Refresh & Restore – 5/7/2020

Colossians 1:15-23 —

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. 19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

            Over the past few weeks, we’ve begun looking at what it means for “times of refreshing to come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:20). We’ve looked at the surpassing beauty and worth of God’s Word and the vital necessity of us being in it daily. And, last week, you accompanied me through my personal struggles into the Word and, hopefully, were able to see that the “refreshing” is a real thing and much to be sought after.

            Today, we get to dive in one of my favorite passages of Scripture. This passage is known as one of the greatest Christ-focused passages in the Bible. It was even sung as a hymn in the early church. It’s absolutely foundational for our understanding of who Jesus is. And we get to know Him better through it.

            I’ve included the entire passage, but there is no way – at least in my ability (and excitement) – to get through it in one devotional. Yet each week we look at this passage, I will put it in its entirety. Because no matter my ability, the verses are part of Him – the living, active Word of God. You’d do better with more of Him and less of me.

            Today, I urge you to stop now and re-read the passage again. We’ll dive into verses 15, 19, and 20 when you’ve finished.

            Verse 15 describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God”. It always takes some effort for the English teacher in me to get past the oxymoron – “image of the invisible”. Let me help you understand why this is so significant.

            You won’t often find me citing Greek to you, but I feel it’s important here. The word we see translated as “image” is the Greek word eikon (εἰκών). Our word “icon” (same pronunciation) comes from it. It simply means image or rendering a likeness of something. To understand it, look at the pictures – the icons – below:

           These are various icons that one would click on to access the internet. They are just pictures that are attached to some sort of technological interface that connects one to the Internet. It doesn’t matter if you are PC, Mac, or reasonably unaffiliated. Each picture connects a person to the wealth and vastness of the Internet – the good, the bad, and the endless stream of memes.

           This is where verse 19 comes in: “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”, meaning all of God dwelled, lived, resided in the person of Jesus. Just like the icons above are images that lead one to the vastness of the web, Jesus is the “image” of the infinite holy vastness of the Most High God – all of Him wrapped up in human flesh!

           Look at other examples from Scripture that back this up:

  • Colossians 1:9 — For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily….
  • John 1:1, 14 — In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

There are others, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. This is the point: Jesus is God!

            I realize that, so far, this has sounded a bit more academic than usual. But all of this is to serve a purpose. King Jesus is so much more than we could ever hope to know or understand. There is such a wealth of knowledge in His Word that can help us know Him more. I want you to see the depth and the vastness of Him. I want you to look at Him with fresh eyes and see how complex and out-of-this-world He is because that moves you to worship and awe of Him. And that is a good response.

            You need to see that He is big and you are small. You need to see that He is holy, perfect, and righteous, and we are not capable of such glorious things apart from Him. But after you step back – or hopefully are brought to your knees by the realization of Him – there’s something so much sweeter. He loves you.

            That’s right, “the image of the invisible God”, the “preeminent” One, the King of kings and Lord of lords, God Almighty loves you! That’s good news!

            I love the way that Peter writes about it in 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” He. Cares. For. You.

           The imagery here is so beautifully rich. Encountering the sovereign God of the universe absolutely should be a humbling, life-altering experience. It should drive us to our knees and cause us to look deeply at who we are. But this personal God does not leave us to grovel in the dirt (which He would be perfectly right to do). His “mighty hand” does not cast us out or beat us down (as it could).

           Instead, those mighty hands reach out – still bearing the scars of the nails where they were pierced for our sake – to pull us into His loving embrace. The same hands that formed Adam from the dust reach into our lives and take that which was dead (Ephesians 2:1-2) and bestow new life (Ephesians 2:4-5). I’ll say it again: that’s good news!

           Those mighty hands and that powerful embrace are enough to keep us from all harm. Not only that, the same voice that spoke everything into existence still echoes down through the years offering us comfort, even today (Matthew 11:28-30):

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

            I’ll close with a look at how this is all accomplished in verse 20. The peace, comfort, rest, and love we find in Him was paid for on the cross and guaranteed by His resurrection. Verse 20 says, “…and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.”

            God in all of His splendor (vv. 15-18) stepped out of heaven and into our world (v. 19) to make a Way for us to have Life everlasting through Him (v. 20). This is not a hypothetical. He’s with us still today just as He promised (Matthew 28:20).

            So, do you find yourself at a low point? Are you wondering how you will ever get out of whatever situation (sin, struggles, depression, Covid-19, murder hornets) you find yourself? Look to Christ and accept His mighty hand reaching out to save and comfort you, and find times of refreshing in His presence.

