A Burning Desire

Luke 12:49-53 (NKJV)

“I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday, my new hardback copy of Percy Livingston Parker’s “The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal” arrived. I opened it at random, wanting to see the typeface, layout and such.

I landed on page 212, which has this subhead on it: “Wesley Burned in Effigy.” Here begins Wesley’s account of a handful of April days in 1750 in the Irish town of Bandon, County Cork. It is easy for us to forget that Methodism in its original and purest form brought its adherents into conflict with other Christians, who sometimes were angered by the Methodist call to turn back to a scriptural faith.

Monday, 21.—I rode on to Bandon. From three in the afternoon till past seven, the mob of Cork marched in grand procession and then burned me in effigy near Dant’s Bridge.

Wednesday, 23.—The mob was still patrolling the streets, abusing all that were called Methodists, and threatening to murder them and pull down their houses, if they did not leave this way.”

Wesley’s Thursday and Friday entries give accounts of continuing vandalism of homes and the efforts of people to organize anti-Methodist mobs, apparently with the encouragement of local clergy. By Saturday, the town had settled down a little, and Wesley that evening began preaching “to more than twice the usual congregation.” (People do crave truth, don’t they!)

“After I had spoken about a quarter of an hour,” Wesley writes, “a clergyman, who had planted himself near me with a very large stick in his hand, according to agreement, opened the scene. (Indeed his friends assured me he was in drink, or he would not have done it.) But before he had uttered many words, two or three resolute women, by main strength, pulled him into a house; and after expostulating a little, sent him away through the garden.

“The next champion that appeared was one Mr. M—, a young gentleman of the town. He was attended by two others with pistols in their hands. But his triumph too was but short; some of the people quickly bore him away, though with much gentleness and civility.

“The third came on with greater fury; but he was encountered by a butcher of the town (not one of the Methodists), who used him as he would an ox, bestowing one or two hearty blows upon his head. This cooled his courage, especially as none took his part. So I quietly finished my discourse.”

Some observations:

  1. Christianity, properly lived, requires courage. Let nothing, not even institutional powers that may threaten us, prevent us from following God’s call. Jesus warned us that the core truth about who He is can cause division even within households.
  2. People who crave real truth and meaning will be guided by the Holy Spirit to support and shield those who bring the word.
  3. Regardless of the circumstances, preach it! And I don’t just mean professional preachers—we are all called to declare the truth about who Jesus is. When God prompts you, finish your discourse quietly or loudly, according to your style.

And if the situation really gets out of hand, pray that the town butcher is nearby.

Dear Lord, thank you for the brave souls who have gone before us to ensure your biblical revelation of Christianity is revealed to the world. And should we be called into the fray, may we be counted among them as worthy. Amen.

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.

Confusing to Satan

Philippians 1:12-19 (NRSV)

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.

By Chuck Griffin

The words of Paul we find in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God,” were more than just an idea to the apostle. He saw them come true in his own tribulations.

Paul suffered mightily during his service to the Lord, and by the time he was writing to the church at Philippi, he was in prison. And yet, he was able to observe the effect his faithfulness continued to have on those around him, even those charged with keeping him imprisoned.

It’s a story repeated throughout the history of the church. Some who are against Christ attack those who stand for Christ, and the faith exhibited by those brave, Spirit-filled Christians makes strong disciples out of weak ones and believers out of skeptics. Somewhere in their minds, these witnesses to the suffering look at those under attack and think to themselves, “I want what they have.”

These moments surely send Satan into a frenzy. Just when he thinks he has those Christians where he wants them—just when they should be in despair—the Holy Spirit works through them, and he loses more of his minions to the dawning Kingdom of Heaven.

Even those who preach Christ with wrongheaded motives can end up doing good. The growing presence of the kingdom is inexorable. It will not be stopped, and it continues to creep into the world in the oddest ways.

Well, Jesus did tell us the kingdom would be like yeast, eventually permeating the whole loaf.

Lord and Savior, work your way more deeply into our lives so we may withstand any time of trial and draw others to you. Amen.

Silver Lining

Acts 8:1-8 (NLT)

Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.


By Chuck Griffin

No one would ever look forward to persecution, but it’s amazing how resilient Christians can be in the face of such abuse. This particular outbreak of systematic oppression seems to have been led at least in part by Saul, more often called Paul after his later skull-rattling conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus.

Let’s focus, however, on the response of these Christians in the midst of this storm of hate. They prudently scattered, but as a group they did not abandon their mission. In fact, scattering them may have been the worst mistake their enemies could make.

They scattered not like frightened rabbits, but like seeds, blooming wherever they landed. Rather than being destroyed, the church grew, spreading beyond its Jewish base further into the world beyond.

When we think of miracle-workers in Acts, we tend to think of Peter and Paul. But here we learn about Philip the Evangelist’s work. The Spirit clearly was upon him, manifested in both miraculous signs and powerful teaching and preaching.

