When Our Faith Is Tested

Genesis 22:1-2 (NLT)

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”  “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

After a long wait of 25 years from when the Lord first called and entered into a covenant with him, Abraham and Sarah against all odds had Isaac, the child of promise. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90 years old when Isaac was born.

What we learn from the story of these two biblical characters is that when our Lord makes a promise, it can be trusted. Abraham’s greatest desire to have a male child through Sarah became a reality when all seemed hopeless. After having experienced a lot of challenges as part of his walk with the Lord, it was reasonable for Abraham to expect to live out his remaining years in peace. However, God had other plans for Abraham and decided to put his faith through the wringer.

A cursory reading of the story surrounding today’s verses brings an obvious question to mind. How could a loving God who had made promises to bless Abraham through his seed now ask that Abraham should go and sacrifice his son as a burnt offering? There is no doubt that this instruction by God would be repugnant to any right-thinking person. But the introduction tells us that this was a test, although Abraham was not aware that it was a test. If you were in Abraham’s shoes, what would you have done?

Abraham could have tried to reason with God and offer to give all of his livestock – and he had plenty to sacrifice to God. Even though it is not mentioned, it would have been unreasonable for Abraham to have discussed this matter with his wife Sarah. It is inconceivable that after having waited 90 years to have a son, Sarah would have acquiesced to God’s instruction for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering.

In addition to animal sacrifices, which were quite common in the ancient near East where Abraham lived, some of the pagan nations also sacrificed their children to their gods. If pagans could sacrifice their children to idols that could not do anything for them, God wanted to see if Abraham had enough faith and respect to give up Isaac. 

Without any equivocation on his part, we read that “the next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about.” (Genesis 22:3). Just imagine with me for a second what must have been going through Abraham’s mind. Before he set out with Isaac, he had already sacrificed him in his heart.

On day three of their journey, Abraham parted from his servants and proceeded alone with Isaac. He placed the wood he had chopped on Isaac’s shoulders while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the father and son walked on together, Isaac, who was definitely a grown lad by this time, realized that something was missing. He had no doubt witnessed many animal sacrifices by his father and therefore questioned him.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” 

In one of the most powerful faith responses recorded in Scripture, Abraham responded, “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son.” They walked on together and after they arrived at the designated place, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. We are not sure if at this time it finally dawned on Isaac that he was the designated “sheep” for the offering, but there is no record of any struggle as Abraham tied his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood (Genesis 22:9). Without further ado, Abraham took the knife and prepared to kill Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering to the Lord. 

But at that moment, the angel of the Lord called to Abraham and told him not to lay a hand on Isaac. The angel said, “Do not hurt him in any way, for I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12).  Abraham passed the test. God had no desire for Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but chose to test Abraham’s faith to be sure that Abraham was willing to do anything for him, including offering his only son as a burnt offering.

Are you prepared to do anything for the Lord?

Gracious and loving God, you freely gave up your only Son to die in our place. Help us to be willing to do anything as a demonstration of our faith in you. We pray in the name of Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Amen. 

The Constancy of Blood

During August, the Sunday sermons will be rooted in stories from the Old Testament. This Sunday’s story is found in Genesis 4:1-16, where we learn about Cain and Abel. If you want to watch the sermon but cannot attend Holston View United Methodist Church, it will be available online.

Today’s text: John 19:33-34 (NRSV): But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.


By Chuck Griffin

Christianity links the earliest stirrings of ancient faith to a glorious future. It is through Christ that we discover radical ideas about peace and love, giving us visions of a world where all is set right under God, with healing and rest available for those he calls his children.

We need to remember how such visions are made possible, though. The tapestry of our faith is spattered with blood—in places it is soaked in blood. Sin has forced us to live as primitive people, and God had to debase himself through the Son for us to have any hope of eternal life.

This Sunday I will preach about the first murder recorded in the Bible, Cain’s killing of his brother Abel. Even this is not the first case of blood flowing in Scripture, though. When Adam and Eve realized they were naked, God fashioned animal skins to clothe them, a process that must have been horrifying for these shocked new sinners.

The Old Testament stories in many ways seem bound by blood. Brutal wars and repetitious sacrifices all play their part in a cycle of rejoining God and turning away from God, the people never finding a way to full union with the Holy One.

Even The Way is built upon a bloody path, with Jesus scourged and nailed to a cross to die for our sins. The spear thrust and ensuing discharge from Jesus’ side, recorded in John’s crucifixion account, evoke the image of the blood and water gushing from the temple drainage system, as the priests rinsed away the blood of the animal sacrifices. We are to understand that Christ’s body became the temple for all people.

Let’s not forget, however, that in Scripture, blood equals life. That shedding of Jesus’ divine blood was so perfect a sacrifice that it is continually purifying. We simply have to believe in its effectiveness.

