The Value of Life

Psalm 139:13-15 (New Living Translation)

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.

By Chuck Griffin

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, sending the regulation of abortion back to the states, has generated plenty of news the past few days.

For me, it seems like the news has come full circle. In the late 1980s, I spent some of my earliest days as a reporter covering Operation Rescue blockades of abortion clinics. These events seldom became violent, but they certainly were tense and sometimes loud, with a heavy police presence always nearby.

Even then, it wasn’t hard to grasp that the two sides were at an impasse. One group passionately argued for women’s rights, while the other group, equally passionate, argued for the rights of the unborn child. Two opposing worldviews were present, each with a very different emphasis on which life to value, the mother or the infant inside of her.

As Christians, we do not have Scripture overtly telling us, “Thou shall not abort babies.” Those of us who see life as being present and worthy of protection from the moment of conception have to rely on a broader view of what God has revealed about life.

The above verses from Psalm 139 are clearly poetic, but Scripture in all of its forms reveals truth, and these words reveal something important about God’s love for life. The God who knows when a sparrow falls also is aware of even deeper, tinier matters—the complex, rapid division of cells that align to make reality from a unique, microscopic DNA blueprint.

Even in our brokenness, with our bodies and souls damaged by sin from the start, God sees enormous potential in us as we are being made. I am glad Roe v. Wade was overturned simply because there now are new conversations to be had about the power of what is happening in those wombs.

I also need to remind myself, however, that a court cannot resolve the real problem of abortion, and state legislatures will not resolve it either, regardless of the direction they go in their lawmaking. Women mostly seek abortions because they perceive their circumstances as being  desperate. Right or wrong, they fear the future, believing the birth of the babies they carry within will irreparably harm their lives, or that the children’s lives will not be worth living.

As we go about properly fulfilling the mission of the church, we promote hope over fear. When we are effective, we move beyond words to actions very quickly. More churches need to do a better job of offering desperate women both the spiritual guidance and the resources they need, helping them to incorporate their children’s existence into a bright vision of the future.

Abortions will not end in our lifetimes. Sadly, some occur as part of a culture of callous convenience, and the hearts of those women will be much harder to reach.

We can prevent many abortions, however, simply by being the people who look at the frightened woman and the child inside her and say, “You both count. You both are valuable—you both are children of God.” And then we take action to prove what we say.

Lord, there’s so much to do in regard to abortion and many other difficult matters troubling our society. May every living Christian find his or her niche in the kingdom, going to work on your behalf. Amen.

The Open Door

Revelation 4:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

As part of my preaching on Ascension Sunday, I referenced Christ reopening Paradise for us. Much can be seen through an open door.

When John of Patmos looked through the door, what did he see? Well, God, of course. And despite seeing, he could not find words for what he saw. The best he could do was describe exotic items of our world—jasper, carnelian, emerald, crystal—and say they somehow look like God and what surrounds God in heaven.

John’s vision reminds me of Plato’s allegory of the cave, written 380 years before Christ. Plato compared unschooled people to people who have lived all their lives shackled in a cave, their backs to the opening, seeing nothing but shadows against the wall before them. The shadows would be their reality.

If one of these prisoners were to break his shackles and escape through the cave’s mouth, he would find reality incomprehensible. There would be no way initially to connect the movement of the beings and objects outside with the shadows that had seemed so real. And if the man were to go back to his shackled friends and try to explain, they would think him mad.

John of Patmos was like Plato’s escaped prisoner. Instead of a cave opening, he looked from our shadowy world into heaven. And he found it very difficult to describe in words the glory he witnessed.

There are aspects of his vision that remain familiar, however, and we’re reminded we can get at least a glimpse through the now-open door. We have moments where we’re lifted just high enough to peek over the threshold, particularly while in worship and prayer.

In John’s view of heaven, God is the point of worship, as God should be here on earth. In heaven, beings both bizarre and familiar to us sing of God’s holiness and exist in a constant state of pure and perfect worship.

There also is evidence in John’s vision that our worship here lets us participate in worship there. As we read in chapter 5, we see the prayers of the saints—those of us here on earth—used as incense, our smoky praises and petitions floating before God.

We also see Christ in the midst of this vision, described as the “Lion of Judah” but appearing as a slain lamb. Having come to earth to be with us and die for our sins, Christ then returned to heaven at the ascension, carrying our humanity with him. He has complete power over our fates and how history is to unfold.

A view of heaven changes everything, doesn’t it? At least for as long as we can remember the view, cherish it, and revisit it through worship and prayer.

People who once looked lost to us suddenly have infinite potential. Situations that looked hopeless are actually full of promise. This shift in thinking happens because we see those people and situations against the backdrop of the open door. The light that shines through, twinkling as if it has passed through jasper and carnelian and crystal, recolors everything in this world.

