The Cure for Doubt

John 20:19-31

By Chuck Griffin

Nonbelievers aren’t the only ones with doubts. People who call themselves Christian sometimes have doubts about Jesus, the resurrection, and how it all applies to them.

It’s not surprising we can struggle in such ways. The Easter story lives on the edge of fantasy—a man most undeniably dead leaves his rock-sealed, heavily guarded tomb and appears to hundreds in a transformed state. Even more remarkable, we are to understand this event as a mere beginning, a foreshadowing of a radical change in creation that eventually will result in our own transformative, death-defeating resurrections.

Our doubts arise for a simple reason. Despite the promises of the Easter story, the world keeps smacking us around. We lose people close to us. Worry about the immediate future overwhelms us. Sometimes we simply experience intellectual doubt, our rational minds telling us to stick to what we can see as the basis for reality.

In this part of the resurrection story in the Gospel of John, we find the disciple Thomas very doubtful. Thomas had seen the man he called teacher, Lord and master crushed by the power of the world, and he quickly fell into a rigid cynicism. Even when his fellow disciples excitedly told him they had seen the risen Christ, he was not impressed.

Let me see the hands, he said. Let me stick my fingers in that horrible wound in his side. I wonder if we’re supposed to read his words with a tone of bitter sarcasm. “Look, they riddled him with holes, including a spear-sized one running through his lungs and heart,” I hear him saying in the deepest, darkest corner of his soul. “You really think he is walking around?”

Thomas had to wait a week, but Jesus accommodated his request, appearing for his wavering disciple’s sake. Touch the wounds, Jesus said. Believe.

We see Thomas’ doubt cured. I believe that in this story we also can find a cure for our own doubts.

Even if we don’t see Christ physically present, our doubts can be assuaged by experiencing Christ. That idea certainly fits with today’s story. Even the disciples needed to experience something beyond the physical Christ to grasp the truth of Christ’s resurrection. This is why we have this account of Christ breathing on them, providing an early Pentecost, an experience of the Holy Spirit to sustain them.

The risen Christ breathes on us, too. We simply have to put aside doubt long enough to open ourselves to a similar encounter with the Holy Spirit, the same aspect of God resident in Christ.

I am perplexed by how resistant people are to the simple acts that trigger the experience, even people who have long called themselves Christians. When I spend time with Christians struggling with doubt, I find they have a basic problem: They’ve forgotten how to spend time with the one who gave them their first taste of eternal life.

We encounter God most directly by spending time in prayer, learning the stories of the Bible, and worshiping so the Holy Spirit can work in us and through us as a group.

I know. I sometimes sound like a broken record with all this talk about praying, reading our Bibles and going to church. It is the Methodist in me. We suffer needlessly when we fail to methodically use the means God has given us to draw near him. When we do draw near, we allow God’s Spirit to whisper to our spirits.

Those who spend significant time in such activities can testify that the ensuing experience is as good as seeing Jesus in the room. Christ breathes on us, and doubt flees.

Dear Lord, we believe. Help us with our unbelief. Amen. (See Mark 9:24.)

Psalm 118, Meditation 4

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

There is nothing more timeless than salvation.  As Chuck pointed out yesterday, the psalms have a timelessness to them.  The timelessness of salvation is what we all want to know.  This desire is ingrained in our lives.  We want to be secure in our living now and our hope for the future.

This salvation comes only from the Lord.  We see verses 21-25 pointing out how God becomes our salvation.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!

Jesus was rejected by those who were attempting to build Israel into a great nation.  It is by knowing Jesus as the chief cornerstone of life that we have salvation.  We can sing about Jesus delivering us from our sins and ourselves.  Jesus will give us success over the sins we have committed and the nature of sin in us.

Salvation is not merely being delivered from sin. Salvation involves us discovering how we can be made new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17ff.).  Salvation is lived in our lives during this day and all the following days.  We marvel because, like God’s mercies being new each day, he continues to renew us in the image of Christ.  This is salvation, being made to bear the image of Christ fully and completely in our lives.

Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ.  We are looking for success in bearing the image of Christ in our lives.  As we seek you, we can rejoice in how you are working in us so that we live like Jesus, even today.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we ask that we may be found to be like him more each day.  Amen.

Psalm 118: Meditation 3

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

Psalms have a timelessness to them—while they are clearly rooted in a particular era, they also evoke situations that remain very current.

The timing of my reading of Psalm 118 came right on the heels of my looking at the Reuters news site, where there were photo essays on the devastation in Ukraine, particularly in the destroyed city of Mariupol. As you might expect, these words from the psalm leaped out:

All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
    they blazed like a fire of thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

The analogy is not perfect, of course. Ukraine faces an evil attack by just one nation, although the military strength of Russia exceeds what the psalmist was imagining by an order of magnitude I cannot begin to calculate.

And yet, the Ukrainians thus far have managed, while incurring terrible losses, to cut their attackers off. Looking at the photos of their funeral scenes, there is little doubt they have rooted themselves in their faith as they suffer. Of course, the great irony is that their attackers try to justify their acts through the pronouncements of their very nationalized church, which has managed to destroy its credibility in just a few weeks, in the midst of the holiest days in the Christian year.

As psalms often do, these words guide us to a prayer, this one for the Ukrainians: “Lord, be their strength and might; Lord, be their salvation.”

As the psalm continues, there is a victory song, and we certainly pray that all people under siege will be able to sing it one day soon. This can, however, also be a very personal moment for the reader of this psalm.

We all find ourselves under siege from time to time because of temptation. Again, we must rely on the Lord’s strength and might, on God’s freely given salvation.

When we overcome that temptation—when we move toward righteousness not through our own strength, but through what God has granted us—we should sing those glad songs of victory.

Lord, may your strength and might be more readily observable in this world. Move us toward a time when right clearly is seen as right and wrong vanishes because we have lost all desire for it. Amen.

Psalm 118, Meditation 2

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

I remember my youth Sunday School teacher, Bill, reminding us that we can give thanks to God each day.  Whether we thank God for something large or small, we can show our appreciation to God.  In this “Song of Victory,” we start by giving thanks to God.  It is a general call for thanksgiving.

As we move through the first four verses of Psalm 118, we see that the call for thanksgiving becomes more specific.  The second group encouraged to give thanks is Israel.  As we ponder what God has brought Israel from, through, and to, we can recognize they know the steadfast love of God does endure! 

The house of Aaron is the next group to be encouraged to give thanks.  Yes, Aaron did lead the Israelites to make the golden calf.  However, God’s steadfast love was given so he and his descendants could know God’s forgiveness.  Yes, even those who lead in the worship of God can give thanks.  For we clergy who lead worship, our worship begins when we too can give thanks to God for his steadfast love.

The last group in our selection today is those who fear the Lord.  This group can contain members of the previous two groups mentioned.  It can also contain those who are now called Christians!  Even our neighbors who do not subscribe to organized religion may be in the group of those who fear the Lord.

Despite our best efforts, Christians can harm people who are seeking faith in God.  When these people have a respect for the Lord, they do not tolerate Christians who have harmed them.  Hopefully, those turned off by organized religion may recognize the steadfast love of the Lord and join Christians in giving thanks to God.

Have we been giving thanks to God every day of our lives?  Do we encourage other people to give thanks to God for his steadfast love?  As long as the earth has seasons, we will know the steadfast love of God!

Lord, you do have steadfast love for us!  You are good to me and everyone else.  Thank you for being in our lives.  May we open our eyes to your steadfast love, even when others have harmed us.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

Psalm 118: Meditation 1

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

During this first week of Easter, John Grimm and I want to focus on Psalm 118. Please be sure to take time to read this psalm.

I find these prophetic words beautiful and uplifting, and I must not be alone, as portions of this psalm have inspired prayers, hymns and even modern songs.

The story of Easter provides the “how” to the psalmist’s declaration that the Lord’s “steadfast love endures forever!” It’s a cry that moves among the tribes and priests of Israel and on through time through Jesus, our high priest who imparts this love generation after generation.