When we take communion to access that purifying grace, we call the bread and juice the “body and blood of Christ.” Using strange, highly symbolic language, the author of the Book of Revelation is able to describe the robes of the believers as having been washed white “in the blood of the Lamb.” 

No doubt, we practice what many would call a blood religion, one with deeply primitive roots. It is astonishing how God has worked among our messes to lift us up to undeserved heights.

Lord, we thank you for your willingness to work through a gruesome and unholy history so that we may find you and establish a full relationship with you. Keep us mindful that while finding salvation is relatively easy for us, it was extremely difficult for Jesus Christ. We are so blessed! Amen.

One Life to Live

Hebrews 9:23-28 (NRSV)

Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.


You may think “One Life to Live” is a long-running soap opera. It’s been around a lot longer as a biblical concept, though.

Christianity, unlike a lot of religions, is about singular moments. Cyclical sacrifices were an important part of Jewish ritual, of course, but they merely foreshadowed the only sacrifice that would matter. Jesus Christ died on the cross to give us the gift of eternal life.

These verses from Hebrews also remind us of how singular each of our lives is. We are not caught up in endless cycles of misery, moving from lifetime to lifetime with little memory of what we have learned. We have one life, one death, and one hope for eternal life in Jesus.

How rare we are! How precious our lives are, each as unique as a snowflake. The eternal nature of God’s mind means our maker never has to repeat an action.

People may seem similar, but even twins are never truly identical. They can never inhabit the exact same point in space and time, and therefore, the universe God has placed them in will give them at least slightly different perspectives and thoughts, making each twin unique.

We move toward a unique moment, too, when Jesus Christ returns to make the relationship with those who have accepted his grace into something full, complete and eternal.

We will be judged as individuals, and the moment will be like no other, in that we will finally know ourselves and value ourselves as fully as God knows and values us.

Lord, help us to better appreciate the gift of life. No matter how broken, every human has the potential to be in relationship with you through Jesus Christ, and therefore every human is at least a smoldering ember ready to burst into a holy, eternal flame. Let us treat each other as such. Amen.

The Good Wife

Proverbs 31:10-11 (NLT)
Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
She is more precious than rubies.
Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.

Indulge me a little, please. I need to take a moment to celebrate the good wives of the world, in particular the one who celebrates her 55th birthday today, my own Connie.

There’s a lot in the Bible about the value of sacrifice, and my wife has sacrificed much through the years. She’s sacrificed the fulfillment of many of her personal desires while her journalist husband pursued late-night stories, her corporate husband traveled and came home late, and her pastor husband sometimes put the needs of the church ahead of hers.

For the record, she’s been married to just one man. Connie has put up with a lot of career transitions over the last three decades, raising three great children through it all.

People don’t immediately realize what a good Christian leader she can be. She knows her Bible, but she also knows how to help others grow in faith without beating them over the head with her Bible.

I would invite you to wish her a happy birthday on Facebook, but you won’t find her there. She once jokingly said it is “of the devil.” I think she was joking, anyway. There are days I also think she was right. Regardless, one of the things I’ve always admired about her is the way she does not worry about what is popular.

She may want to beat me with a stick for making her the focus of a devotional, but it is safe to say I would be a very different man, much less of a man, without her.

Happy birthday, sweetie. I hope what I’ve said today reminds others of the good Christian women they have known.

Lord, thank you for the blessings of womanhood and long relationships. Amen.

The Greater Good

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 2:43-47

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.


We’re simply picking up where we left off yesterday, talking about the ongoing response the earliest Christians had to the gift of salvation.

For those of us with a traditional American view of the world, the type of living described in the Book of Acts can be puzzling. We are a people raised on concepts like individual rights, property rights, and the need to lift ourselves up “by our own bootstraps.” In Acts, we see a Spirit-driven communal behavior quite foreign to us. 

The great gift our nation gives us is, of course, freedom. If Christians are going to involve themselves in the world politically, their first priority should be to guard freedom. After all, we want to ensure we are always free to think and speak about God’s revelation in Scripture as we see fit, and then live accordingly.

For Christians, however, freedom is not our final word on how to live. We who read our Bibles carefully should also see that God calls us to voluntarily participate in a more communal life, guided by the Holy Spirit as we do so.  Christians should be the first people to speak and act on behalf of the common good, even if significant individual sacrifice is involved.

Communal conservation of resources during World War II provides a powerful example of shared sacrifice during a time of crisis. Could you get by on three gallons of gas a week? A lot of people couldn’t, and found ways to cheat, turning to the black market. We don’t think highly of them now, though.

The sacrifices we are called to make to slow the current pandemic are certainly milder, shorter-term examples of communal care. Try to see masks, social distancing and other pandemic-related sacrifices as part of our Christian duty to the larger community.

The Spirit will strengthen us as we root our decisions in mutual care for one another.

Lord, bless us with an understanding that when we care for one another, it is as if we have cared for you. Amen.

