Songs for Sunday, April 11, 2021

There are some verses that have been on my heart for quite some time, but I have hesitated to post them here because I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Isn’t that a scary thought — that I could have a portion of God’s Word on my heart, meditating on it, being convicted by it, and too afraid to put it out because of people’s feelings?

Hebrews 10:23-25 says:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For the over a year now, we have lived with Covid-19 – and, yes, there are those who have died as a result of it, too. I do not seek to argue against the virus or against those in government positions who have made mandates and recommendations as they saw fit in their positions. I am not waging war for or against vaccines. I am not diminishing the fear and caution that we have all struggled with. And I am especially not taking lightly those loved ones who have lost their life due to this virus or those who have had to make difficult decisions in the name of protecting those who are at-risk – those who would quite possibly die if they ever contract this coronavirus.

But I cannot help but see a trend – a trend of returning to “normal”, whatever that is. There is talk of states being fully opened for the sake of the economy. School has been in session for nearly a full year. Many have never stopped going to work – essential or not. Stores have been backed and crowded for months now. And, through all of that, these verses from Hebrews 10 have been on my heart.

I am afraid that we have wavered from our the confession of our hope and forgotten that “He who promised is faithful”. Did the same God who prophesied at length about so many things miss the global pandemic of 2020-21? Did He cease to be faithful this year or take a break? The obvious answer is no. Hope in Him “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

I am afraid that even though I try through writing devotions and posts like this, times of teaching and leading in worship, and opportunities that I have had to preach and proclaim to others about Jesus that I have neglected to “stir up” many of my brothers and sisters “to love and good works”. My fear of hurting people’s feelings who are making hard choices due to this virus has caused me to be silent – or at least quietly careful.

I am afraid that we are “neglecting to meet together” and that over this past year our neglect has grown into “the habit of some”. Thankfully, Christ Community has not closed her doors during this pandemic. This is not to criticize or condemn those churches who have made hard decisions. This is not knocking the various creative means of live-streaming, drive-thru-ing, parking lot or outdoor services, or any other means that people have tried to allow people to gather in difficult times. It is simply saying that we have held to the belief that gathering together as believers in worship of the King of kings and Lord of lords – of “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) – is essential.

In regard to staying open, it has been a blessing that there have not been any mandates against the church in our state. Yes, there have been government recommendations that gathering be limited and that people be cautious. But haven’t there been recommendations about tobacco and alcohol and driving speed – each of which are accompanied by rigorous laws – that have been ignored for years and all of which carry high mortality rates? There are churches in California that have had to fight lawsuits from their cities because they believe the church is essential. Just this past week, GraceLife Church in Alberta, Canada saw local authorities build a fence around their church building so that they would no longer gather together.

Yet, we, in our freedom, have not remembered that we are free to worship – free to gather – not because of a benevolent and constitution-respecting government but because of a gracious and loving God who freed us from the bondage of sin and the death that accompanied it (Romans 6:23) and told us to “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Government mandates and/or recommendations have not slowed the gathering of believers in persecuted countries. When the governments in those countries arrest, beat, torture, imprison, and, yes, even murder believers, their zeal to gather – their zeal to “not [be found] neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” out of grateful hearts to the One who died and rose for their salvation is not diminished one, single bit.

More than anything, I am afraid that we have forgotten that we have stopped looking and remembering that “the Day is drawing near”. We have gotten so wrapped up in fear and death and surviving that we forget that “He who promised is faithful” and that He – King Jesus – is coming back! And we have forgotten that, while we are waiting for His return, He has given us a mission. He has given us a “ministry” and “message of reconciliation” to remind people that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). He has called us to be “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us”, begging and imploring people “on behalf of Christ [to] be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

I am afraid that, just as we have forgotten His second coming, that we have forgotten what He accomplished for us when He came the first time: “For our sake He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Brothers and sisters, I think it’s time for Christ’s ambassadors to come back to our embassy – the local church to which He called – yes, called – you to be a part of. The local church – the local body of believers to which you were called to be a member – has been missing appendages that God intended for that local church to function as His body in the community where He planted it to be a lampstand (Revelation 1:20) “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16).

