In Death, Victory

1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (NRSV)

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.


Dead as a doornail. Dead as a dodo. Not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

English writers have done a good job of describing death as an irreversible end, be it in a Shakespearean play or “The Wizard of Oz.” But even before there was an English language, there was the idea that death could be undone.

Actual reversals of death were rare events, of course, but where they are recorded, it is clear they occurred to signal the presence of God.

Take 1 Kings 17:8-24, for example. In the midst of drought and famine, God sent the prophet Elijah to find a widow and her son, locating them as the woman prepared to bake the last handful of flour and oil she had into bread. She planned that she and her son would share in this tiny meal and then die.

Once the widow showed Elijah a little hospitality, however, the jar of meal and the jug of oil always had enough in them to sustain the three, even though there was no food in the land for such a poor collection of people. By the hand of God, death had been delayed.

Death still came, however. In a perplexing turn of events, the boy became ill, and “there was no breath left in him.” The mother was convinced that in the presence of a prophet, her sins had somehow become more glaring, causing the death of her boy.

Elijah took the boy upstairs, however, and through intense prayer convinced God to restore him to life. When he carried the boy down to his mother, she said, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

God is revealed in life, not death.

Centuries later, Jesus performed a similar miracle for a similar widow, raising her son from his funeral bier. There was one major difference in Jesus’ approach, though. Elijah prayed fervently to God; Jesus spoke as God, saying, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”

In this and other death-reversing miracles, Jesus gave a preview of coming attractions. In dying on the cross, he atoned for our sins, that root cause of death.

And in his resurrection—his defeat of death—he made it clear that when we follow him, we have nothing to fear. Not even our own temporary, transitory deaths.

Death is not final. We all shall rise from it, look at our renewed bodies, see our risen loved ones, and see the one who makes the miracle possible. Our joy will be greater than that of a widow finding her only son restored to life.

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Lord, may the resurrection to come exist firmly in our minds, shaping how we live until such time as we experience this holy transformation. Amen.

Potential Unleashed

John 1:29-34 (NRSV)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”


John—prophet in the wild and Jesus’ cousin—offered a different kind of baptism than what we undergo today to become Christ’s followers. It was a traditional Jewish baptism of repentance, designed to ready people for the coming Messiah.

When Jesus underwent this baptism despite his lack of sin, he demonstrated solidarity with the people he had come into the world to save. John also declared something about Jesus’ baptism that we should see in our own baptisms, too, despite their different natures.

In Jesus’ baptism, great potential was revealed; in our baptisms, great potential is made possible. Because Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins, the Holy Spirit is able to descend on us, too. When we declare our belief that the cross is effective for salvation, the door to a relationship with God is reopened for us.

Whatever we are after baptism is much more than what we would have been without baptism. It is only natural that we move toward “better” in relationship with the eternal, holy God.

Of course, we do have to let the Holy Spirit remain at work throughout our lives if we want to see continual spiritual progress. Thanks be to God, who has made this process relatively easy.

He has told us there are intersections of heaven and earth where we can go to allow the Spirit to penetrate our souls more deeply. Studying the Bible, immersing ourselves in prayer, receiving communion, and being in fellowship with other Christians are some prime examples.

God only knows what wonderful things might happen if we go to those intersections again and again.

Dear Lord, thank you for the potential you give us. Help us to develop it and live fully as the people you would have us be. Amen.

Four Parts of Worship: Sending Forth

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 28:1-10

At the end of each worship service, I “send us forth,” to use the language of fourfold worship. The obvious question is, “Send us forth to what?”

The answer, of course, lies in the word of God.

The Matthew text linked above is typically used as an Easter reading. Easter—the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ—also is the key to understanding “sending forth,” however. We’re going to use Matthew’s story of Christ’s resurrection to help us better understand what we’re sent forth to do.

Jesus doesn’t appear until late in the story, but as he is the starting point for all things, we’ll begin with him. Even if you’ve heard this core story of Christianity a thousand times before, try to hear it with fresh ears today.

