Grace Mail

By Chuck Griffin

Junk mail. I get it, you get it, we all get it. Usually, we just throw it away.

There’s a particularly annoying form of junk mail coming more and more. In recent years, marketers who use junk mail have become more deceptive as they try to get us to read what we didn’t want in our mailbox.

Instead of slick colors, the junk mail now sometimes comes in very official looking black-and-white envelopes, envelopes that practically scream, “I am important!”

I got a real humdinger. The return address was for a Florida office going by the name, “Records of Entitlement.”

The good folks there had printed “DISTRIBUTION OF FUNDS” on the envelope in thumbprint-sized letters. They also stamped “IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS” in another spot.

The sales pitch was fatally flawed in one way—it was addressed to “Resident” at my home address. It has been my experience that official funds aren’t distributed randomly to unnamed residents.

I did open the envelope just to see who could be so obnoxious. It was a local car dealership holding a sale.

But then I had an odd thought. Change “FUNDS” on that envelope to “GRACE,” stick the right information inside, and that envelope could be one of the most honest in the history of marketing.

If God were to use a mass mailing to reach people, that mailing would have to go to every resident of the world. God’s grace—by “grace,” I mean God’s loving offer to restore us and make us whole—is for everyone. The envelopes would make their way even to the people without homes and mailboxes.

Inside the envelope would be some basic information about how God came to earth as Jesus and died on the cross to keep us from suffering for our sins.

The pitch letter most certainly would quote John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

We also would learn about the resurrection, the incredible “raised from the dead” event that happened first to Jesus. It is an event that Jesus promised will happen later to all of us. We would read how the grace channeled to us through Jesus will let us live forever with God.

The end of the pitch, of course, would tell us how to qualify for this fantastic offer.

“Just believe in what Jesus has done, and your name will be placed on file with God’s ‘Records of Entitlement’ office. Your reward—joy —will be available to you both now and eternally into the future!”

Like I said, it was just an odd thought I had while opening my mail. God doesn’t use mass mailings to make such an offer to the world. God uses us.

Dear Lord, accepting Jesus as Savior is such a simple matter. Help us to help people discover this wonderful truth. Amen.

Risky Business

This Sunday at Holston View United Methodist Church, the sermon will draw from Mark 12:38-44, where Jesus again causes us to think about our spiritual relationship with money. If you cannot join us in person, join us online at 11 a.m., or watch a recording later.

Today’s Preparatory Text:  1 John 3:16-24 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

When preaching, I occasionally reference the biblical concept of hospitality. As we prepare for this Sunday’s sermon, I want us to further explore this tame-sounding idea that actually is quite radical.

In the letter of 1 John, we hear what real love is, our eyes drawn to the death of Jesus on the cross. This is the same author who wrote in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Later in the Gospel of John, in the 15th chapter, he also quoted Jesus as saying this: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

With the idea in mind that we might need to die for each other, it’s no stretch to say that living the Christian life requires us to take risks. We should never be foolish with our lives, but it’s possible our lives could be endangered as we work on behalf of our savior and the world around us. It takes spiritual courage not to pull away when such risks arise.

In my opinion, American Christians can be a little short on this kind of courage, in part because we are so affluent compared to the rest of the world. When you have stuff, you get used to guarding your stuff from others who might want it.

Our concern for our stuff makes our tolerance for risky interactions with others low. I’m generalizing, of course, but I feel comfortable that I just described our group average, and I acknowledge I often am more a part of the problem than the solution. A risk-averse people have difficulty solving many of the social problems around them simply because they cannot, as a group, step up and do the hard work that has to be done.

For an example, let’s look at helping the homeless. This kind of hospitality ministry invites us to make sacrifices in our own lives so we can dramatically impact the lives of others. Individually, some Christians go so far as to maintain “Elisha rooms,” creating simple spaces for people in need. (The Bible story behind the name is in 2 Kings 4:8-17.)

Again, there is risk, particularly when we engage with people we don’t know that well, and with risk comes fear. But when we dwell in a Holy Spirit-inspired community, we can help each other with hospitality, reducing risk and fear.

Sometimes the solution is as simple as modifying our church spaces with hospitality in mind. At my first appointment out of seminary, the church was expanding its facilities. The church leaders plopped the blueprints down in front of me one day and asked if I had any input.

“Just one,” I said. “Maybe a shower somewhere? Then if people in the community have an emergency, we could use the building for short-term housing.”

The church members liked the idea so much they put in two shower facilities. They now regularly house and feed homeless guests through a program providing temporary help to displaced families.

Sadly, not enough American churches have a hospitable mindset. Many churches, perhaps most churches, have yet to embrace this very scriptural work. They even are willing to pass that responsibility on to the government, distancing themselves from the powerful call God places upon us in Scripture.

Where do we get the spiritual strength to take radical risks as we make ourselves more hospitable? Well, we begin with small, communally shared risks, and we grow in strength over time.

It is my prayer that one day the American church, regardless of its denominational lines, will fully be the hospitable church described in the Bible. When that happens, the government’s intractable problems will prove to be no problem for God and his people.

Lord, take us down paths requiring courage, filling us with your Holy Spirit as we go. Amen.