Scoffers to the End

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Jude 17-23 (NLT)

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.


Like many pastors, I get this question now and then: “So, do you think we are near the end of time?”

In response, I usually say, “I can guarantee one thing. We are one day closer today than we were yesterday.” Most people don’t seem to find that very satisfying, though.

The question usually arises because of strife in the world: wars and rumors of wars, or in 2020, a pandemic combined with particularly tense U.S. politics and civil unrest. I try to keep all of that turmoil in perspective, though.

Look at it this way. Would you trade living right now for a life in 14th-century Europe during the Black Plague? Would you instead choose the World War I era (capped off by the Spanish flu pandemic) or World War II?

No doubt, Christians have thought to themselves many times, “This is it—this must be the end!”

Jude obviously wrote his letter to an audience struggling with such thoughts. The date of writing is hard to nail down precisely, but the letter would have been delivered just before or not long after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which was preceded by insurrection and followed by ethnic dispersion and brutal horrors.

What Jude had to say is interesting, however, not because it is rooted in a particular time, but because it is good advice for all times. In his day, and in the centuries to follow, the church, local or global, has had a basic problem. There always are “scoffers” hanging around the edges or even lurking within as false teachers.

They live for themselves, to satisfy their own desires, so very naturally they bring division to any group of Christians they find.

As Jude said, the cure is relatively straightforward. Christians must worship and live so they remain true as a group to their Savior, Jesus Christ. They must disciple themselves so their churches are guided by the Holy Spirit in all that they do.

We are particularly blessed in our era because we have God’s word so freely available to us in the Bible. Discipleship has a lot of competition in our busy, media-saturated world, but at the same time, discipleship through prayer and the study of God’s word has never been easier.

And while Jude counsels vigilance against those who would tear the church apart, he emphasizes mercy and love for people needing to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That would include those scoffers, who simply are aggressive sinners who got through the door.

Keep sin and the encouragement to sin out of the church, but keep Christ’s mercy continually available to all in need. That’s a strategy to sustain us until the end of time, regardless of when that may be.

Lord, give us discernment to see both obvious and subtle strains of sin, and as we find these in our midst, may we trust in your Holy Spirit to gently guide us toward holiness. Amen.

Psalm 19: Look Within

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Let’s continue our meditation on Psalm 19. Yesterday, we considered the first six verses.

After contemplating the heavens, the psalmist makes what initially seems like a sudden turn, talking about how God instructs us. In particular, he references the law given to the Israelites. The two subjects are more connected than we might initially think.

The order and beauty of the heavens partially reveal God. A fuller understanding of God’s nature is found in contemplating God’s law, the psalmist is saying.

Because of sin, we are too broken to intuit such truths on our own. We need a direct revelation from the mind of God, a conduit Scripture offers us every day.

Even then, we are not strong enough to remain aligned with God—to remain holy—unless God helps us. Thus, we hear the petition at the end of the psalm to be kept and cleansed from sins committed deliberately or unknowingly.

The psalmist did not know the details of how God ultimately would respond to this prayer, benefitting all of humanity, but we know. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross makes it possible for all people to be cleansed of sin.

When we believe in Jesus and the effectiveness of his sacrifice, God’s Holy Spirit rushes in to engage with us and strengthen us, if only we let him.

Lord, may the words from our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and redeemer. Amen.


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Under Water

Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 107:28-30 (NRSV)
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.

In yesterday’s devotional, I explored how to breathe during prayer, particularly when we find ourselves anxious. Today, I’m going to teach you a particular visualization technique to enhance your connection with God.

Put the two techniques together, and you have a kind of meditative prayer, something a lot of people in our culture don’t practice regularly. Our other, more familiar ways of praying—where we speak our praises, thanks and petitions to God, perhaps focusing on Scripture or a devotional as part of the process—remain critically important to our prayer lives. You may find, however, that meditative prayer techniques are particularly helpful in developing a sense of God’s constant presence.

There are uncountable ways to enter a state of meditative prayer. This is just one I like. I do not remember where I first learned it.

Imagine yourself sitting (or standing or lying, depending on your preferred posture) at the bottom of a deep, clear pool of water. Here’s the good news: God has granted you the ability to breathe comfortably and freely while there. Remember to breathe as discussed yesterday.

If this were a class in Zen meditation, someone might tell you to empty your mind. We’re doing the opposite. We want to be filled with God, and only with God.

As you begin, it helps to think of a word representing what you seek in that holy relationship. I’ve heard people make all sorts of choices: “peace,” “love,” “forgiveness” or “discernment,” for example. I’ve even heard people choose “Jesus” as their word, apparently as they tried to better fathom what it means to be in a personal relationship with God through Christ.

