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.

What Might Be Lost

Deuteronomy 11:13-17 (NRSV)

If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul—then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill. Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them, for then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain and the land will yield no fruit; then you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.


By Chuck Griffin

When I was in college, I learned an important concept in economics class: “opportunity cost.”

Essentially, when we make decisions, we need to account for more than just the gain we believe we will experience by going in a particular direction. We also need to assess what we lose by not making an alternate choice.

As Forbes magazine once wrote, “It’s a core concept for both investing and life in general.”

It’s easy to analyze opportunity costs with hindsight. For example, a lot of us may have spent $10,000 or so on a nice little car or truck in 1997. We probably enjoyed driving our little cars and trucks.

We had another option, however—we could have instead bought $10,000 worth of Amazon stock in May of that year, when it was first publicly offered. In May of 2020, according to Investopedia, that stock would have been worth $12 million.

The problem, of course, is that none of us has clear information about the future, so it’s hard to guess what our opportunity cost for a particular decision is going to be. Don’t ask me for a loan. I bought the little car.

As we see in our Deuteronomy text, God did the Israelites a real favor. He laid out what would happen if they chose to love the Lord with all their hearts and souls, and what would happen if they chose to turn away from God and sin.

One choice promised a sort of paradise on earth. The other offered a miserable existence and widespread death. The opportunity cost of each choice was made clear. But even with all that clarity, they chose poorly.

God is gracious, of course. He presents the lesson in new ways. Now he presents it to us through Jesus Christ. Choosing to reconcile with God through Jesus actually offers us peace and joy in this life, and ultimately eternal life in the presence of God!

Sin often is attractive in the short-term, offering what we think we cannot live without. To combat sin, it helps to measure the opportunity cost of straying from God’s love and guidance. Ongoing joy and eternal life are a lot to lose.

Lord, may your Holy Spirit grant us a fuller and more complete picture of where our decisions lead us. Amen.

Forward Looking

Hebrews 11:13-16 (NRSV)

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.


At this point in Hebrews, “all of these” means the ancestors of the Israelites. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others were promised much by God regarding what would happen to their line over thousands of years.

As today’s Scripture notes, these were big-picture people, loyal followers of God who thought about more than their immediate needs. They are examples for all of us.

Ultimately, those big promises were fulfilled long after their deaths when God came among us in flesh through that line of Israelites, as Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice willingly offered on the cross, all the world has been blessed, given the potential to overcome the devastating effects of sin through simple faith.

By virtue of living so much later, we have been blessed with a clearer understanding of the work God is doing. Even we should not get too comfortable, though—our individual decisions to follow Christ make us strangers in this world. We hope for so much more, and we invite others to see more than what is obviously before them.

Like any traveler on a trip, we have to eat and find places of shelter. We are never truly home, however.

This sense of disconnectedness from the place where we were born could make us a little sad, until we remember something important: We will go home. God has prepared a city for us, too, and once there, we never again will feel displaced.

Lord, help us to treat this world on a daily basis as a place to offer grace from on high and promises of a better life. We are grateful for the occasional tastes of home we receive now as we align our hearts with yours. 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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Psalm 19: Look Up

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Let’s finish out the work week contemplating some key portions of Psalm 19. These words could easily inspire us for the weekend.

The first six verses speak of how God is revealed in the heavens above—what the psalmist would have seen as a mysterious but usually predictable dance of lights in the sky. As I’ve mentioned before, we now know so much more about the universe beyond earth, but simultaneously we have deepened the mystery as we find new questions to ask.

I encourage you to do something simple, particularly as the weather grows cooler and the night sky becomes more still and clear. Take time to look up. Maybe even go to a place where you can better see the brilliant show above, a place away from the electric lighting interfering with our view.

Simply revel in the wonder of it all. I will always remember a night in the Arizona desert many years ago, far from any towns. I was able to kick back and gaze upward on a cool, clear evening.

I saw the majesty of the night sky as the Israelites must have seen it on any clear night. The Milky Way looked like the backbone of the sky; Jupiter’s brightness was piercing.

The heavens don’t reveal God in full, of course, but they can restore a sense of wonder, which we need if we are to approach God like a child.

Lord, as we gaze upward, give us a sense of your presence and power, and help us translate all of that into a deeper appreciation of the revelations we receive here on earth. Amen.


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The Meaning of Manna

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Exodus 16:1-8 (NLT)

God gave the Israelites a lot of signs and miracles in Egypt and on their way out of Egypt—plagues on their captors, a pillar of cloud and fire to lead and guard their exit, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army. We might think they would have been ready to trust God once in the desert. Trust faded as soon as they got really hungry, however.

God faithfully responded with the promise of provision. The Israelites didn’t even need to carry food with them on their journey. Instead, food rained down as quail and manna, described as a substance that makes me think of Frosted Flakes. (I like cereal, so my interpretation may be biased.)

The lesson was simple: God will provide. In fact, God wanted the Israelites to go to bed every night trusting his provision would be there for them the next day—no long-term planning needed on this journey. There was work to be done in the gathering of the food, but they always had enough. The weekly exception was when God sent them enough food for two days in anticipation of the Sabbath. God also wanted them to rest!

God still seeks the same kind of trust from us today. Pray this prayer with me: “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread … .” Stop right there just a second.

Do we mean it? Do we live it? What does it mean to live as if we trust our bread will come on a daily basis?

The idea certainly conflicts with our 401K/pension plan/Roth IRA mindsets. We’re taught to store provisions for use 40 years or more into the future, with all of that planning affecting when we can retire. We’re sometimes even left with the strange concern that we might live too long, running out of money in the process. Can we reconcile these two very different world views?

As I ponder this, I’m first reminded of one of Jesus’ parables. He begins telling it at Luke 12:16:

“A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear.”

Luke 12:16-22 (NLT)

As bad as his hoarding was, the rich man’s real problem was the way he deluded himself about how much control he had, in the process failing to understand his basic relationship to God.

Preparation is prudent, but we should never let go of this basic truth: We don’t control the future. Planning  and stored provisions cannot eliminate our need for God.

There also is the issue of how we use the resources we are given. Do we live as if this life is the only one that counts? Or do we live as people who believe something greater is happening? After all, we believe that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity.

John Wesley had a sermon, “The Danger of Riches,” that explained his idea of how to balance proper planning and trust in God. (Wesley was working from 1 Timothy 6:9.)

In the sermon, Wesley said that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs. We should even save to ensure the well-being of our families and businesses we may own. Beyond those provisions, everything we are given counts as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.” Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Even for a tither, this is a concept that requires thought. It forces a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions, simply because we learn to say, “It’s not really mine, anyway.”

When we learn to make decisions about money and other resources in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth. We let God work through us so others see their daily bread arrive.

When all Christians adopt such an attitude, God’s presence will be as visible in this world as a pillar of cloud in the sky and manna on the ground.

Lord, give us this day our daily bread, and let us be content with your gracious provisions. Amen.