Refresh & Restore – 6/25/2020

Romans 12:11-12 —

11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Ephesians 4:17-24 —

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ! – 21assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Greetings, readers! Walking through Romans 12 has been an eye-opener for me, and it continues to challenge me the farther we walk through it.

We are continuing today in the characteristics of Christ’s Church found in Romans 12:9-21, and I want to remind you of the way we framed these characteristics in last week’s devotion: a wellness check with the Great Physician.

It is rare for me to submit to a doctor’s visit, and this means that those visits nearly always show me things that I need to get back on track when I leave that office.

My prayer for you is that these characteristics create an opportunity for you to sit down with Jesus and talk about your life and your walk with Him. I pray that God works on you through reading this like He did on me in writing it.

Before we dive into today’s characteristics, I want you to check out the Ephesians 4 passage above for context.

First, if we are saved, there needs to be a distinct difference in our lives in that we “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17). In our lostness – spiritual death – our thinking was futile or worthless, our understanding was darkened by ignorance, and that produced a “hardness of heart” (4:18). So, when Christ saves us, we need Him to give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) and transform/renew our minds (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23).

Second, we see that the battlefield for change in our lives is inside us. We see that we need: 1) to look back at how we learned about Christ to return to that way of thinking, and 2) to see that we are to continue taking off the old self by putting on the new self in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit inside of us will not abide with our former way of life! He has a plan for us that begins on the inside with the Life and overflows into our everyday lives!

How we think affects how we live. Faith is – at its most basic – in the mind and heart. And that is where our actions begin. Let this impact our understanding of our service of the Lord in today’s characteristics.

Look back at verse 11: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in [the Spirit], serve the Lord.” The first two take place in one’s heart and mind to produce the third. Let me translate it a bit differently and put it in our everyday language: Do not be lazy (but instead be eager) in your beliefs/convictions, be bubbling over with the Holy Spirit, and let those things lead you as a bondservant of Jesus Christ.

Zeal here is our passions, beliefs, and convictions. We all have things that inspire that in our lives. The things we believe and feel strongly about often go to the core of who we are. Yet, since we still live in our sinful flesh in a fallen world, it is easy to fall back into futile thinking. My pastor, John Goldwater, describes this as our minds getting hijacked. Just like someone who would forcibly and violently take control of something, we allow our former way of thinking to grab the reins of our minds. “But that is not the way you learned Christ (Ephesians 4:20)!” We must guard our minds and hearts! The only way to keep from being hijacked is to guard our minds and hearts with the Word of God (Psalm 119:9).

Our beliefs – our zeal – should be inspired by our time in God’s Word and in prayer. Yet this is the area that I believe most Christians are “slothful”. We have opportunity for intimacy with God in His Word like never before in history, but we allow more distractions from that pursuit than ever before. Our spiritual lives are like our gym memberships – they look good on paper but do not work if we do not show up and exercise. We have to get up off of the couch and have God’s Word run through us daily so that we are zealous for the right things.

Next, is to be “fervent in spirit”. This word “fervent” literally means to bubble or boil over. This is the word to describe what happens when something is cooking on the stove and the heat makes the liquid literally boil up over the edge and out of the pot. The Holy Spirit is convicting you – firing you up – through the reading of God’s Word (if you are not in God’s Word, that is why you have no fire), and that belief should be boiling over into your life. You will not be able to contain it! What is inside of you will ultimately be what comes out, or at least that is what Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance (overflow) of the heart the mouth speaks.” If we are loving and pursuing the Lord, it will be abundantly evident in what we talk about or post to social media (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

All of that should result in service of the Lord instead of service to self or someone else. This has really worked me over and caused me to look at who I serve – God, man, or myself.

For our next characteristic, let us look back at verse 12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” I feel that this characteristic flows out of the service of God from verse 11. Let me translate this for you: Be glad you have hope in Christ, have faith in Him through your troubles/sufferings/persecutions, endure through prayer.

Praise God that we have a hope and a future in Christ. If He has saved us, that means that we have trusted Him alone by grace through faith and have been made alive in Him (Ephesians 2:4-8). The hope we have in Christ is worth rejoicing over because it will “not put us to shame” because He has already won the victory (Romans 5:1-5)!

Hope in Him will sustain us through any suffering. That’s good news because there is suffering ahead. Paul lays this out clearly in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted….” Jesus suffered and was persecuted, and we will endure the same because of Him (John 15:20). Following Jesus has a cost, and Jesus Himself warned us to count it and consider it when deciding to follow Him (Luke 14:25-33). But, hear me out, it is worth whatever suffering. He is worth it all.

 So, how do we rejoice in our hope in Him during the sufferings we will have to endure? How can we feel close to Him during times where we will feel so far apart? We need to “be constant in prayer”. You cannot feel close to God if you are not close to Him. There are countless stories of people being martyred for their faith (Foxes Book of Martyrs, DC Talk’s Jesus Freaks books, etc.) that show people in times darker than I hope you have to endure who were closer to Jesus in their suffering than we are in our pews.

