Blessed Is the One

Revelation 22:6-9 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

The angels and humans have one thing in common in this part of John’s vision.  We are slaves.  What a commonality!  For we serve God in our respective capacities.  The difference between angels and humans is how we can be faithful.

The angels were faithful in delivering the vision to John, and to all who read Revelation.  We humans get to be faithful in keeping the words of this prophecy.  We do not worship angels.  We worship God, who is faithful to both the angels and to humans. 

What then are we to do?  We are to keep the words of this book!

When we do keep the words of this book, then we will know how much and for how long we can worship God.  We get to be faithful until Jesus Christ returns.  We are slaves to Jesus through the word that angel revealed to John.  We, therefore, serve with the angels in the worship of God.  If we get nothing else from Revelation, then we deliberately find reason to worship God.  That is the word for us.  Worship God.

God, we worship you.  You are faithful to us.  We are finding encouragement to remain faithful to you.  It is a blessing for us already to know we serve you.  It is with our life that we worship you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

The Counter to Evil

We know that we are God’s children and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.—1 John 5:19.

By Chuck Griffin

Another terrible mass murder has occurred, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The horror of it all is difficult to shake off, and we certainly should not be quick to discard such feelings.

We become numb to these events, I think, because there seems to be nothing immediate we can do beyond praying for these devastated families and communities. Let’s remember that prayer is real and effective, despite what the vulgar Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona has to say about Christians who offered prayers. (Even in a fit of anger, people need to avoid blasphemy.) If anything, more and deeper prayer is needed in the face of such terrible evil.

And yes, we need prayer-guided action, too—effective action. Politicians and pundits are quick to pull out rehearsed talking points, many of them rooted in a humanist view that somehow, with the right restrictions in place, we can all be made good enough to stop killing each other.

I have yet to see a plan that has stopped such violence in the past or would stop it in the future. The day after this shooting, I read a story about the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history. It occurred May 18, 1927, in East Lansing, Mich., killing 45 people, 38 of them children. A local farmer angry about taxes carried out the plot using dynamite.

We can keep going back through history to find such horrible events. Don’t forget that in an attempt to stop the Christ child from growing to manhood, Herod sent his soldiers to slaughter infants, a massacre in the midst of one of our favorite stories of joy and hope.

Caught up in the world, Christians sometimes forget to root their response in an important part of our basic, very ancient worldview. There is evil, terrible evil, in the world, and we are called to short-circuit its work by fulfilling the mission Christ gave us. We work alongside God to convert broken people, bringing them into lives filled with peace and hope.

Somehow, we missed that young man who became a killer in Texas, and others like him. I don’t know his history; maybe our increasingly secular culture walled him off from the gospel message, or maybe many Christians tried to reach him. But at times like this, reality hits us square in the face. Whenever we miss someone, for whatever reason, evil takes root, just as it tried to take root in each of us before we genuinely found Jesus Christ.

Christians, it’s safe to say that evil will persist until Christ returns, but do you want to keep at least some of these events from happening? First consider who is in your circle of influence, and then do all you can to reach those who seem to be drifting toward evil. See their pain; see their needs and try to show them God’s love flowing through you.

More than anything else, these efforts require time, something so few are willing to give these days. If nothing else, let the Uvalde massacre and events like it be a call for us to evaluate how we spend our time as people who claim to follow Christ.

Dear Lord, we so look forward to the day when evil is cast aside as this world is remade. In the meantime, help us to bring your dawning kingdom’s light to the dark places we encounter. Amen.

Guided

Luke 2:25-35 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Serving God is unique.  We will not know exactly what we are to do in every situation.  We will not know how long we will have to wait to see what God has promised.  We only know that we are serving God.  When we arrive where God wants us to be for someone else, we will know it.

As a member of the clergy, I have noticed this truth.  There have been countless times that I have contacted a disciple and that disciple says to me: “How did you know I needed…?”  Whether it has been a prayer, my presence, or even a phone call, God has allowed me to be part of an unknown that blessed others.

Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel.  We do not know how long he waited.  We only know that he would see what God promised him before he died.  Then, Simeon praised God.  His words amazed Joseph and Mary.

The truth is that the consolation of Israel is for the glory of Israel and a light of revelation to the Gentiles.  We may not ever be in the situation Simeon was.  However, being there with a prayer, our presence or even a phone call for another person can be exactly how God wants us to serve Him.

