For Such a Time as This, Pt. 2

2 Corinthians 13:5-10

By Chuck Griffin

Tuesday, I began moving toward Sunday’s sermon with an exhortation: Theologically conservative Methodists positioned by God to lead should do just that in our current environment, employing a little creativity and a lot of grace in the process.

I am not naïve. Once people become entrenched in institutional power and lucrative privilege, they very often will place their own interests above scriptural principles. (Another exhortation in Philippians 2:4-5 comes to mind.) So I exhort with only faint hope of a real response from anyone already positioned to make a difference.

That failure at the top continues to reverberate throughout the United Methodist Church, as it has done for decades now. Basic biblical concepts long preached and taught by Methodists have fallen by the wayside as the people once most able to encourage them grew silent in the face of secular pressure.

You can test how heavily your particular church has been affected by all of this. Look at today’s text from 2 Corinthians and ask yourself if it sounds like something anyone has taught or preached there.

The church at Corinth had very modern problems, the people immersed in “impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.” Paul expected that when he arrived, he would find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorderly behavior among them, too. (Read chapter 12 for the context I am citing here.)

Paul did not dance around those problems. He did not accommodate the social trends of the day. Instead, he relied on his humble subservience to God, letting God speak through him, employing the Scripture of his day and his direct encounters with the Holy Spirit to define right and wrong.

“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.”

If you’re unfamiliar with such language in church, you are in a congregation that has lost sight of what once was a basic Methodist concept, the pursuit of holiness. In church, this is a group effort to create an environment where people can, with the help of God, find their actions more closely aligned with God’s will each passing day.

Missing that in your church? Well, here’s the good news. Unworthy leaders can be ignored and even replaced. Paul ultimately aimed his message at all the Christians in the Corinthian church, giving everyone an opportunity to respond, and we can consider his words a message to us, too.

Know God’s word. Seek the presence of God’s Spirit through prayer, fasting and worship. As more of us do so, we will begin to recover what was once a bright, vibrant form of Methodism, a kind of Christianity that changed lives for the better.

Lord, we give thanks for the leaders who will arise among us, and we pray that they be graced with a double portion of your Spirit. Amen.

Taking Sides

Psalm 124 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

How can we get the Lord on our side?  Is it through rigorous campaigning? Is it through generous giving?  Or could we get God on our side by belittling the other side?  These questions seem to be missing the mark.

It would be better for us to consider if we are on the Lord’s side!  Then, we would know that God is on our side.  For when we are trusting Jesus, obeying God, and following the lead of the Holy Spirit, then we are on the Lord’s side. 

Being on the Lord’s side is not always easy.  We many times will escape our enemies like a bird from the snare of the fowlers.

Enemies will attack us.  Our pasts will be brought up.  Our inconsistencies will be brought to light.  Our stumbling in the faith will be used as a weapon against us.  Thankfully, we do not need to depend upon ourselves to escape from our enemies.

The Lord’s name is our help.  The one who made heaven and earth is with us when we are attacked.  Our responsibility is to be on the Lord’s side before, during and after any attack we face.  Will we be found on the side of the Lord?

Lord, thank you for delivering us from past attacks.  It was not because of our merit that you did such work.  We have trusted you.  You have delivered us.  Thank you for being with us as we escaped.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

An Unpopular Notion

Ephesians 5:15-20 (NLT)

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

By Chuck Griffin

How we respond to verses like these says a lot about where we are in our walk with God.

Boring! Killjoys. Squares. Only the good die young! People caught up in the glittery side of life find it easy to roll their eyes at such sober Christian advice.

A lot of us who call ourselves Christian are all too familiar with this worldly stage of life, having passed through it in our younger days. I’ve known a few Christians who will tell you how they stayed in their “younger days” well into their sixties and beyond, discovering a better way only late in life.

We need to remember that it’s not always the wine that makes people drunk. The anxiety-inducing desires of this world—do I have enough, am I successful enough—can stun us into a spiritual stupor as powerfully as a big bottle of the finest red. 

