Refresh & Restore — 9/17/2020

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:7-12

Greetings, Sojourners!

I am excited to bring you some good news today! That is, after all, what the gospel is – good news.

Over the past few weeks, we have been diving into what repentance is and how it fits into our walk with Christ. Part One showed us the example of King David. We saw how sin occurred in his life and how God uses David’s situation and the repentance that followed to teach us that repentance is a part of worship. Part Two helped us to realize that we need to acknowledge that our sin is against God and that we need a Savior.

The reality of our sin and our role in committing it is definitely bad news. My pastor, John Goldwater – who loves good news more than bad news, said in a sermon a couple weeks ago that we need the bad news to help us see and appreciate the good news. I agree. The reality of our sin and our realization that we need to cry out to our God and Savior Jesus Christ help us see the good news in the gospel. And, through the gospel, we can begin this week in looking at the good news regarding repentance.

As we journey through David’s song of repentance in Psalm 51, I hope that we can see what it is to be restored to the joy of salvation. I want to highlight the verses in today’s passage by looking at them in sections. As we walk through these verses, it is my prayer that you seek the Lord. Maybe you are missing the joy of His salvation in your life. It is my hope that you find yourself restored in your relationship to Him through the working of His Spirit in the reading of His Word!

vv. 7, 9

Verses 7 and 9 point to our need for cleansing. This carries over from last week’s passage, acknowledging our sin and need for salvation. The language that is used here – to be “purged” or “purified” with hyssop – brings up some Old Testament images. The priests used hyssop branches to sprinkle blood in various sacrifices. The biggest sacrifice was on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, when the priest would make a sacrifice on behalf of all of Israel and sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant. That day was very important in the life of Israel. It was a day that represented removing sin. But the priest would have to repeat it every year; in fact, Yom Kippur is coming up on September 28th.

The good news for us is that Jesus’ sacrifice takes away our sin forever! Hebrews 9:26b says, “But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” When we cry out to be cleansed, purified, and have the stain of our sin removed, we can rejoice because Jesus handles it once for all time! We can trust that God, through the finished work of Jesus, removes our sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). We can praise the Lord that He has “compassion on us”, tramples “our iniquities underfoot”, and casts “all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). You see, when Jesus cleanses from our sins, we are clean!

v. 8

If, at first glance, you find this verse to sound crazy, you are not alone. It defies logic and typical human thinking. Why would someone rejoice over being broken? Broken bones will certainly make someone cry out, but in praise? It is unheard of!

It is tempting to try and excuse this verse or glaze over it, but to do so would be to weaken what it is to repent. You see, repentance can only come out of a place of brokenness. Unless we reach that place in our lives where we truly understand our need to be saved, we will never submit to Christ. And, since our sin is against the holy, righteous God of the universe, the brokenness comes out of being chastised by Him:

  • Psalm 44:19 — …yet You have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death.
  • Psalm 32:3-4 – For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me, my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

But God does not break us to hurt us. He breaks us so that we find healing and Life in Him alone. There is good news because of the bad. The same hand that chastises us is reached out to pull us out of the muck and the mire, into His Fatherly embrace. 1 Peter 5:6-7 tells us to “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.”

Many people complain about old injuries and formerly broken bones aching when it rains or when bad weather approaches. For the believer, storms are going to happen in life – this much I can promise you. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 7:25: “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the Rock.” If you have your faith and trust in Christ, the wind and rain will not make the bones that He has broken ache; they will remind you of the grace and mercy He has already shone. They will remind you that His hand is outstretched to help you again and again and again.

v. 10

It is easy to forget that our hearts so often lead us astray. So much advice is spent trying to tell us to follow our hearts that we forget that God’s Word tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). And, while Jeremiah’s warning about our hearts is true, God also uses Him to bring us good news about our hearts: “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be there God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7). And how do we return to Him? By repenting of our sin and turning toward Him!

Through repentance and a relationship with Him, the reality is that He does create a new heart within us. Not only that, but He gives us His Spirit! I love these verses from Ezekiel because they give such vivid imagery for the change that occurs within our hearts:

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

Ezekiel 36:26

That’s good news! A heart of stone is dead, but praise God He, “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us…made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5)!

vv. 11-12

Our true fear is revealed in this portion of the song. We are afraid that God will abandon us, banish us, or stop loving us because we sin against Him. Everyone has felt this way as a child. I can remember a time in each of my kids’ lives where – when being punished – they asked if I still loved them. I can remember that it broke my heart when they asked. But do you know what I cannot remember? I cannot remember what they did to be punished. And the reason I cannot remember is because it has long since been forgiven.

