Toddling Toward the Kingdom

Luke 18:15-17 (NRSV)

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”


My colleague John Grimm, a LifeTalk contributor, wrote last Thursday about the importance of transmitting the gospel from generation to generation. And it’s clear from today’s text that Jesus sees little children as having a special ability to hear the gospel.

Over the years, I have had parents tell me of their children declaring at age 5 or 6 that they believe in Jesus. Often, the parents want to know if I think the belief is somehow “real.”

Yes, it’s real. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to grow to adulthood, make a comparative study of religions and take philosophy classes before we are qualified to believe. We need to grow as disciples throughout our lives, but faith in Jesus is not an intellectual exercise.

It was difficult for Jesus to go to the cross, but that’s because out of love for humanity he was doing all the work, bearing the burden of every sin committed. Salvation is simple for us because all we have to do is believe in the work’s effectiveness. Jesus loves me, this I know, and for a child, salvation is a straightforward proposition.

Theologically, we do have much to work through as we get older. Concepts like soteriology (how salvation works) and theodicy (the answer to why evil continues to persist) are enough to keep our minds busy for a lifetime. But even the complicated questions require simple, childlike faith as a starting point in the search for answers.

Blessed are the children. Blessed are all who come to Christ with childlike wonder.

Lord, help us to recover and maintain the faith of a child, even as we make our way through the complicated world of adulthood. Amen.

A Healthy Fear

Death of Ananias, Raphael, 1515.

Acts 5:1-11 (NRSV)

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.


Just to be sure we are all on the same page, I should point out what most careful readers will observe. This harsh, shocking story is not about money.

It is instead about the very serious nature of Christians’ relationship with their church, “church” being a gathering of people sharing a mutual belief in Jesus Christ, and the mission flowing from that belief.

Readers of the Bible have struggled for centuries with this story, finding themselves confused by the rapid judgment falling upon this couple. Was there no room for them to repent and find grace?

Peter’s words and a particular Greek verb in the text, one used only when divine judgment is at hand, make it clear the answer is “no.” Working through the hearts of this couple, Satan had dared to enter the holy group established by God to spread the gospel over all the earth.

Such deceit from this couple could not be tolerated. These two likely were hoping to leverage their false gift into acclaim, and their acclaim into power, and God could not allow the devil to embed himself so deeply in the fledgling church.

We should read this story as a reminder to take very seriously the vows we make as Christians, be they the words we say at baptism and confirmation or commitments we make later. We especially need to be sure that any actions we take to support or participate in the life of the church are intended for the glory of God.

The devil still seeks to find entry, and God still sees his holy, catholic church of believers to be precious and worth defending.

Lord, help us to search our hearts continually as we serve the kingdom through the church. May our motives be pure. Amen.

Start Right

Psalm 86:8-13 (NRSV)
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and bow down before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

When life seems complicated, it is good to lift up a simple prayer. If the news is any indicator, this week could prove to be complicated, so let’s prayerfully turn our eyes toward our wisest guide, as revealed in Psalm 86.

There is none like God. How can anything created be like the one who creates? At best, we can hope to be a reflection of God, an image pointing toward what is holy.

And what is holy will be revealed in full. Despite the turmoil, the striving, and the evil within the nations of the world, all people will one day conform to God’s will. It simply is part of God’s plan.

The greatest and most wondrous thing God has done is to give sinful beings a path home to their creator. We now understand that this reconciliation occurs through Jesus Christ, God Among Us.

In a great, mysterious act of love, Jesus died on the cross, bearing the burden of our sins so we do not have to do so. Simply through our belief in this act, we are restored, made worthy of eternal life in God’s presence.

Teach us, O Lord; help us to put aside what is not of you and live every moment of our lives for you. As we better recognize the incredible gifts you have given us, may we be a people filled with thankfulness, and may you be glorified in all we do.

Lord, carry us through this week and beyond; hear our prayer. Amen.

What’s New Is Old

Acts 13:16-25 (NRSV)

So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:

“You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.’”


As Christians, we love the story of our savior, Jesus Christ. Let’s never forget how he is rooted in a more ancient story.

Yes, that sometimes intimidating collection of Old Testament texts is very important. God came to save all the world through a particular group of people, and it’s difficult to fully understand salvation without understanding their story.

Paul knew that while speaking to fellow Jews, he needed to keep Christ in context so they could see Jesus as the fulfillment of long-awaited promises made to them. Note, however, that Paul also addressed “others who fear God.” We owe some study time to the story of the Israelites, the one group of humans selected by God to serve as a light to all the world, illuminating the path to salvation.

Paul summarizes the story by beginning with the Israelites’ captivity in and exodus from Egypt, moving through their time in the wilderness and their conquest of the Promised Land. Then he recounts their being led by judges and kings, noting the great King David was in Jesus’ ancestry.

If you find the Old Testament less than familiar, perhaps today is a good day to launch into at least a high-altitude study of what is there. A good study Bible is all you really need, although the amount of information now available to us in a digital world is astonishing. Just be sure your sources are trustworthy!