While I am afraid of these things, I serve a God who is greater than my fear. It is my prayer that He helps with your fear as well me with mine.

I hope you can see my love for you in these words, and I genuinely do not want to hurt your feelings or to hurt you in any way. My words may be inadequate to relay my heart, but God’s Word does not come up short or “return to [Him] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [He purposes]” (Isaiah 55:11).

Here are the songs we’ll sing tomorrow:

  • Romans 8:12-18

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

  • Chain Breaker
  • Goodness of God
  • Acts 2:22-24

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

  • Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)
  • So Will I
  • (invitation) Grace Has Called My Name

Refresh & Restore – March 4, 2021

24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

28 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming.[1]

1 John 2:24-28

Greetings, Sojourner!

It is Thursday again. I do not know about you, but I need a little refreshing and restoring this week. There is something about time in the Word that gives comfort and rest for one’s weary spirit.

If you live in Mississippi like I do, you have likely heard about, talked about, or at least have an opinion about our governor lifting the mask mandate. Some are relieved. Some are grieved. But I find myself thinking about the church in 1 John.

Over the past few weeks, we have been walking through 1 John 2:18-27 and how antichrists – false teachers with anti-gospel messages – had infiltrated the church of John’s early audience and were seeking to tear the church down from the inside. Jesus described these false prophets as coming to His people “in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15) and warned those He preached to then – and us today – that we would be able to “recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). As we celebrate or mourn our faces being free of masks or continue wearing them for work or school, let us contemplate the way that Jesus pulls the wool off of our eyes in regard to the antichrists who mask themselves as preachers and would lead us away from Christ.

As we walked through this part of 1 John, we have seen the differences between the Church and these antichrists – at the difference between the Holy Spirit working in us and the anti-Jesus spirit that is at work in them. Then, last week, we broke down their attack and looked at how it affects the Church and the differences between the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the way their anti-gospel works against it.

This has been disconcerting to some but let me assure you again that this is not meant to cause fear. The Holy Spirit did not inspire John to write these words so that his original audience or us today should be afraid of these antichrists. No, he wrote this that, just as Jesus said in the verse cited above, we should be able to “recognize them by their fruits” – that we should be able to see them for who they are and trust in the Jesus from the Bible who, as King of kings and Lord of lords has already conquered, is conquering, and will conquer them!

Since we have that assurance, I want to shift our focus from the attack of the antichrists and their false gospel messages to how God has already equipped His church to withstand them. To see this, we need to look at the word that shows up five times in today’s passage: abide.

The idea of abiding is not new to John. It shows up fourteen times in his gospel, and eleven of those are in the same chapter (John 5:38; 6:56; 8:3; John 15:4-7, 9-10, 16)! This word means to “remain, stay (i.e., lodge) with”, giving off a sense of dwelling or living. It can refer to something that has been set up or established that will continue standing and existing for a long time. Let us look at how this works out in today’s passage.

God’s Teachings Abide in His People

In verse 24, John tells his audience that they need to let what they “heard from the beginning abide in [them]”. This basically repeats the language we have seen already in 1 John (1:1, 1:3, 1:5, 2:7, 2:13-14) where he reminds that Jesus is “from the beginning” (v. 1:1) and that His teachings are what “you had from the beginning” (v. 2:7). The good news here is that John tells us that those who “confess the Son” (v. 2:23) have His Word – His teachings – abiding in us.

