Refresh & Restore — August 11, 2022

27  Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28    My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word![1]

Psalm 119:27-28

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

I have written in the past regarding struggles that I have, so I will not revisit that here today. In fact, it is my plan to be brief.

It is not often when I am found at a loss for words, but there are a few things that are on my mind as I write this that I want to say – and I hope that it is helpful to someone.

First, it is okay to struggle. It is. The idea that any one of us can be self-sufficient and manage to never have anything overwhelming happen is on one side a pipe-dream and on the other utter foolishness.

I spent too many years in my twenties trying to give the impression that I had it (whatever it is) together. And, in all of that time putting up a façade of strength and resolve, I became more and more prideful, grew to try to rely more on my own strength (which was lacking in the first place), and forgot that complete and total surrender and reliance upon God is the bedrock of faith. We trust in Him because He is God. When we are weak, He is strong. When we are drowning in whatever this fallen world throws on us, He sets our feet on the rock (Psalm 40:2) – He is even the Rock!

Second, there are many people who are struggling. Sometimes, I pride myself in getting to be the guy God uses to help struggling people. I am not so foolish to think that I can fix people’s troubles, but I enjoy getting to point people to the Christ who is my hope – to the God who saves (eternally and in present times of trouble). Over the past few weeks, a sister and some brothers in Christ reminded me that it is good to be helped and not just try to help others. In the midst of some angst, exhaustion, and despair, they helped me like I have helped others. They pointed me to Jesus. They prayed for me. I rejoice that God is not only my Savior but that He has not left me alone. His Spirit never leaves me. And He moved in the hearts of these helpers to help me.

Lastly, there are varieties of struggles that I could not begin to enumerate. But the existence of those struggles does not mean that God is not there. He is. It does not negate the hope that is in Christ for us to struggle. The trials and tribulations of this life is why we “take heart” in the One who “has overcome the world” (John 16:33)!

I know have a dear sister in Christ who has gone through many sorrows and trials over the past few years than many will ever go through in their lifetimes. She has consistently reached out for people to pray and lift her up to the Lord. He hears those prayers. He loves her.

He loves me and you, too.

The verses above appeared in my quiet time yesterday, specifically verse 28, and reminded me of what I do when I find myself overwhelmed. I meditate on God’s Word – not ohmmmmmm with legs crossed, but listening to or reading chunks of God’s Word and let my mind dwell on Him rather than whatever has me bogged down in the moment. As I say this, I feel it necessary to say that this is not a magic cure. His Word is not a series of incantations that force my struggles into submission. This ain’t that. But fixing my mind upon Him, like we have been looking at in Colossians, means that my struggles are in perspective correctly with eternity.

Yesterday when I read verse 28 – “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to Your Word” – I was reminded why I do what I do, both in personal pursuit and relationship with God and in getting to write these devotions. I seek to be strengthen by God through His Word. And I want to help you, dear Sojourner, to receive the very same thing – to point you to Him through His Word and receive the help and salvation you need.

I told you I wanted to be short and will live up to that. My feeble words are over, but I want to give you something so much better. I want to share with you some passages from the Word that help me when I am struggling. There is no better place to turn when our souls are melting away with sorrow that the Word of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Passages for Meditation

The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
He knows those who take refuge in Him.

Nahum 1:7

[Humble yourselves], therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7

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.”

25    The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
to the soul who seeks Him.
26    It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26

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.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10

21    Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22    It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23    who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24    Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25    To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26    Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.

27    Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28    Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29    He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30    Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31    but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:21-31

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

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthews 11:28-30

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 119:27–28.

Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.[1]

Colossians 2:11-15

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

I know that I have mentioned time and again how Colossians is one of my favorite books of the Bible and that my walk with Christ is seemingly married to this book. Today’s passage gets right to the heart of that. It also illustrates again one of the most beautiful aspects of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae: Jesus is at the heart of the issues they are facing, He is the solution to their troubles, and He is the hope they have for the future! Jesus – period!

This passage is sandwiched inside of Paul’s response to the false teaching infiltrating the Colossian church. Just prior to this was our passage from last week that told them (and us) what to watch out for that is seeking to capture the church – philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, elementary principles (v. 8). The issue was that those things were “not according to Christ” (v. 8) who is God (v. 9) and is above all things as “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10). This highlights something beautiful and important about this letter: every opportunity Paul gets, he makes much of Jesus. He could have offered them philosophies or traditions or strategies to try to fend off false teaching. No, “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) stays at the forefront of his writing because that is the foundation of his worship. And what we worship is clearly seen in our lives – and in the solutions we seek ourselves and offer to others.

There is a temptation when looking at passages like this one to dismiss it because of words that seem foreign or that challenge our presuppositions or maybe even hurt our feelings. We need to remember that the Bible is not concerned with keeping our status quo. It is not meant to be twisted and contorted to fit human agendas or to support things contradictory to it. It is, however, meant to point us to its Author, and, in meeting with Him, there are going to be things that challenge us.

My prayer for today’s Bible study is that you find yourself willing to come face to face with Jesus, “the founder (or Author) and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and see what He has done for those who put their hope in Him. Knowing Jesus – not knowing information about Him or following in the footsteps of people who knew Him – is the only way to eternal life, the truth that transcends everything the world has to offer, and the only hope in the face of the wages of sin.

