Results

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Samson!” It will be based on stories found in Judges 13-16. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Take time to read the story of Samson.


By Chuck Griffin

With his massive strength and what sounds like really great hair, Samson had the kind of advantages that a leader in any era would find helpful.

Like many such leaders, though, he fell short of what was possible. Certainly, God was with him. Certainly, he did a lot of damage to the Philistines, the enemy God intended Samson to vanquish.

When all is said and done, however, the final results are what matter. The earliest judges, the people empowered by God to lead Israel, brought their people to a time when “the land had rest,” a phrase indicating peace and prosperity. Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Gideon seem to have had success.

There is no such indication at the end of Samson’s story, or at the end of the story of some of his predecessors. Instead, we simply receive a report of how long they led.

As I read Samson’s story, I try to spot his shortcomings as a leader. I noted Wednesday how he seems to lack humility, even though it is quite possible to be both strong and humble. He kept forgetting the source of his strength, God, and spent much of his time pursuing what Samson wanted.

Trusting in the power of his arms and legs, Samson also tried to do everything on his own. The earliest judges were able to rally the people. To one degree or another, God’s power flowed through them to strengthen the Israelites.

It seems like Samson wanted to underscore the notion that it is lonely at the top, even though that old adage can easily be overcome by a savvy leader who deliberately calls on the help of the best and the brightest available.

Samson’s story is an ancient one, yet the themes within are timeless, and certainly applicable to situations playing out right now in the world. May God guide all who lead, and may those who lead humbly follow God’s guidance, helping their troubled people find a time of rest.

Lord, once again we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

Gathered for Good

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Babbling in Babel,” rooted in Genesis 11:1-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Hebrews 10:19-25


By Chuck Griffin

A couple of ancient truths have gotten a lot of modern confirmation recently.

We are for the most part social creatures, and when we’re separated, we suffer. We can gather for very wrong reasons, however, and suffering can ensue anyway.

Most gatherings have such a clear purpose that we create specific words to designate their types: party, play date, potluck, rally and worship are just a few examples from a very long list.

But even those specific types of gatherings can result in either good or evil. What really matters is whether the right person is invited to the event.

If I say “wild dancing,” you might imagine a party that’s gotten out of control. But what if I tell you I’m talking about King David as he brings the Ark of the Covenant home to Jerusalem?

Or I could talk about “committed worship,” and that might sound good to you, until I clarify I’m talking about a gathering of people who practice human sacrifice.

The Creator, Redeemer and Comforter of the world wants to be in the midst of our lives and included in our gatherings. When we make God the honored guest at any kind of social event, opening our hearts and our group to the influence of the Holy Spirit, good naturally flows from the moment.

Think about gatherings you know of that went well and gatherings that collapsed in a heap of ignominy. Which ones were rooted in Christ’s teachings about love of God and love of neighbor, and which ones were not?

Dear Lord, it can be such a struggle to be mindful of your presence in every moment, inviting you to influence all we say and do in community. Help us live as if we are already in the eternal day when we will be bathed in your holy light. 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.

On the Outs

Psalm 69:1-5 (NRSV)

To the leader: according to Lilies. Of David.
Save me, O God,
    for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
    with waiting for my God.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
    my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal
    must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

There is more to this psalm, but let’s deal with the initial feeling being expressed, one I suspect many of us have experienced.

When we are little children, the feeling comes out in a song: “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, going to the garden to eat worms.” (If you learned to sing it a little differently, there are many variations.)

I wonder if any teenager has managed to get through puberty without feeling unfairly ostracized and opposed from every direction. And yes, most of us know that even as adults, we can find ourselves on the outs and wondering why.

As the psalmist is noting, it’s particularly painful when we come under attack for doing what we are certain is in accord with God’s will. We shouldn’t be surprised, however—Scripture is clear that our relationship with God will bring us into conflict with the world.

Recovery Strategy, Part 1: Keep our hearts attuned to God, who loves us more than any human can love. God will not abandon us as we do our part to work within the divine plan. It’s okay to complain a little, like the psalmist. God can handle it, and God will let us know if we are somehow off track.

Recovery Strategy, Part 2: Stay in community with godly people, even if that community is no larger than a group of three or four. Search the Bible together, pray together and encourage each other.

Remember, the kingdom is not only coming, it will come in full.

Lord, sustain those who would work on your behalf in all sorts of worldly places. May they exude a light from you that astonishes and attracts others. Amen.

The Greater Good

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 2:43-47

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.


We’re simply picking up where we left off yesterday, talking about the ongoing response the earliest Christians had to the gift of salvation.

For those of us with a traditional American view of the world, the type of living described in the Book of Acts can be puzzling. We are a people raised on concepts like individual rights, property rights, and the need to lift ourselves up “by our own bootstraps.” In Acts, we see a Spirit-driven communal behavior quite foreign to us. 

The great gift our nation gives us is, of course, freedom. If Christians are going to involve themselves in the world politically, their first priority should be to guard freedom. After all, we want to ensure we are always free to think and speak about God’s revelation in Scripture as we see fit, and then live accordingly.

