Thinking on Loss, Burnout, & Gospel Recovery


Disclaimer – This post is filled with feelings of lost. Understand that if you are looking for typical JKH writing, this is not it. This is dealing with intense feelings and will likely be updated as these feelings continue to be dealt with.


This morning, I woke up with high expectations for today. An Uber was scheduled to pick my family up from our hotel and take us to Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA; from there we would take in our first Braves game. It has been a beautiful day filled with laughter and sunshine. We heard a riveting example of John 1:14 at church. We shared in ridiculously large pieces of pizza and great tacos. Then, about halfway through the game, I was confronted by the enormity and finality of loss.

If one could add together the analogies of the feelings of being hit by a freight train and having one’s train derailed, you might get close to what loss feels like. And, as jarring as mine was, there are family members and friends much closer to the friend I lost than I, and my heart goes out to them. I pray for them in the aftermath of this loss that they will continue to feel more and more through the next few days, months, and years.

I had not talked to this friend more than in a few passing conversations on Facebook in a few years. Every time we saw one another, we embraced and were thoroughly glad to see each other. I kept up with him through social media. He did the same with me. Again, passing messages and participating in each other’s social media presences was the limit to our interactions for a few years.

We knew each other well when I was youth pastor at Duck Hill Baptist and he was a youth. We spent hours together each week. We talked about the Bible, movies, books, food, and life. We experienced joys together, and we experienced hurt and loss. When he was in trouble during his high school years and on through early adulthood, he knew he could call me and did when he needed me. We stood in ditches together with backward-facing cars in tall weeds. We stood together when parents arrived after the wrong place and time had been experienced. We rode together after vehicles had broken, even after our friendship began to feel a bit more distant. Then, he grew up, and I left Duck Hill. He grew up, and time and distance grew us farther apart.

I have reflected a lot on those years spent at Duck Hill, wondering where I went wrong. So many of those youth went their separate ways, and friendships began to become distant as well.

I was burned out at the end of my time there and did not realize it until I fully burned out in Picayune, moving back here hoping to leave ministry behind for good. There were so many battles fought during those Duck Hill years, so many foolish idols taking center stage instead of what was important. In the past, angrily, I have pointed the finger so many places, but the only blame I can place is on myself for being sidetracked by the idolatry of others and creating idolatry of my own. The fight initially took my focus, but I made it my focus all by myself. And a lot of kids I was responsible for discipling took on the fight themselves and lost a little in the effort.

God graciously redeemed my burnout and lit a fire in my heart that was never truly there in those Duck Hill years. I get to do all of the things that I actively did during those years. I get to lead worship, get to disciple, get to preach and teach the Word. But I do not get to fight any more. God has allowed me to get to make contact with many of those former youth from that era, including the friend that I lost. And I have gotten to reflect with some of them on how I feel like I failed them. But, now, I am thankful to begin to see how God has redeemed even my burnout. I am thankful I got to share that with my friend while he was alive.

I cannot un-live my past. But, praise God, He is redeeming my present and holds my future. I cannot un-lose my friend. But I can redeem the time I have with my friends.

If you are reading this and you were a youth when I was a youth pastor, I want to share with you what I was too foolish to understand then. I was never meant to be your primary example; I was supposed to point you to Christ. I was not supposed to be a role model of works-based theology but a living embodiment of preaching the grace of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

I find my older, present-day self thinking more and more of the value of Paul’s writings in 1 and 2 Corinthians, namely these two passages that follow here.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

During those years at Duck Hill, I pridefully built up a workaholic persona that was “wise according to worldly standards” but foolish according to God’s. I prided myself on how much of the Lord’s work I could do in my own strength only to find out that the Lord deigned sometimes to bless my work with His strength and all of the other times I wasted by showing works over grace. I boasted how much closer to God I was than those who touted their idolatry only to make an idol of the fight itself. Thankfully, he has allowed me to be broken to the point of realizing that I am only “in Christ Jesus” because of His grace, mercy, and love. I no longer want to boast in my strength because “what is weak” has shamed me. I no longer want to boast in my wisdom because foolishness has shamed me. I want my only boast to “boast in the Lord” and Him alone.

The second passage is Jesus’ words to Paul (and what Paul learned through the experience), recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I cannot go back and undo my past. And I do not need to. My weakness, foolishness, and, yes, even my failures have been a proving ground for the grace of God. He has proven that He is enough while I am not.

It is tempting to make a plea to reach out and help those who I may have led astray following my early pastoral example. But my strength now is still weakness. But, praise be to God, I can rejoice in the words of Christ – that His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in weakness. Rather than pointing you to me for more foolhardy examples, I point you to Christ and boast in Him. I pray you are able to find Him.

If you are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, that is okay, too. Sometimes I get to write to get my feelings out because it is the only way I can. This is one of those times. I pray that God can use this foolishness for His Kingdom.

Songs for Sunday, June 20 – Father’s Day 2021

I have been blessed to be a father for a little over eleven years now and to be around the church my entire life. You would think the two would go hand-in-hand, but often the church clashes with fathers.

This Sunday around the country, churches will be trying to exhort and encourage fathers, but it will come across as more of a rebuke and a bashing of fatherhood. That’s not what we’re going for this Sunday at Christ Community Church. We are going to worship our heavenly Father for the work of His Son in the power of His Spirit – and, hopefully, encourage some earthly dads to learn from Him as we do.

One of the things that has changed my perspective from rebuking/bashing in the name of statistics/warnings to encouraging/exhorting in the name of discipleship is my own experience as a father. You see, I do not need statistics to tell me of fatherly failures – I have been one many times and, unfortunately, will fail again. I want to look briefly at two passages today that show me that there is hope in the Father to make me (and anyone who knows and follow Him) a godly father.

Galatians 4:4-7 tells us,

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

No matter how much of a failure I am as a father, I am a child of the King and He is not a failure. The fact that His Fatherly love sent His Son to redeem me is a gift sufficient enough to account for my continued failings. After all, if He can bring me from life to death, if He is willing – in love – to adopt His enemy as His Son, is redeeming my care, parenting, and discipleship of my children too big for Him to accomplish? No! He has not just redeemed me but given me His Spirit to know when to cry out to Him like a child to a Father. And that same Spirit works in my heart toward my own children.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says,

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Being a godly father begins when, because we have been adopted/born again/saved, we worship God and love Him. This is not a Sunday-only deal. When we look at Moses’ declaration to fathers in Deuteronomy 6, he illustrates that one loves “the LORD [their] God” while they are talking to their children, while they are going about their day-to-day, while they are laying down to bed, and when they get up in the mornings. Worship is a lifestyle, and the lifestyle of a dad is a classroom for our kids. God is calling us to love Him in such a way that even our failures (and necessary repentance) point to Him!

