A Growing List

2 Peter 1:2-11 (NLT)

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.

So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

By Chuck Griffin

At the core of the above passage is a spiritual to-do list, a way to grow as a Christian. Each item is strengthened by something else on the list, with the ultimate goal of experiencing a strong, unshakable faith.

Moral excellence, or goodness, undergirds great faith and has to do with whether we choose what God would choose in the same circumstances. But how do we know how to choose?

Well, knowledge helps to prop up moral excellence. The Lord has revealed much to us in the Holy Bible, even if it does sometimes take a little effort and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to tease the information out. What a gift: thousands of years of holy revelation at our fingertips!

Why do we fail to dig out what we need? We have trouble staying focused. We lack self-control. The painful distractions and immediate pleasures of this world draw us away from the rich rewards available to us in the Bible and through direct contact with God in prayer.

Patient endurance marks the beginning of self-control. We see the fiery darts of the enemy coming at us, but regardless of whether and where they stick, we know we can keep moving forward as Christians because God is with us. And if we find ourselves passing through Vanity Fair, we don’t slow down, for we know our real destination.

If that previous paragraph was confusing, I just went all “Pilgrim’s Progress” on you. If you haven’t read it, you really should try it.

Godliness supports endurance, of course. This is a little different from the “goodness” or “moral excellence” that develops down the road in this spiritual journey. At this stage, there is a simple desire to please God, springing from the warmth that is felt when in fellowship with other Christians.

And the beginning of all of this is love. We understand true love when we first comprehend what God has done for us. “For God so loved the world … .” We didn’t deserve God’s love; maybe those around us should receive love regardless of what they deserve, too.

And don’t miss the promise Peter made: “Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Seems to me like we have a to-do list worth doing.

Lord, thank you for the guidance Peter and other conduits of your holy word offer us. May we grow as we live the lives of disciples. Amen.

Risky Business

This Sunday at Holston View United Methodist Church, the sermon will draw from Mark 12:38-44, where Jesus again causes us to think about our spiritual relationship with money. If you cannot join us in person, join us online at 11 a.m., or watch a recording later.

Today’s Preparatory Text:  1 John 3:16-24 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

When preaching, I occasionally reference the biblical concept of hospitality. As we prepare for this Sunday’s sermon, I want us to further explore this tame-sounding idea that actually is quite radical.

In the letter of 1 John, we hear what real love is, our eyes drawn to the death of Jesus on the cross. This is the same author who wrote in the Gospel of John, “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.” Later in the Gospel of John, in the 15th chapter, he also quoted Jesus as saying this: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

With the idea in mind that we might need to die for each other, it’s no stretch to say that living the Christian life requires us to take risks. We should never be foolish with our lives, but it’s possible our lives could be endangered as we work on behalf of our savior and the world around us. It takes spiritual courage not to pull away when such risks arise.

In my opinion, American Christians can be a little short on this kind of courage, in part because we are so affluent compared to the rest of the world. When you have stuff, you get used to guarding your stuff from others who might want it.

Our concern for our stuff makes our tolerance for risky interactions with others low. I’m generalizing, of course, but I feel comfortable that I just described our group average, and I acknowledge I often am more a part of the problem than the solution. A risk-averse people have difficulty solving many of the social problems around them simply because they cannot, as a group, step up and do the hard work that has to be done.

For an example, let’s look at helping the homeless. This kind of hospitality ministry invites us to make sacrifices in our own lives so we can dramatically impact the lives of others. Individually, some Christians go so far as to maintain “Elisha rooms,” creating simple spaces for people in need. (The Bible story behind the name is in 2 Kings 4:8-17.)

Again, there is risk, particularly when we engage with people we don’t know that well, and with risk comes fear. But when we dwell in a Holy Spirit-inspired community, we can help each other with hospitality, reducing risk and fear.

Sometimes the solution is as simple as modifying our church spaces with hospitality in mind. At my first appointment out of seminary, the church was expanding its facilities. The church leaders plopped the blueprints down in front of me one day and asked if I had any input.

“Just one,” I said. “Maybe a shower somewhere? Then if people in the community have an emergency, we could use the building for short-term housing.”

The church members liked the idea so much they put in two shower facilities. They now regularly house and feed homeless guests through a program providing temporary help to displaced families.

Sadly, not enough American churches have a hospitable mindset. Many churches, perhaps most churches, have yet to embrace this very scriptural work. They even are willing to pass that responsibility on to the government, distancing themselves from the powerful call God places upon us in Scripture.

