Refresh & Restore — January 11, 2023

I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. 10 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.[1]

2 Corinthians 12:1-10


Greetings Sojourners!

This week’s devotion is for me. I have been looking at this passage for a couple of weeks now and am so thankful that it exists! I need this.

But it is for you, too! We all need to be reminded of Jesus’ words here.

And there’s even better news: I aim to be brief in this week’s Bible study! The spring semester of school is well underway, and my classes at William Carey are back in full swing. So, I have several irons in the fire at the moment. This is important, though – too important to go unsaid, too necessary for me to say.

I hope it helps you as much as it has me.

A Thorn in the Flesh (vv. 1-7)

The content of verses 1-7 are widely debated, and I do not intend to wade into that debate today. When it comes to Bible interpretation, I tend to take the Alistair Begg approach: in Scripture, the main things are the plain things. Chas Rowland puts it a little clearer: in Scripture, the important things are clear, and the clear things are important. There are parts of this passage that are clear and parts that are purposefully unclear.

When I say purposefully unclear, I mean that the Holy Spirit obviously did not decide to give us the specific details regarding the content of the “visions and revelations of the Lord” (v. 1), what it means to be “caught up to the third heaven” (v. 2 – and which Paul himself did not know whether it was “in the body or out of the body”), what it means to be “caught up into paradise” (v. 3 – which Paul states only “God knows”). If I were to give my best and most theologically sound interpretation of these things, it would be two-fold: 1) I don’t know, and 2) it cannot be (fully) known.

It is okay to say “I don’t know” when it comes to Bible interpretation. That does not mean we do not need to study or that it is not okay to dig into God’s Word to search for answers. Those are good and valuable things. But it is important to be able to be honest about what we do not know or understand, especially if the alternative is to teach or proclaim things that may be untrue or dangerously heretical.

Some might balk at my saying that it cannot be fully known, but we are limited to what God has given us in His Word – and rightly so! The Bible contains everything that can be known about God. There are commentaries galore, but they are written by men. Peter’s second letter deals with this at length in a section that immediately precedes a section on how dangerous false teachers are. Look at this passage from 2 Peter talking about the importance of the revelation of God found in His Word versus the direction men (or women) may take it:

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:19-21

Peter is talking about the illuminating value of God’s revelation through Scripture. Man’s interpretation can be helpful, but it is the Word that is a lamp for our feet and light to guide our path (Psalm 119:105)!

So, here is what is plain or clear in verses 1-7 and therefore main or important.

  • Paul was given visions of “surpassing greatness” (v. 7). Based on the context (“third heaven” and “paradise)”, he was given some sort of glimpses into heaven.
  • These visions were so great that Paul wished to boast about and that took great pains to keep him from boasting. Paul had written earlier to the church at Corinth about the dangers of such boasting, explaining that is why God chooses “what is low and despised in the world…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29) and reminding them – and apparently himself – of the Lord’s words in Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.”
  • Paul was given “a thorn in the flesh” to “keep [him] from becoming conceited”. There are three main categories that interpretations of this “thorn” fall into: “(1) spiritual or psychological anxiety (such as anguish over Israel’s stubborn unbelief); (2) opposition to his ministry or message; and (3) a recurring and tormenting physical malady”.[2] Scholars and theologians find reasons in the text for all three. I have speculations but find no value in sharing those with you here. What is clear is that God allowed this “messenger of Satan to harass” Paul just as He allowed similar with Job – just for different reasons. It is the same God who decided not to give us more information in this section of Scripture. I trust Him and His wisdom.

If you are uncomfortable with not knowing more about this, let me give you a little guidance on how to proceed. First, I would tell you to dig into the biblical cross-references (those little letters that point you to other places in the Bible that talk about similar things/topics). Limit yourself to what can be known in the Bible. Second, be careful about letting your favorite Bible guy or gal tell you fully what the Bible limits. Our Father knows best, and if He has not fully revealed something, be wary of a “preacher” who touts full revelation. That means what has been revealed to him (or her) did not come from the Bible. I am scared of those people. I would rather be a Bible-guy, satisfied with what is in it, than a popular preacher spreading my own words.

The good news, especially for us in this Bible study is that what comes after verses 1-7 is clear and plain and, therefore, important and main!

Sufficient Grace (vv. 8-10)

Whatever the “thorn in the flesh” was, it was so bad that Paul says that he “pleaded with the Lord” about it three times that it would “leave” him (v. 8). The word translated “plead” means to “call for or upon someone as for aid, to invoke God, to beseech, entreat”.[3] Paul was literally begging God to make this “thorn”, this “messenger of Satan” that was harassing him to go away – because God was the only one who could make it go away! Apparently, Jesus’ answer was a different one than Paul was looking for: no.

I know something of struggling and begging God to take the struggle away. I also know a little bit about the answer being no. Thankfully, Paul’s “no” carried with it an explanation. Paul’s “no” got a verbal answer from Jesus (notice the red letters). Rather than taking away this thorn (which again was allowed by God) was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Rather than immediate – or eventual since we do not know if this thorn was ever removed – relief, Jesus told Paul that He would supply the strength to endure the thorn, that sufficient grace would be provided in his moments of need.

This may not seem like good news since we live in an era where immediate gratification is what many people are seeking, but it is truly good news. I am not saying this out of some sense of religious hocus pocus. When I cry out for God to rescue me from a struggle that has plagued and harassed me, I want immediate deliverance, too! I begged Him for relief earlier today and earnestly hoped that the malady would leave me right then and there. But it didn’t. It didn’t immediately go away, and it will be back. Paul’s “thorn” would not go away, but neither would Jesus! Jesus – Emmanuel (“God with us”) – would meet Paul’s weakness and provide sufficient – enough to overcome and get through – grace and strength to carry Paul through! Jesus meets me in my struggle and stays with me. He provides the same sufficient grace for you and me today.

Paul pleaded and begged and received more than a response from Jesus; he received the presence of Jesus and the full strength of God Himself to overcome the struggle! I hate my struggles. I hate being weak. More often than not, I find myself feeling hopeless when the struggles linger and return. But I am so thankful that in the midst of struggle, I find the presence of God. I find His strength. I find grace sufficient to do more than survive but to live and thrive in Christ. I find new mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23). I, like Paul, find Jesus.

The good thing for us is that we do not have to wait for a word from the Lord to intervene. The words – those red letters – in today’s passage are spoken to us as well. We don’t have to wait for God to speak because He has spoken!

Paul just thought that the visions he had were of surpassing greatness, but through the sufficient and continual grace of Jesus he grew to understand that there was something better than even the best visions. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi came at the end of his life, shortly before his death (by martyrdom). He did not talk to them of a thorn or visions. He spoke to them of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ [his] Lord” (Philippians 3:7). He explained to the church at Philippi and to us that everything he had previously boasted in – his Hebrew heritage, his Pharisaical pedigree, his exorbitant education, and even his most-valued visions – was equivalent now and counted by him as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8). For context, the word translated “rubbish” was the word used to describe “refuse of grain, chaff, or of a table, of slaughtered animals, of dung, and figuratively of the filth of the mind”.[4]

I want you to think about what these visions likely showed Paul and what this statement means. Paul’s vision was one of heaven – of paradise! But it paled in comparison to the “surpassing worth” of Jesus! Heaven, without Jesus, (pardon the crass language here) is crap. Read that again. Heaven without Jesus is nothing. A Jesus-less heaven is worthless – as the kids say, “straight trash”. Does that seem odd to you? If it does, you are boasting in the wrong things!

Paul was at risk of boasting in the wrong things in our passage today, but by the grace of God, he received a thorn. The Lord allowed something bad to bring about the grace to help Paul boast only in Christ. What did not seem like a blessing – and definitely would not have been had it not been for Christ – was a blessing because of the grace given to Paul to withstand. The question for us, and honestly the question I have to ask myself often, is whether or not I can be satisfied with the grace and presence of Christ in the face of continued difficulty.