We fear that God is going to abandon us because it is human nature to want to discard things that cause us pain. Part of repentance is acknowledging the pain that we cause our Father when we sin against Him. But the good news is that He will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Nothing will “be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

We can trust that He will not remove His Spirit from us because He is Emmanuel – God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23), and He has promised to be with us “always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 20:28). And it is because He will never leave us – because He will keep His Spirit with us – that we can rejoice! As painful as the process of repentance can be, it is – in and of itself – evidence of God’s Spirit at work in our lives (2 Timothy 2:25). So, if you feel the need to repent, rejoice! God is not done with you!            

I do not know where you are in your journey, but, I assure you, God is not done with you! Maybe you are cast down in your spirit. Maybe you feel like you are far away from the Lord. But let me encourage you to “draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a). Turn away from your sin and toward the Savior. Find joy in the comfort of His mercy and grace.

Refresh & Restore — 9/10/2020

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Psalm 51:1-6

Greetings, Sojourner!

What a joy it is to have the opportunity to be refreshed by the presence of our Savior. Yet sometimes the joy – the refreshment – seems far off. Sometimes this journey seems longer than it should.

There are times when this distant feeling comes from outside sources – spiritual warfare, persecution, general difficulties. But there are also times where our times of struggle and lack of refreshment come from our own sin. We looked last week at a situation in the life of King David where His own sin caused difficulties. And, it was through that narrative, that we began to understand our own sin and see the grand example of repentance that we so desperately need.

King David is often held up as the human standard for worshiping God. And, it is through his example of repentance, that we see what is perhaps one of the strongest examples of worshiping – turning away from his sin and to the loving-kindness and forgiveness of his God. Psalm 51, basically, is a song of worship from David to God repenting of his sin and celebrating being restored to a right relationship with Him. We will look at this psalm over the next few weeks in three sections: acknowledging our sin/seeking the Savior, being restored to the joy of salvation, and offering our acts of service to the Lord once more.

David begins this song with a plea for mercy. The word for “mercy” in the original language means to show favor, to be gracious, or to show compassion toward someone. It is a plea for God to withhold the judgment and punishment that is deserved for sin committed. It is the cry of the guilty.

This may sound odd, but it is absolutely imperative that we understand that we are guilty of sin. Repentance cannot occur until we understand that fact. No one will seek a Savior until they are convinced of their need to be saved. And only those who are guilty of sin need a Savior.

David cries out for God to “have mercy” on him, and cites the “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy” of God as reasons for the mercy to be given. This reminds me of the way children will go to their parents after messing up. It does not matter if it is a toddler bringing the pieces of something he or she knocked off and broke or a teenager calling home after running the car off into a ditch; the cry is the same. They seek after their parents to remember their love for them as they dispense punishment. They seek for mercy to triumph over judgment (James 2:13).

Psalm 123:3 says, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.” When David appeals to God’s “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy”, it is because it is very much different than what the world offers. Instead of the “contempt” we deserve, we seek for God to “wash [us] thoroughly from [our] iniquity” and to “cleanse [us] from [our] sin” (v. 2).

The terms “wash” (Exodus 19:10) and “cleanse” (Numbers 19:19) fit with the Old Testament sacrificial system. Again, this reminds us that we are guilty of our sin and that there is no way for us to clean ourselves up. Only God can do that. The way that David shows us to repent here in Psalm 51 is mirrored in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” These truths are echoed in 1 Peter 2:24 and in the old hymn:

“What can wash away my sin?
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”[1]

David tells the Lord, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (v. 4). Does this mean that Bathsheba, who David slept with and who shared the child who passed away, was not sinned against? Does this mean that Uriah, the husband whose wife was stolen – whose murder was arranged by David, was not sinned against? Absolutely not. David was guilty as charged on all counts – covetousness, deceit, adultery, murder. But who decided that coveting, deceiving, adultery, and murder are sin? There is only One.

As important as it is that we understand our guilt and our need for God’s mercy, we need to know and understand that our sin is against God. You see, God is holy, perfect, just, and righteous. He created the universe and everything in it, and mankind holds a special place in that creation. God is sovereign over His creation. He made the rules and gives the commands. And going against His command is an act against Him.

