that five loaves of bread and two fish will feed 5,000 men and their families when God takes direct action.

The disciples had powerful evidence at the impromptu banquet that God was in their midst, but from the later remark that “their hearts were hardened,” we can discern they were not accepting this great truth when Jesus sent them to cross the Sea of Galilee without him.

They needed another miracle, one they could interpret more clearly.

Just as they struggled with spiritual understanding, they struggled to cross the sea, the wind against them. But what impeded them was not a problem for Jesus, walking on the water and against the wind with ease.

Once he was in the boat with them, the struggle ceased―the one who made the wind and sea had rejoined them.

Jesus’ statement, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” is particularly telling. What we translate as “it is I” can also be translated as “I am,” evoking memories of God’s early revelation of himself to Moses.

It can be difficult to recognize when God is with us. If these men strained to understand, it is no surprise that sometimes we struggle. I do not fully understand why we resist the truth of God’s presence in our lives. I just know it happens.

The brokenness of the world and our need to deal with what seem like immediate, pressing problems certainly can interfere with our perception of God.

Perhaps we also have a certain level of discomfort knowing that the presence of God calls for change, and we don’t like the idea of changing.

Those responses are rooted in fear, though—fear that if we don’t control a particular situation, no one will, or fear that in being transformed, we somehow might lose something. And if we spend a few minutes thinking as Christians about each scenario, it’s not hard to see that both fears are irrational.

Jesus often said in one way or another, “Do not be afraid.” I suppose we need to take his advice to heart if we are to develop a full and complete kind of faith.

Lord, thank you for evidence of your presence. May these experiences burrow more deeply into our souls. Amen.

Doing What We Hate

By Chuck Griffin

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul takes note of a strange situation Christians will find themselves in from time to time. We continue to sin despite feeling deep revulsion afterward.

Before finding salvation, we sinned in ignorance. After our conversions, we should know better, and yet we ignore what the Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts.

 “I do not understand my own actions,” Paul writes in the seventh chapter of Romans. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

His ensuing meditation, using terms like “sinful flesh” and life “according to the Spirit,” can be a bit confusing to interpret and understand. Think of his argument this way: There is the way the world without Christ worked, and there is the way a world redeemed and restored by Christ works now.

Unfortunately, the old world still creeps in, largely because our not-yet-resurrected bodies still carry within them a brokenness that Christ will one day completely drive out. If we’re not careful, we find ourselves conflicted, doing what we know is wrong, even doing what we hate.

I think most of us instinctively relate to what Paul is saying. For each person, the sin may be different, but its commission inevitably brings a sense of physical sickness, shame, and the question, “Why on earth did I just do that?”

The sin could be as simple as haughtiness or sudden flashes of anger, or as elaborate and dangerously progressive as greed or lust.

Here’s the interesting twist in Paul’s letter: He doesn’t offer some elaborate plan to escape this problem. Instead, he shows us a simple two-step solution.

First, we have to admit our brokenness, in the process giving up what is perhaps one of the great sins of American culture, extreme self-reliance.

“Wretched man that I am!” Paul writes. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Second, remember the one who has saved you, the one who continues to mold you and change you and make you a little more holy each day, if only you will let him.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul writes.

I note in particular that Paul’s statement is celebratory, a reminder that Christ already has defeated Satan and the eternal death he otherwise would impose on us.

We simply have to accept the spoils of a battle already won, the power God grants us through the Holy Spirit to resist sin. Those spoils are there for the taking, stored in Scripture and the direct access we have to God through prayer.

Dear Lord, move us toward consistent and conclusive victory over sin, and let times of temptation be when we turn toward you, not away. Amen.

After Falling

1 Samuel 18:6-9 (NLT)

When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul. They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals. This was their song:

“Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!”

This made Saul very angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.


By Chuck Griffin

Sunday during sermon time, I preached the story of David and Goliath, the classic Bible tale that I suspect even most unchurched people know. Today’s verses are the beginning of the story of what happened afterward.

It’s painful to watch this story play out in the Bible, and then repeatedly throughout history, into the present day. Some people just cannot let go, particularly if they have become accustomed to honor and power.

Saul knew he had fallen out of God’s favor, and that another was to take his place. The cry of the women likely confirmed for him what he had begun to suspect: David was the one. Read on in 1 Samuel, and you’ll see the lengths Saul was willing to go to cling to what was never really his, anyway, descending into madness in the process. The Lord had given, and because of Saul’s lack of faith, the Lord had taken away.

It’s unlikely any of us will ever achieve the lofty status of King Saul, and I hope none of us ever loses our place in God’s kingdom because of faithlessness. Even so, it may be that we find ourselves moving through our lives from roles that seem honorable to roles that seem like demotion or outright rejection.

Maybe the change needed to happen—it’s possible the Peter Principle kicked in—or maybe life has once again proven to be unfair. Regardless, we have to be very careful how we react.

