The Counter to Evil

We know that we are God’s children and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.—1 John 5:19.

By Chuck Griffin

Another terrible mass murder has occurred, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The horror of it all is difficult to shake off, and we certainly should not be quick to discard such feelings.

We become numb to these events, I think, because there seems to be nothing immediate we can do beyond praying for these devastated families and communities. Let’s remember that prayer is real and effective, despite what the vulgar Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona has to say about Christians who offered prayers. (Even in a fit of anger, people need to avoid blasphemy.) If anything, more and deeper prayer is needed in the face of such terrible evil.

And yes, we need prayer-guided action, too—effective action. Politicians and pundits are quick to pull out rehearsed talking points, many of them rooted in a humanist view that somehow, with the right restrictions in place, we can all be made good enough to stop killing each other.

I have yet to see a plan that has stopped such violence in the past or would stop it in the future. The day after this shooting, I read a story about the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history. It occurred May 18, 1927, in East Lansing, Mich., killing 45 people, 38 of them children. A local farmer angry about taxes carried out the plot using dynamite.

We can keep going back through history to find such horrible events. Don’t forget that in an attempt to stop the Christ child from growing to manhood, Herod sent his soldiers to slaughter infants, a massacre in the midst of one of our favorite stories of joy and hope.

Caught up in the world, Christians sometimes forget to root their response in an important part of our basic, very ancient worldview. There is evil, terrible evil, in the world, and we are called to short-circuit its work by fulfilling the mission Christ gave us. We work alongside God to convert broken people, bringing them into lives filled with peace and hope.

Somehow, we missed that young man who became a killer in Texas, and others like him. I don’t know his history; maybe our increasingly secular culture walled him off from the gospel message, or maybe many Christians tried to reach him. But at times like this, reality hits us square in the face. Whenever we miss someone, for whatever reason, evil takes root, just as it tried to take root in each of us before we genuinely found Jesus Christ.

Christians, it’s safe to say that evil will persist until Christ returns, but do you want to keep at least some of these events from happening? First consider who is in your circle of influence, and then do all you can to reach those who seem to be drifting toward evil. See their pain; see their needs and try to show them God’s love flowing through you.

More than anything else, these efforts require time, something so few are willing to give these days. If nothing else, let the Uvalde massacre and events like it be a call for us to evaluate how we spend our time as people who claim to follow Christ.

Dear Lord, we so look forward to the day when evil is cast aside as this world is remade. In the meantime, help us to bring your dawning kingdom’s light to the dark places we encounter. Amen.

Guided

Luke 2:25-35 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Serving God is unique.  We will not know exactly what we are to do in every situation.  We will not know how long we will have to wait to see what God has promised.  We only know that we are serving God.  When we arrive where God wants us to be for someone else, we will know it.

As a member of the clergy, I have noticed this truth.  There have been countless times that I have contacted a disciple and that disciple says to me: “How did you know I needed…?”  Whether it has been a prayer, my presence, or even a phone call, God has allowed me to be part of an unknown that blessed others.

Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel.  We do not know how long he waited.  We only know that he would see what God promised him before he died.  Then, Simeon praised God.  His words amazed Joseph and Mary.

The truth is that the consolation of Israel is for the glory of Israel and a light of revelation to the Gentiles.  We may not ever be in the situation Simeon was.  However, being there with a prayer, our presence or even a phone call for another person can be exactly how God wants us to serve Him.

Jesus, thank you for being all that you are.  As we serve you and the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we see what you promise us.  Give us the words as we pray for other people.  Give us the wherewithal to be present when someone needs us.  Give us the timing that allows us to dial a number for us to speak what you desire for us to speak.  Amen.

Watch!

Luke 21:34-36

By John Grimm

Every year it seems like Christmas comes before we are ready.  We are going to work.  We are doing our daily and weekly routines at the store, with our family, and with the church.  Suddenly, there it is.  It is Christmas (again)!  How did we not notice it creeping up on us?

Jesus warned the disciples and all the people (Luke 20:45) to be on guard.  We can be weighed down with the concerns of work and home.  We can be drunk on how well our college tournament brackets are going to perform.  We can even be worried about how high the gas prices will go.

Life can trap us., so much so that we may actually miss out on what God is doing around us.  Heaven forbid if we miss what God is doing in our lives!  Our social media feed will not get us caught up with what we missed from God.  What can we do?

We pray.  We are alert in prayer as we ask Jesus for strength to prepare us for the destruction Jesus foretold in Luke 21:5-33.  The power of the Holy Spirit can get us to the point where we can stand before the Son of Man.

Until Jesus Christ returns, we can be praying.  That will be the best posture for Jesus to find us in when that day happens.