A view of heaven is one powerful benefit of being among the church, the collection of people who look toward the open door.

Lord, grant us new visions of the life Jesus has unlocked for us. Amen.

Forward Looking

Hebrews 11:13-16 (NRSV)

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.


At this point in Hebrews, “all of these” means the ancestors of the Israelites. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others were promised much by God regarding what would happen to their line over thousands of years.

As today’s Scripture notes, these were big-picture people, loyal followers of God who thought about more than their immediate needs. They are examples for all of us.

Ultimately, those big promises were fulfilled long after their deaths when God came among us in flesh through that line of Israelites, as Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice willingly offered on the cross, all the world has been blessed, given the potential to overcome the devastating effects of sin through simple faith.

By virtue of living so much later, we have been blessed with a clearer understanding of the work God is doing. Even we should not get too comfortable, though—our individual decisions to follow Christ make us strangers in this world. We hope for so much more, and we invite others to see more than what is obviously before them.

Like any traveler on a trip, we have to eat and find places of shelter. We are never truly home, however.

This sense of disconnectedness from the place where we were born could make us a little sad, until we remember something important: We will go home. God has prepared a city for us, too, and once there, we never again will feel displaced.

Lord, help us to treat this world on a daily basis as a place to offer grace from on high and promises of a better life. We are grateful for the occasional tastes of home we receive now as we align our hearts with yours. Amen.

Ancient Vision

Before we look at today’s Scripture verses, I should note something important about the Book of Job. A lot of scholars think it may be the oldest book of the Bible, predating the writing of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).

No doubt it is ancient. And yet, it foresees events still changing our lives today.

The Book of Job largely deals with theodicy, the question of why God allows evil to happen. As Job’s suffering increases, a debate ensues among Job and his friends. Ultimately, God settles the matter, saying humans cannot grasp all that God is and does.

In the 19th chapter, however, Job makes a strange, visionary declaration, one that seems to capture some remarkable insight:

Job 19:23-27 (NRSV)
“O that my words were written down!
    O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
    they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
    My heart faints within me!"

Thousands of years before Christ’s incarnation, Job understood the broad outline of God’s plan to save broken, sinful humanity, a plan stretching to the end of time.

Redemption would come, through one person, a redemption so powerful that even those dead and turned to dust would benefit. As I read the Book of Job, the vision seems to come out of nowhere, almost out of context, leaving Job swooning.

Time having passed, and Christ having come, we have a better lens for interpreting Job’s vision. Like us, the resurrected Job will stand before the one who makes redemption possible.

We know Jesus is the one who went to the cross to die for every sin ever committed. We see him as the slain lamb, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and ultimately, all suffering.

Job’s words also inspired a powerful song. You might want to hear it with Job 19 in mind this morning.

Lord, thank you for the visionaries who came before us, showing us that your plan to save the world is ancient and assured. Amen.

Giving in Good Times and Bad

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 John 2:15-16 (NLT)

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.


It’s obvious that Covid-19 has impacted our ability to worship. What may not be so immediately obvious is that the pandemic also has created a stress test for the typical American approach to church giving.

Folks, at this point it is safe to say the stress test has revealed a lot of cracks.

As a pastor, I was concerned about giving patterns long before the pandemic came along. As Methodists, we do not talk about the link between money and ministry the way we should, and we certainly don’t talk enough about what our relationship with money says about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let me jump over hurdle number one as quickly as I can. There always will be people who complain when church leaders, particularly pastors, talk about money. But the devil had a good day when he convinced church people to behave as if money is unmentionable.

Sixteen of Jesus’ 38 parables are about how to handle money and possessions. Ten percent of all the verses in the gospels deal directly with the subject of money. How we handle money and possessions needs to be discussed in church regularly.

The Problem

Now, it’s obvious hard times can affect giving in a direct way. When people lose their jobs, it is difficult or impossible for them to give. These are people possibly in need of church assistance, and they should never feel pressured to give.

I’m convinced however, that there are other factors behind the declines in giving some churches are seeing:

First, there’s what I call the movie theater effect. Giving is treated like buying a ticket, so if you don’t go to worship, you don’t buy a ticket. We see this attitude impact giving at other times, too, for example, when there’s prolonged bad weather in the winter.

Second, there’s the impact of increased anxiety—”We had better hold on to everything we have.” If that’s your situation, I will simply ask you to consider who it is that gives you the greatest hope, and how it is he works in this world through us today.

Third, the vision for what we do as the church is fading.  We aren’t entering the building regularly and mixing in Christian community, and we can forget why the church exists. This is largely a communications challenge for church leaders.

The Prayerful Solution

Let me offer us a quick, two-part formula for how to plan our giving. The great thing about this formula is it helps us keep perspective on money and possessions in good times or bad.

