Building Plan

1 Corinthians 3:10-17 (NLT)

Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

By Chuck Griffin

Every church I have pastored has either been planning a building expansion, in the midst of a building expansion, or paying off a building expansion. The need for additional facilities means that at some point the church has been healthy, serving more people than it ever has served before.

We like to measure churches by their buildings. Structures are easy to see. Paul points us toward a more spiritual understanding of church expansion, however, writing at a time when Christians might have had difficulty imagining the kinds of facilities congregations construct today.

As we are reminded in one of our great hymns, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” A church is strong when its people sink themselves into the core truths about Jesus Christ: That he is the promised Messiah; that he is the Son of God, divinity in flesh among us; that he died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected from the dead; that he rules over all creation and will return in full one day to set this broken world aright.

We lay a solid foundation in what we preach, teach and practice. The Holy Bible, the Holy Spirit-inspired word of God, acts as our blueprint. In terms of programs, worship style, dress, decor and architecture, we may look different from congregation to congregation, but that’s okay, as long as our churches remain rooted in who Jesus is.

Take Jesus out of the plans, and we are quickly in danger of being some sort of club rather than a church. As we work to adapt to a rapidly changing society, it’s okay, perhaps even essential, that we shift in our outward appearance. But we must offer the world Jesus and the values that naturally flow from a relationship with him.

Heavenly Father, help us to build well for the future. Whatever the church becomes, may it always be so holy that it stands beautifully in your refining fire. Amen.

A Growing List

2 Peter 1:2-11 (NLT)

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.

So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

By Chuck Griffin

At the core of the above passage is a spiritual to-do list, a way to grow as a Christian. Each item is strengthened by something else on the list, with the ultimate goal of experiencing a strong, unshakable faith.

Moral excellence, or goodness, undergirds great faith and has to do with whether we choose what God would choose in the same circumstances. But how do we know how to choose?

Well, knowledge helps to prop up moral excellence. The Lord has revealed much to us in the Holy Bible, even if it does sometimes take a little effort and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to tease the information out. What a gift: thousands of years of holy revelation at our fingertips!

Why do we fail to dig out what we need? We have trouble staying focused. We lack self-control. The painful distractions and immediate pleasures of this world draw us away from the rich rewards available to us in the Bible and through direct contact with God in prayer.

Patient endurance marks the beginning of self-control. We see the fiery darts of the enemy coming at us, but regardless of whether and where they stick, we know we can keep moving forward as Christians because God is with us. And if we find ourselves passing through Vanity Fair, we don’t slow down, for we know our real destination.

If that previous paragraph was confusing, I just went all “Pilgrim’s Progress” on you. If you haven’t read it, you really should try it.

Godliness supports endurance, of course. This is a little different from the “goodness” or “moral excellence” that develops down the road in this spiritual journey. At this stage, there is a simple desire to please God, springing from the warmth that is felt when in fellowship with other Christians.

And the beginning of all of this is love. We understand true love when we first comprehend what God has done for us. “For God so loved the world … .” We didn’t deserve God’s love; maybe those around us should receive love regardless of what they deserve, too.

And don’t miss the promise Peter made: “Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Seems to me like we have a to-do list worth doing.

Lord, thank you for the guidance Peter and other conduits of your holy word offer us. May we grow as we live the lives of disciples. Amen.

Continuing

John 8:31-38 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word.  I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”


By John Grimm

As of right this moment, as we are reading this devotion, we are continuing in Jesus’ word.  It takes our time to read the Bible.  It takes our effort to study the words so we can know how free we are in Jesus. 

Over the span of our lifetime, as we continue in Jesus’ word, we can live lives free from sin.

Continuing in Jesus’ word is not only a reference to making time to study the Bible.  Verse 38 points to the fact that our doing what we have heard from the Father is included in the method of continuing in Jesus’ word.  When we know Jesus’ word, we are free from sin and free to obey the Father. This obedience to the Father means we can live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus’ word.  Through Jesus, you have given us freedom from sin.  Show us in Jesus’ word how we can do what we have heard from you.  Guide our steps as Jesus’ disciples so we can know and live the truth that sets us free.  In the name of Jesus, we can be obedient to you.  Amen.

