To Console and Comfort

Job 2:11-13 (NRSV)

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.


By John Grimm

In the United States of America, when a loved one dies, we typically receive three days of bereavement time from our employers.  When a friend dies, we will make time to pay our respects to the family.  Either way, we will gather at the grieving person’s house.  We will reminiscence about the good times with the deceased loved one.  We somehow make it through those days, being able to console and comfort the grieving family.

Job’s friends came to console and comfort him.  They wept loudly; they threw dust on themselves; they tore their clothes.  Then for seven days and nights, they only sat with him.  This last mode of consoling and comforting a grieving person seems appropriate for today.  Sitting with the grieving family without saying a word is wise.

It is when we begin to accuse and blame that we have lost the practice of consoling and comforting.  The grieving person will express a range of emotions, from deep anger to praise.  They will have regrets and sweet memories.  As for Job, he could express himself, and did express himself, despite his friends’ words of accusation.

How wise would we be if we only sat with the grieving people?  How wise would we become if we refrain from accusations when we see family and friends grieving?

God of wisdom, thank you for your consolation and comfort during our grief.  Thank you for helping us to learn to grieve with those who are grieving.  Forgive us for speaking out of turn when we could be silent when we sit with those who are grieving.  May we have hearts and ears to hear the pain of grief. May we have the patience to see those who are grieving through the time of intense grief.  In the name of Jesus, we ask for wisdom when it comes time to console and comfort.  Amen.

What Miracles Accomplish

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Demons and Deafness.” It will be based on Mark 7:24-37. 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: Luke 18:27

[Jesus] replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”


By Chuck Griffin

Why might we seek a miracle?

We do pray for miracles, particularly when lives seem to be in jeopardy. As we move toward Sunday, however, we need to consider the purpose of miracles.

If we seek miracles strictly to bypass suffering or impending grief, we likely are missing their larger point. Certainly, when we are praying over an immediate, very personal crisis, our minds might not be processing broad theological concepts. But that is simply an argument for thinking about such matters in calmer moments, so we can better understand what it is we are seeking when times of crisis come.

An important fact to remember: As far as we know, every person Jesus healed from illness, brought out of a tomb or raised from a deathbed or funeral bier died later. If we look at these miracles simply as stories of what these people escaped, then Jesus’ work had temporary effects.

Miracles do so much more, however. First, they are evidence of God’s presence in a world where we otherwise see things as if “in a mirror, dimly,” to quote Paul. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) For just a moment, divine possibilities shine through, and the presence of the dawning Kingdom of God is easily, if briefly, seen.

Miracles were signs of God’s presence in Jesus. Miracles are signs of God’s presence in the church, by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

We also should understand that miracles come with responsibilities, both for their recipients and their witnesses. Someone needs to testify as to what has happened!

Belief also should naturally spread in the wake of miracles. It is a response we see throughout the Bible. God is seen, and therefore, people change their lives dramatically as they begin to believe.

Lord, we are not afraid to pray for miracles, and we pledge to testify to what we have seen as we receive them. May lives be changed! Amen.

The Woolly Jesus

Revelation 1:9-18 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Christ will be seen again.

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

What Might Be Lost

Deuteronomy 11:13-17 (NRSV)

If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul—then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill. Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them, for then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain and the land will yield no fruit; then you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.


By Chuck Griffin

When I was in college, I learned an important concept in economics class: “opportunity cost.”

Essentially, when we make decisions, we need to account for more than just the gain we believe we will experience by going in a particular direction. We also need to assess what we lose by not making an alternate choice.

As Forbes magazine once wrote, “It’s a core concept for both investing and life in general.”

It’s easy to analyze opportunity costs with hindsight. For example, a lot of us may have spent $10,000 or so on a nice little car or truck in 1997. We probably enjoyed driving our little cars and trucks.

We had another option, however—we could have instead bought $10,000 worth of Amazon stock in May of that year, when it was first publicly offered. In May of 2020, according to Investopedia, that stock would have been worth $12 million.

The problem, of course, is that none of us has clear information about the future, so it’s hard to guess what our opportunity cost for a particular decision is going to be. Don’t ask me for a loan. I bought the little car.

As we see in our Deuteronomy text, God did the Israelites a real favor. He laid out what would happen if they chose to love the Lord with all their hearts and souls, and what would happen if they chose to turn away from God and sin.

One choice promised a sort of paradise on earth. The other offered a miserable existence and widespread death. The opportunity cost of each choice was made clear. But even with all that clarity, they chose poorly.

God is gracious, of course. He presents the lesson in new ways. Now he presents it to us through Jesus Christ. Choosing to reconcile with God through Jesus actually offers us peace and joy in this life, and ultimately eternal life in the presence of God!

Sin often is attractive in the short-term, offering what we think we cannot live without. To combat sin, it helps to measure the opportunity cost of straying from God’s love and guidance. Ongoing joy and eternal life are a lot to lose.

Lord, may your Holy Spirit grant us a fuller and more complete picture of where our decisions lead us. Amen.

Out of the Fire

2 Peter 3:8-15a (NRSV)

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.


By Chuck Griffin

The Apostle Peter, the head of the church after the resurrected Jesus’ ascension, paints a cataclysmic picture of Christ’s return. It is an image of the universe melting away in an unimaginable heat.

The stars and the planets spun out of them “pass away with a loud noise,” a kind of theological Big Bang announcing the end of creation rather than the beginning. Not all is destroyed, however. The earth remains, stripped bare, with it and all its people exposed before God, their inner holiness and evil undeniably on display.