To those who have yet to absorb Paul’s message, the part about being filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns, sounds intolerably boring. It’s because they have yet to taste the peace, the joy and the overwhelming sense of love that comes from stopping for a moment, taking a real accounting of our lives, and then stepping fully into a life with Christ.

Here’s the challenge for us who have already stumbled into that better way. How do we communicate what we are experiencing so others might be open to it, too? We all need to dwell on that question for a while and see if we can answer it creatively.

It helps me that I spend time with very old Christians who happily discuss what their walk with Christ means to them.  They see death as an ever-present possibility, but their joy and peace remain.

When with them, I often realize it would do me good to slow down and engage with the Holy Spirit even more. In that relationship, there is nothing to lose and glimpses of eternity to gain. Surely, if I engage enough, people will see the joy in me.

Sweet Spirit of God, continue to whisper to our souls, showing us the better way. As a people, may we once again grasp these truths at an early age. Amen.

“I Am the Lord Your God”

Leviticus 19:9-18 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

When God says something directly to his people, he is quite emphatic.  In our relationships with one another, we do what is right for those relationships because the Lord is our God.  Righteousness happens between people because that is the way that the Lord our God is.  Whether we are harvesting, or speaking with one another, or interacting with the deaf, or working with all classes of neighbors, or when we attempt to bear a grudge, we are to be righteous.  Why?

God says it emphatically, clearly, and purposefully: “I am the Lord your God.”

Is this truth working in our lives?  Is this truth working in our local churches?  Is this truth working in our Annual Conference?  Is this truth working in our current denomination, the United Methodist Church?

These questions are for the people of God.  These questions are not for the unchurched. 

Are there happenings in our lives that attempt to refute God’s position in creation?  We are to care for the poor.  We are to honorably carry God’s name with our lives.  We can fear God, even when others do not frighten us.  We can honor our neighbors of all classes.  We can love our neighbors as ourselves.

We seek justice—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.  We deliver the truth—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.  We love—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.

Are the many sides in the United Methodist Church recognizing that the Lord is our God?  Are we doing such by refraining from bending the truth?  Are we loving our enemies?

Lord, you are God.  There is no other god for us.  As we interact and go through the present turmoil in the United Methodist Church, forgive us for not loving our neighbors, especially those who do not believe as we do.  We are to honor you and recognize the dignity of our neighbors.  Guide us to be righteous as you are righteous while we live in these days.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Revelation 4:1-11 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

There is much in Revelation that people find confusing.  There are how many sevens?  There are how many cities?  When does this thing called “tribulation” begin?  Yet, one central part of Revelation does not cause confusion.

We are to worship God!

The living creatures that are attending to God are worshiping God.  We also see a refrain from the twenty-four elders.  The point and counterpoint help us to recognize that heaven and earth can (and do) worship God.  This worship happens together.

The living creatures are spelling out who they see and what they understand about the Lord:

1.)  Holy – repeated three times to show how perfectly true and gracious God is.

2.)  The Lord God the Almighty – an Old Testament name which describes all that God is – sovereign, divine, and having all strength.

3.)  Who was, and is, and is to come – God is before us, is with us, and will come to live within a renewed creation.

The refrain has people from earth repeating these themes from their perspective:

1.)  Worthy – for there is no other creature or any part of creation who can receive glory, honor, and praise.

2.)  Our Lord and God created all – he was before all created things, and he made all created things to be created.

Yes, these accolades for God in Revelation 4 are all true!  Though we see John’s apocalyptic vision as happening in the future, what is stopping us from worshiping God now?  Can we worship God for the reasons the living creatures and the twenty-four elders do?  Will we worship God and speak with our own voices how worthy the Lord is?

Lord God the Almighty, what a vision of worship as it can be.  Even today we realize we can give you all glory, honor, and praise.  Help our generation to know you through our worship of you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we thank you for the time to worship you now, even though we do not understand everything going on around us, or in the Revelation of John.  Holy Spirit, thank you for John’s vision.  Amen.

Psalm 118, Meditation 4

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

There is nothing more timeless than salvation.  As Chuck pointed out yesterday, the psalms have a timelessness to them.  The timelessness of salvation is what we all want to know.  This desire is ingrained in our lives.  We want to be secure in our living now and our hope for the future.