That’s good news because I have plenty of failures but the Father has plenty of grace! And the more time I spend with my Father the better my kids’ father will be because the time spent with one’s father forms their future – for good or for bad.

So, that’s what we’ll be singing about and to this Sunday morning. We’ll lift high the name of our King Jesus by looking at the glorious love of the Father. Amen.

Here are our Scriptures & Songs:

  • Praying Scripture | Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV for familiarity) —

Our Father which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
Amen.

  • Scripture Reading | John 14:1-6

“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 will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

  • Scripture Reading | 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

  • Scripture Reading | Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.


We invite you to join us this Sunday at Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS!

We have two services Sunday morning!

  • 8:00a for those who prefer greater social distancing and masks worn by all
  • 11:00a for everyone else

Refresh & Restore — June 3, 2021

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.[1]       

1 John 5:6-13

Greetings, Sojourner!

As I sit and write to you today, I find my mind fixated on this past weekend spent at the Beautiful Feet ministry in Ft. Worth, TX. I could write to you about how jarring it is to see people living in such poverty-stricken conditions. I could write to you of the desperate situations that led many of the people that we met, talked to, and prayed for onto the streets, but, instead, I find myself thinking about John’s words in v. 13 of today’s passage: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” – and that is what stands out in my mind about Beautiful Feet – the eternal life offered and the example of those who are now believers.

This was my second time to go and witness the work that God is doing through Beautiful Feet (the Feet), but there were two things that grabbed my attention this time: 1) the impact that being saved (truly brought from death in sin to eternal life in Christ) has on people, and 2) the beauty of the testimony that God Himself bears about His Son. I believe both fit hand-in-hand (or in-foot, as seems appropriate here) with this week’s passage.

As John continues bringing his letter to a close, he focuses in on the testimony concerning Jesus. We focused last week on how God molds the beliefs of those who are “born of God” (5:1) to share in His love (5:2) and exhibit that love in keeping His commandments (5:3). This week’s passage shows the three-part testimony of the Son (water, blood, and Spirit) through the Father and what it is like for Him to be the object of our faith!

The Testimony of Water – He Was Born

When it talks of water here, it is referencing Christ’s birth (think of a mother’s water breaking when it is time for a baby to be born). The birth of Christ is important, and more than a mere holiday, because it shows His humanity. Part of that testimony is that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). We see in these verses that Jesus’ birth was one of extremely specific timing and circumstances – at just the right time in human history, “foreknown before the foundation of the world but…made manifest in the last times for” our sake (1 Peter 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Because “sin came into the world through one man” (Romans 5:12), Adam, all men would inherit a sin nature and the struggles that come with it. None of the sacrifices of the Old Testament system could take away sin, they could only point to the One who could, Jesus. Sin produces death (Genesis 3, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-2), and, as we have seen earlier in 1 John 1:9, we need God “to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – to cancel “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Colossians 2:14). Our debt from sin needs to be paid, but everyone on earth is in debt just the same, unable to pay their own way much less anyone else’s.

The only acceptable payment would be via propitiation (2:1-2, 4:10), but no one on earth is worthy to make the sacrifice for us (Romans 3:10, 3:23). So, God Himself stepped down to sacrifice Himself (John 1:14) meaning that the eternal God willingly became mortal. He lived the life that no other human on earth was capable of living (1 John 1:8, 10) – sinless perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15) as the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). And He, in the Person of God the Son – fully God and fully man – “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant…[and] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-7), which is the second testimony.

The Testimony of Blood – He Died (Yet Lives!)

Blood was an important part of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. Just as we saw our need for salvation through our forefather Adam in the first section, we see that the first physical deaths (God taking the lives of animals in the garden for their skins) were to cover the shame of Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Genesis 3:21). In the same way, our sin – and its shame – can be covered and cleansed by the blood of Jesus (1:7).

Jesus’ death on behalf of sinners shows love like nothing else (John 15:13). As I write this, it is Memorial Day, and I cannot help but think of those who gave their lives for the United States where I live. The way of life that is celebrated in America is bound up in the sacrifice of those brave men and women who died for their country and the ideals it represents. Their sacrifice points to the greater sacrifice of Christ, and we should be moved by and appreciate what He has done for us.

Think of the magnitude of His dying in our place: the God of the universe, “who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it” (Isaiah 42:5), “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Just as it was important that He was born “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), we see that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). He died the death that would provide cleansing of sins for all who trust (believe, have faith) in Him! Through His death, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, [makes] us alive together with Christ”, saving sinners by His grace (Ephesians 2:4-5). On the cross, He took the “record of debt that stood against us” because of our sin and “set it aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). The old hymn “It is Well” sums it up beautifully[2]:

“My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought – my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul!”

We do not have to mourn His death – thanks be to God! Jesus did not stay dead, and we can rejoice with the angels who said, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said” (Matthew 28:6)! The “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) was different than other sacrificial lambs – He is risen forevermore as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David”, the “Lamb standing as though it had been slain” on the throne (Revelation 5:5-6)! And through His death, and especially His resurrection, we see the victory that overcomes the world (5:4-5) and can echo Paul when He praises God for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:57: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” who is alive and well!

The Testimony of the Spirit
(and the Evidence of Eternal Life Where He Abides)

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are irrefutable evidence from heaven, but He shows Himself to be true here on earth because His “Spirit is truth” (v. 6). This is important because His Spirit dwelling in those who are born again is how God abides in His children (4:16). If we claim to have Christ, we have His Spirit. Now, this is difficult because many people treat the Spirit awkwardly by either keeping Him at a distance and calling it reverence or treating Him like parlor tricks and calling it charisma. This is where last weekend at Beautiful Feet challenged what we far too often are willing to accept regarding being filled with God’s Spirit.

Beautiful Feet is more than a ministry that feeds hungry and clothes the poor. If you read the history of their ministry, you see their motto “Sharing the Gospel, Serving the Poor”, which is the entire scope of their ministry – the heart that God Himself has given them for the least-of-these in Ft. Worth. They want to share Christ with people in equal portion to the physical needs that they meet. They want to bless those who cannot bless them in return by giving them everything that Christ has to offer (and food, clothing, medical care – which pale in comparison to the gift of His grace). The thing that was most striking to me is the number of people who 1) are born again because they found faith in Christ through His grace and mercy and 2) those who are saved, after being discipled in the Word and finding employment and housing (which they desperately needed), are seen returning to the Feet to share the gospel (and meet physical needs) with others who were like them.