You see, learning and studying God’s Word is different than all other types of teaching and learning. It is not based on intelligence or wisdom. Instead, it occurs through the “anointing that you received from Him” (v. 27). Depending on our church background, we may have different views on anointing. Here, we can use the literal translation of the word – coating, glazing, or “anything smeared on” – to understand that the knowledge of Christ comes from Him through the preaching of His Word (Romans 10:17) and who, through His Spirit, will “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

If His Spirit Abides in You, “You Too Will Abide” in Him

John continues in verse 24 to explain that those who have the teachings from the beginning abiding within them will “abide in the Son and in the Father”. This is good news because it tells us that we will not be like the antichrists who “went out from us” because they “were not of us” (v. 19). No, those who have trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior have His Spirit, and it is through His Spirit that we understand the teaching of the Word. It is through the Spirit’s illumination of the Word that it comes to abide in our hearts and minds.

One of the most famous verses of all time are from Jesus quoting John about this very same assurance: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Those who believe and trust in Him will not perish like the antichrists but, instead, abide with God continually in eternal life.

His Promise is for His People to Abide with Him Forever

The good news continues in verse 25: “And this is the promise that He made to us – eternal life”. We have already looked at this promise in John 3:16, but I do not think that we can truly grasp the magnitude of what this means. Our point of view is too limited – too small to grasp the scope of eternity with Christ. I do not possess the writing ability to describe it to you adequately, but thankfully, John shares a picture with us in Revelation 21:3-4 that gives us a glimpse of eternal life:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Forever and ever, amen. All of the pain and turmoil caused by sin and death will give way to dwelling with Christ in worship forevermore.

He is the Truth, and His Abiding Spirit Guides Us Away from the Antichrists’ Lies

John shifts his attention back to the antichrists in verse 26, reminding us that he wants to make sure that we know about “those who are trying to deceive [us]”. He does this to explain something about the “anointing that you received” (v. 27). Here, John clarifies that, because we have the Holy Spirit, we “have no need that anyone should teach you” because the Spirit “teaches you about everything”.

This does not mean that we do not need to be taught or preached to by Bible teachers and preachers (1 Timothy 4:11; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24; Titus 2:1, 3; Hebrews 5:12). The Bible very clearly points to God calling and equipping people to do that very thing – and to do it for our good and His glory (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11)! What this means is that His Spirit – His “anointing” – helps us to discern what “is true, and is no lie – just as it [was] taught [in His Word]” (v. 27). His Spirit brings to mind what we have studied in His Word (John 14:26) to help us see the lies of false teachers and antichrists and not be led astray.

Because of What He is Done, We Abide with Him in Confidence Instead of Shame

I originally planned on ending this section with verse 27, but I think that verse 28 brings us to a good place to transition into the rest of the book of 1 John.

Some lies are easier to believe that others, and there is no being in this world more suited to lie or better at lying than Satan. He, after all, is the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and the being who gives direction for these antichrists to tear down and seek to destroy. Satan has been twisting the words of God from the very beginning (Genesis 3:1), and he would like nothing more than to bring the same destruction and death to us today as he did long ago in the garden. Unfortunately, the result of the twisting of God’s Word is the removal of hope.

Satan, also known as the accuser (Revelation 12:10), would like nothing more than for the church to lose hope in Christ, for us to not continue to put our hope and trust in Him so that we stop telling others what He has done for us and can do for them. Without salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, God in flesh, we are left in our sin and shame.

But this is the beauty of verse 28 capping off this section. Here, John reminds his “little children” that if they/we “abide in [Christ]…we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming”. This is good news! Rather than believing anti-Christ lies, we can remember that “if we confess our sins, [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness” (v. 1:9). Rather than allowing the Word of God to be twisted and falling further into sin, the Spirit help us to remember that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (vv. 2:1-2). Rather than be shifted from hope to fear, we can just abide – rest, dwell, remain – in Him and in His love, and nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). So, fear not, beloved sojourner. If you are in Christ, no spirit of antichrist has any power over you. Rest in the fact that you can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace”, the throne around which the Church will one day gather in worship – the throne of the risen Lamb and resurrected King Jesus, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).


[1] The Holy Bible: ESV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:24–28.

