Psalm 118: Meditation 3

Psalm 118 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

Psalms have a timelessness to them—while they are clearly rooted in a particular era, they also evoke situations that remain very current.

The timing of my reading of Psalm 118 came right on the heels of my looking at the Reuters news site, where there were photo essays on the devastation in Ukraine, particularly in the destroyed city of Mariupol. As you might expect, these words from the psalm leaped out:

All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
    they blazed like a fire of thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

The analogy is not perfect, of course. Ukraine faces an evil attack by just one nation, although the military strength of Russia exceeds what the psalmist was imagining by an order of magnitude I cannot begin to calculate.

And yet, the Ukrainians thus far have managed, while incurring terrible losses, to cut their attackers off. Looking at the photos of their funeral scenes, there is little doubt they have rooted themselves in their faith as they suffer. Of course, the great irony is that their attackers try to justify their acts through the pronouncements of their very nationalized church, which has managed to destroy its credibility in just a few weeks, in the midst of the holiest days in the Christian year.

As psalms often do, these words guide us to a prayer, this one for the Ukrainians: “Lord, be their strength and might; Lord, be their salvation.”

As the psalm continues, there is a victory song, and we certainly pray that all people under siege will be able to sing it one day soon. This can, however, also be a very personal moment for the reader of this psalm.

We all find ourselves under siege from time to time because of temptation. Again, we must rely on the Lord’s strength and might, on God’s freely given salvation.

When we overcome that temptation—when we move toward righteousness not through our own strength, but through what God has granted us—we should sing those glad songs of victory.

Lord, may your strength and might be more readily observable in this world. Move us toward a time when right clearly is seen as right and wrong vanishes because we have lost all desire for it. Amen.

Words to Strengthen

Revelation 2:8-11 (NLT)

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.”

By Chuck Griffin

The Book of Revelation features messages from our risen Christ to seven churches in various states of spiritual formation or decline. The church at Smyrna, located in what is now Turkey, was spiritually strong but heavily persecuted.

As I read this, my mind goes to the power of supportive words. Imagine a direct word from Jesus telling you to persevere—stick with it—hold fast to your beliefs! Even a tortured soul could weather any storm, knowing the promise of eternal life.

It’s amazing how God shows up in the small places, too. I was grumpy (again) on a recent Sunday morning. There’s no need to go into what made me grumpy, as it was silly, certainly nothing along the lines of the big threats the Christians at Smyrna were facing. But I do know this: It’s not good for a pastor to be grumpy right before preaching time.

Words from God snapped me out of it. Not words from the Bible, but words on the side of a black pencil, one I had snatched up in haste from a random spot to mark my pulpit Bible. As I laid it down, these words, printed in gold, stared up at me: “REMEMBER: GOD LOVES YOU!”

I took a deep breath, and I knew things were going to be okay.

I am grateful for that little pencil, and the person who had the wisdom to order that phrase to go on it and its No. 2 box mates.

A couple of days later, I was again feeling stressed, this time over a critically important meeting. While waiting, I picked up the mail from the day before, and among the bills and advertisements was a note from two friends offering me words of encouragement.

During that meeting, the note was in my shirt pocket, a token of God’s love passed along by others.

The Bible is full of encouragement, sometimes carried into the world by angels. But don’t be surprised if a pencil or a friend steps in to deliver the message of God’s love when you need it the most.

Lord, thank you for the way grace flows into our lives in surprising ways. Keep us mindful of our role in channeling your love to those in need. Amen.

A Grouchy Psalm

Psalm 120 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.
Rescue me, O Lord, from liars
    and from all deceitful people.
O deceptive tongue, what will God do to you?
    How will he increase your punishment?
You will be pierced with sharp arrows
    and burned with glowing coals.

How I suffer in far-off Meshech.
    It pains me to live in distant Kedar.
I am tired of living
    among people who hate peace.
I search for peace;
    but when I speak of peace, they want war!

By Chuck Griffin

Spend some time reading and praying the psalms, and you will soon notice that there seems to be at least one for every situation.

Psalm 120 is a good example. This psalm oozes with grouchiness, a vocal complaint from someone who has grown tired of the deceit around him. Traditionally, this psalm is attributed to David, written when he was under attack by fellow Israelites and forced to live among foreigners.

