Refresh & Restore – September 16, 2021

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.[1]

Ephesians 2:1-10

We are continuing in our But GOD series by looking at life and death in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can find the written devotion here: https://justkeithharris.com/2021/09/15/refresh-restore-september-16-2021/
  1. But GOD — Episode 3
  2. But GOD — Episode 2
  3. But GOD — Episode 1
  4. Sabbath Rest & Teacher Tired
  5. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — FINALE/Epilogue

Greetings, Sojourner!

Over the past week, I have been contemplating our last discussion regarding the good news of the gospel (and the reality of sin and the bad news it brings). Honestly, I cannot imagine life without that “but God” moment – the moment where He crashed into our lives and changed everything.

We have seen this change the life of a man who had never walked until he met Peter and John on their way to the temple. We saw that the greatest change was not his walking away freed from his burdens but running to worship and proclaim what Jesus had done through His followers. Then, we saw the beauty of Jesus’ demonstration of love in His sacrifice on the cross. There is no more beautiful picture of sacrificial love than one who would be willing to die to reconcile – to change the status – of His enemies.

Today, we get the opportunity to look at the same truths from a different angle. It is an awesome thing to see how we were once enemies, but God reconciled and adopted us. It is an amazing miracle for a man to say that He had never walked but God healed him. Now, we are going to look at the amazing miracle that takes place in the lives of every sinner who is saved: we were dead, but God gave us life!

This passage is life and death serious, so I do not want us to miss anything. We are going to dive in sentence by sentence, sometimes phrase by phrase.

Dead in Our Sins

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…. (vv. 1-2a)

This is an extremely tough reality. It is tempting to excuse Paul’s talking about death here as merely a metaphor to talk about just how bad sin is or as an illustration that could happen. It is tempting but untrue. Death did not exist until sin was first committed. In fact, the verse that immediately follows last week’s passage states clearly that “just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

When everyone’s ancestors Adam and Eve sinned against God by breaking His commandment, they were exiled from the garden, removing their access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:23). That exile meant death, which was what God promised in Genesis 2:17. Adam and Eve never ate of the tree of life again, and, even though he was 930, “he died” (Genesis 5:5). All of his sons were sinners after him, and so on and so on until you and I lived. All of his sons after him died, and so on and…well, you get the picture. Sin and death continued and will continue until Jesus Christ comes again and restores everything as He said He would (Acts 3:21).

If you are in Christ, this is supposed to be what you “once walked” in, but death is the reality that everyone faces because of the reality of their sin. Paul uses two words here to describe the sin. Understanding them brings the terrible nature of our sin to bear more than simply looking at their English translations. The word for “trespasses” basically means to step off of a path or “fall by the wayside” [2]. It works out of the understanding that God, being holy and righteous and the Creator of all things can prescribe a way that is best. Our “trespasses” occur when we seek our own way instead of His. The word for “sins” was an archery term that meant missing the mark or bullseye. The reality is that, in our sin, we are “missing the true end and scope of our lives, which is God” [3].

…in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…. (v. 2)

Again, it needs to be reiterated that – for those who profess to be saved, to be born again through Jesus – these realities should fall into the “once walked” category. If one’s life is still plagued with unrepentant sin, it is necessary to look at how the current reality may be evidence that the fruit of your life is not of Christ but of “this world” and “the prince of the power of the air”.

The “course of this world” has become more and more fallen since the Fall in Genesis 3. And, more and more with each passing year, people are captivated into following after Satan – whom Paul calls a “prince” here (“ruler of this world” – John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; “god of this world” – 2 Corinthians 4:4). Sin continues as those aligned with Satan’s agenda (and their own selfish agenda of indulging their own sin), and death seems to reign.

…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…. (v. 3a)

Here again we see Paul contrast the new life in Christ with what should be our former life when he says “among whom we all once lived”. He illustrates how the lives of the dead and living are in different spheres. Those living “in the passions of [their] flesh” are not concerned with pleasing God but with “carrying out the desires of [their] body and the mind”. In Romans 6:23, which I find myself quoting often describes the end of living for sinful passions – “the wages of sin is death”.

…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (v. 3b)

To be a child of wrath is the opposite of being a child of God, but every child of God was once under God’s wrath (Romans 5:9-10). That is a result of our “nature” – descending from Adam. But that does not mean that it is Adam’s fault. No, to paraphrase Tyler Perry, we can do bad all by ourselves. Our sin occurs when we find ourselves, “like the rest of mankind”, tempted by our “own desire” and falling into the reality that when “desire…has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

Sin and death is clearly our beginning, but, thank God, it does not have to be our end.

Alive in Our Savior

But God, being rich in mercy…. (v. 4a-b)

I cannot read through today’s passage without vv. 4-5 causing my voice to be filled with excitement. Paul sharing the reality of but God here is such a needed contrast to all of the death and bad news of vv. 1-3! Not only that, it is how God changes the reality of death to the hope of eternal life; He is “rich in mercy”!

Church people talk a lot about grace being undeserved favor, but this passage is a particularly good example of the beauty of mercy. Mercy is also undeserved but not because it is favor. No, mercy is the undeserved withholding of punishment that we do deserve. The first three verses of this chapter show how much we deserve death, but that only highlights how rich God is in mercy – He abounds in it. He lavishes it on us.