It is quite an uncomfortable thought to think that we are sinners against a holy and righteous God. It is more uncomfortable to think that He is, in the very least, displeased with us because of our sin. It is another thing entirely to realize that our sin separates us from Him. Romans 5:12 tells us that “just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin…so death spread to all men because all sinned”. We are reminded that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But, rather than leave us with our sin and death, King David leads the way to repentance and Life.

David reminds us that God “delight[s] in truth in the inward being” and “teach[es]…wisdom in the secret heart” (v. 6). God does not want to leave us in our sin. He has made a Way for us (John 14:6)! While David did not know the full picture, he pointed us in the right direction. There is good news to be had – even in the midst of sin and sorrow. And, being “grant[ed]…repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” that allows us to “come to [our] senses and escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:25-26) is good news, indeed!

We have looked today at what it is to be guilty of sin. We have seen a prime example of how to acknowledge that sin before the God we sinned against. But all of that is nothing if we are left in our sin. King David had faith that the “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy” of God would win out. Even though he did not understand it, his faith showed him a shadow of what we know through Romans 5:8: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. This is an important truth for us to remember!

We realize this in salvation. When confronted by our sin and need for a Savior, we have the opportunity to repent of our sins and turn to Christ, trusting and believing in Him (Romans 10:9-10, 13). That act of repentance starts one following after Jesus along His Way. But repentance does not end there because, unfortunately, sin does not end there.

1 John 2:1a-2 tells us:

“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Where sin continues, repentance must continue. And, thankfully, God is not done with us once we have sinned against Him. It turns out His mercy is indeed “abundant”, and His love is indeed “steadfast”. And it is in these truths that we find ourselves at either an impasse or a challenge.

Will we continue in our sinning against the holy, sovereign God of the universe, or will be submit to Him, seek after Him as Savior and Lord, and repent of our sin?

I cannot answer this for you. I cannot repent for you. No one can. This is personal between you and God. And, thankfully, He is a personal God who specializes in forgiveness, grace, and mercy. So, I urge you to consider King David’s song. May you sing out to God as a plea for mercy. May your heart’s song be a plea to His love and mercy and seek forgiveness.

If you do not know Christ as your Savior and Lord, it is my prayer that you cry out to Him and trust Him to save you.  And, if you know Him already, it is my prayer that you “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

As always, I want you to know that I love you and am praying for you, but, more than anything, I want you to know that you are loved by King Jesus. There is no greater love than that (John 15:13)!


Refresh & Restore – 9/3/2020

19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 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.

Acts 3:19-21

Greetings, Sojourners!

Twenty-one weeks ago, I began this journey of writing and sending out devotions. It has been one of the most enjoyable and challenging tasks that I have ever undertaken. I love the Word of God. And I love sharing that Word with others.

These verses grabbed my heart and inspired the scope and direction of these devotions. I wanted to show people that there are times of refreshing to be had in the presence of Jesus. I still want that. I wanted to show people that the way things are going on this earth are not going to be that way forever – that God has a plan for restoring His creation. The King of kings and Lord of lords – Jesus Christ, our Savior and God – has already won the victory. We can put our trust in Him.

But a key part of following and worshiping Him is a lot less enjoyable. Repentance occurs before refreshment. And repentance is not fun. I think Keri defined repentance better than I will ever be able. When she was first learning of the concept, she said it so simply: “I need to turn away from my sin and look at God”.

It seems like it gets, or at least feels, more difficult as the years go by, but it is always that simple. We are to look at the surpassing worth of our Savior and away from the filth and wickedness of our sin. We see who He is and what He has done, and our desire for Him should become greater than our desire to satisfy ourselves in our sin.

When I think of people who exemplify what it looks like to worship the Lord with abandon, there is perhaps no man in the history of the earth who has worshiped the Lord with such a heart as King David. The Bible describes him as one who “the Lord sought out…after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). And he loved the Lord.

David was an example of worship and trust before the Lord. He killed the giant Goliath to show God’s people that “there is a God in Israel” and “the Lord saves not with sword and spear” (1 Samuel 17:46-47). But David was a man, and he was a sinner.

1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired  about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

2 Samuel 11:1-3

As much as David shows us what it is to be a true worshiper of the Lord, we can learn more through his times of sin than we can in his times of victory. We can learn as much, if not more, in the way that he followed God after Bathsheba than we can in him standing over the corpse of Goliath. We have more in common with him here and need to learn from his example of repentance.

You see, David’s sin here was not unique. It happened just like all our sin does. He was not where he was supposed to be. He was not doing what he was supposed to be doing. Is that not how we fall into sin – being where we should not and doing what we should not?

