The Simple Approach

Micah 6:6-8 (NRSV)

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

By Chuck Griffin

I just returned to work after taking a couple of weeks’ vacation, something I highly recommend. “Duh,” some of you might be saying, but you would be surprised how hard it is for a lot of pastors to make the decision to take a vacation, or even an appropriate amount of time off during the week.

If for no other reason, it is important that we take that time so we maintain perspective. And so often, it seems that perspective is largely a matter of remembering what is important, and then focusing on what is important by employing the “KISS” principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid.

My first Monday back at work was a good example of how my vocation, like a lot of jobs, can become a series of unexpected, frustrating exercises. I’ll not go into a lot of detail, but when I got home, I invoked the memory of an old ’80s commercial when I said to my wife, “I’m not a lawyer, but I apparently play one at church. I’m also not an IT guy, a psychologist, a human resources director or a financial planner, but I play those at church, too.” I did manage to teach a Bible study on Monday.

Vacation is good because it allows us to get our heads out of the swirl of the extraneous for a while and remember who we truly are. As children of God, we always will have distractions, but our service to God has to be a priority.

Micah reminds us that serving God doesn’t have to become an overly elaborate or painfully ritualized activity. Mainly, it’s about getting our hearts right. Countering injustice, showing kindness, and humbly remembering who we are in relation to God are God-honoring ways to live.

I’ll try to remember that as the work week progresses.

Lord, whatever we are doing, please let us find ways to make what we do about you and your plan of salvation. Amen.

Results

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Samson!” It will be based on stories found in Judges 13-16. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Take time to read the story of Samson.


By Chuck Griffin

With his massive strength and what sounds like really great hair, Samson had the kind of advantages that a leader in any era would find helpful.

Like many such leaders, though, he fell short of what was possible. Certainly, God was with him. Certainly, he did a lot of damage to the Philistines, the enemy God intended Samson to vanquish.

When all is said and done, however, the final results are what matter. The earliest judges, the people empowered by God to lead Israel, brought their people to a time when “the land had rest,” a phrase indicating peace and prosperity. Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Gideon seem to have had success.

There is no such indication at the end of Samson’s story, or at the end of the story of some of his predecessors. Instead, we simply receive a report of how long they led.

As I read Samson’s story, I try to spot his shortcomings as a leader. I noted Wednesday how he seems to lack humility, even though it is quite possible to be both strong and humble. He kept forgetting the source of his strength, God, and spent much of his time pursuing what Samson wanted.

Trusting in the power of his arms and legs, Samson also tried to do everything on his own. The earliest judges were able to rally the people. To one degree or another, God’s power flowed through them to strengthen the Israelites.

It seems like Samson wanted to underscore the notion that it is lonely at the top, even though that old adage can easily be overcome by a savvy leader who deliberately calls on the help of the best and the brightest available.

Samson’s story is an ancient one, yet the themes within are timeless, and certainly applicable to situations playing out right now in the world. May God guide all who lead, and may those who lead humbly follow God’s guidance, helping their troubled people find a time of rest.

Lord, once again we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

In Meekness, Strength

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Samson!” It will be based on stories found in Judges 13-16. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Matthew 5:5 (NRSV)

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”


By Chuck Griffin

When we hear the story of Samson, it’s unlikely the word “meek” immediately springs into our minds.

Samson was all bluster and fury, set aside to do God’s work in driving back the Philistines. He also was a lover of war and women. He was monstrously, supernaturally strong and at times showed hints of cleverness. He had seven long, flowing locks of hair that I’m sure caused many young women to love him back. He was gifted the way a Hollywood action hero seems to be gifted.

His story begins in a manner similar to others in both the Old and New testaments. A need arose in history, and God filled that need by providing a child through a previously barren couple. In Samson’s case, at God’s instruction he was set aside from birth as a nazirite for life, a person dedicated to do the Lord’s work. (Typical nazirite vows were temporary.)

We need to be very clear about one aspect of Samson’s story. Nothing about his life prevented him from being meek. It’s an unfortunate circumstance of the English language that “meek” rhymes with “weak,” and we can be guilty of imposing the meaning of the latter onto the former.

Some translators of Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes, the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, use the word “humble” rather than “meek.” That’s helpful. I’m sure many of us can think of an example of the dynamic but humble man or woman, a presence that could merely loom over us but instead brings comfort.

Sadly for Samson, he found humility the hard and painful way. He had to lose his eyes to gain perspective. We can have similar devastating experiences when we forget that God gave us whatever gifts we have, and that those gifts exist to serve God. We are not to toy with them or misuse them.