Refresh & Restore — 4/16/2020

Acts 3:17-21 — [Peter said] “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke of His holy prophets long ago….”

Psalm 119:49-50 — Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.

1 Peter 1:3-5 — Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

           Some time after Jesus had ascended into heaven after His resurrection, Peter and John were going to the temple to pray. There was a man outside the Beautiful Gate who had been unable to walk his entire life, and people carried him to that gate every day so that he could beg and make what living he could. When he asked Peter and John for money, check out what they told him: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) I love that: “what I do have I give to you”; what they had was Jesus, and there’s no greater gift!

            That started an awesome chain reaction. The man got up and walked! Then, he went and shared what he had: what Jesus had done for him! What an awesome series of events; one that can be repeated on and on, even today! The people the man ran to – ran for the first time! – were gathered at Solomon’s Portico outside the temple.

            Peter preached to them about what had happened with Jesus (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter) and the part that they had played in those events. But he was not beating them down. He offered them what he had, just as he had the “man lame from birth”. He offered them repentance. He told them of the forgiveness of sin that comes from Jesus and that, even though they had part in His crucifixion, that forgiveness was available to them.

            What an awesome display of forgiveness. These people had “delivered over and denied [Jesus] in the presence of Pilate” and “killed the Author of life, whom God raised form the dead” (Acts 3:13, 15), yet Jesus Himself stands ready to forgive them. He shows that He is the “Author of life” by “mak[ing] us alive together with [Himself]” instead of being “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” (Ephesians 2:4, 1-2).

            Not only that, but those who repented of their sins and turned to Christ would be given “times of refreshing [that] come from the presence of the Lord” until the time that Christ returns “restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His prophets long ago” (Acts 3:20-21). That’s something that they could never have hoped to be offered, and it was offered to them by the very One from whom they could have never hoped to receive it. That’s good news – for them and for us!

            Today, we need to be refreshed. We need to be restored. And there’s only one source from which we can find such refreshing and restoration: Jesus Christ, the Resurrected King! And He offers it freely to all who repent and turn to Him!

            So, how do we get such things in this day and age? The first source is the Word of God. The psalmist, in Psalm 119:49-50, tells us that we find hope in God’s “word” and life in His “promise”. By spending time in God’s Word, we find everything that can be known about Him. By reading His Word, we find the promises and life and hope in Christ Jesus. The Word of God is listed first because it is through the Word that we find salvation (Romans 10:17). And it is through His Word that we grow deeper in our relationship with Him.

            It is in that relationship where we find our deepest source of refreshing and restoration: Jesus Himself. Peter, much later in his life, wrote a letter to a group of people who had been through worse times than we could ever imagine. They had been dispersed from their homes and forced to flee to foreign countries (1 Peter 1:1). Yet, despite all they had been through, Peter reminds them that they had been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

            So many times, hope is fleeting here on Earth. We hope in jobs and resources and people and are let down time and time again. But the hope that comes from Jesus is different; that hope is “living”. When we put our hope and trust in Him, that hope has a name and power beyond our imagining. That’s good news! He’s not fleeting, nor will He fail us.

            No matter what is going on in our life – quarantine, isolation, sickness, job loss, lack of electricity – Jesus is alive and offering hope. We can be refreshed and look forward to the time when everything is restored. There’s no greater hope than that.

Refresh & Restore — 4/30/2020

Philippians 4:4-9 —
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

           I’ve got to give a disclaimer for today’s devotion: it’s beneficial for me. I’ve probably said before that writing these devotions helps me before it helps anyone else, but, today, it’s especially true. My mind is a mess, and I’m neck deep in depression, or a “funk” – whatever you want to call it, I’m in it.

            This is not to say that I have it bad or that I am trying to draw attention to myself when the plight of many, many others is far worse than mine. But many find themselves feeling the same way and much worse – not just in times of social distancing and isolation, all the time.

            So, today, we will look at what God’s Word offers us[1], and there we can find some peace of mind.

            If there is anyone who knows what it’s like to struggle, it’s Paul. He was in a Roman prison awaiting execution as he wrote the letter to the Philippians, yet it is often described as an epistle of joy.

           Here, again, it is important to understand that joy and happiness are not synonyms. So, when Paul tells the church at Philippi to rejoice in verse 9, he has something much bigger for them. Rejoice here is “not a happiness that depends on circumstances but a deep contentment that is in the Lord”[2]. Happiness is fleeting and dependent on so many things outside of our control, but finding that deep rooted contentment in the Lord is eternal.

