For, Against and Undecided

Mark 9:40 (NRSV): “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Luke 11:23 and Matthew 12:30 (NRSV): “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”


By Chuck Griffin

Compare these two statements from Jesus and you may find yourself a little puzzled. They seem to be in conflict.

Those who work against Jesus clearly are his enemy; those who actively declare him Lord and Savior, seeking his will, obviously are his supporters. But what about the status of those who have yet to make a decision regarding whether Jesus is the promised Messiah?

Mark’s verse seems to indicate that those who do not actively oppose Jesus are for all practical purposes with him. The words found in both Luke and Matthew, on the other hand, seem to equate indecision with opposition.

Each statement has its own context, of course. In Mark, the disciples have complained to Jesus about a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, even though “he was not following us.” Jesus says what he says as part of an admonition to leave the man alone.

In Luke, Jesus has been doing the casting out of demons himself, and stands accused by some onlookers of working on behalf of Satan. This leads to a somewhat cryptic lecture from the divine exorcist about how that would make Satan a kingdom divided, doomed to fall. There also is talk of how even a strong man can be overcome and plundered by one who is stronger, a reference to the power Christ has over the evil, temporary ruler of this world.

The story found in Luke also is in the 12th chapter of Matthew. There, Jesus is recorded as going a little further after saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

“Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32.)

Here’s one way (my favorite way) to look at these passages. Jesus is patient with the undecided—to a point. Where people are seeking to understand salvation, doing good in the process, he wants to give them much leeway as they explore what it means to follow him.

Simultaneously, Jesus expects people to be respectful when the Holy Spirit is at work driving back evil, healing, and lovingly providing what should be convincing evidence to the undecided about God’s grace. Flippant or sarcastic remarks from anyone in the presence of holy moments are unwise, amounting to active opposition to Christ’s mission.

To the undecided, I would say this: God is lovingly patient, but if you genuinely seek God, do so humbly and reverently. Take your search seriously. After all, what you seek would be by definition holy and eternal.

Lord, we thank you for the tremendous patience and love you show all of us. Grant continuing grace to those who wrestle with their unbelief, helping them toward salvation before the final chance to decide passes. Amen.

The Love Christ Offers

Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.


By Chuck Griffin

I want to continue what we began yesterday, an exploration of the idea that God’s Spirit works within us, changing us. We basically are using the same text as yesterday, although I’ve offered you a different translation.

I run across people from time to time, some clergy, some laity, who struggle with the idea that God changes us. They will agree that God meets us where we are as sinners to save us, but they pooh-pooh the notion that God wants to take us far beyond where we are met, changing us dramatically through the relationship.

Usually we back into this conversation. Old Methodist notions of “holiness” and even “perfection” arise in small groups or in classes about Methodist history, and these skeptics adopt a posture ranging anywhere from amused to exasperated.

I once had a Methodist clergyman tell me it’s not right to preach and teach such things—the audience, he said, would only be disappointed in the long run.

So, we love a God who loves us just so much and no more? We love a God who goes great lengths to give us eternity, but doesn’t pour out enough additional grace to start preparing us for the full presence of the divine?

I’m not buying it. Particularly when I read about the love flowing through Christ being so wide, long and high that we cannot grasp it with mere human knowledge. Most of us know how human love changes us dramatically. Of course God’s love is going to change us.

I understand what drives the skeptics’ confusion. There are sins and other complications in life that seem insurmountable. Paul wrote today’s text, but he also puzzled over his thorn in the flesh that God would not remove. The undefined problem may have been physical, but it clearly was having emotional and spiritual impact.

Even when faced with complications, we should never fall into skepticism regarding what God can do. The key is to never stop engaging, loving God as best we can and trusting that God always works for our betterment, for as long as we allow.

We may not achieve spiritual perfection in this life, but that just means there’s room for improvement in the time we have left.

Lord, when we feel stuck spiritually, mired in sin or infirmity, first give us the strength to keep reaching toward you. Amen.

Critical Growth

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.


By Chuck Griffin

At this point in Ephesians, Paul has been talking about salvation given to us through Jesus Christ and God’s follow-up to salvation, the provision of the Holy Spirit to believers.

This text takes me back to when I first began to explore “holiness,” that old Methodist concept that to some sounds really demanding, and maybe even highfalutin. It took me a while to figure out how simple and down-to-earth holiness really is.

