Alien Lives

By Chuck Griffin

Remember the Coneheads skits on Saturday Night Live? Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman played aliens from the planet Remulak living among us.

The funny thing about the skits was not how different the aliens appeared—great comedians don’t rely on a costume to win a laugh.

I laughed the hardest when Beldar, Prymaat and their daughter, Connie, managed to blend in with humans despite their enormous, pointy heads and mechanical speech. Usually, the explanation “We’re from Remulak, a small town in France,” was enough to carry them through an awkward moment with the neighbors.

Good comedy often rides on currents of social criticism. The Coneheads skits were funnier because we’re all conscious of how the world wants us to blend in, making  it easy for us to conform. The Bible reminds Christians, however, that we are called to live as aliens in a strange world, knowing our citizenship lies elsewhere.

In Philippians 3:17-4:1, we hear Paul tell the fledgling church at Philippi that people of the world set their minds on “earthly things,” failing to understand the bigger picture of what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ.

“Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame,” Paul wrote. (We don’t have a lot of details about what was going on in Philippi, although elsewhere in his letter Paul does refer to the church as being in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation.”)

Not understanding the church, the nonbelievers even persecuted the Christians, becoming what Paul called “enemies of the cross.”

Clearly, the Philippian Christians were wavering, wanting to blend in by participating in the short-sighted living going on around them. To stiffen their resolve, Paul reminded them of their eternal citizenship in heaven and the promise that their current unglamorous position will be transformed into something glorious.

And yes, as they so often are, Paul’s words are very applicable today. Even where there is no persecution, secular society seems happiest with Christians who choose to be quiet and conform.

As long as we don’t interfere with the “consume mass quantities,” be-happy-in-the-moment forces that shape our lives, we usually are left alone, at least in the United States. We’re even allowed to make a lot of public noise about Easter, as long as we dress the story in bunnies and bonnets.

We cannot settle for blending in, however. The message of salvation through Jesus Christ is too powerful, and the eternal joy brought by the promise of resurrection is too great, even if it does make the non-Christian world uncomfortable.

We are aliens in a strange land, citizens under a coming savior king who will one day rule in both heaven and here on a restored Earth. And the news is too good to keep to ourselves.

During this season of preparation for Easter, don’t conform. Find new ways to stand out as you tell people where their true citizenship lies, in the kingdom of God.

Lord, help us to benefit your kingdom by being in the world, but not of it. Amen.

What We Love

1 John 2:15-17 (NRSV)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.

By Chuck Griffin

The problem with the world is that it is so present, so right in front of us. Otherwise, the recommendation given to us in today’s text would be easy to follow.

Those objects and people we want to possess, along with those growing (we hope!) numbers in our investment accounts win most of our attention. Matters related to God are lucky to be relegated to a sleepy late evening or weekend. It’s a common pattern, one as much of a problem in the early days of the church as it is today.

If only we could see God in a sustained way. The world would dissolve like mist, and we would quickly forget its passing fancies.

That actually will happen, by the way. As Christians, we believe this world is temporary. And certainly, our lives in it are “like the morning fog,” to borrow from the fourth chapter of James.

So, how do we manage the immediacy of the world and the very detrimental effect it can have on us?

Remember that God is present in it, accessible to us any time we are in need. We live in the era where we engage with God as the Holy Spirit, who works within us and among us in the church to sustain us and empower us until we see our risen savior in full.

I’ve mentioned the means of grace before and I’ll mention them again. Pray, and God will meet you there. Delve into God’s Holy Scripture, and the Holy Spirit will speak to you in clear and undeniable ways. Live in true fellowship with other Christians, and despite their imperfections you’ll get at least an occasional glimpse of eternal life.

In all of this you will better understand God’s will for your life, and you will pursue doing his will. If you’re truly blessed, by the time you leave this world behind, you won’t be looking back.

Lord, help us to cut through the confusion of this world and see you standing nearby. Amen.

Right from the Start

Psalm 119:9-16 (NRSV)
How can young people keep their way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
    do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
    so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
    all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
    as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

Over the last couple of decades, I’ve had a few parents tell me an odd theory about their children’s religious upbringing. Essentially, they told me they intended to bring up their children with no religious instruction at all, allowing their kids to “choose for themselves” when old enough.