The Spirit is evident in their lives because they live out the gospel. The Spirit is not a parlor trick for them because tricks do not save (2 Corinthians 4:2); fake does not fool those who have been turned out on the streets; and only the love of Christ transcends “word or talk” to live in “deed and in truth” when sharing His love with others (3:18). God blessed these disciples through the Feet and servants of God who had “the world’s goods”, saw their brother and sister in need and opened their hearts because of the love of God poured forth in their hearts by His Spirit. These servants shared that love by laying their own lives down as worship – in response to the Life God gave them (3:16-17). How sad it is that this seems so foreign among church-people today!

Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 in Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” This is more than a theme verse for this ministry – or evangelism in general; they literally seek to be God’s feet as part of the His body – the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12). And, in serving with them this weekend, I realized that my feet do not carry the gospel as readily as they should. Forgive the crude parallel here, but I need a bit of a spiritual pedicure – for Jesus to cleanse my gospel feet that I may have share with Him (John 13:8).

John says that “the Spirit and the water and the blood” testify to who Jesus is and agree (v. 8), but he tells us that the “testimony of God is greater” than that of men because “whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in Himself” (vv. 9-10). I have had to look at my life and ask whether it agrees with the testimony of God, and I am asking that He arrange my life so that it testifies more to Him than about me, that my feet can be about His business rather than shod in Sunday shoes in the comfort of a church building or propped up serving my own laziness. I ask that He help you to do the same in your own life and grant the repentance and cleansing to walk His gospel out in the community He has planted you.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 5:6–13.

[2] Horatio Spafford, “It is Well

Refresh & Restore — May 27, 2021

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?[1]     

1 John 5:1-5

Greetings, Sojourner!

Our study of 1 John is winding to a close; we are in the last chapter! I am thankful for the opportunity to look deeply at John’s heart for those he wrote to and God’s heart for us who read these words today. What good news it is that Jesus has provided for us to partake of His Life, Light, and Love and get to share it with others wherever He plants us!

As I mentioned last week, I am amazed at how God’s Word shows Itself to be eternal and prophetic by how what He wrote so long ago fitting perfectly with what we experience today. And, like the loving Father He is, God provides what we need in the midst of our experiences – before we need them, in the midst of our trials, and eternally as His children!

Today’s passage looks at some beliefs about God and how they are supposed to affect our lives. I would like to urge you to pause here and ask God that this be a time where you can look at your beliefs and make sure they line up with God’s Word. I pray the same thing for you as I do myself when reading the Word: if there be any beliefs out of sync with the Word God, He will grant repentance and correct them.

Jesus is the Messiah (v. 1)

One of the most beautiful things about John’s writings is how his love for Jesus – his amazement by Him through the years – shines brightly. That is why, as he begins to close his letter, he emphasizes Jesus so clearly. Here, he gives us a non-negotiable and necessary belief for followers of Jesus: “Jesus is the Christ” (v. 1). The word “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is the English form of the Greek word for Messiah – literally “anointed One”.

Part of Jesus being the Messiah is how God prophesied His coming from ancient times, fulfilling every one and bringing hope to those who trust in Him (Genesis 3:15, 2 Samuel 7:14, Isaiah 53, Hosea 3:5, Daniel 9:25). Even the Messiah’s mission was prophesied and laid out (Isaiah 42:1-7, 49:1-9; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). But Jesus being the Messiah is more than keeping up with a long list of facts.

Believing that He is who the Bible says He is means more than intellectual knowledge! To genuinely believe that Jesus is the Christ to fully put your faith, hope, and trust in Him – not in knowledge but actual and indwelling hope. It is one thing to believe that a bridge will hold your weight; it is another thing entirely to drive a car across it. In the same way, it is one thing to know facts about Jesus; it is another thing entirely to live one’s life according to His teachings with the hope of eternal life – like we know that this world is not all there is. The difference is of eternal significance, as John noted in ch 2:2: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist….” This means that there is no fence position in relation to believing (having faith/trust/hope) in Christ; you are either in Christ or antichrist.

God’s Children are Born of Him (vv. 1, 4)

The idea of being “born of Him” (v. 1) has been developed throughout 1 John. We see it first when John says, “If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him” (2:29) and will see it wrap up later when we study ch 5:18. The whole idea is wrapped up in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. It is talked about various ways: “born again” (John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23) and “regeneration” (Titus 3:5), which mean the same thing. The term “born again” is used synonymously with being saved/being a Christian, but it actually means what it says: being born a second time.

To be “born again” begins with the fact that those who are in Christ were dead in our trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13). Belief in Him gives the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23, 10:9) bring actual life to what was once dead (Ephesians 2:4-5, Colossians 2:13)! So, to say that we are “born of God” (v. 4) is more than simply a religious term – it is a statement of faith that originates in the Person and work of Jesus, God in flesh (John 1:14, 2 Corinthians 5:21), and culminates in our lives. I love the way that Danny Akin describes this:

“Jesus did not come to die on a bloody cross to make us kinder and nicer persons. He came to dramatically, personally, radically, and eternally transform us and make us new people. It is by the new birth that He accomplishes this glorious work. Therefore, you must be born again.”[2]

As always when studying these passages, we find ourselves needing to examine our own lives. These first two beliefs leave no wiggle room for us – no room for religious talk or labeling, only for being adopted by Him (Galatians 4:4-5) or left in our sins. Here is a good time to ask: Do you believe? Are you born of Him?

God’s Family is Defined by Love for Him, Love for One Another, and Keeping His Commands (vv. 1-2)

We have talked about this at length over the past few weeks, so I will reference you back to our studies from May 6, 13, and 20 for what it means to be loved by God and love Him. The difference today comes from what John says at the end of v. 2: “when we love God and obey His commandments”. He clarifies that one’s love for Him means that the individual will keep (follow, obey, live life according to) His commandments.

There is a danger here that we see very often, and it is known as legalism. Legalism is when one looks at the things that God has commanded (His Law) and wrap all our efforts into living them out for the purpose of earning our salvation. That is why I am glad that God lays out His Word as He has; before He mentioned keeping commandments, He clarified that there is no earning salvation (how does one earn birth?) but that it has its beginnings and endings in Him.