Think about Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael. They were ripped from their homes. They were castrated. Their godly names were taken away and given names of idols. They were slaves. The powers-that-be tried to hijack their minds. And literally everyone around them was hijacked – every, single, other person they knew. What protected them? What made them different? All throughout Daniel 1-6, they are shown to be praying – it was their custom. They were constant in prayer on the random Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays when nothing was going on. They talked with the Lord everyday because they had a relationship with Him. Their everyday faith was already in place when the extraordinary days happened.

Hear me on this: if your faith is not necessary to get through a random, mundane Monday, it will not stand when persecution comes. So, how can we prepare? What diet and exercise regimen do we need for spiritual health? It is simple:

  • Spend time in God’s Word daily
  • Spend time talking to Him daily; if you do not know how, Jesus teaches you in Matthew 6:5-15.
  • Let the beliefs and convictions you find in reading the Word and praying lead you to serve Him.

This week’s devotion has weighed heavily on me and convicted me. I pray that God will grant me repentance in these areas and for you to have the same as well.

Refresh & Restore – 6/18/2020

Romans 12:9-10 —

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 —

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Greetings, readers! Thank you again for reading, and I hope that it is building you up and helping you to grow in Jesus! If you have been reading with us, you know that we have been walking through Romans 12 and looking at the bride of Christ – the Church – and what it means to be the Church.

Romans 12:1-2 show us what it means to genuinely worship Jesus as living sacrifices. There we see the stark reminder that we need to be transformed from the inside out – specifically our minds – and seek to not conform to the world but to Christ.

Then, Romans 12:3-8 expanded on the idea of being “transformed by the renewal of our minds” by showing us how we should think about ourselves and the rest of the body of Christ. We should remember to not think too highly of ourselves. And we should remember that the body of Christ is made up of more than just us. The Church is God’s bride and getting to belong to that body is a special thing.

The rest of chapter twelve looks at what some people like to call the “marks of the true Christian”, but I want to frame it differently in your mind. I want you to think of the rest of Romans 12 (this will take us a few weeks) as your yearly wellness checkup with your doctor; except, in this case, you are meeting with the Great Physician for a spiritual diagnosis.

The first characteristics we will look at have to do with love, and I think the 1 Corinthians 13 passage listed at the beginning gives us the best opportunity to understand the scope of what is expected of us.

No act of service or ministry or faith is enough if it is performed without love. You can be the best preacher in the world and still be the least effective if your ministry does not come from love. You would be just as effective banging trashcan lids together.

The same thing goes for all of the characteristics of the Church (which is why these are listed first). Without love, the Church amounts to nothing and will gain nothing. Think about the reputation that your local church has in its community. Is it known for the love its members show one another? Is it known for showing its community the love of Christ? It’s very likely that – if it is not known for love – it’s not known at all. And without love, the melody of its church bells will be grating to the ears and turn people away.

This is not meant to be an accusation against the character of the Church. These characteristics are meant to instruct the Church on what is expected of it. They are meant to remind us of whose we are. They show us how to “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) and to show/teach us how to live so that when the world around us – our communities and neighborhoods – watches, they see Christ and not our failures and faults. This is our opportunity to repent and change the way that we live. So, let’s dive on into the first characteristic: “Let love be genuine” (v. 9a).

The word for “genuine” here is literally the opposite of hypocrite in the original language. It could basically read “let love be without hypocrisy” or “let love not be fake”. This begins in our own hearts and cannot fall on anyone else. It is also easier said than done.        

Genuine love stems from the love Christ has for us and how He showed us that love. He loved us when we were unlovable. He brought us in when we were far off.

1 John 3:16 puts this in perspective: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” In fact, keep going throughout the rest of chapters three and four of 1 John, and you see John back up Paul in saying that love is the first characteristic that shows people have been born again. But the world has had much more effect on us than we would care to admit.

The world around us is full of fake, hypocritical love. The word “love” is tossed about so freely that it is often wasted. It is sometimes used to wound or take advantage of someone or a situation. But that is not the intention here. The word translated “love” here is the word agape which describes the unconditional, never ending, always and forever love of God. Again, it points back to the way that God loves us and uses it as a benchmark for us to learn how to love other people.

Does this mean that if we are messing up here that we are not saved? Not necessarily. What it does mean for us is that we have a love that is continually shown to us that should inspire us to love others. Paul describes that love in 1 Timothy 1:5: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” That is the beginning of genuine love – our hearts changed by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

The next characteristic builds on the first. “Abhor what is evil; hold fast what is good” (v. 9b). This characteristic has two parts. The word “abhor” means “to hate”. It sounds odd to talk about hate in a Bible conversation – especially one about love, but we cannot follow Christ and the world at the same time. Those are two totally different directions. Amos 5:15 adds some context: “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…”. If you want to follow after Christ, it means that there are some things that are going to have to stop in your life – that is called repentance!

