God in Art: Last Words

Sunday’s sermon at Holston View United Methodist Church will be “Last Words,” based on 2 Samuel 23:1-7. We also will be acknowledging Thanksgiving, and yes, the two concepts will tie together.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, is remembered in part for his last words, “The best of all is, God is with us.” He actually said the phrase twice before dying. The second time, we are told, he raised his hand and waved it in triumph. Below is a book engraving of his passing, artist unknown. (If you can help me find a proper attribution, please pass it along.)

Lord, may we always sense that you are with us. Amen.

A Vessel of Grace

This Sunday’s sermon will be a reflection on deep brokenness and the power of God’s grace, based on both 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and John 6:1-14. If you want to watch the sermon but cannot attend Holston View United Methodist Church, it will be available online.

Today’s text: Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV)


By Chuck Griffin

Today’s Bible passage is one of those accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes. These feedings communicate a very important message about God: His grace is abundant beyond human comprehension.

Sometimes that grace is so abundant that it pours through others in surprising ways. Let me tell you about an old friend of mine named Bob Loy, a fellow I really look forward to seeing again one day.

Bob had every reason to feel crushed by the world. He had lived for decades with about 30 percent lung capacity after an accident that nearly killed him. By the time I knew him, he was elderly. His wife became very ill; while staying with her at the hospital, Bob slipped and fell, breaking his leg near the hip.

While Bob was laid up, his wife died. He couldn’t go to the funeral. His sister also died about the same time. Again, he couldn’t go to the funeral. This was a man who had every reason to surrender to despair.

But not Bob. Through a haze of pain, he kept studying the people in what had become a very tiny world for him, a hospital room. He was certain every day somebody near him needed God’s grace, and he was going to be God’s vessel for that grace. I know for a fact that he brought at least one nurse to a belief in Jesus Christ while flat on his back in that hospital bed.

He also showed me a lot of grace. I was a new pastor, and he constantly was encouraging me, even as pneumonia took over those weak lungs and he had to keep pulling at his oxygen mask to speak.

There was a secret that explained his attitude, a secret he had shared with me not long after we became friends. When he was injured in that accident decades earlier, he saw a vision of an entryway to heaven.

His had been the classic case of dying on the table and being brought back. He said his experience was indescribably beautiful, a vision of a stream, a vast plain, and the most glorious mountain he had ever seen. He knew that God was there, and if he crossed the stream, he could not go back. He also knew he had a choice. A young man at the time, he chose to return to his family, he told me.

But he did not forget the vision. He had seen what eternal victory in Christ looks like, if only briefly, and from then on that vision shaped his life, even as he had intermittent struggles.

Again, I knew Bob only late in his life; when it came time to preside at his funeral, I heard story after story of the lives he changed through the decades as he shared his joyous version of Christ’s redeeming power.

I don’t think we are required to have a near-death experience to understand what Bob understood. We have embraced the truth of a Savior who shows us repeatedly that when it comes to the things that matter—love, hope, joy—there is eternal abundance. We simply need to learn to dwell in that abundance, and offer it to everyone around us.

Lord, fill us with your love so we may pour it out on a hurting world. We declare today that we have no fear of running out of the grace you offer us. Amen.

At the Funeral

Psalm 130
A Song of Ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

By John Grimm

When attending a United Methodist Church member’s funeral, we most likely have heard this psalm read during the “Entrance” of the Service of Death and Resurrection.  This service is found in the United Methodist Hymnal, 870, and the Book of Worship.  After acknowledging our grief, this psalm is read.  It is both a confession of sin and an expression of hope.

As we are all created equal by God, hearing this psalm read at numerous funerals is appropriate.  To humbly ask the Lord for something can be hard.  It is at funerals of our loved ones and friends that we seem to be begging for hope for our life without the departed.  As this psalm moves toward hope, it sets the tone for the rest of the service as Old and New Testament Lessons, Psalm 23, and a Gospel reading are read during a funeral.  It is these lessons that draw out what hope in Jesus Christ looks like.

