A Strong but Secondary Love

The Sermon for Sunday, July 4, is “Covenant with Freedom,” which will draw primarily from 2 Samuel 5:1-5. It will be viewable online.

Today’s Bible passage:

Zechariah 14:9 (NRSV): And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one.


By Chuck Griffin

If your nation functions as nations should, love of nation can be a good thing. Christians know there are degrees of love, however, and love of nation has to be kept in perspective.

Those of us blessed to live in the United States and similarly free countries have much to love. We live in nations with open intellectual doors. We are free to go through them, explore the ideas we find inside, and convert those notions we judge best into the lifestyles that suit us.

Freedom for citizens of such nations should be limited only at the point where people’s choices clearly impede the rights of others. I’m talking about genuine interference, of course, not the thin-skinned, “I’ve been triggered” movement playing out now.

And yes, Christians should be the strongest supporters of such a system. Many of our democratic notions were born out of the persecution minority Christian groups faced under state-sanctioned religion. Christians in rigid, authoritarian nations still crave the kind of freedom that rapidly evolved in the 18th century.

As followers of Christ, we also keep a bigger picture in mind as we enjoy these freedoms. Something better lies ahead; this truth is at the core of how we live and what we preach and teach to others.

As we freely choose Christ as Savior, we ready ourselves for an eternal, uncorrupted kingdom, a place where God’s light and love illuminate every moment and every relationship. This kingdom is where our most important citizenship resides.

Once there, I have no doubt we will be thankful for the people who made it possible for us to freely choose eternal life. I suspect we also will be astonished at how powerfully God’s grace penetrated even the darkest, most authoritarian regimes, giving people hope.

Lord, thank you for the gift of freedom. May it continue to be guarded and used well in free nations, and extended to those needing relief. Amen.

A Grand Tour

Acts 21:1-16 (NLT)

After saying farewell to the Ephesian elders, we sailed straight to the island of Cos. The next day we reached Rhodes and then went to Patara. There we boarded a ship sailing for Phoenicia. We sighted the island of Cyprus, passed it on our left, and landed at the harbor of Tyre, in Syria, where the ship was to unload its cargo.

We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week. These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem. When we returned to the ship at the end of the week, the entire congregation, including women and children, left the city and came down to the shore with us. There we knelt, prayed, and said our farewells. Then we went aboard, and they returned home.

The next stop after leaving Tyre was Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed for one day. The next day we went on to Caesarea and stayed at the home of Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen to distribute food. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.

Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

But he said, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.” When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem. Some believers from Caesarea accompanied us, and they took us to the home of Mnason, a man originally from Cyprus and one of the early believers.


By Chuck Griffin

These verses read like journal entries, written as Luke, the author of Acts, traveled with Paul on his third missionary journey. Along the way, people given the gift of prophecy by the Holy Spirit made it clear Paul would not fare well if he went to Jerusalem.

Events didn’t go well, of course, at least not in a worldly sense. The rest of Acts is an account of how Paul was arrested for preaching Christ crucified, and then as a citizen of the empire was carried off to Rome, where we know he was eventually executed. Along the way, he and those with him endured hardships at sea, including a shipwreck.

No doubt, working for the Lord can be a difficult task. Many of us might head a different direction when faced with repeated prophetic warnings about the dangers of going to a particular place. Paul’s friends and fellow travelers urged him to turn aside.

I deeply admire Paul’s single-mindedness. It genuinely seems that he did not care about his own welfare. He simply wanted to preach the message that Jesus Christ is Lord, taking word of salvation all the way to the heart of the Roman Empire, if possible.

Faced with far fewer impediments, I find Paul’s story to be a challenge. To what greater lengths should I be willing to go in order to reach people for Jesus Christ? Never has my freedom or life been in serious jeopardy while declaring Jesus’ lordship.

I thank God that I live in a time and place where the gospel can be preached so freely. But a question always remains before me: Do I use that freedom well?

Lord God Almighty, guide us to the places you would have us go, and give us new courage if we find those places daunting. Amen.

Seeing the Plan Play Out

Jeremiah 29:10-14

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.


Just before these verses, the political leaders, craftsmen and other fine minds of Jerusalem, living in captivity in their conqueror’s homeland, received bad news from the prophet Jeremiah. They were not going home from Babylon any time soon—they might as well build houses and gardens and settle down.