For Christians, however, freedom is not our final word on how to live. We who read our Bibles carefully should also see that God calls us to voluntarily participate in a more communal life, guided by the Holy Spirit as we do so.  Christians should be the first people to speak and act on behalf of the common good, even if significant individual sacrifice is involved.

Communal conservation of resources during World War II provides a powerful example of shared sacrifice during a time of crisis. Could you get by on three gallons of gas a week? A lot of people couldn’t, and found ways to cheat, turning to the black market. We don’t think highly of them now, though.

The sacrifices we are called to make to slow the current pandemic are certainly milder, shorter-term examples of communal care. Try to see masks, social distancing and other pandemic-related sacrifices as part of our Christian duty to the larger community.

The Spirit will strengthen us as we root our decisions in mutual care for one another.

Lord, bless us with an understanding that when we care for one another, it is as if we have cared for you. Amen.

Houseful of Servants

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 24:45-51
Jesus Discusses the Need To Stay Ready

“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”


Just in case you’re missing the meaning—we are the servants. In a culture where we have a tendency to exalt ourselves, we can fail to recognize this all-important starting point.

We have hit a place in the cycle of Bible readings where we’re getting daily reminders that our situation is temporary. Christians believe Jesus Christ will return one day to set the world right, restoring holiness and driving away evil. This servant metaphor is embedded in a long section of Matthew where Jesus talks in very apocalyptic tones.

Servants have responsibilities; we are to understand ourselves as being in charge of each other’s well-being. Remember Philippians 2:4? “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

In a lot of ways, a narcissist—a psychopathically self-centered person—is the behavioral opposite of the perfect Christian. Most of us fall on a scale somewhere in between these two extremes, and we of course want to be “going on toward perfection,” to use an 18th-century Methodist term.

How will we be found? Caring for others, or obsessively taking care of our own needs and wants?

These are good questions to ask ourselves as we arise each morning. They could very well shape what we do each day!

Lord, help us to look out for those opportunities to support our fellow servants. As we care for each other, we know your household will grow stronger day by day, until the day we see you in full. Amen.

Survival Plans

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 24:1-2: Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

There are a couple of ways to respond to serious threats in the world. There’s always the stereotypical “lone wolf” approach: Stock up on food and ammo (and apparently, toilet paper) and hunker down for a fight. But today, I want us to consider how a healthy church community serves as a key part of any survival plan.

With Covid-19 affecting everyday life so drastically, planning for worst-case scenarios doesn’t seem so kooky right now. We don’t like to think about disasters that very well may never happen in our lifetimes, particularly when we live in a relatively secure environment with easy access to water, food and heat. Serious events do happen, though.

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve volunteered or even been employed to work in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and you’ve seen how quickly modern urban areas like New Orleans and San Francisco can spend days, weeks or even months without basic necessities.

Human-caused disasters can wreak even more long-term havoc. For example, in 1984, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, was modern and peaceful enough to host the Winter Olympic Games. By 1992, however, the Bosnian War was underway, and the city came under siege for four years. Its residents went from being model citizens of eastern Europe to constant targets of sniper fire as they ran about trying to buy a little bread.

And of course, we will never forget Sept. 11, 2001.

I’m not trying to make us feel more scared. It’s just a reality that the brokenness of the world can intrude anywhere, and people can be left struggling in the wake of such events. We’re talking about a truth that has been constant throughout human history.

Jesus was very open about what a hard place the world can be, and near the end of the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 24, he is quoted as speaking in apocalyptic tones.

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars,” Jesus said. “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:6-8)

Hearing Jesus’ words as a child must have affected me. Since I was a boy, I have enjoyed reading books and magazines on survival skills. I suppose there’s something comforting in at least thinking you might know how to start a fire and make water clean enough to drink under difficult circumstances.

I ran across an interesting magazine, “Living Ready,” a few years ago. Within was one of the best survival articles I’ve ever read, mostly because the author went in a different direction than what you usually find in such a magazine.

In the article, Dr. Kyle Ver Steeg contrasted the stereotype of the lone survivalist in the “Army Guy” costume vs. the reality of how people actually survive difficult situations. He drew heavily on his experience working in Haiti shortly after the massive earthquake that struck there in 2010.

To prepare for a long-term survival situation, “I am of the opinion that the single most important thing you can do is to build a network of trustworthy, capable and likeable people,” Ver Steeg writes. “I would add that you should also work on becoming a part of your community and to develop skills that will be useful to your particular group.”

Later, he makes this particularly pertinent point: “If you are a churchgoing person you already have such a network in place. Think about it for a second. Churches already have leaders and a community of like-minded people with varied skills. They are used to working together to accomplish goals. Many churches already do mission work in desolate areas of the world. These people have knowledge and experience that some of the most survival-minded people do not.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? In a crisis, relying on the relationships and shared skills we’ve been developing for years in church should be a natural response. Most churches contain all sorts of people useful in an emergency: medical professionals, soldiers, scientists, engineers, food-handling experts, logistical experts—that’s just a quick start to a very long list. And in the midst of all that, we have Scripture as our guide and the Holy Spirit to sustain us.