Wrapping Up

I am thankful that Jesus is better than my struggles. His power is enough to withstand. His Spirit never leaves me nor forsakes me. And, just as He promised, He is with me always, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). But I need constant reminding.

If I am not careful, I can be so boastful. God’s power becomes eclipsed in my mind by my pride. His grace gets masked by my desire to be my own man and get through in my own steam. Thankfully, I have the Word of God and passages like ours today to remind me of the gift of God’s sufficient grace!

What about you?

Are you satisfied with the idea of heaven apart from Jesus? Would you rather have a mansion and immediate release from your earthly troubles rather than be in the presence of God and experience His sufficient grace?

These are difficult questions, but they are necessary ones. They are questions that I struggle with as I plead for relief. But God is big enough and strong enough for our questions. His loving-kindness can withstand and carry us through our doubts. His mercies and sufficient grace are enough to get us through whatever thorns tear at us.

I pray that I can boast like Paul did at the end of today’s passage that he was able to be “content” – to “be well–pleased”[5] – in “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because when he was weak, he was strong because of Jesus’ sufficient grace. I am not there yet, but there is sufficient grace to get me there eventually. That’s good news! And I needed to hear it today. I hope it helps you as well.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:1–10.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, “The Letters and Revelation,” in NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 2096.

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

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

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

Songs for Sunday, January 1, 2023

Here are our Scriptures & songs:

  • Scripture | Lamentations 3:19-24

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
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.”

  • Scripture | Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.



Refresh & Restore — December 29, 2022

17  Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty;
they will see a land that stretches afar.
18  Your heart will muse on the terror:
“Where is he who counted, where is he who weighed the tribute?
Where is he who counted the towers?”
19  You will see no more the insolent people,
the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,
stammering in a tongue that you cannot understand.
20  Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts!
Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent,
whose stakes will never be plucked up,
nor will any of its cords be broken.
21  But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
nor majestic ship can pass.
22  For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
the Lord is our king; he will save us.[1]

Isaiah 33:17-22


Greetings Sojourners!

It’s that time of year again. Lord willing, a new year approaches. We have just moved out of a time of eating and gathering, and now, we move on to a time of resolutions and restarts.

For some, this is a time of regret, looking back over a year that just did not seem to go their way. For others, it is a time of remembering loss. And for some, although this seems to be the smallest group, this is a time of looking back at achievement and growth while looking forward to whatever challenges and victories await them on the horizons of 2023.

I am not quite sure which group I fall into regarding 2023, but I do know that my outlook regarding the future is changing.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had big plans. I was with the love of my life, and anything seemed possible. We were setting out to achieve our goals. She was going to be a pharmacist. I was going to be a teacher. We would get married and use her (much higher) income to pay off whatever student loans we incurred in pursuit of our goals while living off my salary. Once the loans were paid off, we would buy a nice house, fill it with kiddos, and I would head towards my Ph.D. and becoming a principal. From there, the sky, and my ambition, would be the limit.

Out of that list, I am blessed to get to still be with the love of my life, and we have filled a much smaller and less nice house with two kiddos. I cannot fathom what my life would be like with out them. I did eventually become a teacher, but neither a Ph.D. nor becoming a principal are ambitions anymore.

There was a time when these changes were regrets, like ghosts of Christmas future. But God’s plan has been much better than mine. My wife did not become a pharmacist because she got to realize she was a gifted teacher. Her impact on children (with math, no less) is incalculable. I became (and quit and became again) a pastor. My time in the classroom, although it took a decade to get there, meant and means more to me than any of the hypotheticals or the draw of being wealthier ever had. The allure of such things is no longer there.

I get to be a husband. I get to be a daddy. I get to serve the Lord as a teacher, pastor, and even a writer. If the Lord tarries His return, I look forward to whatever He lets me do, and I am excited to follow Him – an excitement that was missing in my earlier ambitions. But more than all those things, I look forward to His return. I look forward to that day when the clouds will part and Jesus will return for His bride, the Church. I anxiously await the return of the King!

The King is Coming (vv. 17-20)

In Isaiah 33, God was using His prophet to deliver the promise of some woes against Israel’s foes and peace to His people. Assyria was and had been waylaying Israel, but God was coming to their rescue. It is important to note that this rescue is not because of the righteous way in which Israel worshipped and followed the Lord. No, this rescue is in spite of their unrighteous rebellion against Him. Much of Isaiah is written prophesying the eventual downfall of Israel and Judah and their eventual capture by and captivity in Babylon. Even with that future coming, this rescue is a picture of the love that God had for His people – and has – despite their rebellion and idolatry.

Isaiah 33:1-2 set the stage and give context for our passage for today:

Ah, you destroyer,
who yourself have not been destroyed,
you traitor,
whom none has betrayed!
When you have ceased to destroy,
you will be destroyed;
and when you have finished betraying,
they will betray you.
O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning,
our salvation in the time of trouble.[2]

Isaiah was declaring this on behalf of the Lord over Assyria, but He was also praying on behalf of the people to the Lord that they would receive grace in their time of need.

The problem is that Israel did not take the words of God’s prophet warning them of their own future seriously. God had told them through Isaiah what was coming. They knew what the Lord said about sin and what His Law said about it. Isaiah’s ministry telling people “Thus saith the word of the Lord” lasted thirty-nine years and was filled with calls to repentance and pleading with God’s people to listen to what God was saying and look to Him. All that got Isaiah was a martyr’s death (Hebrews 11:32, 37) at the hands of His people, at the hands of God’s people.[3] Yet here, he asked God to give them grace. He asked God to be their strength “every morning” and to be their “salvation in the time of trouble”. And, consistent to who He is, God was “gracious and merciful” to Israel while pouring out His strength on Assyria; He was “slow to anger” toward His people despite their idolatry because He is always “abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8).

Isaiah’s prophecy here stretches beyond the conflict with and rescue from Assyria. It even stretches beyond Babylon, which was only a few decades away on the horizon. He told them what their eyes “will behold” despite what their heart will “muse” on and their eyes could currently see. Their hearts were musing – meaning their thoughts were absorbed – on terror because that is what they were currently experiencing. They failed to look toward what Isaiah was telling them because their eyes currently beheld the “insolent people” who rained “terror” down on them. Isaiah wanted them to “set their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2) and see what came beyond their field of vision. He wanted them to “behold the King in His beauty”!

Isaiah was not talking about any earthly king of Israel or Judah. The people would have long since been over the allure of their earthly kings because they had suffered – and would suffer again – because of their foolish and idolatrous pursuits. The best of their kings was plagued by the same sin and faults as the people. David, Solomon, and Josiah all suffered injuries and loss at the hands of their enemies, too, with no ability within themselves to turn the tide of battle. And David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), was still a sinner who fell “short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) just as all men do. Isaiah was talking about the King!

While Isaiah did not know fully what He was talking about, we can now. He was talking about the “Child” who would come to shine a “great light” on “the people who dwelt in a land of deep darkness” (Isaiah 9:2, 6). He was talking about the “man of sorrows” who would bear “our griefs”, carry our “sorrows”, get “pierced for our transgressions”, and be “crushed for our iniquities” – the one whose “wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5). He was talking about the Savior who was coming in their future, Him who would be “gentle and lowly” (Matthew 11:29) and “give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He was talking about the King who would enter Jerusalem, greeted by palm branches and cries of “Hosanna!” and “King of Israel!” (John 12:13) a week before He “died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures”, who “was buried”, who “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In fact, it was because God’s Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah that Paul spoke of when He said, “in accordance with the Scriptures” (Isaiah 53)!

Neither Israel nor Isaiah could understand then, but God used Isaiah to point them to a greater hope in Jesus than they could imagine – greater than the threat the Assyrians were that day or than Nebuchadnezzar would be in their near future. The eyes of God’s people will eventually see “the King in His beauty”. Their eyes will a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-11) that will be “untroubled” (v. 20) and truly a city of peace because it will be graced with the presence of the “Prince of peace” and because of whom “the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).