As we are told in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” What an enduring love! And all we have to do is believe it to receive it.

The psalmist also shows us how we can use distress in this life as motivation to call upon the one who loves us so. It helps to already know God, of course; it’s painful to be in distress while also groping for truth about God. But even then, we may hear with greater clarity God’s call on our lives and move toward truth.

Life is a process of learning where the real refuge is. We waste our time turning to princes and presidents, in those who spring up like a flower and wither away (Job 14:1-2).

We find refuge in one who is mysteriously fully human and fully divine, the Christ who suffered and died for us, and now lives forever, inviting us along!

Dear Lord, help us in this Easter season to embrace you as our Savior and guide for life. Amen.

Resurrection Day!

John 20:1-18 (New Testament for Everyone)

On the first day of the week, very early, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark.

She saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. So she ran off, and went to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.

‘They’ve taken the master out of the tomb!’ she said. ‘We don’t know where they’ve put him!’

So Peter and the other disciple set off and went to the tomb. Both of them ran together. The other disciple ran faster than Peter, and got to the tomb first. He stooped down and saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter came up, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the napkin that had been around his head, not lying with the other cloths, but folded up in a place by itself.

Then the other disciple, who had arrived first at the tomb, went into the tomb as well. He saw, and he believed. They did not yet know, you see, that the Bible had said he must rise again from the dead.

Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood outside the tomb, crying. As she wept, she stooped down to look into the tomb. There she saw two angels, clothed in white, one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus’ body had been lying.

‘Woman,’ they said to her, ‘why are you crying?’

‘They’ve taken away my master,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they’ve put him!’

As she said this she turned round, and saw Jesus standing there. She didn’t know it was Jesus.

‘Woman,’ Jesus said to her, ‘why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’

She guessed he must be the gardener.

‘Sir,’ she said, ‘if you’ve carried him off somewhere, tell me where you’ve put him, and I will take him away.’

‘Mary!’ said Jesus.

She turned and spoke in Aramaic.

‘Rabbouni!’ she said (which means ‘Teacher’).

‘Don’t cling to me,’ said Jesus. ‘I haven’t yet gone up to the father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I’m going up to my father and your father – to my God and your God.” ’

Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples, ‘I’ve seen the master!’ and that he had said these things to her.

The Suffering Servant

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (NRSV)

See, my servant shall prosper;
    he shall be exalted and lifted up,
    and shall be very high.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
    —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of mortals—
so he shall startle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
    and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
    Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
    and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
    he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
    Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
    The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

God, thank you for this description of Jesus’ persecution and death.  May your will prosper in us through our faith in Jesus.  It is by that faith we find you make us righteous in Christ.  Help us to know how good we have it in this life because of Jesus’ suffering.  Prepare us to live and die like Jesus Christ so our family, friends and enemies may know the righteousness that we all can have in Christ.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Those Dirty Feet

By Chuck Griffin

Let’s keep this simple today, as simple as dirty feet.

On this Holy Thursday, called Maundy Thursday in some circles, I mostly want to be sure we take time to read the pertinent story in the Gospel of John. It is available in full for you below.

As you read, focus on the part about Christ washing his disciples’ feet. Try to imagine the full sensory experience of being near these feet, with the grit and grime and smell. Remember, these people walked about in sandals on unpaved streets, where the animals also trod and did what animals do—and where the storm water and sewage sometimes ran.

There was a reason only the lowest slaves were required to wash guests’ feet. And yet, in today’s story, the Savior of All stripped down, toweled up, and went to work washing, not long before he went to work suffering and dying.

If you’re not fully grasping the lesson—well, pay close attention to the last line of the story.

John 13:1-35 (NRSV)

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Lord, help us to better understand how low we should go in loving service to others. Amen.

What a Savior!

Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Wednesday of Holy Week means we are one day closer to Jesus’ arrest, flogging, trial, crucifixion and death.  Centuries before Holy Week, Isaiah tells us about the servant of God who will be humiliated and vindicated.  Now, almost two millennia after Holy Week, we continue to realize all the servant of God went through.  This prophecy shows how the servant of God did not turn back.