An old Nazarene preacher helped. I never met him in person, but someone gave me a copy of an obscure book he wrote, and in it I read that holiness simply is a matter of growing in our ability to love as Jesus loves.

It didn’t take long to connect that thought to Paul’s “love is” verses in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

“Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!”

Love is very positive, of course, and we also see love is more than a fuzzy feeling. Love colors our response to all kinds of worldly events, and most importantly, love keeps us rooted in truth. We do have to search for truth, but Christians should know truth is found in what God consistently reveals to each generation regarding the divine plan for humanity, laid out for us in the Holy Bible.

Traditional Methodists find themselves living with a kind of spiritual tension, offering God’s love to all people but never shrinking from our duty to declare what God has first said via Scripture, regardless of how people may respond. We of course hope and pray for a very good response.

We know it actually is a very unloving act to ignore our basic mission. We declare salvation has come; we declare a pressing need to conform to God’s will in every aspect of our lives, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us.

Let’s keep moving toward completeness.

Lord, may the work of the Spirit be something we allow to happen within us every day, and may our love be evidence of your presence. Amen.

Drink Up!

Note: The LifeTalk devotions from Methodist Life will be on hiatus for two weeks so the regular author can take some vacation. Regular devotions will resume Monday, June 7. John Grimm, an occasional author for LifeTalk, likely will be posting on his personal blog during this time.

John 7:37-39 (NRSV)

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


By Chuck Griffin

I offer you this reading from John as a prelude to this coming Sunday, when most of us will celebrate Pentecost and the presence of the Holy Spirit within the church.

Too often, we allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to seem so mysterious that we miss the outpouring of grace and joy available to us.

Are you thirsty? By that, I mean are you fading spiritually, declining in such a way that you’re receiving signals of impending spiritual death? Belief in Jesus Christ opens a spiritual tap, and we can be so filled with the presence of God that we begin to sustain others.

If you’re thirsty, open the tap now. Remember your belief in what Christ has done for us on the cross—dwell on what it means to believe. Engage with God in all those ways God loves to be engaged: in Scripture, in prayer, in fellowship with other believers.

Certainly, seek the Spirit in worship somewhere this Sunday.

Be blessed!

Lord, thank you for your constant presence. Help us to shake off the blinders this world places on us and let us see you once again. Amen.

More than Human

1 Corinthians 15:42-49 (NRSV)

So, it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus, it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.


By John Grimm

We are accustomed to hearing and saying, “I am only human.” This statement is like the least common denominator when it comes to living. We know every human makes mistakes, gets hurt and hurts others, and that we are not perfect. We almost take pride in this statement.

Yet, “I am only human” does not cut it for us. Our physical life is good. We yearn for something more. We do not want to be known by the type of human we are. We do not want our mistakes, our sins and our foibles to define us. On Pentecost, Peter preached that Jesus rose from the dead. Here, Paul lays out the plan for us to understand: Because of our belief in Jesus, we bear the image of the man of heaven. Since Jesus is resurrected from the dead, we who believe in Jesus will also be resurrected from the dead.

How does this happen? Like Adam, we sin and tarnish the image of God, separating ourselves from God. Like Jesus, we have life from heaven, now and after death. Along the way, we realize that we are not “only human,” but that we are humans who are bearing the image of Jesus. Continuing to believe in Jesus leads us to know that we will be resurrected like Jesus. Otherwise, we will not be able to be with Jesus in the kingdom of God.

God, you are great! You do not give us up to be “only human.” You gave us your Son so that we may have life with you. Help us to live the life that shows Jesus is the man of heaven. Fit us with Jesus’ image so we may be fit for life with you for all time. May we be found, even today, to be an image bearer of Christ. Amen.

What Must Be Done

Ezra 9:5-9 (NRSV)

At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,

“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.”


By Chuck Griffin

Ezra dropped to his knees to do what must be done from time to time, to do what the people as a whole had failed to do. He repented and sought forgiveness.

Because of their sins, God’s chosen people found themselves enslaved, their way of life decimated. But a glimmer of hope had appeared, the potential to rebuild what had been a glorious temple. And yet, Ezra observed, the people of Israel continued to defy God.

The specific sin causing Ezra grief sounds strange to us today. The Israelites were to be a people set apart, a lesson in holiness to all the world. But instead they had begun to intermarry with the people around them, in the process adopting other gods and unholy practices. The real problem was that they had moved away from God and toward idolatry.

