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.

What Must Be Done

Ezra 9:5-9 (NRSV)

At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,

“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.”


By Chuck Griffin

Ezra dropped to his knees to do what must be done from time to time, to do what the people as a whole had failed to do. He repented and sought forgiveness.

Because of their sins, God’s chosen people found themselves enslaved, their way of life decimated. But a glimmer of hope had appeared, the potential to rebuild what had been a glorious temple. And yet, Ezra observed, the people of Israel continued to defy God.

The specific sin causing Ezra grief sounds strange to us today. The Israelites were to be a people set apart, a lesson in holiness to all the world. But instead they had begun to intermarry with the people around them, in the process adopting other gods and unholy practices. The real problem was that they had moved away from God and toward idolatry.

The principle remains the same for us. We are to search for what pleases God and what displeases God, practicing the former and avoiding the latter. Our Holy Bible gives us our baseline for understanding sin, something our broken minds cannot sort out on their own. In our New Testament, we receive refined guidance about sin from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working within the early Christian church.

Ignoring this guidance brings grave danger. Our best response is to search our actions and even our thoughts to see where we may deviate from what God desires. We truly practice a religion of the heart.

Such an examination of ourselves should lead us where Ezra went—on our knees, in a state of repentance. Living much later than Ezra in God’s grand story of redemption, we know that because of the work of Jesus Christ, forgiveness, change and hope lie ahead.

A call to such piety is not popular, I know. Sadly, there are people among us who have established themselves as preachers while preaching the opposite.

Their opinions do not change the word of God, however, and they do not remove the need for thoughtful searching of our souls and serious repentance.

Lord, reveal to us through your holy word and directly in prayer where we displease you, and then show us a better way. Amen.

That Terrible Step to Come

We continue to walk with Jesus this Holy Week toward Good Friday and the cross.

John 12:20-36 (NRSV)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.


By Chuck Griffin

During the week that culminated in Jesus’ crucifixion, signs of what was about to happen were everywhere. At the time, only Jesus could see them.

Note how oddly Jesus acted when Greeks arrived seeking him. Rather than welcoming them, he began to speak of obedience, service and death. Eventually, he hid from the crowds for a while.

Jesus knew that while his earthly ministry was designed to bring salvation to the whole world, it mostly was to occur among his own Jewish people. It would be the role of the post-resurrection, Holy Spirit-empowered church to reach the world beyond Judaism. The arrival of Gentiles from a distant place made it clear crucifixion was unavoidably near. 

Jesus’ cryptic talk of being “lifted up” also triggered questions among the common people, who were expecting an invulnerable warrior king to take charge.

How could one anointed and glorified by God, the one we now understand to be God in flesh, die such a horrible, humiliating death? Over time, Christians have gotten used to the idea of the bloodied Jesus hanging on a cross, but we have to admit the image is strange, particularly to people not raised in the faith.

To answer the question raised by the crowd, it is necessary to explore the design of salvation, and that means we delve into a mystery too complex for us to understand in full, at least in this life. Jesus’ answer, rooted in “light” and “darkness,” gives us insight, however.

For all practical purposes, the Son of Man mounted a rescue mission. Because of our sins, we were trapped in darkness—a place that the Holy God, who is light, had every right to disregard. Out of love, however, he chose not to forget us or destroy us.

Instead, the light entered the darkness to find us, taking on flesh. The title “Son of God” reminds us of his divinity; the title “Son of Man” reminds us of his blessed humanity.

To break the grip sin and death had on us, Jesus had to bear our punishment for sin. Or we might say he had to ransom us from sin. Or we might say he carried our shame. Or we might say he became the one perfect sacrifice for sin, simultaneously priest and slain lamb. These and other descriptions of how atonement works mark the point where the mystery becomes almost unfathomable. We use metaphors to understand what can be grasped in full only by the mind of God.

What’s important is that we believe Christ’s death on the cross is effective, that the divine machinery works even if we cannot comprehend all its cogs and pulleys.

Lord, on this Holy Tuesday we reaffirm our belief that the Son of Man died on the cross, knowing our belief is enough to pull us from darkness into light.

Compromise

John 12:42-43 (NLT): Many people did believe in [Jesus], however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.


These words are part of a longer reading for today found in John 12:36-43. Here we see a continuation of John’s theme that Jesus is the light, and that there is a need to acknowledge and follow the light, a step some took.

There also is mention of those who were unable to believe despite witnessing great signs and miracles.