This is tough, but I think Paul explains it well in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 when he says, “test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Basically, if you are spending time in God’s Word and following what it says, especially regarding loving Him and people, it will be very clear what is right and wrong – good and evil. Love what He loves, and hate what He hates. This needs to happen in your own life before you should ever hope to step into that role in someone else’s life!

We have one more characteristic to look at today that will bind all of the rest of this together. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (v. 10).

The most surefire way that I know of to love others is to put them before yourself. Love is affection and care for someone else. And, as often as the word love is wasted and misused, it is very clear to know when you are loved by someone or not. Remember here that these characteristics describe what the Church should be. And the love that we have been looking at today is definitely different than the world around us. The world around us is filled with hate and despair. This is a dog-eat-dog world where nearly everyone’s mantra is to take care of themselves first. But it should not be so in Christ’s Church.

Our churches should be known for our people taking care of each other. Look at the first church in Acts 2:42-47. They were devoted to the study of the Bible and praying in such a way that it changed their life (Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit was moving powerfully in their time together (Acts 2:43). None of their people were in need because they loved and took care of each other (Acts 2:44-45). And they longed to both come together and worship the Lord (Acts 2:46) and take that love and the Word of God into their communities (Acts 2:47). And the result was people came to know Christ.

I hope today’s devotion stirred something up in you. I know it has in me. As I study and write these devotions, I find that these areas are what I need to work on in myself. Better yet, they are the areas where Christ is continually molding and shaping me. I do not want to be a clanging cymbal. In fact, I genuinely want people to come away from being around me and feeling the love of Christ. I wish that I could say that is always the case, but I know that it is not. So, what do I do? Do I give up? Absolutely not!

I have to remind myself every day that Jesus Christ left His throne to come to earth and die on the cross for my sin. I have to remember that it was my debt He paid. And I get to remember that death could not hold Him and my sin no longer defines me. A love like that has an effect on a fellow.            

So, remember that I love you. And I am praying that God provide you an opportunity to feel His love and share it with someone today.

Refresh & Restore – 6/11/2020

Romans 12:3-8 —

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

            Greetings, readers! I am excited to continue working our way through Romans 12 and what it means to be the Church. I hope this finds you well, and I want you to know that I am praying for you.

Last week, we began looking at the nature of the Church in Romans 12:1-2 – focusing on the fact that the Bible tells us that it is made up of saved people and not wood or stone. We also looked how Christ has called us to voluntarily offer ourselves to Him as Lord in worship to Him.  Today, just as Paul built on that in Romans 12:3-8, I pray that we grow and build on our understanding.

Churches, especially here in the South, are all over the place. We have multiple denominations. And, unfortunately, there are so many reputations – good, bad, and ugly – that go along with all of that. For this reason alone, a refresher on what God intends for His Church is necessary. Hopefully, this will at least spark a little bit of revival for you, and, if necessary, an appropriate amount of repentance.

Paul starts this paragraph by giving believers a stark reminder (with “grace”): do not think more “highly [of yourself] than [you] ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (v. 3) If that did not hit you like a freight train, you need to read it another two or three times. This hits me like a sledgehammer and is a serious reminder of where Christ found His Church!

He did not find a group of lovely, clean, hard-working church folks who would make lovely additions to the nice brick country club on the corner. Romans 5:6 tells us, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly”, and, before we try to rationalize “weak” and “ungodly”, look at 5:8: “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Everyone one in church from the oldest member to the most revered and respected, and especially the pastor and deacons, have a past as a lost sinner. Every single part of Christ’s Church was formerly dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1), and, had it not been for God saving them – making them alive (Ephesians 2:4-5) – by His grace, they would be just like the lost world around them.

But it is easy to forget where you have come from when you feel like you have arrived and have some status. ***Buckle up here, if you are sensitive, because it is going to be a bumpy ride for a little ways.*** I wish I could point this out without pointing fingers at myself, but I have been guilty of this more times than I would ever care to admit. So many times, “church folks” look down at the lost and are so critical of their actions and ways. They/we point them out. They/we remark on how it is evident they are headed to Hell and understand why they are on their way. Let me tell you what makes the difference: putting our pointing fingers and gossip up, remembering that we deserve death and Hell for our own sin, and stopping to tell those we see that there is a Way out of death and sin, and His name is Jesus. That is what happens when we think on ourselves with “sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”: we remember that Jesus is the only Way for us to have any righteousness at all and not be left in our sin.

But there is good news, even in this. If Jesus can save us, we should have no doubts that He can save anyone. I promise you there is none reading this who is more self-righteous than I was during my twenties. I burned hot in anger in those years. And I burned myself out, too. Do you know what made the difference? I will tell you that time spent in God’s Word, prayer, and a repentant heart leads to healing and more grace than I deserve. David writes in Psalm 51:16-17:

“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

That “broken and contrite heart” is an invitation for the healing salve of God’s grace to do it’s work in our lives. When that happens, we see ourselves as we should, and we look to the broken and lost world around us with eyes that lead to sharing the gospel from the overflow of our hearts.

