Keeping Our Past in View

Titus 3:3-5 (NLT)

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Vehicles have rearview mirrors for an obvious reason: The driver can see what lies in the immediate past while journeying on. It is more important to keep our focus on where we are heading, which is why I believe the windshield provides such a wide vista compared to the rear-view mirror. But we do need occasional peeks at the past so we can better appreciate where we are and where exactly we are headed. 

I am sure that many of you have heard the saying that “we are all works in progress.” This means that even though we are not where we used to be, we are more importantly not where we need to be. In our focus passage from Paul’s letter to Titus, one of the younger men that he mentored, Paul reminds us of the importance of not forgetting what we were before our rescue.

Paul writes, “Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient.” We were all conceived in sin and born as sinners because sin is a sexually transmittable disease passed down from the first human couple. It would be wishful thinking, however, to assume that those of us who are now believers or born again are no longer disobedient. That would be far from the truth.  

The root cause of our human separation from God was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the instructions given to them by God. If there is anything we have inherited from them, it is our natural bent to go against the instructions that have been handed down to us in Scripture. The United Methodist Church is for all intents and purposes in schism because of human disobedience and the misguided desire to give new meaning to Scripture to align it with the ever-changing cultural norms.  

If you are under any illusion that we are no longer slaves to the desires of our fallen human nature, just take some time to scroll through the social media feeds of some professing Christians. I hope you would agree that a significant number are far from showing they are truly new creatures in Christ. To say that our lives are no longer full of evil and envy and devoid of hatred would be self-deception. Thankfully, while we were yet sinners, God chose to send his beloved Son Jesus to save us—not because of anything good we have done but because of his own kindness. 

As our brother Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, our salvation from beginning to end is due to God’s grace and not because of anything good we have done (Ephesians 2:8-9). To be clear, unbelievers are also beneficiaries of God’s prevenient grace and his blessings (Matthew 5:44-48).

According to John Wesley, “Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God.” This means that even before we acknowledge God, his grace is working in our lives.

While we enjoy grace and sin in common with unbelievers, what I believe separates us from those yet to come to saving faith is our Holy Spirit-inspired response to God’s invitation and our experience of justifying grace. As Paul writes, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1-2). 

We should not boast and attribute our salvation to anything that we have done. As a result, let us stop looking down on unbelievers, thinking we are better than them. The next time you are tempted to look down on unbelievers, take time to look in the rearview mirror of your life and be thankful for God’s grace and the salvific work of Christ on the cross. 

Lord, we thank you for our salvation, which is made possible through your grace from beginning to end. Help us to be humble and not look down on those who are still living far away from you. Use us as carriers of your grace to them as we serve as the hands and feet of your Son Jesus, in whose name we humbly pray. Amen.

The Day Will Come

Psalm 126

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
    it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter,
    and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
    “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
    What joy!

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
    will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest.

Let’s paint a mental picture that also can serve as a prayer for today.

A day will come when we once again ascend and enter our places of worship, knowing we will bare our faces and sing unrestrained praises to our savior.

At first, it will seem like a dream. We will recognize this unfettered form of worship, but it also will seem new. Thanks to a very hard reminder about the value of group worship, we will praise God with a heightened sense of joy.

Some who have never entered such holy places of communion will feel the urge to join us. The Holy Spirit is working in them now, readying them for salvation, and the outline of our figures climbing our hills and steps and standing in the open doors of our churches will be an irresistible invitation for the lonely, the disconnected, the seekers.

“Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us. What joy!”

Restore our fortunes, Lord. Restore our worship. Amen.

Primary Source

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 (NLT)

Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.

And then, dear brothers and sisters, you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. For some of the Jews killed the prophets, and some even killed the Lord Jesus. Now they have persecuted us, too. They fail to please God and work against all humanity as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles. By doing this, they continue to pile up their sins. But the anger of God has caught up with them at last.


Is it from God?