In the resurrection, Jesus is revealed fully as the Christ, the son of God, the promised gift of God sent to redeem the world. As we understand the resurrection more fully in the context of other holy writings, we see he is God in flesh, God among us.

We also want to consider some of the humans in the story, the two Marys and Jesus’ disciples.

The two Marys. One is identified as Mary Magdalene, a woman Jesus freed from demon possession. She was clearly devoted to Jesus. The “other Mary” is less easily identified; Matthew would never have referred to Jesus’ mother in such a way. She was likely the “mother of James and Joseph” identified as being at the cross. If you haven’t figured out by now, Mary (Miriam in Hebrew) was a very common female name in Jesus’ day and place.

What I take away from their part in the story is faithfulness, likely combined with an expectancy that something more was to happen. Unlike the other gospels, Matthew says the Marys merely went “to see the tomb,” rather than going with a specific purpose, such as to anoint Jesus’ body more thoroughly. I think that unlike many of the male disciples, the women had fully heard Jesus’ words about what was to come after his death, and hope remained in their hearts.

Through their faithful attendance to Christ, even when all seemed lost, they became important witnesses to mighty events surrounding the resurrection, standing at an intersection of heaven and earth. They also became the first humans to declare the truth about the remarkable event that changed the world.

The Disciples. Just as they were Jesus’ primary audience in his three years of ministry, they seem to be his primary audience immediately after the resurrection. The angel told the two Marys to go to them with word of the resurrection. Jesus repeated this instruction when he appeared to the women suddenly, as they ran to the disciples.

Later in Matthew, we’re told something interesting about the 11 remaining key disciples—despite seeing Jesus, some doubted. I wonder if they muttered in Aramaic, “It’s just too good to be true.” Jesus told them to go forth and spread the word of the resurrection, however, baptizing believers in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It’s clear they finally did believe. After all, we’re here on the other side of the planet, worshiping Christ as Savior.

As people who gather to worship Christ, we have the potential to fulfill some of these roles as we go forth into the world. Where do we fit in the story?

At a minimum, I pray we’re like the disciples, following Jesus, even enamored with Jesus despite our occasional doubts. Can we do as they did and become more like the Marys? Can we declare what has been revealed to us through God’s word? Can we live as if we expect greater things to happen?

That is what we’re sent forth each week to do. Despite our current circumstances, most of us have gathered in worship week after week and equipped ourselves through the word. We’ve celebrated what has been declared.

Let’s never stop sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with those who so desperately need to hear it!

Lord, regardless of how we worship, may we always go into the world declaring Christ as Savior to all who need to hear. Amen.

Stairway to Heaven

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Genesis 28:10-17 (New Living Translation)

Let’s take a few minutes to consider Jacob, Jesus, Led Zeppelin and the chance to have an eternal connection to God.

I would bet that upon reading this devotional’s title, most of you first thought of Led Zeppelin. I’ll go ahead and correct a critical theological error in the group’s most famous song. No matter how much money a lady has, she won’t be buying the stairway to heaven.

If you are wondering what the stairway might look like, Israelite patriarch Jacob got a glimpse of it in a dream, while sleeping against a rock in a place eventually known as Bethel. Angels went up and down the stairway, marking the place as a connection between heaven and earth. At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, who restated promises made decades earlier to Jacob’s father, Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham.

Some of you raised on older English Bible translations may be protesting a bit right now, saying, “No, it was a ladder to heaven.” Many of us also were raised singing, “We are climbing … Jacob’s ladder.”

Either “ladder” or “stairway” works as a translation of the Hebrew word used in the story, which appears just once in Scripture. I like “stairway” better—as I imagine angels simultaneously going up and down, with God standing at the top, a stairway is more like what I see. As a child, I tried to visualize angels going up and down a ladder, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they felt crowded as they passed each other.

But back to Jacob’s dream. My New Living Translation Study Bible has a footnote attached to the story: “The point of the vision was that God and his angels were with Jacob on his journey.”

