Restore Us, O God

Psalm 80:1-3 (NRSV)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

By Chuck Griffin

What we now call the Old Testament is full of oscillation, the relationship between God and his chosen people moving in and out of harmony.

God’s abundant love and astonishing holiness never change, of course. It is people, then and now, who draw near to God in works of mercy and piety or run away from God as they sin. Sometimes we run so far that God seems to have slumbered or even poured out wrath.

For the fallen—and we all have been among the fallen—that plea, “Restore us, O God,” is an excellent starting point. Of course, we cannot say “restore us” as we continue to run away. We have to at least turn toward God, like the prodigal son climbing out of the pig sty and taking his first step on the walk home. We have to repent.

While sin deeply offends God’s holiness, God’s love keeps our creator alert to our return. Through his chosen people, he has even made the return easy, ready to embrace us with outstretched arms. He came among us while we were deep in sin, living among us and ultimately paying for those sins on the cross.

“Stir up your might, and come to save us!” the people prayed in Psalm 80. And God did, in ways with far greater global impact than they likely imagined.

Can we lift up the same cry, in our own lives and on behalf of our own people, whomever they may be?

Lord, let us see a turning toward you, moving us into a time when your grace abundantly flows, bringing healing and salvation to all. Amen.

Methodism 101

Galatians 5:16-26 (NRSV)

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.


By Chuck Griffin

When it comes to living by the Spirit or succumbing to the desires of the flesh, most of us find ourselves being pulled back and forth. Our hope is that over time, we get so close to the Spirit that the desires of the flesh lose their grip on us.

The fancy Methodist term for the process is “sanctification.” More and more each day, we should grow in our ability to love as Jesus loves. We show God love by seeking the divine will and following it. We show other people sacrificial love, in part hoping that they find God through what we offer them.

Welcome to Methodism 101. This emphasis on sanctification is what largely distinguishes us from other denominations, at least historically. If you’re in a United Methodist Church and are saying to yourself, “Haven’t heard that in awhile,” you’re not alone. Institutions have a tendency to slip from their moorings over time.

The coming new, traditional Methodist denomination likely will move us back toward an emphasis on sanctification, as well as other important related concepts like small-group accountability. That denomination may take a little time to develop, however, and there’s no reason we cannot get started living as true Methodists now.

Don’t be afraid to explore your Methodist roots, which simply are expressions of what God calls us to do in the Bible. Look for books that are helpful; explore websites designed to get you started.

In short, seek the fruit that only the Holy Spirit can place in our lives.

Lord, bless and empower our efforts to be more like what you created us to be. Amen.

Abide

1 John 2:28 (NRSV) And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.


By Chuck Griffin

Holiness is a churchy word meaning we behave as God would have us behave. It’s a difficult concept for people who resist or reject Christianity because they perceive conversations about holiness as evidence of God’s authoritarianism, or worse, a church’s attempt to control society at large.

The call to holiness you hear from God in Scripture and through Holy Spirit-inspired churches has nothing to do with such negative motives, however. We simply are being reminded to live in a way that should be a natural response to God’s overwhelming love, expressed most clearly in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.

A little after today’s text, in 3:6, John goes so far as to make a bold, flat statement: “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” The larger context of the letter helps us to understand the author is talking about ongoing, deliberate sin.

When we find ourselves asking, “Why am I still trapped in sin,” a good follow-up question might be, “How far have I strayed from God?” Odds are, we’re not truly abiding, gazing at him through our study of Scripture or leaning against him in prayer and worship.

John repeatedly refers to us as God’s children. Where are children the safest? Well, when they are near a loving parent, of course. It’s hard to get into trouble when you’re holding a parent’s hand.

In dangerous settings, even the slightest distance between child and parent can mean potential trouble. As good parents, we’re always trying to manage that distance, sometimes literally keeping our children on a short leash.

When our oldest child was beginning to move from toddling to real walking and running, we bought a springy little wrist tether so she would have more freedom to move when we were out in public. I still remember attaching the adult end to my left wrist and the complicated system of velcro and watchband-style straps to her right wrist.

Being spatially gifted, she studied her end for about five seconds and had it undone, proudly handing it back to me. I did the only thing I could do—I went back to holding her hand.