Songs for Sunday, January 17, 2021

There are times in life and in world events that I simply do not have words to adequately express what I feel needs to be said — what I want to say or relay. It is certainly good news to my weary heart that there is a Word higher than mine. And in that Word are words for every season of life and occasion that may exist.

Look at this:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

Psalm 46:1-3

No matter our situation or predicament, God is our “refuge”. He is a safe place where we can find shelter in the storms of life. He is our salvation – our rock and defender – and can be trusted in and called upon at any time (Psalm 62:7-8).

He is our “strength”. Whether in want or plenty, we can know that He can and will strengthen us with His own strength that we can withstand and persevere (Philippians 4:10-13).

He is with us “always” (Matthew 20:28), even and especially “very present in “trouble”. We have already looked at Him being a refuge. Do not picture Him as a hiding place, but rather a fortress – a “stronghold” to specifically protect those who are “oppressed” and are “in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).

Since He is our “refuge”, provides us with His “strength”, and is “a very present help in trouble”, “we will not fear”. This does not say may not or should not. No, placing one’s hope and trust and faith in God is more sure than possibility.

It is as solid as the rock bottom that we find our selves hitting. It is deeper than the trouble we find ourselves in time and again. When we find that we have no one else, He teaches us that He is the only One we need.

The earth can give way. Mountains may crumble and fall into the sea. Tidal waves – both real and figurative – may roar and rage against us, threatening life, limb, and livelihood. All of the comforts that we enjoy may cease to exist or leave us.

But God has promised that He will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And that is good news. It is good news because we are surely acquainted with bad news. It is good news because we are dismayed and afraid. It is good news because we have no other sure source of help. Ultimately, it is good news because our good God (Mark 10:18) has given it in His Word and His Word never fails or will ever pass away (1 Peter 1:25).

And that is the hope that we’ll sing about this Sunday – hope in a good God who will be our refuge in good times and bad, the days that seem desperate and those that make us glad. May we be reminded that there is a God in Heaven. His name is Jesus. He cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Here are our songs:

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 40:27-31

But now thus says the Lord,
       he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
       “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
    When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
       when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
    For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43:1-3a
  • Desert Song —
    Scripture References/Inspiration for the Song: Isaiah 35:1, Psalm 63:1, Psalm 69:3, Psalm 34:10, 1 Corinthians 4:11, Matthew 5:6, Genesis 22:14, Isaiah 43:1-3, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Revelation 21:4, 1 Peter 1:7, Zechariah 13:9, Psalm 56:10, Psalm 51:15, Psalm 142:7, Isaiah 54:17, Hebrews 3:18, Psalm 22:22, Deuteronomy 20:4, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 20:28, Ephesians 6:10-20, Exodus 14:14, Romans 8:17, Romans 8:37, Hebrews 10:23, 2 Timothy 4:1-3, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17, Psalm 13:6, Psalm 105:2, James 5:13, John 4:23-24, Matthew 9:37-38, Psalm 30:5, John 7:38, Romans 15:13, Psalm 126:5, Deuteronomy 15:10, Acts 20:35

[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. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-11

I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!

If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.

Refresh & Restore — January 14, 2021

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.[1]

1 John 1:5-10

Greetings, Sojourner!

What a privilege it is to get to spend time together in the Word of God. When turmoil, confusion, and fear seem to be the norm, it is good to see the eternal perspective of God found in His Word. And, especially in the context of 1 John 1, we get to see the same hope that was promised in Christ long ago by the prophet Isaiah:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

Isaiah 9:2

This is part of what John wanted to show in his first letter. No matter how dark the darkness seems – whether in the world or in our own hearts – there is hope because “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (v. 5). Let us dive into today’s passage, and may the Word of God shine into our lives today.

Since we are going through a book of the Bible together, it is important that we see how each week’s passage flows as part of the larger text – sentences into paragraphs into sections into chapters into the whole book. This week’s passage flows out of the introduction last week by John getting specific about the message that he “heard” and “proclaim[ed]” (vv. 1, 3) – a message directly from God and not man.