Let’s Start with Circumcision

I can promise you that this is one of the last subjects I wanted to write about today. It is awkward. It is a little weird to talk about in general. It comes off as very old-covenant, and many preachers and teachers just kind of loosely compare it to baptism and stay on the baptism side of the discussion. I have been one of those guys. But the older I get and the longer I walk with Christ – the more I grow into Him and find my mind renewed by His Spirit (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23-24), I want to hold onto and dig into every part of Scripture I get to study. So, study this we will.

Look at the way Paul brings up this subject. He is writing to the members of the Colossian church – to those who have been saved. He reminds them that not only have they been “filled in Him” (v. 10), but they were “also” circumcised “with a circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). Circumcision was introduced in Genesis 17. God had already made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 to give him offspring that would number like the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5), promised the trials of Egypt and the prosperity that would follow (Genesis 15:13-16), and now He continues that covenant calling for Abraham (at this point ninety-nine years old) and all of the males in his household to be circumcised as a sign of their covenant.

Covenants at this time in history were done in very bloody and threatening ways. Throughout the near and mid-East at that time, covenants were known as covenants of halves. If you go back and read Genesis 15, you can see why:

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram….

The covenant of halves is illustrated in the way the animals – in this case a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon – were, well, halved. They were slaughtered and cut in half, leaving a bloody path between the halves. When two parties were going to make a covenant, they would both walk through the bloody halves before agreeing or promising to keep the covenant, giving the understanding that whichever party broke the covenant was forfeiting their life. The one who broke the covenant would share the same end as the animals.

It was a very bloody picture, but it was meant to hold both parties in a covenant to their word. I imagine it was quite a convincing scene! But think about man covenanting with God. Mankind is sinful and deceitful and prone to break covenants. God is the opposite. If God covenanted with mankind like men did with one another, He would have to pour out His wrath again like He had on the world in Noah’s time (Genesis 6-9) but with all mankind and no ark. There is an important difference in God’s covenant and the covenant of men, and it is through two easily overlooked details in Genesis 15:12 and 17: God put Abraham to sleep, and God alone (see the smoking fire pot and flaming torch – that’s Him!) walked through the halves!

God never intended on His covenant needing man to be faithful. He alone is faithful. He already knew that mankind would break the covenant, and He had already decided “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) everything that He would do in Jesus on behalf of the world. God Himself walked the bloody path between the halves. Thousands of years later, He would walk a path to a place called Golgotha to reconcile people to Himself and make peace “by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:19-20).

So, as far as circumcision went from Genesis 17 to the cross, it was a symbol of the bloody sacrifice God took upon Himself. Mankind could not keep the covenant nor would man’s death as a result of breaking the covenant do any good. Circumcision was a way to (forgive the pun) give man opportunity to have a little skin in the game – to have a reminder that there was cost involved. Understanding that circumcision does not equal salvation was important for Israel, but, for the church at Colossae, it was important because there were false teachers known as Judaizers who were proclaiming that they needed Jesus plus circumcision to be saved, which led to Jesus plus the Law and Jesus plus festivals and so on and so forth. Our passage today reminds us of the formulas we saw back at the beginning of this study:

Jesus + nothing = everything                       Jesus + anything = nothing

Circumcision pointed to the covenant God made with Abraham. But the blood pointed to Jesus. He alone is what the Colossian church and every sinner has ever needed for salvation. To add to Him, to add to His gospel is to give a different one (Galatians 1:6-9). There is no other Jesus (Titus 2:13). There is no other way (John 14:6).

The Importance of What Jesus Did

When we go back to today’s passage, it makes what Paul was saying clearer. The circumcision he is talking about in his letter to the Colossians is not the physical removal of the foreskin of males but “a circumcision made without hands” (v. 11). It reflects the way God through Ezekiel talks about the new covenant that would be made through Jesus: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The idea was not cosmetic surgery; it was a transplant! God knew we could not keep His covenant, so he kept it for us. He knew the “wages of sin is death”, so he prepared a way – through Himself – to transplant people from death to eternal life!

As I mentioned earlier, circumcision and baptism are often talked about together, and the Bible clarifies how. They are both outward symbols of things that occur in the heart, but, more importantly, those activities are supposed ways to proclaim faith in Him. In the Old Testament, circumcision pointed to the way that God ratified His covenant with Father Abraham as we discussed above. But, now with baptism, we see a reflection of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in the way He saves people (see picture below). When one repents of their sin and believes in Jesus, they are saved. That means that when it says that “having been buried with Him in baptism…you were also raised through faith in the powerful working of God” (v. 12), that means you were raised from being dead in your trespasses and sins (v. 13, Ephesians 2:1-2) to be “made alive” in Christ (v. 13, Ephesians 2:4-5)! Paul says it beautifully in Romans 6:4: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” That’s good news!

The rest of the picture shared in our passage today is good news, too! Our trespasses – times when we have strayed from the path of what is right and good by sinning – and uncircumcision – lack of faith/covenant in God – produced death in us, just as it did in all people since Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. The emphasis Paul is making to the Colossian church is not that they are still dead and not that they have lost salvation when being led astray by false teachers. He is emphasizing to them that those who are “filled in” (v. 10) Christ have been “made alive” in Him (v. 13)!