It’s good for children to have that desire to be independent from us. Ultimately, their instinct to go it alone makes it possible for them to grow into independent adults.

Acting like independent-minded children in our relationship with God is a bad idea, though. We are not little gods, needing to pull away in order to grow. We instead are part of God’s creation, designed to abide in our creator for all eternity.

Lord, call us back when we resist our connection to you, and grow us into the kind of Christians who naturally and joyfully abide in your love. 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.

In Christ

Ephesians 1:3-6 (NRSV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.


I want to be found in Jesus.  I want to have my life filled with every blessing in Christ.  I will only be found holy and blameless before God in love by being in Christ.  I want to know the good pleasure of God.

There is good news for me.  There is good news for all!  God wants us to be found in Jesus.  God wants us to be filled with every blessing in Christ.  God wants us to be found holy and blameless before himself in love by being in Christ.  God wants us to know the good pleasure of God himself.

It is by being in Christ that we are adopted as God’s children.  The grace of God is working in our lives up to the point that we believe, so we may believe.  The grace of God is working in our lives after we begin to believe so we can know we are children of God.  God gives his grace to us so we can be his children!

Almighty God, thank you for your grace.  Being your children is wonderful!  Knowing you by our being in Christ is grace.  We give you praise for thinking of us before we even thought of you.  May our lives be found in Christ as we continue to believe in Jesus.  Amen.

One Life to Live

Hebrews 9:23-28 (NRSV)

Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.


You may think “One Life to Live” is a long-running soap opera. It’s been around a lot longer as a biblical concept, though.

Christianity, unlike a lot of religions, is about singular moments. Cyclical sacrifices were an important part of Jewish ritual, of course, but they merely foreshadowed the only sacrifice that would matter. Jesus Christ died on the cross to give us the gift of eternal life.

These verses from Hebrews also remind us of how singular each of our lives is. We are not caught up in endless cycles of misery, moving from lifetime to lifetime with little memory of what we have learned. We have one life, one death, and one hope for eternal life in Jesus.

How rare we are! How precious our lives are, each as unique as a snowflake. The eternal nature of God’s mind means our maker never has to repeat an action.

People may seem similar, but even twins are never truly identical. They can never inhabit the exact same point in space and time, and therefore, the universe God has placed them in will give them at least slightly different perspectives and thoughts, making each twin unique.

We move toward a unique moment, too, when Jesus Christ returns to make the relationship with those who have accepted his grace into something full, complete and eternal.

We will be judged as individuals, and the moment will be like no other, in that we will finally know ourselves and value ourselves as fully as God knows and values us.

Lord, help us to better appreciate the gift of life. No matter how broken, every human has the potential to be in relationship with you through Jesus Christ, and therefore every human is at least a smoldering ember ready to burst into a holy, eternal flame. Let us treat each other as such. Amen.

You Are That Temple

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV): Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.


Some ideas we considered in last week’s devotionals (and Sunday, if you worshiped with my church, Holston View UMC) come together in a personal way for us in today’s verses from 1 Corinthians.

Last Thursday, we heard the Apostle Peter tell us to behave like “living stones,” joining together to build a spiritual house, with Christ as our foundation. If you heard Sunday the story in the Gospel of John about Jesus cleansing the temple, you should have been reminded of the holiness of that place, and a need for zeal now in regard to the holiness of God.

Today’s reading in this season of Lent tells us that just as Jesus’ body became the new temple, destroyed but rebuilt in three days, the Christian church now acts as God’s temple on earth. The collection of people calling themselves Christian is where God’s Spirit resides and can be met by those seeking God.

The metaphor easily operates on both the corporate and individual levels. If something is holy, every part of it is holy. If it is God’s intent for the church to be holy, it is God’s intent for each individual in the church to be holy.

We of course cannot achieve holiness on our own; that is the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, to make us holy despite our sin. We believe, and it is so. We need to cling to that belief, however, and live in awe of God so that we are making every effort to avoid sin, asking God to give us the power through his Holy Spirit to do so.

There is no doubt sin creeps into our lives and into the church. Satan is relentless. Some of the stones resting on the foundation of Christ become fractured. Let’s go back to the concept of “living stones,” however—those fractures can be healed.

The trick, it seems, is to not crumble in a way where we threaten the holy structure. Church leaders, we who are preachers, teachers and administrators, take special note!