Almighty God, we know not when Jesus Christ will return.  Until that day arrives, we read that Jesus wants us to be on guard.  Thank you that we can meet you in prayer.  May all the troubles of this life and the destruction to come not trap us, making us unready for when Jesus returns.  Holy Spirit, give us the strength we need to make it through that day.  We ask this request in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A Prayer of Faith

Habakkuk 3:17-19
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

By Chuck Griffin

Monday, we looked at how the prophet Habakkuk wrestled with his era’s version of the problem of evil, the questions that arise about God when bad people seem to prosper. The context was very different from our own—God’s chosen people were overrun by brutal conquerors—but the frustration and confusion expressed by the prophet were similar to what we might experience today.

We stopped at Habakkuk 2:1, the point where the prophet took a stand, seemingly demanding answers.

And God answered. Rooting the vision he offered Habakkuk in a seemingly distant but certain end to the divine plan, God asserted that the “righteous shall live by faithfulness.” He also assured Habakkuk that our perception of right and wrong is correct. Those who build wealth out of their own strength and corruption, making idols of objects in this world, will fail, although the patience of the righteous will be required.

It was enough to launch Habakkuk into prayer. We might even say song, as the third chapter has embedded in it instructions that there be musical accompaniment.

Habakkuk shows us the right attitude to maintain, even when the answers aren’t at first satisfying. He declared the greatness of God, poetically recounting the actions of the one who is clearly over all creation.

And even in pain, with all around him seeming lost, the prophet made it clear that God would continue to be worthy of honor and worship. “I will take joy in the God of my salvation,” he said (3:18).

How blessed are we that we have seen so much of God’s great plan play out! With the coming of Christ, we see how the cross marks the end of sin and death, even if we must wait patiently for Christ’s work to come to full fruition.

We will tread the high places.

Dear Lord, when we experience our own times of woe, help us to have the faith and perseverance of Habakkuk, trusting in the end of your plan to come. Amen.

Finding Our Watchposts

Note: I’m going to try something a little different for at least a few months. Normally, I’ve developed devotions based on daily readings found in the lectionary, but I thought it would be enlightening (at least for me) to focus on Scripture I’ve tended to neglect. I’ve been writing for this blog for nearly two years, and by my count, there are 13 books of the Bible I have never even referenced, much less explored. Let’s begin by looking at a portion of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk 2:1
I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

By Chuck Griffin

The precise details about when Habakkuk made his prophetic statements, or who he was, are unclear. We can tell, however, that he lived in a woeful time. The people who were certain they were God’s Chosen were experiencing ongoing conquest and oppression, causing them great confusion.

Habakkuk opens with an expression of that confusion, and in the process the prophet points out a core problem we wrestle with today: How can a holy and loving God allow sin and violence to take hold so deeply that justice is perverted?

Habakkuk finds God’s initial answer unsatisfying. Essentially, God says he has raised up these invaders, clearly describing their efficiency in war and their ability to plunder at will.

While acknowledging God uses these brutal people to bring judgment and reproof on the disobedient, Habakkuk also wonders how God can tolerate ongoing evil, saying in verse 1:13, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”

It’s a question many all around the world ask today. Yes, we are imperfect, but must we continually suffer at the hands of people who are clearly evil?

Rather than moving on to the rest of Habakkuk, I want to stop where we hear today’s focus verse, which begins the second chapter. The prophet makes a declaration that some might find impudent: I will stand like a sentry, eyes forward, expecting more of an answer from the Lord.

I respect the prophet’s dutiful stance, and I have no doubt God wants to meet us and answer us in these moments. As evidence, I would note that the Holy Spirit-inspired Bible offers us several psalms that, when recited, allow us to loudly lodge a complaint. For example, Jesus quoted a portion of Psalm 22 from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We will spend more time in Habakkuk this week, hearing more of God’s response, and what Habakkuk says from there. For now, let’s consider this: Where are we confused? Do we have the courage to climb dutifully onto our watchtower, that place of prayer that will be different for each of us?

From there, can we admit our inner turmoil to God, listening for his reply, regardless of what it might be?

Lord, make us brave enough to hear what you say so that your words change us, shaping us into the holy beings you would have us be. Amen.

A Prayer for the New Year

Lord, join our hearts with your Spirit as we pray for 2022.
No matter what happens, we give all glory to you.
     We know the hard work has been done for us on the cross.
May the pandemic end.
May the church in America and beyond find renewal,
     spreading word of salvation in new ways.
May our nation be blessed and shine more brightly as a beacon for you.
May our communities be safe places for the resident and the stranger.
May our hearts grow in holiness as we study your word
     and make our lives more prayerful.
It is in the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

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!