So, how does one balance keeping and following His commandments but not falling into legalism? Unfortunately, I cannot offer you much in the realm of practical suggestions here. I struggle with past legalism and can probably offer more ways to mess this up than I can living it out appropriately. But I am learning that the key to this is found in the end of v. 3: “His commandments are not burdensome”, which beautifully shows the heart of Jesus:

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

Matthew 11:28-30

Legalism requires labor, but following Christ (including keeping His commandments) is a service of love and appreciation. Legalism leaves people “heavy laden”, but in Christ “will give you rest”. Legalism is a yoke that will break your back and your spirit, but the yoke of Christ comes with His strength, especially when our own is lacking because He promises that His “grace is sufficient” and His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I think that keeping the commands of Christ are like all that goes into bridal preparations for a wedding day. Normally, taking hours and hours to dress and primp and prepare would be a terrible burden. Hearing actors and models discuss all the time it takes to go through make up and costuming sounds like a laborious job, but brides willingly subject themselves to such things merely to get through a 30(ish) minute ceremony and reception. There is a whole industry devoted to helping people elope so that they do not have to go through the burden of such things! So, why would any bride do this? Simple: to please the groom – so that, when the doors open at the back of the church and she is presented to him, his knees will go weak and the moment will be seared into his memory forever.

For that bride, none of the burdens are burdensome. They are labors of love. It is the same for the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:27, 32). For those “born of God”, keeping His commandments – especially and specifically loving Him and people (Matthew 22:36-40) – begins out of the overwhelming love and appreciation we have for Him and flows into what naturally occurs over the years as we simply follow Him. Keeping commandments earns nothing but expresses affection from the Bride of Christ to her husband, Jesus Christ Himself.

(faith in) The Overcomer of the World (vv. 4-5)

Remember how we specifically defined the word “believe” above? The word for faith in v. 4 and believe in v. 5 are one and the same. So, when John says that “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” and that “our faith” is victory, he does not mean that we, in and of ourselves, have won anything. Rather, he is clarifying that we are believing – putting our faith – in the Overcomer Himself! Look at the confidence and strength in the way that Jesus talked about His victory (in past tense, no less) before He died on the cross: “take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)!

Beloved, sojourner, I hope this devotion finds you well, but, more than that, I hope that it also has you to look at your beliefs and make sure they align with what God has for you rather than merely being religious.

As always, know you are loved and prayed for. If you have questions or prayer requests, feel free to reach out.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 5:1–5.

[2] Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014).

Refresh & Restore — January 28, 2021

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.[1] 

1 John 2:7-11

Greetings, Sojourner – “Beloved”!

I am struck by the way that John writes to his original audience. He refers to them often as “little children” (2:1, 12, 18, 28; 3:7, 18); now, he calls them “beloved” (2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11). He loves them, and it shows. But this word we see as “beloved” is more than a regular term for someone you care about. The love in it is the word agape – God’s never-ending, unfailing love. “Beloved” is a word that is unique to the Church. It is rooted in His love for us. It refers to those who love God and worship Him. And it is a greeting specific to the family of God – those united by their adoption through faith in Christ (John 1:12, Galatians 4:5-6).

I greet you the same today, beloved Sojourner, knowing that as we journey through this world that we are loved by God. That love is at the heart of John’s writing. It is one of the themes that we loop through over and over: life, light, and love, all of which we will see in today’s passage.

Before we get too far, I want to address the issue of following/keeping commandments. So far in 1 John, we have seen the importance of walking in the same way that Jesus walked (2:6) and how we should keep His commandments (2:3), His Word (2:4), and abide in Him through all of that (2:5). It is easy to get legalistic when we talk about being obedient and keeping commandments. So, I would like to revisit a statement from the end of last week’s devotion:

“We follow Him, learning from Him, and keep His commandments. We do not keep His commandments to earn our freedom but because of our freedom, in love and gratitude for what He has done for us.”

It is important that we do not fall back into trying to keep the Law (Galatians 5:1; Romans 6:14-18). Any reference to keeping commandments here speaks to following Christ and imitating Him (Ephesians 5:1) because He loves us and gave Himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2). We obey because we love Him (4:19) and trust that His Way is better than ours (John 14:6, Isaiah 55:9). To keep His commandments is not to earn salvation but to see that salvation has taken root in our hearts and lives (Colossians 2:6-7).

The commandment that John talks about here mirrors Jesus’ exact teaching:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

This was no doubt unforgettable for John as it was part of Jesus’ last supper with His disciples on the night before He was arrested, the day before He was crucified. That night would impact the rest of John’s life (1:1-3). It was that same “new commandment”, given straight from the mouth of God, that John references here: love others as Christ loved us.

You have no doubt heard this commandment before. It was Jesus’ upgraded version of the commandment found in Leviticus 19:18 – “You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” – which has been a feature of many Sunday School lessons and sermons. Yet Jesus’ command, especially the way it is referenced in 1 John, is not based out of loving like we love ourselves or treating others how we would like to be treated. No, this is no “golden rule”; this is a heart overflowing with the love we receive from Christ.

Jesus’ love for us in salvation should impact the way that we interact with other people. Having received grace, we should be gracious. Having received mercy, we should be merciful. Having experienced the love of God, we should love others. But, as simple as that sounds, it is extremely difficult.

Part of the reason that this is difficult is because it requires more than just lip-service. Here where I live in the American South, “I love you” and “love” are thrown about casually. The love that Jesus commands of us is anything but casual. His love is a “greater love” (John 15:13). He loved us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). It is because God is “rich in mercy” and out of the “great love with which He loved us” that we have Life at all (Ephesians 2:4)! I speak from experience when I say that the true difficulty lies in acknowledging how difficult I am to love and how amazing the love of God is that He could ever love and save a “wretch like me”.

This is the reason that love becomes the defining characteristic of what it is to be a Christian. Just like Jesus told His original disciples that they would be known by their love for one another, the standard is the same for us. How we love God and share that love with others shows whether we are in darkness or light (2:7-8). In fact, hating our “brother” is an indicator that we live and stumble in the darkness (2:9-10).

Darkness is most definitely of Satan and not of God, but it also comes from our own sinful hearts. If we allow our hatred of someone – especially one close enough to be considered a brother in Christ (we will study more on this in the future) – to blind us, the darkness comes from that hatred; our own sinful hearts and desires have clouded our judgment and led us astray (Jeremiah 17:9).

If you are like me, this is where you start justifying your hatred. No, I do not know what they did to you. No, I have not experienced what you have. But God has (Hebrews 4:14-16)! He has experienced how I have sinned against Him (Psalm 51:4). His heart has been grieved time and again (Genesis 6:6, Ephesians 4:30).

And it is at the feet of the One who would be righteous to cast us out that we learn to love and forgive instead. Or, if our love for ourselves and hatred for others makes us unable (or unwilling) to forgive and let go of hate, we find that we truly abide in darkness and have not experienced the love of Christ at all (2:9, Matthew 6:14-15).

