Language of the Spheres

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Babbling in Babel,” rooted in Genesis 11:1-9. 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: Acts 2:1-15


By Chuck Griffin

I’ve made a living through the use of the English language all of my adult life. Part of that time, I have attempted to serve Christ’s kingdom via preaching and writing. Our ability to communicate in nuanced detail often is a tremendous gift. We need to remember that words have their limits, though.

Languages reflect cultural differences in how our minds work, so they often reinforce cultural barriers. One of my favorite examples is the German word schadenfreude, which has no English equivalent. It describes an emotion that is familiar to most people, the improper joy we sometimes feel when another person experiences misfortune.

The emotion likely is universal, but in naming it, the Germans have a better grip on this dubious feeling than we do. I have suggested “malevejoy” as an English equivalent, but it has yet to be an entry in Dictionary.com.

I’m sure many of you quickly realized the preparatory text linked above is part of the story of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit ignited the first followers of Christ.

When I hear the Pentecost story, I see great beauty in that moment where everyone,  regardless of which language a particular listener may have spoken, suddenly understood what was being declared about “God’s deeds of power.” United in Christ, many of those people discovered that language barriers and other cultural impediments had been torn down.

I also think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1, where he spoke of the critical importance of love. In the process, he mentioned “the tongues of mortals and of angels.” That little phrase gives me images of heaven, a place where a higher, better language—one as godly as can be—will keep us in perfect union with the Creator, and of course, with each other.

I imagine the heavenly language to be so much more than mere words. It must engage all the senses at once, employing a grammar of motion, music, color and other means of communication we cannot even imagine.

Knowing language has such potential, I feel inspired to do a better job of incorporating Christ into the mortal language available to me now.

Lord, may our words reflect your holiness as we draw from your precious Holy Spirit. Amen.

Drink Up!

Note: The LifeTalk devotions from Methodist Life will be on hiatus for two weeks so the regular author can take some vacation. Regular devotions will resume Monday, June 7. John Grimm, an occasional author for LifeTalk, likely will be posting on his personal blog during this time.

John 7:37-39 (NRSV)

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


By Chuck Griffin

I offer you this reading from John as a prelude to this coming Sunday, when most of us will celebrate Pentecost and the presence of the Holy Spirit within the church.

Too often, we allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to seem so mysterious that we miss the outpouring of grace and joy available to us.

Are you thirsty? By that, I mean are you fading spiritually, declining in such a way that you’re receiving signals of impending spiritual death? Belief in Jesus Christ opens a spiritual tap, and we can be so filled with the presence of God that we begin to sustain others.

If you’re thirsty, open the tap now. Remember your belief in what Christ has done for us on the cross—dwell on what it means to believe. Engage with God in all those ways God loves to be engaged: in Scripture, in prayer, in fellowship with other believers.

Certainly, seek the Spirit in worship somewhere this Sunday.

Be blessed!

Lord, thank you for your constant presence. Help us to shake off the blinders this world places on us and let us see you once again. Amen.

Sent with the Spirit

John 20:19-23 (NLT)

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”


By Chuck Griffin

To pick up where I left off Friday, there is a particular moment in this resurrection appearance story I want to explore.

When Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” he indicated the true role of the church, the global church of believers. We are to act as the body of Christ, as a group continuing the work Jesus began through his teaching, crucifixion and resurrection.

Here’s my immediate impression: What an honor! God allows us to participate in work he could easily do himself. We are reminded of how we were initially created, as images of the one who made us.

As mere reflections of God, we of course cannot continue Christ’s work while relying on our own power. We instead must depend on God’s power being present among us and within us. Which brings us to the next moment in the story.

Jesus breathed on these men who would be the early church leaders and planters, telling them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I think of this as a mini-Pentecost, an event we will celebrate Sunday, May 23. These men received early the gift that would fall upon the church in full after Jesus’ ascension.

Tired and afraid, hiding out, I’m sure they needed his power to begin their new roles.

The gift of the Spirit has been transmitted from generation to generation for thousands of years, and it will remain present somewhere in the world until Christ returns in full. We have to actively share the story of Jesus and bring people to belief, however, if they are to receive the gift.

Otherwise, we are in danger of living in one of those places on the planet where the Spirit once worked powerfully but now is not visible because of a lack of heart-felt evangelism and adherence to God’s teachings.

In this story, we also see a powerful concept we as the church are to offer to the world, the idea that forgiveness is possible even for what we consider terrible sins. True repentance—a desire to put sin behind us and turn toward God—is required, of course, but once we repent, God makes restoration easy, trusting the church to recognize it and declare it to have happened.

This message of forgiveness is something the world desperately needs to hear, particularly in our increasingly secular culture, where an escalating game of “Gotcha!” seems to be underway.

You’ve seen what I am talking about: Opponents dredge up sins from decades ago to use against each other, trying to tell the world, “That’s who that person really is!” Where there is no room for forgiveness, there is no room for restoration and growth, and we all are left to bite and devour each other until nothing remains.

As part of our efforts to evangelize the world, the most attractive part of our message may be the concept of forgiveness, of lives changed. As members of Christ’s global church, let’s remember to inject lessons of forgiveness into a gotcha kind of world.

Yes, Lord, sin remains in the world, even in our lives. Thanks to you for giving us and others a way out, a way to grow, a way to be more like what you created us to be. Amen.

What They Saw

Acts 2:14-24 (NRSV)

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

"In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

The above passage is the beginning of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, delivered shortly after the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the disciples.

Peter referenced a prophecy from Joel, found in Joel 2:28-32, to explain what was happening in the moment, the enthusiastic declaration of the gospel by disciples in languages they should not have known. Peter also continued to quote from Joel about the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood.

