Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore – 8/13/2020

17 And if you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1:17-21

Greetings Sojourners!

We are continuing on our journey through 1 Peter, looking at passages regarding hope. We have looked at our “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) in Christ Jesus through His resurrection. And last week, we looked at how we need to “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought…at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). Today, we are going to see how we are to look to our heavenly Father for hope in the depths of exile.

As we walk through these passages, it is easy to forget that Peter’s original readers were displaced from their homes and in foreign lands. It is easy to look at how these verses apply to us in our every day lives. And it is even easier to forget that we are exiles on the earth and distant from the Father’s house where He has a room for us in Heaven.

Let us think on that image of the Father’s house. So, often our view of heaven is some ethereal cloud city with harp playing and naked baby angels floating around. While there are numerous descriptions of Heaven in the Bible, Jesus’ words to His disciples – while they were afraid and confused, and He was about to be crucified – describe the specific living arrangements that should give us the most hope:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

(John 14:1-3)

To use the language from our passage today, “if you call on Him as Father” – that is, if you are saved/born again/have faith in Christ as Lord – you have a room in the Father’s house! That’s good news for us in our time of exile!

Now, some of us struggle with the idea that we are are currently in exile, but, rest assured, there is a much better future to be had with Christ than this world can possibly offer. Let Peter’s words give us correct context for our lives here on earth:

“And if you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited by your forefathers….”

(vv. 17-18a)

Fear seems to be an odd command since we are focusing on hope. But God, in His Sovereign wisdom, put these Scriptures exactly as He intended. What does that mean for us, then? How can fear produce hope?

The Bible talks a great deal about the fear of the Lord. A few verses that come to mind and have bearing on our passage today are:

  • Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
  • 2 Corinthians 7:1 – Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

When these verses speak of fearing God, they are not talking about a “paralyzing terror” but, instead, a “fear of God’s discipline and Fatherly displeasure…a reverence and awe that should characterize the lives of believers during their exile on earth”[i]. In other words, we live out what I often remind Keri and Xander when they are going places; I remind them whose they are and to act like Candice and I have taught them how to act!

We need to remember that – if we call on Him as Father – we are His! And, when we remember who we belong to, it affects the way we live. As I type this, I think about all the lessons and training that my parents gave me that still come to mind and have bearing on how I live, work, and raise my own children. What lessons and training have you received from the Father?

When Peter talks to these exiles about Who they belong to, he reminds them that they were “ransomed” (v. 18). First, they were ransomed – liberated/set free/delivered by paying a ransom – from their bondage to sin and death! Second, they were ransomed from the baggage of their flesh – the things that still linger in our flesh after we are saved but while we are still exiled on earth and awaiting heaven.

Peter wants them to remember that they do not have to be in bondage to the “futile ways” – useless ways – that were a part of their past. They hold no power over us anymore!  This is like Paul’s reminder in Ephesians 4:17 that we “must no longer walk as Gentiles do in the futility of their minds”. Instead, we “set [our] hope fully on…grace” (1 Peter 1:13).

Peter also gives his readers a reminder of the ransom – the cost – that was paid for them. The cost was the “precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (v. 19). He gave His sinless, perfect life for us that we may have Life! He – who was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (v. 20) – humbled Himself and died in our place. And it is through Him alone that we are “believers in God” (v. 21).

It is because of that sacrifice – and because of the resurrection that came from it – that we have reason for faith and hope. You see, we can now understand why Jesus would tell His disciples to not let their hearts be “troubled” but to “believe”. We can understand what it means for belief to produce hope amid fear. We just have to remember whose we are.

Jesus – the One whom God “raised from the dead and gave Him glory” – is the One in whom we have faith in and, thereby, hope. And “hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5).

So, if you are calling out to the Lord as Father and living in fear, let us make sure that our fear is put in correct placement.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way…. (Psalm 46:1-2a)

Let us set our hope on Christ. Let our fear be reserved for Him while we trust that His loving-kindness carries us through our troubles until our exile is over and we see Him face to face.

[i] ESV Study Bible

Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore – 8/6/2020

1 Peter 1:13 —

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:1-4 —

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Greetings, Sojourners!

We are continuing our journey together through the hope found in 1 Peter, and I am extremely thankful for today’s passage.

There are so many things fighting for my attention and grabbing at my thoughts – outside voices and from within me. Fear and biased rhetoric are at all time highs in our society. I cannot speak for you, but my mind has been all over the place. It is easy for the doubts and fears in my mind to take over.

The Scripture we are looking at today can help us with this, but we need to realize what these verses are and are not supposed to do. Firstly, we need to realize that these verses are for people who have confessed Jesus as their Lord. There is no way for us to hope to get our minds under subjection if our lives are not subject to Him. Secondly, these verses are not magic words that will ward off the boogie-man of our wayward minds. They are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching”; they are meant to teach us and correct us that we “may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

In this passage, Peter urges his readers to be “preparing [their] mind for action”. This is good advice, but it is much easier said than done.[i] To help us understand what Peter means, we need to look at what this phrase meant in the original language. This phrase, translated literally, would be to “gird up the loins of your mind”.

