Happy Thanksgiving!

Devotions from Methodist Life will return next week.

Psalm 34:1-8

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
    so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
    and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
    happy are those who take refuge in him.

Thanksgiving

Psalm 63:5-9 (NRSV)

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
    and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

By John Grimm

We are ready!  We have our minds set on turkey and fixings.  We are looking forward to the pie—whether it be pumpkin, pecan, apple, or mincemeat!  We are glad it is time to feast. 

Why are we ready to feast?  God has been providing for us!  We are satisfied by God in our waking—whatever time we are awake.  For when we awaken in the middle of the night and can not get back to sleep, it is prime time to concentrate on the Lord.  This time is when we have a rich feast, and our mouths are full of praise.

I believe the hymn title is: “Count Your Blessings.”  God shelters us, and that’s a blessing we can count multiple times!  We cling to God by noticing how much the Lord does for us.  There is nothing like knowing God’s right hand upholds us!

Lord God, thank you satisfying our souls.  Lying in bed, thinking of you and your work in our lives brings joy to us.  As we know you, may our friends and family notice our contentment in you.  May we have more reasons to be thankful as friends and family find satisfaction in you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray for joy for our friends and family this Thanksgiving.  Amen.

God in Art

Today, LifeTalk introduces a new feature. Occasionally, rather than a written devotion, you will receive a work of art depicting a story from the Bible or some other aspect of our relationship with God.

If you’ve ever read Henri J.M. Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son,” a meditation on Rembrandt’s depiction of the moment of reunion, you will understand how to approach this opportunity. In fact, we will begin with that same work of art, based on the story found in Luke 15:11-32. Starting here seems appropriate on the heels of ‘Debo Onabanjo’s recent efforts to explore this parable.

The art you receive will be in the public domain or used with the permission of the artist. Submissions of original art are welcome, by the way. Send them in a large format to chuck@methodist.life.

Lord, reveal new truths to us as your holy word inspires the artists around us. Amen.

Open Up!

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Demons and Deafness.” It will be based on Mark 7:24-37. 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: Mark 7:32-35 (NRSV)

A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.

Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!


By Chuck Griffin

You’re most likely reading this on the internet in some fashion, through Facebook, email or directly on the Methodist Life site. If you’re like me, this is not always the most conducive environment for slowing down and spending time with God.

A computer or smartphone can buzz with activity. Other windows, apps or browser tabs may be open, streaming music or television. Little pop-ups may be appearing and disappearing, telling you “important email” or alerting you to an incoming text or instant message.

Try something before you read any further. What you’ll experience is really important as we look at today’s text. Find a way to sit in silence, even if just briefly—say, five minutes. It helps to take some deep breaths.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

My premise today is a simple one. We are like the deaf man in our story in Mark. We’re just deaf for a different reason. He had a physical problem. We have an environmental problem that causes spiritual deafness.

Something had stopped up his ears. Perhaps it was a disease. Perhaps it was a head injury. He began to speak as soon as he was healed, so he apparently remembered sound and speech. But at some point in his life, the sound had no longer come in and intelligible words had stopped coming out.

The cure was not a simple one, not even for Jesus the miracle worker. This was no time for a spectacle. Jesus pulled the man aside to a private place. (It strikes me that the deaf man must have had little understanding of what was going on; he had to trust Jesus.)

Put your pandemic-induced anxieties aside for a moment and imagine what it would feel like to have Jesus stick his fingers in your ears. Imagine what it would be like to have him take his spit and put it on your tongue.

Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus pray for you in the common Aramaic his very common followers spoke, a prayer so deep that it comes out in a groaning command: Ephphatha. Open up!

When it comes to hearing Jesus, to really hearing what God has to say to us, we’re stopped up, too. The world is in our ears. We’re clogged with work, sport and school schedules, with plans, with worries, with diversions like television and video games. We’re so stopped up that we’re in danger of remaining deaf to God’s continuing call on our lives until the day we die.

This deafness also makes us spiritually mute. How can we declare what we have not recently heard?

May we go to private places with Jesus long enough that our ears be unstopped. May we hear his message well. And may we declare the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior with great excitement.

Dear Lord, give us the same healing command: Ephphatha!

Struggling for You

Colossians 2:1-5 (NRSV)

For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments.  For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.