A soft, obediently spoken “What now, Lord?” is always a good prayer at such a time. Christians keep serving God regardless of their perceived station in life. I have seen pastors do great work on behalf of the kingdom after receiving church appointments they considered slaps in the face.

And never forget, from a worldly perspective, the kingdom is an upside-down place. It never hurts to return to the Beatitudes for a refresher course.

Lord, today is a good day to remember John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

A Grand Tour

Acts 21:1-16 (NLT)

After saying farewell to the Ephesian elders, we sailed straight to the island of Cos. The next day we reached Rhodes and then went to Patara. There we boarded a ship sailing for Phoenicia. We sighted the island of Cyprus, passed it on our left, and landed at the harbor of Tyre, in Syria, where the ship was to unload its cargo.

We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week. These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem. When we returned to the ship at the end of the week, the entire congregation, including women and children, left the city and came down to the shore with us. There we knelt, prayed, and said our farewells. Then we went aboard, and they returned home.

The next stop after leaving Tyre was Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed for one day. The next day we went on to Caesarea and stayed at the home of Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen to distribute food. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.

Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

But he said, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.” When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem. Some believers from Caesarea accompanied us, and they took us to the home of Mnason, a man originally from Cyprus and one of the early believers.


By Chuck Griffin

These verses read like journal entries, written as Luke, the author of Acts, traveled with Paul on his third missionary journey. Along the way, people given the gift of prophecy by the Holy Spirit made it clear Paul would not fare well if he went to Jerusalem.

Events didn’t go well, of course, at least not in a worldly sense. The rest of Acts is an account of how Paul was arrested for preaching Christ crucified, and then as a citizen of the empire was carried off to Rome, where we know he was eventually executed. Along the way, he and those with him endured hardships at sea, including a shipwreck.

No doubt, working for the Lord can be a difficult task. Many of us might head a different direction when faced with repeated prophetic warnings about the dangers of going to a particular place. Paul’s friends and fellow travelers urged him to turn aside.

I deeply admire Paul’s single-mindedness. It genuinely seems that he did not care about his own welfare. He simply wanted to preach the message that Jesus Christ is Lord, taking word of salvation all the way to the heart of the Roman Empire, if possible.

Faced with far fewer impediments, I find Paul’s story to be a challenge. To what greater lengths should I be willing to go in order to reach people for Jesus Christ? Never has my freedom or life been in serious jeopardy while declaring Jesus’ lordship.

I thank God that I live in a time and place where the gospel can be preached so freely. But a question always remains before me: Do I use that freedom well?

Lord God Almighty, guide us to the places you would have us go, and give us new courage if we find those places daunting. 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.

The Tree I Hope to Be

Luke 6:43-45 (NLT)

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”


By Chuck Griffin

I suspect that James, brother of Jesus and leader of the early church at Jerusalem, had the above words in mind when he wrote, “Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.” (James 3:11-12.)

The way we are on the inside, deep in our souls, will eventually show on the outside through our behaviors. Our inner nature, whatever it may be, cannot remain hidden or pretend to be something else for long.

Few of us would dare claim that what is within us is perfectly pure, and fewer still would be telling the truth. But remember, there are no perfect trees, except those found in Paradise. A tree we would call “good” is one that fulfills its mission year after year, providing abundant, attractive fruit despite the occasional blemish on its trunk or scar within its roots.

Not far from a church building where I once served, there was a rough-looking little apple tree at the edge of a yard, its branches overhanging the road. You wouldn’t think much of it in the winter, but in the late summer and fall, it produced apples galore. When I went for a walk, it practically waved its branches and said to me whenever I passed under it, “Here, have an apple! Please!”

I would take one and eat it as I walked along, and the apple was always very good. It was a faithful little tree, doing its best in a less-than-perfect location, bordered on one side by asphalt and exhaust. I suppose the tree persistently kept reaching for the water and nutrients it needed all those years.

Jesus, James and a particular apple tree I know offer us a straightforward way to measure our Christian lives.

Lord, in our brokenness and infirmities, we can still bear fruit for you. Keep us mindful of where we find sustenance: in prayer, in Scripture, in worship, in fellowship and communion, and in so many other places where you have promised to meet us. Amen.

The Holy City

Revelation 21:22-22:5 (NRSV)

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.


By Chuck Griffin

Biblical visions of eternal life with God are highly symbolic. I do not say that to downgrade our expectations in any way—symbols point us toward an experience greater than what is described.

The images we are given in Revelation certainly lift me up, even knowing they fall short of what we will truly see. In our text today, we are granted a peek at life after a new heaven and earth have come into existence.

Our verses today focus on the vast city at the center of it all. This clearly is a place for those who have taken advantage of God’s unmerited offer of salvation, made possible by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. 

