All

Romans 3:21-26 (NRSV)
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.


Politicians and social media participants happily point out which group is at fault in these divided times.  No matter where we are on the political spectrum, we can blame the other side for the wrongs done in our society. In doing so, we might even feel as if our very existence has been justified.

When our local church reopened for in-person worship recently, we tried something different for the pews.  We decided to use ribbon to mark off which pews we can use.  The ladies who tied the bows for the ribbons did a marvelous job, but after thanking them for their work, I noticed something peculiar.

Earlier, when I had shown them what I envisioned, I had used a roll of blue ribbon to demonstrate.  They had other colors available, too: pastel green, pastel pink, and red.  When they were finished, we ended up with blue ribbons on the left side and red ribbons on the right. It was not a preplanned political statement; it just happened that way.

I mentioned this when we were back in our first in-person worship service.  I lightheartedly said that the Democrats did not have to sit on the left, nor did the Republicans have to sit on the right.  I finished my remarks by saying, “All sinners are welcome here.”

The only way we can be justified is by faith in Jesus Christ.  All of us, no matter the political persuasion, can receive redemption that comes through him.  Being lumped together by faith in Jesus Christ surely gives us a different perspective on life, even our political life.

Lord God, you want all to believe in Jesus Christ so all may be in your kingdom.  Our arbitrary divisions of political class do not change the fact that all of us are sinners.  Use the righteousness that you have given us through faith in Christ to heal the relationships in our local church, our community, and our nation.  For we realize we can only be found in your kingdom by being in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

One of Us

Important Link ~ Jesus Is Tempted: Matthew 4:1-11

It is the season of Lent, and this story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness tells us much about how to put sin behind us and grow spiritually, seeking holy alignment with God.

Not that Jesus, who was in a mysterious way fully divine and fully human, had sin in his life. He did have the potential to sin; he simply did not succumb to temptation, as we so often do as frail humans.

Just before the temptation story in Matthew, the Father in Heaven affirmed Jesus’ sonship at his baptism. In our baptisms, we become children of Father God, siblings of the Savior Son. As the author of Hebrews notes, “The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”

Think of baptism as God lifting up his children, gazing upon them and claiming them as his own. God also kneels down with his children. Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness was God, through Jesus’ eyes, seeing life from our level.

And what a painful place the wilderness can be. When I read this story, I imagine Jesus walking about in the chalky, sun-baked wilderness, hungrily praying about everything that draws humans away from God.

We hear specifically the lures old Satan dangled before Jesus: You know you’re hungry; make bread from stones. Throw yourself from the highest point of the temple; angels will save you. Bow down to me and I’ll let you rule the world!

Jesus was ready, though, and I’m reminded of our need to find time apart for fasting, meditation and prayer. Folks, we’re really not very good at these disciplines in our culture. It is as if our goal is to fill every moment with something to tingle the ears or penetrate the eyes, as if time spent in unstimulated silence is somehow wasted.

We fail to do what Jesus did. We fail to go without, so we fail to remember our fragility and dependence. That’s the real purpose of fasting. The act helps us become more conscious of the voids within us, deep depressions in the soul we too often try to fill with excesses in eating, sex, recreation or other diversions.

Having consumed the wrong kind of sustenance and thinking we are satisfied, we then fail to gather our strength through direct communion with God.

I don’t talk about our failures to make us despair, however. No, I point them out so we can, with God’s help, overcome them and be amazed at all that God wants to do for us!

Never forget that in the midst of what seemed like vacant, dry wasteland, a place of constant danger, there were angels ready to tend to our sibling savior. Do you not think they will do the same for us, his little brothers and sisters in the family of God?

Lord, your Bible stories in the Lenten season remind us of sin. But more importantly, they remind us of the joy and power in a life redeemed from sin, a life connected to eternity by Jesus Christ. Help us to make and hold on to that connection. Amen.

The Christian Presence

1 Peter 3:8-9 (NLT)

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.


You may have heard this St. Francis of Assissi quote: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

Nearly short enough to fit on a bumper sticker, the saying stays with us. And frankly, it sometimes is misused as an excuse to not speak the Good News when the opportunity arises, giving the quote more play than it might receive otherwise.

St. Francis did have a point, though, one rooted in what the Apostle Peter emphasized in his letter. Every day, Christians have the opportunity through attitude and behavior to inject a little of their faith into the world.

The secular world isn’t going to pay much more than lip service to Peter’s principles. Worldliness dictates that when push comes to shove, people had better be ready to demand their rights, defend their positions, and dish out more than they receive.

As Christians, we don’t want to be pushovers to the point of accommodating evil, but on the vast majority of our days on this earth, we have the opportunity to change hearts simply by injecting blessings in the midst of conflict.

Tenderheartedness and a humble attitude do much to create a fertile environment for the gospel, and a few words can then become very effective.

Lord, as we are confronted today by conflict, let us be the ones who bring calm and blessing to the situation. Amen.

