The Work

We preach Christ crucified.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NRSV)

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.


Lately, when I hear this passage quoted, the focus seems to be on the people who will not put up with sound doctrine, the ones who seek out teachers who simply confirm what is comfortable.

Certainly, that’s a problem today. But it’s also pretty easy to argue that itching ears and wandering hearts have been around since the earliest days of the church. We cannot bring people to Jesus Christ simply by pointing out what stands against the Christian message.

Instead, let’s focus on what Paul told the young pastor Timothy to do. Be persistent in following God’s call, which is placed upon all Christians.

This passage reminds me of an encounter with a church member I had several years ago, when President Barack Obama was running for a second term. The parishioner revealed his political stance when he grabbed my sleeve and asked me, “Pastor Chuck! What are we going to do if Obama is re-elected?”

“Well,” I responded, “I guess we should do exactly what we should do if he loses. We will preach Jesus.”

Times may be favorable or unfavorable, and people may have a lot of trouble agreeing on our current status. But for Christians, our work remains simple.

First, we unhesitatingly declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, using the Holy Bible to expand upon that core truth. We present that beautiful message of love and grace to nonbelievers as attractively as we can without compromising the call to holiness that goes with it.

And within the church, the body of believers, we live in mutual accountability, ensuring we are growing in our faith and love.

Paul described a simple mandate, one that should be easy to remember.

Lord, help us today to consider when we last went to work for you, what fruits we bore, and what opportunities might lie before us. Amen.

Even the Worst

1 Timothy 1:12-20 (NLT)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.


If you’ve spent much time trying to lead people to Jesus Christ, you may have encountered an unexpected problem.

A lot of lost people reflect on their worst sins, and they think Christianity simply sounds too easy. “How could God ever forgive that,” they ask, referencing the sin. Others consider the sins of infamous evil people and then struggle with the simplicity of salvation.

All we have to do is confess and turn away from our sins and believe? Really? Regardless of who we are or what we’ve done?

Yep. Believe that Christ’s work on the cross is effective and you’re saved from eternal death, the appropriate result of sin. Instead, receive eternal life, a gift so joyous it benefits this life now.

Over time, all who take this initial step do need to understand the proper response to this great gift of salvation, a response driven by the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. They should find themselves moving into full alignment with God, which is mostly about allowing God to go to work.

But salvation itself really is that simple.

Once saved—to use the Methodist term, “justified”—that ongoing alignment is important because it keeps us from backsliding. Paul made it clear that a believer’s faith can be “shipwrecked.” Having escaped the power of sin, we don’t want to steer toward the rocks and end up in the clutches of Satan once again.

Believers, simply keep in mind that God is always close. Open your Bible. Open your hearts to your savior in prayer. Take time to worship. Satan will flee.

Lord, thank you for how easy you have made salvation. Help us to communicate the simplicity of your plan to those who have yet to accept it for themselves. Amen.

On Task

Acts 15:36-41 (NLT)

After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.


There’s no real way to determine who was right in the argument Paul and Barnabas had about taking John Mark along on a second journey. In searching for an answer, I could spend all day discussing topics like immaturity, loyalty, grace, forgiveness and unity, and I would never get to the important point.

The mission of the church comes first.

The disagreement these two apostles had was so sharp that their basic tasks of growing the church and encouraging continuing discipleship were imperiled. Remember, there were vast territories needing to hear about Christ and infant churches full of questions, but very few apostles to do the work.

Rather than letting the disagreement slow them further, they went their separate ways, Barnabas taking his cousin John Mark, and Paul choosing Silas to travel with him.

I have no doubt both men felt great pain as they separated. They had, after all, been through much together.

But again, the mission of the church comes first.

Why the Holy Spirit did not intervene in some way in a dream, a vision or a miracle, I cannot say. In some ways it is comforting to know that in the earliest days of the church, God sometimes left people to experience their emotions, think matters through and come up with difficult answers on their own. In terms of kingdom building, something about this process must be valuable.

It’s not hard to see how this passage relates to the current situation of the United Methodist Church and its internal argument over scriptural authority and application. We are at an impasse, sometimes a sharp one. And the mission of the church still has to come first.

Be encouraged, however. What we’ve heard from Acts today is not the end of the story. Christ somehow managed to bring Paul and John Mark together later in life.

Writing from prison in Rome nearly two decades later, Paul asked Timothy, “Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11.) This brief request is clear evidence something changed as John Mark grew up and Paul grew old.

As painful as conflict can be, people genuinely dedicated to the mission of the church will find themselves restored in their relationships, in this life or the next. I feel certain this is true.

Lord, may we always remain dedicated to the Great Commission, the need to lead people to a belief in Jesus Christ and grow them as disciples. We give thanks for all who make this their first priority. Amen.

God and Governance

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NLT)

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.


In these highly politicized times, Paul’s words to a young pastor will make some of us squirm.

Obviously, we are polarized as a nation. We’ve seen the left and right run toward their extreme edges, leaving a void in the middle. Far behind us are the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill sitting down in a room and hashing out a way to govern despite their political differences.

So, let me ask you the tough questions the Apostle Paul has raised for us. For the last four years, have you been praying for our president? Regardless of what you may think of him?