We know our sins.  Our iniquities are ever before us.  Our transgressions weigh us down.  By going to God in prayer, we confess our wrongs.  This psalm reminds us of the Lord who redeems and forgives.  That is where hope comes, knowing that the Lord redeems and forgives us, and our departed loved ones.

Almighty God, thank you that when we cry out to you, you hear our confessions.  It is by your steadfast love that we have hope.  We thank you for forgiving and redeeming us.  Our hope in you is what carries us through times of grief.  Thank you that Jesus is our hope.  It is in Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Confident Hope

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

—Romans 12:12 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

If we are able to understand what our confident hope is, this becomes a simple verse to live by.

Paul wrote these words in a chapter of Romans where he also talked about making our bodies a living and holy sacrifice. Paul regularly spoke of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the central message of Christianity, and it is clear he wants us completely “sold out” on the idea, committed to its meaning in good times and bad.

The cross, of course, means freedom for us. Think of your sins for a moment; briefly experience them as the crushing weight they should be. (I feel a slight shudder when I do this.) Now remember, that weight has been lifted by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross! Sin should lead to death, but both have been defeated by Christ.

Thus, the resurrection, the Easter event. It is our proof the cross is effective, and a promise of what is in store for us.

The cross also is the source of our confidence. We certainly will experience negative and even frightening moments in this life, but the fear they are somehow terminal, a full-stop end, is unjustified. We will pass through—life goes on, even after our bodily deaths.

This great truth of Christianity should shape every moment of our lives. Even in sorrow, joy lingers nearby because the truth of our salvation is constant.

Romans 12:12 is a simple Bible verse worth memorizing.

Lord, keep the cross before us in all circumstances. Amen.

He Is Risen!

By Chuck Griffin

Depending on which gospel you read, the resurrection story is told in slightly different ways. The core facts are the same, however: Jesus was definitely dead, crucified on a cross.

Then he was and is clearly alive, fully recognizable and yet transformed in a way that should still astound us.

We often rely on the gospel of John during Holy Week and Easter, if for no other reason than the precise detail provided there regarding both the crucifixion and the resurrection. Mary Magdalene, a woman who had been healed by Jesus and became his follower, finds the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.

She goes for help, returning with Peter and a disciple described as “the one whom Jesus loved.” The men see the carefully discarded burial linens and leave the tomb. Mary stays and sees the risen Jesus, mistaking him at first for a gardener before speaking with him. When she runs back to the disciples, she announces, “I have seen the Lord.”

Just as angels indicated at Jesus’ birth that the world was changing because God had come to live among humanity, Mary was saying that nothing will ever be the same now that Jesus has defeated death.

The Greek verb we translate as “announce” was used very specifically in Jesus’ day, indicating that previously unknown news was being delivered. Mary Magdalene was the first to deliver the Good News about Jesus Christ and his world-transforming resurrection.

And indeed, nothing is the same. Before Jesus, death was a frightening uncertainty, at best a descent into a shadowy existence. After Jesus, death is meaningless for those who follow Christ.

We don’t seek death—we certainly don’t relish what might accompany the dying process—but faithful Christians intuitively know they have nothing to fear. How can we fear what Christ has crushed? How can we be anxious about facing Father God when we know the resurrected Son will stand by us and say, “I have made this one holy!”

And more than just the afterlife is changed. This life now is changed.

In making us holy through the cleansing action of the cross, God can dwell in us. He gives us his Spirit to sustain us until all creation is set right in the general resurrection, the complete remaking of heaven and earth. (If you don’t know that part of the story, take hope—it is where history is headed.)

The joy of eternity with God begins now, not in our passing. Easter is a reminder that the resurrection happened in this world, impacting living people, including us today.

The resurrection is a story worth hearing again and again. Nothing can match it; certainly nothing can embellish the story that makes eternity possible. I pray you have the opportunity to celebrate this great story in some way today.

Lord, thank you for salvation and eternal life! May the hope of Easter fill our hearts each day. Amen.