And of course, you can always ask your pastor and other church leaders for help.

As you immerse yourself in these ancient texts, much of what Jesus Christ has to say in the New Testament will make more sense. Jesus was, after all, a good and faithful Jew, deeply rooted in his people’s history and traditions.

Lord, bless us with a deeper understanding of how the stories in our two testaments are connected. May we find joy in all that is there, knowing these concepts add up to the great story of our salvation. Amen.

Instruct the Children

Methodist Life welcomes the Rev. John Grimm as a regular contributor to the LifeTalk blog.

Joshua 2:6-10 (NRSV)
When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites all went to their own inheritances to take possession of the land. The people worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred ten years. So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.


John Wesley instructed the preachers to spend time with the children. The preachers were to instruct the children about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As I have learned in church, many hands make light work of instructing the children on how to follow Jesus.

For me, it was my mom who gave me much of my instruction about faith in Jesus Christ. My siblings also were instructed by our mom in these matters. This passage caught my eye because just like Joshua, my mom and her generation of her birth family are gathered to their ancestors.

Now, I get to make sure the next generation knows the work of the Lord. As you and I together serve God, we get to instruct the children so that more children follow Jesus.

God, in these days of my generation, I get to teach the children about you and your work. May my generation be inspired to make sure the children know our faith in Jesus. Use my generation to make yourself and your works known to younger generations. It is in the name of Jesus Christ that I pray. Amen.

Potential Unleashed

John 1:29-34 (NRSV)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”


John—prophet in the wild and Jesus’ cousin—offered a different kind of baptism than what we undergo today to become Christ’s followers. It was a traditional Jewish baptism of repentance, designed to ready people for the coming Messiah.

When Jesus underwent this baptism despite his lack of sin, he demonstrated solidarity with the people he had come into the world to save. John also declared something about Jesus’ baptism that we should see in our own baptisms, too, despite their different natures.

In Jesus’ baptism, great potential was revealed; in our baptisms, great potential is made possible. Because Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins, the Holy Spirit is able to descend on us, too. When we declare our belief that the cross is effective for salvation, the door to a relationship with God is reopened for us.

Whatever we are after baptism is much more than what we would have been without baptism. It is only natural that we move toward “better” in relationship with the eternal, holy God.

Of course, we do have to let the Holy Spirit remain at work throughout our lives if we want to see continual spiritual progress. Thanks be to God, who has made this process relatively easy.

He has told us there are intersections of heaven and earth where we can go to allow the Spirit to penetrate our souls more deeply. Studying the Bible, immersing ourselves in prayer, receiving communion, and being in fellowship with other Christians are some prime examples.

God only knows what wonderful things might happen if we go to those intersections again and again.

Dear Lord, thank you for the potential you give us. Help us to develop it and live fully as the people you would have us be. Amen.

Smells Like Spirit

Exodus 30:22-38 (NRSV)

The Lord spoke to Moses: Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane, and five hundred of cassia—measured by the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil; and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand; you shall consecrate them, so that they may be most holy; whatever touches them will become holy. You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, in order that they may serve me as priests. You shall say to the Israelites, “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an unqualified person shall be cut off from the people.”

The Lord said to Moses: Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (an equal part of each), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; and you shall beat some of it into powder, and put part of it before the covenant in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. When you make incense according to this composition, you shall not make it for yourselves; it shall be regarded by you as holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from the people.


I still find it remarkable how God wants to engage all our senses as we relate to our creator through worship.

God gave Moses detailed instructions regarding how worship was to be carried out when the Israelites were on the move and needed a portable facility, and these principles would continue to undergird Jewish worship once a temple was in place. As we read these instructions, it’s not difficult to let our imaginations come alive and sense the experience: the colors we would have seen, the feel of the fabrics and utensils (assuming we were in the group allowed to touch them), the sounds of consecration and sacrificial slaughter, and yes, the smells.

As we see in the instructions for the production of anointing oil and perfume, most of what was created for worship was distinctly different from daily life, set aside for use in worship of our unique God. And our experience of the holy God should be different from any other experience.

If you have ever smelled any of the items in the text—myrrh and frankincense, two of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus, are possibilities—you may understand my reaction. They can be earthy and biological in a familiar way, but simultaneously they transport me somewhere strange, a place beyond my normal olfactory experience. I then think of the promise in Revelation of a new heaven and earth, the re-establishment of holiness in all of creation.

Wow. Sometimes I can get carried away more than a wine snob with a bottle of Etna Rosso Lacryma de Christi. (Confession: I found that by running an internet search on “wine snob.”) But we should be excited when we explore our relationship with God using all our senses.

After all, God made all five senses to be used. Think about that the next time you are in worship, wherever you may be.

Lord, thank you for engaging with us as we are, where we are. Through our senses, you lift us up, and it is our prayer that through our senses you are glorified. Amen.