Jesus, thank you for being all that you are.  As we serve you and the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we see what you promise us.  Give us the words as we pray for other people.  Give us the wherewithal to be present when someone needs us.  Give us the timing that allows us to dial a number for us to speak what you desire for us to speak.  Amen.

The True Temple

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.—Revelation 21:22.

By Chuck Griffin

This single verse is part of a much longer passage near the end of the Bible regarding the New Jerusalem, the holy city that is part of the remade heaven and earth. We see the fulfillment of God’s desire to reunite with humanity.

I want to focus on this one verse because it reminds us of worship in its purest form, a kind of worship that is possible now, even before the events that will close the era of broken creation and begin eternal life with God for the redeemed. It is a form of worship many Christians have experienced at least briefly, and it has a kind of power in it that can sustain us for a lifetime.

I am talking of worship that is not dependent on a particular time or place. It may happen as part of a scheduled event, inside a building made for the purpose, but if any of those elements are present, they are merely conduits for the real experience.

Those of you who have had this experience instinctively know what I’m talking about. Place and time seem to dissolve, and what remains before us is God, certainly felt and for a very blessed few even seen. We better understand what it means to describe Christianity as “mystical.”

While the conduits—the steeples, the sanctuaries, the altars, the pulpits, the stained glass, the paraments, the instruments and more—can be very helpful, there also is a danger in their use. We can become dependent on them, even in love with them, in the process forgetting about who it is we actually pursue in worship.

Few Christians would walk away from the buildings they often call “the church.” And often, there is good reason. I call it the “holy ground” problem. So much has happened in the space. Baptisms, weddings and funerals, all with their associated memories, are just the obvious events.

The solution, I think, is to be careful about how we walk toward worship. Have we arrived to visit a place or a memory, or are we moving expectantly into an encounter with God?

The right mindset can help us worship God in full now.

Dear Lord, give us deeper and even unexpected encounters with you in worship. Amen.

Are We?

Proverbs 2:6-8 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

The Lord gives wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.  These gifts are for the upright, those who walk blamelessly, his faithful ones.  Are we upright, walking blamelessly and faithfully?

We know we need wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  In the days ahead for the people called Methodist, we get to reach into God’s stores for these gifts.  In the days behind us, we might not have used these gifts exclusively.  It is possible to admit that we were not upright, blameless or faithful.  Our past performance does not have to dictate our future production, though.

God is guiding us through these days.  We rely on him for wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  Because God’s ways are higher than our ways, the wisdom, knowledge and understanding that we use will confound those who oppose his faithful ones.  Our desire is to be upright in how we speak with the other.  Our desire is to be blameless in interacting with the other.  Our desire is to be faithful when we see that others are not being faithful to God.

It is our hearts and our souls that benefit from God’s gifts.  In living as upright, blameless, faithful ones, we will have pleasant motives such that the other will not be considered other to us.  We will want all to pursue God’s gifts.  Yet, we recognize that not all will.  Still, we can be upright, blameless and faithful ones as we live in this world.

God, thank you for your wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  Forgive us for not drawing upon them in the past.  Renew us as we go to your stores for these much-needed gifts.  May our paths be straight as we move through these turbulent days of the United Methodist Church.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Fan the Flame

By Chuck Griffin

One of my favorite movies is “Jeremiah Johnson,” the story of a man in the mid-19th century who sets out to be a trapper in the Rocky Mountains. His first winter is bitterly cold, with knee-deep snow his constant environment.

Early on, he attempts to start a fire in a driving snowstorm, his only shelter some bent pine boughs. With nearly frozen hands, he gets the fire going using flint, steel and tinder. Then he fans the flames with his hat, creating enough of a blaze that he can begin to add larger pieces of wood.

   It is of course at this moment that a chunk of snow breaks loose from the trees above, smothering the flame.

   The scene reminds me a lot of the Christian life. The flame inside us rises. It even burns brightly!

   And then out of nowhere, something in the world turns it all into a steaming, hissing mess. Despite the old saying about a snowball’s chance, there must be giant snowballs in hell, because the devil seems to throw a lot of them.

   I thought of the scene as I read some words the Apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy.

   “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline,” Paul writes in the first chapter of his second letter to Timothy.

   Scholars debate this, but I think it’s pretty clear that Timothy received his letter because Paul got word that the young church leader was not standing up for the truth about Christ as strongly as he should. The letter states plainly that there were troublemakers in the midst of Timothy’s church, people who got others upset with their “profane chatter” about their improper notions regarding the resurrection.

