Division

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “A Straightforward Declaration.” It will be based on Mark 8:27-38. 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 12:49-56

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”


By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday, we considered the very exclusive claim Jesus made regarding who he is. That exclusive claim obviously can cause division, something Jesus made clear in our reading from Luke today.

After a reading like that, I suppose I should begin with some comforting words.

Yes, God is love. Yes, grace is freely given. Our God is a patient God, doing all he can to draw lost people to him. Forgiveness and the gift of eternal life are being poured out on us in buckets, despite so many people standing under umbrellas of cynicism.

That said, at this point in Luke, Jesus has clearly gone apocalyptic on us. He uses language designed to remind us of the terrible suffering and sacrifice necessary to make all that grace and love possible. And ultimately, we are reminded that we are called to choose sides in a great cosmic battle, with no regard to what our choice may cost us in this life.

Jesus’ apocalyptic language forces Christians to consider our core beliefs. Fire and baptism are purification words. Jesus was saying that despite his lack of sin, he would go through the purifying fire of crucifixion for us, and that ultimately all of creation will be purified through this act. Humans can actually choose where to stand in all of this—with what is pure and what will remain forever, or with the dross to be burned away.

The great gift of the cross is that we now have a choice. Before, we were all just dross, lacking the purity to be in God’s presence.

I think even Christians struggle with some of this tough language because we confuse adherence to the truth with being judgmental. Clearly, it is God’s business to judge, not ours. My own personal approach to this is to be as laissez-faire (libertarian) in my approach to the secular world as possible, while at the same recognizing that the church in which I choose to live establishes higher standards based on Christ’s teachings. Included in those teachings is a demand that we clearly tell others who Jesus is.

This approach doesn’t satisfy everyone who claims membership in a church. As we discussed yesterday, some would like to dilute or explain away Christ’s very exclusive claims in Scripture regarding his identity, along with related concepts like the importance of a literal resurrection.

This approach does, however, let us focus on messages that have helped Christianity spread cross-culturally for nearly two millennia. Let’s consider those messages:

Christ is the answer. By that, we mean Christ stands at the apex of a sweeping story that answers all the big questions in life, questions like “Is there meaning to life,” “Why do we suffer,” and “Is there more than just this life?”

Being Christian makes you different. Welcome to a great countercultural movement, the one that challenged the most powerful empire on earth and continues to challenge worldly thinking today. It is a movement that truly changed the world, declaring early on that people are the same under Christ regardless of gender, color or social status. Yes, the body of believers can behave like clusters of big institutions, and yes, Christians often fail to act like Christ, but this differentiating truth remains.

There is clear guidance from God available to us. People are craving something to help them steer their lives.  They want something they can trust, something not likely to blow about in the ever-changing social wind. The Bible is God’s long-standing revelation to humanity. Even the newest material in it is nearly 2,000 years old. Its truths about God and how God wants to relate to humanity have served people well in a wide variety of eras and cultures.

Not everyone will agree with these basic messages. Some people, maybe people in your own homes, will become angry upon hearing them, turning on you or at least turning their backs on you.

That’s okay. Jesus said it would happen. He also said he would make it all right in the end. Look it up.

Lord, help us to establish peace wherever we go, unless that peace would force a denial of who you are and what you are doing in this world. Amen.

There It Is!

Psalm 133 (NRSV)
A Song of Ascents.

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

By John Grimm

The kindred we know and appreciate in the church are all those who believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord and their Savior. This news seems self-evident. However, we know from experience that we do not treat each other as kindred. As Jesus’ people, we may even show preference to those who act, think, and smell like us! Yet, living our preferences keeps us from seeing unity.

Being who we are as children of God, even brothers and sisters in Christ, is ordained by God. We get to recognize the joy of the oil running down upon Aaron’s beard when we have unity. We get to relish the pleasantness of the dew on Mount Hermon when we have unity. The early church discovered this fact as they kept on loving each other through the growing pains of thousands being added to their number in Acts 2.

It is in unity that we discover the Lord’s blessing. Are we experiencing unity in our local church right now? Are we seeing life forevermore being lived within our congregation? We know what to do. We say those wonderful words to each other. Go ahead and say them, we will not hurt ourselves. We tell each other, “I forgive you.” Then we get to experience the Lord’s blessing in our local church.

