Pick Up Your Mat

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 9:2-8 (NLT)

Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up and went home! Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority.


If you’re a Christian, you already accept what the religious leaders in this story could not: Jesus is divine, God in flesh. He has the authority to forgive sins.

We see God’s love shown in two different ways here. The man brought to Jesus is paralyzed. His physical impediment has caused his friends to carry him before Jesus, known mostly at this point as a healer and a prophet. But Jesus doesn’t heal him right away, probably to trigger the religious leaders’ indignation and set up a powerful revelatory moment about who Jesus is.

“Your sins are forgiven.” If these words truly have meaning, how powerful they are! Regardless of our worldly circumstances, regardless of what we may suffer in this life, they are the most powerful words we will ever hear.

And we do hear them still today. Lord willing, we will have communion at Holston View UMC this Sunday. Because of Covid-19, we will handle communion differently, but we will engage with God in this sacrament of cleansing and forgiveness.

Following the liturgy’s call to reflection and confession, I will have the tremendous privilege of saying, “Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!”

Acknowledging that I am just as much in need of forgiveness, those present will respond, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”

Beyond that moment, we will be wise to watch for signs of God’s power at work in our lives, in particular evidence of healing. In the Bible story, as a sign of God’s presence in Jesus, the paralyzed man is able to pick up his mat and walk.

Perhaps we too will see physical healing—if we do, we should declare to others what we have seen. Miraculous healings continue to happen to encourage a world needing to know God is present.

More importantly, there will be spiritual healing. The sins that burden us will be shaken off. We can pick up our lives as people who walk fearlessly with God, thanks be to Jesus Christ!

Lord, we are so grateful that Jesus came among us filled with your power and Spirit, and that your Holy Spirit remains among us today. Amen.


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Specific Gifts

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 12:28 (NLT)

Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.


Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve referenced spiritual gifts while preaching, and last Friday I issued an invitation to those of you who might want to learn more about your gifts, regardless of whether you’re a regular part of Holston View UMC. Today, please let me provide you with just a little more detail.

There are lots of ways to assess spiritual gifts, some formal, some informal. At previous churches, I’ve used the “3 Colors of Your Gifts” book and tests as part of an introductory church class for visitors and new members. I like these materials, and most people have found them useful. I think such a formal approach is at least a start in the right direction.

These tests usually work best in a small group setting, with a leader who has some training in the materials (I do). If you also have an interest in small groups, it’s fun to use spiritual gifts discovery as a starting point for a group.

Whether your search is formal or informal, you of course want to start with prayer. Simply ask God to reveal to you the gifts that will make you a more effective Christian. If you’re going the informal route, at least talk with a pastor and with other mature Christians around you about how they see God working in you, and consider how what they say lines up with a list of scriptural gifts, like this one:

Trusting your likes and dislikes is an important part of your discernment. If you find yourself on a planning committee and not really happy about it, you’ve learned something—you probably lack the spiritual gifts that go along with such service.

That’s okay! Don’t give up, just change up how you serve, and find what gives you joy while bearing fruit for the kingdom. Again, trust the guidance of mature Christians around you.

I promise you this: No sane pastor or church leader will try to prevent you from exploring different forms of gift-based service. We never have enough people in the church doing kingdom work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We want you to find your place, and in the process, find the kind of joy that helps you experience eternity now.

Lord, thank you for the ongoing grace you pour on us in the form of spiritual gifts. Help us to see how we fit into your plans to change the world. 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.

Prayer of Ascent

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

I try not to dwell on Covid-19 day after day in these devotionals. The pandemic is serious and it is often on our minds, but I hope to keep the message of Jesus Christ ahead of all other messages, regardless of our circumstances.

If you follow the daily lectionary, however, you might notice that the readings for today, Tuesday and Wednesday use the same psalm reading, Psalm 130. I’m hoping we can join together and pray this psalm over three days as a cry for relief from this disease.

Covid-19 is not as devastating as many plagues and famines experienced through history, but its effects are certainly bad enough, and it is wise to root ourselves in the same prayerful attitude as our spiritual ancestors.

As you read through this psalm, along with a little commentary I’m providing, hold in your hearts a request for a miracle. We seek a powerful, global sign from God as Covid-19 is driven out of our lives globally.