As Christians, we are to be a humble people, regardless of our strengths. We are blessed to know that Jesus Christ came and died for our sins. That truth alone should astonish us into meekness, as we consider how the strongest of all humbly sacrificed himself for us.

Lord, help us to count our blessings and spiritual gifts, and then having made an accounting, let us be mindful that any successes we have should be for the benefit of your kingdom. Amen.

Building Up the Neighbor

Romans 15:1-6 (NRSV)

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


By John Grimm

Do we label the weak in our local church?  If we do, are they those who have less money than us?  How about those who are chronically ill?  Would the weak be those who are always complaining about something or other in the church?

It might turn out that as we are attempting to label the weak that we discover we are the weak.  For our labeling the “weak” may be an insult to all others in the local church!

Paul is instructing the church in Rome to not please themselves.  For when we are pleasing ourselves, do we take notice of our neighbors?  Thankfully, we have the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, to instruct us on how to be steadfast in the faith God has given to us.

It is God who brought us together to be the local church.  For it is in the local church, and not denominational offices, that disciples of Jesus Christ are made.  Since God has brought us together, he knows we can have harmony with one another, rather than labels.  Through the harmony that God grants to us, we do give glory to God.  Our voices are united in praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God, we have often labeled our neighbors within our local church as being weak or strong.  Forgive us for attempting to please ourselves with lofty thoughts of ourselves and insulting other disciples of Jesus Christ.  As we read the Bible, show us how to live in harmony with one another.  We praise you for Jesus and for drawing us to faith in Jesus through the local church.  As we live in harmony, may we be found to be living in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Keeping Our Past in View

Titus 3:3-5 (NLT)

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Vehicles have rearview mirrors for an obvious reason: The driver can see what lies in the immediate past while journeying on. It is more important to keep our focus on where we are heading, which is why I believe the windshield provides such a wide vista compared to the rear-view mirror. But we do need occasional peeks at the past so we can better appreciate where we are and where exactly we are headed. 

I am sure that many of you have heard the saying that “we are all works in progress.” This means that even though we are not where we used to be, we are more importantly not where we need to be. In our focus passage from Paul’s letter to Titus, one of the younger men that he mentored, Paul reminds us of the importance of not forgetting what we were before our rescue.

Paul writes, “Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient.” We were all conceived in sin and born as sinners because sin is a sexually transmittable disease passed down from the first human couple. It would be wishful thinking, however, to assume that those of us who are now believers or born again are no longer disobedient. That would be far from the truth.  

The root cause of our human separation from God was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the instructions given to them by God. If there is anything we have inherited from them, it is our natural bent to go against the instructions that have been handed down to us in Scripture. The United Methodist Church is for all intents and purposes in schism because of human disobedience and the misguided desire to give new meaning to Scripture to align it with the ever-changing cultural norms.  

If you are under any illusion that we are no longer slaves to the desires of our fallen human nature, just take some time to scroll through the social media feeds of some professing Christians. I hope you would agree that a significant number are far from showing they are truly new creatures in Christ. To say that our lives are no longer full of evil and envy and devoid of hatred would be self-deception. Thankfully, while we were yet sinners, God chose to send his beloved Son Jesus to save us—not because of anything good we have done but because of his own kindness. 

As our brother Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, our salvation from beginning to end is due to God’s grace and not because of anything good we have done (Ephesians 2:8-9). To be clear, unbelievers are also beneficiaries of God’s prevenient grace and his blessings (Matthew 5:44-48).

According to John Wesley, “Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God.” This means that even before we acknowledge God, his grace is working in our lives.

While we enjoy grace and sin in common with unbelievers, what I believe separates us from those yet to come to saving faith is our Holy Spirit-inspired response to God’s invitation and our experience of justifying grace. As Paul writes, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1-2). 

We should not boast and attribute our salvation to anything that we have done. As a result, let us stop looking down on unbelievers, thinking we are better than them. The next time you are tempted to look down on unbelievers, take time to look in the rearview mirror of your life and be thankful for God’s grace and the salvific work of Christ on the cross. 

Lord, we thank you for our salvation, which is made possible through your grace from beginning to end. Help us to be humble and not look down on those who are still living far away from you. Use us as carriers of your grace to them as we serve as the hands and feet of your Son Jesus, in whose name we humbly pray. Amen.

The Approach

We are moving toward our Sunday, July 11 sermon, which will be viewable online and based on 2 Samuel 6.

Today’s Text: Matthew 6:9-13 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

These devotions began in support of a larger effort to encourage traditional Methodist small groups. The group in which I participate recently revealed to me some connections between what we commonly call the “Lord’s Prayer” and this Sunday’s developing sermon on the nature of worship.