God’s chastisement of his chosen people, caught up in sin, would ultimately lead to restoration and the continuation of his plan to bring salvation to the world through them. We are reminded, however, that God’s plan plays out over generations, centuries, and even millennia. God plays a long game, one so long that even the devil cannot keep track of it all.

I am struck by how blessed most of us reading this are, living as we have lived. Alignment with God does not automatically mean having a comfortable life. Throughout history, it’s been common for people to have the opposite, forced to live according to the whims of powerful, ungodly people.

We particularly are blessed to live in the time after Christ, making a fully restored relationship with God individually possible through simple faith. On top of that, most of us are blessed to live in places where we have the freedom to worship as we want and live as we want.

Yes, this is another one of those “count your blessings” devotionals. As you make your way through the day, appreciate what you have, and remember how we are called to seek God with all our hearts, using our freedoms to play a part in God’s great plan to redeem all of creation.

Lord, help us through faithfulness and devotion to you to preserve the great gifts we have in this life. May exile never be our state, and may those who find themselves in it also find rescue by your hand. 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.

How Shall We Give Thanks?

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 100

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Our national day of Thanksgiving is a week away. Many of us won’t have our usual experiences, particularly where family gatherings are concerned.

We still need to give thanks, however—powerfully! Even in these less-than-ideal times, we remain a blessed people. I believe the freedom and hope we experience here flows from God.

Today’s psalm, which we will continue to meditate upon until next Thursday, reminds us of the deepest meaning of Thanksgiving. Thankfulness has to be directed somewhere, and God is the most appropriate recipient.

God is, after all, the source of life. God holds the blueprint of the universe, and it is drawn in the color of love.

God saves us despite our turning away from our creator. Lift up praises each day for Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, and the hope we receive in the resurrection!

During the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I’m going to offer us a short exercise in thankfulness to try each day. Check back here, or subscribe by entering your email in the subscription box found on any page of Methodist Life.

Lord, may a new sense of thankfulness overwhelm us this day and all the remaining days we have. Amen.

Put in Place

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Psalm 131:1-3

Lord, my heart is not proud;
    my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
    or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
    like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
    Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—
    now and always.

Scripture can be tough on free thinkers. The Bible reminds us from time to time that our thoughts must be kept in place.

If you’re an American, even a Christian American, there’s a good chance you’re already wriggling with discomfort. The idea of submission can sound very negative to us—it seems in conflict with favorite words like “freedom” and “independence.”

And yet, the notion of humility before God is a constant theme of the Bible. With no reference to the Garden of Eden or forbidden fruit, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1 about haughty, foolish thinking being the root of sin. Paul’s account does us a great service—he helps us see how we personally cause the cycle of sin to continue.

We also could categorize our problem as “overthinking.” We take our eyes off plain revelations about God to create notions of our own, a process that inevitably leads to idolatry. Our desire to be novel can quickly cut us off from what is eternal.

Real freedom, the psalmist tells us, is found when we humble ourselves, maintaining proper perspective about who we are in relationship to God. As Christians, we know we cannot grasp God in full, but we can cling to what God has shown us through Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture. 

God is the maker of all things, standing outside of creation and ruling over creation. God also is love, and because of love God keeps intervening to pull us back into a righteous relationship with our creator and with each other, despite our ongoing foolishness.

In particular, God has come among us as Jesus Christ, dying on the cross and demonstrating the defeat of death in the resurrection. We are restored to right relationships simply by believing Christ’s sacrifice is real.

Belief also should lead to enhanced creativity—it opens the door to the eternal mind of God. When we submit to the truth of the cross, the Spirit of God rushes into our lives, penetrating our souls and our minds. We become more than we ever could have been on our own, and we are freed to grow into the images of God we were intended to be.

These are broad concepts, but they have very current, specific applications. As a nation, we are embroiled by a serious, important debate, one that goes to how we best ensure that people have the same rights and opportunities regardless of skin color. The debate has been deeply complicated by a piling on of ideas and causes, some possibly holy, some likely foolish.

Is there any way we can take a step back and humble ourselves, putting our opinions and decisions in the context of who God is and what God has revealed? I cannot ask that of nonbelievers, but I certainly can ask it of people who claim the name “Christian.”

The ongoing debate is sometimes summarized in the question, “Should I take a knee?” Perhaps the Christian answer should be to get down on both knees, head bowed. That posture best prepares us for any conversation.

Lord, may we take time today to seek eternal wisdom, and may the Holy Spirit give us the strength we need to carry our understanding of your will to the places and people we affect. Amen.