The idea of girding up one’s loins goes back thousands of years – back before pants and shorts – to when everyone, even warriors wore robes and tunics. So, if they ever needed to get anywhere quickly, they needed to (sort of) hitch up their skirt tails and confine them with their belt. It kept the soldiers from, literally, being tripped up.

To apply it to our lives and minds, think of all of the stray or wild thoughts that go through your mind on a daily basis – especially in times where your anxiety is heightened – as stray cloth that is tripping you up. The image is fitting. We find ourselves unable to think or focus because our thoughts are everywhere. So, Peter’s advice for us to gird up the loins of our mind – prepare our minds for action – means that we need to gather up our thoughts and pull them into submission, cinching them up in the “belt of truth” (Ephesians 6:14).

1 Peter 1:13 gives us another image to clarify what needs to happen in our minds when he urges his readers to be “sober-minded”. The idea of being sober contrasts that of being drunk. Just as alcohol or drugs alter one’s mind, our stray thoughts take our minds off where their focus should be and puts it elsewhere. When the mind of a believer loses its focus on Christ, it is no wonder we begin to feel hopeless. But we do not have to lose hope because our hope in Jesus is different than worldly hope – it is living (1 Peter 1:3)!

And that living hope is where our focus should be. I love the way that Peter puts it here: “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. In the case of setting our hope, I think the best illustration is a thermostat. But, before I show you that illustration, let us look at how Peter’s urge for us to “set” our hope on Christ fits with Paul’s in Colossians 3.

When we are urged to set our hope on Christ, it is quite specific. We are to set our hope “fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”, showing us that our hope is to be fixed on Jesus – specifically on the fact that He is coming back! Similarly, Paul begins in Colossians 3:1 with the idea that those who “have been raised with Christ” – born again, saved – should be seeking things from “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God”. In other words, our hope is in what – Who – is coming.

Paul goes on to urge believers to “set [their] minds on things that are above” instead of “things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:3). Here we see Paul telling his readers to fix their attention on heavenly things rather than earthly things. This is where the thermostat comes into play.

A thermostat is a glorious invention – that is, if you are the one who gets to control it. One can set their thermostat on a temperature and – Lord willing, everything in the air conditioner is working correctly – that small box will control the temperature throughout a house. You set it to a temperature and leave the air conditioner to do its work. You do not have to will your air conditioner on or off. They even make thermostats that can control the temperature on a schedule, adapted to when you are away or at home. It should be the same for our minds and our hope.

I realize that setting one’s hope or one’s mind is not as easy as pressing buttons. I understand that it takes time to train one’s mind to react under certain circumstances. But I know that, if I leave my mind to its own devices, I will be of no good to anyone – much less be of use to the Kingdom of God. This is something that I am having to practice and use often.

As I stated at the beginning of this devotion, tensions and anxiety are at all-time highs in the world around us. But Jesus is still “seated at the right hand of God” and we still await “the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. Paul Tripp asks a question that has stuck in my mind and challenged my fear and doubt: “Why allow yourself to fear the future when all of your days are held in the wise and loving hands of your Sovereign Savior King?” Our hope is in a King whose victory and return are fixed events in the future. If we believe that, we have faith that He has taken care of us, is taking care of us, and always will. But all of this talk is for nothing without hope in Christ.

This is very challenging for me because, apparently, I have a very specific sort of amnesia. I know Christ. I know and trust in His finished work on the cross. I know and trust that the tomb is empty and that He is at the right hand of the Father. I know that He has a plan for me. I just forget. But there is grace even in my forgetfulness. That grace is present in today’s passages. That is why I must set my hope fully – set my mind on things above – in order to be prepared for action.

So, how do we do this? My suggestions are simple:

  • Pray – This is the first step in setting our mind and hope. God wants us to talk to Him and trust Him for our daily needs. This gets our hearts and minds off of our problems and points them toward a solution.
  • Read the Word – If you find yourself struggling to hear the voice of God in the midst of your thoughts, you do not have to look for an ethereal voice to speak out. We have God’s words written and compiled in book form. If you want to hear God’s voice, read His Word.
  • Meditate on the Word – To meditate on God’s Word is to think and ponder on what His Word says. Here is a list of verses that can be handy to settle your mind: 1 Peter 1:13, Colossians 3:1-4, Romans 12:1-2, Psalm 121:1-2, Isaiah 43:1-3, and Matthew 11:28-30 (and many, many more).
  • Talk about the Lord – Share with others about the hope you have in Christ. You are likely surrounded with people who are feeling hopeless and isolated. God has planted you where you are for a reason.