Alright, now that is said and done. Let us move on to calmer waters. Let us talk about the Body of Christ.

It is hard to understand the idea of church membership in the present age. We hear the phrase “member of a church”, and we automatically shift our understanding to being counted on a roll or having bought into a membership – like a country club or the Burger King Kid’s Club. But that is not what God had in mind when He laid this out in His Word. When He says through Paul in verse 4 that we are the “many members” of “one body”, He is giving us the image that we are all part of one organism – the Church – not an organization like many see the local churches. We are arms, legs, hands, feet, knees, and elbows.

The Body of Christ is to be carrying out His work in the world around us, wherever He has planted us. We should look at the communities surrounding our church buildings and homes as mission fields where we are being sent out. You see, that is exactly what they are and exactly why God has put you where He has – to be His hands and feet and carry out His plan for you (Ephesians 2:10) where He has you.

You may be thinking that you have nothing to offer. You may feel like you are not equipped or prepared to talk to people around you about Jesus. You may think that you are not gifted in those areas. Let me reassure you: every member has a function, and God equips those members to perform that function.

Now, having said that, everyone is not called to perform the same function. That is one reason why I am glad that we are in Romans 12 (for more on the body of Christ and spiritual gifts, check out 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4), because it does not get into the usual list of giftings that people think of when performing a “function” in the body of Christ. In fact, let us do away with the idea that someone must be a pastor, preacher, evangelist, missionary, Sunday school teacher, or worship leader to have a calling or a “function” in their local church. But God has a plan for all of us.

Romans 12:6-8 looks at various categories of service: prophecy (preaching the Word), service (taking care of any number of things), teaching (helping people understand the Word), exhorting (discipling other believers), leading (from whole churches to various smaller parts), and acts of mercy (acts of generosity). This list is not exhaustive, but, instead, it serves as a guide to get us thinking about how we can serve the Lord where He has planted us.

And that is what I want you to do: think about gifts that God has given you in your life and prayerfully look for opportunities to serve. Maybe you are not gifted to stand in front of the room and talk to the whole congregation; that is good because if everyone preached we would never get to lunch! Maybe you are not gifted to ____. But you do have a gift. Everyone does not perform the same function. But everyone does have a function.

I want to close by looking again at what we have talked about here today. Please note that my harsher tone in the section earlier was as much directed toward myself as it was to anyone else. I have a great love for Christ’s church, and I am passionate about sharing His Word with anyone who will listen. Sometimes that passion translates better than others.

I know that there is redemption to be found in Christ. I am more thankful for it than I could ever put into words. And I want you to find that as well. If you have reservations about finding a local church to be a part of, feel free to reach out to me. I would love to meet with you and pray with you, hearts and Bibles open, seeking the will of the Lord. If you feel that you have no gifting, I would love to sit down with you and help you seek the Lord to show what He has for you.

All in all, know that you are loved by God and that He has a plan for you. With that going for you, what can stand against you?

Refresh & Restore – 6/4/2020

Romans 12:1-2 —

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1 Peter 2:4-5 —

As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

            Greetings, readers! It is Thursday again, and I am excited to be writing to you. I am especially excited to be writing to you about the Word of God.

            I have been praying over where to go next in these devotions, and I find my heart and mind focused on the Church and what it means to be a part of it.  That led me to Romans 12 where we will be camping out over today and upcoming weeks.

            The Church – notice the capital “C”, referring to all believers everywhere (the Bride of Christ) – is a very special organism. You read that correctly, I said “organism” not “organization”. You see an organism is a grouping of parts that come together as a whole life[1]. The Church is made up of all saved people – no matter their nationality or denomination – coming together because of the Life – Jesus (John 14:6). John, in Revelation, gives us a picture of what we will all be like together in heaven as “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). That is a bit different than what we associate in our minds with the word “church”.

            We often think of a building or a specific gathering time of people in or around that building (Sundays from 11 to better-hope-he-stops-preaching-at-12). The Covid-19, #safeathome, lockdown has turned that understanding of church on its ears. But the Church has not stopped being the church – whether or not it has or has not physically met together. That is where Romans 12 comes into play.

            Romans 12 is a special chapter because it bridges the gap between the theology in chapters 1-11 and the application that follows in the remaining chapters, hence that’s what the “therefore” is there for in verse 1. Hear me clearly on this: theology – the study of God (in Scripture) is very, very important. But that study of God must result in application and obedience. I love the way that the New American Commentary on Romans puts it: “Theology in isolation promotes barren intellectualism. [Activity/application] apart from theological base is impotent to achieve its goals.” The Church needs both theology and application in its activity or else we will stay in the safety of our pews or comfortably padded seating and never impact the world with the Word of God.