Rather than rationalizing your hatred, beloved, I urge you to repent – to not “abandon the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). The beauty of repentance is that it is always met with love. Always.

If you look at today’s passage and feel more than a little inadequate, you are not alone. I remind you that we are incapable of following Christ’s commandments perfectly. Remember, when we sin we have an Advocate (2:2) to meet us where we are and carry us through. I believe that John included this next section (2:12-14) to illustrate that, no matter where we are in our walk with Christ, none of us have arrived:

12  I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
13  I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
     I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
     I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
14  I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
     I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.[2]

John pauses here to give a special word to Christ-followers in every stage of walking with Him: “little children” who are just starting out with Him, “fathers” who have walked with Him for many years, and “young men” who are actively (and often through error and trials) seeking to serve the Lord.

To the children, he reminds them that they have been forgiven of their sins (2:12) and adopted by the Father into the family of God (2:13). When we sin and stumble, these things are easy to forget and necessary to remember to continue following Christ.

To the fathers (and mothers) in the faith, he reminds them that their relationship is grounded in “Him who is from the beginning” (2:13-14) – both the beginning of all things and the beginning of their walk when they were but children in their faith.

And to the young men (and women) who are in the midst of spiritual warfare and service of the Lord – not yet mature in their faith but actively walking with Christ, he reminds them that the evil one has already been overcome (2:13) and that the strength to win the battle comes from the Lord as found and taught from His Word (2:14).

Wherever you are on your journey – baby or an elder – Christ still has something for you. Rest assured, that His same new commandment still applies. Go out and find ways to “love one another” today.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:7–11.

[2] ESV, 1 Jn 2:12–14.

Come, Ye Sinners Poor and Needy

“Let us strive therefore to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:11-16

Introduction

“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy / Weak and wounded, sick and sore / Jesus ready, stands to save you / Full of pity, love, and power // Come, ye weary, heavy-laden / Lost and ruined by the Fall / If you tarry ‘till you’re better / You will never come at all // I will arise and go to Jesus / He will embrace me in His arms / In the arms of my dear Savior / Oh, there are ten thousand charms” [1]

  • We Need Rest (v. 11)
    • v. 11 – Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
      • The idea of rest in the OT was the Sabbath. On the seventh day, God rested from the work of Creation. His people were commanded to do the same. That rest was to come into fruition in the Promised Land, but their rebellion against God messed all of that up.
      • For us today, our rest only comes from trusting in Christ. Those who have put their faith in Him as Savior and Lord do not have to work or try to save themselves through their own strength and effort. They/we rest in what Jesus has already accomplished and finished. But that is nothing new; it was the plan of God for His people all along.
        • Psalm 116:7 – Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
        • Isaiah 28:12 – …to whom He has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear.
      • The good news here is that Jesus’ “works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3) – essentially “It is finished” (John 19:30) before “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1).
      • And Jesus offers that same rest today – and we desperately need it.(Why? “…so that no one may fall into the same sort of disobedience”)
        • Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
  • We Need the Word (vv. 12-13)
    • v. 12 – For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
      • The Word of God refers to the written Scriptures – the Bible – and to our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Some want to argue over which these verses refer to, but I would like to settle that debate: yes.
        • Jesus, the Word of God, has always been.
          • John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
        • The power of His Word(s) has, too.
          • Genesis 1:1-3a – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said….
        • Thinking especially of Christmas (two days ago), we would have nothing without the intervention of the Word in our lives.
          • John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
        • Everything in Creation literally hangs on His Word.
          • Hebrews 1:3a – He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.
        • We do, too.
      • the Word of God is living
        • Jesus is alive – and so is His Word!
        • The Words of Christ captivate us, and it is by them we are saved (Romans 10:17).
        • His Word is more than a book. It can capture the conscience of sinners, simultaneously cutting them to the depths of their hearts and giving comfort and binding wounds of the soul.
        • (Matthew Henry) “Saints die, and sinners die; but the Word of God lives.
      • the Word of God is…active
        • Active is translated from the Greek word energēs. It means “effective; able to bring about”.
        • Everything that is written about Him is true. Everything it says He promised He will do. He is capable of everything it says He can do.
        • Through the Word, strongholds are torn down (2 Corinthians 10:4), the dead are raised, the deaf can hear, the blind can see, lame will leap, and the dumb will speak “the praises of the Lamb” (“Mary, Did You Know?)
        • It can – and will – absolutely obliterate the kingdom of this world and Satan, but the same Word builds up the Kingdom of God.
        • (Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”) “And though this world with devils filled / Should threaten to undo us / We will not fear for God has willed / His truth to triumph through us / The prince of darkness grim / We tremble not for Him / His rage we can endure / For lo! His doom is sure! / One little word can fell him” [2]
      • the Word of God is…sharper than any two-edged sword
        • It cuts both ways….
        • …piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
          • The Word sees through the lies of the world – through our lies. We cannot deceive Him. The written word lays our sin bare. We are fully exposed with nowhere to hide….
    • v. 13 – And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.
      • Job 34:21 – “For His eyes are on the ways of a man, and He sees all His steps.
      • Psalm 33:13-15 – The Lord looks down from heaven; He sees all the children of man; from where He sits enthroned He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.
      • This is utterly terrifying to me. He knows me – knows me. When facing the word, we find ourselves “naked” (not hidden; easily known) and “exposed” (laid bare; easily known).
        • vv. 12-13, Message paraphrase – God means what He says. What He says goes. His powerful Word is as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything , whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it – no matter what.
  • We Need Sympathy (vv. 14-15)
    • v. 14 – Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
      • who has passed through the heavens
        • This is the heart of the Christmas Story. If we are left with verse 13, all we have is bad news. We will not get the promised rest because our sin is fully displayed before the holy, righteous, all-powerful God of the universe.
        • (Paul David Tripp) “The beautiful news of the Christmas season is that God wasn’t willing to leave us in this tragic state. At Christmas we celebrate a God who is glorious in His abundant love and patient mercy. The glory of the birth of Jesus becomes even more glorious when it is seen through the humbling lens of the desperate condition that was the reason for His coming.”
          • John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
          • Romans 5:8 – …but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
      • let us hold fast our confession
        • Because of all He has done and all He has promised, we need never deny Him or be ashamed of Him. He washes us clean from our sin. He covers our shame.
        • This phrase shows up multiple times in the book of Hebrews, but all those times wrap up in v. 10:23:
          • Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
        • We hold fast our confession because He is all we have got. But know this: if He is all you have, you have everything.
    • v. 15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
      • The “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, went through all the same junk that we go through, faced all the temptations and difficulties that we go through, was rejected and ostracized and mocked and beaten and hated. He gets us. He understands.
      • The internet has grabbed hold of a Rick Astley song and uses it to point out the foolishness and unfaithfulness found in human relationships: “Never gonna give you up / Never gonna let you down / Never gonna run around and desert you / Never gonna make you cry / Never gonna say goodbye / Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you”
        • We can “Rick Roll” all we want to. We can look to others and the internet and society and the government for sympathy, but they offer nothing. There is no world leader who is going to leave their ivory tower to walk in our poverty. No queen or king of England will ever leave Buckingham palace to walk the streets as a peasant. No president – sitting or former – will ever need a stimulus check or have to worry whether their rent will be paid or if can keep the heat on.
        • But the King of kings and Lord of lords “passed through the heavens” (v. 14) and became a baby. He traded the throne of Heaven for an animal’s feeding trough. He was the only begotten Son of God but looked at as a bastard by people He created.
        • He was not some “Undercover Boss” who came for a week or two and tried to walk in our shoes – He lived for decades alongside those who needed saving. And then He allowed Himself to be killed for the sake of those who shouted “Crucify”.
        • This seems like the saddest story ever, but His funeral was wasted because He broke death – He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6) after all! He ascended back to the throne of Heaven – which belonged to Him the whole time – and He still loves us, still understands us, still has sympathy for us.
        • Nothing changed – or ever changes with Him. He has always been and always been there for us should we reach out to Him. Maybe it’s us who need to change.
  • We Need Grace and Mercy of the King (v. 16)
    • v. 16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
      • draw near to the throne of grace
        • The word translated “draw near” means to approach or devote oneself to something or someone.
        • Hebrews 7:25 – Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through [Christ], since He always lives to make intercession for them.
        • James 4:7-10 – Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
        • (Matthew Henry) “A throne speaks of authority and bespeaks awe and reverence. A throne of grace speaks great encouragement even to the chief of sinners. There grace reigns, and acts with sovereign freedom, power, and bounty.”
      • receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
        • King Jesus sits on the throne of grace. We can approach Him at any time.
        • We do not have to approached Him like beggars. We approach Him as His sons and daughters.
        • He loves us and cares for us. He wants us to come to Him. If we humble ourselves, repent of our sin, and draw near to His throne we are sure to find mercy. If we come to Him in our “time of need”, we are sure to find grace. We are sure to find these things because, when we approach His throne, we find Him.
        • And He is all we truly need.