It was spring and the armies of Israel were out waging war. David was a warrior king. He belonged on the battlefield with his men. They “ravaged” but he “remained”. Then “it happened”. Sin happened.

I do not believe it was an accident that David was on that rooftop. I think he accomplished what he set out to do – to get to lust after a beautiful woman. You see, as much as we would like to convince ourselves and others, we enjoy the sin with which we struggle. Think about it: gluttons do not gorge themselves on lettuce and carrots but fried chicken and Little Debbie snacks; the prideful do not revel in their failures but successes. We struggle with sin that we enjoy and struggle with stopping. And sin works the same way for us today as it did with David thousands of years ago.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James 1:13-15

When “it” happens for us, it begins in our hearts and minds. The idea is like a lure. It looks good to us. We occupy our minds with thinking about it until the point that the desire becomes acceptable to us. Once it becomes acceptable to us, it is only a matter of time before what is accepted becomes practiced.

We need to realize that, while the mechanics of sin is simple, the reality of it is not. James talks to us about how sin “brings forth death”. This is not a new truth; it is literally as old as mankind. We inherit the nature to sin from great-great-grand-daddy Adam. But our practice of sinning is our own. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death”. And that is exactly what David found himself confronted with.

You can follow the story in 2 Samuel 11. David lusts after Bathsheba and then sleeps with her. Not only is he a married man, but she is the wife of one of his mighty men. Their act of sin ends with her becoming pregnant. David’s cover up goes to great lengths before ending with him having her husband, Uriah killed.

2 Samuel 12 shows us how God confronted David in his sin through the prophet Nathan. I urge you to read it. God confronts us in our sin through the Word as well. David’s sin cost him the life of the child of his and Bathsheba’s union. I cannot explain it. The reality of it pains me to my soul. It is just what God’s Word tells us happened. Just as it tells us that “sin brings forth death”. It is the truth.

But there is good news even in sadness. Repentance restores us to God. Once God’s judgment and punishment showed up in David’s life, look at his response:

Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.

2 Samuel 12:20a

David turned from his sin and back to God. The Bible records David’s cry to God in repentance in Psalm 51, a passage that we will be walking through over the next few weeks.

It is my hope and prayer that you learn what it is to repent and turn back to God. I can attest to how painful a thing it is to be confronted with sin. But I can also testify to how worthy God is and how sweet it is to be restored to Him. So, if you want to experience a time of refreshing in the presence of the Lord, I pray that the Lord will grant you repentance (2 Timothy 2:25) and, instead of death, you experience Life in Christ:

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….

Ephesians 2:4-5

There is grace greater than our sin, and I pray you embrace it in Christ Jesus!

Refresh & Restore – 8/27/2020

1 Peter 3:14-16 —

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Greetings, Sojourners!

I have enjoyed our journey through 1 Peter looking at the hope that was offered to those original exiles and to us. As we get to our last passage today, I want to take a minute and remind us of the hope that we have looked at so far.

We have seen that the hope we have in Christ is different because it is “living” (1 Peter 1:3). We do not rely on a feeling or an experience because the object of our worship is the resurrected King Jesus; our hope is in Him. We have also seen how we need to prepare our minds for action by “set[ting our] hope fully on the grace” of Jesus (1 Peter 1:13); everything is under subjection to Jesus, including our thoughts. We were reminded that our “faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21) because of what He has done and is doing in our lives. Last week, we looked at how our hope in God adorns us (1 Peter 3:5) as we submit to God in our daily lives. How we hope determines how we live. And today, we are going to get a practical look at how our hope intersects and mingles with our daily lives.

One of the toughest aspects about being an exile is being different. Think about it. If you are an exile, you are from somewhere else – your very culture and values are foreign to where you are. That is the case for people who are living in exile around the world today.

When refugees flee from wicked dictators and terrorist regimes, they find themselves far away from home in lands that are not hospitable to them. Even in the US – a place known as a melting pot – refugees find it difficult because there are aspects of our culture that are foreign to them. And there are aspects of the refugee’s culture that are foreign to us. Think about the way that politicians, newscasters, and maybe even yourself or those around you have talked about the difficulties, or even dangers, of refugees coming into the country. People were/are afraid that these refugees would be more loyal to their homeland and be used to infiltrate our culture with terrorist ideals or – even worse – be a means by which the terrorists could gain access to us.