On the Outs

Psalm 69:1-5 (NRSV)

To the leader: according to Lilies. Of David.
Save me, O God,
    for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
    with waiting for my God.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
    my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal
    must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

There is more to this psalm, but let’s deal with the initial feeling being expressed, one I suspect many of us have experienced.

When we are little children, the feeling comes out in a song: “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, going to the garden to eat worms.” (If you learned to sing it a little differently, there are many variations.)

I wonder if any teenager has managed to get through puberty without feeling unfairly ostracized and opposed from every direction. And yes, most of us know that even as adults, we can find ourselves on the outs and wondering why.

As the psalmist is noting, it’s particularly painful when we come under attack for doing what we are certain is in accord with God’s will. We shouldn’t be surprised, however—Scripture is clear that our relationship with God will bring us into conflict with the world.

Recovery Strategy, Part 1: Keep our hearts attuned to God, who loves us more than any human can love. God will not abandon us as we do our part to work within the divine plan. It’s okay to complain a little, like the psalmist. God can handle it, and God will let us know if we are somehow off track.

Recovery Strategy, Part 2: Stay in community with godly people, even if that community is no larger than a group of three or four. Search the Bible together, pray together and encourage each other.

Remember, the kingdom is not only coming, it will come in full.

Lord, sustain those who would work on your behalf in all sorts of worldly places. May they exude a light from you that astonishes and attracts others. Amen.

What We Do Next

1 Timothy 4:11-16 (NRSV)

These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.


Paul wrote the above words to a young pastor. Let’s read them as instructions to mature Christians.

Yesterday, I wrote a lament and a prayer regarding events that led to mob violence in our nation’s Capitol building Wednesday. How can Christians help restore a nation’s character?

We’re discovering how dangerous it is to ignore character. For too long now, we’ve been willing to say, “Well, that person lacks character, but he promotes something I like, so let’s give him power.” Many of you will think I’m talking about just one person, but I actually could make a list.

Speech and conduct matter; they are external expressions of the character within. They should exhibit high ideals, and we as Christians believe that Jesus Christ expresses the highest ideals, given to us straight from the mind of God. Christ’s standards are so high, in fact, that they are difficult to achieve—we should always be striving toward what is higher.

Our words should reflect love for all people. We will always be broken into little factions, political, theological and otherwise, and the differences sometimes might be sharp enough that we find it difficult to live in each other’s circles. But one of the beautiful aspects of this nation is that it was designed so we can at least share a common commitment to freedom, with harm of others being the one trait we should refuse to accommodate.

As Christians, we need to use God’s word, referencing it, quoting it and letting it guide us. This means we live as true disciples, taking the Bible seriously. Using it regularly sometimes makes the secular folks around us a little uncomfortable, but only where they find themselves in conflict with God’s will.

Let’s be deliberate about living and speaking as Christians. Our baptismal vows are more than a part-time commitment. We take on Christ to be clothed in undeserved holiness. From there, we are called to project God’s purity to a hurting world.

Lord, make us bold for you. Amen.

Fate of a Nation

Job 12:23-25 (NRSV)

He makes nations great, then destroys them;
    he enlarges nations, then leads them away.
He strips understanding from the leaders of the earth,
    and makes them wander in a pathless waste.
They grope in the dark without light;
    he makes them stagger like a drunkard.

Having watched the news yesterday, all I can do is offer a lament and a prayer for this morning.

My lament is this:

Like Job, I believe God takes a very active hand in what happens to the nations of this earth. The world remains a broken, confusing place, and we can find God inscrutable at times. It is, however, better for a nation to be aligned with God than indifferent to God or against God. A nation made up of people seeking God’s will should, for the most part, experience blessings and peace.

We find ourselves far from feeling blessed or at peace. That alone should tell us something is wrong with our national relationship with God. Not all Americans are Christian, and being Christian is not a requirement to be an American. But enough of us call ourselves Christian that our beliefs should be having more of an impact on national events.

Deliberate efforts to manipulate people with misinformation have triggered anger and fear in a significant part of the population, driving yesterday’s events. Such tactics do not align with Jesus Christ’s teachings or with thoughtful Christianity, where truth and a desire for peace should reign.

Let’s never forget Jesus’ warnings regarding the danger of acting in anger, or his repeated post-resurrection statement, “Fear not.” What have we to fear, knowing Christ has died for us, knowing his power is within us?

I am convinced that current events are a result of declining Christian evangelism, combined with a lack of discipleship and spiritual depth in the American church. Too many of us are failing to look in our Bibles, absorb what we find and then apply those truths in daily life.

That’s my lament. I root my prayer in the light that has come into the world, a light to overcome the darkness and keep us from staggering through history like drunkards.

Lord Jesus Christ, speak to the hearts of all people so a desire for peace and righteousness fills us and overwhelms us as a nation. Give special power and understanding to the people who make up your church. Let us be the first and best examples of what it means to follow you. Amen.