But God…because of the great love with which He loved us…. (v. 4a, c)

I often find myself wondering why God would spend His mercy – even though He is rich in it – on a sinner like me. He gives mercy because He loves. He gives grace because He loves. And His love is as great as He is rich in mercy and grace! This resounds throughout the Bible, throughout Jesus’ teachings in the gospels. Time and again, passage after passage He tells us He loves us. There is no greater love (John 15:15)!

…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…. (v. 5)

The most amazing aspects of His love is the timeline. He loved us “when we were dead in our trespasses”. Indeed, God “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)! He meets us where we are, amid sin and death, and offers us salvation. Those who respond to His loving offer in faith are saved from sin and death by His grace alone. More than that, it is eternal life (John 3:16) to be spent with Him – “alive together with Christ” – who can promise life after death because HE IS ALIVE!

…and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (vv. 6-7)

Jesus paid the price for our sins, knowing fully that we “were dead in [our] trespasses” (Colossians 2:13) and fully intending to forgive “us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” by “nailing [them] to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14)! He offers the opportunity to move out of the realm of “this world” and “the prince of the power of the air” to be “seated…with Him in the heavenly places” where He will continually “show [us] the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness”! That’s good news! What’s more is that He paid the price for our sins by bearing our sins “in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) – by dying in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21), yet “God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24)!

But there is hope for those who are saved by Him. There is a life on earth for those with the hope of eternal life between the time of salvation and heaven.

Living for & Walking with Christ

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (vv. 8-9)

It is important to note when talking about the good works – the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23, Matthew 7:15-20) – that accompanies being saved. Salvation is clearly the result of what God has done for us in Christ and not His response to how good we are. Just as we cannot clean ourselves up and come to God but come in weakness and sin to be cleansed by Him (1 John 1:9), our boast needs to be in what He alone has done (2 Corinthians 10:17, Galatians 6:14).

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (v. 10)

Our works do not earn our salvation. But “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). When God saves us and we are “born again” (John 3:3), He has more for us than a humdrum life waiting to die and go to heaven. As my favorite octogenarian, L.G. Schmitz says often: “God has a plan for your life!” He does! We get to spend the rest of our lives on earth sharing His Life with others! We are supposed to be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14), not to set ourselves apart and put ourselves on a pedestal but to give an example of the love, grace, and mercy that Jesus showed (and still shows) us. Once you are saved, you begin realizing that you “are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This was not a purchase of a slave but the price to be adopted as God’s child (Galatians 4:4-5)! And we have the privilege and responsibility to plead with everyone we can with the Word and the works God gives us to “implore [all God allows us to meet] on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20) – to let them know that there is mercy, love, and life greater than our trespasses and sins!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:1–10.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[3] Ibid.

Songs for Sunday, September 12, 2021

As I sit down to write today, Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew 6:34 are at the forefront of my mind —

“Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Amen.

Do you ever feel like there is more than enough trouble – a surplus of trouble – and peace is hard to find. You are not alone.

Jesus’ words there are in the context of Him reminding His disciples (then and now) that we do not have to be anxious about anything because we can trust that He is in control and is taking care of us.

Listen to His words – the words from the Word, Jesus Christ – for His disciples across the ages from Matthew 6:25-34:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Unfortunately, we have grown all to accustomed to being anxious about our lives – whether or not we will have the necessities we need to live (v. 25). We operate like our anxiety is necessary, but Jesus clearly shows us that He takes care of birds and flowers and all of the plants, ecosystems, and food chains that keep them going. How much more will He care for those He made in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27)?

He does not want us to live our lives worrying. In fact, He says that “the Gentiles” (Greek word for “the nations”) live like that; clearly showing He wants more trust – more faith in Him – from us. Rather than seeking anxiety and worry, He would have us seek Him! He would have us “seek first [His] Kingdom…and His righteousness” (v. 33) knowing all of our needs will be cared for in the pursuit.

It seems so easy to just type this out, but it is another thing entirely to live it. I find myself plagued with anxiety. I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders sometimes. I even worry when things are peaceful – I mean, I might have forgotten something, right? Maybe it is less about what God wants from us – like faith and trust – and more about what we get from Him (including the faith that we have – Romans 12:3).

So, when He says that we do not need to be anxious tomorrow, it is because He is the “same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)! And when He says that today’s troubles are sufficient for themselves, we do not have to let the troubles of day take our eyes off of Him. We need to “turn [our] eyes from looking at worthless things” and seek the life that comes from His ways (Psalm 119:37). We need to take our focus off of the troubles that are sufficient and be reminded that His “grace is sufficient” – that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He was upfront and honest with us: trouble will come, trials will come. But He did not leave us with the bad news. No, He told us: “take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)!

Tomorrow, we’ll sing to Him. We will read from the Word and be reminded that nothing can separate us from His love because “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). We will read from the Word and be reminded that He has more grace – a more than enough – for any troubles that may befall us. We will sing of trusting Him in good and bad, resting in the hope that only comes from Him, recognizing that on the other side of the storms of this earth is a nail-scarred hand to wipe away the last tears.

May you lift your voice with ours. May you submit your heart to Him.