The principle remains the same for us. We are to search for what pleases God and what displeases God, practicing the former and avoiding the latter. Our Holy Bible gives us our baseline for understanding sin, something our broken minds cannot sort out on their own. In our New Testament, we receive refined guidance about sin from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working within the early Christian church.

Ignoring this guidance brings grave danger. Our best response is to search our actions and even our thoughts to see where we may deviate from what God desires. We truly practice a religion of the heart.

Such an examination of ourselves should lead us where Ezra went—on our knees, in a state of repentance. Living much later than Ezra in God’s grand story of redemption, we know that because of the work of Jesus Christ, forgiveness, change and hope lie ahead.

A call to such piety is not popular, I know. Sadly, there are people among us who have established themselves as preachers while preaching the opposite.

Their opinions do not change the word of God, however, and they do not remove the need for thoughtful searching of our souls and serious repentance.

Lord, reveal to us through your holy word and directly in prayer where we displease you, and then show us a better way. Amen.

The Open Door

Revelation 4:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

As part of my preaching on Ascension Sunday, I referenced Christ reopening Paradise for us. Much can be seen through an open door.

When John of Patmos looked through the door, what did he see? Well, God, of course. And despite seeing, he could not find words for what he saw. The best he could do was describe exotic items of our world—jasper, carnelian, emerald, crystal—and say they somehow look like God and what surrounds God in heaven.

John’s vision reminds me of Plato’s allegory of the cave, written 380 years before Christ. Plato compared unschooled people to people who have lived all their lives shackled in a cave, their backs to the opening, seeing nothing but shadows against the wall before them. The shadows would be their reality.

If one of these prisoners were to break his shackles and escape through the cave’s mouth, he would find reality incomprehensible. There would be no way initially to connect the movement of the beings and objects outside with the shadows that had seemed so real. And if the man were to go back to his shackled friends and try to explain, they would think him mad.

John of Patmos was like Plato’s escaped prisoner. Instead of a cave opening, he looked from our shadowy world into heaven. And he found it very difficult to describe in words the glory he witnessed.

There are aspects of his vision that remain familiar, however, and we’re reminded we can get at least a glimpse through the now-open door. We have moments where we’re lifted just high enough to peek over the threshold, particularly while in worship and prayer.

In John’s view of heaven, God is the point of worship, as God should be here on earth. In heaven, beings both bizarre and familiar to us sing of God’s holiness and exist in a constant state of pure and perfect worship.

There also is evidence in John’s vision that our worship here lets us participate in worship there. As we read in chapter 5, we see the prayers of the saints—those of us here on earth—used as incense, our smoky praises and petitions floating before God.

We also see Christ in the midst of this vision, described as the “Lion of Judah” but appearing as a slain lamb. Having come to earth to be with us and die for our sins, Christ then returned to heaven at the ascension, carrying our humanity with him. He has complete power over our fates and how history is to unfold.

A view of heaven changes everything, doesn’t it? At least for as long as we can remember the view, cherish it, and revisit it through worship and prayer.

People who once looked lost to us suddenly have infinite potential. Situations that looked hopeless are actually full of promise. This shift in thinking happens because we see those people and situations against the backdrop of the open door. The light that shines through, twinkling as if it has passed through jasper and carnelian and crystal, recolors everything in this world.

A view of heaven is one powerful benefit of being among the church, the collection of people who look toward the open door.

Lord, grant us new visions of the life Jesus has unlocked for us. Amen.

The Woolly Jesus

Revelation 1:9-18 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

Life seldom goes as planned. In fact, I wonder if life ever goes as planned.

A few years ago, I read an Associated Press obituary about a pilot named Denny Fitch. Back in 1989, he was riding home in an empty seat on a United Airlines DC-10 bound for Chicago.

While in the air, the tail engine on the jet exploded. Shrapnel from the engine sliced through all three of the jet’s hydraulic systems. When Denny heard the explosion, he made his way to the cockpit to see if the flight crew needed any help—after all, he also was a flight instructor for United.

Turns out they needed the help. They pretty much had lost all control of the plane, except for one option: They could make the jet go up and down, left and right by increasing and decreasing power to the remaining wing engines. Denny sat down in the only available space, the floor, and helped steer a jet carrying 300 people in this crude manner toward Sioux City airport, their best option. That’s where the jet crashed, but in a somewhat controlled manner; half the people on board survived.