This beautiful picture continues to unfold with layer upon layer of God’s love, grace, and mercy through Jesus! He who makes lost sinners found and the dead in sin alive has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (vv. 13-14). This is something we need to understand. If we are in Christ, it is because He has forgiven us – He has changed our standing – He has brought dead sinners to new life in Him! His forgiveness is important because it is God we have sinned against (Psalm 51:4). The “record of debt” and its “legal demands” are results of our sin – death (Romans 6:23). The righteous and holy God who declares what sin is must not shirk payment. It would not be just for Him to simply let people off the hook – payment has been demanded. Thankfully, He is not only just but also the one who justifies (Romans 3:26) those who have faith in Jesus! He paid with His life to cancel our “debt”, “nailing it to the cross” (v. 14, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 John 2:1-2).

Once one has put their faith in Christ and believed upon Him, they find themselves living in new territory: freedom. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. He was condemned in our place covering us with His righteousness in the exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21). No one on earth would – or even could – do that for us. And this changes our lives. Galatians 2:20 describes the change: our flesh is “crucified with Christ” that we may live since “Christ lives in [us]”; and the lives we live from that moment forward are lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]”. It changes everything.

Satan hates those changes. He hates what God has accomplished in Christ. I often hear people talking of something being final and they describe the circumstances by saying that the final nails have been driven into a coffin, sealing it. The nails on Jesus’ cross (v. 14) ring with that sort of finality for Satan, his demons, and his followers/false teachers. As the Roman hammer nailed Jesus – God in flesh – to the cross, Jesus was disarming “the rulers and authorities and put[ting] them to open shame” – the cross was not a loss for Jesus but triumph (v. 15)! When He arose from the tomb, He “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10)! Once again, that is good news!

Wrapping Up

There are so many opportunities to argue and debate over what is and what is not true belief or true religion. I used to be very interested in the field of apologetics and giving a reasoned defense for what the Bible says versus what other religions or other worldviews believe. But I find myself more and more coming back and pleading for the gospel – the good news of Jesus – like Paul did here.

Now, I am not saying that there are not times to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); there are times and places for that. What I am saying is that there is immense value in sharing what Christ has done. I want to see people come to know Christ more than I want to win a debate. I hope that there would be opportunity for faith in Christ through these Bible studies more than refuting false belief. I specifically pray for this Bible study to be used to point people to Jesus.

But I recognize Paul’s context here. Wolves had entered the sheepfold. False teachers were attacking the Colossian church. The church needed – and needs today – to be protected. But the answer is still the same – the debate is only over one thing: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, I ask you, dear Sojourner, as I close today: do you believe in Christ – are you in Christ?

It is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of life. It is easy to get side-tracked by focusing on so many distractions that we lose sight of the big things. False teachers are convincing, but our own deceitful hearts are even more convincing. Today is a good day to look at your life and assess where you are – or where you aren’t – with Christ. But, if He has granted you today, there is opportunity for salvation!

That’s good news!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 2:11–15.


Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.[1]

Colossians 2:8-10

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

My heart is heavy after the evil events this past month in Uvalde, TX and Buffalo, NY. I have tried to form words on this to write here, but have failed. Plain and simple, there is evil in this fallen world. We feel helpless and small in its wake. But I find myself clinging more and more to Jesus’ words and John’s response at the end of Revelation:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20)

We need Him. Come, Lord Jesus!

In the week since TX and nearly month since NY, there can be seen a different sort of wickedness. Here in the United States, there is a lot of partisan finger pointing with both sides calling the other bad (and all sorts of other things), but this particular wickedness is one of the few bipartisan efforts in the US government today. It is opportunism.

Lives were lost, and one side says that this pain needs to be used to push through gun legislation. Senseless killing is seen as an opportunity to push policy. People made in the image of God were slaughtered, and the other side blames the first for the murderers to have opportunity to kill in the first place. We need to repent of such. In times when the evil seems to much and the words just do not come, it is okay to be quiet. But, when evil happens and you see opportunity for advancement – of yourself or your platform or agenda, it is time to assess what is going on in your own heart. When hearts should be rent in sadness and hurting for others, especially hearts professing to be “comforted by God” and by His Spirit comforting others (1 Corinthians 1:3-5), but take time to talk policy first, the worldliness of our own hearts can be seen, too.

I remember back in February 2019 in the aftermath of the Aurora, IL shooting. Similar opportunities arose – again from both sides. News took the stories and ran with them. It was the fault of gun legislation and the lack thereof. There should have been this and that. And, in the midst of that, there were reports of the plant manager texting his wife that he loved her as his last act before passing. People took that and ran with it, too.

That plant manager, Josh Pinkard, was my friend. He was my youth pastor while he was a student at Mississippi State University. To his wife, that text was more than a story. His children and parents did not see it as an opportunity to push legislation or deny it. Even as I wipe away tears and type this now, the opportunism stings. I imagine it does for some in Buffalo and Uvalde as well.

It stings for me because it reminds me of the original perpetrator of evil here on the earth: Satan. It is his MO to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He lives for the opportunity to devour and destroy (1 Peter 5:8). He looks for weaknesses to exploit. That’s what he did in the garden, too. He saw an opportunity to tempt Eve, and “her husband who was there with her” (Genesis 3:5) – to exploit on their curiosity and pride and point them toward sin, and the rest of us through that Fall (Romans 5:12). Satan even tried to tempt Jesus Himself when He was physically at His lowest and hungriest (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), but Jesus did what our original ancestors did not: He held to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9) and resisted the devil (James 4:7).

