Conquerors

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC will be “A Piercing Truth,” drawing on Hebrews 4:12-16. If you cannot be with us in person, please join us online live or to watch a recording later.

Today’s Focus Text: 1 John 5:1-6


By Chuck Griffin

This scripture meditation may sound a little old-fashioned.

Lately, a lot of clergy are more prone to talk about new ideas—clever ways to connect with the lost, or new trends in communication, which is all good stuff, of course. We have to remember, however, that the core truth about Jesus Christ doesn’t change. The author of 1 John brings us back to that core.

First, there is belief, specifically believing that Jesus is the Christ, God’s chosen redeemer for the world. In particular, we are to believe Christ’s death on the cross defeated sin, and that the resurrection is both proof of that fact and a promise regarding what is to come.

People come to believe in various ways. It is important for the converted to remember the unconverted may come to Christ in ways we don’t expect. I’m reminded of the story of the man who went to a hotel room to commit suicide, but instead opened a Gideon Bible and met Jesus in its pages.

Another favorite conversion story is of a man sitting in a Chicago church as a worship service opened with a full processional down the center aisle. As the crucifer—for those of you unfamiliar with more formal worship, that’s the person carrying the cross at the top of a long pole—went by, the man said he looked up, saw the cross and believed. No sermon, no prayer, he said. He just knew. Sounds strange to me, but it worked for him.

What is important, of course, is that we come to believe, and then live into our belief.

Belief allows us to be incorporated into a new family, 1 John also tells us. Again, it’s a little old-fashioned sounding, but we are “brothers and sisters.” The family metaphor doesn’t work for everyone. If Momma ran off when you were a baby and Daddy was a drunk, the word “family” probably sounds terrible. We’re supposed to think of the ideal version of family, however.

The author of 1 John goes on. In a healthy family, we abide by certain standards; for Christians, it is the commandments, the Ten Commandments and the other guidance God gives us in Scripture regarding right and wrong. In summing up the law, Jesus kept matters simple. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbors as yourselves. Right remains right, and wrong remains wrong, but love controls how we deal with sin when it is before us.

I thought about how love fits into the conversion equation when I drove by some placard-waving Christians at an intersection. The signs covered a range of issues. One asked God to bless Israel; another said homosexuality is still a sin, while a third noted, “Drunkards shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Sitting at a red light watching them, I was struck by an odd dichotomy. Scripturally they were correct, but from a kingdom-building perspective, being right doesn’t always mean you are helping. They mostly appeared to be an example of like attracting like and repelling those who needed a deeper relationship with Christ. Right (or perhaps simple self-righteousness) was present, but I did not see love offered.

I do like the way we as traditional Methodists handle some of the more difficult issues requiring both law and grace. Human sexuality, for example—we call sin a sin, and we recognize that defiantly unrepentant sinners shouldn’t be leaders. At the same time, however, we acknowledge that in God’s eyes, all people are worthy of grace and need access to that grace through Christian community and worship. It’s a more complicated position than many Christians try to live out, but it’s easy enough to understand, if we try.

Once we get all these core concepts right, there is much to celebrate. As 1 John tells us, there is victory; we win! We conquer the world, ripping it from the grasp of evil and restoring it to its rightful owner. That in itself should be enough to draw people to Christ.

Yes, these ideas are old-fashioned, but in them there is good news, the kind of news that can transform anyone forever.

Lord, keep us grounded in the faith that has sustained the church and changed the world for centuries. Amen.

Salvation Is Free—Stop Slaving!

Luke 15:24b-32 (NRSV)

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

As I mentioned in last Tuesday’s devotion, Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son gives all of us wonderful insight into the loving heart of our heavenly father. He also used the story to remind us of a profound truth. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn God’s grace or to make God love us any better than he already does.  While God would very much prefer that we all live a life that is pleasing to him, he is always willing to extend compassion to those who repent of their sins and return home as the prodigal son did.  

As Jesus continued with the parable, he cleverly reintroduced the older son. Many of us would have conveniently forgotten the older son by this time, but Jesus used him as an object lesson for all of us. Truth be told, not everyone in the church (represented by the 99 righteous sheep that did not stray, as mentioned by Jesus in Luke 15:4-7) rejoices when the lone stray sheep returns. 

We who have been believers for so long can easily forget that our salvation is a gift and not a reward for something we have done. We are sometimes quick to show disdain when God pours out the richness of his grace on others. Even though it is never right, we can sometimes see others as undeserving of God’s grace. 

The older son saw the feasting and merry making and became very angry when he found out the party was for his younger brother. If you were an older sibling who received the news that your long-lost younger brother had returned home, and your father was celebrating his return, how would you react?  

