For Such a Time as This, Pt. 2

2 Corinthians 13:5-10

By Chuck Griffin

Tuesday, I began moving toward Sunday’s sermon with an exhortation: Theologically conservative Methodists positioned by God to lead should do just that in our current environment, employing a little creativity and a lot of grace in the process.

I am not naïve. Once people become entrenched in institutional power and lucrative privilege, they very often will place their own interests above scriptural principles. (Another exhortation in Philippians 2:4-5 comes to mind.) So I exhort with only faint hope of a real response from anyone already positioned to make a difference.

That failure at the top continues to reverberate throughout the United Methodist Church, as it has done for decades now. Basic biblical concepts long preached and taught by Methodists have fallen by the wayside as the people once most able to encourage them grew silent in the face of secular pressure.

You can test how heavily your particular church has been affected by all of this. Look at today’s text from 2 Corinthians and ask yourself if it sounds like something anyone has taught or preached there.

The church at Corinth had very modern problems, the people immersed in “impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.” Paul expected that when he arrived, he would find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorderly behavior among them, too. (Read chapter 12 for the context I am citing here.)

Paul did not dance around those problems. He did not accommodate the social trends of the day. Instead, he relied on his humble subservience to God, letting God speak through him, employing the Scripture of his day and his direct encounters with the Holy Spirit to define right and wrong.

“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.”

If you’re unfamiliar with such language in church, you are in a congregation that has lost sight of what once was a basic Methodist concept, the pursuit of holiness. In church, this is a group effort to create an environment where people can, with the help of God, find their actions more closely aligned with God’s will each passing day.

Missing that in your church? Well, here’s the good news. Unworthy leaders can be ignored and even replaced. Paul ultimately aimed his message at all the Christians in the Corinthian church, giving everyone an opportunity to respond, and we can consider his words a message to us, too.

Know God’s word. Seek the presence of God’s Spirit through prayer, fasting and worship. As more of us do so, we will begin to recover what was once a bright, vibrant form of Methodism, a kind of Christianity that changed lives for the better.

Lord, we give thanks for the leaders who will arise among us, and we pray that they be graced with a double portion of your Spirit. Amen.

An Unpopular Notion

Ephesians 5:15-20 (NLT)

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

By Chuck Griffin

How we respond to verses like these says a lot about where we are in our walk with God.

Boring! Killjoys. Squares. Only the good die young! People caught up in the glittery side of life find it easy to roll their eyes at such sober Christian advice.

A lot of us who call ourselves Christian are all too familiar with this worldly stage of life, having passed through it in our younger days. I’ve known a few Christians who will tell you how they stayed in their “younger days” well into their sixties and beyond, discovering a better way only late in life.

We need to remember that it’s not always the wine that makes people drunk. The anxiety-inducing desires of this world—do I have enough, am I successful enough—can stun us into a spiritual stupor as powerfully as a big bottle of the finest red. 

To those who have yet to absorb Paul’s message, the part about being filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns, sounds intolerably boring. It’s because they have yet to taste the peace, the joy and the overwhelming sense of love that comes from stopping for a moment, taking a real accounting of our lives, and then stepping fully into a life with Christ.

Here’s the challenge for us who have already stumbled into that better way. How do we communicate what we are experiencing so others might be open to it, too? We all need to dwell on that question for a while and see if we can answer it creatively.

It helps me that I spend time with very old Christians who happily discuss what their walk with Christ means to them.  They see death as an ever-present possibility, but their joy and peace remain.

When with them, I often realize it would do me good to slow down and engage with the Holy Spirit even more. In that relationship, there is nothing to lose and glimpses of eternity to gain. Surely, if I engage enough, people will see the joy in me.

Sweet Spirit of God, continue to whisper to our souls, showing us the better way. As a people, may we once again grasp these truths at an early age. Amen.

After the Word Is Heard

By Chuck Griffin

Parables, those little stories Jesus used to illustrate how God works in the world, are not always intended to provide immediate answers. They are more like mental Juicy Fruit, designed to keep us chewing on an idea until it makes sense.

Jesus does, however, explain his first parable in Matthew, the story of a sower who liberally scatters his seeds in different places: a path, rocky ground, thorns, and fertile soil. The seeds represent “word of the kingdom.” The landing places and the fate of their seeds stand for responses to Christ’s message.

When Jesus speaks of the “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” in Scripture, he describes something that is here but that will later arrive in full, like a train that has just nosed into the station but is still moving.

The coming of the kingdom of heaven has an individual effect. We each accept Christ’s work and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us in unique ways. But the kingdom also is having a universal effect, changing creation as a whole and moving us toward a time when evil, sickness and death are no longer a part of the world.

That is really good news, the kind of news that should cause us to reconsider every aspect of our lives. When we first believe the news, we are reunited with God through Christ. As we understand the news on deeper and deeper levels, we further incorporate its meaning into our lives.