We know this servant of the Lord to be Jesus the Christ.  Yes, he was a teacher.  But he is so much more than that!  Yes, he was obedient to the Lord God.  But he did not turn back when he was abused.  Yes, he had his face set like flint.  But no one could contend with him.

The determination of Jesus the Christ leads us onward.  His willingness to suffer for us is forgotten when we fail to receive the Lord’s Supper.  We can not do any better than our Savior, Jesus the Christ! 

Will we contend with Jesus?  Will we confront Jesus?  Will we declare Jesus guilty?  We are not capable of doing these tasks.  Our life is but a breath.  We will wear out.  The truth about Jesus the Christ will contend with us.  The truth about Jesus will confront us.  The truth about our guilt is known by Jesus the Christ.  When we decide for Jesus in our lives, then there is no condemnation for us! 

What a Savior!  Jesus withstands much abuse (50:6).  Yet, he willingly does so.  Why?  First, because the Lord God vindicates him.  Second, because we need a savior.  We will find as we believe and follow the Savior that God will stand by us as well. 

Holy Spirit, aid us in setting our faces like flint so we may see the goodness of our Savior.  Strengthen our resolve to cling to the Lord God through Jesus the Christ.  As we find the shame of our sin removed through Jesus’ blood, may we have life with Jesus eternally.  In the powerful name of Jesus the Christ, we pray.  Amen.

On a Sunday Morning Sidewalk

Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

By Chuck Griffin

As we make our way through Holy Week, I’m struck by how often I’ve returned to a theme in my preaching during Lent. I have hoped that we are all reflecting on how well we fulfill the Great Commission, that basic duty all Christians have.

It’s always important that we find winsome ways to tell people about Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Every new generation needs to hear this truth from a previous generation. The task seems especially relevant now, as we begin to consider how a post-pandemic Christian life should look.

Most of the folks who read these LifeTalk devotions on Methodist Life are traditional Methodists, and right now, these people are probably at least a little interested in a big change that is coming, the launch of a new Methodist denomination that will adhere to traditional Christian doctrines. The preservation of these basic Christian concepts is important.

I will make a prediction, however. If we don’t resume fulfilling the Great Commission in a powerful way, a new denomination will prove to be irrelevant! All it does is give us a solid foundation as we begin to fix our biggest problem, which is the unwillingness of most American Christians to find ways to share their faith with others. A huge shift in our attitudes still has to occur.

It is my sense that a lot of us simply don’t know where to start. Having existed with Christianity as our cultural baseline for so long, even elderly Christians have lived most of their lives without having to think much about what it means to share the gospel—to evangelize. Up into the late 20th century, you could build a church building, and people tended to come. Talking about Jesus Christ as Savior was the province of the preacher and a few talented Sunday school teachers.

I want to offer Christians a simple target audience for our message of love and hope. These people are unlikely to enter our buildings on their own. But they are lost, spiritually crushed and confused, and thanks to God’s unrelenting grace, they are beginning to sense they need a change.

We can find them in all sorts of places. It helps to have a guide to go by, however, a way to imagine them so they are easier to see when we are out in the world. I think I’ve found such a guide in an old song.

Back in the late 1960s, Kris Kristofferson wrote a song called “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” A lot of people have recorded it over the years, but Johnny Cash took it to No. 1 in 1970, winning the Country Music Association’s award for Song of the Year.

I’ll simply offer you a chance to listen to it:

It’s raw, of course, and in it I hear the cry of a person who feels the stirring of a vague memory of what is righteous, along with a poorly understood desire to return to it. In a sermon a few weeks ago, I compared the moment to the pigpen revelation the wayward boy has in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Hurting people today may be in superficially different situations than they were in 1970, but I’m guessing their unspoken desire for caring people to come out on the sidewalk and lead them home hasn’t changed.

Let’s learn to be those caring people again.

Lord, as we pray so often, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. We also could use a dose of courage, the kind that allows us to leave our comfortable circles and go to the places where we can offer hope to those in need. Amen.