Do Good

Hebrews 13:16: Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


We’re continuing with our Monday focus on behaviors we can practice throughout the week, a particularly good exercise during the season of Lent. Last week, we focused on the first rule for traditional Methodist living, do no harm.

This Monday, we move to the second very simple rule: Do good.

Be an active Christian, not a passive one. In our daily living, we should be making the world more like the kingdom of heaven. This sounds like a simple assertion, but if we are not intentional about doing good, we will miss many opportunities.

We do good in a couple of basic ways. We of course need to relieve suffering. When the kingdom of heaven is fully present, Christ’s work on the cross will be complete, and suffering and death will come to an end.

A good guideline for identifying those who suffer begins at Matthew 25:31, which recounts the scene of judgment Jesus gave us. We of course are dependent on God’s grace to be saved, but it’s also clear that salvation is supposed to change us so we do good, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Righteousness in Christ is identifiable by how we treat the least among us: the hungry and the thirsty, the vulnerable strangers we encounter, those lacking the basics for living, the sick, and the imprisoned.

You are invited to spend the week considering how you might do good toward these people, and then follow through. I would suggest we start as close to home as possible and then work out from there, considering our church family, our community, and then beyond.

If you’ll look at the larger context surrounding today’s Bible verse, you will see Jesus’ teachings embedded there. You also will see that our acts of good are a response to the great act of good Jesus performed on the cross, overcoming sin and death for us.

That larger context reminds us of our second big opportunity to do good. Tell the story of Jesus Christ to people needing to hear it. Our willingness to do so may be the difference between eternal life and eternal death for someone.

Again Lord, let our eyes see and our ears hear what you would have us do. Amen.

The Work

We preach Christ crucified.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NRSV)

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.


Lately, when I hear this passage quoted, the focus seems to be on the people who will not put up with sound doctrine, the ones who seek out teachers who simply confirm what is comfortable.

Certainly, that’s a problem today. But it’s also pretty easy to argue that itching ears and wandering hearts have been around since the earliest days of the church. We cannot bring people to Jesus Christ simply by pointing out what stands against the Christian message.

Instead, let’s focus on what Paul told the young pastor Timothy to do. Be persistent in following God’s call, which is placed upon all Christians.

This passage reminds me of an encounter with a church member I had several years ago, when President Barack Obama was running for a second term. The parishioner revealed his political stance when he grabbed my sleeve and asked me, “Pastor Chuck! What are we going to do if Obama is re-elected?”

“Well,” I responded, “I guess we should do exactly what we should do if he loses. We will preach Jesus.”

Times may be favorable or unfavorable, and people may have a lot of trouble agreeing on our current status. But for Christians, our work remains simple.

First, we unhesitatingly declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, using the Holy Bible to expand upon that core truth. We present that beautiful message of love and grace to nonbelievers as attractively as we can without compromising the call to holiness that goes with it.

And within the church, the body of believers, we live in mutual accountability, ensuring we are growing in our faith and love.

Paul described a simple mandate, one that should be easy to remember.

Lord, help us today to consider when we last went to work for you, what fruits we bore, and what opportunities might lie before us. Amen.

Not Much Has Changed

Daniel 9:1-14

In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying,

“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.

“All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. So the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against you. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers, by bringing upon us a calamity so great that what has been done against Jerusalem has never before been done under the whole heaven. Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us. We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity. So the Lord kept watch over this calamity until he brought it upon us. Indeed, the Lord our God is right in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed his voice.”


It was a different time and a different nation.  Yet, the prayer that Daniel prayed is one that can be prayed by each generation and each nation. 

Daniel’s prayer is called a prayer of confession.  We can have shame upon our nation for we have sinned against God.  From our rulers to even the ones reading this devotion, we all have sinned.  Paul will even remind us in Romans that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.

As Methodist Christians, we realize the importance of repentance.  For when we repent, we are responding to God’s prevenient grace. 

Our confession of our sins, iniquities, and wickedness allows God to give us new birth through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is hard to realize that we have brought calamity upon ourselves.  Yet, thankfully, turning to God in faith we find the forgiveness that he has already prepared for us.

God, we are sinners here in America.  We have not listened to you.  Now, we are listening to you.  We admit we have done wrong by you and our neighbors.  Let us know your forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A Time for True Repentance

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, which prepares us for Easter. Let’s focus on a traditional Ash Wednesday Scripture, Isaiah 58:1-12, considering it in sections. (I’m using the New Living Translation today.) Throughout, Isaiah is speaking directly for the Lord.

“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
    Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!"

God wanted his people to recognize and be aware of their sins, calling upon his prophets to look to the Law and declare where the Israelites had strayed. There is no doubt God wants us to continue to recognize where we deviate from God’s will, first and foremost using the Bible as our guide.

   "Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
    and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
    that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
    ‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
    and you don’t even notice it!’"

Religion, the system of living built around the worship of God, is a good and wonderful thing. But like any gift from God, religion can be abused. People can become so caught up in form that they forget function. The function of religion is to draw us into a closer relationship with God and better understand how God would have us relate to each other. This was true in Isaiah’s day, and it’s just as true now.