As terrible as Covid-19 is, perhaps there’s an opportunity here. By the time we get through all of this, we may have a better understanding of just how valuable our community of Christians is, and perhaps we will be better equipped to work in this sin-broken world.

Lord, may we sense how we are part of something bigger than ourselves when we gather as a church. Amen.

James: Surprisingly Equal

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

James 2:1-17

James discouraged favoring the rich over the poor in church. More positively, we might say he encouraged equality in the body of Christ.

We don’t know exactly why James felt the need to offer this warning, but it seems obvious his audience or audiences were struggling with the idea that poor people were as worthy of a place in the congregation as rich people.

It is not surprising early Christians would have struggled with notions of equality. Rigid class distinctions were the norm; the idea that God or any god could care equally for rich and poor was radical.

And James went even further, speaking of the poor as if God actually has a preference for them. “Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?”

In other words, the poor have something special to offer us—a closer connection to God, one rooted, we can presume, in their deep day-to-day dependence on God. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the tremendous value of people the world treats as worthless.

When I think of gems hidden among the poor, I think of one encounter I had as a young journalist in Atlanta. It happened while I volunteered with a program for student journalists who produced an independent newspaper for distribution among high schoolers. I was assigned to mentor 16-year-old Lamesha, who lived with her two-year-old daughter and mother in public housing.

I was paired with Lamesha primarily because I had a child about the same age, and could use the car seat already installed in my Plymouth Acclaim to transport the two to the program’s newsroom or training events.

Lamesha, despite all of her difficult circumstances, proved to be an incredibly gifted writer. I still remember vividly one first-person piece she wrote about a drive-by shooting that happened in front of her apartment, a horrific event that left a boy dead on the sidewalk. She captured the facts, emotions and impact on her world with skills far beyond her age and training. I had high hopes for her, imagining her in college and the world of great writers.

And then I went to pick her up one day, and she was gone. I knocked on the door, and there was no answer; I peered through the window, and the apartment looked vacant. I finally found a neighbor who was home.

“They just packed up and moved last night,” she said. She didn’t know why or where. To this day, I don’t know what happened. I pray the skills God put in Lamesha continued to develop somewhere. I fear the instability of her life squashed them.

That is simply a story about what poverty costs society in general. In a Christian community, James is telling us, we also lose much when we fail to recognize the value of the faithful poor among us. They are God’s new chosen people. And while we want to help them lift themselves out of poverty, there is much to learn from the poor.

For example, they know what it means to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” in a sincere way. We who have resources take this prayer less seriously when our only concern is to replace a moldy loaf with a new one.

As they talk about their daily dependence on God, the Christian poor also serve as a corrective for those of us who begin to think our wealth, power or perceived security is a result of our own doing.

Every person has value in a community of faith. Every person. I would like to think the church will learn this lesson so well that the Lameshas of the world one day will no longer be at risk of falling through the cracks.

Lord, may we see the value of every human life, particularly as the poor enter the realm of the church! Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 5

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.


Let’s take a little time today to think about the grace received while living in the Christian community called “church.”

In church, our individual experiences of grace intertwine. Working together, we find ourselves empowered in ways not possible when working alone.

That is, of course, an ideal description of the church. We tend to fall short; compare your church experiences with the above description of the early church in Acts.

I suppose we shouldn’t feel too bad. As we continue to read in Acts, we witness how the incredibly dynamic early church began to look more human as very old sins—pride, greed, ethnocentrism and deception, for example—crept in.

The church will not be heaven on earth until heaven and earth are rejoined. We are part of the “church militant,” the collection of Christians hoping to shove Satan backward, doing all we can to sustain ourselves and each other with God’s ever-flowing grace.

Even in a COVID-19 era, group worship remains deeply important to our mission. It is my prayer that once the United States exits this pandemic, we will better appreciate what it means to gather as part of a community and give glory to God. I would like to see Sunday morning restored as a uniquely holy time, not by legislation but by a genuine change in the hearts of people who call themselves Christian.

I’m not praying for a return to what we call normal. I’m praying that we will be astonished by what happens next. In a healthy local church, the number of people attending worship should exceed the number of members. This actually happens in other parts of the world. The members desperately want to be present, and the power of God is so evident that very-welcome newbies are looking in, wanting to know what’s going on.

If you have criticized your church because you think worship isn’t exciting enough, do something about it. Worship is not a show for an audience, it is a participatory group event directed toward God. Who knows, worship may not be exciting because you’re not involving your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

We should involve ourselves in church life in other ways, too. We should find our place in the body of Christ, understanding how the Holy Spirit seeks to change lives through us.

I am a big advocate of finding our place through participation in small groups, online or in person. Methodism originally was built around small groups, which offer opportunities for Christians to grow in trust and love for each other, study God’s word, reach out to the lost and do good works. We need to get back to the basics, knowing each other’s hearts.

Such meaningful fellowship used to give people a relationship with the church that they could find in no other institution or group. It is no wonder. Done correctly, fellowship with Christians invites the presence of the Holy, Eternal God.

As Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Lord, speak to us today as we take time to consider what it means to be part of a local church and your larger, global church. Give us a deep sense of our need to work alongside others, knowing we also will be working alongside you. Amen.