           He also urges them to let their “reasonableness” be known. This word can also be translated as “gentleness” or a “gentle spirit”. This, along with rejoicing, reminds us of who we are supposed to be – and most importantly whose we are! This is especially important because the “Lord is at hand”. 

           This is not a threat to produce fear in us; it’s a reason to rejoice – our Savior is coming! I love the way that James puts this in James 5:8b: “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand”. Our rejoicing and reasonableness are earmarks of a heart that is rooted in one’s identity in Christ.

           This next part is one that I find myself reading often when faced with anxiety. It seems like a nearly impossible command: “do not be anxious about anything”. Anything? Doesn’t he know about ___? To understand what this means for us, we need to grasp the context of this command.

           Paul’s command here is rooted in Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25):

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about the body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

           I cannot speak for everyone, but my anxiety is often rooted in the lack of control I feel in life situations. There are times where it is brought on by a chemical imbalance in my brain, but the anxieties themselves are real and my own. Jesus’ urging is for us to combat the things that we do not have control over by trusting in the Sovereign God who has power over everything that is yet stoops to care about our everyday lives.

           You see, it is from this mindset that Paul makes his case. Let’s look at the whole command in verse 6: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication[3] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” This becomes less about the anxiety that plagues us and more about the way that we can combat it by letting our “requests be made known to God”. This goes back to the command to “rejoice” – to find that deep-rooted contentment in Christ. Here, it is the trust and faith that is rooted in the action of prayer. Almighty God wants us to talk to Him, and He cares what we have to say. When we give our anxieties over to Him, we do not have to worry about them because He has this in His control. That’s where the peace Paul talks about comes into play.

           It’s important to note that this commandment has an addendum: “with thanksgiving”. Other than that one Thursday in November, this is something that gives us trouble. Big John said something about getting out of a funk that stands out in my mind here:

“Lift up a prayer. Say ‘thanks’ to God. Develop and cultivate a grateful heart…. …[T]he way of getting out [of a funk, depression, or whatever] is purposefully looking into things and saying ‘thank you anyway’, just ‘thank you anyway’.”

           That not only echoes what Paul is saying here, but it speaks to the influence of God’s Word in our lives.

           Paul follows that command with a result in verse 7: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. That peace is based on the confidence that God is not only able to take care of us but especially in the fact that He is willing to take care of us. That’s good news. When we learn – note that I say learn and understand that it is not necessarily an overnight process – to rely fully upon God, our anxieties are traded for His peace, and Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 14:27 move from being a hope to a reality:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

            Just because I am moving more quickly through the final section does not belittle its importance. It builds on the previous paragraph. Paul goes through a list of things that we should “think about” (v. 8); we should think on things that are “true”, “honorable”, “just”, “pure”, “lovely”, “commendable”, “excellen[t]”, and “worthy of praise”. Rather than breaking these “things” academically, let me introduce you to the One that embodies them all – Jesus! We should set our mind on Him (Colossians 3:2)! We should think on Him!

            Setting one’s mind on something is a powerful tool. I love that I get to work in the same building as Candice. This keeps me focused on how I need to be genuine and carry myself appropriately. Setting my mind on this helps me remember who I am. Having Keri be able to come to our classrooms when she gets off of the bus does the same thing. If I do not have my mind set where it needs to, my school kiddos would quickly tell Keri – and most assuredly Candice – that I’m a fraud! In the same way, this mindset exposes our faith in Christ. We are to set our minds on Him so that the manner of our life reflects that faith.

            Does that mean that anxiety will automatically cease? No. But it gives us something to practice. Literally, Paul tells the church at Philippi, and thereby us, to “practice these things” (v. 9) – the things that we have “learned”, “received”, and “heard” in the Word of God. The word translated “practice” here refers to things that we do continually, repeatedly, or habitually. So, this is what we need to do: continually, repeatedly, habitually rejoice in, put our trust in, pray to, and think on Jesus. And in doing so, we can trust God in His Word when He says through Paul: “the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9).

            Thank you for reading today and being a part of my meeting up with “the God of peace”. This is a little picture into the way that this part of my walk with Him works – seeking Him in His Word in whatever situation and always finding Him there. I pray that this is true in your life as well!

[1] This does not negate the need of prescription depression medication nor does it mean that such things and counseling are not necessary. This is not a prescription but an invitation to seek the “God of peace” to help us with the prevalent mental struggles associated with this current time.

[2] ESV Study Bible

[3] Supplication is “to make known one’s particular need” or to “petition [God] for oneself” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: NT).