By John Grimm

Watching cars and SUVs go by is fascinating.  Each vehicle is heading hither or yon, maybe to an appointment or on a work assignment. The kids might be going to or coming back from ball practice. And as we race about, we’re all potentially in need of assistance, grateful to receive it when in need. 

We who are part of the church on occasion might have someone offer us spiritual assistance, by way of prayer and other means.  As we read about Paul’s compassion for the church in Colossae and in Laodicea, it is not an occasional gesture that he gives.  As we know Christ Jesus is interceding for us right now, Paul is encouraging us, by his example, to struggle for other Christians.  Why would we want to struggle in such ways?

We struggle for other Christians so their hearts may be encouraged, and they would be united in love.  It is difficult to have the assured understanding and the knowledge of Christ himself when we feel disconnected from other Christians.  It is the Holy Spirit who connects every disciple of Jesus Christ.  This connection can be found in every local church, across international borders, and across denominational boundaries.  We grow in wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ as we experience Christian connectedness.

It also is good to see the morale and the firmness of other Christians’ faith in Christ, as it refreshes our own faith in Christ!  A single stalk of corn cannot produce a good yield by itself.  It takes multiple rows of corn to pollinate each other for a good yield to be produced.  That is how it is with Christians.  As we struggle for the sake of other Christians, we all are encouraged.

Almighty God, thank you for the disciples of Jesus Christ on this planet.  As sisters and brothers in Christ are perplexed, struggling, battered, and feeling abandoned, we lift them up to you.  May each disciple and each church know Christ in full.  We ask that you strengthen us all, so we know we grow firm in our faith.  Amen.

What Must Be Done

Ezra 9:5-9 (NRSV)

At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,

“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.”


By Chuck Griffin

Ezra dropped to his knees to do what must be done from time to time, to do what the people as a whole had failed to do. He repented and sought forgiveness.

Because of their sins, God’s chosen people found themselves enslaved, their way of life decimated. But a glimmer of hope had appeared, the potential to rebuild what had been a glorious temple. And yet, Ezra observed, the people of Israel continued to defy God.

The specific sin causing Ezra grief sounds strange to us today. The Israelites were to be a people set apart, a lesson in holiness to all the world. But instead they had begun to intermarry with the people around them, in the process adopting other gods and unholy practices. The real problem was that they had moved away from God and toward idolatry.

The principle remains the same for us. We are to search for what pleases God and what displeases God, practicing the former and avoiding the latter. Our Holy Bible gives us our baseline for understanding sin, something our broken minds cannot sort out on their own. In our New Testament, we receive refined guidance about sin from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working within the early Christian church.

Ignoring this guidance brings grave danger. Our best response is to search our actions and even our thoughts to see where we may deviate from what God desires. We truly practice a religion of the heart.

Such an examination of ourselves should lead us where Ezra went—on our knees, in a state of repentance. Living much later than Ezra in God’s grand story of redemption, we know that because of the work of Jesus Christ, forgiveness, change and hope lie ahead.

A call to such piety is not popular, I know. Sadly, there are people among us who have established themselves as preachers while preaching the opposite.

Their opinions do not change the word of God, however, and they do not remove the need for thoughtful searching of our souls and serious repentance.

Lord, reveal to us through your holy word and directly in prayer where we displease you, and then show us a better way. Amen.

Abide

1 John 2:28 (NRSV) And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.


By Chuck Griffin

Holiness is a churchy word meaning we behave as God would have us behave. It’s a difficult concept for people who resist or reject Christianity because they perceive conversations about holiness as evidence of God’s authoritarianism, or worse, a church’s attempt to control society at large.

The call to holiness you hear from God in Scripture and through Holy Spirit-inspired churches has nothing to do with such negative motives, however. We simply are being reminded to live in a way that should be a natural response to God’s overwhelming love, expressed most clearly in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.

A little after today’s text, in 3:6, John goes so far as to make a bold, flat statement: “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” The larger context of the letter helps us to understand the author is talking about ongoing, deliberate sin.

When we find ourselves asking, “Why am I still trapped in sin,” a good follow-up question might be, “How far have I strayed from God?” Odds are, we’re not truly abiding, gazing at him through our study of Scripture or leaning against him in prayer and worship.

John repeatedly refers to us as God’s children. Where are children the safest? Well, when they are near a loving parent, of course. It’s hard to get into trouble when you’re holding a parent’s hand.