Division

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “A Straightforward Declaration.” It will be based on Mark 8:27-38. 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:

Luke 12:49-56

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”


By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday, we considered the very exclusive claim Jesus made regarding who he is. That exclusive claim obviously can cause division, something Jesus made clear in our reading from Luke today.

After a reading like that, I suppose I should begin with some comforting words.

Yes, God is love. Yes, grace is freely given. Our God is a patient God, doing all he can to draw lost people to him. Forgiveness and the gift of eternal life are being poured out on us in buckets, despite so many people standing under umbrellas of cynicism.

That said, at this point in Luke, Jesus has clearly gone apocalyptic on us. He uses language designed to remind us of the terrible suffering and sacrifice necessary to make all that grace and love possible. And ultimately, we are reminded that we are called to choose sides in a great cosmic battle, with no regard to what our choice may cost us in this life.

Jesus’ apocalyptic language forces Christians to consider our core beliefs. Fire and baptism are purification words. Jesus was saying that despite his lack of sin, he would go through the purifying fire of crucifixion for us, and that ultimately all of creation will be purified through this act. Humans can actually choose where to stand in all of this—with what is pure and what will remain forever, or with the dross to be burned away.

The great gift of the cross is that we now have a choice. Before, we were all just dross, lacking the purity to be in God’s presence.

I think even Christians struggle with some of this tough language because we confuse adherence to the truth with being judgmental. Clearly, it is God’s business to judge, not ours. My own personal approach to this is to be as laissez-faire (libertarian) in my approach to the secular world as possible, while at the same recognizing that the church in which I choose to live establishes higher standards based on Christ’s teachings. Included in those teachings is a demand that we clearly tell others who Jesus is.

This approach doesn’t satisfy everyone who claims membership in a church. As we discussed yesterday, some would like to dilute or explain away Christ’s very exclusive claims in Scripture regarding his identity, along with related concepts like the importance of a literal resurrection.

This approach does, however, let us focus on messages that have helped Christianity spread cross-culturally for nearly two millennia. Let’s consider those messages:

Christ is the answer. By that, we mean Christ stands at the apex of a sweeping story that answers all the big questions in life, questions like “Is there meaning to life,” “Why do we suffer,” and “Is there more than just this life?”

Being Christian makes you different. Welcome to a great countercultural movement, the one that challenged the most powerful empire on earth and continues to challenge worldly thinking today. It is a movement that truly changed the world, declaring early on that people are the same under Christ regardless of gender, color or social status. Yes, the body of believers can behave like clusters of big institutions, and yes, Christians often fail to act like Christ, but this differentiating truth remains.

There is clear guidance from God available to us. People are craving something to help them steer their lives.  They want something they can trust, something not likely to blow about in the ever-changing social wind. The Bible is God’s long-standing revelation to humanity. Even the newest material in it is nearly 2,000 years old. Its truths about God and how God wants to relate to humanity have served people well in a wide variety of eras and cultures.

Not everyone will agree with these basic messages. Some people, maybe people in your own homes, will become angry upon hearing them, turning on you or at least turning their backs on you.

That’s okay. Jesus said it would happen. He also said he would make it all right in the end. Look it up.

Lord, help us to establish peace wherever we go, unless that peace would force a denial of who you are and what you are doing in this world. Amen.

The Wise and Foolish Builders, Pt. 2

Luke 6:46-49 (HCSB)

46 “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

In last Tuesday’s devotional, we learned that the difference between the wise and foolish builders is not what they know, but how they act based on what they know. The wise builder builds on a solid foundation, which represents the teaching of Jesus. The foolish builder serves as a metaphor for ignoring the teaching of Jesus, building his house on sand.

In our focus text for today, we find a slight variation on this teaching of Jesus, although he once again underscores the importance of people coming to him, listening to his teaching and then following through on the instruction they receive.

I have a hard time believing someone would build a house without a foundation, but we do have many people around us who have either chosen to build their lives with no foundation or at best a sandy foundation. Some people have built their lives on their personal careers, their wealth, their position in society, their kids or their fame.  Such lives are in constant danger of collapsing.   