The message he writes here either sums up or elaborates on what he wrote previously in his gospel. This is cool because 1) he has already shared specifically what he “heard” directly from Jesus, and 2) the Word of God is the best commentary for itself (i.e., the verses that are cited in this devotion clear up the meaning of the word and bear more weight than any of the other words). Here are some of the verses from the gospel of John that are drawn on in today’s passage:

  • In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (1:4-5)
  • The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (1:9)
  • But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (3:21)
  • Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I Am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12)
  • So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (12:35-36)
  • I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (12:46)

John wanted his original readers – and us – to look at the way that Christ – the Light– shines despite the darkness – that it is His shining that ultimately drives the darkness away because it cannot contend with Him. And, just like it is the nature of light to shine, Jesus revealed/manifested Himself to us (v. 2) and shines his “glory…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This is good news. It also carries with it some bad news.

The problem with light shining into darkness is that everything is revealed – good and bad. My wife and I were so excited to buy “daylight” bright light bulbs for our formerly dark bathroom. Now, we face the stark reality of each day that we age. The bags under my eyes are darker and deeper there. My pores seem magnified. Scars, wrinkles, and blemishes look like chasms in my face. And Candice remains beautiful.

The rest of today’s passage deals with what is found and exposed in the light – how we walk in either light or darkness exposes the state of our hearts and our fellowship (or lack of it) with Christ. It is important here that we note that all of the verses that we are looking at today have “we” as the subject. John is not pointing fingers but showing how everyone, everywhere, for all time who takes these positions (including himself) is included. He does this by making “if” statements that can help diagnose our relationship with Christ with each statement building on the others to help us understand what it means to “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (v. 7).

The first “if” statement is in verse 6: “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness”. Fellowship with God – that relationship that flows out of the grace of God in salvation – does not dwell in darkness. We saw in John 1:5 earlier that the darkness will never overcome the light, and, if we have fellowship with God, we live in the light. Let us check our own hearts. Do we claim to have fellowship with God? Are we walking (living/behaving/participating) in darkness? James 4:4 tells us the question we need to ask regarding our walk with Christ: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”

The next “if” statement shifts to the brightness of the light and is given in a positive tone (emphasis added): “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light”. Jesus – the Light – is always the contrast to darkness. Walking (again living/behaving/participating) with Him is the opposite of walking in darkness. If we walk with Him, we have fellowship with God (v. 6) and that fellowship extends to our brothers and sisters in Christ because of the shared experience of having been cleansed from sin by “the blood of Jesus” (v. 7). That fellowship will extend to heaven where it will be sung, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5:9). And, in heaven, all will “walk in the light” because it “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).

Verse 8’s “if” statement shifts back to the darkness: “if we say we have no sin”. The Bible is clear on this subject. Not one single person is righteous in their own works (Romans 3:10); in fact, “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Every, single human being from Adam to Kingdom come (except Christ) is a sinner. And, if we convince ourselves that we are not, we “deceive ourselves”. I like the way that Charles Spurgeon put it:

“He who cannot find water in the sea is not more foolish than the man who cannot perceive sin in his members. As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does every sin affect every atom of our nature.”

The word “deceive” there means to “lead astray”. So, by saying that we have no sin, we are causing ourselves to stumble. And we are revealing that the Truth (Jesus Himself is the Truth – John 14:6) is “not in us”. Hear me, beloved Sojourner, how we react to our sin matters – whether we choose to conceal it or confess it matters. We might be able to convince ourselves that we are sinless and perfect. We may even be able to convince other people. But the Light recognizes the darkness, and nothing is hidden from Him (Hebrews 4:13).

