Critical Growth

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.


By Chuck Griffin

At this point in Ephesians, Paul has been talking about salvation given to us through Jesus Christ and God’s follow-up to salvation, the provision of the Holy Spirit to believers.

This text takes me back to when I first began to explore “holiness,” that old Methodist concept that to some sounds really demanding, and maybe even highfalutin. It took me a while to figure out how simple and down-to-earth holiness really is.

An old Nazarene preacher helped. I never met him in person, but someone gave me a copy of an obscure book he wrote, and in it I read that holiness simply is a matter of growing in our ability to love as Jesus loves.

It didn’t take long to connect that thought to Paul’s “love is” verses in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

“Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!”

Love is very positive, of course, and we also see love is more than a fuzzy feeling. Love colors our response to all kinds of worldly events, and most importantly, love keeps us rooted in truth. We do have to search for truth, but Christians should know truth is found in what God consistently reveals to each generation regarding the divine plan for humanity, laid out for us in the Holy Bible.

Traditional Methodists find themselves living with a kind of spiritual tension, offering God’s love to all people but never shrinking from our duty to declare what God has first said via Scripture, regardless of how people may respond. We of course hope and pray for a very good response.

We know it actually is a very unloving act to ignore our basic mission. We declare salvation has come; we declare a pressing need to conform to God’s will in every aspect of our lives, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us.

Let’s keep moving toward completeness.

Lord, may the work of the Spirit be something we allow to happen within us every day, and may our love be evidence of your presence. Amen.

Methodism 101

Galatians 5:16-26 (NRSV)

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.


By Chuck Griffin

When it comes to living by the Spirit or succumbing to the desires of the flesh, most of us find ourselves being pulled back and forth. Our hope is that over time, we get so close to the Spirit that the desires of the flesh lose their grip on us.

The fancy Methodist term for the process is “sanctification.” More and more each day, we should grow in our ability to love as Jesus loves. We show God love by seeking the divine will and following it. We show other people sacrificial love, in part hoping that they find God through what we offer them.

Welcome to Methodism 101. This emphasis on sanctification is what largely distinguishes us from other denominations, at least historically. If you’re in a United Methodist Church and are saying to yourself, “Haven’t heard that in awhile,” you’re not alone. Institutions have a tendency to slip from their moorings over time.

The coming new, traditional Methodist denomination likely will move us back toward an emphasis on sanctification, as well as other important related concepts like small-group accountability. That denomination may take a little time to develop, however, and there’s no reason we cannot get started living as true Methodists now.

Don’t be afraid to explore your Methodist roots, which simply are expressions of what God calls us to do in the Bible. Look for books that are helpful; explore websites designed to get you started.

In short, seek the fruit that only the Holy Spirit can place in our lives.

Lord, bless and empower our efforts to be more like what you created us to be. Amen.

Do Good

Hebrews 13:16: Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


We’re continuing with our Monday focus on behaviors we can practice throughout the week, a particularly good exercise during the season of Lent. Last week, we focused on the first rule for traditional Methodist living, do no harm.

This Monday, we move to the second very simple rule: Do good.

Be an active Christian, not a passive one. In our daily living, we should be making the world more like the kingdom of heaven. This sounds like a simple assertion, but if we are not intentional about doing good, we will miss many opportunities.

We do good in a couple of basic ways. We of course need to relieve suffering. When the kingdom of heaven is fully present, Christ’s work on the cross will be complete, and suffering and death will come to an end.

A good guideline for identifying those who suffer begins at Matthew 25:31, which recounts the scene of judgment Jesus gave us. We of course are dependent on God’s grace to be saved, but it’s also clear that salvation is supposed to change us so we do good, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Righteousness in Christ is identifiable by how we treat the least among us: the hungry and the thirsty, the vulnerable strangers we encounter, those lacking the basics for living, the sick, and the imprisoned.

You are invited to spend the week considering how you might do good toward these people, and then follow through. I would suggest we start as close to home as possible and then work out from there, considering our church family, our community, and then beyond.