Not everyone reacts the same way to this news, however. That’s the point of the rest of the parable.

First, there are the “path” people. Jesus reminds us that the “evil one” will do all he can to pull back into his deadly grasp people who don’t initially understand the message. Those of us who want to help them are called to engage in very real spiritual warfare, relying on the Christ-sent Holy Spirit to overcome the work of Satan.

Second, there are the “rocky ground” people. You’ve seen them—they are energetic and enthused about their new faith, until they face trouble for the first time after their conversions. These people remind us why discipleship is so important to a new Christian’s life.

Third, there are the “thorn” people. They find the temporary baubles of the world attractive, so much so that their desire for these riches keeps them from appreciating the word of the kingdom. What they need is a big-picture understanding of their own lives and the lives of people around them.

The “good soil” people are of course what all believers want to be, Christians who let God work through them to bring along the full arrival of the kingdom.

One of the great gifts of the kingdom is that we can move from being one kind of soil to another. The God who made the earth remakes us, at least as much as we allow.

Lord, may your word take deep root in us and flourish to the benefit of others. Amen.

Psalm 118, Meditation 4

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

There is nothing more timeless than salvation.  As Chuck pointed out yesterday, the psalms have a timelessness to them.  The timelessness of salvation is what we all want to know.  This desire is ingrained in our lives.  We want to be secure in our living now and our hope for the future.

This salvation comes only from the Lord.  We see verses 21-25 pointing out how God becomes our salvation.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!

Jesus was rejected by those who were attempting to build Israel into a great nation.  It is by knowing Jesus as the chief cornerstone of life that we have salvation.  We can sing about Jesus delivering us from our sins and ourselves.  Jesus will give us success over the sins we have committed and the nature of sin in us.

Salvation is not merely being delivered from sin. Salvation involves us discovering how we can be made new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17ff.).  Salvation is lived in our lives during this day and all the following days.  We marvel because, like God’s mercies being new each day, he continues to renew us in the image of Christ.  This is salvation, being made to bear the image of Christ fully and completely in our lives.

Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ.  We are looking for success in bearing the image of Christ in our lives.  As we seek you, we can rejoice in how you are working in us so that we live like Jesus, even today.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we ask that we may be found to be like him more each day.  Amen.

What a Savior!

Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Wednesday of Holy Week means we are one day closer to Jesus’ arrest, flogging, trial, crucifixion and death.  Centuries before Holy Week, Isaiah tells us about the servant of God who will be humiliated and vindicated.  Now, almost two millennia after Holy Week, we continue to realize all the servant of God went through.  This prophecy shows how the servant of God did not turn back.

We know this servant of the Lord to be Jesus the Christ.  Yes, he was a teacher.  But he is so much more than that!  Yes, he was obedient to the Lord God.  But he did not turn back when he was abused.  Yes, he had his face set like flint.  But no one could contend with him.

The determination of Jesus the Christ leads us onward.  His willingness to suffer for us is forgotten when we fail to receive the Lord’s Supper.  We can not do any better than our Savior, Jesus the Christ! 

Will we contend with Jesus?  Will we confront Jesus?  Will we declare Jesus guilty?  We are not capable of doing these tasks.  Our life is but a breath.  We will wear out.  The truth about Jesus the Christ will contend with us.  The truth about Jesus will confront us.  The truth about our guilt is known by Jesus the Christ.  When we decide for Jesus in our lives, then there is no condemnation for us! 

What a Savior!  Jesus withstands much abuse (50:6).  Yet, he willingly does so.  Why?  First, because the Lord God vindicates him.  Second, because we need a savior.  We will find as we believe and follow the Savior that God will stand by us as well. 

Holy Spirit, aid us in setting our faces like flint so we may see the goodness of our Savior.  Strengthen our resolve to cling to the Lord God through Jesus the Christ.  As we find the shame of our sin removed through Jesus’ blood, may we have life with Jesus eternally.  In the powerful name of Jesus the Christ, we pray.  Amen.

A Sermon: “Headed Home”

Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.

Headed Home”

From There

Philippians 3:17-20

By John Grimm

“I am not good enough to be in heaven.” 

Did that sound humble?  For that is the truth.  Admitting that I need a savior to come from heaven is a humbling statement.  It is to admit that I have been an enemy of Jesus, an enemy of God! When we turn from our belly (which has become our god), and escape our shame (which we used to brag about), we also turn to heaven (before, our minds were focused on what is below our feet). 

Turning to heaven is to turn where Jesus Christ is located now.  We humble ourselves because we were not focused on his glory.  Now that we have turned to heaven, we see that Jesus transforms us!  As we continue to look to Jesus, he works so that we match up to his glorious body.  Jesus does this work in us.

Jesus came the first time to die for our sins.  Jesus will come the second time on this planet so that we may be fitted to live with him for all time.  Between Jesus’ first and second arrivals on Earth, we decide.  We choose either to humble ourselves or to not humble ourselves.  The apostle Paul and numerous other Christians have given us examples to live.  What will be our decision?

