God in Art: Christ’s Lament

This Sunday at Holston View United Methodist Church, we will hear Mark 13:1-8, where Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. In this passage, Jesus is straightforward about what would happen.

There are other passages, however, where his pain regarding the future of Jerusalem is evident. In Matthew 23:37, he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” In Luke 19:41, we are told Jesus at one point wept over the city.

In 1892, the artist Enrique Simonet imagined this emotional moment.

Lord, like chicks who know their mother, may we in faith huddle beneath your wings. Amen.

A Grand Tour

Acts 21:1-16 (NLT)

After saying farewell to the Ephesian elders, we sailed straight to the island of Cos. The next day we reached Rhodes and then went to Patara. There we boarded a ship sailing for Phoenicia. We sighted the island of Cyprus, passed it on our left, and landed at the harbor of Tyre, in Syria, where the ship was to unload its cargo.

We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week. These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem. When we returned to the ship at the end of the week, the entire congregation, including women and children, left the city and came down to the shore with us. There we knelt, prayed, and said our farewells. Then we went aboard, and they returned home.

The next stop after leaving Tyre was Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed for one day. The next day we went on to Caesarea and stayed at the home of Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen to distribute food. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.

Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

But he said, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.” When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem. Some believers from Caesarea accompanied us, and they took us to the home of Mnason, a man originally from Cyprus and one of the early believers.


By Chuck Griffin

These verses read like journal entries, written as Luke, the author of Acts, traveled with Paul on his third missionary journey. Along the way, people given the gift of prophecy by the Holy Spirit made it clear Paul would not fare well if he went to Jerusalem.

Events didn’t go well, of course, at least not in a worldly sense. The rest of Acts is an account of how Paul was arrested for preaching Christ crucified, and then as a citizen of the empire was carried off to Rome, where we know he was eventually executed. Along the way, he and those with him endured hardships at sea, including a shipwreck.

No doubt, working for the Lord can be a difficult task. Many of us might head a different direction when faced with repeated prophetic warnings about the dangers of going to a particular place. Paul’s friends and fellow travelers urged him to turn aside.

I deeply admire Paul’s single-mindedness. It genuinely seems that he did not care about his own welfare. He simply wanted to preach the message that Jesus Christ is Lord, taking word of salvation all the way to the heart of the Roman Empire, if possible.

Faced with far fewer impediments, I find Paul’s story to be a challenge. To what greater lengths should I be willing to go in order to reach people for Jesus Christ? Never has my freedom or life been in serious jeopardy while declaring Jesus’ lordship.

I thank God that I live in a time and place where the gospel can be preached so freely. But a question always remains before me: Do I use that freedom well?

Lord God Almighty, guide us to the places you would have us go, and give us new courage if we find those places daunting. Amen.

Old Memories, Renewed Vision

By Chuck Griffin

Haggai 2:1-5 (NLT)

Then on October 17 of that same year, the Lord sent another message through the prophet Haggai. “Say this to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of God’s people there in the land: ‘Does anyone remember this house—this Temple—in its former splendor? How, in comparison, does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all! But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.’”


See if you recognize this scenario. The best days seem to be in the past. People around us seem too disillusioned or disinterested to seek a better world. When someone says, “Think about the future,” a mental picture takes form in shades of black and gray.

What people in such circumstances need is a prophet like Haggai. About 520 years before Jesus’ birth, the Jews of Jerusalem suffered under the Persian empire, with some of God’s people having returned only recently from exile.

God used Haggai to first instruct the leaders to rebuild what had once been a glorious temple, and then to inspire them when their faith began to flag. Haggai was an encourager centuries before Barnabas showed up to spread the Good News.

Yes, the Lord said through Haggai, the temple is a sad sight when compared with what some of the oldest among you remember. But even while the splendor of the building is gone, the glory of the Lord remains among you. And the temple will again reflect that glory.

Three simple words summarize Haggai’s message to the Jews. As we wring our hands about the secularization of our own culture—developments that seem to mark a decline in Christianity—those same words are applicable today.

Get to work.

The Christian vision remains the same. By loving God (through works of piety) and loving each other (through works of mercy), our savior’s glory is made visible, and the kingdom naturally grows toward fullness. Yes, the work seems difficult at times, but it is holy work, and therefore never pointless or low-priority.