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

The psalm’s heading places us on a spiritual journey. I know we have work, school, doctors’ appointments and such—even with our world partially shut down, we remain such busy people. But can we adopt the pilgrim mindset for just a few days? Can we make our own ascent toward a holy place, toward a shared memory of Christ on the cross?

All three days, let’s take a few extra moments to settle into a time of quiet, saying to ourselves, “Right now, even if it’s only in my imagination, I’m going up to see the one who saves the world.”

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer.

This is a fervent petition, one lifted by a broken people, a people who have seen the troubling effects of their own sins and the broad effects of sin on the world. As we pray, we should be like the Canaanite woman in Sunday’s Gospel reading, desperately persistent, trusting that the tiniest crumbs of grace will make all the difference.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
    who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
    that we might learn to fear you.

As Christians, we have a particular understanding of how this forgiveness is granted. See that cross; see the weight of the world’s sins on Christ’s shoulders. The record of our sins is expunged, and we undeservedly are found to be holy and worthy of eternal life with God. The stone is rolled away from the tomb, the resurrection is proof! Sin and death are defeated! Finding ourselves in a renewed relationship with God, we know all kinds of restoration are possible now.

I am counting on the Lord;
    yes, I am counting on him.
    I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
    more than sentries long for the dawn,
    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

Knowing what has been done for us, we should experience a deep longing for the Lord. In his word, recorded in his Scripture, we are able to discern right from wrong, and we simultaneously begin to see a bare outline of what a remarkable experience it must be to live in the full light of God.

Let’s root our longing for healing from Covid-19 in that deeper longing to be in the full presence of the risen Savior. And let us trust that dawn is coming—that the long night will end.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
    for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
    His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from every kind of sin.

Lord, Covid-19 is a sign of the world’s brokenness. As you drive it away, may we also see a clear sign of your unfailing love and your desire for our redemption, and may we have the courage to declare what we see. Amen.

James: Be Healed

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

James 5:13-15 (NLT): Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.


All of this week’s lessons from James about how to live come together in a special way at the end of his letter. It is easy to stereotype a giver of solemn advice like James as dour, but here we see he is a man full of hope, one who trusts fully in God’s willingness to heal us.

Are any of you suffering hardships? In any group, there are always some who suffer, for so many different reasons.

James begins with simple advice: Pray. Keep doing what you have been doing as a follower of Christ. Stay immersed in the connection you already have.

There is a flip side to suffering, though, and James never wants us to forget this. There are good times, too, those times when all is well, when joy prevails, when all seems right with the world. We find such times in moments involving babies and brides and other big, happy events. We find them in the simplest of moments, too, for example, sipping a cup of coffee in the quiet of the early morning on a back porch.

In those good times, his advice is pretty much the same: Pray. He specifically says to “sing praises,” but such a sound is nothing but a variation on prayer, our words blended with music that expresses the ineffable part of our joy.

With this encouragement toward constant prayer in mind, James asks, “Are any of you sick?” Suffering and sickness go hand in hand, don’t they? And he’s not specific about what he means by “sick.” In modern times, we know we can suffer from all sorts of sickness.

There is physical illness, of course. We can be mentally or emotionally ill, too. As Christians, we also know we can be spiritually ill. Our relationships can be quite sick, too. And of course, these can all overlap or intertwine—for example, mental or spiritual problems can lead to physical problems or relational problems.

I don’t know if James had all of these illnesses exactly in mind, but I know Christian communities have seen healing in all of these areas.

Our starting point is spiritual healing. It is guaranteed as we open ourselves to God through faith in Christ’s work. When we seek miracles—direct intervention by God in situations that seem otherwise hopeless—we have to first let God heal our relationships with him through our belief in Christ’s work on the cross.

Spiritual healing also is the greatest healing. It is permanent. It grants us eternity. All other forms of healing simply are signs that God is breaking into this sinful world to make his presence known.

Those other forms of healing are wonderful to receive, however. And as a church, we do see such healing occur. Bodies are restored, minds find peace and calm, and emotions become manageable. Even relationships are healed when people at odds for one reason or another mutually submit to God’s presence.

Never be afraid to seek healing. If you are in church, there is a community that will come alongside you in the process, formally or informally.

Lord, may we see healings that astonish us, and may we have the courage to testify to what we have experienced. Amen.