The final positive “if” statement is where we need to be in our walk with Christ: “if we confess our sins” (v. 9). This is the appropriate attitude for a Christ-follower regarding sin. We should not deny it but admit it and receive the forgiveness that Christ promises (Proverbs 28:13, Psalm 32:5). When we confess our sin and “draw near to the throne of grace” where Christ is seated, “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). You see, Christ does not just do away with sin. Verse 9 makes it clear that he is “faithful” and “just” in his forgiveness. He is faithful in His forgiveness because He does what He has said He would do for those who have confessed and believed in Him (Romans 10:9). He is just because He paid the penalty for our sin (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21). So, I ask again, are we walking in darkness or light? Do we deny and excuse our sin, or do we confess our need for the Savior? Our answers to these questions make all the difference in this world and the next.

John’s last “if” statement shows why all of these questions matter: “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (v. 10). We simply cannot have it both ways. No lie can be the Truth, nor can darkness be Light. And, since it is His voice that created this universe, His Word goes. And by the Word – Christ Himself – we are either saved or left to the death we earn ourselves through sin (Romans 6:23).

He does not ask for perfection from us. He provides that for us. He asks only that we repent and believe.

Do you?


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 1:5–10.

Come, Ye Sinners Poor and Needy

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

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

Hebrews 4:11-16

Introduction

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

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

Conclusion/Application

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

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

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


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

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


Refresh & Restore — December 31, 2020

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.” [1]

Lamentations 3:19-24

Greetings, Sojourner!

This is the thirty-seventh Refresh & Restore devotion! I have enjoyed writing these and hope that they have been some help to you as well. So, today, we will look once again to Jesus for hope now and in the future, seeking to be refreshed by His presence while we await the restoration of things as He has promised (Acts 3:19-21).

Today, we will spend time in God’s Word as usual, but I ask that you check out the update regarding the future of Refresh & Restore in 2021.

As we are no doubt ready to leave this dreadful year, I think it is important that we have an appropriate outlook on the future and what will and will not provide the hope and relief that we so desperately seek. I think that word – desperate – describes many of us. For that reason, the book of Lamentations is quite appropriate.

The book of Lamentations is believed to have been written after the fall of Jerusalem around 586BC and written by the prophet Jeremiah. What is clear about this book is that it is a book of mourning – grieving things lost and crying out over desperate times. There has been plenty of both this year. We seem to be preoccupied by these things, talking about them more and more with each passing day. This, fueled by 24/7 news coverage and social media overload, causes us to be focused on it more intensely than ever before in human history.

Jeremiah shows that he can identify with this. Throughout Lamentations 3, he talks about how he has “seen affliction under the rod of [God’s] wrath” (v. 1), dwelled in “darkness without any light” (v. 2), suffered physical and emotional pain (vv. 4-5), felt isolated from others (vv. 7, 9), been mocked and ridiculed (v. 14), descended into bitterness and depression due to it all (vv. 15-17), and forgotten what it feels like to hope and trust in God (v. 18).

2020 has not been like this for everyone, but I have talked to numerous people who are and have been struggling this year. These issues hit home. They are real. They are raw. God has a word for us in such times and experiences and feelings.

That is where our passage begins today. He remembers his “affliction” and “wanderings” (v. 19) and talks about it with terms like “wormwood” and “gall”, showing how bitter he is about it all. This has affected him greatly and caused his soul to be “bowed down” within him, obsessively focusing on it (v. 20). But there is hope! He says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (v. 21).

In the times when hope seems lost, we need something to “call to mind” – like a post-it note or book mark in our brains – to help us unstick our minds from tragedy, grief, or despair. I have written in the past about my own struggles with depression, anxiety, and general mental-stuck-on-negativity-ness (this, of course is the clinical term). Isolation and a near-constant barrage of negative information does this to people. And you would think in the middle of a book of the Bible that is basically called “lamenting” would do the same thing; however, we need to realize that the focus of this chapter is verse 21. It is the thing that is called to mind that brings hope. And it shows itself in four parts.