Whenever we hear a pronouncement from another human being regarding what we should believe or do, “Is it from God?” is the obvious question any Christian needs to answer.

All sorts of people claim to speak truth, supposedly looking out for the best interests of their audiences. These people can be quite eloquent at times. Hearing them, we can find ourselves moved intellectually or emotionally.

The Christians of Thessalonica came to their beliefs while living in a politically important trade center, a place where ideas would have flowed as easily as goods. There was much to be heard, and there were many ways to live.

Paul commended them because in the midst of all of that, they had recognized the declaration of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to be a message from God, changing their lives accordingly despite the ongoing persecution they experienced.

Paul and his colleagues obviously had help from the Holy Spirit, whom we believe goes ahead of us as we spread the Good News. With their hearts readied by God’s constant-if-subtle grace, some of the people of Thessalonica were able to perceive Paul’s words about Jesus Christ to be from God. They heard the Christian message despite the general buzz around them.

If a miracle is God intervening in the normal course of events, then it’s a miracle any time such conversion happens. Non-Christians encountering the message of Jesus Christ as Lord have a tough time stepping toward belief. They have to decide first of all if the existence of a loving God makes sense to them.

They then must figure out if they can trust that God loves them despite their sins and accompanying sense of unworthiness. None of us can reach such a state of belief without a little prodding and guidance from the Holy Spirit, and help from Spirit-inspired people.

Having accepted Christ as Savior, we should have an easier path, assuming our discipleship has gone well. “Is it from God?” can be answered using sources we have learned to trust, in particular God’s word as revealed in the Holy Bible.

Once we have established a broad understanding of the Bible’s message, and especially after working our way through the nuances of some of the finer details of Scripture, we have a kind of touchstone, a way to test the purity of what we encounter in the world.

Let’s just remember to use it, particularly in these trying times.

Lord, we thank you that you love us so much that you have revealed yourself repeatedly through the centuries. We recommit ourselves today to the idea that all truth is rooted in action, the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Amen.

Spiritual Gifts

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 12:1-3 (NLT)

Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.


During last Sunday’s Holston View UMC worship service, I talked about spiritual gifts. Part of my sermon was an invitation to explore what gifts we have among us, using what some may think of as Covid-19 “down time” to study, train and prepare.

I’ve long been perplexed by Christians who remain disinterested after learning that spiritual gifts await them. I have a working theory about the problem.

Some Christians are like kids who fear they may get push mowers for Christmas. Open that present and there’s nothing ahead but work, work, work.

If I’m right, we need to get past that unfounded fear. If I’m wrong, one of Satan’s most influential demons must go by the name Apathy.

I’ll not spend much time on specific spiritual gifts today; there are about 30 described in the Bible. Sunday, I mentioned the ones Paul listed in Romans 12:1-8. First, let’s understand the great gift we are given, an ongoing encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is received in a moment, but it’s also the gift that keeps on giving. Through our belief in Christ, we open ourselves fully to the influence of God’s Spirit. We are offered ongoing transformation.

This first great gift includes a kind of freedom we cannot experience otherwise. We live securely as people who know they will live forever. Even if we find ourselves with challenging God-given work to do in this life, we can trust our tasks will ultimately be joyful because of this promise.

Opening spiritual gifts, which God may bestow at different times in life, also brings a sense of renewal. Even if you’re already a highly skilled person, you may find the gifts of the Spirit flowing through those skills in new ways. Spiritual gifts often become a holy enhancement of the person you already are, reinvigorating you.

I’m praying some of you feel a new sense of excitement about your unopened spiritual gifts. I am willing to devote some serious time to those of you wanting to explore this subject. I’ve made this offer to the Holston View UMC family, but as so much of it will have to happen online, I’m also making it to other LifeTalk readers who might want to join us.

Just let me know, and we’ll open those gifts together, knowing all of our churches will be stronger in the process.

Lord, bless us with a renewed sense of excitement about the gifts you give every follower. May we long to open these gifts and use them! Amen.