Here are the Scriptures & songs:

  • Romans 8:31-39

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

       “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  • Lamentations 3:21-24

21  But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22    The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
23    they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
24    “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”


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

We have Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30a and worship – everyone is welcome – at 11:00a!

If you are concerned about social distancing or are at-risk, consider gathering with us at 10:00a for a small group Bible study in our worship center. There is plenty of room to spread out, but there is also opportunity to gather with others at the same time! No one will crowd you, and you can exit out of our side door and avoid the crowd coming in to worship after the Bible study!

We also continue to live stream from Pastor John Goldwater’s facebook page and have current and past services on the CCC YouTube page.


Songs for Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sunday.

For some, it means the last day of the weekend before jumping back into the grind of the week. For others, it is a peaceful first day in preparation for whatever the week may bring. Across the United States, it will be filled with brunches, golf games, traveling, sporting events, and diversions of every shape and kind. Yet for those who belong to Jesus – those He has saved and redeemed, those He has brought from death to life (Ephesians 2:4-5) – it is a day of joyful remembrance and expectation.

For centuries before the birth of Christ, Saturday – the Sabbath day of rest – was the centerpiece of worship. It was a day of rest following the example of God Himself (Genesis 2:2) and set aside as holy (Genesis 2:3, Exodus 20:8). The shift of focus from Saturday to Sunday was as simple as shifting from Sabbath to celebration – from resting to rejoicing. Just as on that original Easter Sunday when the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb and He walked out alive and well – shaking off the pangs of death and crucifixion in His own resurrection power, Sunday became a day for the people of God to gather together in worship and joy at His resurrection and recognition that Jesus “is not in [the grave], for He is risen (still today) as He said” (Matthew 28:6)!

Every Sunday since then, followers of Jesus have gathered. They have gathered through persecution. They have gathered through prohibitions against gathering. And they have even gathered during plagues (and even pandemics)!

There has been a piece of a quote from Martin Luther floating around social media, but it lacked context. It has been used to spur gatherings and to spurn them. Being a lover of context and authorial intent, I looked further for the context of the quote. Here are a few quotes (with the typical social media selection italicized, and, should you desire, you can read the original letter in its entirety):

“You wish to know whether it is proper for a Christian to run away from a deadly plague. I should have answered long ago, but God has for some time disciplined and scourged me so severely that I have been unable to do much reading or writing. Furthermore, it occurred to me that God, the merciful Father, has endowed you so richly with wisdom and truth in Christ that you yourself should be well qualified to decide this matter or even weightier problems in his Spirit and grace without our assistance.”


“To begin with, some people are of the firm opinion that one need not and should not run away from a deadly plague. Rather, since death is God’s punishment, which he sends upon us for our sins, we must submit to God and with a true and firm faith patiently await our punishment. They look upon running away as an outright wrong and as lack of belief in God. Others take the position that one may properly flee, particularly if one holds no public office.

“I cannot censure the former for their excellent decision. They uphold a good cause, namely, a strong faith in God, and deserve commendation because they desire every Christian to hold to a strong, firm faith. It takes more than a milk faith to await a death before which most of the saints themselves have been and still are in dread.”


“In the case of children who are orphaned, guardians or close friends are under obligation either to stay with them or to arrange diligently for other nursing care for their sick friends. Yes, no one should dare leave his neighbor unless there are others who will take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them. In such cases we must respect the word of Christ, “I was sick and you did not visit me …” (Matt. 25:41–46). According to this passage we are bound to each other in such a way that no one may forsake the other in his distress but is obliged to assist and help him as he himself would like to be helped.”


“Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together (as previously indicated) so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another.”


“It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.

“No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”


As you can see, there is context in history regarding plague and pestilence. Martin Luther wrote this in the midst of the second pandemic of the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death. The first wave in the 1300s had a survival rate of about 50%! Knowing that, it is interesting the perspectives that Luther held regarding this. Trying to be as objective as I possibly can, here is what I got from reading the entire letter (especially the quotes above):

  • Ultimately, there is grace for needing to avoid gathering for the purpose of protecting one’s self and family in times of deadly pestilence.
  • Consequently, there is also grace for consciously deciding to forsake one’s health to care for the sick and serve the Lord even in times of pestilence.
  • Even pastors and those active in ministry get to choose whether to stay/gather or flee/quarantine as long as there are still pastors and ministers to carry on the work.
  • He spends a significant amount of time clarifying the difference between external persecution and personal decisions for safety, even governmental decisions to try to help keep people safe and the support of such things from Scripture. My understanding of his points in those sections says that 1) there is a difference between persecution and personal/governmental decisions and 2) none of them excuse God’s people from carrying out His work. Personal safety does not excuse obedience to His commands, especially regarding caring for one’s neighbor.
    • Interestingly, this does a lot for both camps – gather & separate, but what it does not do is leave room for complete isolation from God’s calling on the lives of those He has saved. Both camps have something to learn here!
  • The last section has a few gems that I find quite interesting:
    • If you need medical help or have medical reasons for not gathering, don’t be foolish! This should go without saying, but, even in the midst of so much talking, it should be recognized that God’s Holy Spirit is sufficient for the wisdom individual believers need.
    • There is nothing wrong with measures for safety in gathering. He speaks of fumigating. Later this afternoon, that’s exactly what will happen to Christ Community (and, consequently, it has happened nearly every Sunday since the onset of the pandemic – every, single chair and all high traffic areas/surfaces, and increasing with every aspect we have reopened/started again). If you want to wear a mask, wear one. If you want to sit in the back away from others, do it. If you want to come to 10:00a Bible Study, sit away from others, and slip out the side door before the worship crowd comes in – do that!
    • Know that God is ultimately in control. He has called us to love our neighbors and our families. Yet He has called us to serve Him and give our lives for Him. And He called us to all that fully knowing everything ahead of time!