Into 2021!

John 3:16 (NLT)

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.


If there’s anything we’ve learned from 2020, it’s that we have no idea what a year might have in store for us. With one exception.

I have no insight regarding when the pandemic will end. I do have high hopes for the vaccine, and I’m praying for something resembling normal worship during the Easter season. (Easter Sunday will be April 4.)

I’m also praying that wonderful events during 2021 will lift us up globally. Perhaps a powerful outbreak of the Holy Spirit, another true Great Awakening regarding Jesus Christ’s work in this world? I would so like to see that happen.

About that exception I mentioned: I can promise you this, the grace poured out on us by God will remain available. It has remained available in 2020, and it will always be available, until we turn off the calendar and simply stand before God in full, rejoicing and worshiping our savior into eternity.

By “grace,” I mean the love God continually shows us despite the fact we do not deserve it. It is a great, continuous gift, one we simply have to agree to receive.

Grace is available even before people acknowledge God exists. It tugs at us; it exists as a feeling there is more to life than what we simply see.

Grace washes over us and into us at the moment we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. From then on, grace changes us, as much as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.

Based on the truth of ever-present grace, I can say that 2021 will be an important, powerful year. People will find Jesus Christ and eternal life through simple belief. People will grow to be more like what God would have them be.

Any more good news will simply be additional evidence of how much God loves us.

Have a blessed, grace-filled 2021!

Hope

For the rest of this week, let’s consider the four themes of the Advent season—hope, peace, joy and love—which are usually captured in readings during the lighting of candles on the Advent wreath each Sunday.

As odd as it might seem, Romans 5:1-4 ties hope among the believers to suffering:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I find it helpful to realize that suffering can have a point, so long as we continue in our faith that God’s promises have come true and will continue to come true.

Whatever we are experiencing, we learn to say in stronger and more authoritative ways, “Yes, this situation is bad, but it is temporary. God has promised that evil and all of its effects will be overcome.”

The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train. There’s no trick in store for us. The light of Christ is bearing down on us, coming to our rescue.

Hope also serves as a great evangelism tool. When people look at a Christian and say, “I want what that person has,” odds are the believer is exhibiting hope. People long to know that there is a potential happy ending to every story, and they particularly want to know how to ensure they can take part in that ending.

It is the basic role of every Christian to project hope where people may find themselves in despair. Where will we demonstrate hope today?

Lord, we don’t like to suffer, but thank you for being there in the midst of suffering, helping us to turn it into something good on behalf of your kingdom. Amen.

How Shall We Give Thanks?

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 100

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Our national day of Thanksgiving is a week away. Many of us won’t have our usual experiences, particularly where family gatherings are concerned.

We still need to give thanks, however—powerfully! Even in these less-than-ideal times, we remain a blessed people. I believe the freedom and hope we experience here flows from God.

Today’s psalm, which we will continue to meditate upon until next Thursday, reminds us of the deepest meaning of Thanksgiving. Thankfulness has to be directed somewhere, and God is the most appropriate recipient.

God is, after all, the source of life. God holds the blueprint of the universe, and it is drawn in the color of love.

God saves us despite our turning away from our creator. Lift up praises each day for Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, and the hope we receive in the resurrection!

During the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I’m going to offer us a short exercise in thankfulness to try each day. Check back here, or subscribe by entering your email in the subscription box found on any page of Methodist Life.

Lord, may a new sense of thankfulness overwhelm us this day and all the remaining days we have. Amen.

Hope!

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 78:1-7

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.

As I write this, election results remain unclear in several states, and I suspect this uncertainty will be ongoing as you read this. Several people have expressed to me how anxious they feel.

It helps, I think, to stay on task, to control what is actually within our sphere of influence. Regardless of the political climate, a particular responsibility remains for those of us who follow God. Having experienced hope, we pass along hope to others, something a lot of people seem to be lacking lately.

Hope in God’s plan, as expressed in Psalm 78, also is an effective sedative for those overly elated with a moment of worldly victory, and a boost for those who hang their heads, thinking political defeat spells looming disaster.