Quite typical of Jesus, he did not leave us guessing and revealed the brokenness in us all, using the older brother as the example. Like the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law that Jesus constantly denounced for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion, the older brother did not want to be part of any celebration or gathering for his renegade younger brother.   As far as he was concerned, he was much better lost. 

Even when the loving father begged him to join the celebration, the older brother refused and castigated their father for his kindness. He displayed a warped sense of entitlement and selfishly wondered why their father had not celebrated his long years of slaving. Like the older brother, there are folks who have the wrong impression that salvation is something we earn through our hard work for God.

As Paul reminds us, “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:9.)

The older brother in this parable, like some of us who are long time followers of Jesus, chose to stay at home not out of love for the father but for self-preservation.  He was slaving to retain his part of the inheritance. Even while he lived with the father at home, the older son, just like the younger son, lived in a distant land. He did not take the time to get to know the heart of the father. He had no relationship with his father and was only slaving daily with the expectation of earning his way into the inheritance when the father passed away. Our salvation is a gift and not dependent on any legalistic keeping of the laws or reward for our hard labor.  

The older son even disowned his younger brother and described him as a bum and scum who had dared to come back home “after squandering” his own share of the inheritance on “prostitutes.” How did he even know how the younger brother lived? 

He could not believe that his father killed the fattened calf for such a reprobate. The older brother, like the pompous Pharisees and teachers of religious law who looked down on sinners that came to be with Jesus, despised his younger brother.

Here is the moral of the parable: All of us have sinned, either in the manner of the older or younger son. We do not deserve eternal life, a gift from our eternal father.

I don’t know about you, but I am thankful that salvation is free. 

Compassionate and loving God, thank you for reminding us through your loving Son that we cannot earn our way to salvation. Help us to labor out of love and not because of what we hope to gain. Grant us compassion for everyone who is struggling with sin today and help us to offer a helping hand when needed. Grant us grace to be like our father in heaven, who is merciful and gracious to all his children without showing favoritism. Amen. 

When the Bottom Falls Out, Part 2

Job 2:6-10 (NLT)

“All right, do with him as you please,” the Lord said to Satan. “But spare his life.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

As noted yesterday, Job had reason to blame God for the calamity that befell him, but the Bible tells us that Job did not blame God. In fact, in the book’s first chapter, Job habitually offered burnt offerings to the Lord just in case his children “sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (see Job 1:5). Job was a worshiper of God. Through his life and response to the unexplainable evil that befell him, he proved himself worthy of the things that God had said about him. 

The Lord who knows the end from the beginning knew that Job would remain steadfast during severe testing and consequently gave Satan permission to once again attack Job, but without taking his life. Satan subsequently struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot and he became a pathetic sight.

To ease the pain of the boils, Job would scrape his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. (Job 2:7-8.) Although we do not have details as to the nature of Job’s illness, it must have so devastating and horrible that even his wife could not bear it anymore. 

While we expect that marriage should be a lifelong experience between the man and the woman until they are parted by death, Job’s wife was done with living with her terribly sick husband, whose sight she could no longer bear. She angrily told him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9.)

Job’s stoic response to his wife demonstrated his unwavering commitment and trust in the Lord: “ ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’  So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.”  (Job 2:10.) Job’s response should make us reflect on our commitment to the Christian journey.

Is our love for the Lord and our faith based on what we get from the Lord? I know some folks who in the face of terrible tragedy, like the loss of a child or spouse, have walked away from God. They could not understand why a God they trusted would allow their child or loved one to die. Is your faith conditional?

When the bottom falls out of your world and you are faced with unexpected tragedy, how will you respond? This reminds me of the response of my late mother to the tragic news of the death of my younger brother Gbenga on Monday Aug. 25, 2003, at the age of 24 years. My mother went to the Mount Carmel Hospital East in Columbus, Ohio, to identify the lifeless body of my brother, and she later shared with me these painful words she had uttered: “Gbenga, your death will not destroy my faith.” 

We all know that as parents, we are not created to bury our own children, but in the face of a most tragic event that she could not understand, my mother testified to her strong faith in the Lord. Of course, my brother’s death rocked our world as a family, but it did not destroy our faith in the goodness of the Lord, who has continued to sustain us almost 18 years after Gbenga’s demise. This same faith has sustained us since my mother, Ibidunni Onabanjo, succumbed to her illness and joined the saints triumphant on Sept. 4, 2012. 