As John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was prone to remind us, not all who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ are doing the will of God.

We can deceive others about our faith journey, but we cannot deceive Jesus.  Christ makes it clear that just as a tree is known by its fruit, people will be known by their actions. (Matthew 7:15-23.) Christ warns us that he will shock people when he tells them he never knew them.  People who talk about heaven or appear pious don’t necessarily belong to the Kingdom of God.  Other humans see what we display outwardly, but God sees every heart, and nothing is hidden from God’s all-seeing eyes. 

While there may not be immediate noticeable differences in our lives when we follow Christ, if we are truly building on the right foundation, the genuineness of our faith will be revealed with time.  

Help us heavenly Father to build on Jesus Christ the Solid Rock. Holy Spirit, teach us to build on Jesus the foundation of our faith with the right materials that will withstand the test of time and the challenges that will come along our journey. May we be fruitful and faithful to the end so that when our time here on earth comes to an end, we can hear you say to us, well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master. We pray with confident assurance in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

The Wise and Foolish Builders, Pt. 1

Matthew 7:24-27 (HCSB)

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

The world’s tallest building, The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is a staggering 2,716.5 feet tall, more than half a mile high. It easily overshadows the previous tallest building, the Taipei 101 in Taipei, which stands at 1,671 feet.  The Burj Khalifa is nearly double the height of the Empire State Building in New York City. 

While most people are intrigued with the height of the building, perhaps what lies buried beneath the building should attract more attention.  Without a solid foundation, the world’s tallest building would be a disaster waiting to happen.  The foundation for the Burj Khalifa extends 164 feet under the building itself and includes 59,000 cubic yards of concrete weighing over 120,000 tons.  It took a year just to build the foundation.

What is a foundation, and why is it important?  In one sense, it can be described as the lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground.  It is usually a stone or concrete structure that supports a building from underneath. When developing skyscrapers, the building type, design and soil type, along with some other variables, will determine the type of foundation used.

Thankfully, the word of God is a one-size-fits-all type of foundation for the church and all its believers within.

In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 -7, Jesus wraps up his teaching with a careful warning.  He uses the analogy of building a house to identify two different sets of people, the wise builder and the foolish builder, one who ends up with a sturdy house, and one who ends up with a heap of rubble.

As we can infer from the passage, both kinds of builders experience the same set of life circumstances—the rain falls, rising rivers causing floods, and blowing winds pound all the houses. These situations represent the different trials and tribulations that we will all face in this world. Yet, the house built on solid ground, which represents faithful and consistent practice of the teaching of Jesus, remains standing, while the house built on sand collapses because the builder failed to put into practice the wise teachings of Jesus. 

When it comes to the word of God, we always have two sets of people–those who merely hear, and those who hear and do. James, the half-brother of Jesus, tells believers, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” (James 1:22.)

Whatever we become in life is a function of how we faithfully put into practice the teaching of Jesus and the lessons from Scripture. God created us for a purpose, to do his will and bring him glory in all that we do.

It is one thing to listen to or be familiar with the teaching of Jesus and another thing to practice it. We build a life that will endure vicissitudes when we follow through on what Jesus commands. Half obedience is disobedience. 

Our lives are defined by how much of God’s word truly lives in us and what we do with it.  In John 15:7, Jesus tells us, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.”

The word of God contains nuggets of truth that will help us in our journeys through life.  Are you a wise builder or a foolish builder? Perhaps today is a good time to reflect on what represents the foundation of your life–the constantly changing culture or the settled teaching of Jesus. We cannot have it both ways. 

Our Father in heaven, thank you for your Son Jesus, who represents your wisdom and the solid rock on whose teaching the wise build. Help us to demonstrate our love for Jesus and affirm his lordship over our lives as we consistently practice his teaching, even when it is unpopular to do so. May we not just be hearers but also doers of your word. This we ask in Jesus’ holy name. Amen. 

Love and Truth

2 John (NLT)

This letter is from John, the elder.