For the Colossian church, their lack of knowledge gave opportunity for Satan and his false teachers. Remember that this was not a church started by Paul. The churches he started were often accompanied by longer visits filled with teaching and discipleship. This church was started by Epaphras who was saved and brought the gospel back home with him. Now, there were false teachers on all sides prying at the edges of what the Colossian church knew about the gospel and seeking to tear it to shreds with their false gospel. Looking at their struggle and reading how Paul sought to help them can help protect us today. Satan is still on the prowl for such opportunities today. Let us look and see how the same message that Paul gave the Colossian church can help protect us and ours today.

See to It That No One Takes You Captive

That command seems too simple when reading it for the first time. If only it were that easy: do not get captured. We have already looked at how evil the world is today, would that command alone be enough to protect people? Absolutely not. I cannot imagine sending my daughter off with friends or on a church trip and saying, “Hey, you know I love you; don’t get kidnapped.” Negative. Her mother and I have talked and talked and taught and tried to train her to watch out for things – to be wary. We have actually given her a list (a very short list) of people that can be trusted – at the exclusion of every other person on the planet!

Paul does similarly with the Colossian church in today’s passage. He does give the command to guard themselves against capture, but, in doing so, he lists specific dangers – specific captors – who are prowling and wanting to abduct the church from the safety of the gospel and imprison them in damning false gospel.  He even gives them a list of people that they can absolutely trust not to lead them astray with the gospel, but Paul’s list is even shorter than mine: Jesus. It is important to understand this before diving into the various false gospels. It is not as important to understand all of the facets of each area of false teaching; it is important to realize they are “not according to Christ” (v. 8). As we talked about in last week’s Bible study, one must know what the Bible teaches to protect against false teaching.

Paul has already gone to great lengths and, through the Holy Spirit, has given them that beautiful Christological hymn in 1:15-20, but now, again through the Holy Spirit, is going to help them see the danger that is already in their midst.

Philosophy and Empty Deceit

The word philosophy is a compound word in the original language: philo (love) + sophia (wisdom).[2] There have always been people who love wisdom – really who love knowledge and facts and can talk/debate them all day long. The teachings of Plato and Aristotle had been around for nearly 500 years at that point, and their use of logic and discussions running parallel (or added to) religion were fairly widespread. There were people then, like today, who sought to supplement their religion with philosophy. And that sort of false teacher was trying to do that with the gospel among the believers at Colossae.

Think of opportunists who try to ask questions today that are reminiscent of Satan’s question in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say ___?” They allow logic and reasoning to allow them to take God’s Word and pick and choose what is correct. What they end up with is very little Bible and mostly what appeases their own intellects and desires. The false teachers appealed to human logic and reasoning to “delude…with plausible arguments” as Paul wrote about earlier in v. 4. Test teachers to see whether they proclaim Christ or argue against His Word (1 John 4:1-6). If you are not in the Word, you are in danger. See to it that you are not captured.

Then, there were those who Paul refers to simply as “empty deceit”, basically empty promises. This could be from a false god or simply promises that take advantage of the church’s lack of biblical knowledge to lead them astray. There are many forms of this today that picture how easy it would have been for the Colossian church, especially since they did not have the Bible like we do today and their lack of discipleship. Think of how many people are hoodwinked by faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers, wicked men and women who stage miracles and perform sleight-of-hand trickery to get rich at the expense of the unhealed and the poor. Think of the people who write books promising hope and health and prosperity under the guise of Christianity or being a preacher who produce disciples whom Hank Williams described in his song “Dust on the Bible”: “not one word of Bible verse, not a Scripture do [they] know”.

God’s Word is full of promises He has made. The Colossian church struggled to tell the difference between the false and empty with the genuine promises of God because they lacked a teacher and the Word. We have access to both today. See to it that you are not captured.

Human Tradition

It is said that the seven words that can kill an organization are we’ve never done it like that before. In the case of the Colossian church, there was a deadlier phrase: we’ve always done it this way. Human tradition is powerful. But, more powerful than tradition is ignorance. How many of our traditions do not go back as far as you think? For example, there is a popular end-times theory that God plans on rapturing His church before the time of tribulation begins. I have heard several people in the last two weeks specifically reference this as what the church has believed for 2,000 years. Yet the earliest known teaching was by a man named John Nelson Darby in the 1830s.[3]

This is going to sound like something an English teacher would say, and, since I am one, I will not argue against it: you need to check your sources. Where are you getting your information? Are your sources using the Bible – all of it and not a few proof-text verses – to get their biblical information, or are they presenting you with opinions. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17. They were eager to receive the gospel but not so eager as to take it immediately but were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Again, the Colossian church had limited means to check the sources of the false teachers, but there are so many ways to spend time in God’s Word today that we are without excuse. Often, we are led astray because we want to hear what false teachers are preaching. We would rather believe that God is going to snatch up His church before tribulation starts because that seems nice rather than recognizing that Jesus Himself promised the church that she would have tribulation (John 16:33) and that the Bible teaches that the church has experienced tribulation at the hands of Satan since it began (1 Peter 5:9). See to it that you are not captured.

