Those Who Would Lead

Mark 10:42-45 (NLT)

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


By Chuck Griffin

Don’t be distracted by the “rulers in this world” reference. Self-promoters will always be with us, making up the vast majority of those who lead in secular settings.

Jesus’ message is aimed squarely at leaders in the church, and that is where our minds need to be today. They are supposed to lead in very different ways, perhaps influencing the world just a little by their example.

Pastors need to take all of what Jesus says to heart, of course. Certainly, pastors who rise to positions of higher authority (and higher pay, accompanied by other trappings of success) need to take Jesus’ words quite seriously.

And let’s never forget that lay Christians need to lead, too. If we don’t have laity taking a strong hand in running the church at all levels, we are going to be disappointed in our results for the kingdom.

So, what do servant leaders look like?

Well, such people have Philippians 2:4 hearts: “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” They plan their day around what they can do to improve other people’s situations. In particular, they’re thinking how they can help others receive eternal life and peace in this life.

That alone is not enough to make them leaders, though. Another step is required; leaders also take measures to ensure godly order.

In other words, they seek God’s will through prayer and Scripture, and they work to structure the church at all levels in accordance with what they find, usually building on what previous generations of leaders have determined. After all, the Holy Spirit works in each generation, and the Holy Spirit always gives consistent answers. Think “mission.”

Obviously, servant leaders also need to be bold. No hiding allowed. As Jesus indicated, the world and the church are two very different settings, so Christian leaders shouldn’t be dissuaded or deterred simply because the world sniffs in disapproval of their actions.

Servant leaders should have at least mild disdain for the prosperity the world may offer them. At a minimum, they don’t see what resources they control as really being theirs. It wouldn’t hurt servant leaders to read John Wesley’s sermon “The Danger of Riches” from time to time.

For those of us who are professionally trained, it’s also a good exercise to reflect on our original sense of calling and what we were imagining during those earliest years in licensing school or seminary.

Did we really make all those life changes and commitments to pursue what we pursue now? (We did see this as a calling, right?) Has the maintenance of an institution taken priority over Christian mission?

If preaching Christ crucified is no longer your focus—well, please go seek a worldly path to riches and power. The church is no place for such games.

Lord, raise up new servant leaders among your laity and clergy so we may be your vibrant church. Amen.

Ongoing Concern

By Chuck Griffin

Philippians 2:12-18 (NRSV)

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you—and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.


Few pastors in our Western culture have been chained in prison like Paul, but I suspect most of us who have left a beloved church understand the poignancy of his message to the Christians at Philippi.

Even as we move on to new ministry settings, we want so much for those we led before. We pray their spiritual lives were on an upward trajectory as we left, and we pray they have continued in such a direction.

Paul was still able to advise the Philippians, if only in a letter dictated from his cell. In this part of the letter, Paul encouraged them to maintain that constant tension all Christians need to feel. Yes, it is God who does the work of salvation, and it is God who is at work in us to bring us toward holiness. But simultaneously, we also have work to do, reaching out toward God and each other to accept the grace so freely poured out through Jesus Christ.

As John Wesley wrote, “First, God works; therefore you can work. Secondly, God works; therefore you must work.”

Because of the value of the gift, eternal life, we are to take our very mild share of the responsibility quite seriously, enough so that we trigger both an emotional and a physical response.

Much of our work is rooted in the avoidance of evil and the pursuit of good. Paul described the dangerous people in the world as “crooked and perverse,” at this point feeling no need to define the specifics of crookedness and perversity.

With the Holy Spirit working through the gracious revelation of Scripture and within us, it should not be difficult for a committed Christian to spot what is crooked and what is perverse. That remains true today, even as the world tries to make up new definitions to suit itching ears.

Heavenly Father, as we move into the weekend and toward Palm Sunday, help us to work on our salvation to the point where we do experience fear and trembling. We know your Holy Spirit will comfort us quickly enough, giving us loving assurance we are your children. Amen.

Soul Soil

Gardening taught me something spiritually interesting several years ago. It’s possible to make soil in infertile places.

You accomplish this by layering various organic elements. First, you use a heavy layer of newspaper as the base. This kills any weeds in the plot where you want something to grow.

Then you start making layers an inch or two deep, each composed of different organic substances: compost, ground leaves, vegetable peelings, grass clippings, peat moss. You simply lay it on inch-by-inch until you get the depth you want, finally topping it off with a layer of mulch.

After it sits for a while, it’s ready for planting. While living in Georgia, I made some very productive little gardens for herbs, peppers and other vegetables where I had nothing but barren red clay.

One day, I was thinking about what is sometimes called the “parable of the soils” or the “parable of the sower.” This is the story Jesus tells in Matthew 13:1-9 and then explains in Matthew 13:18-23.

The different kinds of soils represent different kinds of people: those who don’t understand the truth about Jesus, those who hear the truth but become discouraged by trouble, those who hear it and become distracted by worldly pleasures, and those who hear the truth and let it grow mightily in them, until it begins to spread to others.

And then I asked myself, “Do you have to remain one kind of soil?”

I don’t think so. God has given us the tools to make good, deep “soul soil.”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, sometimes talked about the “means of grace,” those ways we can hold ourselves out to God and say, “Please change me.” There are five big, scripturally based ways. And they work together, enhancing each other’s ability to make a person more spiritually fertile.

Prayer is like the paper base. We use it liberally to keep the weeds of the world from growing. Lying close to prayer is fasting. Fasting makes prayer more effective because it keeps us mindful of our dependence on God.

The third layer is Scripture. How can we understand God’s truth if we’re not reading what our Creator has revealed? Reading the Bible has to be a daily experience for any Christian.