The psalmist craves a life among peaceful people, people who say what they mean and mean what they say, with no calculated corruption of what God has revealed to be holy and right. When he declares these deceptive tongues will be pierced by sharp arrows and burned by hot coals, his desire for revenge becomes clear.

We’ve all been there, some of us pretty recently. Tolerance is a powerful, Christ-like virtue. But it doesn’t take long for mere humans to become angry when we realize the people we have long tolerated are themselves intolerant, actively working to obfuscate God’s revealed truth.

When we’re feeling such anger, there is nothing wrong with praying this psalm out loud. Just keep that prayer in perspective. The psalmist doesn’t speak of arrows he will launch and burning coals he will impose on these people. Instead, he uses them as symbols of the punishment that God will deliver.

We take comfort in the great promise that the righteous will be rewarded, while the deceitful and manipulative will reap what they have sown.

Our main task in troubled times is to stay right with God. Just keep taking it all to the Lord.

Dear Lord, give us Christ-like demeanors in times of strife, and continue to offer us your grace when we are burdened with anger. Amen.

From Lament to Joy

Book of Lamentations

By Chuck Griffin

No doubt, we’ve been experiencing tough times. It’s not much consolation, but we do need to remember that times have been tougher.

In the Book of Lamentations, the Promised Land is depicted as smoking ruins, and we are told that starving mothers ate their children. Never forget that the Bible can be a grisly book.

As Lamentations notes, at least the destruction of sinful Sodom and Gomorrah was quick. Jerusalem’s punishment for disobeying God was slow and agonizing, creating scenes that even the seedier side of Hollywood might hesitate to depict.

Jewish tradition holds that this series of poems was written by the prophet Jeremiah, who warned the people of Judah that God’s punishment was coming and then watched invasion, destruction and exile unfold through his long life.

I cannot fully capture for you the somber beauty of these poems in a short article. If the imagery were not crafted with elegant conciseness, most readers would quickly turn away from the dark subject matter.

In these poems, the author twists in pain as he struggles to reconcile God’s obvious anger with God’s faithful love.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness,” says the writer in chapter 3. He later says of God, “Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”

Yes, when God removes his protective hand from a disobedient people, terrible things happen. Existence without God is hellish. In fact, the best way to define hell is as a place separated from God.

But in the midst of all this horror, the author senses one important fact about God. His love for humanity, even for each individual human, remains, and somehow, somewhere, there must be an ultimate solution to the pain sin causes.

Once again, we find the Old Testament pointing toward the New Testament, that record of the ultimate solution found in Jesus Christ. We are reminded in the midst of suffering that God finally chose to suffer with us, in the process using the cross to solve the dilemma of human disobedience. Through simple belief, our sin is erased, and we receive the promise that the horrible effects of sin will be wiped from the world one day.

At the close of Lamentations, the author prays that his people be restored to God, “unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.”

In Christ, we find that God loves us beyond measure. With Christ in our lives, we can walk through tough times with confidence and even joy, knowing God is eternally faithful.

Lord, whatever our circumstances, restore our joy. Amen.

Confusing to Satan

Philippians 1:12-19 (NRSV)

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.

By Chuck Griffin

The words of Paul we find in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God,” were more than just an idea to the apostle. He saw them come true in his own tribulations.

Paul suffered mightily during his service to the Lord, and by the time he was writing to the church at Philippi, he was in prison. And yet, he was able to observe the effect his faithfulness continued to have on those around him, even those charged with keeping him imprisoned.

It’s a story repeated throughout the history of the church. Some who are against Christ attack those who stand for Christ, and the faith exhibited by those brave, Spirit-filled Christians makes strong disciples out of weak ones and believers out of skeptics. Somewhere in their minds, these witnesses to the suffering look at those under attack and think to themselves, “I want what they have.”

These moments surely send Satan into a frenzy. Just when he thinks he has those Christians where he wants them—just when they should be in despair—the Holy Spirit works through them, and he loses more of his minions to the dawning Kingdom of Heaven.

Even those who preach Christ with wrongheaded motives can end up doing good. The growing presence of the kingdom is inexorable. It will not be stopped, and it continues to creep into the world in the oddest ways.

Well, Jesus did tell us the kingdom would be like yeast, eventually permeating the whole loaf.

Lord and Savior, work your way more deeply into our lives so we may withstand any time of trial and draw others to you. Amen.