   Paul simply was reminding his protege that while God gives us the fire within—our salvation and the ensuing gifts from the Holy Spirit that empower us—we are responsible for fanning the flames so they burn fiercely. We fan those flames by staying close to God and using whatever gifts we are given to fulfill the roles God assigns us.

   Paul’s message tells us to have a little grit, some gumption, when facing people and a spiritual realm opposed to God. What do you do day-by-day in your own special way to challenge that snowball-tossing Satan and his minions?

   By the way, Jeremiah Johnson, while frustrated, brushes away the snow and begins the fire-making process again. He knows he has the spark and tinder in hand; he also has the fortitude to keep using it, fanning the flames.

   That’s why he survives, and later even thrives.

Dear Lord, source of all real strength, may your Spirit lift us up and empower us when faced with adversity. Amen.

“I Am the Lord Your God”

Leviticus 19:9-18 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

When God says something directly to his people, he is quite emphatic.  In our relationships with one another, we do what is right for those relationships because the Lord is our God.  Righteousness happens between people because that is the way that the Lord our God is.  Whether we are harvesting, or speaking with one another, or interacting with the deaf, or working with all classes of neighbors, or when we attempt to bear a grudge, we are to be righteous.  Why?

God says it emphatically, clearly, and purposefully: “I am the Lord your God.”

Is this truth working in our lives?  Is this truth working in our local churches?  Is this truth working in our Annual Conference?  Is this truth working in our current denomination, the United Methodist Church?

These questions are for the people of God.  These questions are not for the unchurched. 

Are there happenings in our lives that attempt to refute God’s position in creation?  We are to care for the poor.  We are to honorably carry God’s name with our lives.  We can fear God, even when others do not frighten us.  We can honor our neighbors of all classes.  We can love our neighbors as ourselves.

We seek justice—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.  We deliver the truth—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.  We love—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.

Are the many sides in the United Methodist Church recognizing that the Lord is our God?  Are we doing such by refraining from bending the truth?  Are we loving our enemies?

Lord, you are God.  There is no other god for us.  As we interact and go through the present turmoil in the United Methodist Church, forgive us for not loving our neighbors, especially those who do not believe as we do.  We are to honor you and recognize the dignity of our neighbors.  Guide us to be righteous as you are righteous while we live in these days.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

After the Word Is Heard

By Chuck Griffin

Parables, those little stories Jesus used to illustrate how God works in the world, are not always intended to provide immediate answers. They are more like mental Juicy Fruit, designed to keep us chewing on an idea until it makes sense.

Jesus does, however, explain his first parable in Matthew, the story of a sower who liberally scatters his seeds in different places: a path, rocky ground, thorns, and fertile soil. The seeds represent “word of the kingdom.” The landing places and the fate of their seeds stand for responses to Christ’s message.

When Jesus speaks of the “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” in Scripture, he describes something that is here but that will later arrive in full, like a train that has just nosed into the station but is still moving.

The coming of the kingdom of heaven has an individual effect. We each accept Christ’s work and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us in unique ways. But the kingdom also is having a universal effect, changing creation as a whole and moving us toward a time when evil, sickness and death are no longer a part of the world.

That is really good news, the kind of news that should cause us to reconsider every aspect of our lives. When we first believe the news, we are reunited with God through Christ. As we understand the news on deeper and deeper levels, we further incorporate its meaning into our lives.

Not everyone reacts the same way to this news, however. That’s the point of the rest of the parable.

First, there are the “path” people. Jesus reminds us that the “evil one” will do all he can to pull back into his deadly grasp people who don’t initially understand the message. Those of us who want to help them are called to engage in very real spiritual warfare, relying on the Christ-sent Holy Spirit to overcome the work of Satan.

Second, there are the “rocky ground” people. You’ve seen them—they are energetic and enthused about their new faith, until they face trouble for the first time after their conversions. These people remind us why discipleship is so important to a new Christian’s life.

Third, there are the “thorn” people. They find the temporary baubles of the world attractive, so much so that their desire for these riches keeps them from appreciating the word of the kingdom. What they need is a big-picture understanding of their own lives and the lives of people around them.

The “good soil” people are of course what all believers want to be, Christians who let God work through them to bring along the full arrival of the kingdom.