Where do we get the spiritual strength to take radical risks as we make ourselves more hospitable? Well, we begin with small, communally shared risks, and we grow in strength over time.

It is my prayer that one day the American church, regardless of its denominational lines, will fully be the hospitable church described in the Bible. When that happens, the government’s intractable problems will prove to be no problem for God and his people.

Lord, take us down paths requiring courage, filling us with your Holy Spirit as we go. 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.

Love and Truth

2 John (NLT)

This letter is from John, the elder.

I am writing to the chosen lady and to her children, whom I love in the truth—as does everyone else who knows the truth—because the truth lives in us and will be with us forever.

Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love.

How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded.

I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward. Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work.

I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete.

Greetings from the children of your sister, chosen by God.


By Chuck Griffin

While we call them “books of the Bible,” some of those books really are just short letters. Second John is printed in its entirety above.

The “chosen lady” likely is a personification of the recipient church, with her “children” being the members of that church. The last line of the letter seems to confirm this, showing the letter’s author wrote from a “sister” church.

I have a particular fondness for this letter because it emphasizes the nature of Christian love. Yes, we are to be very open and giving with our love. This agape love for each other does not mean, however, that we forget to first love God. We love God by obeying what he commands of us in Scripture and telling the truth about those commands to others.

Even in Christianity’s earliest days, the church struggled with deceivers, with “antichrists,” people who pose as bringers of a holy message but who actually are looking out for their own unholy interests. They will deny the reality of the resurrection; they will deny other teachings clearly communicated in the New Testament about God’s expectations of us.

No doubt, such deceivers will be with us until Christ returns in full. John the Elder could have written this letter to any of our churches today.

Love and truth walk hand in hand. In fact, it is a very unloving thing to deceive people about God’s expectations for his followers, or to allow these deceptive teachings to happen in the midst of Christian fellowship. Too much is at stake.

Lord, help us to discern clearly what is being spoken in the midst of our congregations, testing what we hear against the revelation found in your Holy Bible. Amen.

In Christ

By John Grimm

Philippians 2:1-4 (NRSV)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.


I like to have my own personal time of devotion with God.  I need that time to confess sin, hear his forgiveness, and bask in the wonder of God.  My life, however, cannot be only about my own personal time of devotion with God.  For the same Holy Spirit of Christ that resides in me also resides in each disciple of Jesus Christ.

With Christ being in me and my being in Christ, it is reasonable to be in full accord and of one mind with other disciples of Jesus Christ.  This fact assists us in going beyond our own personal agenda, or as Paul writes, we are encouraged to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.

Loving others in the body of Christ therefore is not optional nor a strict mandate.  Loving others by looking to the interest of others happens because in Christ we do have consolation from love, we share the Spirit, and we do have compassion and sympathy.  It is in Christ that we do not struggle against other disciples.  It is in Christ that we can will and work for God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  Thereby, with the Holy Spirit of Christ in us, we live in humility.

Having our own personal time of devotion with God is necessary for our personal faith in Christ.  However, it is when we are with other disciples that our faith and love for Christ is lived.  How good it will be for all disciples to regard other disciples as better than ourselves!

God, thank you that all disciples of Jesus Christ share your Holy Spirit.  As we spend time with you as individuals and as the body of Christ, we look forward to having love, compassion, and sympathy for one another.  Forgive us where we have fallen short of realizing our life together is in Christ.  May we have the mind that Christ has.  In the name of Jesus, we seek to live.  Amen.

The Abortion Solution

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Ephesians 5:2: “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will undoubtedly renew the debate about abortion in this nation. Her replacement may very well tip the balance of power on the high court to the point where legally available abortion could be severely restricted or even vanish.

Most theologically conservative Christians would cheer such a development, and I personally find the idea of abortion abhorrent. But simultaneously, I am deeply concerned the conservative church is about to get so caught up in a renewed political fight that we will continue to miss the obvious role we should be playing to make abortions unnecessary.

As a reporter in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I spent a lot of time covering protests near abortion clinics in Knoxville, Tenn. and Atlanta. It quickly became obvious the opposing sides had no political middle ground, with one group shouting for women’s rights and the other declaring life begins at conception. Inevitably, I thought, secular politics would leave one group or the other feeling disenfranchised and powerless.

About the same time, a theologian named Stanley Hauerwas wrote an essay that demonstrated how hospitality, properly understood and practiced by the church, offers a solution that could make the demand for abortion subside regardless of the political environment.

