Continuing

John 8:31-38 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word.  I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”


By John Grimm

As of right this moment, as we are reading this devotion, we are continuing in Jesus’ word.  It takes our time to read the Bible.  It takes our effort to study the words so we can know how free we are in Jesus. 

Over the span of our lifetime, as we continue in Jesus’ word, we can live lives free from sin.

Continuing in Jesus’ word is not only a reference to making time to study the Bible.  Verse 38 points to the fact that our doing what we have heard from the Father is included in the method of continuing in Jesus’ word.  When we know Jesus’ word, we are free from sin and free to obey the Father. This obedience to the Father means we can live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus’ word.  Through Jesus, you have given us freedom from sin.  Show us in Jesus’ word how we can do what we have heard from you.  Guide our steps as Jesus’ disciples so we can know and live the truth that sets us free.  In the name of Jesus, we can be obedient to you.  Amen.

Essentials for Success

During this Sunday’s sermon, we will return to the theme of the Lord as shepherd, probably most familiar to us in Psalm 23. The sermon will be available on Holston View United Methodist Church’s website.

Today’s preparatory text:

Mark 6:34 (NLT)—Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.


By Chuck Griffin

When I first established the Methodist Life website, I had two basic intertwined purposes. One was to provide Wesleyan meditations through the “Life Talk” blog, and the other was to create a space for basic small group information. Both, I hoped, would encourage deeper, more communal discipleship.

The Rev. ‘Debo Onabanjo’s Monday LifeTalk contribution, combined with my preparatory work for this Sunday’s sermon, caused me to think about the basics of living as Methodists once again. Most of us are aware there are big changes coming—in a little over a year, we hope to see the activation of a denomination firm in its support of traditional Methodist principles.

As we consider our verse from Mark today, I want to reassert something, a forecast that frankly has annoyed or perplexed at least a few of my fellow conservative Methodists. This impending division, and all the strife surrounding it, will prove useless if we do not become a different kind of church than the UMC currently represents.

It is not enough to say, “We are traditional,” and then think everything is fixed once we’re operating under a new name and logo. Like the excited but confused crowd waiting for Jesus’ boat to arrive, we have to relearn how to hear the one true shepherd’s voice and function as a unified flock.

Early Methodists were good at this. First, they took the Holy Bible seriously, intelligently approaching it as the inspired word of God. They let it guide them in their understanding of the earliest church doctrines, and then they did their best to live their lives according to those principles. In particular, they met in small groups, holding each other accountable regarding their regular engagement with God and their pursuit of holiness.

Let’s remember that the current United Methodist Church already is traditional—on paper. If we were still living as people of God’s word, bound tightly in communal accountability, no changes would be required to our Book of Discipline. I believe we would be a force against the creeping secularism infecting parts of the global church today.

In a new denomination, we still can be such a force, but we who call ourselves traditional Methodists have to understand that most of us fail to live according to the Methodist model, at least in America. (We have much to learn from our more communal brothers and sisters in places like Africa and Asia.)

How many of us are truly immersed in God’s word, treating the revelations there as a life-or-death matter? How many of us find ourselves committed to a properly organized Christian small group, one determined to reach lost sheep and grow its members into reflections of Jesus Christ’s glory?

Restless sheep, gather into flocks to listen to the shepherd’s voice. Listen intently, as Christ still has great compassion for us. He will teach and guide us, and we will move as one.

Lord, as you do new works through the movement called Methodism, keep us rooted in your very biblical truths about community and holiness. Amen.

Soul Soil

Gardening taught me something spiritually interesting several years ago. It’s possible to make soil in infertile places.

You accomplish this by layering various organic elements. First, you use a heavy layer of newspaper as the base. This kills any weeds in the plot where you want something to grow.

Then you start making layers an inch or two deep, each composed of different organic substances: compost, ground leaves, vegetable peelings, grass clippings, peat moss. You simply lay it on inch-by-inch until you get the depth you want, finally topping it off with a layer of mulch.

After it sits for a while, it’s ready for planting. While living in Georgia, I made some very productive little gardens for herbs, peppers and other vegetables where I had nothing but barren red clay.

One day, I was thinking about what is sometimes called the “parable of the soils” or the “parable of the sower.” This is the story Jesus tells in Matthew 13:1-9 and then explains in Matthew 13:18-23.

The different kinds of soils represent different kinds of people: those who don’t understand the truth about Jesus, those who hear the truth but become discouraged by trouble, those who hear it and become distracted by worldly pleasures, and those who hear the truth and let it grow mightily in them, until it begins to spread to others.

And then I asked myself, “Do you have to remain one kind of soil?”

I don’t think so. God has given us the tools to make good, deep “soul soil.”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, sometimes talked about the “means of grace,” those ways we can hold ourselves out to God and say, “Please change me.” There are five big, scripturally based ways. And they work together, enhancing each other’s ability to make a person more spiritually fertile.

Prayer is like the paper base. We use it liberally to keep the weeds of the world from growing. Lying close to prayer is fasting. Fasting makes prayer more effective because it keeps us mindful of our dependence on God.

The third layer is Scripture. How can we understand God’s truth if we’re not reading what our Creator has revealed? Reading the Bible has to be a daily experience for any Christian.