Dodging the Cross

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: Mark 8:27-38


By Chuck Griffin

Like most preachers,  I tend to mention God’s grace a lot. This makes sense; the fact that God loves us despite our sinfulness serves as the basis of salvation.

Grace is a heart-warming joy. We need to remember, however, that while God gives us grace freely, grace is by no means cheap, having been purchased at a terrible price.

Grace comes to us primarily through Jesus Christ, of course. In Mark 8:27-38, Jesus speaks in no uncertain terms about its price.

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter has the good sense to declare Jesus to be Messiah.

Jesus then begins to teach his followers exactly what this means. As Messiah, Jesus must suffer, be rejected by religious authorities, be killed, and rise from the dead.

Peter cannot stand it. He goes so far as to rebuke Jesus for saying such things.

“Get behind me, Satan!” is Jesus’ response. “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Despite his moment of brilliance, Peter has proven to be wilfully blind to the cross in Jesus’ future. Informed of the cross, he still refuses to see it. To Peter, half the story is better than the whole story; he wants the joy of Christ’s presence and power without the pain required to redeem the world from sin.

Even after hearing Jesus’ teachings on this matter, the disciples still refuse to understand. They never understand until after Jesus’ resurrection.

Modern Christians, myself included, are so often like the pre-resurrection disciples that I want to cringe. We like grace and the warm, secure feeling it provides us. Now, if we could just avoid the idea of the cross.

It’s particularly difficult because Jesus spoke not only about his own cross, but the cross his followers must bear, too. Our cross usually proves to be more metaphorical, but we hardly find it more pleasant to consider.

But can the requirements of a Christian be any more clear? “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus says, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

When Jesus says “deny themselves,” he is telling us to set aside our own worldly interests. When he tells us to take up our cross, he is telling us to make God’s will, the establishment of his kingdom on earth, our top priority.

Such thinking turns our lives upside down. Suddenly, even our own well-being does not matter so much as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbors as if their interests precede our own.

Fortunately, such thinking also turns the world upside down. And the more we think this way, the more visible God’s kingdom becomes.

We may even learn to like our cross, understanding it to be the proper response to the sacrifice Christ made on his cross.

Lord, show us our crosses, and may we bear them in gratitude for the eternal life we have received. Amen.


The editor of Methodist Life’s Lifetalk blog will be on vacation through the end of October, so the blog will be on hiatus, too.

What’s in Your Cabinet?

By Chuck Griffin

This Sunday’s worship at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be different, focusing specifically on healing. A formal Service of Healing, including communion and anointing with oil, seems appropriate as we continue to make our way through a pandemic that is impacting the world in so many ways. Of course, we have to acknowledge that because of the pandemic, many people will not be comfortable attending in person. The service will be viewable online.

If you would like someone’s name placed on the prayer rail during the service, simply email me, and I will make sure that happens.

Today’s Preparatory Bible Passage

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)


Cake and ice cream. Shoes and socks. Salt and pepper. Wife and husband. Sticks and stones, and their modern cousins, bats and balls. Or to quote Forrest Gump, “Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.”

There are many things in the world that can function alone, but that work better in conjunction with something else.

Let’s add this to the list: medicine and faith.

If we are to seek healing, we need to understand both are gifts from God. God pours his love into the world, and through faith some are reunited with the source of eternal life. God pours his knowledge and wisdom into the world, and some are so mentally blessed by the gift that from generation to generation, humans are better able to alleviate suffering.

A friend recently told me about a grandmother who kept her medicine cabinet stocked, but who also kept an empty bottle there labeled “Faith.” It was her reminder to get a dose of everything she needed to be well.

People of the Bible had little in the way of medicine and relied heavily on faith. We have so much in the way of medical care that we sometimes treat faith as an afterthought. Does this conversation sound familiar?

Friend: “I’m so sorry you’re suffering. What can I do for you?”

Suffering person: “Well, not much, really. Just pray for me.”

In this hurting world, we Christians should prayerfully pursue healing with the same kind of determination that dedicated doctors, nurses and researchers employ in their daily lives. Where healing is concerned, we all have God-given roles, and those roles work together for the betterment of those around us.

Lord, may we see an outbreak of healing, the kind of events that declare your kingdom is present. Amen.

