What Must Be Done

Ezra 9:5-9 (NRSV)

At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,

“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.”


By Chuck Griffin

Ezra dropped to his knees to do what must be done from time to time, to do what the people as a whole had failed to do. He repented and sought forgiveness.

Because of their sins, God’s chosen people found themselves enslaved, their way of life decimated. But a glimmer of hope had appeared, the potential to rebuild what had been a glorious temple. And yet, Ezra observed, the people of Israel continued to defy God.

The specific sin causing Ezra grief sounds strange to us today. The Israelites were to be a people set apart, a lesson in holiness to all the world. But instead they had begun to intermarry with the people around them, in the process adopting other gods and unholy practices. The real problem was that they had moved away from God and toward idolatry.

The principle remains the same for us. We are to search for what pleases God and what displeases God, practicing the former and avoiding the latter. Our Holy Bible gives us our baseline for understanding sin, something our broken minds cannot sort out on their own. In our New Testament, we receive refined guidance about sin from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working within the early Christian church.

Ignoring this guidance brings grave danger. Our best response is to search our actions and even our thoughts to see where we may deviate from what God desires. We truly practice a religion of the heart.

Such an examination of ourselves should lead us where Ezra went—on our knees, in a state of repentance. Living much later than Ezra in God’s grand story of redemption, we know that because of the work of Jesus Christ, forgiveness, change and hope lie ahead.

A call to such piety is not popular, I know. Sadly, there are people among us who have established themselves as preachers while preaching the opposite.

Their opinions do not change the word of God, however, and they do not remove the need for thoughtful searching of our souls and serious repentance.

Lord, reveal to us through your holy word and directly in prayer where we displease you, and then show us a better way. Amen.

Love and Truth

2 John (NLT)

This letter is from John, the elder.

I am writing to the chosen lady and to her children, whom I love in the truth—as does everyone else who knows the truth—because the truth lives in us and will be with us forever.

Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love.

How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded.

I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward. Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work.

I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete.

Greetings from the children of your sister, chosen by God.


By Chuck Griffin

While we call them “books of the Bible,” some of those books really are just short letters. Second John is printed in its entirety above.

The “chosen lady” likely is a personification of the recipient church, with her “children” being the members of that church. The last line of the letter seems to confirm this, showing the letter’s author wrote from a “sister” church.

I have a particular fondness for this letter because it emphasizes the nature of Christian love. Yes, we are to be very open and giving with our love. This agape love for each other does not mean, however, that we forget to first love God. We love God by obeying what he commands of us in Scripture and telling the truth about those commands to others.

Even in Christianity’s earliest days, the church struggled with deceivers, with “antichrists,” people who pose as bringers of a holy message but who actually are looking out for their own unholy interests. They will deny the reality of the resurrection; they will deny other teachings clearly communicated in the New Testament about God’s expectations of us.

No doubt, such deceivers will be with us until Christ returns in full. John the Elder could have written this letter to any of our churches today.

Love and truth walk hand in hand. In fact, it is a very unloving thing to deceive people about God’s expectations for his followers, or to allow these deceptive teachings to happen in the midst of Christian fellowship. Too much is at stake.

Lord, help us to discern clearly what is being spoken in the midst of our congregations, testing what we hear against the revelation found in your Holy Bible. Amen.

Four Parts of Worship: Word

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

From an ancient church perspective, the sermon and all the Scripture-based events surrounding it come surprisingly late in American worship. In a fourfold worship structure, “Word” follows “Gathering.” I’m not suggesting we change the order of worship, but let’s be certain Scripture is fully present!

Hearing God’s word is the best way to encounter God routinely in a group setting. When a direct encounter with God occurs early in worship, the rest of worship happens in a highly focused manner.

Use of God’s written word to reveal God’s truth goes back to the earliest days of the Christian church, when the words we translate as “scripture” or “word of God” were references to the Jewish Bible, the writings we now group under the Old Testament.

Consider these references from letters that later became part of the New Testament:

2 Timothy 3:14-17: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

Hebrews 4:12-13: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

James 1:21-22: “Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

In these verses, we see God’s word as living and powerful, something that flows through the pages of a Bible and into a reader. Open the Bible, use what is there, and you’ll find yourself equipped in new ways. God’s word will dissect you, exposing what is of God and not of God. It will even implant itself in your soul, bringing you face to face with salvation through Jesus Christ.

Root worship in Scripture, and we encounter the Holy Spirit as a group, an experience that should always strengthen us.

Fail to root worship in Scripture, and I think it is safe to say we have not worshiped at all.

Lord, as we find ourselves denied worship in the ways we most enjoy, help us to remain deep in your word, committing ourselves to it now and for the worship days to come. Amen.