Jesus was teaching his followers how to pray, moving ultimately into an example of prayer straight from his divine lips. It’s perfectly fine to pray the prayer as is—you cannot go wrong quoting Jesus. The prayer also serves a larger purpose, however.

As a model for other prayers, his words remind us of how we are to approach God.

First, God is holy, and we need to stay rooted in that truth as we pray. By “holy,” we mean God is without fault, always perfect and the standard by which creation should be measured.

Sadly, we are sullied by our freely made poor choices. Our sins make us unholy. We need to approach God with expressions of humility and a sense of caution, what the Bible’s English translators sometimes describe as “fear.” That which is unholy historically has not survived direct experiences of God for very long.

As we pray, we also should express our deep desire to align our will with God’s will. We need to declare that we intend for our lives and the world around us to fall in line with what God wants.

That big-picture attitude creates the proper environment for praying about situations large and small. We can confidently approach our holy God as a loving God, knowing he will meet us in any moment as we call upon him with appropriate reverence.

In particular, we pray for relief from the sins tainting us, knowing we can seek forgiveness because of the work Jesus Christ performed on the cross. And we are reminded that the grace we are continually shown should be extended to others.

This all should create in us a humble demeanor that not only benefits us in daily prayer, but also prepares us for proper worship. As we will see on Friday, when properly prepared for worship, we can experience wondrous results.

Lord, keep us in awe, keep us humble, and at the same time let us know that we have many reasons to rejoice in your presence. Amen.

After Falling

1 Samuel 18:6-9 (NLT)

When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul. They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals. This was their song:

“Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!”

This made Saul very angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.


By Chuck Griffin

Sunday during sermon time, I preached the story of David and Goliath, the classic Bible tale that I suspect even most unchurched people know. Today’s verses are the beginning of the story of what happened afterward.

It’s painful to watch this story play out in the Bible, and then repeatedly throughout history, into the present day. Some people just cannot let go, particularly if they have become accustomed to honor and power.

Saul knew he had fallen out of God’s favor, and that another was to take his place. The cry of the women likely confirmed for him what he had begun to suspect: David was the one. Read on in 1 Samuel, and you’ll see the lengths Saul was willing to go to cling to what was never really his, anyway, descending into madness in the process. The Lord had given, and because of Saul’s lack of faith, the Lord had taken away.

It’s unlikely any of us will ever achieve the lofty status of King Saul, and I hope none of us ever loses our place in God’s kingdom because of faithlessness. Even so, it may be that we find ourselves moving through our lives from roles that seem honorable to roles that seem like demotion or outright rejection.

Maybe the change needed to happen—it’s possible the Peter Principle kicked in—or maybe life has once again proven to be unfair. Regardless, we have to be very careful how we react.

A soft, obediently spoken “What now, Lord?” is always a good prayer at such a time. Christians keep serving God regardless of their perceived station in life. I have seen pastors do great work on behalf of the kingdom after receiving church appointments they considered slaps in the face.

And never forget, from a worldly perspective, the kingdom is an upside-down place. It never hurts to return to the Beatitudes for a refresher course.

Lord, today is a good day to remember John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Wrist Holds and Grace

1 Peter 5:1-5 (NLT)

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”


By Chuck Griffin

Today’s Bible passage from the daily lectionary was written by a church leader to leaders, encouraging care of the flock through suspension of self-interest and a focus on humility. The timing is most excellent.

More than anything today, I wanted to be sure readers of this LifeTalk blog have had an opportunity to read an April 23 article by the Rev. Carolyn Moore, a Georgia pastor and one of the leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Entitled “There Is a Simple Solution,” Rev. Moore makes a gentle, grace-filled appeal to United Methodist bishops, saying they have the power to end the painful struggle we find ourselves in, allowing churches wanting to leave the denomination to do so with their property and without punitive costs.

I’ll let her article make her appeal. I can add to it only by way of analogy.

I have practiced martial arts for four decades as of this year. As part of that practice, we spend time learning various ways to escape all sorts of grabs and holds.

One of the most basic holds we learn to deal with is the wrist hold, where someone grabs your wrist to prevent you from escaping whatever attack might follow. There are lots of ways, some simple, some elaborate, to free yourself from a wrist hold.

For example, if you raise your grasped wrist high, turning your palm in, it’s easy to use your other hand to take hold of the back of the attacker’s hand, free yourself, and then use both your hands to apply painful pressure to the attacker’s wrist. If you’re standing, you can use your own body weight to drive your opponent backward into the ground.