If you’ll look at the larger context surrounding today’s Bible verse, you will see Jesus’ teachings embedded there. You also will see that our acts of good are a response to the great act of good Jesus performed on the cross, overcoming sin and death for us.

That larger context reminds us of our second big opportunity to do good. Tell the story of Jesus Christ to people needing to hear it. Our willingness to do so may be the difference between eternal life and eternal death for someone.

Again Lord, let our eyes see and our ears hear what you would have us do. Amen.

Do No Harm

For at least a few weeks, I want to try something a little different with our Monday devotionals. Monday should be a good day to focus on a Christian behavior we can then practice throughout the week.

Here’s our text for this Monday:

Romans 12:17-18 (NLT): Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

John Wesley summarized the Christian life with three simple rules for living, rules emphasized heavily in the early days of Methodism. They remain just as valuable today. Let’s consider the first one this week.

Rule No. 1: Do no harm.

The first rule sounds more like avoidance than action, until you consider how intentional a person must be to live it out in full. The world is full of evil, and it’s not unusual to find ourselves wanting to compromise our Christian standards to combat that evil.

In rare situations, such compromise is unavoidable. Otherwise, all Christians would have quickly begun to live as pacifists. I’m going to assume and pray, however, that none of you will find yourself in such a rare circumstance this week.

Going about our everyday lives, let’s try to assess each of our decisions with “do no harm” in mind. Who around us is touched by our actions? Where we gain, does someone lose?

What might we have to surrender to avoid doing harm? A little self-denial might be an important part of our week.

This all sounds a bit cerebral, but what we’re aiming for is an attitude that infects others. As “do no harm” becomes the standard within a community, its members begin to find themselves in a state of mutual care, and from there, those rare, compromise-inducing situations should become even rarer.

In many ways, this is a kingdom-building exercise, the first of three common to Methodism.

Lord, we pray this so often, but let our eyes see and our ears hear. Amen.

On to Perfection

Philippians 3:12-16

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.


I was naively drawn to Methodism for very old reasons. The idea that there was a form of Christianity emphasizing continual spiritual growth toward a high standard set by God fascinated me.

I say I was naive because I somehow conflated the historic Methodism of John Wesley with the modern United Methodist Church I joined in my late twenties. Yes, because we developed a traditional understanding of Methodism, my wife and I joined the denomination when we were everything a church wants—young, seeking to be involved, and with small children.

Certainly, vestiges of the Methodism that lured us remain. But it has become obvious that with the formation of the United Methodist Church in 1968, that old, very successful form of Methodism has increasingly been forced to share a tent with people hostile to some of its basic principles. The last 20 years or so have been particularly telling.

The headline on an April 22, 1972, New York Times story about that year’s General Conference, where the fledgling United Methodist Church established its doctrines, clearly identified what would trouble the denomination for the next half-century: “Methodists Back Theological Pluralism.”

Today’s Scripture, and some important words preceding it, lay out what the UMC no longer emphasizes—a burning desire for holiness, including the pursuit of perfection.

If you just pursed your lips and wrinkled your nose, you are struggling with what these terms mean. You may be falling into the stereotype nonbelievers like to apply to church folk: “Those Christians think they are perfect.”

Hardly. Instead, we know we are broken by sin, and that we cannot find healing without God’s help. Given the great gift of salvation by Jesus Christ on the cross, we methodically go about the activities that allow the Holy Spirit to penetrate us more deeply day by day, changing us into the people God would have us be.

For most people, it’s a long process, one God likely will have to complete in us at death. But in this life, we press on, seeing Scripture as a corrective for our broken minds, learning to pray without ceasing, and living in fellowship so we can help each other through the process.

An old Nazarene preacher—the Nazarene denomination is part of the broader, very traditional Methodist movement—once described holiness as our learning to love the way Jesus loves.

Jesus was obedient unto death; Jesus offered love freely. Seems pretty straightforward to me, even if I have yet to perfect it.

Lord, help us to embrace not just salvation, but the tremendous change you are willing to make in our lives as we submit to you. Amen.