Those who trust in Christ today need to keep in mind that our “eyes will behold the King in His beauty”. We “will see a land that stretches afar”.

The King Will Save Us (vv. 20-22)

Verse 21 starts with the phrase “But there”, speaking of the Jerusalem of the future. The conjunction “but” carries in it everything that comes before and cancels it out in favor of what comes after it. In this case, the before is different than the descriptions of this new Jerusalem found in vv. 20-21. What it says would be “there” will cancel out what is there at the time Isaiah was written.

Israel, namely Judah, during the time of Isaiah 33, could celebrate all the “appointed feasts” in Jerusalem, but there would be a time coming after Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem that no feasts – not Passover, the feast of tabernacles, etc. – would be observed. For a few centuries after they returned from Babylonian exile, they could observe the appointed feasts, but they would gradually morph into celebrations that are pale imitations of what is laid out in the Bible. Even today, there is much turmoil in Jerusalem and many who claim to be children of Abraham but who have denied His Christ, His Messiah. But there will come a day when a greater feast will be celebrated – the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9)!

Isaiah speaks of the future Jerusalem as being “an immovable tent”. In the wilderness, God’s people did not have a temple but a tabernacle. It was portable and crude compared to Solomon’s temple – even the temple after Babylonian captivity or Herod’s temple. When God moved His people around in the wilderness, they would take up its stakes and cords and move it, too. Later, Israel rejoiced greatly when the tabernacle was replaced with the temple. The temple was not meant to be portable and did not need cords or stakes to hold it down.

Both the tabernacle and temple represented the presence of the Lord. Both held the holy of holies hidden behind a veil where the ark of the covenant – and the Mercy Seat – was kept. This was the representation of the throne of God where atonement was made for the sins of Israel. Yet the temple turned out to be as movable as the tabernacle. It was destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt after the return from exile, and destroyed again in 70AD. There is currently no temple. Well, a temple does reside on the temple mount, but it is the Dome of the Rock and devoted to Allah instead of Yahweh.

That is the sad reality of those looking to the current Jerusalem to be their hope. There is no hope in Jerusalem today nor has there been in nearly two millennia.

What Isaiah was talking about here in Isaiah 33 was better than the tabernacle or temple because he is pointing to what the holy of holies pointed to: the presence of God in Jesus! In Jesus, God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). That phrase “dwelt” (Gr. eskenosen) can be translated “to have one’s tent” or to tabernacle.[4] God left His throne on high and came to tabernacle with His people! Look at the significance of this in Matthew 27:50-51:

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.[5]

When Jesus – God become flesh – died on the cross, the curtain (veil) separating the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was ripped “from top to bottom” (see footnote [6] for some cool word-nerdiness). Man had access to God as never before because God came to them! That’s good news! Jesus tabernacling with His people means that He is the “immovable tent”!

But there’s greater news yet! Look at the way Revelation 21:1-5 describes the Day we will “behold the King in His beauty”:

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.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”[7]

That is the place Isaiah spoke of where “there the Lord in His majesty will be for us”. It is a land where none of the troubles of the earth can reach us – even the most advanced and dangerous “galley with oars” or “majestic ship” of the most terrible enemy – because the King will have already struck down the nations and “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15)! This is the Day when all of the sad things of this earth come untrue because God will be dwelling with His people. The eyes that were once blurry with tears will be able to look upon the King face to face!

Wrapping Up

I do not know if these words were a comfort for Israel during this time. I know the Assyrians were sent packing and were unable to overtake Israel. By Isaiah’s day (which was also Jeremiah’s, Amos’, etc.), their idolatry had already reached a point of no return. The Father had promised punishment for their sake and was to fulfill His word to them. They, just like our children, had a penchant for ignoring warnings of punishment until it is too late or forgetting former punishments after their sting has faded. What about us?

There is no shortage of troubles. And no matter our plans or hopes for 2023, the only sure hope is that there will be a day when we “behold the King in His beauty”. But we have yet to deal with v. 22: “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our King; He will save us.” If we belong to Him – if we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus, that is good news for us.

When He comes to judge, He will see Jesus’ righteousness instead of our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 2:1-2). Jesus came to fulfill the Law because we cannot (Galatians 4:4-5), so our faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:2-4).

When Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords on that glorious future Day (Revelation 19:11-16), His enemies will fall, but those who have been redeemed – purchased – and reconciled by the death of Christ will no longer be enemies but part of His Kingdom (Romans 5:9-10)!

I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite hymns that is based out of today’s passage:

“I know I shall see in His beauty / The King in whose Law I delight / Who lovingly guards my footsteps / And gives me songs in the night // Redeemed, redeemed / Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb / Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it / His child and forever I am!”

So, today’s Bible study can either be good news for you or bad – not both. Just as there will be days in 2023 that are good or bad, the Day of the Lord will only be good if you can look forward to the coming of the King. If you have been redeemed, then you can look forward to seeing “the King in His beauty”, but if you do not know Him, you get the rider on the white horse – the full wrath of God in His might and strength. A few decades after today’s passage, there were people who understood this more than they had hoped. They stopped receiving grace and mercy and experienced wrath. The saving and powerful hand of God was lifted, and Nebuchadnezzar was allowed into Israel. What will it be for you?

But for those whose boast is in being redeemed by the King…. Their entire life is altered changed because of what He has done for them and in them. His Spirit dwells within them, and He is on the throne interceding on their behalf. And His return is promised.

But just because He has not yet returned does not mean He is distant. Just as God became flesh and tore the veil that separated us from Him, He is still approachable today! No other king on the face of the earth gives access to all his subjects. Even the prime minister of England cannot waltz into Buckingham Palace, roll into King Charles’ private quarters, and merely ask him for whatever he needs. There are protocols. He is the king of England, after all. But the King gives His people access.

In Hebrews 4:16, we are told: “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.” We can fix our eyes upward where He is and look forward to His return, but in the meantime, He gives us access to Him on His throne! The grace Isaiah prayed for is available to us today. All we must do is approach.

That is my prayer for you and yours, me and mine, in 2023. I want every day that the Lord tarries to be one of anticipating His return. I want my actions, hopes, and desires to be dripping with longing for Him and obedience to His great commandment and commission. I want my life to exude gospel at every opportunity. But I am so thankful that the King is available in my waiting.

I know there will be days when I will fail and be filled with doubts and fears, but I also know that I can approach His throne with confidence because I know it is not empty.

The King who sits there cares for me. He is approachable. He has the grace and mercy I need and will give it to me when I need it.

The King redeemed me, loves me, and is coming again. Hallelujah! And amen!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 33:17–22.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 33:1–2.

[3] Donald E. Hartley, “Isaiah the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[4] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 27:50–51.

[6] But wait, there’s more! In case you like interesting tidbits (or are nerdy like me), there is another layer to this. In Hebrews 9, the writer of Hebrews is describing the elements of the tabernacle/temple in order to show how Jesus is the substance to their shadow. The mercy seat was on the lid of the ark of the covenant and was representative of the throne of God. It is where the priest would sprinkle the blood each year on Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). The word translated “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5 (hilasterion) is only used in that form one other place in the NT. In Romans 3:25, it is translated “propiatiation” – the sacrifice made to trade our sins for Jesus’ righteousness! Written right into the fabric of Scripture by God’s Holy Spirit is the beautiful truth of Emmanuel – God with us – showing us that Jesus is the mercy seat and He is the sacrifice!

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

Refresh & Restore — May 12, 2022

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.[1]


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Greetings Sojourners!

I have wracked my brain to think of how to introduce this week’s Bible study in some creative and catchy way. But all I can think is that I wish this section was not in the Bible. I know that sounds terrible.