I am fascinated by that second part. There is no record of anyone in the crowd asking, “And exactly when did these signs in the sky occur?” It appears there was no need for such a question because these events had been witnessed and discussed widely for more than a month.

In regard to the sun darkening, all we have to do is look at Luke’s account of the crucifixion, focusing on the actual moment of Jesus’ death. According to the NRSV translation, Luke tells us “the sun’s light failed.” 

We can be certain this was not the result of a natural solar eclipse, for reasons rooted in moon phases and how they relate to the Passover, the religious festival that was the backdrop for Jesus’ death. I consider the unknown cause either directly miraculous or a miracle of timing, incorporating a sandstorm or some other strange environmental phenomena.

The moon turning to blood is easier to explain. Again, because of the moon phase during Passover, it is quite possible the moon rose with a deep red tint on the Saturday while Jesus was in the grave, a disturbing reminder of the blood spilled the day before.

Regardless of how these events in the sky happened, they were very much on people’s minds, and Peter was able to reference them without explanation.

The crowd was troubled by all they had seen, just as we sometimes are troubled, and they became even more troubled as Peter offered them their share of blame for Jesus’ crucifixion. Blessedly, his sermon went on to deliver good news.

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Lord, thank you for the signs of love and reconciliation we receive from you now, preparing us for the glorious day of your return. Amen.

Fuel for the Fire

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 2:37-42 (NRSV)

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.


We used this text as the basis for a devotional Aug. 4, but it bears further exploration. This time around, let’s consider how we stretch a moment into a lifetime.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter had preached the first fully developed Christian sermon. About 3,000 people accepted Christ as Savior and were baptized. What a day! They would carry memories of that day for the rest of their lives.

Most of us who accept the moniker “Christian” have a similar point in time where the work of Jesus Christ on the cross became very personal. We were “cut to the heart,” expressing sorrow for our sins while simultaneously understanding Jesus gave us a way to put them behind us. We knew God had lovingly committed to save us, so we committed to following God.

I also know from my own experience and the shared experiences of others that it is not unusual over time to feel a little lost again. A day comes when we crave that spiritual fire in the belly we once felt, and simply remembering the specific day we turned toward Christ isn’t enough to fan the flames.

Think of it this way: Christians are like cavemen without fire-making tools. When we find fire, we want to keep it burning through all circumstances, and the only way to do that is to feed it the fuel it needs.

Remember, these early Christians experienced works of the Spirit that astonished them. Yet even they knew what was required to continue their burning faith.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

There’s the fuel for spiritual fire. We are blessed to now have the apostles’ wisdom and experiences captured in the Holy Bible.

Fellowship and the “breaking of bread” are a little more difficult for us right now, but thank God for the technology that keeps us connected, if only we make a small effort.

And of course, we can pray anywhere and anytime. The most totalitarian governments in the world have yet to figure out how to stop people who want to pray from doing so.

If you’re feeling a little cool, feed the flame God placed within you!

Lord, forgive us when we neglect the great gift you have given us, the gift of life lived now with you. Where we have gone very cold, reignite us once again—you are the sole source of spiritual fire. Amen.

Cut to the Heart

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 2:37-42 (NRSV)

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.


Most preachers would sacrifice their eye teeth or maybe even other body parts to see sermon results like what is recorded in today’s Bible reading. The report comes in the midst of the Acts account of the first fully developed Christian sermon.

Delivered by Peter shortly after the Pentecost experience, the sermon establishes the goal of any act of evangelism, be it carried out by the professional preacher or any other Christian. At some point, we want our audience, even if it’s just an audience of one, to be “cut to the heart,” asking pertinent questions about how to be saved.

Yes, there is an art to all of this. There are rhetorical flourishes that are helpful, communications techniques that shift and change from era to era and culture to culture. The core of the message remains the same, however. The need to repent of our sins and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has to be declared.

We struggle in bringing people to Christ, I think, because we have shied away from getting to the point. Meditate on this today: “Am I comfortable declaring my belief in Jesus Christ to someone who needs to hear this truth?”

As you meditate, don’t treat the question as a theoretical possibility, as if it’s an outside possibility that you might encounter a lost soul one day. Frankly, if we are out in the world at all, we encounter lost people every day. When we fail to engage those who don’t know Christ as Savior, it’s a safe bet we’re not comfortable doing so.

If you’re wriggling a little as you read this, I may be able to explain why. You may be equating what I’m talking about with “cold evangelism,” the declaration of the gospel to strangers. Cold evangelism is really hard to do—Peter was successful because God preceded the apostle’s preaching work with powerful signs from the Holy Spirit, triggering mass curiosity.

On a day-to-day basis, most of us must rely on a different approach. For starters, if you identify a person who needs to know Christ, it helps to befriend that person. If you’re genuine in your desire to befriend that person despite his or her “otherness,” you will eventually earn the right to talk about your beliefs in an easy, straightforward manner. It’s been my experience that people will signal to you that it’s time to talk about Jesus Christ by asking you pointed questions.

If the idea of that moment unnerves you—well, you might want to spend a little time studying how to talk about your faith and answer the more pressing questions that nonbelievers raise. I think these skills are best developed in a small group dedicated to evangelism as its primary mission. If you want to join such a small group or learn how to form one, let me know.

Just remember, if you want people to be cut to the heart, you at some point have to cut to the core message about what we believe.

Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear those who need to know you, and give us your wisdom and courage to speak the truth, knowing your loving grace arrived in their lives long before we showed up. Amen.