Those of you attending Weber City, Va.’s Holston View UMC or viewing worship online this Sunday will hear more about Philip and his work, God willing. To me, Philip seems like a quiet servant of God, humble but having a great effect on the world.

I realize some of you read these devotions in places where you perhaps face hostility and danger because of your faith. We who are in the United States face nothing like real persecution—our challenges rise only to the level of extreme nuisances, and those often are inflicted on us by other members of our denomination.

If you are in one of those dangerous places, know we are praying for you. We are conscious that martyrs are being made every day.

Thank you for standing strong and sowing seeds for the kingdom.

Lord, bless all who find their freedom and their lives jeopardized for believing in you. Please continue to astonish us with the ways you work in the midst of vicious non-belief. Amen.

Our Time of Testing

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 11:19-26 (NLT)

Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.

When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)


There are a lot of memes on social media saying things like, “May there never be another year like 2020.” I get it. This year has been a relatively miserable experience, particularly for those who have lost loved ones.

Our current situation makes me appreciate the story of the early Christians who fled persecution, but then continued to preach the truth that got them persecuted in the first place. The resilience of this first generation of Christians, and some generations that have followed, is amazing.

The early Christians who went to Antioch are especially worth remembering. They transported the Christian message into a new culture, the first step in making our faith a global religion. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

Christians of 2020, we are in a time of testing. Will we be numbered among the resilient generations, or will we fold?

The answer lies in our commitment to the same principle that drove Generation One. As we exit this year and pass through the next couple of years, time will tell whether we grew as disciples and made disciples of others.

Did we cut through the fear and political chatter and get to the main point: In good times or bad, Jesus Christ is Lord! Were people so taken by the message that they were baptized and absorbed into the life of Christ’s holy, universal church?

Christ’s message of love and forgiveness gives us hope in this life, and hope is what we most need when we feel times are tough. In many ways, nonbelievers should be more ready to hear this powerful message now than ever.

Enough of us have to be ready to deliver it, though. We know that within Generation One there were several who fell away because of hardship and discomfort, ending their commitments to the fledgling movement. Enough stood strong to change the world, though.

Will we change the world once again?

Lord, even if we as your church prove to be a remnant, may we be filled with your Holy Spirit, a seed that will sprout in mighty ways for your kingdom. Amen.

Seven Churches: Ephesus and Smyrna

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 1:19-20 (NLT): “Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen. This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”


The Book of Revelation, with its strange imagery and wide variety of interpretations, makes readers feel anywhere from frightened to joyful. A truly valuable section of this book records letters to seven churches.

One study Bible has this very on-point entry:

It is common for interpreters to separate the seven letters into seven distinct messages and to make them symbolic of seven types of people or seven distinct periods of time. The seven letters, however, actually form a single unified message for the church in all times and places, taking into account all its spots and wrinkles.

NLT Study Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, 2007

Let’s spend the rest of this week exploring what these churches heard in their letters, all messages from the risen Christ. In doing so, I invite you to meditate on our own spots and wrinkles. Something critically important to note: In the eyes of Christ, five of the seven churches are found to be dangerously flawed.

The first letter is to the Christians in Ephesus. There was much to be commended in this church. The people worked hard for Christ’s kingdom. They also had deep discernment. They were credited with rooting out false apostles, liars who probably wanted to use the church for their own benefit.

Such discernment is very important for the health of any church. I have had previous appointments where it became clear a person or people had entered the church in order to fulfill their own selfish desires for money and power, seeing the sheep as a flock to be fleeced. I am eternally grateful for discerning leaders who identified the problem and stood by me as we dealt with it.

Christ also sounded an alarm in this first letter—instead of growing in love for their savior or for each other, the Ephesians’ love had weakened.

Strange as it sounds, I suspect their strength may have fostered a weakness. Did they become so technically proficient in their church operations that they forgot to worship, pray and rest in the Holy Spirit, letting God flow freely among them in heartfelt ways?

If I’m correct, they had taken the first step down the slippery slope where other churches fell and continue to fall today.

The second church to receive a letter, Smyrna, is one of two churches where Christ offered no criticisms. We probably all think we would like to be a part of such a church, until we understand what these people experienced.

In short, poverty and persecution haunted them. Christ even warned that some of them would be imprisoned, suffering to the point of death. (One of the early church fathers, Polycarp, became a martyr in Smyrna in the middle of the second century.) For those who persevered, eternal life would clearly be theirs, the letter said.

When you recall Jesus saying “blessed are the poor” and “the meek shall inherit the earth,” think of the Christians in Smyrna.

Tomorrow, we will consider the letters to Pergamum and Thyatira, places with unfamiliar names but easily recognized situations.

Lord, as we grow in our understanding of these letters, may we see our own strengths and weaknesses as individual Christians, and as churches. Amen.