The fourth layer in our “soul soil” mix is what Wesley called “fellowship.” We practice fellowship whenever we gather with other Christians. Fellowship keeps us mindful of our need for community.

The fifth layer is the taking of communion. Jesus told us to remember via this act what he has done for us. Communion should be meaningful. It should be regular. And it should be done with the knowledge that God transforms us for the better every time we faithfully participate.

Make some soul soil. God’s truth will sprout in amazing ways.

Lord, in this season of Lent may we find ways to practice all the means of grace, enriching our experience of you. Amen.

Instruct the Children

Methodist Life welcomes the Rev. John Grimm as a regular contributor to the LifeTalk blog.

Joshua 2:6-10 (NRSV)
When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites all went to their own inheritances to take possession of the land. The people worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred ten years. So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.


John Wesley instructed the preachers to spend time with the children. The preachers were to instruct the children about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As I have learned in church, many hands make light work of instructing the children on how to follow Jesus.

For me, it was my mom who gave me much of my instruction about faith in Jesus Christ. My siblings also were instructed by our mom in these matters. This passage caught my eye because just like Joshua, my mom and her generation of her birth family are gathered to their ancestors.

Now, I get to make sure the next generation knows the work of the Lord. As you and I together serve God, we get to instruct the children so that more children follow Jesus.

God, in these days of my generation, I get to teach the children about you and your work. May my generation be inspired to make sure the children know our faith in Jesus. Use my generation to make yourself and your works known to younger generations. It is in the name of Jesus Christ that I pray. Amen.

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.

Small Groups, Day 4

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

James 5:16-20 (NLT)

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.


No guts, no glory.

That’s what I tell myself as I contemplate the most difficult part of being in a small group, the mutual Christian accountability that should develop over time. As Christians grow in love and trust for each other, they also find themselves better equipped to talk about really important, personal stuff, sins included.

When it happens, it happens in a fairly natural way. No one has to force this new level of spiritual intimacy. Someone in the group is in pain, and finds she or he loves and trusts the others enough to courageously speak about the details of the ongoing struggle.

The other group members, in turn, hear this beloved individual’s words without judgment, offering to do what they can to draw God’s healing, forgiving grace into the situation.

Once the group becomes comfortable with such moments happening, it also is time to take more seriously what has formally driven accountability in small groups for centuries, the asking of agreed-upon questions. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, provided recommended lists of questions throughout his ministry. There were 22 accountability questions in the “Holy Club” he and his brother Charles established in 1729.

These questions remain useful, and modern lists abound, too. One of my favorite accountability questions is at the end of Chuck Swindoll’s list of seven for male clergy: “Have you just lied to me?” Apparently pastors might hedge or lie in answering the first six, but surrender on the seventh.

If you don’t understand the level of trust and love that develops in a healthy small group, questions and accountability probably sound terrifying. Just remember, you won’t be drawn into mutual accountability until the group is ready and willing, and when that happens, the moment will be a joy, not a burden.

As I mentioned in Day 2 of this series, the level of closeness that develops, improperly understood, can cause a group to stop drawing new people in. Properly understood, these bonds should be the great motivator for reaching out to others.

God’s healing, forgiving love, transmitted via the Holy Spirit within the group, is the great gift we are called to share!

Lord, give us deep Christian relationships, the kind where we can grow into the people you would have us be. Amen.


Note: It has come to my attention that some people don’t fully understand how links work within an online article. You can click on places where the text changes color, and another window will open, giving you more details.

Means of Grace, Day 3

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”—Jesus, speaking in Matthew 6:16-8 (NLT).

I mentioned yesterday that Scripture and prayer work together in the life of the serious Christian. The same can be said of fasting. From a spiritual perspective, fasting is meaningless if not combined with Scripture and prayer.

Think of fasting as a catalyst. Spiritual disciplines performed while fasting should be more focused and effective.

Fasting is not a popular topic in a culture where Taco Bell once advertised, “Welcome to Fourth Meal.” As Americans, we tend to have easy access to what we want when we want it, be it food or other needs and wants. When we discover people among us going hungry, particularly children, we rightly see their plight as a travesty in a nation of relative abundance.

It perhaps is a little easier to talk about fasting now because so many people fast for nonspiritual reasons, to lose weight or improve blood work. Variations on the “intermittent fast” abound. At least the idea is now less-foreign in what can be a gluttonous culture.

The spiritual idea behind such self-denial is to remind ourselves of our fragility, and therefore, our dependence on God. As a Christian, it is important to be sure those hungry moments are filled with something other than food. In the right frame of mind, Scripture should leap to life and the prayer experience should become more vivid as we fast.

As Jesus said, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about. … My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” (John 4:32-24.) As followers of Christ, we similarly should focus during our fasting on aligning ourselves with the will of God and doing the work of the kingdom.

Fasting for spiritual reasons looks externally like fasting for physical reasons. The only real difference is intent. The first time I read about one version of intermittent fasting, where a person doesn’t eat after dinner until about mid-afternoon the next day, I thought to myself, “That’s just John Wesley’s 18th-century way of fasting.”

Some people have physical reasons they cannot fast from food. In such cases, it’s perfectly appropriate to abstain from other activities so as to spend more time in prayer or the Bible. Deliberately leaving the television off for an extended time would be one example.

What’s important is that we learn to put aside distractions and live in the Kingdom of God. As we fast or abstain, the contrast between this hungering world and the eternal abundance of where we are headed can be remarkable.

Lord, give us the courage to try spiritual practices that may be new to us, and please speak to us clearly as we attempt them. Amen.