Father Almighty, we are getting to the point in which we know we need a savior.  We are sinners.  As we find healthy Christians in our midst, may we see how to stop living as enemies of the cross.  Prepare us for Jesus’ second arrival on earth.  Allow Jesus to use his power so we may match up with his glorious body when he returns.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Starting Point

By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our season of Lent. If you attended a traditional Ash Wednesday service, you may have had the opportunity to recite Psalm 51, which is clearly a psalm of repentance.

Whatever you might be planning to do during Lent to draw closer to God, repentance is the place to begin. Through repentance, we open ourselves to God. Through repentance, we relieve ourselves of all sorts of burdens.

So, here is our prayer for today:

Psalm 51 (ESV)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Church Math

Malachi 3:8-12

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

By Chuck Griffin

I should begin with a big word of thanks to all of you who have supported a church financially in any way. Those of us who lead churches don’t say thanks enough to those of you who support Christ’s mission with your dollars.

So, thanks be to God for you; thanks, whether you gave a dollar or a thousand dollars or twenty thousand dollars. When you give, you are part of the solution the church offers to the world.

I wanted to start out with words of thanks because today’s verses, read without much context, sound like a mixture of threats and promises tied to whether you tithe and give other offerings. Don’t tithe, and you are robbing God and faced with a curse. Do tithe, and you will receive an overflowing blessing. And I know that preachers often imitate this text, making threats and promises where church giving is concerned.

I will note that Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament in our Christian Bible, so we should expect more legalistic formulas for relating to God. Jesus Christ, the ultimate expression of God’s forgiving grace, is not yet visibly in the picture.

I don’t, however, want to simply write off Malachi’s words about tithes and offerings as somehow irrelevant. In fact, this minor prophet makes a major connection between what he says about tithes and offerings and the reasons for Christ’s entry into the world.

Malachi’s straightforward question, “Will anyone rob God?” comes in the midst of other, more mysterious and far-reaching words. Just before he speaks of tithes and offerings, the prophet has been speaking of a coming messenger, to be followed by the arrival of the Lord. These words long have been associated with the ministry of John the Baptist—the Messiah’s herald—and the coming of Jesus Christ.

After Malachi speaks of tithes and offerings, he raises a new subject, how God will respond to the faithful. That leads ultimately to prophecies about “the great and terrible day of the Lord,” a time when the wicked and righteous are finally sorted, with the righteous entering a glorious new life. These images remind me of Jesus’ more detailed words in Matthew 25:31-46, where he makes clear that he will be the one to do the sorting.

All of that Messiah and End Days imagery, with talk of tithes and offerings sandwiched in between, causes me to reconsider my understanding of tithing. In fact, that big-picture perspective is what should convince us to tithe.

Certainly, tithing was part of the Mosaic law, the code the Jews tried to live by to remain in relationship with God. It’s important to note, however, that tithing predated the law.

Tithing also didn’t just go away after God’s grace more clearly entered the picture through Christ. Consider this: How did the early church, made up largely of Jews used to tithing, respond to the resurrected Jesus? Rather than shrinking their giving, they gave everything they had. (See Acts 2:43-47.)

If we could interview them, I think we would be hard pressed to find an early Christian who would describe tithing as anything more than a starting point in support of God’s redemptive work.

Scripturally, tithing for thousands of years has served as the baseline for how we participate in God’s effort to move us toward a time when evil is vanquished for good. In the world we live in now, a world where money is the primary driver behind how everything works, we still have to talk frankly about how money gets into church coffers. It gets there because people like you make commitments that the money will be there, and I think the tithe remains the appropriate beginning point for Christian giving.

Here’s a little church math to consider. As best I can tell, United Methodist households in churches I have served give about 4 percent of their income toward the work of their churches. That’s an average covering every active household, whether a household gave nothing or thousands of dollars.

If we could raise that average by one percentage point, incredible things would happen. A percentage point doesn’t sound like much, but if churches would move from an average of 4 percent per household to an average of 5 percent, our funds for ministry would jump by 25 percent.

I dive into this church math for one reason. I want you to see there is increasing power as we move toward tithing in a community, the kind of power that helps change the world.

With more finances available, we could tell more people about Jesus. We could feed more people and clothe more people in Jesus’ name.  We could do more for our children and youth and our homebound elderly. We could start ministries we have yet to imagine.

Maybe we would minister with more programs and facilities to serve the people we’re trying to reach. Maybe we would reach out to the community with more paid ministry staff to lead the way. However our churches might minister, lives would be changed, even more so than they are being changed now.

Here’s what I want you to walk away with today: You are not required under some sort of law to tithe, or to give at any level. As grateful recipients of God’s eternal grace, however, you are invited to participate in God’s restorative work, using the financial resources God has given you.

Lord, speak to our hearts directly about how we use our resources to benefit your kingdom. Amen.