            Verse 1 sees Paul’s appeal to the Church to “present [their] bodies as living sacrifice[s]”. Any reading in the Old Testament is sure to cross paths with the sacrificial system. This is necessary for our understanding of what God through Paul is asking of us. While he is not asking us to lay our bodies on an altar; he is calling for “living” sacrifices. The fact that it is “living” shows that it is voluntary. God wants us to willingly give our lives to Him – every day that we live.

            This imagery is uncomfortable, but it should not be. The Bible is clear that in order to be saved one must confess aloud that Jesus is Lord. Our problem often lies in the fact that we want to share lordship with Him, giving Him the parts we want Him to have and retaining control over the areas we want. That is not how lordship works. If He has bought us, we are His (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He could demand what He wants of us. But rather than treating us as His slaves, He wants us to want to give ourselves to Him.

            The best example I can think of is a little personal, but here it goes. The first decade of my marriage was made up of Candice working hard every day at work and then doing the vast majority of the work at home. I would work hard at work, stay late at work, and keep my mind on work all the live-long day.

Candice deserved my service; after all, I am supposed to be willing to give my life for her (Ephesians 5:25). I would – sad to say, seldomly – offer up my help (after she had likely asked repeatedly). But the area I hated the most was the dishes. She informed me one day that I should want to wash the dishes. I was dumbfounded – really, I was just dumb! Unfortunately, it took me a decade to realize that I love her more than work and genuinely wanted to do things for her – not because she needed help or any such foolishness – because of my love for her.

            God offered up His life for us in Christ and redeemed us – saved us. We should want to live our life for Him. Living our life for Him becomes less of an act of service than a response of love with love. Serving Him should not be a chore. Sooner or later, we have to realize how blessed we are to get to serve Him and spend time with Him. That realization is a game changer!

            More than that, He wants us to be different from the world around us. He commands us to not be “conformed to this world”. He wants His Church – His Bride to be different than the lost world around it. 1 John 2:15a says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Jesus does not want His Bride to have more than one object of its affection. He will NOT share His affection and adoration.

            Instead of being like the world, He calls for us to be “transformed by the renewal of [our minds]”. So many things come after our attention. Now, more than ever before in the history of the world, we are bombarded with more information and advertising than we can appropriately handle. We need our minds set on Christ (Colossians 3:1-3)! There is nothing inherently wrong with work or phones or hobbies, but, if it takes attention away from our spouse, we should know it needs to be taken away to save the relationship. What is there in your life that is trying – and likely succeeding – in taking your attention off of Christ? It’s time to redeem the relationship with Christ!

            Having an appropriate focus on Christ, offering ourselves daily to Him (Romans 12:1; Luke 9:23) in an act of worship, and taking our mind off of the world and putting it on Him helps us know His will for us. How can we know that? Is He going to speak audibly? Will I have a vision? While God can certainly do any of that as He pleases, I think Rick Warren put it best: “God’s will is found in God’s Word. Stop looking for a sign, and start looking for a verse.” There is no better way to put your mind on Christ and seek His will apart from His Word.

            The 1 Peter passage puts this all into context for us. Christ is saving people, and they are the “living stones” of His “spiritual house”. His Church is made up of people who are living out Romans 12:1-2 every day. They do not need buildings, although they are nice. They do not need priests to speak to God on their behalf. God has given us everything we need to follow Him. At some point, we just have to do it.

            Hopefully, it will not take you as long as it has for me to get the picture. But I am sure that many of our spiritual houses are not up to code.  Some of our bricks are half-baked with lacking devotion to God and too many distractions. Repentance is hard and it might be a bit of an embarrassment to have to start again. Hear me out: it is worth it all!

            My prayer for you today is that you can experience transformation from the renewal of your mind. And I think Colossians 3:1-3 describes that process best:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

May it be so in your life. Get your mind on Christ and be His Church.

[1] This is a combination of various definitions from Google and Merriam-Webster online.

Refresh & Restore – 5/28/2020

Acts 17:10-12 —

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

Romans 10:14-17 —

14  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.

Greetings, readers! It’s Thursday again – a day that is fast becoming one of my favorite days of the week because it means that I get to interact with you all in the Word of God via these devotions.

Today, we are going to look at some things the Word says about the Word. And, in doing so, I hope you find something that draws you closer to the Word of God and by it our Savior, Jesus Christ.

As I have shared with you in the past, these devotions were a response to part of Peter and John’s sermon in Acts 3, specifically verses 19-21:

“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 to you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago.”

We have looked at length about what it means to hope that “times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord”, and the primary way that we have seen the presence of the Lord play out in our lives is by reading the Word of God.

The passage above from Acts 17 introduces us to a group of people who have something important to teach us about the Word of God. Paul and Silas had just spent a period of time in Thessalonica where they “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying , ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3). They received a mixed response from the people there (which was nothing new – and still is not) where some were saved and others were angered. A group of locals got angry, literally drug some of the local believers out of their homes to the authorities, and accused Paul and Silas of “turn[ing] the world upside down” (v. 6). Then, the believers in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas to a town called Berea in the cover of night.