This salvation comes only from the Lord.  We see verses 21-25 pointing out how God becomes our salvation.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!

Jesus was rejected by those who were attempting to build Israel into a great nation.  It is by knowing Jesus as the chief cornerstone of life that we have salvation.  We can sing about Jesus delivering us from our sins and ourselves.  Jesus will give us success over the sins we have committed and the nature of sin in us.

Salvation is not merely being delivered from sin. Salvation involves us discovering how we can be made new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17ff.).  Salvation is lived in our lives during this day and all the following days.  We marvel because, like God’s mercies being new each day, he continues to renew us in the image of Christ.  This is salvation, being made to bear the image of Christ fully and completely in our lives.

Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ.  We are looking for success in bearing the image of Christ in our lives.  As we seek you, we can rejoice in how you are working in us so that we live like Jesus, even today.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we ask that we may be found to be like him more each day.  Amen.

Deliverance

Psalm 32:6-11

By John Grimm

It may be that the enticing aspect of the rapture is that we will be taken out of terrible situations.  However, God does not pick us up, sweep away the trouble, and then place us down again in the same place we had been.  It is true to say that God is our hiding place.  It is true that God keeps us while trouble is going on around us.

While God is keeping us during trouble, we hear cries of deliverance.  Other people, who also trust God, are gladly shouting praise to God.  It is possible to exult God during trouble.  We find that as God is faithful to us, we also can be faithful to him.

Can we continue to learn from the Lord the way we should go?  Can we heed his counsel, knowing God knows the very situation we are in?  As we give affirmative answers to these questions, we realize God’s steadfast love surrounds us.  Our hearts become upright as we trust God.  Then, we rejoice greatly!

Lord God, you are with us in our troubles.  You hide and preserve us.  We know that we can get through the trouble.  We praise you for enveloping us with your steadfast love as we trust in you.  You make us glad.  Thank you!  We praise you in the name of Jesus Christ for the deliverance you are giving us.  Amen.

Muzzled

Psalm 39 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

I do not like to be silent.  It is my vocation that allows me to speak.  However, there are times to be silent.  As a Christian, there are times that my mouth can get me into trouble.  It is when I speak my piece that life falls to pieces!

Yes, I have been known to create problems for myself, and others, when I open my mouth.  It occurs to me that God may not want or need me to use the breath he has given me for all the purposes that I intend to voice.  Knowing the difference is necessary.   

My days will only be so long.  They are but a breath compared to the days of the Lord.  Then it is up to me to be silent.  I cannot speak and deliver myself from the trouble I have caused.  People would say, when you are done digging the hole you are in, put the shovel down!  If my hope is in God, then I can use my breath to state my hope is in God (v. 7). 

When God corrects me, I accept his chastisement.  God only corrects me so that I may be better, even holy as he is holy.  It is when I am going through the chastisement that I speak much.  My story about God chastising me need not be told to everyone while God is chastising me!  Only after God’s chastisement do I need to speak by giving praise to God.

It is a wise idea to speak more with God than with others, especially while God is chastising me.  Then I can speak to God how I have broken the peace between myself and others.  Others will know that I muzzled myself for my own good.  The speaking that is appropriate is praise of God.  It would be wise for me to know this truth. 

God, my relationship with you is important.  When I speak with others about my travails and my situation with the wicked, I realize I need to muzzle myself!  It is you who are capable and willing to get me through my travails and my being with the wicked.  I can trust you all my days.  Thank you for chastising me when I have needed such.  Thank you that I can speak your praises.  May I know the times I can take off the muzzle and let others know of how good you have been to me in my short life.  In the name of Jesus, I pray for such wisdom.  Amen.

A Sermon: “Headed Home”

Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.

Headed Home”

Starting Point

By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our season of Lent. If you attended a traditional Ash Wednesday service, you may have had the opportunity to recite Psalm 51, which is clearly a psalm of repentance.

Whatever you might be planning to do during Lent to draw closer to God, repentance is the place to begin. Through repentance, we open ourselves to God. Through repentance, we relieve ourselves of all sorts of burdens.

So, here is our prayer for today:

Psalm 51 (ESV)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.