If there is no Haggai in your church community, talk to the Lord about whether you are called to the role. Frankly, no church can have too many.

Lord, raise up within our churches people who passionately pursue holy action, and color our view of a future where you already exist and await us. Amen.

The Q Recovery

2 Peter 1:20-21 (New Living Translation)

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.


Discerning whether supposed prophets speak for God can be difficult. The task becomes even more difficult when their audiences desperately want to hear someone assert that change is swiftly coming.

Such an environment is ripe for abuse by hoaxsters, con artists and power mongers. This is an ancient problem; nearly 3,500 years ago, God gave the Israelites simple instructions regarding how to discern whether a prophet is true or false. In short, God told them, time will tell.

Deuteronomy 18:22: “If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.”

I raise this subject today because the ancient problem remains a current problem, and I am genuinely concerned for a group of people. They are or were followers of an anonymous self-styled internet prophet called Q, forming a fringe movement which began to develop many of the traits of a religion. In some places, people even have attempted to blend Q with Christianity, resulting in a voodoo-like mashup of ideas.

I don’t spend any time drifting about in the part of the internet where Q followers share their thoughts, but people who monitor these places say many of these folks are struggling. Q’s prophecies regarding the Trump presidency and what was supposed to happen by now in U.S. politics simply have not come true.

People with a strong stake in profiting from the movement—think of online donations and Q-emblazoned sweatshirts for sale—already have begun to adjust their interpretations to stretch the timeline. A lot of these Q followers remain disillusioned, however.

I don’t know if any of them would ever see what I write today, but I do want to offer them some comfort and a new path to consider.

You clearly are passionate people, and you have a deep desire to participate in important change in this world. Someone took unfair advantage of these powerful traits you carry within you, but those traits are gifts from God!

I so want you to examine prophecies that have come true, ancient promises from God fulfilled by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is no way I can unpack that statement for you in a short blog item, but it is my prayer that despite your frustration, you will explore this idea: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

If this is a new idea, consider it for the first time by picking up a simple translation of the Bible, something along the lines of the New Living Translation I’ve been quoting today. Start at Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.

If you were disillusioned by a bad church experience, or if you realize you’ve drifted from core, traditional Christian beliefs, please consider doing exactly the same thing. Let the Holy Spirit rather than human beings do the talking through God’s word, and you then will know what to do next.

I pray you also will see how the Holy Spirit brings about true Great Awakenings, those moments when communities rapidly grow in their understanding that the work of Jesus Christ is setting all of creation right. This holy process happens not via politics, but through the peaceful transformation of hearts, and Christ’s followers have a critical role to play in the change to come.

I seek nothing from you. If I or people in similar roles can help, don’t be afraid to ask.

Lord, speak your empowering word to passionate hearts, and may your truth resound in them like a tolling bell calling the faithful home. Amen.

The God Bearer

It’s time to think about Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, which means it’s time to think big about faith and courage.

God chose Mary, it seems, because she had the right soul for the task. She was young, but Luke 1:46-55 records her remarkable understanding of the meaning of Christ’s coming.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant,” Mary said. She was rejoicing with her much older cousin Elizabeth, who carried in her womb John the Baptist, the prophet who would announce the coming of Jesus’ ministry in adulthood.

As Mary continued in her prophetic rejoicing, she laid out the radical mission of Christ. He brings mercy to those who believe and follow God. He scatters the proud. He brings down the powerful. He lifts up the lowly and the hungry. He does all of this as a fulfillment of a promise made to the world through Abraham long ago.

Christ is, in a word, revolutionary.

Governments and armies still seem to have power, but none can help you establish a relationship with God. At best, they can keep the relationship freely available. Christ on the cross is what changes everything for us.

Mary’s song also serves as a call for us to magnify the Lord. The baby in her womb would reveal God’s nature to all. As the body of Christ on earth today, Christians similarly exhibit God’s Spirit to a hurting world.

Oh, to magnify the Lord in every moment of our lives, to allow revolution to occur in every choice we make. It isn’t easy, of course.

Fortunately, the baby who grew to be a man and live out his mother’s prophecies did not shrink from the difficult task of the cross. May God grant us similar courage in this season.

Lord, thank you for turning the world upside down. Help us to live as people who believe the change is real and ongoing. Amen.

The God Who Speaks

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Hebrews 1:1-2 (New Living Translation)

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.