I am praying for you regarding this, and I hope that you will pray for me as well. There is no better place to set our hope and our focus than on Jesus. This makes me think of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8: “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.” Sojourners, I can promise you that there is only one thing out there that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise; His name is Jesus. And, oh, what a change of mind occurs when we focus on Him – and a change of life, as well.

As always, I hope that you are loved and prayed for. Reach out if you need me. But, most importantly, you are loved by the King and any hand out to Him for help will not be brushed off.

[i] For additional resources related to “preparing your mind for action” in the context of 1 Peter 1:13, you can check out the message from Christ Community Church on Sunday, July 19, 2020.

Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore – 7/30/2020

1 Peter 1:3-5 —

3 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, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Greetings, Sojourners (I will explain this later)!

I am excited to continue writing to you about HOPE! Hope is something that we need to carry on in our day-to-day lives. And it is hope that is missing in much of what we take in on a daily basis.

1 Peter’s original audience was dispersed from their homes and were exiles in foreign countries. They were driven out of their homes for their faith in Christ. Persecution sought to silence them, yet, for these early believers, it did not steal their hope – it made them missionaries.

Last week, our focus was on the nature of our “living hope”. We were reminded of God’s “great mercy” and how He causes “us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. We looked at what it means to be born again and why it matters that our hope – found only in Jesus Christ – is living.

This “living hope” really helps to put things in perspective. By putting our hope in Jesus Christ and what He has done/is doing/will do for us, our point of view shifts. We shift from trying to earn, work, and do to trusting in what He did for us on the cross. We shift from looking at death as an ending because the grave could not hold our King. We shift from oppressive fear of the unknown to rejoicing in being known by a God who loves us, cares for us, and knows us.

So, if today finds you feeling hopeless, isolated, and alone, I am glad that God’s word has hope to share with you in today’s passage.

If you are born again, God has something special for you. We talk a lot about it when we look at the gospel and salvation, but, sometimes, we talk about it in such an abstract way that it seems as if it is not real to us. I am talking about eternal life.

You see, our “living hope” is not just for the here and now but for the always. Remember, these exiles were torn from the homeland where their ancestors had lived in for thousands of years – all the way back to their father Abraham (had many sons…). That land was intended to pass from them to their children, grandchildren, and so on. Now, that inheritance would go to someone else.  

It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of an inheritance like that. My branch of the Harris family came out of what is now the back corner of Grenada lake. A representative came to my forefathers with a check, and, despite their disinterest in selling, bought the family plot and flooded it for our recreational pleasure. My great-grandfather and grandfather ended up in Riverdale Road in Grenada across from the airport. If you ride by now, you will not see the old home place because it was cleared out for the fence and equipment where the runway extension lights now burn.

We have all, at one time or another, fantasized about that distant rich uncle who passed away and left you millions and a mansion, but, even if no Harris had been displaced, there was no vast inheritance waiting for me. For these exiles an inheritance was expected. They were of Israel, God’s chosen people of old. There was history there between them and God – history and many promises. What could compare with that? Verse 4 lays it out: “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”.

Once we are born again, we are born into an inheritance that supersedes anything that this world could offer. We are adopted into the family of the King of kings. He has an inheritance for us that is imperishable – that will neither die nor decay. It is undefiled – never be polluted or stained with sin. It is unfading – eternally fresh and flourishing. Our inheritance is full of life, peace, and perfection.

Most often, we equate this reward with Heaven. There is a street made of pure gold. Every precious stone known to man is used in the craftsmanship of its walls. There are riches there that no place on earth can even remotely begin to match. Yet it all pales in comparison to the glorious companionship we will have when we see Jesus! Eternity with Jesus is our inheritance! To echo the hymnwriter of old:

“What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see. I shall look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace…. What a day, glorious day, that will be!”

What a Day That Will Be”, Jim Hill (1955)

What can give more hope than that? The worst threats that this world can throw at us cannot offer a terror that can stand against eternity. The world can threaten us, beat us down, and even kill us, but the world’s greatest threat, death, is our greatest reward, Life (Romans 6:23, John 14:6). So, we do not have to live hopeless frightened lives because we know there is more to the story.

Furthermore, there is nothing we can do to lose that inheritance! Peter tells us that it is “kept in heaven for you” (v. 4) and that we are protected by “God’s power…being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (v. 5). Since our salvation was not paid for by us, it is not kept by us. Because our salvation rests solely on the power and might of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there is nothing that can wrestle it from His power (Romans 8:35-39). This is good news! And it should spur us on to hopeful living (Romans 8:24-25).

Just as the exiles that Peter wrote to did not cease serving the Lord when things got difficult (Acts 8:4), we must continue, patiently serving, when things get difficult. I think that Paul gives us a good example for what this hopeful living looks like in Philippians 1:21-23:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.”