But God’s Word keeps reminding us: if we are born again, we are exiles. This world is not our home. The culture of a Christ-follower does not match up with the culture of the world. The values of a Christ-follower do not match up with the values of the world. Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:20 that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior”. We are to be more loyal to our heavenly homeland than to our place of earthly exile. And the ideals of our Savior and Lord are supposed to influence our place where He has planted us.

This causes difficulties both in us and around us. We struggle with our flesh because we desire to and do sin. We struggle with the world around us because we want to identify and fit into it. But God has called us to be different, and different is difficult.

Peter tells us that – if we live a Christ-like life – we will be reviled. This echoes Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”. Those who follow Christ will be noticeably different than the world around them. Just like in grade school, noticeable differences are noticed – and ridiculed. But Peter shows us a better response than “sticks and stones will break my bones”; he reminds us of our great Savior and the hope that He alone brings!

First, he tells them/us to “have no fear of them”. There is nothing that anyone or anything can do to us to remove our hope. There is nothing that can be done to remove our salvation from us. The most anyone could do is to kill us, and their greatest threat (death) is the believer’s greatest reward (eternity with Christ). Just as we looked at a few weeks ago, if we reverently fear the Lord, there is no reason to fear anyone on this earth.

Second, he tells them/us not to “be troubled”. This echoes words that Peter heard Jesus say on their last night together:

“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”

John 14:27

This was a reminder to Jesus’ closest followers that things were about to get hard – harder than they could have imagined. It was also a reminder that He was – and is – Emmanuel, God with us! We need to set our hope on Him!

Rather than fearing or being troubled, we are to honor Christ the Lord as holy. We need to remember that He is unlike anything in this world. Holy at its most simple means set apart. God is set apart from everything in this world and above all that seeks to do us harm. We need to remember that. Having our focus set correctly on Christ reminds us that our “help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). And, when we set our view of Him correctly, it impacts the way we live.

What Peter tells them/us next is a game changer. As I stated earlier, today’s passage gives us a practical application for our hope. Peter gives this advice: “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for are reason for the hope that is in you”. Wow! The hope you have in Christ should be so evident in your life that people want to know about it!

This is very convicting to me because, I know for a fact, that my hope has been less evident in my life this week than most others. I planned out the order of the passages in these devotions back in early July, and I had no idea what would be going on in my life in late August. But that is the beauty of the nature of our hope: it stays the same despite our circumstances!

So, here is the application I am preaching to myself today, and I hope it is of a help to you.

No matter the circumstances of my life, God is still on His throne. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). There is nothing that can unseat Him.

God was so moved by His love for the world that He laid His glory aside, humbled Himself, lived a sinless life, died the death I deserve, and rose again on the third day (Philippians 2:5-8, John 1:14, John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5). The gift of His life as found in the gospel is where I first found hope.

Once Jesus rose from the dead, He ascended back to the right hand of the Father, is high and lifted up with the name above every name, where He is interceding on my behalf as I type this devotion (Philippians 2:9-11, Romans 8:34).

Any suffering or trials that we may bear were first borne by Him, and He not only provides us an example for how to suffer well but has left us a Helper to get through it (Isaiah 53, John 15:18-27).

And, finally, He has poured out His love into our hearts that we may truly find peace and hope in Him:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:3-5

So I shall strive today to live – and hope – in such a way that people can see that I am not of this world because my Father is not of this world. I want people to see that I am an exile and seeking after something different than the world. Basically, I want to live my life in such a way that, when people want to know what is wrong with me, the answer is Jesus!

May we find hope in Him and point to Him no matter our situation!

Refresh & Restore – 8/20/2020

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

1 Peter 3:1-6

Greetings, Sojourners!

As we journey through 1 Peter looking at hope, I have to admit that this is not a passage that I initially wanted to cover. I thought long and hard about skipping it. This passage is not flashy. It is not exciting. In fact, if I am not careful, I can distract from its intended message.

But I am firmly convinced that we do not need flash or excitement. We need the word of God exactly as it is written. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that today’s passage is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for correction, and for training in righteousness” and that through it we may be “complete, equipped for every good work”. The Holy Spirit intended it to give hope to the exiles in Peter’s original audience, and He intends the same for us on our journey Home today.

It is not hard to see what the original context was here. Peter was talking to a group of people who were having difficult times for many different reasons. 1 Peter 2 covers people being subject to tyrant governments and emperors. It also covered how believers who had been sold into slavery were to treat their masters. Neither situation is ideal, and one is vastly worse than the other. Yet God called them to persevere and guard their conduct. Look at 1 Peter 2:19: “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly”.