So, what do you think Paul and Silas did? (Hopefully, you read the Scripture passages before my writing.) That is right; they did the same (“as was his custom” – v. 2) as they always did: they went to the synagogue, opened up the Scriptures (Old Testament) and told those there how the Scriptures point to Jesus. They did this time and time again. Only Berea offered them a different response.

Look back at verse 11: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Rather than jumping up to respond without thinking or deciding they were heretics and planning to run them out of town, the Bereans at the synagogue rolled open the scrolls of Scripture in the synagogue and tested what was being preached to them by the Word of God. What an amazing idea!

I hope that you do the same thing when you sit under someone’s teaching or read their devotions or other writings. That’s right: I want you to always check what I say or write by the Word of God.  In fact, that’s the purpose of these weekly devotions; I want to help you seek out the presence of God in His Word.

We live in a world where it is easier than ever to seek out facts. For all of the foolishness that this world offers via the Internet and other sources, there are means by which to check up on things on a scale never dreamed of through most of history. Yet people are willing to believe whatever is presented them, allowing fear, anger, hatred, or whatever else to drive them rather than simply returning to the source.

Many places in the ancient near East where Paul and Silas were preaching did not have access to scrolls of the entire Scriptures at that time. The Bereans were blessed, and they knew it! They took full advantage of the gift they had been given in the Word of God. Yet each and every one of us have access to many physical Bibles and free access to many digital versions of it. And we take people at their word and neglect the Word.

The Bereans were eager to hear what Paul and Silas had to say. They found themselves moved by their preaching. Yet they did not rely on their hearts. Maybe they read Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” They checked everything that Paul and Silas said by the Word, and, when they found what they said to match up with the Word of God, many of them were saved.

This is extremely important because it reminds us how God intends salvation to work. Salvation cannot happen apart from the Word of God. Romans 10 offers us such a clear picture of what it takes to respond to the gospel and be saved. It also makes sure we know how to be saved. Romans 10:17 makes it clear that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

The Bible tells us the story of Jesus. It tells us that we are sinners (Romans 3:10, 23). It tells us that there is no way for us to remove our own sin aside from responding to the gift of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23). It tells us that God fully knew our sin and what it would cost for Him to take away that sin – and He paid the price for us (Romans 5:8). And the Bible makes it clear how to be saved: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

There is no salvation apart from that because there is no salvation apart from Jesus. I am not saying that testimonies or songs are not important or good things. I am simply saying that there is no substitute for the Word of God when it comes to people getting saved.

So, what will you do with this information? You could treat me like those whose worlds were turned upside down by the gospel in Thessalonica. They were so outraged that they followed Paul and Silas to Berea and kept…well, you will have to continue in Acts 17 on your own to see what happens there.

Maybe you spent adequate time with God in His Word. Maybe you open your Bible and check it every time you sit under preaching. Maybe you have it open right now, checking my words here. I genuinely hope this is the case. But, were I a betting man, I would wager that is not the case.

If you are not spending time with God in His Word daily, I urge you to repent. Seek Him there and He will be found. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said it thusly, “There is dust enough on some of [our] Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers [on its cover].” That was true when he preached in the 1800s, and it is true now. But he also said, “My dear friend, when grief presses you to the dust, worship there!”

So, wipe off the cover or reinstall the app – whatever you need to do – and get back in the Word of God. If you do not have one or would like to know how to get into the Word of God, I would love to talk to you. If you have questions, I cannot promise you that I will be able to answer them, but I can look in the Word of God with you to help you find the answers you seek. I genuinely hope that you will do this.

I want to close with some verses from Psalm 119 about the Bible. May they give you a hunger and thirst for the Word and you find Him there:

  • v. 9 – How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word.
  • v. 11 – I have stored up your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
  • v. 41 – Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise….
  • vv. 49-50 – Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in affliction, that your promise gives me life.
  • v.77 – Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.
  • v. 81 – My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word.
  • v. 105 – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Refresh & Restore – 5/21/2020

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.

            Greetings, readers! Writing these devotions, specifically getting to dive into Colossians 1:15-23, has been a joy for me, and I hope it has been of some encouragement for you.

            The first two weeks in this passage, we looked at the greatness and preeminence of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. We looked at how all of creation is by Him, through Him, and for Him. We looked at how fully embodied all that God is and yet is personal and sets His affections on us.

            I want us to pick up the idea of reconciliation again today. Last week, we ended with a plea for people to trust in Christ and be reconciled to Him and how reconciliation most simply means change – a change of status.  He sealed that reconciliation by “the blood of His cross” (v. 20). This week, I want us to look at our own pasts – for some of us, it will be our present, and I want us to get a clearer picture of what reconciliation means for us.

            In verse 21, Paul writes that we were “once alienated”. I thought about asking a rhetorical question here, like: have you ever felt alienated or isolated? But that is not a fair question in this day and age. Alienation and isolation have been the norm for the past two months, and it is in this fact that we begin to truly grasp reconciliation.