Jesus must have had that point in mind as he connected his very reason for existing to Jacob’s dream. In John 1:51, we hear Jesus say, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man.”

In other words, God wants to be with us on our journeys, just as he was with Jacob. Jesus, God in flesh, is the stairway—because of his work as intermediary we have access to heaven.

God even comes down to us now, in this life! Belief in the effectiveness of Jesus’ death on the cross reconnects us to God, overcoming our sins, and God’s Spirit rushes to accompany us.

It really is incredible that all of this is free for us. Christ paid the price. We simply have to accept the stairway to heaven as our own.

Lord, thank you for the connection you offer us every day of our lives. Help us to use it well, drawing eternity into the lives we live now. Amen.

Stop Shoving

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Ezekiel 34:17-23 (NLT)

“And as for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to his people: I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats. Isn’t it enough for you to keep the best of the pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Isn’t it enough for you to drink clear water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Why must my flock eat what you have trampled down and drink water you have fouled?

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands. So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them.”


I am guessing that when most of us think of judgment, sheep and goats, we think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus, however, was expanding on words spoken by a prophet 600 years earlier.

At this point in Ezekiel’s prophecy, God already had condemned the callous “shepherds,” the Israelite kings who failed to care for their people. He then went on with the metaphor, issuing an internal warning to the flock regarding how its members treated one another.

In short, they were shoving and grasping, the strong taking from the weak. There was no care being taken to ensure those most in need had their share of the basics.

All that shuffling and stomping during the hoarding of resources did a lot of damage, too. Where there is hoarding, there often is spoilage, and what could have benefitted others is wasted.

The message is pretty straightforward: Stop shoving and grasping, thinking only of yourself. Look around. To draw from a story in John 5: Who needs help reaching the pool of Bethesda?

In both the Ezekiel prophecy and in Jesus’ teaching, the concern is for the people on the margins of society, the “least of these,” the ones most damaged by the brokenness of the world. And remember, these images are all presented in “last days” judgment style—in Matthew, the lesson is conveyed by the one who will do the judging!

How we treat people pushed to the margins becomes a very serious litmus test for how effectively we have absorbed the idea that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. In response to this idea, people have devised a lot of schemes through the centuries regarding what governments should do. Some of those might even be worthwhile strategies.

None of that planning, however, eliminates our responsibility to look around and assess what we need to do as individual Christians. As God says through Ezekiel, “I will judge between one animal of the flock and another.”

Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and a willingness to provide. Amen.

Small Groups, Day 5

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 28:20b (NLT): “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Having spent most of this week exploring what makes small groups healthy and effective for the Kingdom of God, I thought I would offer a few personal observations this Saturday. Ah, let’s just go ahead and say it—these are Chuck’s opinions, whatever they are worth.

I am convinced that small groups are critical to Christianity in America. Without another “Great Awakening,” we will continue to see churches shrink and die as our older members pass away. The remaining Christians will be a small-but-serious bunch, many of them grouped in house churches no larger than what I’ve been describing these past few days.

If there is another American Great Awakening—an event we should pray for and work toward—it likely will be built around vibrant small groups. The small group structure has historically been a part of explosive growth in the church, and there’s no reason to believe that important structural feature will go away.

So, one way or another, small groups will be the defining characteristic of the American church future, whether Christianity proves to be an integral part of our culture or a remnant of what used to be.

I don’t think for a minute that Christianity will depart from this earth. Belief in Christ is spreading like wildfire in other parts of the world. I would, however, like to think that my own culture will continue to participate in the kingdom in a lively way, rather than becoming a secularized dead zone.

It also would be sad if the particular strain of Christianity known as Methodism continues in its widespread failure to embrace the system of small groups that once made the movement so effective.

So, I leave you with an invitation. If you’re called to be in a small group, or perhaps even lead one, let me know. We will make that happen, whether you are a part of the local church I serve or somewhere else.

Lord, may a new fire be ignited in your American church, and please don’t forget your Methodist children as it happens. Amen.