In an interview for a documentary, Denny talked about the unpredictability of life: “What makes you so sure you’re going to make it home tonight? I was 46 years old the day I walked into that cockpit. I had the world ahead of me. I was a captain on a major airline. I had a beautiful healthy family, loving wife, great future. And at 4 o’clock I’m trying to stay alive.”

That’s how life goes. Bad things happen in a broken world where sin and its biggest effect, death, still have a hold. I’m not sure which is more disconcerting, the evil humans inflict on each other or the evil that just happens because some force of nature like wind or fire smacks us down. Both can make us question God’s presence. We all experience events throughout our lives that can wear us down.

It’s hard to make it to adulthood without losing to death someone you love. And then there are the other pains we experience. We love someone but are not loved back. Our careers jump the tracks, despite how hard we work. We feel like we’re careening out of control.

Whoever he was, John, the John who wrote down what we now call the book of Revelation, must have felt he was careening. We don’t know much about him, but he tells us he was persecuted. He was on the island of Patmos in exile because he had professed belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But then he saw the woolly haired Jesus, and everything changed. His suffering and his disappointments had context.

John’s vision of Jesus was different than our Gospel-inspired images. “I saw one like the Son of Man,” John writes, “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.”

Don’t be too literal when reading Revelation, but don’t discount the power of symbolic speech, either. This is the glorified Jesus, the post-resurrection Jesus. This is humanity blended with deity, pure and holy. Power, strength and authority radiate from the Savior.

This vision, and other visions in John’s Revelation, remind us that the world is not out of control, even if it seems so for a time. Christ came for a reason, to set the world right. His resurrection is the first sign of the work being done today, the restoration and healing of the world.

And Christ will be seen again.

Lord Jesus, Maranatha. Come Lord, come. Amen.

Before the Fire

Exodus 24:15-18 (NRSV)

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.


I’ve read this passage several times before, but I was struck by a new impression while reading it again. Moses, who was often impatient elsewhere, showed remarkable patience as he sat waiting on God.

Six days Moses waited before God, who appeared to the people at the foot of the mountain like glowing fire in a cloud. What was it like for Moses to stand at the edge of the visible presence of God for six days?

Did he dare sit down? Was sleep at all possible? Was he so entranced that all he could do is stare, waiting, unaware of time’s passage?

We have no answers to those questions, of course. I suspect Moses’ experience was similar to what we will experience when we first stand before the fully visible God. I’m reminded of the MercyMe song, “I Can Only Imagine.

I look forward to knowing. In the meantime, we practice patience in this life, seeking divine glory and waiting on God’s holy word, which will come in God’s time to those who wait faithfully.

Lord, call to us—if we are spiritually slumbering, startle us! Amen.

Up (Ascension Day 2021)

Acts 1:1-11 (NRSV)

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”


By Chuck Griffin

Today is Ascension Day, an important moment in the Christian year.

When we think of what Jesus accomplished for our benefit, the concept of his ascension into heaven often vanishes behind the darkness of his crucifixion or the brilliant life-giving light of his resurrection.

The ascension is a critically important part of God’s plan of salvation, however. In many ways, it completes the work done by God in the crucifixion and resurrection.

The key to understanding the ascension is to comprehend what is carried up.

Luke, a companion of the Apostle Paul, gives us accounts of the ascension in the end of the gospel of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts. After appearing repeatedly to his followers in his resurrected form, Jesus led them about two miles outside Jerusalem to Bethany.

He then did several important things: He opened their minds to understand the Jewish Scriptures, in particular how they predicted Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He told his followers they would spread throughout the world the good news that salvation is available. He promised them the Holy Spirit would come to empower and support them.

And then the ascension happened. It’s described a bit mysteriously; in Luke, Jesus “withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” In Acts, we get a little more detail, where we learn “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

The point is that Jesus physically left this world and entered the realm of the holy, God’s abode, the place where only things unstained by sin can go.

So, why does it matter that Jesus went up? Well, it matters because of what Jesus took with him—his resurrected human body. Human flesh now exists as part of God’s trinitarian nature, a strange change in the nature of heaven. What was unacceptable anywhere near the throne is now on the throne.

And that is why salvation is now so easy for us, if we will only believe that Jesus died to free us from punishment for our sins. When we appeal to God, we look up and appeal to the one who loves us so much that he made himself like us in order to save us.

Lord, on this special day, we again are grateful for the tremendous measures you have taken to restore us to you despite our sins. Amen.