The first part is that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (v. 22a). This is especially important for us because Jeremiah shows that what he calls to mind is what he knows about God’s character. He reminds himself of God’s “steadfast love” (sometimes translated “loving-kindness”). This is a special word that shows up around 250 times in the Old Testament. It illustrates the forever-love that God has for His people and is always associated with His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Jeremiah’s words here remind me of two great passages about God’s love:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Romans 8:38-39

and

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes, all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

1 Corinthians 13:7-8a

How good it is to “call to mind” the love of God.

The second part of Jeremiah’s reminder is that the Lord’s “mercies never come to an end” (v. 22b). I was asked earlier today if God ever stops loving us or gets tired of fooling with us because of our sin. Jeremiah gives us a good answer and a necessary reminder. God’s mercy – His compassion – will never stop. He said as much in Malachi 3:6: “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed”. The proof of God’s love for His people is His continued patience. That does not mean He is always pleased with us. It certainly does not mean that He sits in approval of the sin that grieves Him. It means He loves us anyway.

If you have not noticed, all four parts of Jeremiah’s reminder build on one another. We have seen how his never-ending love flows into His mercy; now, we can see in the third part of his reminder how often we need His mercy. It is “new every morning” (v. 23a). I like the way that Job talks about this. When he speaks of this, he is shocked by God’s response to His people: “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment” (Job 7:17-18). What he wonders Jeremiah sets his mind on: God has abundant mercy that is given out regularly. It is out of God being “rich in mercy” and “the great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4) that we find salvation in the first place.

All the love and mercy that God can pour out to His people comes solely from Him and is not based on us. This is the final part of Jeremiah’s reminder: “great is [His] faithfulness” (v. 23b). The psalmist says that “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5); that gives new meaning to “I love you this much”!

In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah is primarily dealing out prophecies of punishment to Judah. But, as bad as their outlook and situation appeared to be, God would and did continue to love them. Their sin did not change who He was or what He had promised them. His faithfulness – despite their faithlessness – would win out in the end. They as a people would survive His punishment. And, in the same way, those who trust in God through Christ today can bank on the fact that “great is [His] faithfulness” because He truly is all that He has promised.

So, all Jeremiah had to say to himself was “The Lord is my portion…therefore I will hope in Him” (v. 24). He could remember that the Lord had “dealt bountifully” with him (Psalm 116:7). And, in the midst of depression and suffering, remember and returning to the Lord brought hope. It can do the same for us today.

I do not know what tomorrow holds. I have no promises or predictions for 2021. But I know this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and, if we will put our trust in Him, our hope will not “put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

I love you and continue to pray for you. If you need a listening ear, feel free to reach out. But know that you can always go directly to God to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).[2]


***Update on future Refresh & Restore devotions***

I would like to try something new for this upcoming year. I would like to walk through a whole book of the Bible.

I plan on starting small with 1 John to try it out, and I intend to walk through the whole thing before I make up my mind whether this is the direction we should lean toward in the future. Whether we continue in this past that or mix it up with short series like we have in the past remains to be seen, but, either way, I look forward to continuing to spend time in the Word with you as long as God allows us to continue!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), La 3:19–24.

[2] For more help on this subject, feel free to check out the message from Christ Community Church from December 27, 2020.

Refresh & Restore — 12/3/2020

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

Greetings, Sojourner!

It is hard to believe that Christmas is almost here! Even though Christmas trees have been out at Wal-Mart since before Halloween, the events of 2020 just have not allowed for the regular passage of time. But, in just a few short weeks, ready or not, it will indeed be Christmas.

The purpose of these devotions has always centered around the idea of being refreshed by the presence of King Jesus while we wait for Him to restore everything as He promised (Acts 3:19-21). It is my hope that this Christmas we will be able to feel the presence of Jesus, especially in the middle of everything that this year has thrown at us. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the hope, joy, and love that come only from the Lord. For us today, what could be more fitting a beginning than hope?

Can you imagine what it was like to be the earthly, adopted father of Jesus? A lot of people (and rightly so) have spent a great deal of time wondering what it must have been like for Mary, and I do not want to downplay what all she must have gone through. I have no doubt that her community was quick to brand her with a scarlet letter and cast her out as a loose woman. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been. But, today, I find myself looking through Joseph’s eyes.