This passage highlights an area of struggle – of inadequacy – for me. Simply put: I do not want to suffer. I want to be comfortable. I want to be free of anxiety and depression and anger and difficulties and…well, discomfort in general. To a certain extent, this means that I am just like everyone else. But, for me, specifically, this is part of the “passions and desires” of my worldly self that need to be crucified (Galatians 5:24).

When I read and study the Bible, I try to follow James 1:22 and be a doer of the Word who hears the Word preached (or comprehends the Word while reading) and actually does it. Unfortunately, that is hard. And I fail at that. A lot. And there are parts that I come to, like today’s passage where I just simply do not want to do what it says or participate in what it talks about.

The idea of suffering in Scripture comes up more than most people realize. Many do not see it because the verses that we pick out to focus on allow us to ignore the sections that deal with it. There is a form of false teaching that is quite prevalent today known as the prosperity gospel. It basically proclaims that God has health and wealth for you should you simply remain faithful. If you give money or support certain ministers or speak positive things into existence, then there is a blessing (in the form of, again, health and wealth) waiting for you.

What about Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego)? People talk about the wealth and prosperity they had in Babylon. They talk about the power to rule and govern that they received. What about when Nebuchadnezzar had the made eunuchs and stripped them of their God-honoring names for Babylonian idolatry? Were they not still slaves in Babylon, far from their home?

What about Jesus? He was poor and hated while on earth. Are we more than Him? No. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 15:18-21:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’”

That passage scares me. And it comforts me. I am frightened of suffering and persecution, but I long to be associated with my Savior. I do not invite suffering – and especially do not long for it – but am I willing to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Today’s passage specifically deals with suffering in a manner that continues in Jesus’ suffering during his time on earth (and for His Bride, the Church). We get to see Paul talk about why the suffering he is experiencing – remember, this is one of the prison epistles written prior to his martyrdom – are worth it because they help bring people to Christ and those who are in Christ to maturity.

Are we willing to suffer – or even be uncomfortable – for someone to know Christ? Is our desire for comfort greater than our desire for Christ?

I am asking myself these questions as I write and can assure you of one thing, I am not boasting of what I have or can accomplish in this week’s Bible study. If no one else needs to hear this, I write to myself.

Paul’s Example

To understand where Paul is coming from – his perspective on suffering, one must first understand his testimony. He was not born Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He was born Saul of Tarsus, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). He was the cat’s pajamas – all that and a bag of chips – or, to quote one of my sophomores – good, like great.

When the apostles were preaching in Jerusalem following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the church was exploding. The church at the time was known as “the Way” (Acts 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22) because they were in consistently focused on preaching the gospel to everyone who listed and living it out in their lives. Thousands were being baptized and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Those who were being saved were ecstatic. The Pharisees and Saul were irate – and murderously so.

Peter and John were arrested for healing “a man lame from birth” (Acts 3:2) and proclaiming the gospel in Solomon’s Portico (Acts 3:11-26). The powers-that-were admonished them to cease preaching, leveeing every threat they could muster of suffering and death, and Peter infamously replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). And speak they did.

From there, the church grew even more. It prayed for boldness (Acts 4:23-30), and God answered their prayer by granting that they “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). The status quo in Jerusalem was in the rear view at that point. The church was thriving and ministering to each other and those around them. The Holy Spirit was moving. But the chief priests and Pharisees were not willing to budge a single inch. Instead, they called in Saul of Tarsus.

Saul enters the narrative of Acts at the end of the life of a man named Stephen who was described as “full of grace and power…doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Local synagogue members rose up against him trying to tear down his preaching, but “they could withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). They were not listening. They did not repent and believe at the gospel preached. They grabbed him and drug him before the council. Their anger was met with grace as Stephen’s face “was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). They leveed charges against him to the council, and he charged them all by preaching. They heard him and were “enraged” and “ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). They heard but would not repent. They “laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). They picked up heavy stones and threw them one by one to execute him.

I cannot imagine being in Stephen’s situation. I am afraid I would have faltered or given in or remained silent. Yet Stephen made two more statements: “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). The Lord granted his request and let him sleep while his body was murdered. The servant was not greater than the master. He received what his Savior received. He responded as His Savior responded. “And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1).

Saul went to work against the church in Jerusalem. His task was described as a “great persecution” where he “ravaged the church” (Acts 8:1, 3). He viciously attacked Christ’s bride. Yet her work continued. The work of the church did not stop in suffering but instead spread, “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). It spread so that Saul got warrants for imprisonment and execution against the church in Damascus – that “if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1). His threat against the Bride grew until he came face to face with Christ on the Damascus road.

If someone had ravaged my wife and I found myself in a show down, there would be nothing but wrath and vengeance. I would do all I could to visit the terror she experienced back on the attacker and more. Jesus blinded him, humbled him, and introduced Himself to Saul. The Pharisee of Pharisees had to be led by the hand to Damascus. He sat there blind for three days.

Jesus spoke to a local believer named Ananias and gave instructions regarding Saul – that He had plans for him. Ananias, of course, was skeptical. Jesus was trustworthy, but Saul had a track record of evil against believers. And Jesus gives him a very odd response,

“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

What?! The King of kings and Lord of lords – the God who is rich in grace, mercy, and love sets out to make someone suffer for their sins?!

While Jesus was talking to Ananias, Saul was praying. He had been given a vision of Ananias coming to return his sight. Ananias was obedient. Saul’s sight was regained. The Holy Spirit filled Paul, and he was saved and baptized. That which sounded like a punishment – “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” – can it be a blessing? Can it be grace?

I think Paul (Saul made new) can speak best to whether this is grace or judgment. We looked earlier at Paul’s pedigree (“Hebrew of Hebrews”, etc.), now let us listen to the rest of the testimony:

“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 – that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul knew what Christ’s salvation meant. He felt like he was the “least of the apostles” because he had “persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). It is through Paul’s words that we know “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). He even described himself as being the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He knew he deserved death and Hell. Yet Christ had saved him. The servant was not greater than the master. He received what his Savior received. And He was forever in awe of the love and mercy that Christ showed him – that Christ had forgiven the sins against His Bride and allowed Him to serve her and bring her members to maturity.

That’s good news.

What Does This Mean for Us – for the Church Today?

The example of a sinner as bad as Paul gives hope for a sinner as bad as me. I hear people often mention some wicked and wretched sinner in their area and tout that there is no hope for him or her – that God simply won’t fool with someone like them. Well, he saved Paul. He saved me. And, if He hasn’t yet, I pray that He saves you, too, despite your sins!

Usually, I give a better exposition and explanation of our passage, but I felt strongly about showing Paul’s history and example. I think that his example – and what he says here in this letter to the Colossian church shows us how we should be working for God’s Kingdom in our local church and the communities around it. So, we will break it down into some bite-sized chunks for us to consider.

  • (v. 1:24) Paul did not mind suffering for Christ because he got to follow after His example and care for His church.
  • (v. 1:25) Paul’s primary goal in his ministry was to be a good steward of what God had given him – the Word of God, and he intended to make it “fully known” to everyone he could.
  • (v. 1:26) The church now knows “the mystery” as God has revealed His full story. We have all the information we need. Everything that can be known about God is found in the Bible.
  • (v. 1:27) God’s people are no longer just Israel. He has made a way in Christ for all people to experience “the riches of the glory of this mystery” and have Christ, “the hope of glory”, in them – to be in Christ.
  • (v. 1:28) Spiritual maturity is a thing. Paul felt a sense of responsibility to help people grow in Christ. That is called discipleship, and it is the command of the Great Commission (“make disciples”, Matthew 28:19). Paul considered it worth suffering for, so maybe we need to repent of not discipling or not being discipled in the Word of God.
  • (v. 1:29) Paul spent his life and all his energy in this task. It was not enough. Nothing would be accomplished without the Spirit’s “energy that He powerfully work[ed] within [Paul]”. The same is true for us today. Our efforts are nothing without His strength (Philippians 4:13).
  • (vv. 2:1-3) Paul wants to make sure that all the churches he can are being discipled – not just the one’s he planted. There are three things that he desires for those who have not seen him “face to face”: 1) “that their hearts may be encouraged”, 2) that they be “knit together in love”, and 3) that they may “reach all the riches of full assurance and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Basically, he desires that they know Christ and make Him known. Such is the essence of Kingdom work.
  • (v. 2:4) There are those who are seeking to tear down the church. They may attack it with the same persecutions that Paul once did. In the case of Colossae, they are attacking it from the inside with cancerous false teachings. This highlights the necessity of discipleship. If one is not rooted and established in Christ, they will be blown over and hoodwinked by false teaching. We will hit on this more in the coming weeks.
  • (v. 2:5) Paul is able to rejoice for the Colossian church’s “firmness” of faith because he trusts that God is going to work in His church by His Spirit and through the ministry of the Word.