When he penned these words, Paul was near the end of his life in a Roman prison. His sentence was death. Rather than cower in fear, he looked at his options: to live and continue preaching the gospel or to die under persecution and be with Jesus. Because of the HOPE that he had in Christ, he saw the first option as possible because his future was wrapped up in the second.

I do not know what you are going through right now, and I do not want to minimize your trials. Thankfully, we have likely not suffered in the same way that these exiles have. So, does this mean that what you are going through is not valid since it is less severe? Absolutely not! God’s Word gives us context to know that He can absolutely handle whatever situation we encounter – bad or worse. We can take whatever our situation to the Lord and trust that He has got this.

Maybe you are reading this and are at your wits end. Maybe you are contemplating giving up. Know that the “living hope” that Peter wrote about is not a hypothetical idea; that living hope exists in the person of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “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.” If you reach out to Jesus for help, it is comforting to know that “the mighty hand of God” will reach out to pull you up rather than beat you down farther.

Jeremiah 29:11 is often taken out of context. It was originally part of a promise for Israel when their Babylonian captivity was over. But its words echo the sentiment in today’s passage: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” If you have trusted in Christ, He has not forgotten you and has “a future and a hope” for you that is far beyond anything offered in the world.

In the meantime, between now and eternity, we do not have to continue to think of ourselves as exiles and outcasts. That word can also be translated “sojourners”. A sojourn is a temporary stay. Those of us who are born again are only here temporarily – worshiping and serving our Lord until we see Him face to face. And that future gives us hope on our way.            

So, Sojourner, know that you are loved and prayed for on your journey. As always, feel free to reach out if you need anything.

Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore – 7/23/2020

1 Peter 1:1-5 —

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,    2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for the obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

3 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, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

            Greetings, reader! I would like to start today’s devotion off with a question: have you ever felt hopeless and isolated? I think it is safe to say that everyone has felt that way from time to time, and – if you had not prior to 2020, you most likely have experienced it this year.

The people that Peter wrote to in his first letter were the poster children for hopeless and isolated. These exiles of the “Dispersion” saw a different kind of pandemic in their day, but, rather than a virus, they saw an outbreak of persecution in their home country. Acts 8:1-3 gives us some context:

And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

In the early chapters of the book of Acts, the Church was flourishing and growing. This is the very beginning of the Church, and the honeymoon period did not last long at all. In fact, this illustrates something important about the Church: if she reflects her Savior, she will be treated like He was. We often get caught up in terrible nature of their situation, but I want to draw your attention to the last verse quoted above: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the Word”.

If that strikes you as odd, you are not alone. Firstly, the church in America has never experienced persecution like this.[i] While many of our brothers and sisters around the world still face the same persecution and vastly more dangerous, we have yet to have to endure such things. Second, our fear of such persecution drives us to focus on the experience of those believers in Acts rather than their response. The believers in Acts continued to share their faith as they were scattered because their faith was genuine. And, out of that genuine faith, they found hope.

That hope is what I want us to look at and study today and over the coming weeks. 1 Peter is a book of hope for the scattered, isolated, and hopeless. So, we will dive into all the passages in this letter that talk about hope to see what the Lord offered the original audience through Peter – and thereby to us!

This first passage of hope is one of my favorites and one that I find myself quoting – to others and to myself – more and more often. As I quote it, I find myself laughing because, as an English teacher, this passage should drive me crazy because it is one, very long run-on sentence. Usually, run-ons drive me crazy, but, oddly enough, this one soothes me. It reminds me that the hope of God through Christ is overflowing and continual.

If you did not read the Scripture prior to my comments, please read it now. (If you only read one thing in what I post, your time and soul would be better served with the Scripture at the beginning than anything I offer.) We will dive in bit-by-bit and take up next week where we leave off.

The first phrase we see – “according to His great mercy” – is quite a big deal for us. You see, church-folks throw around words like grace and mercy, but that does not mean that we understand them. Grace (undeserved favor) often gets most of our focus. It is easily seen in Christ giving his life for us because the eternal life gained from such a gift is clearly not deserved by any sinner. Mercy is different, and it is a little bit less comfortable for us because it recognizes the reality and consequence of our sin.

If grace is God giving us something good that we do not deserve, mercy is God withholding punishment that we do deserve. Mercy is “divine forbearance” (Romans 3:25) where God holds off the penalty for our sin. Mercy is Jesus taking our punishment on Himself instead of it falling rightly on us. So, when Peter says that our being “born again” is according to God’s “great mercy”, we need to realize how big of a deal it truly is!

The term “born again” is especially important as well. Jesus talked to Nicodemus about it at length in John 3, going so far as to tell him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). To talk about being born again means we need to understand what happened after our first birth.