Elemental Spirits of the World

The word translated “elemental spirits” is actually a word used in the original language to talk about the alphabet or, basically, “elementary principles”.[4] I think John MacArthur gives a good illustration for this: “To abandon biblical truth for empty philosophy is like returning to kindergarten after earning a doctorate”.[5] Basically, Paul is describing trading the gospel of Jesus Christ to childish beliefs or that a childlike mind could make up.

Paul asks a question regarding the elemental spirits later on in v. 20 that can help us see the issue here: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…?” Why trade Christ for lesser things?

Of course, the difficulty here is that the things of Christ are to be taken on faith. Faith is “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), while the “elemental spirits” can be observed and seen. It is definitely easier to walk outside and feel the warmth of the sun than to understand that Jesus, the Son, “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3) – that while creation reveals the Creator, one is seen and the other requires faith to see His handiwork. But once you have seen His fingerprints in creation, how can you go back. How can you trade the God who is Light Himself (Genesis 1:3, 1 John 1:5-7, Revelation 21:23-26) to worship the sun that could not exist without Him? Yet Satan exploits that opportunity – the desire to see and the difficulty of faith – to make fools out of men who think they are wise when they exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23). See to it that you are not captured.

Wrapping Up

We will continue looking at the way that Paul talks about these false teachings over the next few weeks, and I hope that they help you in your walk with Christ. It is scary to think that there is evil in the world. It is scarier to me to see how we respond to the evil. My pastor reminded us last Thursday night that evil does not win and shared a verse with us, Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is an important reminder and one that reflects Paul’s writings here in Colossians. He does not give more focus on the dangers than he does to Jesus. If you are “in Christ”, it serves you well to remember that Jesus is God – that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (v. 9). If you are “in Christ”, you have been “filled in Him” (v. 10), that is, His Spirit is in you (1 Corinthians 3:16). Jesus is “the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10) and is “greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

As we looked at in the beginning of today’s Bible study, there are those who would exploit evil situations to give opportunity for their own agendas. But there is opportunity for hope in Jesus Christ, even in the face of such evil and wickedness. There are two passages of Scripture that were referenced in our Bible study that highlighted the evil attacks of Satan and the trouble we have in this world. I want to close by looking at the fuller context of them to show the hope that can be found even in the midst of attack.

  • John 10:10-11: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
  • John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Do you see why the context of the Word is so important? We are not left with death and tribulation because life is offered – hope is offered – by Him who has already overcome the world! He does not offer peace by way of legislation or empty promises, He has made “peace by the blood of His cross” (ch 1:20). And He offers that peace to all who would have faith in Him.

I am praying for you, dear Sojourner, that you can find the only peace in the tribulation of this world: Jesus Christ. I am praying that you are in His Word and spending time with Him in prayer. And I pray that you “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1-6) to see what is of God and what is not.

I am thankful for Jesus. And I again echo the cry of John in Revelation 22:20: Come, Lord Jesus!


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

[2] Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. 2000. In Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 4:400. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Feldmeth, Nathan P. 2008. In Pocket Dictionary of Church History: Over 300 Terms Clearly and Concisely Defined, 49. The IVP Pocket Reference Series. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

[4] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. 1996. In Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., 1:587. New York: United Bible Societies.

[5] MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1992. Colossians. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. [1]

Colossians 2:6-7

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

Greetings Sojourners!

Suffering. Over the last few weeks of studying to write these Bible studies, I have found myself thinking about it again and again, and with it a question: is there anything in my life for which I would willingly suffer?

Of course, you can imagine the answers that would receive a willing yes – or at least ones that I would hope to say ‘yes’ to or that I at least should be willing to suffer for: Jesus, family and loved ones. But what is the likelihood that I – in the normal scope of circumstances and the trajectory of my life – would have to be willing to suffer. At most, the things in my life that approach suffering are mere shadows of it or discomforts.

Last week’s passage looked at how Paul suffered on behalf of the church and, more importantly, why he was willing to suffer. First, he found the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) to outweigh the discomfort of worldly suffering. But, second, he toiled and struggled to “present everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28-29) so that “no one may delude [them] with plausible arguments” (ch 2:4). He was willing to suffer so that the church would grow closer to Christ and be presented “mature” (ch 1:28) – that the church would have the life that the Bible talks about (and live it).

As a pastor and teacher of the Word – as a disciple of Christ who is supposed to be making disciples (Matthew 28:19), that is pretty much the goal: to reach people with the gospel of Christ and help them grow closer to Him. But that leaves me with more questions. I’ll offer them to you as well:

  • Is this a goal (making disciples and helping them mature in their faith) that would drive you to be willing to suffer, or is spiritual maturity something you care about at all?
  • Do the lives of those who profess Christ make everything that Christ has promised His people – the lifestyle and character traits as well as the blessings – seem right and true?

This would be an easy place to turn and bash the church. Bashing, or even just bad-mouthing, the church is a popular activity even among those who claim to be a part of it. I wish I could say that I have not done it, but I have come to realize that how I view – more importantly how I treat – the church, the Bride of Christ, says a lot about me. I cannot imagine someone coming to me to bad mouth Candice. Wrath would be readily available and grace in short supply. The church is to Christ what Candice is to me – and more.