And then there was this in-between crowd, mentioned in the focus verses above. They believed, but secretly, because open belief might have cost them too much in terms of what they had gained in this world.

These people are sometimes remembered positively in Scripture; a couple of them take on the task of burying Jesus. But most of us, I think, would rather be remembered for being bold.

I suppose we are encountering one way to interpret life. It can be viewed as a series of compromises connecting those purer moments when we follow God to the fullest. The Christian pursuit of holiness would be an effort to avoid compromise.

What we learn from this passage becomes more important each day as the world in which we live becomes increasingly secular. As peers, bosses and leaders frown upon scriptural principles more and more, we may find ourselves wanting to compromise.

I pray we don’t.

Lord Jesus, you were not ashamed to come among us, bringing the light of holiness to a broken world. For our sake, you did not flee a shameful death, despite having the power to do so. We are sorry for the times we compromise; may the Holy Spirit fill us and make us courageous. Amen.

Not Much Has Changed

Daniel 9:1-14

In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying,

“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.

“All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. So the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against you. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers, by bringing upon us a calamity so great that what has been done against Jerusalem has never before been done under the whole heaven. Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us. We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity. So the Lord kept watch over this calamity until he brought it upon us. Indeed, the Lord our God is right in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed his voice.”


It was a different time and a different nation.  Yet, the prayer that Daniel prayed is one that can be prayed by each generation and each nation. 

Daniel’s prayer is called a prayer of confession.  We can have shame upon our nation for we have sinned against God.  From our rulers to even the ones reading this devotion, we all have sinned.  Paul will even remind us in Romans that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.

As Methodist Christians, we realize the importance of repentance.  For when we repent, we are responding to God’s prevenient grace. 

Our confession of our sins, iniquities, and wickedness allows God to give us new birth through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is hard to realize that we have brought calamity upon ourselves.  Yet, thankfully, turning to God in faith we find the forgiveness that he has already prepared for us.

God, we are sinners here in America.  We have not listened to you.  Now, we are listening to you.  We admit we have done wrong by you and our neighbors.  Let us know your forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

When Leaders Fall

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Another prominent Christian leader, this one with powerful political ties, has fallen because of scandal. I don’t need to mention his name, as he and his wife have been in the news for several days now. I should note that he still denies direct involvement in the embarrassing events.

Sadly, such scandals happen much too often, although usually more quietly, playing out in small churches where the flocks experience deep pain. I find myself particularly concerned about the effect these events have on people testing the Christian waters. These seekers of truth are in the church on a regular basis, but their hearts are sometimes just partly committed as they try to sort through the confusing rush of emotions they feel.

Often, their view of God is tightly intertwined with their view of pastors and other key spiritual leaders—Sunday school teachers, deacons, music leaders, youth leaders, counselors, etc. To people standing on the outer edge of the church, when one of these leaders falls, God seems to have stumbled, too.

It doesn’t help when the scandal is public enough that aggressive nonbelievers are able to pounce on the opportunity. These people, wanting to steer others from faith, enjoy whispering of hypocrites and deception in the church, as if they’ve made a remarkable discovery.

From its earliest days, however, the church has been open about the inevitable presence of members with impure motives. Some may simply be genuine followers of Christ who succumb to temptation; others may be wolves among sheep. The New Testament is replete with warnings about such people even rising to prominent positions in the church—for example, see Acts 20:28-31.

As a young man, I personally felt misled when an important Sunday school teacher in my life stole money entrusted to him as part of his profession. I used his failure as an excuse to dodge church involvement for several years. It was easy to adopt an air of youthful cynicism, mutter “bunch of hypocrites” and walk away.

Later, I began to question my cynicism, however. When I enter a hospital, am I surprised to find sick people? Of course not. Then why am I shocked at finding sinners in a church, even occasionally among the leadership? At least some of them were trying to be near the source of healing.

While Christians hope to model Christ’s love and holiness, Christians do not define Christianity. Christ does.

Our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ and his loving, saving, transforming power. When those who claim to follow Jesus fail morally, it is not Christ’s fault, and Christ remains the cure even for fallen church leaders. They probably should not resume the roles they once held, at least not quickly, but through genuine repentance, they still have a place in the body of Christ.

Fallen leaders do provide a useful, if painful, lesson. As I mentioned in yesterday’s devotional, none of us, not one, is worthy to stand before God on personal merit. Only faith in Jesus’ work on the cross makes us holy.

Lord, help us to better pray for those who lead in the church, so they may be sustained by your Holy Spirit for very difficult tasks. Amen.