If the attack proves to be ongoing and powerful, the defensive responses inflict higher levels of pain and violence. For example, if the attacker locks down really hard, making it difficult to get loose, a swift kick or stomp will allow the release to work, a technique known as “loosening.”

Here’s what we don’t bother practicing in a martial arts class: Always presuming we prepare for violence, we don’t waste time looking at the opponent and saying, “Would you please let go of my wrist?”

Reading Rev. Moore’s article, I had a realization. Progressives, institutionalists and traditionalists in the United Methodist Church have been circling each other as if we are presuming violent intent. We strategize, we project ideal outcomes, and we take defensive or offensive postures over the issue of church property. 

Church is not a martial arts class, however. As peaceful, grace-filled Christians, we should be able to look at each other and say, “Please, let go of my wrist,” and receive a graceful response.

That’s what Rev. Moore asks in her article. The trust clause, which the bishops control, has become the wrist hold binding traditional Methodists to a system they want to escape.

It’s a simple request. Please, let go of our wrists.

Lord, in times of strife, let grace and mercy among brothers and sisters in Christ reign. Amen.

Good Fish, Bad Fish

By Chuck Griffin

A lot of people, particularly younger adults, don’t like the idea of “going to church.” This is true even if they consider themselves spiritual.

That’s not just a personal observation; studies and polls are proving this fact repeatedly. Most recently, Gallup research showed that for the first time in U.S. history, less than 50 percent of American adults belong to a church. (Gallup included membership in synagogues and mosques, too, and still got to just 47 percent participation.)

Particularly instructive for us are the studies that explore why some people have strong negative reactions to the idea of being involved in a church. Yes, people sometimes complain that church is boring. Yes, people say there are now many other attractions on Sunday, and involvement in church simply cannot compete.

There is one criticism that stands out above all others, however, and it is the primary problem we “churched” people face when telling others about Jesus Christ. Churches, these church-averse people say, are full of hypocrites.

The solution is not to call these critics wrong, but to acknowledge they are right, using that humbling truth to move toward a deeper conversation about why Jesus Christ died on the cross.

Jesus told us from the start that the global church would be considerably less than pure until he returns and restores all of creation to a holy state. One place he illustrates this truth is in a parable found in Matthew 13:47-50.

The church is the primary way we now see the presence of the “kingdom of heaven” on earth. But Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as being a net full of fish, good fish and bad fish mixed together.

In the story, the good fish are put in baskets, while the bad fish are thrown out. “That is the way it will be at the end of the world,” Jesus said. “The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This parable sometimes is misinterpreted, with people assuming it’s a simple tale of God’s desire to separate the righteous and unrighteous in the world. But in this parable, the world is represented by the ocean, while the net is the initial gathering of people who say they want to follow Christ.

A similar parable is found in Matthew 13:24-30, where an “enemy” sows weeds in a field of wheat representing the kingdom of heaven. The two are allowed to grow together until the final harvest, when the weeds are separated and burned.

When we hear the “hypocrite” charge leveled at us, it’s important that we learn to say in all humility, “Yes, things are not as they should be in the church. Brokenness and sin remain among us even though we call ourselves Christians. Jesus told us this would happen.”

We can hope such simple honesty will open the door to a conversation about deeper truths. For example, Christ remains our perfect savior regardless of Christians’ imperfections. And Christ wants his followers in fellowship together, even though he knows evil will sometimes wriggle into the net.

As fishy as it sometimes smells, church remains the place to be in relationship with God.

Lord, help us to project desirable images of righteousness to a hurting world needing to know you better. Amen.

The Christian Presence

1 Peter 3:8-9 (NLT)

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.


You may have heard this St. Francis of Assissi quote: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

Nearly short enough to fit on a bumper sticker, the saying stays with us. And frankly, it sometimes is misused as an excuse to not speak the Good News when the opportunity arises, giving the quote more play than it might receive otherwise.

St. Francis did have a point, though, one rooted in what the Apostle Peter emphasized in his letter. Every day, Christians have the opportunity through attitude and behavior to inject a little of their faith into the world.

The secular world isn’t going to pay much more than lip service to Peter’s principles. Worldliness dictates that when push comes to shove, people had better be ready to demand their rights, defend their positions, and dish out more than they receive.

As Christians, we don’t want to be pushovers to the point of accommodating evil, but on the vast majority of our days on this earth, we have the opportunity to change hearts simply by injecting blessings in the midst of conflict.

Tenderheartedness and a humble attitude do much to create a fertile environment for the gospel, and a few words can then become very effective.

Lord, as we are confronted today by conflict, let us be the ones who bring calm and blessing to the situation. Amen.