I know this has been longer than usual, but I felt it would do us good to hear from a voice from Church history instead of the talking heads from contemporary media. Ultimately, all of us need to be seeking the Lord regarding all of this. And we need to look to Him in faith before we make any decisions in fear.

Basically, that’s what we’re singing to Him tomorrow. We are going to seek that He give us insightful wisdom by His Spirit to help us lift up His name. We are going to consider the awe worthy to His greatness and majesty. And we are going to beseech Him to come quickly!

I hope your voice will be lifted with ours!

Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Ephesians 1:7-14

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

  • Open the Eyes of My Heart
  • Great I Am
  • Ephesians 1:15-21

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

  • Forever Reign
  • Come, Jesus, Come
  • (invitation) Battle Belongs

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

We have Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30a and worship – everyone is welcome – at 11:00a!

If you are concerned about social distancing or are at-risk, consider gathering with us at 10:00a for a small group Bible study in our worship center. There is plenty of room to spread out, but there is also opportunity to gather with others at the same time! No one will crowd you, and you can exit out of our side door and avoid the crowd coming in to worship after the Bible study!

We also continue to live stream from Pastor John Goldwater’s facebook page and have current and past services on the CCC YouTube page.

Refresh & Restore — August 26, 2021

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[1]

Matthew 11:28-30
We are continuing in our But GOD series by looking at life and death in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can find the written devotion here: https://justkeithharris.com/2021/09/15/refresh-restore-september-16-2021/
  1. But GOD — Episode 3
  2. But GOD — Episode 2
  3. But GOD — Episode 1
  4. Sabbath Rest & Teacher Tired
  5. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — FINALE/Epilogue

Greetings, Sojourner!

I. Am. Tired. And, chances are, you are too – even if you aren’t a teacher. We all have work at our jobs and work to do at home and work to put into…well, more work.

I use the idea of “teacher-tired” because of the amount of pressure that teachers put on themselves. Many teachers view what they do as more of a calling than a career. They get to mold young minds and influence the entire future of the students they teach. At the same time, there are other pressures that simply come with the job and compound with that internal stress. And, just like many of you have felt, it just seems like there is no way to get everything done. It feels like we are inadequate for the task, and that can be discouraging.

So, maybe you need to hear what I have to tell myself: it’s okay. It is! There are times where I am just not enough, and that’s okay, too. It’s okay because I have a reminder in Christ that He never expected me to be enough – and how I need a constant reminder that He is enough.

No matter what your work is, it is important to have the appropriate balance. Work is important and has a role in the world, but it is not one’s world. Many times we point to God’s cursing the ground and Adam’s “pain” in working among the “thorns and thistles”, focusing on the “sweat of [his] face in laboring (Genesis 3:17-19), but God had already given Adam responsibility to fill the earth and dominion over it before the Fall (Genesis 1:28, 2:19-20). So, work is not the problem; we are.

Lord willing, today’s devotion is meant to help you see that Jesus is enough and that He is able to help us when we feel we do not measure up – to put our work in the right perspective. That’s why I put His words from Matthew 11. They show His heart for us. They show His care for those who work and are weighed down with pressure, expectation, and responsibility. They show the hope that comes from putting our cares and burdens on Him and taking up His rest. And, as always, it is my prayer that His words will refresh and restore you.

Identity in Christ Over Ability

26 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. 27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”[2]

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Part of our problem – or at least what I have found to be true for me – is that sometimes we allow our work to become our identity. When we allow what we do to define who we are, our entire identity begins to crumble as soon as struggle sets in. As a teacher, there is a pressure to want every period of every day to go well – for every child to fully get everything I teach. Then again, I felt the same pressure when I was a full-time pastor, and I found myself completely burned out at nearly thirty years old. You see, I was my who-I-was ended up wrapped around my what-I-did, leaving every other aspect of who God had called me to be as His disciple, my wife’s husband, my children’s father, etc. woefully ignored. My entire identity was wrapped up in being Pastor Keith, and, when I quit, Pastor Keith stopped existing. I felt like I stopped existing.

Now, on the other side of that experience, I thank God for the burn out. I thank God for allowing my false identity to crumble. Rather than bitterness and hurt, I now understand David’s prayer to God to “let the bones that You have broken rejoice” (Psalm 51:8)! I thank God that He is bigger than my failures. And I can thank Him because when I got out of the way – when I hit the bottom – I found the Rock, Jesus! As embarrassed as I was of what I saw as failure, I found myself echoing the cry of David in Psalm 61:2-3: “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” He had been there all along – my strong tower even when my pride in accomplishment – and employment – was the enemy.