Wrapping Up

While I do wish that this was not part of the reality of walking with Christ, I am immensely thankful that he saved a sinner such as me. I do not want to suffer and am not going to seek it out, but I pray that God receive the glory for whatever He chooses to do with my life.

I find that it is not suffering that causes me to stumble. It is aggravation. It is the discomfort. It is not fitting in and being an outsider because of what He has done in me. I want the epitome of the American dream with heaven as a nice retirement plan. But the servant is not greater than the master. If the world hated Him yet loves me, am I His?

I do not deserve the second and third and sixty-seventh chances that He has given me. I do not deserve Him. But He loves me and has given Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). That matters. The fact that I know the magnitude of His love because of the depth of my depravity and sinfulness means that there should be nothing more valuable than that love. I was His enemy; He adopted me into His family. I deserved wrath; He gave love instead.

The servant is not greater than the master. The world hated Him, so it will hate me, too. But, praise be to God, He loves me despite that hatred. His care is greater than the suffering. And, when it inevitably comes, may we be found like the disciples, “rejoicing [to be] counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name” (Acts 5:41).


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Refresh & Restore — April 28, 2022

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.[1]

Colossians 1:15-23


Greetings Sojourners!

I have thoroughly enjoyed working our way through the Colossian hymn. It has been good for my heart to focus so intently on who the Bible says Jesus is. There are so many things vying for lordship and supremacy in my life that it is good to be reminded – and to be reminded often – that Jesus is God, that He is supreme over everything He has created, that He is the head of His Church, that everything that is or has ever been comes from and is held together by Him, and that in love He reconciles sinners to Himself “by the blood of His cross” (v. 20).

I have tried to bring us back to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16) as to introduce each devotion as we have walked through this section of Colossians. But today’s passage is different. Colossians 1:15-20 is clearly the hymn; 1:21-23 is more of a transition out of the hymn back into the letter. The more I thought about how to frame this passage, the more my mind has been drawn toward the idea of an invitation to respond to the Word and the Spirit.

The idea of an invitation from God to man is seen throughout the Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments. As far back as Genesis 6:18, we see God establishing a covenant with Noah and inviting him and his family into the ark in the face of sure judgment all around. God invites his covenant people Israel through his prophets; look at Isaiah 55:1: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” And my favorite comes from Jesus Himself in Matthew 11:28-29: “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.”

In all of those instances, you see a God who needs nothing offering aid to people who are in need. Noah and his family – and thereby the entire human race – would have died without God’s ark.

Isaiah caps off his prophecies about the Suffering Servant – Jesus – in chapters 53 and 54 with an invitation for people to receive the Servant and the benefits He brings.

And, when I read Jesus’ words from Matthew 11, I feel them deep within my soul. I know He was talking to a specific group of people when He spoke those words, but I am heavy laden in need of rest. I need to shirk that yoke and learn from Jesus. It is good news of the highest order to be invited by my King whose heart is “gentle and lowly” enough to condescend from Glory to give rest to a wretched sinner such as me if I come to Him.

The church heritage that I belong to – as does the church where I am blessed to serve, Christ Community – offers invitations at the end of sermons to respond to the Word as it has been preached. We believe that the Holy Spirit prompts both the preacher and the one responding to do so. I love the way my pastor introduces this time. He does not seek to play on emotions or to draw in masses. He reminds people that “this is [their] time”, theirs and Gods, to respond to what is preached. There are aspects that are specific to the day’s particular passage, but he always – always – makes sure to offer an invitation for people to come to Jesus.

As with the rest of this section, a hymn comes to mind. Look at this words, and ponder their meaning before we dive into today’s text:

“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 thirsty, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify; true belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh.

“Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.”[2]

Invitation 1: Be Reconciled to God

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…. (vv. 21-22)

Here we find the word “reconcile” that we focused on in the last Bible study in this series. It means “to restore harmony or friendship between two entities formerly divided”.[3] I mentioned that this word is often used to describe a relationship that was once in turmoil but now set aright. In the case of man and God, today’s passage gives a clearer picture as to just how much it meant for Jesus to make “peace by the blood of His cross” (v. 20).

Because of our sin, our default position is not friendship with God. I hear a lot of people say things like “we are all God’s children” and that everyone is basically good. I believe that people mean well when they say those things, but neither of those statements fit what the Bible says (Romans 3:10, 23; Galatians 4:4-5), and they actually make it seem like Jesus really did not need to die on the cross because humanity basically had this whole thing in check without Him.

Today’s passage clarifies that, because of our sin, we – that is everyone not in Christ – were “alienated” and “hostile in mind, doing evil deeds”. Both of these descriptions fit with Paul’s writing to the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 2:1-3, he describes just how hostile we were and what our evil deeds produced in our lives:

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.

Then, in Ephesians 2:12, we get a picture of our being alienated from Him by our sin: “…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Just so we do not miss the weight of the seriousness of sin the Holy Spirit through Paul described it as producing death, following after Satan, being a child of wrath, being separated from Christ, and having no hope because we were without God. We had relationship troubles – as in, our relationship to Him was as His enemy (Romans 5:9-10). And the turmoil in our relationship was our fault. It wasn’t Him, it was us.

It still blows my mind that God could love a sinner such as me. I find it hard to believe that He would reconcile with me. I didn’t (and still don’t) deserve it. Yet, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is the testimony of every believer that our life is “live[d] by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20). He loved me and paid the debt my sin produced – death (Romans 6:23) – so that I could live. He made His enemy His friend.

Look at the good news that followed both sections we just looked at in Ephesians! Right after he revealed that our trespasses and sins made us dead, he said (Ephesians 2:4-5): “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….” There is perhaps no better news one could hear than death having been reversed. And He is the only One who has or can reverse it.

He also has good news for our alienation (Ephesians 2:13): “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This is a much more beautiful picture than we realize. That word “alienation” means “to estrange, alienate entirely”[4]. That word “estrange” is not used in everyday language like it once was. It is the word that describes a husband or wife who has left their spouse. So, to be an estranged husband or wife is to be a spouse who has essentially decided that the relationship is over. But, rather than cutting us off, God chose reconciliation. He, “in His body of flesh by His death”, brought us near “in order to present [us] holy and blameless and above reproach before Him”. That is similar to the language that Paul uses to describe the love husbands should have for their wives – the same love that Christ has for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27):

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

God loved His estranged Bride enough to reconcile – to cleanse and restore her. That is a powerful image that illustrates the powerful love He has. And it is that love that He offers.

So, this is your time. If you examine your life and know that you are dead in your trespasses and sins – that you are far off from God and desire to be brought near, the invitation is clear. Repent of your sin and believe upon Him who loves like no other. Ask Him whose mercy and grace are offered in place of His wrath to save you. Romans 10:9 tells us “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The invitation is extended. Come, ye sinner, poor and needy. Come to Him.

Invitation 2: Continue in the Faith

…if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (v. 23)

Often, invitations are directed primarily toward people who are not yet saved. But that is not the case in Scripture. Any time that God’s Word exhorts – encourages, warns, commands – us to do something, that is an opportunity to respond. Will we do what the Word says, or will we try to remain willfully ignorant or simply disobedient? The way Paul closes this section does not seem to list those as options. He moves directly from talking about God presenting those who He has reconciled as “holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” to saying “if indeed you continue in the faith”.