Peter gives us perhaps the starkest scene of judgment in the Bible, one that grows in audacity as our scientific understanding of the size and design of the universe expands. When I read his words, I see an ash-covered earth hanging in the darkness, with all the people who have ever lived on it looking up, put in a position where we recognize our complete dependence on our creator. We see only with whatever light God chooses to provide from his throne. We become actors on a barren stage, no costumes, no props. At this point, nothing matters but our relationship with God.

Peter’s words could be just fantastic symbolism, of course. But as I’ve pointed out in the past, symbols are a simple way of understanding a more complex reality. If we believe the Bible is communicating God’s truth, then we have to acknowledge the experience of judgment will be at least as overwhelming as what we see here, and likely more so. We will come face-to-face with our holy maker, stripped bare of our pretenses and self-delusions.

Peter’s letter is a call to ready ourselves, to undergo our own personal purifying fire now. It should help us to know this: What comes out of the fire is far greater than what went into the fire.

Peter would have been familiar with Malachi’s Old Testament prophecies of a day when one would come to act as a “refining fire” and “fuller’s soap,” purifying what has been tainted by sin. The prophecy is not so much about the refining process as it is about what comes out, gold and silver in their purest forms.

After his images of fiery destruction, Peter also alludes to the “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” We submit ourselves to purification by God’s Holy Spirit not out of fear, but in joy, knowing God’s purifying work on the universe through Christ will establish a greater way of living. We ready ourselves for a place in the new creation.

So, how do we submit?

Many of you have made that first step, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. Those of you who have not—well, Peter makes clear God is patient. He has provided a path to holiness through belief in Jesus Christ, and has stayed the end for nearly 2,000 years, “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” When the time of patience ends, however, it will end quickly, either in Christ’s return or your departure from this life.

Acceptance of Christ as Savior certainly is enough to save us. Even a sincere deathbed confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is enough. Those of us blessed to come to Christ earlier in our lives are called to something more, though. We’re given a chance to undergo the refining fire in this life, anticipating the life to come.

The early Methodists had a simple set of rules to live by as they pursued holiness. They are just as instructive for us today.

First, do no harm. What are we doing that damages others? How do we stop doing those things? These usually are actions large and small that are easy to identify, although often hard to stop. Ask any recovering addict.

Second, do good. Again, the principle is very simple. Do we do good in every way we can, whenever we have the opportunity? There’s a lot of evil in the world, and it takes a lot of goodness to push back against it. We cannot earn our salvation, but once we find ourselves part of Christ’s contingent, it’s nice to help the kingdom grow. In fact, that’s a good way to measure if an act is good—is it a victory for God’s kingdom over the ruler of this world, Satan?

Third, stay in love with God. I’m borrowing Rueben Job’s paraphrase of John Wesley’s more elaborate statement, “By attending upon all the ordinances of God.” By this, Wesley meant taking those actions we know will keep us in a relationship with God: public worship, study of God’s word, receiving communion, prayer, and abstaining from activities that can be a distraction from God.

When we follow these rules, we open ourselves to the refining work of the Holy Spirit. And we do not miss the dross that is burned away.

Lord, give us the strength to submit to your refinements now, trusting there is nothing to fear as the Spirit goes to work. Amen.

Being Immediate

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 15:1-4 (NLT)

Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your works,
    O Lord God, the Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and glorify your name?
    For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
    for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”

When exploring ideas about the end of time, thoughtful Christians have to piece together a lot of Scripture from various books of the Bible.

As we see in today’s text and the verses further into Revelation, we are promised there will be an end to the influence of evil, a completion of Christ’s work on the cross. Sin and death have already been defanged by Jesus’ sacrifice, but they still have to be put down completely, rabid dogs of Satan that they are.

Much of the Book of Revelation is highly symbolic, the images depicting events in the past, present and future. Complicating interpretation further, the reader’s perspective in Revelation keeps changing between heaven and earth.

As we study and process what is written there, one conclusion seems certain to me. We should sense a responsibility to let people know that heaven and earth will be remade one day, for the better, after terrible birth pangs. God is very much at work in the world.

Simultaneously, we should understand that we cannot know with any real certainty the what, where and who of Revelation, the apocalyptic sections of the Book of Daniel, or other biblical references to the last days, and we certainly cannot know the when.

“No one knows when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself,” Jesus said. “Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36.)

To process and live out what we are taught about the end times, I find it useful to cling to “immediacy,” the idea that God’s redemptive work in this world could end and Christ could return at any moment.

In the same section of Matthew, Jesus’ words continue:

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 24:37-39

I think it’s dangerous when people claim certain events have to happen before Christ returns in full—even as believers, we can be lulled into apathy by such thoughts. The Apostle Peter had this in mind when he wrote, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8.)

A proper understanding of our own mortality should also give us a sense of immediacy about conforming to the will of God. None of us truly knows whether a particular day might be our last. We tend to imagine observing the end of days with an earthly view, when there’s a significant chance we will have a very different perspective.

So, what to do? Well, today’s text has one image that should give us inspiration and joy. This side of heaven or the other, let’s be sure that first, we are praising God, who through Jesus Christ has saved us from what should have been the eternal grip of sin and death.

Let’s praise God here on earth with our voices and whatever musical instruments we may have on hand, just as we will praise him one day in a new heaven and earth. Perhaps we will even lift these praises with harps in hands, standing on something like a brilliant sea of fire-imbued glass.

Lord, let today be about you, and then let each day that follows be the same. Amen.


Website image courtesy FantasyStock at fantasystock@deviantart.com.