I have no doubt that most if not all of us have experienced painful and devastating events. As Jesus clearly tells us in John 16:33, in this world we are going to face trials and sorrows, but we can hold on to his peace.

How do you respond in the face of tragedy and bad news? Do you blame God or accept the event as part of the consequences of living in a sin-infested and broken world? It is important to note that while we do not have any control over the things that will be done to us or that will happen to us, we have control over how we react and respond to them.

Job, a man described by God as the finest man in all the earth, blameless and of complete integrity, provides a clear example for those of us living the life of faith. He shows us how we should respond in the face of situations that we have no control over.

The question that I often ask myself when I read the Book of Job is, What will God have to say about me? Is my life pleasing to God? Can God boast about me and ask Satan, “Have you noticed my servant ‘Debo?”

Satan had the wrong idea about Job. Even when all his possessions were taken from him, including his ten children, Job worshiped the Lord instead of blaming the Lord. May that be our approach no matter what comes our way.

Loving God, you became heartbroken because of human sin, but out of love you sacrificed your beloved Son to purchase our pardon. In the face of devastating life situations, help us to remain unwavering in our faith like Job.  Help us to be willing to endure pain and suffering as part of our devotion to you and grant us the grace to witness to the strength you alone provide. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

Blameless Before God

Genesis 17:1-2 (NLT)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai— ‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Like any human, Abraham was imperfect, but 24 years after God called him out of his father’s land to the land of Canaan, he was challenged to walk blameless before God.  The Hebrew word tamin, translated as blameless, connotes an upright life, a life of integrity that is flawless and perfect before God.

Noah was described as “a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth” (Genesis 6:9). Noah, like Abraham after him, was far from perfect, but the Bible describes him as someone who walked in close fellowship with God. It was this same life of close fellowship that God called Abraham to. Hundreds of years later, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount told his listeners, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).  This requirement to walk blameless before God has not changed. 

Abraham (then Abram) had character flaws and often displayed a lack of candor when it suited him. He asked his wife to lie so he would not be killed by the Egyptians (Genesis 12:11-13). Abram went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan, but there is no biblical evidence that he consulted God on this move.

After God had promised him a son of his own (Genesis 15:4), Abram and his wife took it upon themselves to follow cultural norms by having Abram sleep with Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian servant, to have a child. Hagar became pregnant and later gave birth to Ishmael, precipitating a crisis in Abram’s household. The after-effects of this poor choice on the part of Abram continues to this day. Like Abram, some contemporary believers do not see anything wrong in telling lies to gain an advantage or sometimes adopting the ways of the world to achieve their goals. 

When we adopt shortcuts like Abraham and Sarah did to meet a deep desire, we are demonstrating a lack of faith in God’s ability to keep his promises. Just as God challenged Abraham to a new way of life in our focus text, God challenges us to abandon the ways of the world.

Paul writes, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). God’s will for us is the same as it was for Abraham. We are to live a life that is blameless and free of sin. 

The only way to walk before God and be blameless is to study his written word and ask for grace to keep to his precepts. God told Joshua, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

Committed to living a blameless life before the Lord, the Psalmist declares, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11).  When Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, he overcame because he was grounded in the word of the Father.  We must note, however, that the devil also quoted from Scripture, taking the words out of context (Matthew 4:1-11). Like Jesus, we must declare and live the truth of Scripture if we are to walk blameless before God. 

I love the way the hymn writer John Sammis challenges us: “When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” 

I have taken it for granted that anyone reading this post desires to walk blameless before the Lord. As we purposely choose to honor God in our lives, we can count on our Lord to deliver on his many promises to us in Scripture.   To be clear, God’s call for us to walk blameless before him has nothing to do with our age.

If Abram was challenged to reconsider his ways at 99 years, God wants anyone reading this to do what is right. Our age does not matter. What matters is living a blameless life before God in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Loving God, you want us to live in close fellowship with you by rejecting what the world often calls acceptable. Grant us power through your ever-present Holy Spirit to walk blameless before you in all our ways. We believe we can do this through Jesus Christ, who alone gives us strength. We pray on the authority of Christ’s name. Amen.

The One Most Offended

This Sunday’s sermon will be a reflection on deep brokenness and the power of God’s grace, considering what we find in both 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and John 6:1-14. If you want to watch the sermon but cannot attend Holston View United Methodist Church, the message will be available online.

Today’s text: Psalm 51:4

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.


By Chuck Griffin

Psalm 51 shows us the three R’s we should hope to experience after sinning: remorse, repentance and restoration. In its introductory header, we are told the psalm reflects what King David felt and cried out after he came to his senses and realized the terrible stench he had become in the nostrils of God.