Now, I want to clarify before I continue what I am and what I am not saying. I am not saying that not being perfect after being saved is how we know we have been saved. If that was the case, there has not ever been a saved person, except maybe the thief on the cross since he was in paradise moments after Jesus promised that as his destination (). 1 John 2:1-2 makes the position of the saved clear:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins….

But, looking at the way Paul worded this statement, there does seem to be an expectation – or at least a way to know if one is continuing in the faith.

This is usually where people begin touting “Thou shall not judge”. This ain’t that. I am inviting you – actually the Word is inviting you to examine your own life.

Are you continuing in the faith? Do you consider your faith “stable and steadfast”? Is your hope firmly fixed on Jesus as proclaimed in the gospel, or is it shifting because your worldly hopes fail and fall away?

If you are like me, your answers vary from time to time on these questions. My sin still causes issues in my life. My faith is more “stable and steadfast” when I am fully relying on God in the midst of a particularly difficult season of life. The hope I have in Christ transcends anything this world can offer.

To continue in the faith is probably illustrated best in Jesus’ words in John 15:4-6:

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

Continuing in the faith means that you have placed your faith, your hope, in Jesus – what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do according to His Word. We are to be as dependent on Him for life as the branches of a grape vine are to the vine itself. Those branches are either connected, or they are not. Once a branch falls to the ground, it looks alive for a brief moment, but it doesn’t take long before the reality of its death is apparent.

Is the new life that comes from Christ evident in your life? Not perfection. Not imitation, either. Does your life bear the fruit of His life in you? Is it evident that you are His?

These are difficult questions. They are tough and sometimes frightening. I have been saved for twenty years, and I still find myself doubting. But those doubts are always with me, not Him. You see, I sometimes try to alienate myself because of some sin I have committed. The difference is that I am never “without hope and without God in the world” anymore; I never will be again because He has reconciled me.

What about you?

This is your time. Whether you have been saved twenty years or two years or eighty, examine your life. Paul ended v. 23 with a testimony to say that he “became a minister” due to the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done, the faith in Him that came from it, and the bedrock foundation of hope that can only be experienced in Him. Come, ye sinner, poor and needy. By the riches of His merit, there is joy and life in Him!

Wrapping Up

Getting to sit under the teaching of God’s Word is a valuable thing and not to be taken lightly. It is easy to fall into thinking that an invitation to respond to the Word is for those who are not yet saved or those who have not responded before. But they are for whomever the Spirit prods. I love the refrain, the chorus, of the hymn I have been referencing throughout today’s Bible study:

“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.”

Know this, beloved Sojourner, the beauty of invitations to come to Christ lie not in the offer. They lie in what we find when we truly come to Him. He is the reward. He is our hope. He is our help. He will surely save.

So, I urge you: come to Him.

This is your time.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:15–23.

[2] “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” — Jean Jacques Rousseau | Joseph Hart © Words & Music: Public Domain

[3] Barbara E. Bowe, “Reconciliation,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1112.

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

Refresh & Restore — April 21, 2022


***Audio will be uploaded later!***


Greetings Sojourners!

It has been a few weeks since we have last opened the Word together. This is the busy season for me. I teach high school English, get to serve as one of the pastors at Christ Community, and have begun in a Masters of Theology program at William Carey University. Maybe, busy is an understatement.

While I found myself needing to take a break from our Refresh and Restore Bible studies for a bit, I have been thinking more and more about so many who are struggling – including myself. This world is a harsh place. The burdens of life can seem more overbearing that what we can bear alone. And they are. There are weights and burdens that we cannot and were not meant to bear.

Part of the struggle is the perceived demand to be self-sufficient. People misuse and misquote passages like 1 Corinthians 10:13 and make it say that God will not give us more than we can handle on our own. I want to assure you God did not intent for us to bear burdens alone. Those He saves are given His Spirit to dwell inside them. The saved are gathered together as the Church and are parts of local churches.

So, if you feel as if you are at the end of your rope or barely holding on, let the passages of Scripture I offer you today encourage you to reach out to God – and to the support system of your local church. Rest assured, He will not give you more than HE can bear.

His Grace is Sufficient

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. 10 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.[1]

2 Corinthians 12:8-10

This is the end of a passage in 2 Corinthians 12:1-11 where Paul talks of someone receiving a thorn in the flesh. There are many theories regarding who the man is and what the thorn is (along with variations depending on the combination of man and thorn), but that is not what I am drawing our attention to here. Look at the response that Jesus gave him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That’s good news!

Whatever the thorn was – whatever the reason for the struggle and trouble – Jesus’ direct response to this man was that His grace is “sufficient”. That word in the original language could also be translated as “enough” or something that is satisfactory or to “be contented with”[2]. The grace, the unmerited, undeserved favor, He gives to those He loves is enough. His grace is not only greater than our sin[3]; it is of greater value and satisfaction than the trouble our struggles – our own thorns – bring.

The response of the man brings me hope. It is a testimony that comes while he is still in the midst of his struggles with this thorn. Jesus’ reply to him was not that the thorn would leave him but that His grace would be enough to endure. He has become thankful for his own weakness and inability because he has seen the “power of Christ” carry him. He does not have a testimony of how he overcame and overthrew his difficulties. No, he has a greater testimony that points to Jesus being his strength when he has none.

I know it may not be what you want to hear if you are struggling, but this world is a fallen place (Genesis 3) where evil runs rampant (Ephesians 2:2-3; 1 Peter 5:8-9). Struggles of some form or fashion are part of life here. Jesus promised as much to His disciples in John 16:33:

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

No matter the struggles this world offers, His grace – His strength – is enough. I pray you find yourself so satisfied in Him that your struggles pale in comparison.

His Love, Mercy, and Faithfulness are Continual

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.”[4]

Lamentations 3:21-24

Notice the name of the book of the Bible this passage comes from – Lamentations. It is a book of the Bible devoted to lamenting the fall of Jerusalem in 586bc[5]. It consists of five chapters that basically form a funeral eulogy for Israel. Yet at its very center is our passage. In fact, look at Lamentations 3. Jeremiah was likely having worse struggles than you are; they definitely put mine in proper perspective! Yet in mid-lament, he shares what he “call[s] to mind” that produces “hope”: God’s “steadfast love” and mercy.

Again, this is someone who is not yet free from the struggles bearing down on him. But this is what He brings to mind in the midst of the troubles that brings hope.

First, he reminds himself that the “steadfast love” of God – Hebrew hesed (equivalent to agape in Greek) – will never end. We can know more about this love than Jeremiah’s perspective allowed. We know that “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). The hope that comes from that love is more to us than something that carries us through trials and struggles; it carries us into eternity with the God who loves us and has promised in the age to come that 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” (Revelation 21:4).

Then, he reminds himself that God’s “mercies never come to an end”. If grace is unmerited, undeserved favor, mercy is God withholding what we do deserve – ranging from His anger and wrath to “the wages of sins”, death (Romans 6:23). Just like God’s never-ending, never-failing love never ends, the mercy He extends to those He loves never ends. That’s good news for sinners like me! That never ending supply of mercy prompts Him to praise God’s faithfulness – “great is Your faithfulness”! Great it is, indeed!

Finally, he makes the statement that the “Lord is [his] portion…therefore [he would] hope in Him”. That word “portion” in the original language literally meant “share of something” or “a part of something, implying it is assigned”[6]. Basically, it refers to spoils that were divvied out after a victory. Think about that in Jeremiah’s context: he is writing a eulogy for Israel and mourning its fall to Babylon and yet celebrates God giving him Himself as a reward for victory. We know what the victory is! Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is, has been, and will be victorious. And, just as we looked at above in Revelation 21:4, the hope comes from receiving eternity with Him is more than enough to help us in our comparatively-short sojourn in this world!