One of the great gifts of the kingdom is that we can move from being one kind of soil to another. The God who made the earth remakes us, at least as much as we allow.

Lord, may your word take deep root in us and flourish to the benefit of others. Amen.

Who Do You Serve?

Daniel 7:13-14  (NRSV) 

As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being
    coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
    and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
    that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
    that shall never be destroyed.

By John Grimm

The spinoff to Babylon 5, a sci-fi show from the late 1990’s, Excalibur, had a persnickety character named “Galen.”  He would show up at the most inconsiderate and awkward times.  One of his questions was, “Who do you serve?”  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we know the answer.

Or do we?  There are portions of the Bible that we do not understand.  Reading Daniel’s visions we come across the one like a Son of Man, a.k.a. one like the human one.  His entrance is awe-inspiring.  He is given accolades and responsibility that no one else has.  We do not understand when this one like a Son of Man will be here.

We are enthusiastic about all peoples, nations, and languages serving him.  We like the language that they should serve him.  We await his kingship/kingdom that shall never be destroyed.  Then, we realize we are part of all peoples, nations, and languages!  Who shall we serve?

Do we know the answer?  We can freely serve Jesus Christ now.  We could also wait until all people, nations and languages must serve him.  It is a promising idea for us to serve Jesus Christ freely now.  The language of this vision is such that all humanity has the option.  If we are not serving Jesus Christ, then who or what are we serving? 

Jesus Christ, we get to choose to serve you.  You are due all these accolades, for you are the Son of Man!  You have taken us from being God’s enemies to being people of God.  Thank you for being gracious to us.  Through our lives and the retelling of how you are working in our lives we pray for others to begin to serve you.  Thank you for the work you have for us to do.  Amen.

A Burning Desire

Luke 12:49-53 (NKJV)

“I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday, my new hardback copy of Percy Livingston Parker’s “The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal” arrived. I opened it at random, wanting to see the typeface, layout and such.

I landed on page 212, which has this subhead on it: “Wesley Burned in Effigy.” Here begins Wesley’s account of a handful of April days in 1750 in the Irish town of Bandon, County Cork. It is easy for us to forget that Methodism in its original and purest form brought its adherents into conflict with other Christians, who sometimes were angered by the Methodist call to turn back to a scriptural faith.

Monday, 21.—I rode on to Bandon. From three in the afternoon till past seven, the mob of Cork marched in grand procession and then burned me in effigy near Dant’s Bridge.

Wednesday, 23.—The mob was still patrolling the streets, abusing all that were called Methodists, and threatening to murder them and pull down their houses, if they did not leave this way.”

Wesley’s Thursday and Friday entries give accounts of continuing vandalism of homes and the efforts of people to organize anti-Methodist mobs, apparently with the encouragement of local clergy. By Saturday, the town had settled down a little, and Wesley that evening began preaching “to more than twice the usual congregation.” (People do crave truth, don’t they!)

“After I had spoken about a quarter of an hour,” Wesley writes, “a clergyman, who had planted himself near me with a very large stick in his hand, according to agreement, opened the scene. (Indeed his friends assured me he was in drink, or he would not have done it.) But before he had uttered many words, two or three resolute women, by main strength, pulled him into a house; and after expostulating a little, sent him away through the garden.

“The next champion that appeared was one Mr. M—, a young gentleman of the town. He was attended by two others with pistols in their hands. But his triumph too was but short; some of the people quickly bore him away, though with much gentleness and civility.

“The third came on with greater fury; but he was encountered by a butcher of the town (not one of the Methodists), who used him as he would an ox, bestowing one or two hearty blows upon his head. This cooled his courage, especially as none took his part. So I quietly finished my discourse.”

Some observations:

  1. Christianity, properly lived, requires courage. Let nothing, not even institutional powers that may threaten us, prevent us from following God’s call. Jesus warned us that the core truth about who He is can cause division even within households.
  2. People who crave real truth and meaning will be guided by the Holy Spirit to support and shield those who bring the word.
  3. Regardless of the circumstances, preach it! And I don’t just mean professional preachers—we are all called to declare the truth about who Jesus is. When God prompts you, finish your discourse quietly or loudly, according to your style.

And if the situation really gets out of hand, pray that the town butcher is nearby.

Dear Lord, thank you for the brave souls who have gone before us to ensure your biblical revelation of Christianity is revealed to the world. And should we be called into the fray, may we be counted among them as worthy. Amen.