What particularly entrances me is that the holy light of God, shining through the “Lamb,” Jesus, is all anyone needs for seeing. Just as God penetrates our hearts now, the undiluted truth of God will be continually and eternally revelatory, washing through our resurrected senses.

I also love the way the river of life flowing from the throne of God connects this vision in Revelation to the descriptions of Paradise found in Genesis. In a refashioning of what was lost to humanity because of the first sin, multiple versions of the tree of life are there, complete with death-defying fruit and leaves for healing.

I am left asking myself this question: How much of this can we experience now? Even as part of this old earth, we can make the decision to put God as revealed through Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, asking that we see everything with his holy, illuminating truth.

We are not yet invited to eat the fruit that will give eternal life, but we can be bearers of the leaves, offering healing words and actions carefully crafted to draw the lost toward salvation and holiness.

If we choose to do so, perhaps the holy city will seem vaguely familiar when we visit it for the first time.

Lord, we thank you for visions of what is to come. What we will experience will be a beautiful expansion of the gift Christ already has given us on the cross. Amen.

To Be Seen as God Sees

1 Samuel 16:6-7 (NRSV)

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”


By Chuck Griffin

At this point in 1 Samuel, God had rejected Saul as king, sending the Prophet Samuel in search of a new leader for the chosen people. Samuel arrived in the right place, but his eyes were drawn to the wrong person.

Israel was led by a man who looked “kingly” but could not follow God in a sustained way despite God’s Spirit resting on him. A little later, God would tell Samuel that David was Saul’s successor, and the prophet would anoint David to fulfill the role as a man after God’s own heart.

It’s clear from David’s physical description that the people would find him physically attractive, but that was not his qualifying characteristic, the aspect of his being that would make him the greatest earthly king of Israel.

We always should remember that David certainly was not perfect. What seems to matter is that he was very much inclined toward seeking and following God’s will, an Old Testament example of the pursuit of holiness.

We are reminded that if we are to act righteously, we first have to desire that God’s will be accomplished. Developing such a desire can be a complicated step in our life-long walk with God.

After all, we have to overcome the tendency to look out for ourselves and pursue what we want, which so often has to do with how we hope to appear to other people rather than to the God who looks within us.

My mind goes to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Implicit in this statement is that our asking, searching and knocking should be driven by a holy desire to see God’s will fulfilled in every aspect of our lives.

Lord, bring our hearts fully into alignment with yours, so our desires match your desires. Amen.

What Shall We Do by Faith?

Hebrews 11:4-7 (NRSV)

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.


By Chuck Griffin

I prefer to plan. I enjoy visualizing where I want to go and devising how I am going to get there. If I cannot make my plan work, I become frustrated.

As a young man, this strategy worked well for me. A time came when people called on me to handle the planning of strategies and messages, with specific goals in mind.

As I grow older, however, I wonder if this tendency to plan can sometimes be a weakness rather than a strength. In particular, being wired in such a way can make it difficult to let God lead.

As we see in Hebrews, good things happen when we have faith that we are part of the big plan God already has put into place. The examples in the verses above are just the beginning of a long list of faithful people, one that stretches through the Bible and into the present. The reward for faith, even for Old Testament characters, amounts to salvation and a promise of eternal life.

The problem with planning is it can limit us. Planners can achieve only what is humanly possible. Aligning ourselves with God’s plan, even if it doesn’t always make sense in human terms, opens us to divine possibilities.

I don’t want to give you anything sounding like a plan, but here’s something we all should watch for in our lives. Do you ever have what seems like a holy desire to do something others might call irrational?

Let’s bathe those desires in prayer and see if they remain. If they do, God may be calling us to take an unplanned step in faith.

Lord, we should pray this prayer more often: Make us bold for you!

Lower than the Angels, for a Little While

Hebrews 2:5-9 (NRSV)

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned them with glory and honor,
    subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

By John Grimm

Angels are cool.  They are literally the messengers of God, for that is what the Greek word means.  Though angels are higher than humans, they are not the ones to rule humanity.  Angels have some authority, yet they do not have the ability to give me salvation.  They can tell me what God has in store for me.  They cannot deliver me from my sins.

It is Jesus Christ who delivers me from my sins.  He is the one who became for a while lower than the angels.  It is Jesus who is crowned with glory and honor.  How did this happen?  Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering, death and resurrection.  Therefore, I can praise Jesus and I can honor Jesus.

The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet before his crucifixion is known now because she gave glory and honor to Jesus.  Now I have the time and means to give glory and honor to Jesus.  I started to give praise to Jesus when I first believed in Jesus as the Son of God.  I continue to heap praise upon Jesus for all the times he has been with me in my life.  Once God’s reign is established on the new earth, I will continue to give honor to Jesus. 

Praise you, Jesus, for coming to earth, to be a little lower than the angels.  Thank you for suffering so that we may live for all time with God.  This day is a day that we choose to praise you!  You are due all honor because of the great work you have finished for humanity.  We praise you.  Amen.