Wrapping Up

For Jeremiah, knowing that His God would neither leave him nor forsake him put his sorrow over Jerusalem’s fall in perspective. For the man in Paul’s story, knowing that the power of Christ was present during weakness put his hardships in perspective.

And that, dear Sojourner, is what we need: an eternal perspective during our temporal struggles. This is not easy. It is not a quick fix. A perspective focused on Jesus, the concerns of His Kingdom, and future with Him in heaven is something that comes from spending time with Him. What does that look like? It looks like seeking Him in His Word, pouring our hearts out to Him in prayer, and turning to Him again and again (and again some more).

It times of trouble, it is so easy to only see the difficulties in front of us. Times of depression add fog to our points-of-view that makes it difficult to see anything else. At least, I know it is like that for me. Those are times where I have learned – from painful experience and, in joy, finding Christ and His strength during the struggles. I pray. I pop in my ear buds and listen to audio readings from the Bible (the Dwell app is my favorite). I have brothers in Christ I reach out to who are willing to not only share the weight of my burdens and struggles but lift me up to our God in prayer. I know that I can reach out to my faith family at Christ Community to do the same. And all of that lifts the fog and lightens the burden so that my perspective can shift back to Christ.

I hope that this helps you. I know it has helped me to write. But, I want to do more; I want to give you some passages of Scripture that I meditate on when struggles arise. All of them, because most of my struggles currently are mental, deal with the mind in some way. To borrow from Jeremiah, these “I call to mind”, along with our passages from today’s study:

  • If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
  • But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)
  • 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. (Romans 12:2)
  • Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
  • 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 4:15-16)

And one final verse to meditate on comes directly from Jesus at the end of Revelation: “And behold, I am coming soon.”[7]

I am happy to get to help point you to Christ in His Word and would love to help you know Him if you don’t. I would love to help you to find a church family near you. And I am praying for you, which is the most anyone can do – to talk to the God whose love and mercy never end and ask Him to give you what you need.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:8–10.

[2] The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Logos Bible Software, 2011).

[3] “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” (hymn), https://hymnary.org/text/marvelous_grace_of_our_loving_lord

[4] ESV, La 3:21–24.

[5] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 1475.

[6] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[7] ESV, Re 22:7.

Refresh & Restore — March 31, 2022

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.[1]



Greetings Sojourners!

I hope this week’s Bible study finds you well and safe. As I write this today, I am at home, sitting and writing where I can see out my window. Torrential winds are going to come, or they will not. A massive thunderstorm may come, or it may not. I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”[2]

Jesus spoke those words as a close to the greatest sermon ever to be recorded, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). There are two reasons why I think they have come to mind right now: 1) I am trying to organize my thoughts to continue walking through the Christ-centered hymn in Colossians 1:15-23, and 2) I am a bit scared. The first reason is obvious as it is what I am doing now. The second is for many reasons. If the forecasted weather comes through, it is likely that my home could be damaged or the home of family, friends, and neighbors could be damaged. More than that, my family is with me here now, so, if the wind and the rains come, I could lose one or all of them. Yet somehow, I continue to sit here and type.

That somehow is faith – faith in the One who “upholds the universe by the Word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3), the One through Whom “all things hold together” (v. 17). And, thinking about what we are studying today and all that we have studied previously, faith is essential in understanding how it all works together. We are jaded and skeptical by nature, and it takes faith to believe that Jesus is Who He says He is in His Word. It takes faith that is birthed out of the belief that we are sinners in need of a Savior – belief that He is the only Savior, “our blessed hope…, our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us” (Titus 2:13-14).

We began walking through what we are calling the Colossian hymn last week. Verses 15-17 lay the foundation for everything we are looking at today. Verse 15 tells us that Jesus is God and, rightfully, has all authority, dominion, and power. Verse 16 illustrates how there is nothing in all of Creation that can remotely hope to attain to His power and glory; in fact, all creation finds its beginning and continuation in Him. And verse 17 clarifies that everything He created is still held together by His power.

Today, we will tackle verses 18-20 and see how last week’s verses point us to the reconciliation of God and sinners like you and me.

Diving In

And He is the head of the body, the Church. (v. 18a)

One of the aspects about Jesus and beliefs about Him that I believe is often overlooked is what those beliefs mean to those who believe them versus those who do not. First and foremost, it must be understood that, while we hold that the Word of God is important and the truths it holds are of the utmost importance, God’s Word is true whether we believe it or not. For the Church, His Word is where we find everything that can be known about Him (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But, for the unbelieving world, it seems like foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The beginning of verse 18 helps us to see how this Colossian hymn fits into the lives of believers. Those who are saved are part of what is known as the Church, or the body of Christ. Simply put, Jesus is the head of the Church; He is, ultimately, its sole leader and guides it through His Word and His Spirit.

Look at the “and” at the beginning of this verse; it points us back to verse 17 which says that “He is before all things” and “in Him all things hold together”. The “and” here in verse 18 tells us that, just as He is set over all of creation and is actively holding all of it together, it is the same in the Church. Look at the way that Paul describes it to the church at Ephesus: “…we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

The church at Colossae – and our churches today – need to remember this! We are not the necks that turn the head. Christ, the head, is in the lead. The image created here is a body with members (parts), so if we find ourselves following something else (idolatry), we can no longer call ourselves part of the Church as we have dismembered it by severing ourselves from it. There were false teachers seeking to do that in Colossae, and there are those today who seek to tear down and ravage the body of Christ (1 Peter 5:8-9, Matthew 7:15-19, 2 Peter 2).

We would do well to look to the head, to Jesus, and remember His words from Matthew 7 that we looked at earlier: the wise man, the man whose house is not washed away in the torrents of the storms, is only wise because he “hears these words of mine and does them” (Matthew 7:24).

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. (v. 18b)

I write often about how we have no ability within ourselves to save or to receive glory. But Jesus is worthy of His titles, not just because of His status before the foundation of the world, because He continually proves Himself to be worthy. To say that He is “the beginning” points to Him being the origin of everything we know, but to say that He is “the firstborn from the dead” highlights what He has done for His Church.

I recall David Platt recounting a conversation between a Christian missionary and two religious leaders, one Muslim and the other Hindu. They were concerned that some of their people were forsaking Islam and Hinduism and following Christ. They presented the missionary with a metaphor they believed would convince the missionary to leave the territory so that everyone could just keep on believing what they were before he arrived. They were in agreement that religion can be understood through the metaphor of a mountain. Life is man’s journey up the mountain trying to get to god in his lofty paradise. There are many paths, they argued, to get up the mountain but that the destination was the same. They felt quite confident in their presentation until the missionary told them that Christianity was not at all like that. Christianity, he told them, was different because man was completely and utterly unable to make it up the mountain, and God, rather than condemning them for their inability to make it to Him, came down the mountain and made a way for man, basically carrying them up the mountain to be where He abides. The religious leaders were disappointed and left to continue trying to make it up the mountain.

Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” because, in Christ, God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He lived a full and sinless life on the earth despite encountering all the temptations we do (Hebrews 4:15). And “for our sake God made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21) – that is, He died the death we deserve to make a Way for us (John 14:6)! More importantly, He did not stay dead but “He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4)! He is “firstborn from the dead” because death could not hold Him, and His Life is the source of our eternal life!

That is why He is “preeminent” – supreme, sovereign, superlative! Paul illustrates this beautifully in Philippians 2:9-11:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[3]

He has always been worthy because of Who He is to everything that exists. He remains preeminent because He never changes and proves Himself again and again. That’s good news!

For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. (vv. 19-20)

We have already seen that Jesus is fully God in verse 15, but here we see an example of why that is so important: reconciliation.