Will you pray for our next president, regardless?

I suspect some of us are blanching at the idea. Me, pray for him? Me, lift that guy up to God for support and sustenance?

Our situation could be worse, much worse. Just in case you’re thinking, “How could Paul suggest we do such a thing,” let’s take a moment to consider the context of his words.

The worldly leader of leaders in Paul’s day was the Emperor Nero. Yes, that Nero. The Nero who persecuted the Christians, having them dipped in tar and turned into human torches, or letting them be torn apart by wild animals for sport. The insane Nero, the evil Nero, the guy likely assigned the code number “666” by the author of Revelation.

Paul was telling Timothy to pray for the worst leader you could imagine, and for all of his flunkies. And frankly, as strange as Paul’s request sounds, there is some incredibly powerful Christian logic here, a logic rooted in Old Testament teachings.

Proverbs 21:1 makes clear God can control the will of any leader. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in exile to pray for their captors, knowing that if their captors were at peace and blessed, the Jews would be at peace and blessed, too.

We pray assuming God can change anyone so he or she is inclined to do God’s will. It is of course a good thing when our leaders follow God’s will, even if they have not done so in the past. Paul is essentially saying, “If they begin to listen to and follow God, things will be better for all of us.”

He goes on to emphasize there is but one path, one God and one mediator, Jesus, who is the Christ. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, regardless of whether we sit in a palace or sift through a dung heap for a living.

In a way, Paul’s (and Timothy’s, we must presume) prayers do seem to have borne fruit, although not in time to save Paul from martyrdom. Nero’s empire eventually passed into the hands of other emperors, until one day it finally belonged to Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion.

Some people debate whether it was really a good thing for countercultural Christianity to suddenly be acceptable in the halls of power, but one thing is for sure—the alignment of the empire’s leaders with the faith sped the spread of Christianity.

So, if you’re one of the many folks who lie awake at night worrying about this nation’s future, quit worrying and start praying. Certainly, pray for the leaders you like. But also pray fervently and regularly for the leaders you feel are not aligned with God.

Pray for all the people who might lead us soon. God may do great things in their hearts, working through them to awaken this nation to its role in Christ’s kingdom.

Lord, bless all of our civic leaders with a deep sense of your presence and guidance. Amen.

Toward Solid Food

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

Hebrews 5:12-14

1 Peter 2:1-3

Yes, we are saved by simple faith, but yes, Christianity also calls us to a lifetime of learning. Peter, Paul and the author of Hebrews give us similar clues about what progress should look like.

Much like when we are learning to eat, our faith journey begins with “spiritual milk.” Literally, these apostolic fathers mean we have to begin with the basic core truth of Christianity, the idea that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

To grasp that earliest of Christian creeds, you have to understand what the name Jesus means historically—how Jesus’ existence was the fulfillment of promises made over thousands of years to the people of Israel. You understand that calling him “Christ” roots Jesus in promises of a messiah to come, that this little creed is in present tense for a reason, and that the term “Lord” places Jesus over all creation.

As all three of our Scripture selections affirm, some people cannot get past their reliance on milk, or even learn to handle milk in a sustained way. That’s sad, because there is so much more for Christians to consume, a lifetime of ever-increasing richness.

In my mind, this all translates into a structured system of learning in the church, something to sustain us from cradle to grave, assuming we are so blessed as to be born into a Christian family.

Our educational programs are suffering mightily right now. The pandemic has shut down many of our traditional means of Christian learning. But this is a good time to consider which efforts were working before the pandemic, and which weren’t working so well.

I like to think about Christian education in three tiers, which are age-related for people carried into church as babies. Adult converts have to go through similar steps, although obviously they would be guided through them in a different setting using adult education techniques.

Tier 1 (from birth through about age 12): Learn the stories! Not only that, learn them in a way where they become beloved stories.

The broad themes in these stories teach us about the nature of God, how humans become broken by sin, and what God wants to do in love to restore creation to a holy state. The story of Jesus Christ is the climax of the great story told in the books of the Bible.

Tier 2 (from adolescence to young adulthood): Consider in a deeper way how those stories apply to life, in particular, life’s difficulties. Any teacher of this group should welcome questions, and be mature enough to handle the challenging ones.

It’s important at this stage to acknowledge that we sometimes do not have easy answers before us—occasional debate, rooted in Scripture, should be encouraged. This can be an exciting phase as students discover that salvation is initially easy to grasp, but becomes an intriguing mystery to explore as we go deeper.

Tier 3 (adulthood): Here, we should enter a stage I call “relational learning.” Small groups and mentoring arrangements become important in the life of the Christian. Someone who has grown up in the church should, by this point, have a scripturally inspired sense of right and wrong.

Such a person also should be ready to humbly submit to God’s calling, which easily can lead to a servant leadership role based on the gifts God has placed in that person.

In all three tiers, a lot of detailed planning is required, of course. But here’s a simple question for any church: Are we moving a significant number of people into mature Christian leadership roles?

I have no doubt that churches answering “yes” are doing great work for the kingdom.

Lord, may your Spirit guide us toward an honest assessment of what’s happening in our churches. Where we need to adjust, may we have the courage to do so. Amen.


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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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