The Abortion Solution

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Ephesians 5:2: “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will undoubtedly renew the debate about abortion in this nation. Her replacement may very well tip the balance of power on the high court to the point where legally available abortion could be severely restricted or even vanish.

Most theologically conservative Christians would cheer such a development, and I personally find the idea of abortion abhorrent. But simultaneously, I am deeply concerned the conservative church is about to get so caught up in a renewed political fight that we will continue to miss the obvious role we should be playing to make abortions unnecessary.

As a reporter in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I spent a lot of time covering protests near abortion clinics in Knoxville, Tenn. and Atlanta. It quickly became obvious the opposing sides had no political middle ground, with one group shouting for women’s rights and the other declaring life begins at conception. Inevitably, I thought, secular politics would leave one group or the other feeling disenfranchised and powerless.

About the same time, a theologian named Stanley Hauerwas wrote an essay that demonstrated how hospitality, properly understood and practiced by the church, offers a solution that could make the demand for abortion subside regardless of the political environment.

The essay, entitled “Abortion, Theologically Understood,” makes some startling assertions, at least if you’re a typical American Christian.  When we become Christians, Hauerwas says, we should stop thinking in terms of rights and instead begin thinking in terms of responsibilities.

For Christians, what the state has to say about abortion should be relatively unimportant. What’s important for us is whether we function so well as Christ’s community that the need for abortion becomes irrelevant.

In the essay, Hauerwas embeds a sermon from one of his former students, the Rev. Terry Hamilton, and it is there we see examples of the church truly being hospitable. There is the story of a community church where the people welcome a pregnant teenager into their midst, placing her and ultimately her baby with an older couple so both mother and child can have full lives and hope.

In a different church, a divorced Sunday school teacher becomes pregnant, and rather than finding herself ostracized, she is instead cared for and even financially supported by the church. In both cases, the temptation to abortion is eliminated by a community offering love, and the babies in effect become “children of the parish.”

Theologically conservative churches need to ask themselves some basic questions if they want to engage with the world over abortion, treating it as a serious problem.

  • What are we doing to eliminate the fears of mothers around us so they will drop abortion as an option?
  • As a church, are we willing to put the time and money in place to help poor mothers rear their children or find others willing to do so?
  • Have we made it clear in our community we are willing to help?
  • Can we make these mothers and their children part of the family of Christ, setting aside judgment of their circumstances and offering love?

Let’s also not forget our need to reach out to women who have undergone an abortion. Many pastors understand what I am talking about, having counseled women who remain troubled and even broken years after the fact. These women need to know that the church is a place of forgiveness and healing, and that they have a perspective younger women need to hear.

Regardless of the political climate, Christians always have great power to make a difference on any issue, abortion included. Sure, we have the right to enter a voting booth, petition legislators and march around buildings, just like everyone else. But we do our most effective work when we offer sacrificial love to others.

Lord, as our culture becomes more contentious, may we be more centered on your word, offering loving, holy answers that can come only from you. Amen.

More than Enough

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 15:32-39 (NLT)

Then Jesus called his disciples and told them, “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.”

The disciples replied, “Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?”

Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

They replied, “Seven loaves, and a few small fish.”

So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd.

They all ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were 4,000 men who were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children. Then Jesus sent the people home, and he got into a boat and crossed over to the region of Magadan.


I love the various “feeding” stories. They remind me that we still are invited to feed, knowing that when we are satisfied, there will be abundant leftovers.

Just in case you think I’m talking about food, hear what Jesus has to say to his disciples in the 16th chapter of Matthew. The layered context includes faith, the need to “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (a reference to their deceptive, legalistic teachings), and the disciples’ inability to get their heads out of the immediacy of a moment.

“You have so little faith!” Jesus declares in 16:8. “Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread?”

Then, having reminded them of the two miraculous feedings recorded in Matthew, he asks, “Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread?”

Jesus is trying to remind his followers that he is the bread of life. He is the source of grace. Let’s break away from the food metaphor for a moment and get to the point: Grace comes because God grants us life-giving love despite our not deserving it.

That grace didn’t come cheap, either. If grace were bread in a market, none of us could afford so much as a slice. God had to come in flesh and buy it for us, dying on the cross to overcome the power of sin and death.

All we have to do is accept what is given. We simply behave like hungry people, holding out our hands to catch loaves of bread being tossed in our direction.

Coming from an eternal source, the supply of grace will always exceed demand. As followers of Christ, our mission is pretty simple. We find ways to tell others, “God loves you! Accept what is yours! Stop starving for the love and forgiveness you so desperately crave!”

I’ve recently spent some time writing about the “means of grace,” the places where we are sure to receive grace, so perhaps we don’t need to explore those details again today.

But for crying out loud, eat. Eat!

Lord, may we be overwhelmed as we experience your love. Help us to find innovative ways to offer that love to others. Amen.