Reconciliation means “to restore harmony or friendship between two entities formerly divided”.[4] When we use this word in the present day, we use it to describe a relationship where some wrong done by one of the parties has caused a rift in the relationship and the rift is somehow healed. It could be as simple as two friends allowing a misunderstanding to come between them and, upon clearing the issue up, reconciling and renewing their friendship. It could also be used to describe a married couple deciding to stay together and weathering the storm of some indiscretion or issue that could have ended the marriage. In the case of God and man, we caused the rift; our sin did the dividing.

Romans 5 does a better job than I ever could painting the picture of God’s love despite our sin and what His desire to reconcile cost Him:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[5]

Our sin made us enemies of God. He has wrath toward sin and toward His enemies. Now, I know this is a scary prospect (not to mention very unpopular), but it is necessary to understand what He did for us – and why it is so important that in Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.

You see, God would have been absolutely just if he had wiped the slate clean when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:1-13). He could have smoked them right then and there and been done with the whole lot of humanity in one righteous and just smiting. He did not have to rescue Noah and his family from His wrath in Genesis 6. He would be totally righteous and just if He would have not forgiven me of my sins or reconciled me to Himself. I am a sinner. He has wrath toward sin and toward His enemies. But instead of being only righteous and just, He provided a means for reconciliation that would not compromise what is right – He decided on grace, mercy, love, and propitiation. God Himself paid the penalty for the sins of the world on the cross (1 John 2:1-2).

There is a price to pay for sin. It has a cost. It is different than merely declaring that the stormy sea be calmed because He has already laid out penalty for sin all they way back in the beginning – death. Yet Jesus, in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”, cancelled the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” and set it aside, “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). God did it all!

Think on it like this:

“…[A]n altered relationship now exists between God and sinners by Christ’s interposing sacrifice on behalf of fallen humanity. The point of the reconciliation is that God, for Christ’s sake, now feels toward sinners as though they had never offended him. The reconciliation is complete and perfect, covering mankind both extensively and intensively—that is, all sinners and all sin. The cause of rupture between God and sinners has now been healed, a truth wholly independent of humanity’s mood or attitude. While sinners were still the objects of God’s just wrath, Christ, in full harmony with the gracious will of his heavenly Father, interposed himself for their sakes, for the restoration of harmony.”[6]

Or as the hymn of old[7] put it:

“Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.”

All I know is that He could have poured His wrath out upon me but loved me instead. He could have made war on me as His enemy but instead made peace “by the blood of His cross”. That kind of love at such a cost as “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19) is worth singing about. More than that, a God like that is surely preeminent because there is none like Him in all of existence.

Wrapping Up

I keep thinking back to Jesus’ words from beginning of today’s Bible study (Matthew 7:24-27). They came to mind because of thoughts of wind and rain, but Jesus was talking about so much more. He says that we will either build on a bedrock of faith – a foundation that is not determined by our own ability or strength but His, or we will build a foundation determined by what we can (and cannot) accomplish on our own. He says that His words – listening to Him and, most importantly, obeying what He tells us – ensure that when the rains, floods, and winds come – and they will, the foundation of His Word will never fall away. Those who build on Him will not fall because they have been founded on the rock!

Look at the beautiful words of the hymn “Be Still My Soul”[8] (1855):

“Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He lived below.”

What amazing truths are held in those lines! He has rebuked storms, telling them to be still, and He has allowed storms to rage. He has parted a sea, piled a river into a giant heap, and walked across water like it was solid ground. There are many who are skeptical of such things, but I believe them. I have faith, and that faith is rooted in my rejoicing that I am a sinner who has been reconciled to God by the blood of His cross. Without Him, there is no hope. Without Him, I am just dead in my sins. The more I read of Him in His Word, the more I see my sin. And, the more I see Him for Who He is and me for who I am, I am thankful and humbled that He would love one such as me. The storm is still raging outside my window, and the storms of life still rage as well. But the words of the Colossian hymn – words that proclaim a God who died yet lives, a Messiah who took the wrath I deserve while giving me love and grace – giving me hope. I pray they do for you also.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:15–23.

[2] ESV, Mt 7:24–27.

[3] ESV, Php 2:9–11.

[4] Barbara E. Bowe, “Reconciliation,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1112.

[5] ESV, Ro 5:6–11.

[6] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 1113.

[7] “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, John Wyeth | Robert Robinson © Words & Music: Public Domain

[8] Franz Dickerson | Joel Chernoff © 2002 Galilee of the Nations Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Songs for Sunday, March 13, 2022

Here are our Scriptures & songs:

  • Scripture | Ephesians 1:15-23

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. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

  • Scripture | 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

  • Scripture | 1 Corinthians 15:19

19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

  • Scripture | 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

     “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55  “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.


If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. Various variants are still issues in this prolonged pandemic, but prayerfully consider gathering in the 10:00 Bible study where there is plenty of room for social distancing and one could slip out before the worship crowd comes in for the 11:00 service.



Songs for Sunday, February 6, 2022

Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Scripture | Psalm 96

1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
tell of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
bring an offering, and come into His courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before Him, all the earth!

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord, for He comes,
for He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.

  • Song | The Son of God Came Down
    Scripture References / Inspiration for the Song: Luke 2:7, John 1:1-5, John 1:14, John 1:34, Ephesians 2:14-16, Philippians 2:5-8
  • Scripture | Philippians 2:5-11

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. Various variants are still issues in this prolonged pandemic, but prayerfully consider gathering in the 10:00 Bible study where there is plenty of room for social distancing and one could slip out before the worship crowd comes in for the 11:00 service.


Songs for Sunday, January 16, 2022

We’re a few weeks into 2022, and this is our first “Songs for Sunday” of the year!

I’ve been thinking a lot about grace this week, and here’s the quote that sparked a lot of that thinking:

“Grace has the power to do what nothing else can do — rescue you from you, and in so doing, restore you to what you were created to be.”

Paul Tripp

We talk a lot about grace at Christ Community. We should! But, sometimes, I think we need a reminder of why, which is part of why I’ve been thinking about grace – the part of the quote above that says, “rescue you from you“.

I need to be rescued from my sin. You need rescue from yours. It is easy sometimes to take the problem of sin and see it as an us v. them situation – to look at it as the sin of the world v. God’s people. That kind of thinking is dangerous and, quite honestly, foolish (I’m speaking from experience here). How is it that we are so easily forgetful of how dangerous our sin is? Well, the answer is grace.

If you belong to Christ, you have experienced grace upon grace. Time and again, Christ has forgiven and covered your sin. Grace. So, we tend to forget the sins of the past (and mostly ignore the sins of the present). That’s why the Bible gives us such beautiful examples as 1 Peter 2:9-10:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We need to be reminded of Whose we are despite who we were.

As the Church, we celebrate being God’s people, but we were formerly God’s enemies because of our sin (Romans 5:9-10).

As the Church, we celebrate receiving mercy from the God we know to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6), but we sometimes forget that we were formerly facing the “wages of [our] sin” – death (Romans 6:23).

As the Church, we celebrate being in “His marvelous light”, but we forget that He called us “out of darkness”. And the darkness is where we wanted to be. We wanted to commit the sin we committed. We still do.

John, pastor of CCC, has said several times over the past few weeks that no one has died due to lack of sin. But everyone who does not put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior faces death eternally. That’s bad news. It’s the worst news – unless you’ve experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

So, we must remember why we needed grace. We must remember that His grace saved us from ourselves. And rejoice that He is restoring us to who He created us to be in Him. Then, and only then, will we become a “people for His own possession”. And we will “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light”.

That’s good news! And that’s what we are singing about tomorrow: the grace of Jesus Christ that is greater than our sin – but not the gift of grace itself. We are going to make much of the One who brings the grace – “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession” (Titus 2:12-14)!


Here are our Scriptures & songs:

  • Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.

  • Lamentations 3:16-24

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the LORD.”

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

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


If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. Various variants are still issues in this prolonged pandemic, but prayerfully consider gathering in the 10:00 Bible study where there is plenty of room for social distancing and one could slip out before the worship crowd comes in for the 11:00 service.