The longer I walk with Christ and the more closely I am grafted into that body through my local church, I find that I have great hope for the church: His name is Jesus. And I pray that He sees fit to use me to help her – to make a difference through the ministry of the local church He’s called me to serve.

But that is never easy. Suffering may be involved. It is good that the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” is more and better than any bad suffering can bring.

I cannot think about people who love and care for the church and who would willingly suffer to see her members grow in maturity without my mind being drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pronounced BON-hoff-er). He was a pastor, a theologian, a teacher, a spy, and later a martyr under the Nazi regime in Germany. His story is now viewed as remarkable, but he would not have thought it so. He pastored and trained pastors, many of whom were imprisoned or martyred by the Nazis themselves. Much of his time and ministry was spent helping young ministers know and grow in Christ.

The aspect of his story that comes to mind here is when his compatriots convinced him to be smuggled to America so that he would be safe and be able to continue to serve God and be active in Kingdom work. When he got to America, things were so much more peaceful than in WWII Germany, but he had no peace. The only Kingdom work he could think about or focus on was back in Germany – back where nothing good awaited him. He fell under the conviction that he had left where God had called him to be. So, he repented. He got smuggled back into Germany where he would eventually be arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in various places until he finally reached the Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Bavaria.

That is the kind of hope that comes only from Christ. The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” makes every other thing of considerable value to be counted as “rubbish” or dung (Philippians 3:7-8). Knowing Him and seeking His Kingdom is like discovering a treasure worth more than everything you own – worth so much that you would cash it all in to possess it; it is realizing that you have found a relationship with the One whose value so outweighs your own and rejoicing that He loves you despite your unworthiness (Matthew 13:44; Romans 8:31-39).

That is the hope that made Paul willing to suffer and follow Christ’s example and sacrifice. Suffering paled in comparison to seeing others come to know Christ and follow Him. Suffering on earth is temporary, but God’s Kingdom has no end! And that is the hope that I want to help point us to today. If you have “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, you can “walk in Him” by being “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith”.

“received Christ Jesus the Lord”

There are so many ways that people describe what it means to be in Christ – saved, born again, Christ-follower, Christian, etc. Sometimes it can feel like people are speaking Christian-ese or some sort of church language. To a certain extent, those terms are simply biblical ways to describe what happens when people repent of their sins and believe in Jesus, but that also sounds Christian-ese. Then, there are some who use these terms to camouflage their disbelief and navigate the waters of church culture. Even Demas was able to serve alongside Paul, completing “Christian” work until he “in love with this present world” abandoned him to go to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10).

There are many today who once claimed Christianity but have abandoned the religion – or deconstructed their faith to construct something different in its place. Where I live in the southeastern United States was formerly known as the Bible Belt. There was a church on every corner and everyone seemed to know (at least) about Jesus, but that is not the case anymore. In fact, the predominant worldview in America as of 2021 is “moralistic therapeutic deism” which helps people speak of God generically and hold to whatever beliefs make them feel most comfortable, even attending churches for community when believing none of the Bible’s teachings.[2]

In a world where we sometimes casually speak about Christianity, especially in the church, I think it is helpful for us to look at what Paul means here when he says “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord” (v. 6). Jesus did not die for community. I like the way Jesus Himself put it: He came “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). He is “Jesus Christ the righteous…the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). He, “being rich in mercy”, came to make those who “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” to be “made…alive together with Christ”, saving them by His grace (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5)! He died – and raised from the dead – for more than shallow religion offers.

Surely Paul would not willingly suffer – much less Jesus die – for people to generically call on Him as a label for their community while denying Him as Savior and Lord. In fact, the Bible speaks to this specifically. Paul clarifies this as a spiritual matter in 1 Corinthians 12:3:

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

Basically, one cannot decide to accept Christianity while rejecting – essentially saying “to Hell with” – the Christ of Christianity. He is the Lord of the saved and rejected by all others. Romans 10:9, the model for true belief and what it looks like to be in Christ, leaves no room for someone to claim Him without submitting to Him as Lord:

“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Submitting to Him is the confession – not lengthy or difficult doctrines. Confessing to the world that He is your Lord – with your mouth and especially your life – and that you commit to believing what the Bible says about Him, namely His death and resurrection are the hallmarks of being saved. The language is important because it comes from the Bible. It is important because it teaches us how to be saved and, then, what it means to follow Him.

That word “receive” from our passage today is a good indicator of what it means to “be saved” and for Jesus to be one’s “Lord”. In the original language, that word meant “receive with or to oneself what is given, imparted, delivered over…to receive into the mind, be taught”[3]; it meant that something of value had been offered or taught to be implanted and become part of the learner. The message of the gospel tells the truth about man, sin, and gives invitation and opportunity to repent of sin and believe in Jesus – to have faith and trust that He is who His Word proclaims He is and that He will do what He promised, namely bring lost sinners from death to eternal life. For those who get “saved”, they hear this message and respond to its call in repentance and faith, or they remain in their sins by rejecting the message and continuing on unchanged.

To reject the message means it is not received. This is clear. There are people who seek after many religions or philosophies. They would reject the idea that Jesus is who the Bible says He is. But, to “be saved” is to “receive Christ Jesus the Lord” – to believe what the Bible says about Him and live life the Life He gives following His example and commands. This is not a legalistic set of laws but a response of love to Him who loved us and thankfulness toward Him for all He has done and is doing on our behalf (v. 7).