Forgiving and blessing God, thank you for making a way for us to have unity in our local church. Your Son did not die and rise again so we could fight among ourselves. You want to give us your blessing. As you forgive us, we love each other enough to do the same. May we experience life forever more as are united in Jesus’ name and with each other in our local church. Amen.

We Are Family

Matthew 12:46-50

While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”


The fifth of the Ten Commandments is, “Honor your father and mother.” When we remember how important family is in Jewish culture, Jesus’ above statement becomes more startling.

Family was important to Jesus, of course. He was an obedient child; likewise, as he was dying on the cross, bearing the burden of the sins of the world, one of his concerns was who would care for his mother.

As important as family is, however, there is a greater concern. Even family cannot interfere in our relationship with God. Walking with God, understanding God and following God’s will are the most challenging and critical activities in our lives.

It can be tough when God’s will for us is out of alignment with what the family wants. I will always remember a little girl in the Czech Republic who learned in Vacation Bible School the story of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. She lived in a nation with a shockingly high percentage of committed atheists, a vestige of communist rule.

Having learned how to tell the story on her own, she said, “I will tell my family. But it will make my grandmother very angry.” The interpreter and I teared up simultaneously.

Jesus knew such conflict would arise when he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-52.)

If you and your family are aligned in the pursuit of God’s will through Jesus Christ, know what a tremendous blessing you have. And if you are not so blessed, know that your global family prays for you, and that through your witness, your biological family has hope.

Lord, give special strength and new gifts of the Spirit to those who go about the particularly difficult task of telling non-believing family members the Good News. Amen.

Hope!

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 78:1-7

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.

As I write this, election results remain unclear in several states, and I suspect this uncertainty will be ongoing as you read this. Several people have expressed to me how anxious they feel.

It helps, I think, to stay on task, to control what is actually within our sphere of influence. Regardless of the political climate, a particular responsibility remains for those of us who follow God. Having experienced hope, we pass along hope to others, something a lot of people seem to be lacking lately.

Hope in God’s plan, as expressed in Psalm 78, also is an effective sedative for those overly elated with a moment of worldly victory, and a boost for those who hang their heads, thinking political defeat spells looming disaster.

People of God carry within them big-picture hope, but we simultaneously are called to a daily kind of work. Back when Barack Obama was running for his second term, a panicked church member cornered me one day, tugging at my sleeve and saying something that made his political views obvious: “Pastor Chuck, what are we going to do if Obama wins the election?”

“Well,” I said, “I plan to do what I will do if he loses. I’m going to preach Jesus.”

Christians, more than anything else, we share the Good News. Day in and day out, we need to find ways to tell others about Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Politics may have consumed our thoughts recently, but we need to focus on our most pressing, immediate problem. A new generation is failing to learn the critically important story found in Scripture, mostly because those of us who know it are not telling it deliberately and well.

This story should excite any generation. It is ancient; the psalms are ancient to us, and our psalm for today speaks of lessons from what its author considers a distant past. We work from millenia to millenia, not term to term.

Our story describes who God is: The one who has always been and always will be, holy from before time to beyond the end of time. It also explains why we are the way we are—broken, sinful and often full of regret.

Our story declares a mysterious, fundamental truth. God loves us despite our sins. He loves us so much that he came among us in flesh to redeem us from our deliberate decisions to reject our creator’s will. Believing this story draws God directly into our midst, changing how we see every aspect of our lives.

Wherever you stand politically, do all you can to inject hope into the lives of others in these coming days, weeks, months and years.

Lord, as your followers, we commit ourselves to the truth that we are yours first. Help us to tell your story of hope to people who are on edge. Amen.

God and Governance

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NLT)

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.


In these highly politicized times, Paul’s words to a young pastor will make some of us squirm.

Obviously, we are polarized as a nation. We’ve seen the left and right run toward their extreme edges, leaving a void in the middle. Far behind us are the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill sitting down in a room and hashing out a way to govern despite their political differences.

So, let me ask you the tough questions the Apostle Paul has raised for us. For the last four years, have you been praying for our president? Regardless of what you may think of him?

Will you pray for our next president, regardless?

I suspect some of us are blanching at the idea. Me, pray for him? Me, lift that guy up to God for support and sustenance?