I found myself having to be corrected like Paul did for the Corinthians. According to “worldly standards”, I expected myself to be powerful, noble, and wise. Yet, all the while, I was foolish, weak, and low.

You see, when we pursue “worldly standards”, we boast in our own accomplishments. I remember a seminary professor once saying that we could not simultaneously boast in how awesome God is while trying to convince people how clever we are. The Kingdom of God is contrary to the standards of the world. When we are weak, Christ’s strength can be seen. When we are foolish, Christ’s wisdom can be shared. When we are low and bowed in worship, Christ is boasted in and exalted. Our posture of worship, our identity needs to be based in Him – in who He is, what He has done in our lives, and who He has called us to be.

So, maybe you find yourself feeling like a bit of a failure, but what a joy it is to be able to boast like Paul in the righteousness of God that He shares with His sons and daughters, in sanctification because we know He set us apart for His service fully knowing our flaws, and in redemption where His strength shines through and makes us new in Him!

Faith in Christ Over Feeling Like a Failure

[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.[3]

1 Peter 5:6-7

If you haven’t already, you need to hear this: you are going to fail. I know that doesn’t seem very motivational, but it’s true! We all fail from time to time. I mentioned earlier that teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves to achieve and succeed. Yet every lesson in every class period of every week, day, and year is simply not going to be a homerun. For that matter, even professional baseball players don’t knock it out of the park with every swing – or even once in every game! We often look at failure as humiliating, but I would like to help you reframe your failures as lessons in humility.

Jesus does not expect us not to fail. That’s inherent in His invitation in Matthew 11, recognizing that we will find ourselves “heavy laden” and in need of His “rest”. We just talked about how our identities can be found in the wrong things, but our failures and successes can be wrongly founded, too. When – not if – we mess up, God is not standing in judgment over us to smack or smite us. No, if we belong to Him – if we have been saved by Him – we are adopted into His family. And just like a good Daddy, His hand is waiting to pick us up and dust us off. Now, that does not mean that our Heavenly Father does not meet us with discipline sometimes; in the verses that come before the 1 Peter passage, we are reminded of Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Sometimes His grace grates upon our pride and we find ourselves humbled (not willingly but definitively). Yet in that humbling we find grace. In that humbling, we find the “mighty hand of God”, still bearing the scars of the nails He took for us, reaching out to show “He cares”.

It is in those moments that faith transcends feeling. It is our very hope and foundation. Knowing that He cares for His children no matter what frees us from the fear of failure. Just as my own children have asked me from time to time whether I would always love them, we need to be reassured. Thank God that He wants us to cast all our anxieties – all our insecurities on Him. And, most of all, we should be thankful that He cares for us.

Prioritizing Praise in Prayer Over Problems

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[4]

Philippians 4:4-7

I don’t imagine it was too difficult to convince you that you have struggles and difficulties and failures, but it may take a bit more convincing that they are something to “rejoice” over! Let me clarify what the command is here in this passage. Paul is not saying that we rejoice in the difficulties but that we find joy “in the Lord” – in trusting that He, in His sovereign will and might, have the situation under control. We rejoice that He is “at hand” – that His return is imminent. And we rejoice in the fact that He cares enough to listen when we bring all our requests – that He will take our burdens (again, Matthew 11) and trade them for His peace. Even though He fully knows everything we need and even what we think and feel, He cares enough to want us to pray to Him about it.

So, where does the rejoicing come in? Well, look at the context of these verses: our “prayer and supplication” are to be accompanied by “thanksgiving”. In fact, He tells us that He expects all our “requests” to be accompanied by thankfulness. When we put our fears, anxieties, and needs up against all He has done and that we know He can do, they pale in comparison. And, based on the verses that follow, we can trust that the “peace of God” (v. 7) comes when we look at, learn from, receive, and hear from “the God of peace” who is with us (v. 9)! Knowing you are not alone helps; knowing that You are loved and watched over by the sovereign God of the universe heals.

Wrapping Up

As I stated earlier, we learn about work from the very beginning in the garden. That is also where we learn to rest. When God “finished His work that He had done”, “He rested” (Genesis 2:2). He did not rest because He was tired or needed a break. He rested because what He had done was good, and that day of rest began to be known as the Sabbath. While God did not need the Sabbath, He knew we would. And the only way we can truly have that Sabbath rest is to trust in what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do. No matter what your job is or what your responsibilities are, God is still God. There’s no work mess up that unseats Him from His throne. There’s no consequence or boss’ wrath that can undo who He says you are. In fact, one day all of the toil and responsibility and struggle will be gone, and only one’s relationship with Christ will matter. One day, all the days of trusting Him through toil and trouble will fade away when we see Him face-to-face. So, it is my prayer that you can come to Him to find rest – that you trade Him your labor and your being heavy laden and rest, and trust, and have faith in Him alone.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 11:28–30.

[2] Ibid., 1 Co 1:26–31.

[3] Ibid., 1 Pe 5:6–7.

[4] Ibid., Php 4:4–7.

Songs for Sunday, August 22, 2021

I did not post “Songs for Sunday” last week because I – like many of you – was struggling with the idea of how quickly this new Delta variant is moving through people. I had people who are very close to me who were suffering being sick with it, and I knew what my wife and I had prayerfully decided for our family as far as gathering with God’s church during this continual wave of sickness. But I wavered and did not invite last week.

