From the Beginning

1 John 2:18-25 (NRSV)

Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.


By John Grimm

Over the years, as I have been part of choir practices, I have learned a few lessons.  The most important lesson I have learned in choir practice is to start at the beginning.  Even when a song is sung in the round, the beginning must be the first item sung.  Otherwise, the song will not sound good.

Let us take it from the beginning … that is the phrase heard when a choir director starts a selection of music. It is also the phrase which we ponder today about our confession of Jesus Christ.  The beginning of our faith happens when we recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Around that beginning, we start experiencing and living eternal life.

From that beginning of faith in Jesus Christ, we test to see if what we believe and how we act aligns with the beginning.  If part of our faith starts to deny Jesus and God the Father, then we are starting to follow a lie.  The truth will shine through each part of our faith and will always confirm and grow through belief in the Son and the Father.  As we live eternal life, we will be able to see back to the beginning. As we live eternal life, we will see Jesus Christ in our daily life here on this planet.

God, thank you for Jesus the Christ!  We confess Jesus is the Christ.  As we live the promise of eternal life now, help us to see Jesus throughout our days.  When we begin to follow lies and any antichrist, allow us the opportunity to see the need to return to the beginning of our faith.  May we be found in this life to be in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Compromise

John 12:42-43 (NLT): Many people did believe in [Jesus], however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.


These words are part of a longer reading for today found in John 12:36-43. Here we see a continuation of John’s theme that Jesus is the light, and that there is a need to acknowledge and follow the light, a step some took.

There also is mention of those who were unable to believe despite witnessing great signs and miracles.

And then there was this in-between crowd, mentioned in the focus verses above. They believed, but secretly, because open belief might have cost them too much in terms of what they had gained in this world.

These people are sometimes remembered positively in Scripture; a couple of them take on the task of burying Jesus. But most of us, I think, would rather be remembered for being bold.

I suppose we are encountering one way to interpret life. It can be viewed as a series of compromises connecting those purer moments when we follow God to the fullest. The Christian pursuit of holiness would be an effort to avoid compromise.

What we learn from this passage becomes more important each day as the world in which we live becomes increasingly secular. As peers, bosses and leaders frown upon scriptural principles more and more, we may find ourselves wanting to compromise.

I pray we don’t.

Lord Jesus, you were not ashamed to come among us, bringing the light of holiness to a broken world. For our sake, you did not flee a shameful death, despite having the power to do so. We are sorry for the times we compromise; may the Holy Spirit fill us and make us courageous. Amen.

Toddling Toward the Kingdom

Luke 18:15-17 (NRSV)

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”


My colleague John Grimm, a LifeTalk contributor, wrote last Thursday about the importance of transmitting the gospel from generation to generation. And it’s clear from today’s text that Jesus sees little children as having a special ability to hear the gospel.

Over the years, I have had parents tell me of their children declaring at age 5 or 6 that they believe in Jesus. Often, the parents want to know if I think the belief is somehow “real.”

Yes, it’s real. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to grow to adulthood, make a comparative study of religions and take philosophy classes before we are qualified to believe. We need to grow as disciples throughout our lives, but faith in Jesus is not an intellectual exercise.

It was difficult for Jesus to go to the cross, but that’s because out of love for humanity he was doing all the work, bearing the burden of every sin committed. Salvation is simple for us because all we have to do is believe in the work’s effectiveness. Jesus loves me, this I know, and for a child, salvation is a straightforward proposition.

Theologically, we do have much to work through as we get older. Concepts like soteriology (how salvation works) and theodicy (the answer to why evil continues to persist) are enough to keep our minds busy for a lifetime. But even the complicated questions require simple, childlike faith as a starting point in the search for answers.

Blessed are the children. Blessed are all who come to Christ with childlike wonder.

Lord, help us to recover and maintain the faith of a child, even as we make our way through the complicated world of adulthood. Amen.

Start Right

Psalm 86:8-13 (NRSV)
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and bow down before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

When life seems complicated, it is good to lift up a simple prayer. If the news is any indicator, this week could prove to be complicated, so let’s prayerfully turn our eyes toward our wisest guide, as revealed in Psalm 86.