Refresh & Restore — 4/23/2020

Psalm 19:7-14 —
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
  The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
  The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
  The ordinances of the Lord are sure
and altogether righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
  they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
  Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of
   my heart be pleasing to your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

            Books are a glorious and wonderful invention! Books and reading have been and continue to be a big part of my life. While many people do not share my passion for them, I continue to grow in my love and appreciation for the written word – from Shakespeare to short stories to…well, you get the picture.

            But one Text trumps all other texts. God’s Word stands alone. Let’s look at how Psalm 19 breaks down the Word of God and see how it is integral in our being refreshed and restored in our relationship with God.

            Psalm 19 is a beautiful passage, and verses seven through fourteen are, largely, where we will camp today. In these nine verses, David gives us six images of the Word and six corresponding effects it has on one’s life. The words “law” (v.7a), “statutes” (v.7b), “precepts” (v.8a), “commands” (v.8b), “fear” (v.9a), and “ordinances” (v.9b) all refer to the Word. Each of these references gives us an image. Let’s break them down together.

First, the “law of the Lord” is God’s instruction for His people, and how it revives one’s soul. The word for revive can literally be translated “to turn about” or to “return”. In His Word, God is teaching us what we need to have our very souls returned or set to where they need to be.

Second, the “statutes of the Lord” are witnesses to God’s truth. God’s word testifies to its own truth, and His testimony is trustworthy. Trusting in that truth makes our simple minds wise. This is good news because God’s Word contains everything that can be known about God, and we grow in our knowledge of Him when we read it.

Third, the “precepts of the Lord” are divine directions for us to follow. So often we see directions as suggestions because – at least in my mind – sometimes directions are incorrect. God’s directions are always right and correct. Following them can give one’s heart joy – not happiness, necessarily, but a deep-rooted joy that only comes from Him.

Fourth, the “commands of the Lord” are the orders and imperatives that God gives His people. If we are honest, this is the part of the discussion about God’s Word that loses most of us. People, in general, do not like to be commanded. At the very least, we would not call any commandments we have received as being radiant. But, the older I get, I come to see God’s commands as having an ambient light of their own. The more I read the Word, the more I find that it illuminates parts of my life.

God’s Word shines light and chases out the darkness of sin in our lives. It shows aspects of our lives that we would rather not see. In Psalm 119:105, David describes the Word thusly: “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God gives us commands to show us how life works best, not to tear us down or make us feel guilty. He gives us commands because He loves us and knows what we need.

Fifth, we see the “fear of the Lord”; it is a little different than the previous four images. This, in and of itself, is an effect. The fear of the Lord is a result of knowing and worshiping Him. It is a produced reverence for God that is fostered by time spent with Him in His Word. And this is good news because this aspect – this reverential worship of God – will endure forever because we will get to spend eternity with Him!

Finally, we see God’s “ordinances”. This gives us the image of God’s decisions for us. It is a fatherly image. Just like an earthly father is required to make decisions for his family, especially his children, our Father makes decisions for us – He knows best. However, unlike earthly fathers, His decisions are “altogether righteous”. The more time we spend in His Word, better things are for us because His decisions are laid out clearly for us to see.

Those images aptly sum up what God’s Word is for His followers, but we must be careful not to dismiss His Word as merely a book. God’s Word is Himself. The first chapter of John testifies to this: the Word is God (John 1:1). And that’s not all: God Himself “became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (1:14). He came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, rose on the third day, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and is actively working on our behalf today! But through His written Word, those of us who did not live in Israel during His lifetime nearly 2,000 years ago are able to actively spend time with Him. It’s not about reading; it’s the relationship!

His Word is like a love letter telling us everything we need to know – everything we get to know – about Him and how to grow in our relationship and worship and witness of Him. It is also a big part of the relationship because it is also Him!

I have kept some of the love letters that Candice wrote to me. They remind me of our beginning. They contain integral information that made us who we are. I have written to her as well, but all of those early letters are now woefully outdated because so much has happened in our relationship since then. Our relationship is updated daily – as it should be!

The same should be true for our relationship with the Lord! If you are not spending time daily with Him in His Word, repent and spend time Him in His Word. Whether you read it yourself or listen to it like an audio book, He will refresh You through His presence! You will find that He will keep you from “willful sins”. In it, you will find unparalleled forgiveness. In it, you will find Life as you walk with and are founded upon your “Rock” and your “Redeemer”. My prayer for you today is that you are refreshed in your relationship with Christ. I pray that your time in His Word gets to be to you “more precious than gold” and “sweeter than honey”. I pray that the Word affects “the words of [your] mouth and the meditation of [your] heart”.