Conclusion/Application

We do need rest, but we will only find it by trusting in Jesus Christ – the Word of God. We need sympathy more than ever, but we will only find it at the throne of the King.

We looked at Psalm 33:13-15 earlier to see how God sees the hearts of men; let finish out that chapter to find hope and good news for the future (vv. 16-22):

“The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.
“Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”


[1]Come, Ye Sinners Poor and Needy”, Bob Kauflin © Sovereign Grace Praise (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music, David C Cook))

[2]A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, Frederick Henry Hedge | Martin Luther © Words: Public Domain | Music: Public Domain


Refresh & Restore — November 12, 2020

1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Daniel 6:1-5

10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Daniel 6:10

Greetings, Sojourner!

Well, just when we thought 2020 could not get any stranger, we decided to hold an election. The United States is split, and divisiveness seems to be at an all time high. But, to quote my friend and fellow teacher Chuck Crouch, “The world is not falling apart; it’s falling into place.”[1] How can that be amid things seeming to be in such disarray? Oddly, our answer comes from King Nebuchadnezzar after God finally got his attention:

“…I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever, for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His Kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 4:34a-35

In the first devotion in this series, we saw how terrible and wicked Nebuchadnezzar could be. Then, in the second installment, we saw how irrational and tyrannical he could be. And, last week, we saw the full extent of his desire for power and recognition as he demanded worship and threatened death to everyone who did not bow to him. But – and this is especially important – the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar is gone and has been for millennia. In fact, his son Belshazzar who took over from him (Daniel 5) is gone, too. The same can be said for so many kingdoms. But there is a King of kings with a Kingdom that will not and cannot be shaken (Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28)!

Ultimately, this is the biggest lesson to be learned from Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were of God’s chosen nation, yet that earthly kingdom was allowed to be taken over. They were given places of esteem and renown within arguably the greatest and most powerful kingdom of its time. But their allegiance was to a greater Kingdom. When the laws of the land contradicted the Law of God there was no question as to where their obedience would lie. They faced certain death with a faith stronger than the powers-that-be could or would ever understand. Even though they lived thousands of years before Jim Elliot, they embodied the message he proclaimed with his life and these words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

In today’s passage, we do not see Daniel the youth, but, rather, we see Daniel as an older, seasoned man. He has served his Lord continually and served under three kings and two major world powers – Babylon and Media-Persia. By all accounts it seems as if everything had fallen into place for Daniel; at least that is the way I have always heard his situation portrayed. But was he any less an exile or eunuch because he had renown and a high-profile job? The world had certainly not forgotten that he was “one of the exiles from Judah” (Daniel 6:13). No, Daniel was a servant of the Most High God throughout his life, and the kingdom of the world would continually hold that against him.

So often, we see Daniel and his companions characterized as heroes because of their survival, but God is the hero of their life stories. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were not naturally flame retardant, and Daniel was not immune to the teeth and claws of ferocious lions. God caused the flames not to burn. God shut the mouths of the lions. What did these guys do, then, that causes us to still speak of them all these thousands of years later?

They prayed to their God.

They worshiped their Lord.

If we are honest with ourselves, their only remotely heroic acts – the actions that are heralded as examples of civil disobedience and contending for the faith – are the actions that we find the most mundane and practice the least in our walk with the Lord. It must also be noted that these acts of prayer and worship were not done in the public square. They were not done in grandiose gestures that draw attention to movements or positions or any such thing. Their prayer and worship took place in their private lives – just between them and the Lord. The only reason that we have even heard about it is because one’s personal relationship with the Lord is the only thing that fuels courage in the face of death – the only thing that straightens the backs of Christ-followers when an emperor demands bowed heads and knees.

For Daniel, the situation was different than we probably realize. It is easy to look at him as a “Bible hero”. That gives him a sense of other-ness and allows us to excuse our lack of faithfulness. Daniel was not different. He had to feel the tension to give in just this once. You see, Daniel was a legit disciple; his personal worship included study of the Word, specifically the writings/prophesies of Jeremiah. And it was through this studying that he learned that the end of their exile was coming to an end (Daniel 9:2). That means that this trial hit differently. He had lost so much over the years in exile, and, now, as an old man he faced the chance of losing his life when he was so close to being released and going home.