Then, I read report after report of Christians standing firm in Afghanistan despite the threats of the Taliban – actually promises to harm and likely kill if they remained and more especially if they gathered. My heart hurt for them, and I was more than a little grieved that I wavered in offering others the hope that I knew I was going to partake in, whether I posted or not.

So, this week, I would like to invite you to follow and worship Jesus. I would like to point out that He is of more value than my life. He’s more worthy than Covid is frightening. He’s more glorious than the Taliban is terrifying. And His promises are greater than the threats of either – or any other that this world can throw our way.

In Matthew 13:44-46, He shows us the surpassing worth of following Him – of being adopted into His Kingdom:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

I want you to notice that He does not resort to fear here. He does not threaten with hell or damnation or things worthy of fear. He presents Himself and eternity with Him of greater value than things that are normally valued here on earth. He’s greater than treasure. He’s greater than jewels. Jesus is greater!

Gathering as His church is not escapism from a world that is against us; it is gathering in His Presence with the full knowledge that He is greater – and worth more – than anything this world can offer, even the dangers it can throw at us!

Paul, who himself was involved in persecuting Christians before he was saved, wrote the following words while he was imprisoned for faith in Christ and waiting to be executed in a Roman prison:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-11

Throughout the ages, and even across the world today, followers of Christ gather – despite risk of personal health and well-being – to worship Him because they see that same “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”. One such example was that of Jim Elliot who was killed by the Huaorani people of Ecuador in 1956, people he was attempting to share Christ with – to whom God had called him to minister to. Before his death, he gave one of the most profound quotes about following Christ outside of Scripture:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

He was echoing Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23-25:

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Elliot left behind a wife and child who were naturally devastated. No one would have blamed them for hating the Huaorani. Had they turned away from the church and God, the world would have wrapped them in its arms and touted understanding. But, again, Christ is greater; His “surpassing worth” lifts His people from the muck and mire of the understandable to follow Him even through the devastating and frightening. His wife Elisabeth and their daughter reached out to the Huaorani – the very ones who killed Jim, and moved into their village in 1958 to share Christ with them. The gospel of Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness He helped Elisabeth gave were used of the Lord to draw those people to faith in Him. It’s nearly unfathomable – from a worldly perspective, it’s downright foolish. Let Elisabeth’s own words speak for her:

“I have one desire now – to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.”

So, tomorrow, my family and I will gather with our faith family. Understand that I don’t say this in judgment of any who choose not to gather! But we will surrender to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. Do we want Covid? Absolutely not! But do we want to gather with our faith family – and in solidarity with those who gather and risk more than a virus around the world, in solidarity with those who acknowledge that there is more value in faith in Christ than fear of the Taliban and “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9).

Today, you have a choice. You get to choose whether or not you will gather in person, whether you and yours will gather around a screen and join in with a live-stream, or if you will just abstain. Whatever you decide, know I am praying for you and love you. If I haven’t seen you in a while, know you are missed even if I am respecting of your distance.

Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • 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.

  • Holy Water
  • Jesus Messiah
  • Zephaniah 3:14-17

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.

  • Mighty to Save
  • Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
  • (invitation) The Well

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

We have Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30a and worship – everyone is welcome – at 11:00a!

If you are concerned about social distancing or are at-risk, consider gathering with us at 10:00a for a small group Bible study in our worship center. There is plenty of room to spread out, but there is also opportunity to gather with others at the same time! No one will crowd you, and you can exit out of our side door and avoid the crowd coming in to worship after the Bible study!

Songs for Sunday, August 1, 2021

There are so many things to fear, and this past year and a half has shone us that the effects of fear are as vast as the reasons. Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a new wave of fear or a new variant of the same old fear.

There is so much that is unknown about all we fear, and, perhaps, it is the unknown that we fear the most. But despite all of that, let me share with you some good news:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Yes, He is still God and still on His throne in the midst of all the trials of today, has been sovereign through all of the trials already faced, and will continue to rule and reign for the rest of time and beyond. None of the variables or variants of our fears is surprising to Him because He is God and always will be.

So, where does that leave us? What does that have to do with the fears, anxieties, and palpable troubles we face today?

He told us that trials and troubles would come, but He did not leave us to fight our way through by ourselves. Let’s look at three passages where Jesus, God Himself, tells us that He has got this under control and will care for us through the trouble:

  • Matthew 11:28-30: Come to me, all you 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.
  • John 16:32-33: Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

So, no matter your fears, failures, or finding yourself just trying to make it through, turn to Jesus. He cares for you. He will carry you through. He has already won. And it’s Him and His name that we are singing about this Sunday – what He has done, what He is doing/can do, and what He has promised to do for His people.

Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Psalm 113

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!

Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised!

The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

  • Colossians 2:13-15

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.


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

We have Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30a and worship – everyone is welcome – at 11:00a!

If you are concerned about social distancing or are at-risk, consider gathering with us at 10:00a for a small group Bible study in our worship center. There is plenty of room to spread out, but there is also opportunity to gather with others at the same time! No one will crowd you, and you can exit out of our side door and avoid the crowd coming in to worship after the Bible study!

The Mighty Hand of God

Twice this week, I have been taken aback by something my son has done.