The fourth verse is particularly enlightening to me. It reminds me that the effects of sin go far beyond human perception. For us, the problem of sin ultimately lies in what God experiences when his creation, made in love, turns against the maker.

When we think of sin, it’s not unusual to consider its effects in human terms, thinking of the people damaged by sin. Certainly, in the 2 Samuel stories tied to this psalm, we’re quick to consider how Uriah lost his wife and his life because of David’s lust and murderous efforts to conceal his shame. It’s also possible to argue that Bathsheba was a victim of power rape.

The losses they experienced certainly should be remembered. When Jesus summarized the law, he placed love of neighbor right up there with love of God for a reason—created as images of God, people matter.

Psalm 51:4 calls us to remember the source of holiness, however. God defines what is holy simply by existing, and as the only all-powerful, uncreated, eternal being, God has the right to immediately destroy that which he finds obnoxious.

How remarkable that we continue to exist! We should be astonished that remorse, repentance and restoration are available to us.

Yes, God truly is love—love is the only divine emotion that could hold the holy hand in abeyance.

Lord, we thank you for your patient love, expressed so clearly when Jesus Christ went to the cross to expunge our sins. Continue to grow us in grace so that sin comes to an end and we live fully in your eternal presence. Amen.

Keeping Our Past in View

Titus 3:3-5 (NLT)

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Vehicles have rearview mirrors for an obvious reason: The driver can see what lies in the immediate past while journeying on. It is more important to keep our focus on where we are heading, which is why I believe the windshield provides such a wide vista compared to the rear-view mirror. But we do need occasional peeks at the past so we can better appreciate where we are and where exactly we are headed. 

I am sure that many of you have heard the saying that “we are all works in progress.” This means that even though we are not where we used to be, we are more importantly not where we need to be. In our focus passage from Paul’s letter to Titus, one of the younger men that he mentored, Paul reminds us of the importance of not forgetting what we were before our rescue.

Paul writes, “Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient.” We were all conceived in sin and born as sinners because sin is a sexually transmittable disease passed down from the first human couple. It would be wishful thinking, however, to assume that those of us who are now believers or born again are no longer disobedient. That would be far from the truth.  

The root cause of our human separation from God was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the instructions given to them by God. If there is anything we have inherited from them, it is our natural bent to go against the instructions that have been handed down to us in Scripture. The United Methodist Church is for all intents and purposes in schism because of human disobedience and the misguided desire to give new meaning to Scripture to align it with the ever-changing cultural norms.  

If you are under any illusion that we are no longer slaves to the desires of our fallen human nature, just take some time to scroll through the social media feeds of some professing Christians. I hope you would agree that a significant number are far from showing they are truly new creatures in Christ. To say that our lives are no longer full of evil and envy and devoid of hatred would be self-deception. Thankfully, while we were yet sinners, God chose to send his beloved Son Jesus to save us—not because of anything good we have done but because of his own kindness. 

As our brother Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, our salvation from beginning to end is due to God’s grace and not because of anything good we have done (Ephesians 2:8-9). To be clear, unbelievers are also beneficiaries of God’s prevenient grace and his blessings (Matthew 5:44-48).

According to John Wesley, “Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God.” This means that even before we acknowledge God, his grace is working in our lives.

While we enjoy grace and sin in common with unbelievers, what I believe separates us from those yet to come to saving faith is our Holy Spirit-inspired response to God’s invitation and our experience of justifying grace. As Paul writes, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1-2). 

We should not boast and attribute our salvation to anything that we have done. As a result, let us stop looking down on unbelievers, thinking we are better than them. The next time you are tempted to look down on unbelievers, take time to look in the rearview mirror of your life and be thankful for God’s grace and the salvific work of Christ on the cross. 

Lord, we thank you for our salvation, which is made possible through your grace from beginning to end. Help us to be humble and not look down on those who are still living far away from you. Use us as carriers of your grace to them as we serve as the hands and feet of your Son Jesus, in whose name we humbly pray. Amen.

Doing What We Hate

By Chuck Griffin

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul takes note of a strange situation Christians will find themselves in from time to time. We continue to sin despite feeling deep revulsion afterward.

Before finding salvation, we sinned in ignorance. After our conversions, we should know better, and yet we ignore what the Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts.

 “I do not understand my own actions,” Paul writes in the seventh chapter of Romans. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

His ensuing meditation, using terms like “sinful flesh” and life “according to the Spirit,” can be a bit confusing to interpret and understand. Think of his argument this way: There is the way the world without Christ worked, and there is the way a world redeemed and restored by Christ works now.