I cannot imagine what went on in his heart. I would like to believe that he struggled like I do. I know that is selfish of me, but I think of how much I struggle to weigh the benefit of being and ministering where God has planted me against the difficulties of actually being in those situations. For Daniel, the years of constant prayer and continued faithfulness from God to him outweighed the possibility of death. The life that God had given him (John 14:6) and the hope for a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that came from his faith in the Lord kept him faithful even when times appeared dark. So, rather than giving up or giving in, Daniel “got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10; cf. Daniel 2:23, Daniel 9:3-19, Psalm 138:2, 1 Kings 8:48).

That continued faithfulness had an impact on those around Daniel, too. Of course, many of those people – those belonging to the kingdom of darkness and vying for a temporary earthly position – wanted him dead, but Darius wanted him to live. Do not misunderstand me here. It was Darius’ worldly foolishness that put Daniel in this situation. But God showed Darius something through the witness of Daniel.

Most of us have much more in common with Darius than we do with Daniel. Darius knew he had messed up and tried his hardest to undo the situation himself. “…[H]e labored till the sun went down to rescue him” (Daniel 6:14b). But, truth be told, Darius made a terrible Savior. It is a good thing that Daniel did not need Darius to save him. No, Darius tried all that he could but was unable to come up with a plan to save Daniel. At his wits end – at his most hopeless, he saw the hope that Daniel had and made an amazing proclamation: “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you” (Daniel 6:16)! Daniel’s continual service and faith in God was evident. If someone were to call upon the God we serve continually, would King Jesus be the one to respond or would we be at the mercy of the mute idols that receive our time and worship (Habakkuk 2:18, 1 Corinthians 12:2)?

With Darius’ plea for help from Daniel’s God, Daniel was lowered into the pit where ferocious and hungry lions were waiting to devour him. A stone was laid over the entrance of the lions’ den. And Darius was forced to wait until morning to find out if Daniel had been delivered or devoured.

As I said earlier, it is a good thing that Daniel did not need to rely on Darius as his Savior.

I find this part more comforting as an adult. The lions’ den terrified me as a child, even though I knew Daniel would walk out the other side unscathed. Now, I know that there was a stone rolled over a door hundreds of years after Daniel and the lions’ den. That stone covered the tomb of a lion, and Satan and his earthly forces – just like those who plotted Daniel’s demise – relished in the excitement that they had shut the mouth of that lion. But that lion – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, our God and Savior Jesus Christ – would walk out of the tomb of His own accord! And it is because of Him that Darius – and all who put their hope and faith in Him – could rejoice like John in his vision of heaven:

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered….’ And…I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain….”

Revelation 5:5-6

It is that Lion – “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) – who gave Daniel the rescue that he so desperately needed and can rescue us as well.

When the stone was rolled away from the lion’s den, Darius asked (Daniel 6:20) a very important question: “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions”? God had, of course, shut the lions’ mouths (Daniel 6:22, Hebrews 11:33). And His power to save is still available today.

I do not know what difficulties you face. I know that many people are afraid of the way things in this world are heading. But God is still on His throne. The question for us is: where are we? Are we on our knees like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? Are we continually serving the God we claim to trust? The good news for us is that He is willing to accept us should we call out to Him (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

I would like to leave you with a song this week. This was written nearly 500 years ago by Martin Luther, and I think it would do us well to have this song in our hearts today:

“And tho’ this world, with devil’s filled / Should threaten to undo us / We will not fear, for God hath willed / His truth to triumph through us / The Prince of Darkness grim / We tremble not for him / His rage we can endure / For lo, his doom is sure / One little word can fell him.”[2]

Amen.


[1] After telling Chuck that I wanted to quote him for this week’s Refresh & Restore, he quickly told me that he felt that he had gotten that thought from a Christian song and did not want to take credit away from the original author. Ye olde Google told me that the original quote comes from the song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns. So, listen to Chuck, and click the link if you would like to listen to the song.

[2] Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

The Gospel & Social Media

I learned a long time ago that you need to have a good hook in your writing and that, sometimes, a quote is a real attention-getter. My first thought was to go with a good Winston Churchill quote like, “Kites rise high against the wind, not with it.” But it was a little too abstract. I found a few more that would work for what I was looking for and decided to go with a tried-and-true idiom: “don’t shoot the messenger”.

Social media platforms are mainstays in our current culture. There are few who do not partake, and its uses vary widely. When Facebook first reached this area, it was used predominantly by college students to reconnect with people from their earlier school years. It has branched out quite a bit from that point and is used to connect with old friends, share pictures and life events with distant family, be a political platform, and everything in between. It leaves me wondering, for the believer, what our social media presence should be like.

As I sit here typing these thoughts, I must admit that I am afraid. Over the last twenty-four hours, I have watched self-proclaimed believers eviscerate other believers for warning against a cult-leader spouting medical knowledge in a viral post. I have seen self-proclaimed believers copy and paste rhetoric to support their stance against mask wearing that came from a basis of support in pro-choice abortion in contrast to their former pro-life stances. I have seen enough to scare me to the point where I vastly overanalyze everything that I consider posting to the point that I rarely post more than a few Bible verses and the devotions I send out weekly. Where is the gospel in all of this?

The word translated gospel can literally be translated good news, and good news is hard to come by on social media these days. In Romans 1:16, Paul tells us something about how our attitudes and lives should be shaped by the gospel: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul exhibited this in his life by having the sharing of the gospel as a defining characteristic in his life. His calling was to be a missionary to the Gentiles, and Scripture tells us that he consistently shared the gospel message wherever he went. He was clearly not ashamed of its message or the Christ he proclaimed. But, most importantly, his continual sharing of the gospel showed that he genuinely believed that it was “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”.

I believe that we should allow the Bible to define the gospel message a little bit more. If one were to look to individual passages of Scripture to concisely define the Gospel, I have laid out a few that are more commonly known:

  • “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • “For I delivered unto you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
  • “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Each of these passages very clearly present Jesus Christ. One might argue that more context is needed for any of them, and I would wholeheartedly agree – that is what sharing the gospel truly is, opening the Scriptures and pointing to Jesus! This information is extremely important. Furthermore, it should be a part of our life, our speech, and our conduct (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Before we go any farther in this discussion, we must ask ourselves the following questions: (1) do I truly believe the gospel of Jesus has the power to save people, (2) do I truly believe that Jesus has the power to change the lives of the people He saves, and (3) am I presenting other solutions for peoples’ salvation instead of the gospel?