Let’s begin by establishing our committed support. Don’t think in dollars, think in percentages. Nearly everyone has some form of income, regular or irregular, a paycheck or a draw taken from a retirement plan.

Make a prayerful, firm decision about what percentage you can share with the church, and then follow through. I encourage people to write the percentage down on a piece of paper and stick it in the corner of a mirror used daily. The number is between you and God.

Here’s why I like for people to think in percentages—your commitment remains the same regardless of whether your financial situation improves or worsens. Years ago, a friend of mine, a committed tither (a giver of 10 percent of his income), lost his job, and was lamenting, “It kills me that I can’t tithe.”

I asked him, “Hey, buddy, what’s 10 percent of zero?”

“Well, zero,” he replied.

“You’re tithing!” I said. “Your commitment remains the same, just as it will when you’re working again.” He’s now doing very well financially, by the way, and I’m sure he’s a tremendous blessing to his church.

We also need to ask God’s guidance regarding our special support. This is when we recognize how blessed we are and go beyond our committed giving to fund something extra we think is important to the kingdom.

When we take committed support and special support of the church seriously, we position ourselves to better understand Jesus’ teachings about the role of money and possessions in our lives. We learn from the experience of planned giving. To some degree, you’ll just have to trust me—try it, as if you’re laying a fleece to receive guidance from God.

Regarding a vision for what the church does: As a pastor, I’m working to do a better job of communicating how churches truly change the world. There are great stories out there. Help me tell them!

Lord, committed givers have sustained your global church in the brightest and darkest days, in the most affluent and in the poorest parts of the world. Help us to better understand how your Spirit provides. Amen.

A Joy to Behold

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 96

Let’s close out the work week with a psalm, hoping its words will enhance our weekend worship. (The link above will take you to the full psalm.)

Followers of Christ have a basic, biblically inspired vision and mission for their lives and churches, and vision and mission interact in this psalm.

When we speak of “vision,” we’re talking about how we believe events in heaven and earth will play out one day. In short, we see a future where the world will conform to the happy truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

In the words of Romans 14:11, which is quoting Isaiah 49:18, ” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’ “

The vision naturally inspires us as we go about our day-to-day mission. We let the Holy Spirit work through us so new disciples of Christ are made. Implicit in all of this is our need to grow as disciples so we can be more effective in our work.

Psalm 96 brings out one particular aspect of vision and mission. In living them out, there is great joy.

We worship a loving, glorious God, and he wants to put a new song in our hearts!

Lord, where our vision has grown dim and we have strayed from our mission, forgive us, please. Give us new light and understanding so we may better serve your kingdom. Amen.

Stairway to Heaven

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Genesis 28:10-17 (New Living Translation)

Let’s take a few minutes to consider Jacob, Jesus, Led Zeppelin and the chance to have an eternal connection to God.

I would bet that upon reading this devotional’s title, most of you first thought of Led Zeppelin. I’ll go ahead and correct a critical theological error in the group’s most famous song. No matter how much money a lady has, she won’t be buying the stairway to heaven.

If you are wondering what the stairway might look like, Israelite patriarch Jacob got a glimpse of it in a dream, while sleeping against a rock in a place eventually known as Bethel. Angels went up and down the stairway, marking the place as a connection between heaven and earth. At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, who restated promises made decades earlier to Jacob’s father, Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham.

Some of you raised on older English Bible translations may be protesting a bit right now, saying, “No, it was a ladder to heaven.” Many of us also were raised singing, “We are climbing … Jacob’s ladder.”

Either “ladder” or “stairway” works as a translation of the Hebrew word used in the story, which appears just once in Scripture. I like “stairway” better—as I imagine angels simultaneously going up and down, with God standing at the top, a stairway is more like what I see. As a child, I tried to visualize angels going up and down a ladder, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they felt crowded as they passed each other.

But back to Jacob’s dream. My New Living Translation Study Bible has a footnote attached to the story: “The point of the vision was that God and his angels were with Jacob on his journey.”

Jesus must have had that point in mind as he connected his very reason for existing to Jacob’s dream. In John 1:51, we hear Jesus say, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man.”

In other words, God wants to be with us on our journeys, just as he was with Jacob. Jesus, God in flesh, is the stairway—because of his work as intermediary we have access to heaven.

God even comes down to us now, in this life! Belief in the effectiveness of Jesus’ death on the cross reconnects us to God, overcoming our sins, and God’s Spirit rushes to accompany us.

It really is incredible that all of this is free for us. Christ paid the price. We simply have to accept the stairway to heaven as our own.

Lord, thank you for the connection you offer us every day of our lives. Help us to use it well, drawing eternity into the lives we live now. Amen.