Words to Strengthen

Revelation 2:8-11 (NLT)

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.”

By Chuck Griffin

The Book of Revelation features messages from our risen Christ to seven churches in various states of spiritual formation or decline. The church at Smyrna, located in what is now Turkey, was spiritually strong but heavily persecuted.

As I read this, my mind goes to the power of supportive words. Imagine a direct word from Jesus telling you to persevere—stick with it—hold fast to your beliefs! Even a tortured soul could weather any storm, knowing the promise of eternal life.

It’s amazing how God shows up in the small places, too. I was grumpy (again) on a recent Sunday morning. There’s no need to go into what made me grumpy, as it was silly, certainly nothing along the lines of the big threats the Christians at Smyrna were facing. But I do know this: It’s not good for a pastor to be grumpy right before preaching time.

Words from God snapped me out of it. Not words from the Bible, but words on the side of a black pencil, one I had snatched up in haste from a random spot to mark my pulpit Bible. As I laid it down, these words, printed in gold, stared up at me: “REMEMBER: GOD LOVES YOU!”

I took a deep breath, and I knew things were going to be okay.

I am grateful for that little pencil, and the person who had the wisdom to order that phrase to go on it and its No. 2 box mates.

A couple of days later, I was again feeling stressed, this time over a critically important meeting. While waiting, I picked up the mail from the day before, and among the bills and advertisements was a note from two friends offering me words of encouragement.

During that meeting, the note was in my shirt pocket, a token of God’s love passed along by others.

The Bible is full of encouragement, sometimes carried into the world by angels. But don’t be surprised if a pencil or a friend steps in to deliver the message of God’s love when you need it the most.

Lord, thank you for the way grace flows into our lives in surprising ways. Keep us mindful of our role in channeling your love to those in need. Amen.

The Simple Approach

Micah 6:6-8 (NRSV)

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

By Chuck Griffin

I just returned to work after taking a couple of weeks’ vacation, something I highly recommend. “Duh,” some of you might be saying, but you would be surprised how hard it is for a lot of pastors to make the decision to take a vacation, or even an appropriate amount of time off during the week.

If for no other reason, it is important that we take that time so we maintain perspective. And so often, it seems that perspective is largely a matter of remembering what is important, and then focusing on what is important by employing the “KISS” principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid.

My first Monday back at work was a good example of how my vocation, like a lot of jobs, can become a series of unexpected, frustrating exercises. I’ll not go into a lot of detail, but when I got home, I invoked the memory of an old ’80s commercial when I said to my wife, “I’m not a lawyer, but I apparently play one at church. I’m also not an IT guy, a psychologist, a human resources director or a financial planner, but I play those at church, too.” I did manage to teach a Bible study on Monday.

Vacation is good because it allows us to get our heads out of the swirl of the extraneous for a while and remember who we truly are. As children of God, we always will have distractions, but our service to God has to be a priority.

Micah reminds us that serving God doesn’t have to become an overly elaborate or painfully ritualized activity. Mainly, it’s about getting our hearts right. Countering injustice, showing kindness, and humbly remembering who we are in relation to God are God-honoring ways to live.

I’ll try to remember that as the work week progresses.

Lord, whatever we are doing, please let us find ways to make what we do about you and your plan of salvation. Amen.

Gracious Words in an Ungracious World

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.—Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

Normally, these devotions are based on Scripture from the daily lectionary readings. Every now and then, however, a verse that really speaks to me pops up elsewhere—in this case, on last Saturday’s front page for  the Bible Gateway website.

As the world around us seems to become less Christian, and consequently, less loving and forgiving each day, what are we to do? Some churchgoers seem to think the right response is to become more strident and defensive. That’s certainly the impression I get when I look at social media.

Paul would take us in a different direction, however. If the world is lacking grace, Christians are best equipped to inject this great gift of God into the veins of a sick society.

For people unused to grace, loving actions and words of forgiveness are downright perplexing. The daily lectionary readings have pulled us toward the concept of evangelism a lot lately; perplexing people with unexpected kindness and warmth is a great way to open the door to deeper conversations about the source of such behavior.

Paul is telling us to be winsome. Note what you get when you break that word in two: “Win some.”

I’m going to start this week right and look for opportunities to be a bearer of grace to those around me. Let’s all try it, and perhaps we can share some stories about what happens.

Lord, let us be the center of calm in the midst of the storms around us. Amen.

Thankful for Each Other

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Philippians 1:3-14 (NLT)

People who have not read Paul closely like to label him as severe, but I get the sense he had a warm, fuzzy feeling when he wrote today’s text.

I get what he’s saying. Short of gaining eternal life, the biggest reward of being a Christian is developing close relationships with sisters and brothers in Christ. Sometimes we want to pause, think for a minute about who has been with us along the journey, and say thanks.

Thanks to the guys my age who created space for me to be the more relaxed version of myself, and not just “Pastor Chuck.” I never want to be unholy, but it’s nice when I don’t have to be on guard.

I’ve had people tell me they think pastors shouldn’t have friends in the church. Bull-oney. Maybe if you want the pastor to die a premature death.

Thanks to those of you who walked into my office with puzzled looks on your faces and said, “I was praying, and felt I was supposed to say something to you.” I can count all of you on one hand.

My particular favorite is the fellow who had a very direct word from God, and when he finished, he loudly declared, “I have no idea what that means.”

I heard with great clarity what God was saying through each of you, even if you did not understand your words. Some of you encouraged me, some of you brought discernment, and Mr. I Have No Idea pulled me back from the precipice of a bad decision about to be made in frustration.

Unwitting prophets are in this world, and I remain astonished.

Thanks to all of you who spent so much time teaching my children about Jesus and walking with them through difficult times, times where they needed to be able to talk frankly with someone other than Mom and Pastor Dad.

Thanks to all of you who are mindful about showing kindness—gifts from the garden, precious notes, and acts of service to make life easier, for example.

To borrow from Paul, you have a special place in my heart, and I pray that the Holy Spirit fills you and sanctifies you more each day. I know that word of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior spreads because of you.

Lord, give us eyes to see what life would be like without you and the community of Christians where we reside. Having seen, let us rejoice in what we have. Amen.


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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.