This is a good opportunity, dear Sojourner, to assess whether or not you have received Him.

Jesus Himself speaks about this in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’[4]

These words give me pause every time I read them. They do today. Salvation does not fall on me and my works, though. It lies solely on Him. Have I received Him – not just using His name and trying to work in His name? The Bible is clear that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13) – those that call out to Him to save them, submitting to Him and trusting in Him as Savior.

Paul talks about a difference between the lives of the world and in those who have received or learned Christ in Ephesians 4. He describes those who have not received Christ as walking “in the futility of their minds” rather than walking in Him (Ephesians 4:17). He says that those who have not received Christ are “callous” – hardened due to “sensuality” and practicing all manner of “impurity” (Ephesians 4:19). Then, he issues one of the most chilling litmus tests for believers:

“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 with 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)

Paul – really the Holy Spirit appealing to the church through Paul – does not leave room for one to have “learned Christ” while living like the world. When he talks about “assuming that you have heard about Him”, it chills up my spine as I examine my own life. This is not a question of my perfection or track record – but His!

So, I ask you to examine yourself. Have you “received” Him? If so, He has surely received, saved, loved, and adopted you as His! If not, I invite you to repent and believe!

“rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith,
just as you were taught”

Until one has “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, there is no need to attain for maturity. Knowing Christ is not a class – although there are Bible teachers in churches who are meant to teach you what the Bible says for how to live your life. What I mean is that there is no program to progress through – no degree to attain. If one is not in Christ, he or she is dead. There is no maturity in death, only decay!

I find it interesting that Paul found presenting “everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28) as worthy of “struggling with all [Christ’s] energy” (ch 1:29) while all of our – honestly, I am speaking for me and the local church I serve – energy and focus goes elsewhere. We have to constantly be reminded that the Great Commission is about making disciples – not converts. Part of the reason is that making converts seems to be relatively easier – all we have to do is proclaim the gospel; Jesus does the saving!

Making disciples (discipleship) is difficult for us because it takes time. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can travel somewhere, preach the gospel, and let someone else disciple the converts. But, unfortunately, we have many who profess Christ who no one disciples. They are handed a Bible, often given a job or ministry in the church, and wished good luck on their efforts. No one really took a concerted effort to disciple me until I had already been in ministry for over a decade and had burned out. To think, I was a little offended when an interim pastor approached me in my thirties and asked if I was interested in being discipled and growing in my walk with Christ. I am thankful for the offense, and, now, I seek to offend others in the same way!

I never realized what all it took to disciple someone – to truly labor and desire for their maturity – until a few years ago when my daughter received Christ. I also never fully understood the difficulties. She sees more of my walk with Christ than most anyone else, definitely more than anyone but Christ Himself and Candice. She sees my failings. She sees when I need to repent and whether or not I do. She sees when I read the Word and whether I worship God at home. What I try to teach her from the Word cannot remotely hope to compare to what she sees me living out. It is terribly frustrating at times, but, ultimately, it is a great joy to get to struggle and strive. I cannot imagine being satisfied with my own comfort if she would not be found mature in Him.

Paul did not have a wife or children. He cared that way for the churches he was called to serve. He looked at the Colossian church the way I look at Keri. He did not plant the church there, but the gospel he preached at Ephesus birthed that. Now, as I grow closer to Christ myself and mature to see more of what He has called me to, I understand more of what Paul wanted for the churches – and why he wanted them to be “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [they] were taught, abounding in thanksgiving”.

Rooted

To be rooted in Christ lies in that foundation – “just as you were taught”. This reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9. Some of the seed was sown on the hard packed earth of a path and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on shallow soil over bedrock; there was not enough depth for roots to develop that would sustain growth. Similarly, some seeds feel among thorns and were choked out. But the seeds that were sown on the good soil developed healthy roots, received all of the nutrients the soil offered, received all of the light and water they needed, and grew into healthy plants that multipled “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8).

Roots not only provide a means to gain sustenance but also support and strength. Think about how many times following a storm there are large trees whose roots snap off below the ground. The roots were enough to sustain the tree to grow large, but they never developed enough to withstand the pressure that comes with winds and storms. Yet there are very large and extremely old trees that line areas of the Gulf Coast in southern Mississippi. Their branches are gnarly as they have been whipped by hurricane after hurricane. Their branches bear the marks of the wind, but their roots have sustained them and held them safely in the ground.

So it is with Christ. To become mature, you must be rooted in Him. Like the branches of a grape vine have no hope of producing grapes without being attached to their vine, “apart from [Christ] you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The same gospel that brings the invitation to receive Christ also sustains. A Christian will never outgrow the truth of the gospel but, rather, studying and knowing it more means that our roots are dug deep into its good soil. Continuing to study the Word and walk with Christ draws sustenance and leaves us firmly planted in Him.

In the coming weeks of this study, we will look at the winds of false teaching that were attacking the Colossian church. There are similar winds today. The only way to withstand is to be rooted in Christ.

Built Up in Him

What good is a foundation if no one builds on it? What good are roots if there is no tree?