What Miracles Accomplish

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Demons and Deafness.” It will be based on Mark 7:24-37. 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 18:27

[Jesus] replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”


By Chuck Griffin

Why might we seek a miracle?

We do pray for miracles, particularly when lives seem to be in jeopardy. As we move toward Sunday, however, we need to consider the purpose of miracles.

If we seek miracles strictly to bypass suffering or impending grief, we likely are missing their larger point. Certainly, when we are praying over an immediate, very personal crisis, our minds might not be processing broad theological concepts. But that is simply an argument for thinking about such matters in calmer moments, so we can better understand what it is we are seeking when times of crisis come.

An important fact to remember: As far as we know, every person Jesus healed from illness, brought out of a tomb or raised from a deathbed or funeral bier died later. If we look at these miracles simply as stories of what these people escaped, then Jesus’ work had temporary effects.

Miracles do so much more, however. First, they are evidence of God’s presence in a world where we otherwise see things as if “in a mirror, dimly,” to quote Paul. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) For just a moment, divine possibilities shine through, and the presence of the dawning Kingdom of God is easily, if briefly, seen.

Miracles were signs of God’s presence in Jesus. Miracles are signs of God’s presence in the church, by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

We also should understand that miracles come with responsibilities, both for their recipients and their witnesses. Someone needs to testify as to what has happened!

Belief also should naturally spread in the wake of miracles. It is a response we see throughout the Bible. God is seen, and therefore, people change their lives dramatically as they begin to believe.

Lord, we are not afraid to pray for miracles, and we pledge to testify to what we have seen as we receive them. May lives be changed! 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.

The Woolly Jesus

Revelation 1:9-18 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

Life seldom goes as planned. In fact, I wonder if life ever goes as planned.

A few years ago, I read an Associated Press obituary about a pilot named Denny Fitch. Back in 1989, he was riding home in an empty seat on a United Airlines DC-10 bound for Chicago.

While in the air, the tail engine on the jet exploded. Shrapnel from the engine sliced through all three of the jet’s hydraulic systems. When Denny heard the explosion, he made his way to the cockpit to see if the flight crew needed any help—after all, he also was a flight instructor for United.

Turns out they needed the help. They pretty much had lost all control of the plane, except for one option: They could make the jet go up and down, left and right by increasing and decreasing power to the remaining wing engines. Denny sat down in the only available space, the floor, and helped steer a jet carrying 300 people in this crude manner toward Sioux City airport, their best option. That’s where the jet crashed, but in a somewhat controlled manner; half the people on board survived.

In an interview for a documentary, Denny talked about the unpredictability of life: “What makes you so sure you’re going to make it home tonight? I was 46 years old the day I walked into that cockpit. I had the world ahead of me. I was a captain on a major airline. I had a beautiful healthy family, loving wife, great future. And at 4 o’clock I’m trying to stay alive.”

That’s how life goes. Bad things happen in a broken world where sin and its biggest effect, death, still have a hold. I’m not sure which is more disconcerting, the evil humans inflict on each other or the evil that just happens because some force of nature like wind or fire smacks us down. Both can make us question God’s presence. We all experience events throughout our lives that can wear us down.

It’s hard to make it to adulthood without losing to death someone you love. And then there are the other pains we experience. We love someone but are not loved back. Our careers jump the tracks, despite how hard we work. We feel like we’re careening out of control.

Whoever he was, John, the John who wrote down what we now call the book of Revelation, must have felt he was careening. We don’t know much about him, but he tells us he was persecuted. He was on the island of Patmos in exile because he had professed belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But then he saw the woolly haired Jesus, and everything changed. His suffering and his disappointments had context.

John’s vision of Jesus was different than our Gospel-inspired images. “I saw one like the Son of Man,” John writes, “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.”

Don’t be too literal when reading Revelation, but don’t discount the power of symbolic speech, either. This is the glorified Jesus, the post-resurrection Jesus. This is humanity blended with deity, pure and holy. Power, strength and authority radiate from the Savior.

This vision, and other visions in John’s Revelation, remind us that the world is not out of control, even if it seems so for a time. Christ came for a reason, to set the world right. His resurrection is the first sign of the work being done today, the restoration and healing of the world.

And Christ will be seen again.

Lord Jesus, Maranatha. Come Lord, come. Amen.