The Bible is clear that all human beings are sinners (Romans 3:10, 23). It also makes it abundantly clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Because of our sin, we are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-2) and effectively have earned a death penalty against a holy, righteous, and perfect God. Usually, death is a pretty permanent thing. There is no continue after the game over, that is, without Jesus.

You see, Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost” – those dead in their sin (Luke 19:10). Jesus died on behalf of lost sinners, giving opportunity for those sinners to put their trust and faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Those who put their trust in Him are born again. Ephesians 2:4-5 illustrates this well using similar language to 1 Peter 1:3: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…” (“saved” and “born again” are both phrases that talk about people who have trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord).

I know that is a lot to process, so let me bring it all back together. God – in his vast riches of mercy and grace – gives us the opportunity to have life instead of death by putting our trust and believing in Jesus. It is just that simple. He even clearly shows us how to go about doing it in His Word: “…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” (Romans 10:9).

This is good news! This is news that gives hope! And it seems like hope is in short supply in the world today. Because it is such a rare thing, I think it would do us well to define it. Hope is “confident optimism”. Confidence and optimism both seem to be in short supply as well. But we can be confident in Jesus and what He has done on our behalf.

The hope that we see here in 1 Peter 1:3 is a special kind of hope indeed. What little hope that can be found in the world is fleeting, but hope in Jesus is “living”. And hope in Him is living because He is alive! “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….” Amen.

As I type this, I am praying for you, reader. I do not know whether or not you are “born again”. I pray that, if you are not, you would cry out to God and ask Him to save you. The Romans 10 verse from above continues beyond the instructions on how to be saved; it also contains a promise: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). So, you do not have to remain hopeless. There is grace and mercy for you.

If you are reading this and are “born again”, I am praying for you also. I am praying that you will be reminded of the hope that you are re-born into. I am praying that when trials come – and they will if they have not already – you will not look horizontally at the world for help but vertically to Christ for the “living hope” promised here.

Either way, know that you have been prayed for. Feel free to reach out if you need a listening ear. Whether or not you want to talk to me or someone else, know that there is One greater than me Who would love to hear from you. Call on Him any time.

[i] I am immensely thankful that we have not had to endure persecution like many of our brothers and sisters around the world. We are blessed to live in a country where we still have the opportunity to be free to worship the Lord as He commands in His Word. However, I would like to give you two things to ponder on here: 1) 2 Timothy 3:12-13 tell us, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived”; and 2) we need to ask ourselves this startling question, “Are we using our religious freedom in our country to truly do what Jesus commanded – to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), or are we busy with other things instead?

Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore – 7/16/2020

Psalm 1 —

1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Greetings, readers! It is Thursday again, and I am glad for us to be spending time together in the Word today!

It is always my hope that these Refresh & Restore devotions serve as a reminder to us of Acts 3:19-21: “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 for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” It is good for us to repent and enjoy times of refreshment in the presence of God – specifically in His Word and prayer – while we follow Him and wait for all that He promised to take place.

Today, we are going to look at what it is like to follow God and be planted firmly in His Way in Psalm 1. This particular psalm reads a lot like the wisdom writing in the Proverbs. And, in it, we see how God intended for His people to live and be happy in Him.

I know for some people it seems like a stretch to imagine Christians to be happy. It is very sad to think that Christians – church folk, anyway – would be characterized as being anything other than happy because we have more to be happy about in Christ! On Thursday nights at Jesus Saves Bro, Tonya is always reminding folks how good it is to be saved and to be happy and excited about it. If nothing else, Psalm 1 shows us the difference in being saved/happy and lost/wretched.

We start off with a description of the “blessed…man” (or woman). The word translated “blessed” here can also be translated “happy” or “fortunate” – as in those who are saved are fortunate and should be happy in thinking about it. It follows with a description of what this “blessed” person does not do.

The “blessed” do not walk in the counsel of the wicked. This means that the lost world around them does not dictate what they do or how they live. It also means that our response to what happens in the world around us should be based on the Word of God instead of the way that the crowd around us does. The word “counsel” here reminds me how easy it is to have my mind hijacked by worldly thinking.

The “blessed” do not stand in the way of sinners. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 clears up what this means:

(vv. 14-15) “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”

Even though we continue to live and minister in a lost world, we must be careful and guard ourselves against the influence of the world. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. Essentially, we guard our minds with the “helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17), guard our hearts with the “breastplate of righteousness” and pull it all together with the “belt of truth” (Ephesians 6:14). And, being guarded in this way, we do not need to go in the “way of sinners”; we know the Way (John 14:6).

The “blessed” do not sit in the seat of scoffers. What in the world is a “scoffer”? I am glad you asked. Proverbs 21:24 says, “‘Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” The “blessed” person does not slump into the role of the arrogance and pride even though it is easy to do. We are instead characterized by the humility of Christ (Philippians 2:5), Him showing through us and not our own pride.