In dangerous settings, even the slightest distance between child and parent can mean potential trouble. As good parents, we’re always trying to manage that distance, sometimes literally keeping our children on a short leash.

When our oldest child was beginning to move from toddling to real walking and running, we bought a springy little wrist tether so she would have more freedom to move when we were out in public. I still remember attaching the adult end to my left wrist and the complicated system of velcro and watchband-style straps to her right wrist.

Being spatially gifted, she studied her end for about five seconds and had it undone, proudly handing it back to me. I did the only thing I could do—I went back to holding her hand.

It’s good for children to have that desire to be independent from us. Ultimately, their instinct to go it alone makes it possible for them to grow into independent adults.

Acting like independent-minded children in our relationship with God is a bad idea, though. We are not little gods, needing to pull away in order to grow. We instead are part of God’s creation, designed to abide in our creator for all eternity.

Lord, call us back when we resist our connection to you, and grow us into the kind of Christians who naturally and joyfully abide in your love. Amen.

The Full Experience

Psalm 84:10-12

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

As short as Psalm 84 is, I want to focus on just the closing verses today. Nothing blesses us like the presence of God. Absolutely nothing.

If we could fully grasp this truth and live it out each day, most of our problems would vanish. Idolatry in all its forms, ancient and new, would be a thing of the past. Making a list of priorities would be the simplest act we would ever undertake.

The briefest moment in God’s full presence would transcend time and space, giving us a sense of what eternity is really all about. The substance of our more mundane moments would be altered in ways we can barely imagine.

No wonder the psalmist is willing to simply hang out near the door. Such proximity to God offers safety, as evil will never come near such a place. The tents of wickedness are lovely, even beautiful, but what is inside them is the opposite of what’s across that threshold.

The temple this psalm evokes is gone, but we don’t need it anymore. The presence of God is available in those places God has said we will be met: in prayer, in God’s holy word, in worship and in fellowship with committed Christians. God’s Spirit inhabits all these places, awaiting us.

Don’t just stand at the threshold. Step in!

Lord, may this season of Lent renew our desire to be in your presence, a possibility made so easy by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Living Stones

1 Peter 2:4-5 (NRSV): Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.


These two verses serve as a meditation point regarding our role in Christ’s church. I’m going to raise some questions, and we can each seek our own answers.

What does it mean to be a “living stone”?

What sort of usefulness do I provide to Christ’s spiritual house?

How do living stones work together, and how well am I working with the ones around me to support and build the house?

What does it mean to think of Jesus Christ as the cornerstone? How does that truth define my role?

The metaphor shifts to that of “priesthood.” What does it take for a group of people to act as priests to the world, and how does that concept tie to the “spiritual house”?

What spiritual sacrifices have we made, and must we still make?

Lord, may the answers we find today move us toward holy action. Amen.

Fight My Enemies

“The Angel Michael Binding Satan,” W. Blake, circa 1805

Psalm 35:1-10

I hope you’ll take time to read these verses from Psalm 35, which can be found by clicking the above link. You can examine the psalm in different translations, if you want.

If you are someone who believes others are working against you, acting as your enemies, this psalm makes an excellent prayer to God for assistance. It creates a stirring mental picture when read; imagine the eternally powerful and wise Lord of All arming himself for battle and coming to your aid.

A word of caution, though. Praying this psalm is no magic trick, no casual incantation. Our God cannot be trapped and contained the way people believed (and still believe) pagan, little “g” gods can be controlled.

There are some serious actions that must accompany such a prayer. First and foremost, people who would lift it need to do some deep soul-searching, examining whether they have aligned themselves with the Lord. Scripture would be their best source of guidance, of course. Is what they desire precisely what God desires?

Do their tormentors, as unrighteous as they may seem, have anything resembling a valid point to make? Might they, too, be in at least partial agreement with God, and might that mean there is a place for reconciliation, for middle ground?

As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10-12, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”

We are all dependent on Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for salvation. Any righteousness we have flows from our belief in the cross. Any success we might have in praying this Psalm 35 prayer would be rooted in our faith, and a willingness to also pray for our enemies, just as Jesus taught us.

Dear Lord, as we meditate on our relationship with you, may we find ways to escape hostility and be rejoined to our enemies, seeking peace. Amen.