The fourth layer in our “soul soil” mix is what Wesley called “fellowship.” We practice fellowship whenever we gather with other Christians. Fellowship keeps us mindful of our need for community.

The fifth layer is the taking of communion. Jesus told us to remember via this act what he has done for us. Communion should be meaningful. It should be regular. And it should be done with the knowledge that God transforms us for the better every time we faithfully participate.

Make some soul soil. God’s truth will sprout in amazing ways.

Lord, in this season of Lent may we find ways to practice all the means of grace, enriching our experience of you. Amen.

Fuel for the Fire

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 2:37-42 (NRSV)

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.


We used this text as the basis for a devotional Aug. 4, but it bears further exploration. This time around, let’s consider how we stretch a moment into a lifetime.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter had preached the first fully developed Christian sermon. About 3,000 people accepted Christ as Savior and were baptized. What a day! They would carry memories of that day for the rest of their lives.

Most of us who accept the moniker “Christian” have a similar point in time where the work of Jesus Christ on the cross became very personal. We were “cut to the heart,” expressing sorrow for our sins while simultaneously understanding Jesus gave us a way to put them behind us. We knew God had lovingly committed to save us, so we committed to following God.

I also know from my own experience and the shared experiences of others that it is not unusual over time to feel a little lost again. A day comes when we crave that spiritual fire in the belly we once felt, and simply remembering the specific day we turned toward Christ isn’t enough to fan the flames.

Think of it this way: Christians are like cavemen without fire-making tools. When we find fire, we want to keep it burning through all circumstances, and the only way to do that is to feed it the fuel it needs.

Remember, these early Christians experienced works of the Spirit that astonished them. Yet even they knew what was required to continue their burning faith.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

There’s the fuel for spiritual fire. We are blessed to now have the apostles’ wisdom and experiences captured in the Holy Bible.

Fellowship and the “breaking of bread” are a little more difficult for us right now, but thank God for the technology that keeps us connected, if only we make a small effort.

And of course, we can pray anywhere and anytime. The most totalitarian governments in the world have yet to figure out how to stop people who want to pray from doing so.

If you’re feeling a little cool, feed the flame God placed within you!

Lord, forgive us when we neglect the great gift you have given us, the gift of life lived now with you. Where we have gone very cold, reignite us once again—you are the sole source of spiritual fire. 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.

James: Stung by the Tongue

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

James 3:1-12

We are called today to consider how we speak to others. As James notes, “We all make many mistakes,” and we’re all familiar with what we sometimes call a slip of the lip.

For the preacher, the advantage of these verses lies in their ability to make everyone squirm. The disadvantage is the preacher has reason to squirm, too. The problem of unholy speech is universal.

Our tongues reveal much about where we are in our walk with Christ. Unless we have reached a state of true holiness, our words will reveal our flaws. And yet, James isn’t saying, “Oh, well, nobody’s perfect.” Instead, he’s making it clear we need to develop a Christian way of speaking to each other and to a hurting world.

A lot of what James says about speech is very practical. Earlier, in the first chapter of James, we are advised to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, “for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” In many ways, James simply repeats advice that had been circulating for centuries before his day.

When I worked for a corporation, I had a boss who taught me these principles in regard to email. Thanks to email, texting, Facebook, and such, we can now lash out at someone while typing, making our fingers as dangerous as our tongues.

A short-tempered project manager had used email to attack me for something I had not done. I was furious, of course. My wise boss’s advice: Ignore it for 24 hours. “Write the response if you want,” he said, “but don’t hit ‘send’ until you’ve waited a day and considered it.”

I wrote it, and the next day I read my words again. In a calmer frame of mind, I actually deleted my response rather than hitting “send.” I suppose it was the Christian thing to do.

It also was a lot of fun because the project manager figured out on his own he had made a mistake, and for months I could see he was very nervous every time he was around me.

I wondered what he was thinking: “Did Chuck get the email? Does he know something I don’t? Is he friends with someone higher up the company ladder? WHAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN TO ME?”

Okay, maybe I enjoyed that last part in ways that weren’t so Christian.

A lot of this has to do with self-control. Be the calm one. Be the one who speaks softly when others are angry. Control yourself, and you’ll control the situation.

These lessons go beyond day-to-day practicality, however. James raises the issue of how we speak, and other issues of behavior, so that we can look at ourselves critically and grow in our ability to love others as Christ loves us. Our tongues act like litmus strips, telling us if we’re out of balance with Christ.

Biting our tongues does help, but it’s not a long-term solution. Remember, we cannot work our way into salvation. We could gnaw our tongues off trying to achieve holiness through our own strength. As I mentioned on Monday, we begin with faith that Jesus saves us, and works proceed from there.

We do those things that grow our faith. We pray. We study the Bible. We seek to be true disciples of Christ, and not just people who occasionally walk through the church door on a Sunday morning.

As we open ourselves to God, the Holy Spirit takes greater control of our lives. At some point, he finally gets hold of our tongues, and we then have taken great steps toward holiness. Over time, our words even can bring holiness to places where discouragement and despair once ruled.

Tomorrow, we’ll be a bit mystical and talk about double-mindedness. I pray we will begin to see how holiness can work its way into the depths of our souls.

Lord, may our speech today, and then each following day, demonstrate that we walk with you. Amen.