Our situation could be worse, much worse. Just in case you’re thinking, “How could Paul suggest we do such a thing,” let’s take a moment to consider the context of his words.

The worldly leader of leaders in Paul’s day was the Emperor Nero. Yes, that Nero. The Nero who persecuted the Christians, having them dipped in tar and turned into human torches, or letting them be torn apart by wild animals for sport. The insane Nero, the evil Nero, the guy likely assigned the code number “666” by the author of Revelation.

Paul was telling Timothy to pray for the worst leader you could imagine, and for all of his flunkies. And frankly, as strange as Paul’s request sounds, there is some incredibly powerful Christian logic here, a logic rooted in Old Testament teachings.

Proverbs 21:1 makes clear God can control the will of any leader. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in exile to pray for their captors, knowing that if their captors were at peace and blessed, the Jews would be at peace and blessed, too.

We pray assuming God can change anyone so he or she is inclined to do God’s will. It is of course a good thing when our leaders follow God’s will, even if they have not done so in the past. Paul is essentially saying, “If they begin to listen to and follow God, things will be better for all of us.”

He goes on to emphasize there is but one path, one God and one mediator, Jesus, who is the Christ. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, regardless of whether we sit in a palace or sift through a dung heap for a living.

In a way, Paul’s (and Timothy’s, we must presume) prayers do seem to have borne fruit, although not in time to save Paul from martyrdom. Nero’s empire eventually passed into the hands of other emperors, until one day it finally belonged to Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion.

Some people debate whether it was really a good thing for countercultural Christianity to suddenly be acceptable in the halls of power, but one thing is for sure—the alignment of the empire’s leaders with the faith sped the spread of Christianity.

So, if you’re one of the many folks who lie awake at night worrying about this nation’s future, quit worrying and start praying. Certainly, pray for the leaders you like. But also pray fervently and regularly for the leaders you feel are not aligned with God.

Pray for all the people who might lead us soon. God may do great things in their hearts, working through them to awaken this nation to its role in Christ’s kingdom.

Lord, bless all of our civic leaders with a deep sense of your presence and guidance. Amen.

Scoffers to the End

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Jude 17-23 (NLT)

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.


Like many pastors, I get this question now and then: “So, do you think we are near the end of time?”

In response, I usually say, “I can guarantee one thing. We are one day closer today than we were yesterday.” Most people don’t seem to find that very satisfying, though.

The question usually arises because of strife in the world: wars and rumors of wars, or in 2020, a pandemic combined with particularly tense U.S. politics and civil unrest. I try to keep all of that turmoil in perspective, though.

Look at it this way. Would you trade living right now for a life in 14th-century Europe during the Black Plague? Would you instead choose the World War I era (capped off by the Spanish flu pandemic) or World War II?

No doubt, Christians have thought to themselves many times, “This is it—this must be the end!”

Jude obviously wrote his letter to an audience struggling with such thoughts. The date of writing is hard to nail down precisely, but the letter would have been delivered just before or not long after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which was preceded by insurrection and followed by ethnic dispersion and brutal horrors.

What Jude had to say is interesting, however, not because it is rooted in a particular time, but because it is good advice for all times. In his day, and in the centuries to follow, the church, local or global, has had a basic problem. There always are “scoffers” hanging around the edges or even lurking within as false teachers.

They live for themselves, to satisfy their own desires, so very naturally they bring division to any group of Christians they find.

As Jude said, the cure is relatively straightforward. Christians must worship and live so they remain true as a group to their Savior, Jesus Christ. They must disciple themselves so their churches are guided by the Holy Spirit in all that they do.

We are particularly blessed in our era because we have God’s word so freely available to us in the Bible. Discipleship has a lot of competition in our busy, media-saturated world, but at the same time, discipleship through prayer and the study of God’s word has never been easier.

And while Jude counsels vigilance against those who would tear the church apart, he emphasizes mercy and love for people needing to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That would include those scoffers, who simply are aggressive sinners who got through the door.

Keep sin and the encouragement to sin out of the church, but keep Christ’s mercy continually available to all in need. That’s a strategy to sustain us until the end of time, regardless of when that may be.

Lord, give us discernment to see both obvious and subtle strains of sin, and as we find these in our midst, may we trust in your Holy Spirit to gently guide us toward holiness. Amen.