These words and what follows in the opening of Hebrews remind us of the astonishing change God wrought in the history of the universe through Jesus Christ.

Even in their sin-soaked brokenness, people had always received at least some indirect word from God. In particular, prophets would arise who would speak on God’s behalf, usually issuing a call to repent, an exhortation to live as God would have them live.

In those prophecies, there also were promises. God said he would provide a way out of sin, an opportunity for otherwise hardened hearts to be softened, beating once again to God’s rhythms rather than the world’s.

In this season of Advent, we move toward celebrating the incarnation, the strange fact that God actually took on flesh and lived among us. Not only that, God came among us not as a king but as a vulnerable, very poor baby, fully experiencing what it means to be human.

How does the Son speak to you? Are you in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, letting his words challenge and shape you?

Advent is a good season to reconnect with the one who is always available. God continues to speak a new, life-changing truth to all of us.

Over the next few days, try something. Read the first two chapters of each of the gospels. It’s my prayer that starting these stories will renew a desire to hear what the Son has to say.

Lord, thank you for the ongoing blessing of your holy word. We particularly thank you for the penetrating, life-changing words of the Messiah. Amen.

A Sprig Held High

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Ezekiel 17:22-24 (NRSV)

Thus says the Lord God:

I myself will take a sprig
   from the lofty top of a cedar;
   I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
   from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
   on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
   I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
   and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
   in the shade of its branches will nest
   winged creatures of every kind.
All the trees of the field shall know
   that I am the Lord.
I bring low the high tree,
   I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
   and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
   I will accomplish it.

As you may have noticed reading the Bible, prophets can be strange folk. Ezekiel is one of the strangest, but his story should encourage us when we seek renewal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would really like to see some renewal in this world.

Born a little over six centuries before the birth of Christ, Ezekiel spent much of his time helping the people of Israel understand why their world had fallen apart. In short, they had turned on God, falling into idolatry, and God had given them up to their enemies. Ezekiel eventually was dragged off to captivity in Babylon, along with most of the brightest of God’s people.

Here are some of the odder things Ezekiel did to communicate God’s wrath to a very stubborn people:

  • He lay on his left side for 390 days, one day for each year the kingdom of Israel had existed in sin. He then lay on his right side for 40 days, one day for each year the kingdom of Judah had sinned.
  • During this time on one side or the other, he ate bread cooked over cow dung, to show how the people of Israel would be forced to eat in an unclean way as captives. He also ate very sparingly, to show how the people of Jerusalem would suffer from famine during the occupation.
  • Later, whenever he ate he had to tremble and shake with fear to show the people what they would feel when their towns were attacked and stripped of possessions.
  • He was not allowed by God to publicly mourn the death of his wife, as a sign of how the people would lose all they treasured with no recourse or way to complain.

It’s depressing stuff. But again, there is this powerful message of hope in the midst of so much suffering. We see that hope in our Scripture today, the prophecy of the sprig.

For the people of Israel, the prophecy is about the restoration of the line of David, the great king of their history. A cedar tree was the sign of royalty.

Clearly, the tree had become twisted and corrupt, having moved its roots away from God as the source of life, but God was promising the people through Ezekiel that he still planned to fulfill the great promises he had made. God was in control; God is in control.

We have this image of a tiny sprig at the top of the tree, new life being plucked from the old and being moved to a high and lofty place. A new king would come, one who would fulfill the promise from God that all the world would be blessed by the people of Israel, the line descended from Abraham.

This fulfillment has already happened. As Christians, we live to celebrate the great event. Jesus Christ is the sprig broken off Israel, establishing a new kingdom as he was held high on the cross.

And if God is transforming the world through Christ—if he is making all things new, as we know he is—then we can find new life, too.

Perhaps our habits are not what God would have them be; like the ancient Israelites, we can find ourselves living in defiance of God. Perhaps our families or others important to us are corrupted in some way, suffering under the influence of the world rather than seeking God’s will, and we find ourselves pulled down with them.

Know this: Through belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we allow God to pluck off what is fresh and good in us and replant our lives in fertile soil. I’m talking about a life rooted in God’s holy word and refreshed daily by God’s Holy Spirit.

The first step is to offer ourselves, branches held high.

Lord, take from within us what still has the potential for holiness and eternal life, and use that to grow us into what you would have us be. Amen.