Go ahead and accept that worries and random thoughts will intrude on this time. We’re not going to fight them. Instead, take hold of them, examine them for a brief moment, and then release them, allowing them to float to the surface, far above you. Say your chosen word as part of the next exhale, and settle back into experiencing God.

That’s the technique. Simple, huh?

By the way, the more you do this, the longer you will spend in this state before deciding to surface. In just a few tries, you may have a meditative prayer session where you are surprised at how long you’ve been “under”—half an hour or even an hour might feel like 15 or 20 minutes.

What’s important is that you find yourself deeply aware of God’s presence.

Lord, thank you for the way you meet us in the midst of storms and in quiet places. Amen.

Life and Breath

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

The Bible has a lot to say about the not-so-simple act of breathing. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, words for “breath,” “wind” and “spirit” overlap.

Genesis 2:7: Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Ezekiel 37:9: Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

John 20:21-23: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Acts 2:2-4: And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

It’s pretty obvious that in Scripture, the source of life is God’s breath, which we also might think of as the movement of the Holy Spirit. This ethereal lesson can be lived out in very practical ways, however, particularly in times of stress.

When I’ve taught people under tremendous stress how to pray in a meditative way, the “how to breathe” part of the lesson has been critical. First, you have to position your body so you can breathe. If seated, your back and neck need to be straight, your shoulders squared and hanging from your collarbones as if on coathangers.

From here, “breath prayer” begins to line up with core techniques I’ve learned from decades of martial arts practice, principles recently confirmed in books I’ve read about how soldiers and police survive and control violent, high-stress situations. Breathing is normally automatic, but it can get out of control when the world becomes overwhelming. At such times, we have to take charge of our breathing.

Inhale through your nose deeply, slowly, expanding your lower stomach. Hold at the end of the inhale for a count equal to your time spent inhaling. Exhale through your mouth at the same rate, shrinking and pushing in your lower stomach. At the bottom of the exhale, hold for the same amount of time. Some people who teach this talk about using a “four count” at each stage.

I should warn you, if your heart is racing, if your blood pressure is up, your lungs will fight you at first, particularly as you hold at the bottom of your exhale. But if you’re feeling panicked or anxious, repeating this type of breathing will calm you, center you, and allow you to turn to God.

Biblically, it makes sense. Made in the image of God and granted the Holy Spirit through our belief in Jesus Christ, we have access to the source of life.

Think of deliberate, God-focused breathing as an unspoken prayer request: “God, renew in me what you have poured into the world.”

Peace be with you. Tomorrow, I will try to help you embed this breathing in prayerful Christian meditation.

Lord, we thank you for the life you have breathed into us. May we use our lives to glorify you and to the benefit of your dawning kingdom on earth.

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.

Spiritual Gifts

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 12:1-3 (NLT)

Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.


During last Sunday’s Holston View UMC worship service, I talked about spiritual gifts. Part of my sermon was an invitation to explore what gifts we have among us, using what some may think of as Covid-19 “down time” to study, train and prepare.

I’ve long been perplexed by Christians who remain disinterested after learning that spiritual gifts await them. I have a working theory about the problem.

Some Christians are like kids who fear they may get push mowers for Christmas. Open that present and there’s nothing ahead but work, work, work.

If I’m right, we need to get past that unfounded fear. If I’m wrong, one of Satan’s most influential demons must go by the name Apathy.

I’ll not spend much time on specific spiritual gifts today; there are about 30 described in the Bible. Sunday, I mentioned the ones Paul listed in Romans 12:1-8. First, let’s understand the great gift we are given, an ongoing encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is received in a moment, but it’s also the gift that keeps on giving. Through our belief in Christ, we open ourselves fully to the influence of God’s Spirit. We are offered ongoing transformation.

This first great gift includes a kind of freedom we cannot experience otherwise. We live securely as people who know they will live forever. Even if we find ourselves with challenging God-given work to do in this life, we can trust our tasks will ultimately be joyful because of this promise.

Opening spiritual gifts, which God may bestow at different times in life, also brings a sense of renewal. Even if you’re already a highly skilled person, you may find the gifts of the Spirit flowing through those skills in new ways. Spiritual gifts often become a holy enhancement of the person you already are, reinvigorating you.

I’m praying some of you feel a new sense of excitement about your unopened spiritual gifts. I am willing to devote some serious time to those of you wanting to explore this subject. I’ve made this offer to the Holston View UMC family, but as so much of it will have to happen online, I’m also making it to other LifeTalk readers who might want to join us.

Just let me know, and we’ll open those gifts together, knowing all of our churches will be stronger in the process.

Lord, bless us with a renewed sense of excitement about the gifts you give every follower. May we long to open these gifts and use them! Amen.