People of God carry within them big-picture hope, but we simultaneously are called to a daily kind of work. Back when Barack Obama was running for his second term, a panicked church member cornered me one day, tugging at my sleeve and saying something that made his political views obvious: “Pastor Chuck, what are we going to do if Obama wins the election?”

“Well,” I said, “I plan to do what I will do if he loses. I’m going to preach Jesus.”

Christians, more than anything else, we share the Good News. Day in and day out, we need to find ways to tell others about Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Politics may have consumed our thoughts recently, but we need to focus on our most pressing, immediate problem. A new generation is failing to learn the critically important story found in Scripture, mostly because those of us who know it are not telling it deliberately and well.

This story should excite any generation. It is ancient; the psalms are ancient to us, and our psalm for today speaks of lessons from what its author considers a distant past. We work from millenia to millenia, not term to term.

Our story describes who God is: The one who has always been and always will be, holy from before time to beyond the end of time. It also explains why we are the way we are—broken, sinful and often full of regret.

Our story declares a mysterious, fundamental truth. God loves us despite our sins. He loves us so much that he came among us in flesh to redeem us from our deliberate decisions to reject our creator’s will. Believing this story draws God directly into our midst, changing how we see every aspect of our lives.

Wherever you stand politically, do all you can to inject hope into the lives of others in these coming days, weeks, months and years.

Lord, as your followers, we commit ourselves to the truth that we are yours first. Help us to tell your story of hope to people who are on edge. Amen.

Get Real

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 22:23-33 (NLT)

That same day Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name.’ Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children, so his brother married the widow. But the second brother also died, and the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”

Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.

“But now, as to whether there will be a resurrection of the dead—haven’t you ever read about this in the Scriptures? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead.”

When the crowds heard him, they were astounded at his teaching.


If you’re a cynic, you have to be careful when you’re near Christ. You may find yourself confronted with the grittiness of your world view.

Just ask the Sadducees, a party within the Jewish religious-political structure in Jesus’ day. What made the Sadducees unique was their belief that there was no afterlife, and that in particular God would never raise people from the dead.

The Sadducees enjoyed publicly making fun of Jesus’ teachings about resurrection and an afterlife with God. They did so in what sounds like a riddle, one designed to expose what they considered the silliness of the resurrection.

The riddle also opened the door to some off-color humor at Jesus’ expense. It relied on the image of a pitiful woman passing from the arms of one brother to another. The riddle was rooted in the Jewish tradition that if a man were to die childless, his brother was to marry the widow and impregnate her so the dead brother would have an heir.

All seven brothers tried, and all seven brothers died, the riddle went. Finally, the woman died, too. “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” the Pharisees asked Jesus. “For all seven were married to her.”

When I imagine this ribald theological challenge, I see the Sadducees snickering, or at least suppressing a smirk. Any Jews standing nearby may have laughed out loud.

In modern terms, Jesus’ response can be boiled down to two words: “Get real.” He ignored the intricacies of the Sadducees’ earthy riddle. Instead, he affirmed the resurrection and tried to help them see that their theology was as coarse as their humor.

Jesus wanted them to see the glory and hope God offers us through Jesus Christ. “For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven,” he said.

We are reminded that we are so much more than what day-to-day life reveals to us. Jesus went on to prove his assertions by dying on the cross for our sins and then rising from the dead transformed, demonstrating that the power of sin and death had been defeated.

God promises us the same resurrection experience if only we believe in the effectiveness of Jesus’ work on the cross to save us. In fact, all of creation will be reworked to fit God’s view of how things should be.

Such belief does more than give us a future. It gives us a present we can interpret with hope and optimism rather than cynicism.

Even where we see pain and death, we can say, “I know the ugliness of this world is temporary. I know God hates what I’m seeing even more than I do, and that he’s provided a way out.”

The world may remain gritty, but knowing the situation is temporary changes everything.

Lord, may today bring us a special experience of your very present, resurrection-rooted kingdom. Amen.