Unfortunately, the old world still creeps in, largely because our not-yet-resurrected bodies still carry within them a brokenness that Christ will one day completely drive out. If we’re not careful, we find ourselves conflicted, doing what we know is wrong, even doing what we hate.

I think most of us instinctively relate to what Paul is saying. For each person, the sin may be different, but its commission inevitably brings a sense of physical sickness, shame, and the question, “Why on earth did I just do that?”

The sin could be as simple as haughtiness or sudden flashes of anger, or as elaborate and dangerously progressive as greed or lust.

Here’s the interesting twist in Paul’s letter: He doesn’t offer some elaborate plan to escape this problem. Instead, he shows us a simple two-step solution.

First, we have to admit our brokenness, in the process giving up what is perhaps one of the great sins of American culture, extreme self-reliance.

“Wretched man that I am!” Paul writes. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Second, remember the one who has saved you, the one who continues to mold you and change you and make you a little more holy each day, if only you will let him.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul writes.

I note in particular that Paul’s statement is celebratory, a reminder that Christ already has defeated Satan and the eternal death he otherwise would impose on us.

We simply have to accept the spoils of a battle already won, the power God grants us through the Holy Spirit to resist sin. Those spoils are there for the taking, stored in Scripture and the direct access we have to God through prayer.

Dear Lord, move us toward consistent and conclusive victory over sin, and let times of temptation be when we turn toward you, not away. Amen.

The Tree I Hope to Be

Luke 6:43-45 (NLT)

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”


By Chuck Griffin

I suspect that James, brother of Jesus and leader of the early church at Jerusalem, had the above words in mind when he wrote, “Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.” (James 3:11-12.)

The way we are on the inside, deep in our souls, will eventually show on the outside through our behaviors. Our inner nature, whatever it may be, cannot remain hidden or pretend to be something else for long.

Few of us would dare claim that what is within us is perfectly pure, and fewer still would be telling the truth. But remember, there are no perfect trees, except those found in Paradise. A tree we would call “good” is one that fulfills its mission year after year, providing abundant, attractive fruit despite the occasional blemish on its trunk or scar within its roots.

Not far from a church building where I once served, there was a rough-looking little apple tree at the edge of a yard, its branches overhanging the road. You wouldn’t think much of it in the winter, but in the late summer and fall, it produced apples galore. When I went for a walk, it practically waved its branches and said to me whenever I passed under it, “Here, have an apple! Please!”

I would take one and eat it as I walked along, and the apple was always very good. It was a faithful little tree, doing its best in a less-than-perfect location, bordered on one side by asphalt and exhaust. I suppose the tree persistently kept reaching for the water and nutrients it needed all those years.

Jesus, James and a particular apple tree I know offer us a straightforward way to measure our Christian lives.

Lord, in our brokenness and infirmities, we can still bear fruit for you. Keep us mindful of where we find sustenance: in prayer, in Scripture, in worship, in fellowship and communion, and in so many other places where you have promised to meet us. Amen.

The Holy City

Revelation 21:22-22:5 (NRSV)

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.


By Chuck Griffin

Biblical visions of eternal life with God are highly symbolic. I do not say that to downgrade our expectations in any way—symbols point us toward an experience greater than what is described.

The images we are given in Revelation certainly lift me up, even knowing they fall short of what we will truly see. In our text today, we are granted a peek at life after a new heaven and earth have come into existence.

Our verses today focus on the vast city at the center of it all. This clearly is a place for those who have taken advantage of God’s unmerited offer of salvation, made possible by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. 

What particularly entrances me is that the holy light of God, shining through the “Lamb,” Jesus, is all anyone needs for seeing. Just as God penetrates our hearts now, the undiluted truth of God will be continually and eternally revelatory, washing through our resurrected senses.

I also love the way the river of life flowing from the throne of God connects this vision in Revelation to the descriptions of Paradise found in Genesis. In a refashioning of what was lost to humanity because of the first sin, multiple versions of the tree of life are there, complete with death-defying fruit and leaves for healing.

I am left asking myself this question: How much of this can we experience now? Even as part of this old earth, we can make the decision to put God as revealed through Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, asking that we see everything with his holy, illuminating truth.

We are not yet invited to eat the fruit that will give eternal life, but we can be bearers of the leaves, offering healing words and actions carefully crafted to draw the lost toward salvation and holiness.

If we choose to do so, perhaps the holy city will seem vaguely familiar when we visit it for the first time.

Lord, we thank you for visions of what is to come. What we will experience will be a beautiful expansion of the gift Christ already has given us on the cross. 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.