We see a lot of what the “blessed” person does not do, so what does he/she do? The “blessed” delights and meditates on the word of God. The word there for “delight” means to take joy or pleasure in or to recognize as costly or a treasure. Psalm 119:92 attributes this joy because “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” Basically, if it had not been for the law – the Word – the “blessed” person would not know what it is to be saved. They also “meditate” on the Word.

We have allowed the word “meditate” to be stolen from us by Eastern mysticism and the world. But it is a spiritual discipline found and highlighted by the Word of God. To “meditate” on the Word of God is to have it dwell in your mind. This may sound odd, but it reminds me of chewing gum, as in – we need to bite off some of God’s Word and chew on it throughout the day. Rather than try to rush through our reading of God’s Word each day or try to just get through the Word, we need the Word to get through us. When we “meditate” on the Word and it gets through us, we walk in the way of the “blessed” and have less desire to be “wicked”.

The comparison of the tree by the stream (“blessed”) and the wicked (“chaff”) shows just how clear the division between the two is. The “blessed” are “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (verse 3). Picture a majestic oak tree with luscious branches and beautiful leaves on the side of a river bank. Drought can hit the land, and many of the other trees around it may dry up, but it will continue to be healthy because its roots have nourishment beyond what can be seen. You see, the “blessed” are rooted in something greater than themselves (Colossians 2:6-7) and what the world can offer. But nourishment, in and of itself, is not enough.

Jesus said that a tree is known for its fruit (Matthew 7:20). Likewise, the “blessed” will be known by the fruit they bear. Again, the difference between the “blessed” and the “wicked” is clear. Jesus explains this better than I could ever hope to in John 15:4-6:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Apple trees bear apples. Orange trees bear oranges. And the “blessed” bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) because they are planted in Christ. Consequently, if there is absolutely no fruit of the Spirit in one’s life the opposite is true.

Roots are important. A tree can only grow so large if its roots are weak or shallow. Shallow or weak roots can cause a tree to fall. A strong enough storm can pluck a tree that lacks strong roots from the ground and carry it away. It is the same for the “wicked”. Without Christ, we are tossed about whenever trouble comes, and, if we remain solid during the storms of trouble, it is only because of Him (Matthew 7:24-27).

Ultimately, the only difference between the “blessed” and the “wicked” is a relationship with Christ. We live in a world that has more than enough trouble – especially in 2020, but we often want to truck on under our own steam and power. Maybe you are toiling away like that today. But, please hear me on this, there is no hope without a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I hope that you have a relationship with Him as you read this today, but, if you do not, I would love to talk with you. I want you to be planted by the water and have the assurance and hope that only comes from Him.

If you know Him today, rest assured that whatever storms come and rage against you that He is more than strong enough to hold you and keep you. Maybe you feel like you are hanging on by the roots. But if you are rooted to Jesus, that is more than enough to keep you safe through the storm!

Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore – 7/9/2020

Romans 12:18-21 —

18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

            Greetings, readers! We have finally arrived at the end of Romans 12. Now that we are here, I want to remind you why we started: to discover what God wants His Church to be like! We have looked at mindsets and walked through the characteristics of the Church.

My own heart has been worked over, and I have had to seek the Lord and repent in several areas. I have not arrived! But, thank the Lord, “He’s still working on me”!

While I enjoy writing these devotions, I find myself quite anxious while I type this one. These verses are quite heavy, and I do not feel that I can adequately break them down. Rather than try to fully explain it, I want us to understand the gist of what is being talked about here in the correct context.

It is easy to take these characteristics and try to make a list of rules to follow. When we read them, there are some that stick out and show us problem areas in our lives. This goes back to the image of a wellness visit with your doctor. Testing and blood work may show some area in your life that needs exercise or medication. Ultimately, the entire issue – both in the doctor’s office and in our walks with Christ – lies inside of us.

Sometimes we agree with the doctor and start on whatever regimen that he/she suggests. Other times we decide that we know better and carry on. Today, folks, we have an EKG of our spiritual heart that is likely going to show some irregular rhythms that need addressing.

In this case, we need to look back and remember what we were like before God saved us. Titus 3:3 describes it like this: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Notice the phrase “we ourselves were once” – this is supposed to be our past. This does not mean that we are perfect in our present, but it does mean that there should be differences from the past. It means that we should not freely partake of the sin that once enslaved us. There should be a struggle – a wrestling – with the former self (Romans 7:13-25).

Today’s characteristics in Romans 12 are a struggle for me, and they are a continuation out of the ones from last week.

It is human nature to want vengeance. If someone sins against us or is hateful toward us, we want that person to pay. It is what they deserve after all. We want restitution. We want amends to be made. We want that person to get worse than they gave to us. But there is a problem with that type of thinking in followers of Christ – that thinking does not follow Christ.