            The word translated “alienation” can be defined as being dislocated or excluded. It carries with it elements of one who would be considered a stranger or a foreigner.  Sin alienates us from God. Before one comes to know God and trust Him as Lord – before being born again – there is definite alienation (Ephesians 2:1-2, 12) because the dead cannot commune with the living.

            To get a better picture of this, I want to bring up some imagery from the Old Testament. Alienation was a byproduct of being unclean. Numbers 5:3, when speaking of people who were classified “unclean” for a number of reasons, says that they should be put “outside the camp, in the midst of which [the Lord dwells]”. There was a prescribed number of days in many situations to be spent outside the camp before they could return. The Old Testament “unclean” exile is a picture for us of the reality of our sin. Because of our sin, we are unclean, unrighteous, and hopelessly outside the camp of a relationship with God in Christ.

            This is where reconciliation comes in. If alienation is being dislocated or excluded, reconciliation becomes something better than a change of status. Reconciliation is being reunited or reestablished. It gives us the picture of a former way of life being left behind. To continue with the Old Testament imagery, Jesus was taken outside the “camp” to Golgotha and there was took our sin and made reconciliation for all those who put their trust in Him. Those whom He saves have a status change: dead to alive, lost to saved, unclean to clean, outside the camp to inside, and dislocated to reestablished.

            It reminds me of a change of status in my life. I can remember vividly the first time that I saw Candice. I had a theoretical knowledge that she existed as I had heard that our prospective pastor had a daughter around my age. I had heard that she was beautiful, but, for me, that remained to be seen. In my mind – pre-Candice – I was content with the status quo. Then, I met her.

            I am not writing you a tale of love at first sight, but let me tell you that meeting her and beginning to get to know her was more than enough for me to long for a change in status. I wanted to leave my former way of life behind. I did everything that I could over the next several years to pursue her. And, thankfully, some nearly nineteen years later, I get to pursue her still.

            My illustration falls short here, but I want you to keep that image in mind – the pursuit of a mate for the purpose of marriage. Look at how Paul speaks of reconciliation in verse 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.” If that sounds familiar to you, you may be thinking about the marriage passage in Ephesians 5. Look at verse 27 of that passage: “so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without any spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” He is speaking of Christ with His Bride, the Church!

            Christ loved His Bride so much that He gave His life for her. He “reconciled [her] in his body of flesh by His death” so that He could be with the Church for all eternity. That is better than a knot-headed Mississippi boy hoping to marry above himself; that’s God in love stooping to our level to pick us up, dust us off, and save us.

            God showed “His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He meets us where we are as lost sinners and offers – through the gospel in the Word of God – an opportunity for salvation. When people respond to the gospel with faith in Christ alone, the Bible says that they are born again. The change of status occurs.

            This next part is key to our understanding of this: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you have heard…”. This gives me a lump in my throat and a knot in the pit of my stomach. I would like to say that I never have any doubts. I wish I had a track record that gives me peace of mind. Folks, if I look to myself in this, I am hopeless – and rightfully so! But this is not meant to be a discouragement. Rather, it is meant to be an encouragement. Track with me here.

            If we truly stand upon the “hope of the gospel that [we] have heard”, if we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone – if we have been born again, we will continue in the faith because our salvation is not in our hands but in Christ’s. I know a lot of people want to leave salvation up to us, but let us look at a few verses to place our hope in His hands:

  • John 10:28-30 – “…I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
  • Romans 8:38-39 – For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • 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.

The “hope of the gospel” is real, genuine hope – desiring something good with the expectation of getting it – in something more than we can accomplish. Forget Allstate, you are in God’s hands.

            I would like to close with an extension of my earlier illustration. I first laid eyes on Candice in July 2001. As powerful a moment as that was, my status remained the same until June 17, 2006. Somewhere around two o’clock in the afternoon, I saw her more beautiful than I could imagine when the back doors of the church opened revealing her in her wedding dress. Shortly thereafter, I became her husband, a status I am glad to hold. I was no longer just a foolish boy pursuing a girl. Candice now has a foolish husband.

            I am not trying to be overly sappy. I want you to know that God looks at His Bride better and with more affection than I am capable of showing mine. God died AND lives for His Bride. And there will be a day when we can echo the words of the song:

“When we arrive on eternity’s shore | when death is just a memory and tears are no more | We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring | Your Bride will come together, and we’ll sing….”[1]

I plead with you: if you are not reconciled to Christ, you can be. If you are and you have forgotten how sweet it is, repent and find peace and joy in the love of your Savior.

[1] Phil Whickham, “Messiah/You’re Beautiful

Refresh & Restore – 5/14/2020

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.

            We are continuing in our journey through Colossians 1:15-23 this week, and I could not be more excited! This Christ-exalting hymn is packed full of opportunities to know King Jesus more fully. And, as we looked at last week, He is a personal God who gives us opportunity to know Him and be known by Him.