The essay, entitled “Abortion, Theologically Understood,” makes some startling assertions, at least if you’re a typical American Christian.  When we become Christians, Hauerwas says, we should stop thinking in terms of rights and instead begin thinking in terms of responsibilities.

For Christians, what the state has to say about abortion should be relatively unimportant. What’s important for us is whether we function so well as Christ’s community that the need for abortion becomes irrelevant.

In the essay, Hauerwas embeds a sermon from one of his former students, the Rev. Terry Hamilton, and it is there we see examples of the church truly being hospitable. There is the story of a community church where the people welcome a pregnant teenager into their midst, placing her and ultimately her baby with an older couple so both mother and child can have full lives and hope.

In a different church, a divorced Sunday school teacher becomes pregnant, and rather than finding herself ostracized, she is instead cared for and even financially supported by the church. In both cases, the temptation to abortion is eliminated by a community offering love, and the babies in effect become “children of the parish.”

Theologically conservative churches need to ask themselves some basic questions if they want to engage with the world over abortion, treating it as a serious problem.

  • What are we doing to eliminate the fears of mothers around us so they will drop abortion as an option?
  • As a church, are we willing to put the time and money in place to help poor mothers rear their children or find others willing to do so?
  • Have we made it clear in our community we are willing to help?
  • Can we make these mothers and their children part of the family of Christ, setting aside judgment of their circumstances and offering love?

Let’s also not forget our need to reach out to women who have undergone an abortion. Many pastors understand what I am talking about, having counseled women who remain troubled and even broken years after the fact. These women need to know that the church is a place of forgiveness and healing, and that they have a perspective younger women need to hear.

Regardless of the political climate, Christians always have great power to make a difference on any issue, abortion included. Sure, we have the right to enter a voting booth, petition legislators and march around buildings, just like everyone else. But we do our most effective work when we offer sacrificial love to others.

Lord, as our culture becomes more contentious, may we be more centered on your word, offering loving, holy answers that can come only from you. Amen.

Seven Churches: Ephesus and Smyrna

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 1:19-20 (NLT): “Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen. This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”


The Book of Revelation, with its strange imagery and wide variety of interpretations, makes readers feel anywhere from frightened to joyful. A truly valuable section of this book records letters to seven churches.

One study Bible has this very on-point entry:

It is common for interpreters to separate the seven letters into seven distinct messages and to make them symbolic of seven types of people or seven distinct periods of time. The seven letters, however, actually form a single unified message for the church in all times and places, taking into account all its spots and wrinkles.

NLT Study Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, 2007

Let’s spend the rest of this week exploring what these churches heard in their letters, all messages from the risen Christ. In doing so, I invite you to meditate on our own spots and wrinkles. Something critically important to note: In the eyes of Christ, five of the seven churches are found to be dangerously flawed.

The first letter is to the Christians in Ephesus. There was much to be commended in this church. The people worked hard for Christ’s kingdom. They also had deep discernment. They were credited with rooting out false apostles, liars who probably wanted to use the church for their own benefit.

Such discernment is very important for the health of any church. I have had previous appointments where it became clear a person or people had entered the church in order to fulfill their own selfish desires for money and power, seeing the sheep as a flock to be fleeced. I am eternally grateful for discerning leaders who identified the problem and stood by me as we dealt with it.

Christ also sounded an alarm in this first letter—instead of growing in love for their savior or for each other, the Ephesians’ love had weakened.

Strange as it sounds, I suspect their strength may have fostered a weakness. Did they become so technically proficient in their church operations that they forgot to worship, pray and rest in the Holy Spirit, letting God flow freely among them in heartfelt ways?

If I’m correct, they had taken the first step down the slippery slope where other churches fell and continue to fall today.

The second church to receive a letter, Smyrna, is one of two churches where Christ offered no criticisms. We probably all think we would like to be a part of such a church, until we understand what these people experienced.

In short, poverty and persecution haunted them. Christ even warned that some of them would be imprisoned, suffering to the point of death. (One of the early church fathers, Polycarp, became a martyr in Smyrna in the middle of the second century.) For those who persevered, eternal life would clearly be theirs, the letter said.

When you recall Jesus saying “blessed are the poor” and “the meek shall inherit the earth,” think of the Christians in Smyrna.

Tomorrow, we will consider the letters to Pergamum and Thyatira, places with unfamiliar names but easily recognized situations.

Lord, as we grow in our understanding of these letters, may we see our own strengths and weaknesses as individual Christians, and as churches. Amen.