What We Do Next

1 Timothy 4:11-16 (NRSV)

These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.


Paul wrote the above words to a young pastor. Let’s read them as instructions to mature Christians.

Yesterday, I wrote a lament and a prayer regarding events that led to mob violence in our nation’s Capitol building Wednesday. How can Christians help restore a nation’s character?

We’re discovering how dangerous it is to ignore character. For too long now, we’ve been willing to say, “Well, that person lacks character, but he promotes something I like, so let’s give him power.” Many of you will think I’m talking about just one person, but I actually could make a list.

Speech and conduct matter; they are external expressions of the character within. They should exhibit high ideals, and we as Christians believe that Jesus Christ expresses the highest ideals, given to us straight from the mind of God. Christ’s standards are so high, in fact, that they are difficult to achieve—we should always be striving toward what is higher.

Our words should reflect love for all people. We will always be broken into little factions, political, theological and otherwise, and the differences sometimes might be sharp enough that we find it difficult to live in each other’s circles. But one of the beautiful aspects of this nation is that it was designed so we can at least share a common commitment to freedom, with harm of others being the one trait we should refuse to accommodate.

As Christians, we need to use God’s word, referencing it, quoting it and letting it guide us. This means we live as true disciples, taking the Bible seriously. Using it regularly sometimes makes the secular folks around us a little uncomfortable, but only where they find themselves in conflict with God’s will.

Let’s be deliberate about living and speaking as Christians. Our baptismal vows are more than a part-time commitment. We take on Christ to be clothed in undeserved holiness. From there, we are called to project God’s purity to a hurting world.

Lord, make us bold for you. Amen.

On to Perfection

Philippians 3:12-16

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.


I was naively drawn to Methodism for very old reasons. The idea that there was a form of Christianity emphasizing continual spiritual growth toward a high standard set by God fascinated me.

I say I was naive because I somehow conflated the historic Methodism of John Wesley with the modern United Methodist Church I joined in my late twenties. Yes, because we developed a traditional understanding of Methodism, my wife and I joined the denomination when we were everything a church wants—young, seeking to be involved, and with small children.

Certainly, vestiges of the Methodism that lured us remain. But it has become obvious that with the formation of the United Methodist Church in 1968, that old, very successful form of Methodism has increasingly been forced to share a tent with people hostile to some of its basic principles. The last 20 years or so have been particularly telling.

The headline on an April 22, 1972, New York Times story about that year’s General Conference, where the fledgling United Methodist Church established its doctrines, clearly identified what would trouble the denomination for the next half-century: “Methodists Back Theological Pluralism.”

Today’s Scripture, and some important words preceding it, lay out what the UMC no longer emphasizes—a burning desire for holiness, including the pursuit of perfection.

If you just pursed your lips and wrinkled your nose, you are struggling with what these terms mean. You may be falling into the stereotype nonbelievers like to apply to church folk: “Those Christians think they are perfect.”

Hardly. Instead, we know we are broken by sin, and that we cannot find healing without God’s help. Given the great gift of salvation by Jesus Christ on the cross, we methodically go about the activities that allow the Holy Spirit to penetrate us more deeply day by day, changing us into the people God would have us be.

For most people, it’s a long process, one God likely will have to complete in us at death. But in this life, we press on, seeing Scripture as a corrective for our broken minds, learning to pray without ceasing, and living in fellowship so we can help each other through the process.

An old Nazarene preacher—the Nazarene denomination is part of the broader, very traditional Methodist movement—once described holiness as our learning to love the way Jesus loves.

Jesus was obedient unto death; Jesus offered love freely. Seems pretty straightforward to me, even if I have yet to perfect it.

Lord, help us to embrace not just salvation, but the tremendous change you are willing to make in our lives as we submit to you. Amen.

Houseful of Servants

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 24:45-51
Jesus Discusses the Need To Stay Ready

“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”


Just in case you’re missing the meaning—we are the servants. In a culture where we have a tendency to exalt ourselves, we can fail to recognize this all-important starting point.

We have hit a place in the cycle of Bible readings where we’re getting daily reminders that our situation is temporary. Christians believe Jesus Christ will return one day to set the world right, restoring holiness and driving away evil. This servant metaphor is embedded in a long section of Matthew where Jesus talks in very apocalyptic tones.

Servants have responsibilities; we are to understand ourselves as being in charge of each other’s well-being. Remember Philippians 2:4? “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

In a lot of ways, a narcissist—a psychopathically self-centered person—is the behavioral opposite of the perfect Christian. Most of us fall on a scale somewhere in between these two extremes, and we of course want to be “going on toward perfection,” to use an 18th-century Methodist term.

How will we be found? Caring for others, or obsessively taking care of our own needs and wants?

These are good questions to ask ourselves as we arise each morning. They could very well shape what we do each day!

Lord, help us to look out for those opportunities to support our fellow servants. As we care for each other, we know your household will grow stronger day by day, until the day we see you in full. Amen.

Finish with Flourish

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Philippians 3:13-14:1 (NLT)

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.


Yesterday’s devotional focused on the big ending, the “last days,” the end of time—and those who don’t live as if it is coming. Today’s Bible passage invites us to think about our own personal finish.

Paul’s message is aimed squarely at those who already have accepted Christ and are (or should be) seeking holy “perfection,” something Paul said he had not achieved himself. Salvation through Jesus Christ is given freely, but it’s evident in Paul’s writings and in other epistles that some Holy Spirit-inspired striving is to be a continuing part of the Christian life.

I think of the effort we make as the thank-you notes to God we write with our lives. The more we live and love as Jesus did, the nicer the notes become through the years.

And certainly, we don’t want to slip backward in our beliefs or behavior. What we understood early in our faith walk is just as true now: Jesus Christ is Lord. His teachings and the teachings that continued to flow through his early followers remain true, passed to us through Scripture.

We may grow spiritually, but we never grow out of following and espousing core Christian truths. They are the stones upon which we build, not clay to be molded into new shapes.

Even in Paul’s day, people in the church sometimes believed they had become so worldly wise over the years that they could move beyond the basic idea that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that as our savior he has certain expectations for our lives.

Sadly, they had actually fallen from their early, supernaturally inspired faith, posing a danger to newer Christians around them.

Finish well. Others are watching. And never forget, the finish line is the beginning of a greater experience.

Lord, may we always trust in the Christian truths first revealed to us, and may we never reach an age where we say, “I am done growing in Christ.” Amen.