There is none like God. How can anything created be like the one who creates? At best, we can hope to be a reflection of God, an image pointing toward what is holy.

And what is holy will be revealed in full. Despite the turmoil, the striving, and the evil within the nations of the world, all people will one day conform to God’s will. It simply is part of God’s plan.

The greatest and most wondrous thing God has done is to give sinful beings a path home to their creator. We now understand that this reconciliation occurs through Jesus Christ, God Among Us.

In a great, mysterious act of love, Jesus died on the cross, bearing the burden of our sins so we do not have to do so. Simply through our belief in this act, we are restored, made worthy of eternal life in God’s presence.

Teach us, O Lord; help us to put aside what is not of you and live every moment of our lives for you. As we better recognize the incredible gifts you have given us, may we be a people filled with thankfulness, and may you be glorified in all we do.

Lord, carry us through this week and beyond; hear our prayer. Amen.

On Brevity and Eternity

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”


The psalter reading for today is actually much longer, but sometimes one verse really leaps out.

This one little verse also brings to mind other Bible verses about how short life can seem. For example, James 4:14: “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.”

Or 1 Peter 1:24: “As the Scriptures say, ‘People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades.'”

Having passed the age of 50 a few years ago, I’ve noticed how these verses become more poignant and pointed. Not that there are guarantees at any age—as a young reporter covering crime and disasters, I learned that life can be surprisingly fragile. We are blessed with each new day we receive.

It’s just that for me, anyway, crossing 50 made me more mindful of how quickly life goes by. Awareness of life’s brevity does bring a certain focus to the mind, and with focus there is the possibility of new wisdom.

Regarding that 1 Peter quote above: Pulled out like that, it lacks context. Peter is being much more hopeful than we might initially think.

Yes, earthly life seems to fly by, but Peter talks about the shortness of life in the context of being “born again.” He notes that the Christian life is rooted in the word of God—the divinely given message that declares Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior—and in doing so, he also uses the word “eternal.”

Through simple belief in the work of Christ on the cross, we who are fleeting fog or wilting flowers become something that can last forever.

Lord, thank you for the miracle of life, and for the great miracle of life extended into eternity. Amen.

Primary Source

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 (NLT)

Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.

And then, dear brothers and sisters, you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. For some of the Jews killed the prophets, and some even killed the Lord Jesus. Now they have persecuted us, too. They fail to please God and work against all humanity as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles. By doing this, they continue to pile up their sins. But the anger of God has caught up with them at last.


Is it from God?

Whenever we hear a pronouncement from another human being regarding what we should believe or do, “Is it from God?” is the obvious question any Christian needs to answer.

All sorts of people claim to speak truth, supposedly looking out for the best interests of their audiences. These people can be quite eloquent at times. Hearing them, we can find ourselves moved intellectually or emotionally.

The Christians of Thessalonica came to their beliefs while living in a politically important trade center, a place where ideas would have flowed as easily as goods. There was much to be heard, and there were many ways to live.

Paul commended them because in the midst of all of that, they had recognized the declaration of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to be a message from God, changing their lives accordingly despite the ongoing persecution they experienced.

Paul and his colleagues obviously had help from the Holy Spirit, whom we believe goes ahead of us as we spread the Good News. With their hearts readied by God’s constant-if-subtle grace, some of the people of Thessalonica were able to perceive Paul’s words about Jesus Christ to be from God. They heard the Christian message despite the general buzz around them.

If a miracle is God intervening in the normal course of events, then it’s a miracle any time such conversion happens. Non-Christians encountering the message of Jesus Christ as Lord have a tough time stepping toward belief. They have to decide first of all if the existence of a loving God makes sense to them.

They then must figure out if they can trust that God loves them despite their sins and accompanying sense of unworthiness. None of us can reach such a state of belief without a little prodding and guidance from the Holy Spirit, and help from Spirit-inspired people.

Having accepted Christ as Savior, we should have an easier path, assuming our discipleship has gone well. “Is it from God?” can be answered using sources we have learned to trust, in particular God’s word as revealed in the Holy Bible.

Once we have established a broad understanding of the Bible’s message, and especially after working our way through the nuances of some of the finer details of Scripture, we have a kind of touchstone, a way to test the purity of what we encounter in the world.