We looked earlier at some of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4. Earlier in that chapter, he spoke to this:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, 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)

Disciples grow as they study God’s Word and put it into practice. That’s right: practice. Too many people have been allowed to profess Christ with their mouths on a single occasion and deny Him with their lives in every moment following it. (This typically cues a chorus of “Thou shalt not judge”.)

Paul illustrated being build up in Christ to the Ephesian church by talking about love being the catalyst. Jesus Himself said that all of the law could be summed up by loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:36-40). Love is an action. Love is a constant choice to remember what God did for us in Christ and to share that with others. Love requires effort. The church is not built with bricks and mortar but with those who have received Christ serving Him and sharing Him with others.

Established in the Faith

This word is more closely related to assurance – that one can know that they have received Christ. To be “established in the faith” is to have the Spirit of God in you, leading and guiding. Honestly, and I am trying not to generalize this too much, if any of the things written about in this Bible study (receiving Christ, being rooted, and being built up/growing in Him) are missing, there is reason for concern, especially receiving Him.

One of the greatest issues for people in the former Bible Belt is false assurance. If someone has been allowed to profess Christianity with no connection to Christ, no fruit for decades, there is little to convince them otherwise. Think back to that chilling warning from Jesus in Matthew 7; there will be people who have claimed Christ in name only who will not be welcomed into eternity with Him. This is why Paul was willing to suffer to see people presented as mature. They were faced either with assurance of faith in Christ or outed as frauds. Demas could only stay with him so long before his love for the world overrode his words.

It is an uncomfortable thing to be confronted with a harsh truth. The harsh reality that your life does not bear fruit of a relationship with Christ offers opportunity for repentance and faith – opportunity to receive Him. But it does no one any good to save their feelings on earth if only to allow them to die and go to Hell. One way is love; the other hate.

Maybe you do not feel as if you are “established in the faith”. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes our trees need pruning. Sometimes we need to be confronted with present sin and repent – to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). But, maybe, you have merely talked the talk. Maybe you learned enough Christian-ese to converse and fit in with the locals.

It is a good thing to be confronted with harsh truths. If you realize that you have never received Christ, it is not too late. The same words that showed us earlier what it means to believe show us how to receive Him now. Romans 10:9-10 says:

“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

There is no better time for such a confession than right now. If you would like to talk, I would love to help you; feel free to reach out any time.

Wrapping Up

I have gone on longer than normal, but I definitely feel that this is important. Anything worth suffering over is worth our attention. And the state of our soul in the face of the holy and righteous God of the universe is worth attention.

I began by talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how his repentance led him back to Germany and, ultimately, to Flossenburg Concentration Camp. But I did not tell you what happened to him there.

This is usually the part of the story where something inspirational comes, and that definitely happens here. But nothing comes out of the wings to save Bonhoeffer from the fate one would expect at a concentration camp.

As WWII was drawing to a close – Hitler had already committed suicide and the Third Reich was preparing to surrender, the Nazis still harbored great hatred toward Bonhoeffer. They hated him so much, in fact, that one of their last official actions would be to have him executed rather than letting him go free after the surrender.

The morning of his death, he was not sad. He preached a sermon to people in the camp with a fellow prisoner, a British officer, standing watch and Nazi soldiers waiting to accompany him to his execution. When he finished preaching, he went with them willingly. In the moments before his hanging on the morning of April 9, 1945, he bowed his face to the ground, prayed to the Christ he would meet face-to-face minutes later, and uttered the words: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

From an earthly perspective, this seems like such a sad story. But, the longer I walk with Christ, it is a story of hope. How could a man not fight against his executioners? How could he proclaim the gospel truth to his killers on his way out of this world? Hope. Hope in Christ that comes from being “rooted and built up and established in the faith”. Hope that comes from receiving Christ Jesus the Lord.

I cannot boast of great courage like that in my future. I can boast only in Christ and the hope He gives me now.

I pray He gives the same and more to you.

Hallelujah, and amen.


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

[2] Barna, George. Rep. American Worldview Inventory 2021, Release #02: Introducing America’s Most Popular Worldview – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Glendale, AZ, 2021.

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

[4] 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

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

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.

Songs for Palm Sunday, April 10, 2022


Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Scripture | Matthew 21:6-11

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

  • Scripture | Hebrews 9:11-14

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

  • Offertory | His Mercy is More

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.


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]


Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

We are continuing in our Jesus Over All study of Colossians with a look at what it means to have new life in Christ in Colossians 3:9-11. You can find a written version of today's study at https://justkeithharris.com/2022/09/07/refresh-restore-september-8-2022/
  1. Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022 (Jesus Over All 19)
  2. Refresh & Restore — August 18, 2022 (Jesus Over All 18)
  3. Refresh & Restore — June 16, 2022 (Jesus Over All 13)
  4. Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022 (Jesus Over All 12)
  5. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)

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.



Refresh & Restore — March 3, 2022

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

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 1:13-24

Greetings Sojourners!

This week’s devotion is going to look a bit different.

The passage you see above is the end of the one we’ve been studying and the one we will be studying over the next few weeks. The focus of both is Jesus, the “beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 13-14).

Since the subject is Jesus – God in flesh, the King of kings and Lord of lords, I want to spend a little more time on the devotion that was meant to go out today.

In the meantime, take a look at this video that creatively shares the gospel – the Story:


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:13–23.