I worry here that I will not be able to adequately explain this, but, ultimately, there is not much explaining to be done. Our natural tendencies are toward sin and self-satisfaction. Our natural tendencies need redemption. Just as Titus 3:3 shows the former way of life for believers, Titus 3:4-5a gives a beautiful picture of new life in Christ: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy…”. Thankfully, God did not seek vengeance against us but decided to love us and make a Way for us!

Is that not one of the most uncomfortable thoughts – God taking vengeance on people? Yet, we certainly deserve it. Romans 6:23 tells us the “wages of sin is death”, meaning that we have earned a death sentence because of our sin. It is fitting for a punishment to be given out. It is right. It is just. But we only want justice for other people and not for ourselves if we have to pay a penalty. But, if we have trusted in Christ, He has paid the penalty for us.

Colossians 2:13-14 describes this so well:

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Let that sink in. Forgiveness of sin does not mean that it magically goes away. The penalty must be paid! Justice must be satisfied! If you are saved, Jesus in His mercy and grace paid your penalty by taking your/our punishment on Himself.

So, why am I talking about all of this? To understand why we should show kindness to our enemies cannot happen unless we understand how God showed kindness to His enemies – us. Romans 5:10 says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son….” If God had not shown kindness to us while we were His enemies, we would never have been reconciled to Him. It could not have happened any other way. If He had struck out at us in vengeance – which He would be just and right to do – we would already be in Hell.

Our treatment of our enemies ultimately reveals our hearts. Do we care more about their eternal souls or our own earthly comfort? This hurts my feelings. This makes me sad because I know the answer. I want to be happy and for people to treat me the way that I want to be treated. I want to be the center of my own universe. But Jesus is my Lord, and that means I need to submit and quit trying to sit on His throne in my life.

Look at Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In the context of this chapter, I believe that this needs to happen first in our own hearts. When we seek vengeance, it affects us more than the people with whom we are angry. When we do not forgive, it is really ourselves who are hurt and damaged. I have heard it said that refusing to forgive someone and holding a grudge is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die. We must remember that hate (again look at Titus 3:3) cannot exist in our hearts and not damage us.

It would be easy to stop here and just leave the forgiveness of our enemies as an issue for our own hearts, but I think there is a little more to it. There is also the issue of their hearts. Look at Romans 3:22b-25:

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins.”

Think about that phrase “passed over former sins”. This does not mean that God ignored those sins. It means that He was divinely patient with us. He did not strike us dead at the first sin. There was opportunity for faith and repentance!

Moreover, hatred and anger will never lead to faith and repentance. Think of how often you have heard someone (or said yourself) say “Go to Hell!” in anger. We pass it off as just a common, meaningless phrase, but that is what seeking vengeance leads to: your enemy going to Hell. My heart aches as I write these words because I have wanted that same thing for people who have done me wrong. But that is not how I learned about Christ (Ephesians 4:20)!

Whew! This is tough. But there is good news: God is sovereign and in control. He is not bound by my anger or hatred, and He is still working on me! If you find yourself in the same boat as me, trust me when I say there will be no moment easier to forgive someone than right now. Every moment you wait to forgive will be more and more difficult because hate will abide in your heart a little longer.

Pray for God to change your perspective and your heart. Ask Him to help you see the person who wronged you as a soul bound for an eternal destination. And let these words from 2 Timothy 2:24-26 be your heart and mind as you seek the Lord in this matter:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

I love you and am praying for you. May God continue to work on my heart and yours!

Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore – 7/2/2020

Romans 12:13-16 —

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Philippians 2:3-5 —

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus….

Greetings, readers! How is your spiritual wellness check going? I have heard from several that this journey through Romans 12 has been quite challenging. It has for me, as well.

I think these characteristics of the church are supposed to be convicting. They seem unattainable – or at least too hard for someone like me to live out in my life. But these characteristics are not meant to be attained or achieved by the likes of us. They are only to be accomplished by Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20)!

So far, the Word has shown us what it is like to love and live in faith out in the world. Now, we are to look again to our minds and hearts to see the attitudes that should motivate us in walking with Christ.

The Philippians 2 passage gives us a little bit of context. I will not go into too much detail there as I hope to write on Philippians 2 at a later date, but what we see in verses 3-5 – not being selfishly ambitious, counting others “more significant than [ourselves], looking to the interests of those around us – is a picture of the mind of Christ.

The concept of putting others is a bit foreign for most of us. We live in a day and age that is often described as being a dog-eat-dog world and running at a cut-throat pace. But Jesus wants more for His bride – His body. Notice I said “more for” not “more from” or “more out of”. This is important when looking at today’s characteristics because they are not so much actions that can be learned and practiced as they are motivations that have to be cultivated and engrained. Let’s walk through these verses to see what the Lord would have for us here.