I am writing to the chosen lady and to her children, whom I love in the truth—as does everyone else who knows the truth—because the truth lives in us and will be with us forever.

Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love.

How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded.

I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward. Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work.

I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete.

Greetings from the children of your sister, chosen by God.


By Chuck Griffin

While we call them “books of the Bible,” some of those books really are just short letters. Second John is printed in its entirety above.

The “chosen lady” likely is a personification of the recipient church, with her “children” being the members of that church. The last line of the letter seems to confirm this, showing the letter’s author wrote from a “sister” church.

I have a particular fondness for this letter because it emphasizes the nature of Christian love. Yes, we are to be very open and giving with our love. This agape love for each other does not mean, however, that we forget to first love God. We love God by obeying what he commands of us in Scripture and telling the truth about those commands to others.

Even in Christianity’s earliest days, the church struggled with deceivers, with “antichrists,” people who pose as bringers of a holy message but who actually are looking out for their own unholy interests. They will deny the reality of the resurrection; they will deny other teachings clearly communicated in the New Testament about God’s expectations of us.

No doubt, such deceivers will be with us until Christ returns in full. John the Elder could have written this letter to any of our churches today.

Love and truth walk hand in hand. In fact, it is a very unloving thing to deceive people about God’s expectations for his followers, or to allow these deceptive teachings to happen in the midst of Christian fellowship. Too much is at stake.

Lord, help us to discern clearly what is being spoken in the midst of our congregations, testing what we hear against the revelation found in your Holy Bible. Amen.

The Full Experience

Psalm 84:10-12

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

As short as Psalm 84 is, I want to focus on just the closing verses today. Nothing blesses us like the presence of God. Absolutely nothing.

If we could fully grasp this truth and live it out each day, most of our problems would vanish. Idolatry in all its forms, ancient and new, would be a thing of the past. Making a list of priorities would be the simplest act we would ever undertake.

The briefest moment in God’s full presence would transcend time and space, giving us a sense of what eternity is really all about. The substance of our more mundane moments would be altered in ways we can barely imagine.

No wonder the psalmist is willing to simply hang out near the door. Such proximity to God offers safety, as evil will never come near such a place. The tents of wickedness are lovely, even beautiful, but what is inside them is the opposite of what’s across that threshold.

The temple this psalm evokes is gone, but we don’t need it anymore. The presence of God is available in those places God has said we will be met: in prayer, in God’s holy word, in worship and in fellowship with committed Christians. God’s Spirit inhabits all these places, awaiting us.

Don’t just stand at the threshold. Step in!

Lord, may this season of Lent renew our desire to be in your presence, a possibility made so easy by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Merry Christmas!

Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Ready

Occasionally, a piece of Scripture is so clearly instructional that a preacher or a devotional writer mostly needs to get out of its way and let the original author continue doing his holy work.

Ephesians 6:10-17 is one of those texts. I’ll offer a few starter questions here and there, but please, take time to meditate on the words and hear what they say to you. What a great way to start a work week during a difficult year!

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Do we genuinely believe we can draw strength from God? It’s not difficult to see God as simultaneously mighty and inaccessible. How do we know his power is fully available to us?

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

We tend to imagine other humans when we think of our enemies. How does it affect our outlook when we acknowledge there are unseen powers at work around us, and that these powers are the real enemy?

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

Are we bothered by the idea of this being a “battle”? What do warlike images say to us about the focus and commitment required of every Christian? How does God’s armor differ from our own?

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

These verses continue the battle imagery, but we also need to think about them more literally. How will truth-telling, truth-seeking, and the pursuit of righteousness improve our chances in this world?

Does the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection give us lasting peace? If not, have we considered the story from start to finish recently?

When faced with evil, do we first trust that our faith in Jesus Christ is enough to protect us? Do we have a sense of assurance about our faith that gives us great confidence?

And lastly, do we know and trust God’s word enough that we are confident we can use it to defeat evil?

Dear Lord, thank you for reminding us that we are a people fully equipped to face whatever might come our way. Help us to be a people who trust and tap into the power you offer us every day, making a difference for your kingdom. Amen.