We are trying to use these Monday LifeTalk articles as an opportunity to establish a spiritual practice for the week. This week, let’s do a very Lenten thing. Asking God to guide us, let’s search our souls thoroughly for the sins we need to surrender, making new space for God to be at work.

Not only will we strengthen ourselves, we will strengthen the church as a whole, the temple in which we play an active role.

Lord, we surrender to you. Make us whole and holy so that we may better work with the living stones around us. Amen.

Compromise

John 12:42-43 (NLT): Many people did believe in [Jesus], however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.


These words are part of a longer reading for today found in John 12:36-43. Here we see a continuation of John’s theme that Jesus is the light, and that there is a need to acknowledge and follow the light, a step some took.

There also is mention of those who were unable to believe despite witnessing great signs and miracles.

And then there was this in-between crowd, mentioned in the focus verses above. They believed, but secretly, because open belief might have cost them too much in terms of what they had gained in this world.

These people are sometimes remembered positively in Scripture; a couple of them take on the task of burying Jesus. But most of us, I think, would rather be remembered for being bold.

I suppose we are encountering one way to interpret life. It can be viewed as a series of compromises connecting those purer moments when we follow God to the fullest. The Christian pursuit of holiness would be an effort to avoid compromise.

What we learn from this passage becomes more important each day as the world in which we live becomes increasingly secular. As peers, bosses and leaders frown upon scriptural principles more and more, we may find ourselves wanting to compromise.

I pray we don’t.

Lord Jesus, you were not ashamed to come among us, bringing the light of holiness to a broken world. For our sake, you did not flee a shameful death, despite having the power to do so. We are sorry for the times we compromise; may the Holy Spirit fill us and make us courageous. Amen.

Do We Stink?

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 (NRSV)

When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.


Knowing Christ permeates every aspect our lives.  This fragrance of knowing Christ in us comes through knowing Jesus.  We know Jesus through devotions like this one.  We experience Jesus by worshiping with other Christians.  We know Jesus in all aspects of our lives.  The Spirit of God uses these means to attract non-believers to Jesus by the fragrance we put off.

We can ask ourselves, “Do we stink?”  When we taste and see that the Lord is good, our aroma will be sweet.  However, we Christians do stink to high heaven at times!  We know of times that our fragrance has been putrid as we have not lived like ones knowing Christ Jesus. Yet, in Christ our fragrance is attractive.  That is the key for us.  

Christ, you take us from death to death and from life to life.  It is when we are found in you that we live.  You have done what is necessary for us to have salvation.  We want to be found as persons of sincerity, as being in you.  We have not been fragrant with the fragrance that comes from knowing you.  We have stunk.  We turn to you so we can know you.  We turn to you so we may be found to be standing in your presence and the presence of God.  Lead us in triumphal procession all the way into the kingdom of God.  Amen.

Fight My Enemies

“The Angel Michael Binding Satan,” W. Blake, circa 1805

Psalm 35:1-10

I hope you’ll take time to read these verses from Psalm 35, which can be found by clicking the above link. You can examine the psalm in different translations, if you want.

If you are someone who believes others are working against you, acting as your enemies, this psalm makes an excellent prayer to God for assistance. It creates a stirring mental picture when read; imagine the eternally powerful and wise Lord of All arming himself for battle and coming to your aid.

A word of caution, though. Praying this psalm is no magic trick, no casual incantation. Our God cannot be trapped and contained the way people believed (and still believe) pagan, little “g” gods can be controlled.

There are some serious actions that must accompany such a prayer. First and foremost, people who would lift it need to do some deep soul-searching, examining whether they have aligned themselves with the Lord. Scripture would be their best source of guidance, of course. Is what they desire precisely what God desires?

Do their tormentors, as unrighteous as they may seem, have anything resembling a valid point to make? Might they, too, be in at least partial agreement with God, and might that mean there is a place for reconciliation, for middle ground?

As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10-12, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”

We are all dependent on Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for salvation. Any righteousness we have flows from our belief in the cross. Any success we might have in praying this Psalm 35 prayer would be rooted in our faith, and a willingness to also pray for our enemies, just as Jesus taught us.

Dear Lord, as we meditate on our relationship with you, may we find ways to escape hostility and be rejoined to our enemies, seeking peace. Amen.