Verse 13 says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” It is in our nature to look at verses such as this and fight against what they teach. Rather than get sidetracked by counter-arguments, let us look at it in the context of the whole chapter of Romans 12.

Think back to a few weeks ago when we looked at Romans 12:3-8 and the Church being Christ’s body. The body of Christ (the Church) is not a man-made organization. Its members are not to be thought of as individuals making up a corporation but rather to be parts of the body (i.e., losing an arm would be dismembered). So, when Paul talks about contributing to needs and showing hospitality, it is like saying take care of your arm for the sake of the rest of the body.

For centuries doctors could not fight against infection and knew, for them, it was better to sever the arm or leg than to allow gangrene or infection to set in and kill the entire body. It is the same principle here. If one of the members of our church is suffering or has a need that God has provided us the means to meet or take care of, we need to do it. It really is simple, and it flows out of love. Rather that cut that member out of fellowship for being in need, we reach out in love and meet the needs out of the overflow of God’s blessings to us.

Verse 14 cuts me right to the core. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” I struggle with this. When I was a kid, I was made fun of and bullied pretty heavily. My parents told me that I used to pray at night to be big like my Uncle Mike so that people would treat me differently. God answered that prayer quite specifically: when my Uncle Mike passed away, we were the same height, wore the same size clothing down to the shoes, and were within fifteen pounds of one another. I was finally big enough to make people leave me alone – or so I thought. All that happened was my heart changed and anger and bitterness had a bigger space to fill inside me.

The significance of this characteristic is that it changes the way we look at those who mistreat us. Those we are to be blessing are those who persecute us. They are lost people who are treating us poorly because of the gospel – which they need! By blessing them, we give opportunity for the Lord to work in their lives and their hearts be impacted by the gospel! Now, I do not mean the Southern “Bless your heart!” here (that’s more than likely meant as a politely worded curse). I believe that asking God to save those who are persecuting us 1) protects our hearts from bitterness, 2) gives us a Christ-like mindset, and 3) will see your  enemy become a brother or sister if they get saved.

Verses 15-16a say, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.” The first thing I see here is that we often misunderstand what it means to “live in harmony”. Paul is not telling the Church to just go along and get along. Harmony is much more complex. Think about a group of people singing in harmony. Every single syllable makes a specific chord. If you take one voice away, the chord changes. If one voice decides to sing a completely different song while the others are singing together, you get discord.

Essentially, our collective harmony is built around doing life together. The Christian life is not meant to be walked alone. The kidneys – while an important part of the body – cannot carry out all bodily functions. And part of our living in harmony and contributing to each of the needs of the saints is sharing in life together.

When a brother or sister is joyful over something in their life, are you joyful with them or do you resent and covet? When a member is sorrowful over something bad that happened in their life, are you crying with them or silently ecstatic that they got what you think they deserve? I can think of few sounds that are as beautiful to me as a church singing together. We must make sure our lives are singing the same song, as well.

Our last characteristic this week is found in verses 16b: “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” The word “haughty” here could be translated “arrogant” and “lowly” could be translated “downhearted”. Basically, we get the picture of one person whose worldly status has caused him/her to be swelled up with arrogance, while the other person’s lack of status causes them to be looked down upon. This should never be the case in the Church. This is backed up by James 2:1-7, verse 1 of which says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”

The gathering of the Church together should be a place where people from all walks of life should fit because of the shared faith, hope, and redemption found in salvation by Christ alone. The gospel does not discriminate. Anyone who repents and believes upon the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Anyone – rich, poor, skinny, fat, and every shade of skin on the planet.

This may seem odd, but I have never fully felt at home in church until about a year and a half ago. If you know me, you know I am weird – at the very least quirky, probably more than a little eccentric. I like stuff that many others do not: books, science fiction, comic books, etc. It has always been hard for me to fit in. Then, God allowed me to come to Christ Community Church. The slogan on the church sign is “everyone is welcome”, and, once inside, it holds true. Even the persecution gets it right; one gentlemen – quite aggravated after worshiping there one Sunday – said, “This is a church of misfits.” Amen, indeed!

While Christ Community is not perfect, it gives us a good picture of the Body of Christ. Everyone Christ has ever saved has was a sinner who needed saving. He does not save because of status; He saves lost sinners! The variety of differences are for His glory and much to be celebrated. Revelation 7:9 describes a multitude in heaven as being “from every nation, …all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” – a bunch of misfits, and all loved and adopted by God!

Knowing where the Church is headed and remembering from the depths of sin Christ brought us lead us to much love, care, and thoughtfulness in our daily lives. My prayer for you today is that you could view the world around you – especially your church family – the way Christ does. May it drive you to love and care for those around you and see people’s lives changed by the gospel! “Never be wise in your own sight” (v. 16). Let us not seek our own wisdom but His and follow after Him, and seeing the change only He can bring to our lives and communities!

Refresh & Restore

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

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

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?