Let’s just remember to use it, particularly in these trying times.

Lord, we thank you that you love us so much that you have revealed yourself repeatedly through the centuries. We recommit ourselves today to the idea that all truth is rooted in action, the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Amen.

Stairway to Heaven

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Genesis 28:10-17 (New Living Translation)

Let’s take a few minutes to consider Jacob, Jesus, Led Zeppelin and the chance to have an eternal connection to God.

I would bet that upon reading this devotional’s title, most of you first thought of Led Zeppelin. I’ll go ahead and correct a critical theological error in the group’s most famous song. No matter how much money a lady has, she won’t be buying the stairway to heaven.

If you are wondering what the stairway might look like, Israelite patriarch Jacob got a glimpse of it in a dream, while sleeping against a rock in a place eventually known as Bethel. Angels went up and down the stairway, marking the place as a connection between heaven and earth. At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, who restated promises made decades earlier to Jacob’s father, Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham.

Some of you raised on older English Bible translations may be protesting a bit right now, saying, “No, it was a ladder to heaven.” Many of us also were raised singing, “We are climbing … Jacob’s ladder.”

Either “ladder” or “stairway” works as a translation of the Hebrew word used in the story, which appears just once in Scripture. I like “stairway” better—as I imagine angels simultaneously going up and down, with God standing at the top, a stairway is more like what I see. As a child, I tried to visualize angels going up and down a ladder, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they felt crowded as they passed each other.

But back to Jacob’s dream. My New Living Translation Study Bible has a footnote attached to the story: “The point of the vision was that God and his angels were with Jacob on his journey.”

Jesus must have had that point in mind as he connected his very reason for existing to Jacob’s dream. In John 1:51, we hear Jesus say, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man.”

In other words, God wants to be with us on our journeys, just as he was with Jacob. Jesus, God in flesh, is the stairway—because of his work as intermediary we have access to heaven.

God even comes down to us now, in this life! Belief in the effectiveness of Jesus’ death on the cross reconnects us to God, overcoming our sins, and God’s Spirit rushes to accompany us.

It really is incredible that all of this is free for us. Christ paid the price. We simply have to accept the stairway to heaven as our own.

Lord, thank you for the connection you offer us every day of our lives. Help us to use it well, drawing eternity into the lives we live now. Amen.

Witnesses

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (NRSV)

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.


People who doubt the validity of the core Christian message often ask something along these lines: “Okay, what proof do you have other than the Bible?”

The question, however, dodges a consideration of the key evidence. We’ve gotten used to the Bible’s existence, treating its details as if they need to be re-proven. But the Bible in and of itself is astonishing in regard to what it offers in the form of witness accounts and narratives generated by people who had direct access to those witnesses.

Yes, the accounts differ somewhat in detail, but oddly enough, those differences should encourage rather than discourage us.

To recapture how astonishing the Bible is, we first have to remember that it is not one document. Instead, it is a library of writings, tied together with some common themes: God is outside all things and the creator of all things; creation turned against God; God still loved his creation so much he immediately went to work to bring it back into conformity with his will; Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection mark how the work ultimately is completed.

Thought Experiment: An Alternate Timeline

Imagine all these texts had been completely lost. Centuries later, in our day, they are found sealed in clay jars. After a long period of validation, translation and sorting, I think the world would be amazed upon their publication at the radical ideas within, ideas including a loving God who teaches deep, abiding forgiveness.

They also would be astonished at the sheer number of documents and the millennia they span—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament, assuming we were to count and sort them like Protestants.

And yes, thoughtful people would be encouraged by the minor differences in the accounts, in particular the accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These variations would be clear evidence the documents were written from different perspectives, with no collusion by conspiratorial authors.

The most intriguing revelation, however, would be the repeated, unchanging assertions in the gospels. God came among us in flesh and died for our sins. He was buried, he was raised from the dead, and then he was seen by a remarkable number of witnesses. Who knows, a whole new religion might form around these ideas.

The Joy of Reality

We are so blessed to have the story of Christ before us now, scrupulously translated and searchable, with nearly 2,000 years of interpretive work to aid us. In fact, we would be fools to ignore what is available.