Now, as I have discussed this with people recently, I have heard these two counterarguments most commonly. The first counterargument is that there is nothing wrong with posting other, non-gospel things on social media, and, to that, I mostly agree. We can post whatever we want. I am not arguing that our social media platform should look like what people perceive the church to look like. I am not calling for a removal of all memes, articles, songs, etc. I am not advocating for anything more that for believers in Christ to look at the message we are presenting to the world. Rather than me try to define what I want for my life and the lives of other believers, it would serve us all better for God to do that as He already has in His Word. Colossians 3:17 tells us, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This is a good admonition in Scripture that I fall short of quite often, but that does not change the fact that it is a good admonition for believers to strive to match up with – both in-person and virtually.

The second counterargument is that believers should be involved in politics. I do not disagree with this stance; however, I think we should define what being involved in politics is and is not. Firstly, I do not think that non-stop sharing of political memes and any article put out by members of your particular political party can be called being “involved” in politics. No political change is going to happen sitting on one’s couch. People often hail back to the founding fathers who were believers, and I think they set a good example. They did not merely write out the Declaration of Independence and sit back to watch others share it about in the villages and towns around them. The sharing of a document did not change the landscape of the new world. That would be ridiculous. They sent that declaration to King George, got off their rear-ends, and were active in their cause – not just on election days. Secondly, I find that little thought goes into much of what is viral in the present. I have seen people share articles from Snopes – a fact-checking website – because of their agreeing with the headline and ignore the fact that they are actually proving themselves wrong with the content of the article. We need to be discerning in what we say (James 3:1-12), whether with our physical mouths or through our thumbs via an app.

If we genuinely believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to change lives, it should be present in our lives. And before it can ever impact anyone else, it has to have impacted us in our own hearts. This means that the lack of gospel in our social media presences will not be fixed by merely adding some Jesus-y content to our regimen of copying and pasting. It means that we have some repenting to do in how we interact with others. We need to ask ourselves if Jesus would be pleased with the content we put out. We need to examine whether or not Jesus would agree with the overall message that we are presenting. It means we should repent – as often as necessary – and spending more time in prayer to God and in His Word than we do on social media in the first place. Maybe you need to go over to the settings on your phone and look at the screen time percentage for social media. I just looked at mine, I and am ashamed. I had to stop writing and repent to the Lord and to my family. We have had screen time limits for our daughter and content restrictions on all of our phones, and, before finishing writing this, we now have screen time limitations across the board.

Not only should the gospel be present in our lives, but it should also show up in the content we put out. I would urge you to look back on your social media platforms and see whether or not there is any gospel content going out. Are you proclaiming anything that you believe people need to see and learn? Are you proclaiming solutions for people’s lives that come from worldly places more than from God’s Word? If so, you need to repent. It is something I have had to do myself. It is not easy, but it is absolutely vital.

I do not want this article to be a finger-pointing, judgment session, and I am afraid that it will be taken as such. My hope for you is the same as I have for myself – that we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, Him bringing change in us. I have fought against the urge to write this for some time now, and, if you are reading this, I can assure you that I have prayed for you in your reading. But, rather than have me continue to type my own words, let me offer you some words from Scripture that I constantly try to bring to my mind when I get off-balance in my thinking and speech. Romans 12:1-2 are verses that I try to post on my desk at work and try to post in my mind as often as needed. I believe they have that gospel influence that I have been writing about and hope they help you on your way:

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

What the Grace of God Can Do for You

Titus 2:11-14

Introduction

Context is key when looking at the Bible. It is easy to take a verse out of its context and really mess it up.

Before we dive into our passage for tonight, let’s look a little bit at the context of Titus 2. Verse 1 helps a lot: But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Let me translate that verse a little simpler: But here’s what you need to be doing – teaching people (the Word) with correct, healthy instruction.

Paul goes on from there and tells Titus why this is important for various age groups in the church there in Crete where he pastored:

  • older men – (v. 2b) sound in faith, love, and in steadfastness
  • older and younger women – (v. 5b) that the Word of God may not be reviled (the literally word from which we get blasphemy)
  • younger men – (v. 8b) so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us
  • slaves – (v. 10b) so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior

So, when we look at our passage today, we get a piece of the doctrine – the instruction – about salvation that Paul was giving to Titus. Let’s check it out. We’re going to see how God’s grace redeems us, reforms us, and rewards us in salvation.

  1. Grace Redeems Us (vv. 11, 14a)
    1. v. 11 – For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people….
      1. Titus 3:4-5a – But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us….
      1. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 – This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
      1. So, who can be saved? “all people”
        1. Colossians 3:11 – Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
        1. Revelation 7:9-10 – After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
        1. Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
        1. Romans 10:13 (quoting from Joel 2:32) – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
          1. The Bible is clear: anyone can be saved. It is also clear on how one gets saved: by repenting and believing.
    1. v. 14a – …[Jesus Christ] who gave Himself up for us to redeem us from all lawlessness….
      1. Ezekiel 18:23 – Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from His way and live?
      1. Let’s look at a little more of Titus 3:4-5bBut 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…
        1. Jesus “redeem”s us by paying the penalty for our sin. And He does this simply because He loves us. Oh, what a love He has.
        1. A few weeks back, I noticed a church sign that caught my attention. It said, “Come as you are. Leave changed.”
          1. Jesus meets us in our sin (Romans 5:8) to save us, but He wants more for us afterward. Let’s look at how Grace Reforms Us
  • Grace Reforms Us (vv. 12, 14b)
    • v. 12 – …training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
      • Even though the world around us has not changed, our hearts are changed when Christ saves us.
        • 1 Peter 4:2 – …so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
      • So, what does all of this accomplish?
        • Philippians 2:15 – …that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of truth….
        • The way we live our lives either shows God to be a powerful Savior or weak and not very effective.
    • v. 14b – …and to purify for himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.
      • Ephesians 2:10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
      • God has a plan for you. God has a mission for you.
      • But the best news of all, is the reward – but it’s not heaven and glory and mansions and crowns – we get to be with God! Let’s look at how Grace Rewards Us.
  • Grace Rewards Us (v. 13)
    • v. 13 – …waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
      • I will never forget June 17, 2006…. When those doors opened at the back of the church….
      • Revelation 21:1-4 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
        • Amen, and hallelujah!
        • (Paul Washer) “Everyone wants to go to heaven. They just don’t want God to be there when they get there.”
        • He. Is. Our. Reward.

Conclusion/Application

I know I’ve given you a lot to chew on today, but I hope that you have listened to the Scripture that I shared and examined your life.

Salvation is available to everyone who calls on the Lord and repents/believes in Him. How about you: have you called on his name? Have you repented of your sin and confessed your faith to Him?

Coming into contact with the grace of God is life-changing. Has it changed your life?