            It is my prayer that, through looking at these verses, you have a desire to draw nearer to Christ. I do not know about you, but I will never have the opportunity to enter into the court of a king here on Earth. I have as much chance being invited to tea with the queen at Buckingham Palace as I do conversing in the Oval Office. But that does not matter, because there are things more important than this world, and the King of kings and Lord of presidents has bought me and made me His own.

            That is where our focus is going to shift today, from focusing on His personal nature to that of Him being Lord – specifically, preeminent. Let us begin unpacking verses 15-18 to get a clearer picture.

            Verse 15 begins with our discussion from last week with Christ being the “image (icon) of the invisible God”; we’re going to look at the end of the verse today: “the firstborn of all creation”. This focuses on the rank and status of a firstborn son. In the ancient Near East, the firstborn son was above any of his other siblings. He would inherit all the power from his father. Here, we see that Jesus has the rank and status of His Father over their Creation. Jesus, “whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2), is preeminent over all Creation.

            Verse 16 says: “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.” Jesus, being God, is Creator. He existed before Creation and will still exist when all these things pass away. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). John 1:3 tells us that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” He is Lord of Creation. Nothing that we know – including ourselves – would exist if it was not for Jesus. Yet He set His affections on us!

            Often, we look at Creation and have a very children’s-story-Bible view of it; we often see it as God doing some stuff in a garden thousands of years ago and letting things work out on their own. But it is more than a story; it is our existence!  Look at the part of verse 16 where it says, “whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities”. Jesus’ preeminence in Creation is not limited to Genesis 1-2; He is working in the here and now as well. Right now, Satan thinks he is winning the cosmic battle between him and King Jesus. So many things seem to be going his way. Look at the words of the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”: “The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, For, lo, his doom is sure, One little word will fell him.” “One little word” is key to our understanding of Christ’s preeminence in creation. Let us look at verse 17 to understand.

            Verse 17 says, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” The first part of that verse continues the repeating of Christ’s being preeminent. Focus in on the second part: “in Him all things hold together”. Think back to creation (Genesis 1:1-3). God was there “in the beginning” and the Spirit of God “hovered over the face of the deep”, but what about the Son? Genesis 1:3 begins with “And God said…”. The Word of God (John 1:1-14). Here is where we see Jesus in Creation and how we understand verse 17! His very presence – the presence of the Word of God – is how everything, even today, is held together. Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.” So, I say it again, Jesus is preeminent in Creation. He is preeminent because He is the Creator.

            In the first part of verse 18, we see a shift in the language. Paul starts this passage looking at Christ as the supreme and sovereign Creator of everything. He then begins to look at the creation of the universe. His focus begins to zoom inward past all creation to the earth and, ultimately, to His Church – the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33). “And He is the head of the body, the church.”

            Too often, we confuse the Church with bricks and mortar, steeples and pews. But the Church is the redeemed of Christ, world-wide, throughout history, and even locally. Our focus needs to shift to understand our Christ more fully: “…the church [is] a living organism, inseparably tied together by the living Christ.”[1] To say that Christ is the “head of the body” is to say that He is Lord. Just as our physical bodies cannot continue without our heads, the Church is nothing without her head. He drives all functioning and sustains all life – He is the Life (John 14:6)!

            How does it accomplish all this? Because “He is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (v. 18b). His death secured His preeminence! Philippians 2:8-11 says,

“And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Without His death, we would never have Life.

Look at verse 20 for what this means for us: “…and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” This is where it becomes less of a study of Bible verses and intersects with our lives.

            That word “reconcile” changes everything for us. You see, at the end of the day, words like Lord and preeminent are just words if they do not have an impact on our lives. The word “reconcile” here could be translate as “change”. But what changed? Obviously, Jesus – being God – does not change. What changes is our status with Him.

            Our sin makes us an enemy of the sovereign God of the Universe (Romans 5:6-11). Without reconciliation, we remain in that sin. So, “For our sake, [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He gave His only Son (John 3:16) to make a Way for us – to reconcile our sin and bring us into His family. How can we have this reconciliation? We bow the knee. We submit to Him as Lord. It is more than just words; it is done with one’s life.

            There is reconciliation to be had, my friend. If you have not submitted to Christ, His word is very clear on how this can be done. Romans 10:9 says, “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Saved and reconciled are one and the same. All you have to do is call out to Him as in Romans 10:9, and the Bible says that you will be saved; in fact, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). If you would like someone to talk to about this, I would love to talk with you.

            Maybe you are reading this and have been saved, but you feel like the trajectory of your life has shifted. Times like we find ourselves in have effects on our lives. Know this: Christ is Lord over this as well. None of the happenings have surprised Him, and He is still on His throne! Turn to Him and call out to Him. He is sure to be found on our knees and in His Word. May you find “times of refreshing [that] come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:20).

[1] John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians and Philemon. 51

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).