About two decades after Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul recorded in 1 Corinthians the progressive way the risen Jesus availed himself to witnesses before ascending into heaven. Focusing first on the male witnesses—in Paul’s day, only men had legal standing—he went on to note how eventually more than 500 women and men saw and interacted with the risen Christ. Many of them remained alive in Paul’s day, available to repeat their testimony!

Not that we need absolute proof. We do, after all, practice a religion based on faith. As Jesus said to doubting Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

And yet, to believe, it helps to have astonishing evidence we can initially trust, a word from witnesses who seemed to have nothing but our best interests in mind.

The Bible is that evidence.

Lord, may we grow in our faith as we trust the witnesses you have given us. Amen.

Healing and Belief

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 8:1-13

Like yesterday, I hope you’re clicking the Scripture link and taking time to absorb some powerful stories about faith and healing. Also like yesterday, our verses reference leprosy and a soldier who desires something from God.

Today we are in the New Testament, and Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, provides the healing, a foreshadowing of the healing he later would offer all the world on the cross.

Two key points from the story of the leper who comes seeking healing:

First, the man, an outcast from society because of his disease, phrases his request with a particular nuance: “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” The leper makes clear his understanding that he is subject to the will of God, seen at work in Jesus, whom we understand to be God in flesh. The leper’s hope is that God has a loving, restorative character—that he is the kind of God who wants to overcome sickness in the world, which is part of the brokenness of creation caused by human sin.

Jesus’ response brings us to the second point. Not only is he willing to grant healing, he touches the leper in doing so. This technically should have rendered Jesus unclean. It is a powerful gesture, one reminding us of just how personally God engaged with humanity to make eternal healing possible. The cross later would bring far greater shame and humiliation than this ritual uncleanliness.

The second story, the one about the soldier who seeks healing for a beloved servant, reminds us of the immediate power of straightforward faith. In short, the officer, drawing on his military background, makes an assertion.  Just say the word, and it will happen, Jesus. Even our savior is astonished.

In other places in the gospels, Jesus talks about the power of having the tiniest bit of faith. We can, however, be gifted early in life with an unusually confident faith—or over time, we can grow into such confidence as we live our lives with God more and more.

Such faith seems to bring astonishing results. What an incentive to walk daily with God!

Lord, meet us in the faith we have, and through the presence of your Holy Spirit, grow us in our faith so we may better join in the work of your present and growing kingdom. Amen.

Too Easy

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

2 Kings 5:1-14 (NLT)

I hope you’ve taken a few moments to read the above story of two kings, a slave girl, a powerful leper named Naaman, and a healing so simple that Naaman almost refused to accept a life-changing gift from God.

I think of this story as the Old Testament preparing us for New Testament grace. I’ve known people who actually refused to accept Christ as Savior because they thought the path to salvation sounded too easy, like religious pablum spooned out to calm the masses.

According to the 2 Kings story, the Prophet Elisha didn’t even bother to go outside his house when Naaman the Great arrived with his entourage. Instead, Elisha sent a servant out to tell the army commander to wash seven times in the Jordan River, and he would be healed.

Easy peasy!

Naaman was suspicious, though. He was very specific in describing what he had expected to happen.

“I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?”

Arrogance, preconceived notions, and a little ethnocentrism all got in the way. He almost walked away in a huff from a healing. He was blessed to be surrounded by trusted advisers who convinced him to give the prophet’s offer a try.

I’m no Elisha, but if you’re spiritually broken, let me offer you similarly simple advice. Believe Christ died on the cross to save you. You will be healed of your brokenness, your pain and your shame.

That’s it. Believe. Trust. At that point, you will be made right with God. If you’ve not been baptized, you’ll also want to be washed in the water.

You will still have to think through your new situation. You’ll have to work through some complications. Naaman had to do all that. Humbled and grateful, he decided to focus on worshiping in the right way. He also had to learn to navigate the worldliness around him while honoring the God who had healed him.

That’s all very doable, though. Trust me.

Lord, thank you for making salvation simple. We know it was not easy for Jesus; he did the work, he had to bear the pain. Let us never forget the price he paid so we may have access to healing and eternal life. Amen.