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
    “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
    will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
    by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
    like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
    and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
    Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help."

God expects us to treat each other equitably, to use the resources we have to lift each other up! We who are free spiritually, economically and in other ways should live so that others may be free, too. The season of Lent is a wonderful time to look around and find the places where we can make a difference.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes."

Yes, there are benefits to living a life with God—properly repenting of our sins, trusting Jesus Christ as our savior and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us to holy actions we would not have considered before. Repentance opens the door to salvation and salvation gives us hope.

God is simply asking that we share that hope with others!

Lord, may this season of Lent be a proper time of reflection, repentance and renewal, and may what happens in us change the lives of others. Amen.

Ancient Vision

Before we look at today’s Scripture verses, I should note something important about the Book of Job. A lot of scholars think it may be the oldest book of the Bible, predating the writing of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).

No doubt it is ancient. And yet, it foresees events still changing our lives today.

The Book of Job largely deals with theodicy, the question of why God allows evil to happen. As Job’s suffering increases, a debate ensues among Job and his friends. Ultimately, God settles the matter, saying humans cannot grasp all that God is and does.

In the 19th chapter, however, Job makes a strange, visionary declaration, one that seems to capture some remarkable insight:

Job 19:23-27 (NRSV)
“O that my words were written down!
    O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
    they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
    My heart faints within me!"

Thousands of years before Christ’s incarnation, Job understood the broad outline of God’s plan to save broken, sinful humanity, a plan stretching to the end of time.

Redemption would come, through one person, a redemption so powerful that even those dead and turned to dust would benefit. As I read the Book of Job, the vision seems to come out of nowhere, almost out of context, leaving Job swooning.

Time having passed, and Christ having come, we have a better lens for interpreting Job’s vision. Like us, the resurrected Job will stand before the one who makes redemption possible.

We know Jesus is the one who went to the cross to die for every sin ever committed. We see him as the slain lamb, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and ultimately, all suffering.

Job’s words also inspired a powerful song. You might want to hear it with Job 19 in mind this morning.

Lord, thank you for the visionaries who came before us, showing us that your plan to save the world is ancient and assured. Amen.

Do No Harm

For at least a few weeks, I want to try something a little different with our Monday devotionals. Monday should be a good day to focus on a Christian behavior we can then practice throughout the week.

Here’s our text for this Monday:

Romans 12:17-18 (NLT): Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

John Wesley summarized the Christian life with three simple rules for living, rules emphasized heavily in the early days of Methodism. They remain just as valuable today. Let’s consider the first one this week.

Rule No. 1: Do no harm.

The first rule sounds more like avoidance than action, until you consider how intentional a person must be to live it out in full. The world is full of evil, and it’s not unusual to find ourselves wanting to compromise our Christian standards to combat that evil.

In rare situations, such compromise is unavoidable. Otherwise, all Christians would have quickly begun to live as pacifists. I’m going to assume and pray, however, that none of you will find yourself in such a rare circumstance this week.

Going about our everyday lives, let’s try to assess each of our decisions with “do no harm” in mind. Who around us is touched by our actions? Where we gain, does someone lose?

What might we have to surrender to avoid doing harm? A little self-denial might be an important part of our week.

This all sounds a bit cerebral, but what we’re aiming for is an attitude that infects others. As “do no harm” becomes the standard within a community, its members begin to find themselves in a state of mutual care, and from there, those rare, compromise-inducing situations should become even rarer.

In many ways, this is a kingdom-building exercise, the first of three common to Methodism.

Lord, we pray this so often, but let our eyes see and our ears hear. Amen.

Even the Worst

1 Timothy 1:12-20 (NLT)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.


If you’ve spent much time trying to lead people to Jesus Christ, you may have encountered an unexpected problem.

A lot of lost people reflect on their worst sins, and they think Christianity simply sounds too easy. “How could God ever forgive that,” they ask, referencing the sin. Others consider the sins of infamous evil people and then struggle with the simplicity of salvation.

All we have to do is confess and turn away from our sins and believe? Really? Regardless of who we are or what we’ve done?

Yep. Believe that Christ’s work on the cross is effective and you’re saved from eternal death, the appropriate result of sin. Instead, receive eternal life, a gift so joyous it benefits this life now.

Over time, all who take this initial step do need to understand the proper response to this great gift of salvation, a response driven by the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. They should find themselves moving into full alignment with God, which is mostly about allowing God to go to work.

But salvation itself really is that simple.

Once saved—to use the Methodist term, “justified”—that ongoing alignment is important because it keeps us from backsliding. Paul made it clear that a believer’s faith can be “shipwrecked.” Having escaped the power of sin, we don’t want to steer toward the rocks and end up in the clutches of Satan once again.

Believers, simply keep in mind that God is always close. Open your Bible. Open your hearts to your savior in prayer. Take time to worship. Satan will flee.

Lord, thank you for how easy you have made salvation. Help us to communicate the simplicity of your plan to those who have yet to accept it for themselves. Amen.