He has always wanted to seem bigger and older than he is, which is typical of little boys. He has never liked having to hold someone’s hand whether it be to cross the road or to help him walk when he was first learning. He places a high value on being independent – on showing he can do [whatever] all by himself. Yet twice this week, he has reached up and wanted to hold my hand.

Both times were identical in circumstances. Both times were in Buccees (once going on vacation and the second on the return trip). Now, if you have ever been in Buccees – at least all of the times I have been – it is crowded and busy and loud and boisterous. Picture a gas station with the energy and chaos of a toddler. It is almost too much for me, and, apparently, it was too much for him because he reached up to hold my hand.

Don’t get me wrong here: I was glad to be needed, glad to be a comfort to him. But it threw me nonetheless because my little, independent-not-scared-of-things-he-should-be son was unnerved and a bit frightened. I tried to ask him if he was okay, but he didn’t want to talk. I tried to tell him it was okay to be nervous – that I myself was nervous, too. Both times, his response was the same: “I just want you to hold my hand”. Both times my response was merely quiet contemplation.

Today, we just walked around Buccees hand-in-hand. He slowly came out of his shell and was pointing to this and that as we navigated the crowd to walk where he wanted to walk and look at what he wanted to look. While we were walking, I saw something that filled my eyes with tears then and does now even as I type. I saw the same event between father and son taking place in a different perspective.

The dad was likely in his late fifties or early sixties, dressed as dads of that era do all Americana on vacation. That was not different as I was sporting my generation’s dad travel gear. What was different was that he was holding the hand of his grown son – every bit my age with special needs. They were talking about how Buccees was too much for the son but how everything was okay because daddy was there. And, sure enough, as long as he was holding his daddy’s hand, all was right and all of the frightening and alarming and anxious events taking place around droned out because he had his daddy’s hand in his.

What a beautiful picture. What a sobering and humbling reality.

See, the other dad surely knew what I did – that there was nothing magical about our hands, that there were dangers that we are not enough to battle against as much as we would try. That’s why I tried to talk to my son both times, to help him more that I felt my hand could accomplish on its own. But there is a hand that is stronger than ours.

I have been thinking of 1 Peter 5:6-7 ever since we left Buccees:

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.

The “mighty hand of God” is a symbol of His strength and His power. That strength and power protects His children, but it also disciplines. It chides against enemies but also chastens His children. It is a hand of unimaginable strength, but it is also gentle and loving.

The same hands that formed Adam from dust and Eve from a rib are the same hands that can strike down mountains and nations.

They are the same hands that became small when He came as an infant. They are the same hands that did hard labor as a carpenter.

They are the same hands that were strong enough to carry our cross and bold enough to take the nails in crucifixion.

They are the same hands that eternally bear scars from those nails.

And they are the same hands that will one day wipe away the last tears from our eyes.

Things are often overwhelming, and life is hard. Some things are more than we can bear. Our Father knows that. He does not seek to beat us down but that we would humble ourselves, repent and cry out to Him to be lifted up.

The picture of 1 Peter 5:6-7 is the same that I saw in Buccees, a Father reaching down to His children to lift them up when the world is too much. And, thankfully, I can share with my son about the “mighty hand of God” to carry Him through when my own hands are too weak for the task.

Maybe things are too much for you right now. Maybe you feel like there is nowhere to turn or no one to turn to, but let me assure you there is a hand that will reach down and can pull you out of death and give you life. If you would humble yourself and come to Him, He will lift you up because “He cares for you”. And His hands are strong enough to care for “all your anxieties”.

That’s good news.

Refresh & Restore — June 10, 2021

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. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.[1]

1 John 5:13-21

Greetings, Sojourner!

We are at the end of our study of 1 John! And, as John does in his letter, we will take this last passage in chunks to cover the text similarly to how he does. Hopefully, this will help you see the difference between 1 John being Scripture – “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and “not produced by the will of man, but [man speaking] from God as…carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) – instead of just a letter from a pastor to his flock. The words that he wrote are God’s words – to his original audience and to us today.

Each of these closing remarks fit with the message of Life, Light, and Love in the rest of 1 John. And they fit in with John’s ultimate purpose – “that you may know you have eternal life” (v. 13). This verse is similar to the closing of his gospel: “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). It is my hope that studying 1 John has given you opportunity to know that you have life in Him by “confess[ing] with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believ[ing] in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). The good news here is that, if you have believed in Him you will “not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13).

What can be known “concerning the word of life” (1:1) is clearly very important to John, and Danny Akin very aptly compiled a list of the things John helps us know in 1 John that I believe can be beneficial to us as we close out this study:

“We can know that we know God (2:3, 13-14; 4:7). We can know that we are in God (2:5)…. We can know the truth (2:21, 3:19). We can know that Jesus is righteous (2:29). We can know that we will be like Jesus (3:2). We can know that Jesus came to take away sins (3:5). We can know that Jesus is sinless (3:5). We can know that we have passed out of death into life (3:14)…. We can know love (3:16, 4:16). We can know that God abides in us (3:24, 4:13). We can know the Spirit of God (4:2) [and the difference between] the Spirit of truth and…of deception (4:6). We can know that we love God’s children (5:2).”[2]

And God, through John, has a few more things that we can know that are shared in this closing section – things that we can believe. So, listen to what God’s Spirit would have us to believe through this closing section of 1 John.