Surprisingly, some of the parents had been raised with the benefit of a religious education—Sunday school and such, if not more.

It continues to strike me as a terribly dangerous strategy, one that assumes a child exists in some sort of theological vacuum until reaching adulthood. “Theology” roughly translates as “reasoning about God.” Understanding how God has defined holy and unholy behaviors since the earliest days of civilization is critical to this process.

Children are, of course, deeply impressionable, and if their parents aren’t helping them develop a sense of right and wrong rooted in theology, people in the world will be happy to introduce them to all sorts of notions that may be very ungodly, and even deadly.

Frankly, I doubt if these parents actually left their children to their own devices. They almost certainly told their children what they considered permissible and impermissible, not realizing they simply were teaching their version of righteousness—likely a mish-mash of thought disconnected from the true source of righteousness. “But why?” must have been a tough question to answer.

Today’s verses from Psalm 119 tell us of the importance of exploring God’s word from an early age. In my mind, the pattern for Christian education is simple. Children need to learn the stories of the Bible, being allowed to ask the good questions they always have.

As they grow into adolescence, they then learn to take the principles found in those stories, principles often more fully developed in the non-narrative portions of the Bible, and apply what they have learned to their own lives.

By the time they are young adults, they have begun an ongoing process of interaction with Scripture, a process that should continue for a lifetime. What we pray for them is a life full of deep and nuanced theological thought, one resulting in actions aligned with God’s will.

Lord, bless the children we bring to you with understanding, and may that understanding grow into the wisdom so desperately needed in the future as they take their place among our leaders. May they lead the world down a path headed directly toward you. Amen.

Keep Alert!

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Luke 21:34-38 (NLT)

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him.

When Jesus said, “Watch out,” he was ending a discourse on the coming of the Son of Man, what we sometimes call “the last days” or even “Judgment Day.”

During his prophecies about the future, Jesus talked about signs that would rattle the world, but he also indicated his return could be immediate. Apparently, it’s possible to be so swept up in earthly living that we could miss even dramatic signs and be caught flat-footed.

“Keep alert at all times.” Those words should shape how we live as Christians. In the midst of life, we need to carry within us an understanding that a full encounter with our creator could happen at any moment, and then adjust our lives accordingly.

The last two sentences in today’s Bible passage seem almost tacked on, or the beginning of a new story. They are important, though. Jesus, knowing he is headed for his moment of trial and testing, modeled single-mindedness.

By day, he went about the work of the Savior. In the evening, the Son communed with the Father, drawing on the strength he would need to continue.

It’s a good pattern for children of God to follow, one that keeps us ready.

Lord, when the moment comes, may we be found expectantly waiting and thrilled to see your face. Amen.

Finish with Flourish

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Philippians 3:13-14:1 (NLT)

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.

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

Yesterday’s devotional focused on the big ending, the “last days,” the end of time—and those who don’t live as if it is coming. Today’s Bible passage invites us to think about our own personal finish.

Paul’s message is aimed squarely at those who already have accepted Christ and are (or should be) seeking holy “perfection,” something Paul said he had not achieved himself. Salvation through Jesus Christ is given freely, but it’s evident in Paul’s writings and in other epistles that some Holy Spirit-inspired striving is to be a continuing part of the Christian life.

I think of the effort we make as the thank-you notes to God we write with our lives. The more we live and love as Jesus did, the nicer the notes become through the years.

And certainly, we don’t want to slip backward in our beliefs or behavior. What we understood early in our faith walk is just as true now: Jesus Christ is Lord. His teachings and the teachings that continued to flow through his early followers remain true, passed to us through Scripture.

We may grow spiritually, but we never grow out of following and espousing core Christian truths. They are the stones upon which we build, not clay to be molded into new shapes.

Even in Paul’s day, people in the church sometimes believed they had become so worldly wise over the years that they could move beyond the basic idea that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that as our savior he has certain expectations for our lives.

Sadly, they had actually fallen from their early, supernaturally inspired faith, posing a danger to newer Christians around them.

Finish well. Others are watching. And never forget, the finish line is the beginning of a greater experience.

Lord, may we always trust in the Christian truths first revealed to us, and may we never reach an age where we say, “I am done growing in Christ.” Amen.