God in Art: Last Words

Sunday’s sermon at Holston View United Methodist Church will be “Last Words,” based on 2 Samuel 23:1-7. We also will be acknowledging Thanksgiving, and yes, the two concepts will tie together.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, is remembered in part for his last words, “The best of all is, God is with us.” He actually said the phrase twice before dying. The second time, we are told, he raised his hand and waved it in triumph. Below is a book engraving of his passing, artist unknown. (If you can help me find a proper attribution, please pass it along.)

Lord, may we always sense that you are with us. Amen.

Children of the Aramean

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

When we think of Old Testament texts on giving, our minds often go to the tithe, the giving of 10 percent of the harvest or income to support what would eventually become the work of the temple, work that included care for the poor. Today’s Deuteronomy text really doesn’t take us into the concept of the tithe, however.

What we hear is a recitation, a declaration of what God had done to help his chosen people. From a practical perspective, the offering brought to the altar was a mere token, but theologically it was huge. The head of a family was acknowledging that all he had truly came from God.

I believe in hard work. I believe in the idea that if we are to succeed in life, there is a need to use our bodies and minds to the best of our abilities.

But at the same time, as people who acknowledge we were made by God and saved from sinful brokenness by God, we have to be the first to say we are dependent on God.

If we think about it, we do owe everything to God, even if we’ve done all we can to succeed. If we’re intelligent enough to make the right choices, it’s because God made us so. If we have been able to succeed through hard physical labor, it is because God at some point graced us with healthy bodies.

And we can never forget that there is at least some randomness in how well we do or don’t do in life. If we’re not careful, we will simply stumble into success and then start thinking we are brilliant.

A good Jew acknowledged these truths with his recitation and offering. We do much the same when we declare ourselves followers of Christ—for example, if we recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship. We declare God Creator. We then retell the story of Christ’s life, sacrifice and resurrection, following that with the story of God continuing to work in the world up to this very day through the Holy Spirit.

That true understanding—that perspective regarding who God is and who we are—should shape every nook and cranny of our lives. For many, that deepest, hardest to reach cranny is where we store our attitude about income and possessions.

As I said before, this text isn’t really about tithing. Tithing was a powerful Old Testament concept, of course, but a text like we have today shows us that tithing was just a beginning point, a rule designed to lead a person to a right way of relating to God through our income and possessions.

John Wesley preached that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even a business we may operate. 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.”

If you find this idea a little daunting, be encouraged. Look back to today’s verses; notice how our little scene at the altar closes. There is celebration in the house of God, the kind of joy to be shared even with the dependent and disenfranchised people among us.

I wonder what we miss when we fail to embrace such a powerful attitude about income and possessions.

Lord, give us the spiritual strength to turn every aspect of our lives over to you, and may the celebration that follows be most rewarding. Amen.

The Wise and Foolish Builders, Pt. 2

Luke 6:46-49 (HCSB)

46 “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

In last Tuesday’s devotional, we learned that the difference between the wise and foolish builders is not what they know, but how they act based on what they know. The wise builder builds on a solid foundation, which represents the teaching of Jesus. The foolish builder serves as a metaphor for ignoring the teaching of Jesus, building his house on sand.

In our focus text for today, we find a slight variation on this teaching of Jesus, although he once again underscores the importance of people coming to him, listening to his teaching and then following through on the instruction they receive.

I have a hard time believing someone would build a house without a foundation, but we do have many people around us who have either chosen to build their lives with no foundation or at best a sandy foundation. Some people have built their lives on their personal careers, their wealth, their position in society, their kids or their fame.  Such lives are in constant danger of collapsing.   

As John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was prone to remind us, not all who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ are doing the will of God.

We can deceive others about our faith journey, but we cannot deceive Jesus.  Christ makes it clear that just as a tree is known by its fruit, people will be known by their actions. (Matthew 7:15-23.) Christ warns us that he will shock people when he tells them he never knew them.  People who talk about heaven or appear pious don’t necessarily belong to the Kingdom of God.  Other humans see what we display outwardly, but God sees every heart, and nothing is hidden from God’s all-seeing eyes. 

While there may not be immediate noticeable differences in our lives when we follow Christ, if we are truly building on the right foundation, the genuineness of our faith will be revealed with time.  

Help us heavenly Father to build on Jesus Christ the Solid Rock. Holy Spirit, teach us to build on Jesus the foundation of our faith with the right materials that will withstand the test of time and the challenges that will come along our journey. May we be fruitful and faithful to the end so that when our time here on earth comes to an end, we can hear you say to us, well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master. We pray with confident assurance in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

A Shocking Assertion

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Investing In the Future.” It will be based on Jeremiah 32:6-9. 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: 1 Timothy 6:9 (NRSV)

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.


By Chuck Griffin

A couple of times before on Methodist Life, I have referenced a John Wesley sermon, “The Danger of Riches.” As we look toward Sunday’s Jeremiah text and consider how to live boldly, I thought it would be useful to consider what the sermon has to say.

Bold behavior for the kingdom doesn’t have to involve money, of course. But let’s be realistic. Money does make the modern world go around. When we are bold for the kingdom, we likely run into one of two scenarios. We either give from our abundance or we make life decisions that reduce our opportunity for abundance.

As we make these choices, we need to fix in our minds a question, one along the lines of what I wrote for Wednesday. 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—that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity!

Once we choose the latter option, we’re ready to hear what Wesley said as he expanded on 1 Timothy 6:9.

In the sermon, Wesley asserted that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even businesses we may own. What we own beyond those basic provisions count 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.

Wesley offered us an interpretation that might even surprise a tither. I have no doubt someone accused the founder of Methodism of having “gone to meddling.”

His very correct interpretation of Scripture should force a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions. When we learn to make such decisions in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth.

In other words, we become quite bold.

Lord, the world needs people who look to you as the source of all that matters and then act accordingly. Raise up a bold generation so that your Holy Spirit may rush through them, making your Kingdom work complete. 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.

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.