We can know God answers prayer. (vv. 14-15)

We have looked earlier in this letter about what it means to have “confidence before God” (3:21) to “not shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (2:28), giving “confidence for the day of judgment” (4:17). This confidence is an abiding one that dwells in our hearts when our lives shine His light and share His love. Now, we see we can have confidence that our prayers are reaching Him – that He is hearing what we pray and answering it.

This is not the first time that John has spoken on this. In 3:22 he tells us that “whatever we ask we receive from [God], because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him”. When we add the aspect of praying “according to His will” (v. 14), we get a clearer picture of what He wants from us in prayer; He wants us to pray as He taught His disciples to pray – “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). You see, seeking His will is key in having one’s prayers heard and answered. God is not bound by some set of magic words to give whatever we request. He is not a genie that we can recite some code to command His response. Instead, He is the holy (“hallowed be [His] name” – Matthew 6:9) and sovereign God of the universe. Seeking His will puts us on the same page as Him, giving us appropriate desires and thereby appropriate prayers. In the same way that we are to “be transformed by the renewal of [our minds to test and] discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2), we should seek to have Him transform our prayer life to want what He wants.

As for what is and is not God’s will, we do not have to perform a séance or ritual. Rick Warren said it well: “God’s will is found in God’s Word – stop looking for a sign and start looking for a verse.” So, for us today, think of all the things that we have studied in God’s Word – look back at the list of things that we can know just from 1 John. If we want our prayers to be heard and answered, they must align with God’s will, and God’s will always aligns with His Word. Once our prayer life is aligned with His Word, we can absolutely know that He is hearing us, and, in His hearing, He is responding.

We can know how to pray for our brothers and to keep them (and us) from sin. (vv. 16-18)

If you read verses 16-18 and thought, “Hmmm, I am not sure what I just read.” You are not alone. We will tread carefully here and let the context of the surrounding sentences, paragraphs, and the letter as a whole guide us so that we have the surest interpretation. There are two things that cue us specifically to what John is talking about. First, the verses just prior to this section are talking about prayer – as does the end of v. 16. So, John is talking about praying for this “brother” who is “committing a sin”. Second, we can look back in 2:1 and see what that “if anyone does sin” they “have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”. So, one whose sins are covered (cleansed – 1:9) by Jesus Christ the righteous is saved/born again/has eternal life.

While these verses are indeed difficult (especially v. 16), we are going to keep to the simplest interpretation that fits best with the rest of the Bible, so, even if we err here, we fall back on what is clear in the Word. The simplest interpretation sees two different groups of people: 1) those whose sin “does not lead to death” (v. 17), and 2) those whose sin “leads to death” (v. 16).

The Bible is clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), that everyone who is in Christ was once “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The only way to move from death to life is to be “made alive together with [God who has] forgiven all our trespasses by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands…nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). This fits John’s teaching that Jesus is our propitiation (2:2, 4:10). So, if “anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death” – seeing one who professes faith in Christ but is actively sinning – “he shall ask, and God will give Him life” (v. 16). We need to hold one another accountable and specifically pray that God will grant repentance (and life) to those who say that they are His yet are living in sin. This is trusting God to take care of your brother (His child) and asking Him to restore him.

In this interpretation, the “sin that leads to death” (v. 16) would be not believing/trusting in Christ. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in John 3:18 that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”. Those who have not repented of sin and trusted in Christ are still dead in their sin – they still face condemnation for their sin (Romans 8:1). The issue lies in how you can tell the difference. For that, I do not put your brother on the stand but your own life. “All wrongdoing is sin” (v. 17); “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); and “…the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Those are all clearly true from the Word of God. It is also true that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (v. 18). We must examine our own lives according to these truths, and, if we profess to belong to Christ, we must pray for God to grant others repentance as well as our own selves (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

We can know Him. (vv. 19-21)

Ultimately John’s goal is for us to know Christ. He ends as he began, showing us “that which was from the beginning” (1:1) – His friend and Savior who he heard with his own ears, saw with his own eyes, touched with his own hands. He had met Jesus and lived the rest of his life sharing the Life that Jesus gave to him, shining the Light of Christ into the darkness of the world around him, and loving others with the Love that Christ loved him.

He wants us to know that even though “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (v. 19) that we can know we belong to Jesus. He wants us to be able to trust that God’s Word is the true because Jesus Himself is truth (v. 20, John 14:6). He wants us to be able to distinguish between the real Christ and idols (v. 21).

Beloved, Sojourner, what a beautiful picture of love – someone wanting to make sure that, in the midst of evil and terror and all of the negative and depressing things in the world, there is a Savior whose name is Jesus who is everything we need. The world produces more idols (if we are honest, our own hearts produce most of our idols – Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 17:20) than we can successfully fend off. We need to be rescued. And that is exactly what we find in Jesus – a Rescuer, a King who left His throne to become a servant so that people can be saved. He is a beacon that shines in the midst of darkness showing all men the Way. He is love even in the face of hatred. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and one day His name will be spoken and “every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Do you know Him?


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 5:13–21.

[2] Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014), 1 Jn 5:13–21.

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).