That sounds ridiculous. From an earthly perspective – especially an American perspective, it is difficult to imagine why one would submit to unjust suffering. From a heavenly perspective, we see a picture of the mind and heart of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). 1 Peter 2:21-24 shows His example:

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.”

This shows us that Jesus patiently endured sorrow and was willing to suffer because His endurance gave time for our repentance. He bore the penalty for our sin on the cross. Basically, He died the death we deserve to give us the Life that He alone deserves. What a gift!

In the context of today’s passage, we see the picture of a godly wife yoked with an ungodly husband. I would love to say that this is an unusual situation. I genuinely wish that I could say that this is rare and instances of this are few and far between. But, just as Christ patiently endured until the time that our repentance came (or is still coming), these godly women show us what it is like to genuinely love someone and hope/pray for their salvation. Peter says that these women’s “respectful and pure conduct” can win their husbands to Christ.[i]

Look at the way Peter describes that conduct; he describes the conduct of these women to be their “adorning” – like beautiful clothing and jewelry! We have all met people who are just genuinely beautiful people. No matter what they wear or how they fix themselves up, they are beautiful from the inside out. We have also encountered people who – at first glance – are very physically attractive but whose internal ugliness eclipses any perceived beauty. Peter reminds these wives – and all of us today – to “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (v. 4).

The Bible is very clear on our heart: what is inside will show through to the outside. This is how Jesus put it in Matthew 7:33-34:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

There are many who like to speak of good things and try to hide the evil in their hearts, but Jesus makes it clear that what is inside will bleed through to the outside. I can, unfortunately, speak from experience: hatred on the inside will inevitably show up on the outside. We will be known by the fruit our lives bear.

Peter reminds these godly women of the heritage that they share. He tells them that if they “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (v. 6) that they are continuing in the legacy of Abraham’s wife Sarah who submitted to him.

Peter tells them that the adorning, the “hidden person of the heart”, is how the “holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands” (v. 5). And submitting to anything is one of the most difficult human actions. Submitting to something and giving it a place of authority is even more difficult.

So, what can we get out of all this? Where does the hope we need come into play?

Ultimately, our submission is to be to God, and I think that James gives us very good context for this:

“Therefore it says ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

James 4:7-8

If we are proud or puffed up, we hope only in ourselves. There is no place for submitting to Christ as Lord if our hearts are arrogant and conceited. If we are sitting on the throne of our hearts, Christ does not. So, we must submit to Him as Lord (Romans 10:9-10).

Once you submit to Him – once you are born again, saved, redeemed – things begin to change. What was dead inside of you is made alive (Ezekiel 36:26, Ephesians 2:4-5). Eventually, that inside change is going to work its way outside. It will affect your conduct and way of life. Your hope in the salvation that comes only from Christ is going to affect your outlook, your mindset, and your conduct. Are there going to be days and weeks where your old self and flesh win out? Unfortunately, there will. But the victory over all of it has already been won.

So, we find ourselves being willing to submit in order that people may be won to Christ. We find ourselves being willing to be reviled and persecuted so that those people mistreating us see our conduct, listen to the Word of God that we share with them, and their becoming our brother or sister when they repent and believe in Jesus. This, as usual, is easier said than done. But I can assure that it has value for your life. And it is absolutely what will eventually happen when you have genuine, living hope (1 Peter 1:3)!

I would urge you to think about godly people who you have seen endure hardship so that the gospel can go out. Maybe you have a pastor that endures hell from his congregation while we shares heaven with them. Maybe you know of someone who endures persecution in their work because they want to make sure their coworkers know the hope that comes only from Christ.

It is more likely that you know of a godly wife who puts up with more than you could imagine. You probably wonder how she could love her sorry husband or put up with his foolishness. You probably have told her that she should kick him to the curb for waste management to pick him up. But she sees something that you do not. She sees someone that needs saving. She sees someone who – if they would only repent and believe in Christ – can be so much more than you realize. She is looking at him like Christ looks at us.

And that should be the ultimate focus of our love: to see the people around us come to hear the gospel so that they can repent and believe. May the hope you have in Christ drive you to submit yourself to foolishness that He may receive glory! May the hope we have drive our conduct and our appearance. And, if we search our hearts and do not find that hope, may God grant us the repentance and faith in Him that we need the most!

[i] I know that there are genuinely terrible and terrifying situations built into some marriages. There is abuse and worse than I would ever hope to imagine people enduring. In those situations, do not hesitate to seek help or assistance.

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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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!