The Bible describes Joseph as “a just man” who was “unwilling to put [Mary] to shame” (v. 19). While this seems to be a complete description of him, I believe that these two things contradict each other. You see, Joseph could have still been just had he brought Mary before their village and had her put to death for her apparent adultery (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22). Before you rise in anger here, imagine whether you would have believed in the virgin birth if you had lived down the street from Mary. As bad as I hate to admit it, I would likely have been casting gossip and selecting rocks. But Joseph was different – at least a little different.

Joseph was indeed a just man, but he was also a man of grace and mercy. Grace and mercy always contradict justice. They swap the pain of punishment on the part of the one who committed the injustice and place the burden of pain and shame on the one giving the grace and mercy. Joseph was unwilling to put her to shame, which means he was going to bear the shame himself. People always look at Mary and can see why God would choose her to be Jesus’ mom, but it is noticeably clear here why Joseph would get to be the man to raise Him.

This, in and of itself, should give us hope. We do not have to quake in fear of the justice of God if we have received His grace and mercy. Mary had to be scared, but, all of a sudden, the one man who could have called for her life did not seek to heap shame upon her. We do not see much of Joseph, but what we do see of him points to the God who put on flesh, grew up in his house, and took up his profession (John 1:14, Mark 6:3)!

The very same night he decided to show Mary the mercy of a quiet divorce, an angel came to him in a dream (v. 20). The angel let him know that Mary’s claims of a virgin pregnancy were true and that he should not be afraid to continue as her husband. This is good news for us as the Church, the bride of Christ! Rather than casting us away because of our legitimately sinning against Him, He gave Himself for us (James 4:4, Ephesians 5:23-27). Although their earthly relationship would be subject to gossip and ridicule, it would actually be a beautiful picture of the gospel and redemption! And there is always hope to be found in the gospel. There is always hope for the redeemed.

The angel continued to tell him that Mary’s son should be named “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (v. 21). This may not seem to be a big point, but the name of Jesus is something special. In Hebrew and Aramaic it would be Yeshua, which means whose help is Yahweh or the Lord is salvation. This should not be glazed over, because there is no other name like the name of Jesus. There is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The name of Jesus is the name that God the Father “bestowed on Him…that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” (Philippians 2:9-10). The Father “exalted [Jesus] at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).

Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, would grow up and learn to be a man in Joseph’s house. He would grow to be the mediator between Joseph and God by giving His life as a “ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5). He would learn to work and form wood in Joseph’s workshop before He would hang on the tree in Joseph’s (and our) place (Galatians 3:13).

That night, while Joseph slept, the uneasiness and fear at the prospect of divorcing Mary gave way to peace. And it gave way to hope.

After all the many years that the Lord had been silent with His people, He fulfilled His promise to them by sending them Emmanuel. The word Emmanuel is incredibly special. God showed it to His people through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 8:8-10). He spoke of nations rising against God’s people. Their fierce armies would threaten doom and destruction. But Emmanuel would fill the land and make all their threats against the Lord’s people amount to nothing. The fierceness of their armies and might of their threats “will not stand, for God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10), which is exactly what Emmanuel means – God with us.

This gave Israel hope during their exile in the land of Babylon. It gave hope to the early believers who realized that the Messiah had come. And it gives hope to us still today.

We do not have to fear all the things that come against us because God is with us. We do not have to worry about the impending doom on the horizon because God is with us.

While this passage is not often cited in the context of Christmas, I believe Romans 8:31-34 is the epitome of Emmanuel:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

We have nothing to fear because God is with us, His name is Jesus, and He loves us. He will never leave us. He will never stop loving us. Those are immovable truths. They are facts. And they give hope.

I have no doubt that 2020, the gift that keeps on giving, still has more surprises in store. I know that there will be dark days we have yet to experience. They will shake us and our faith. But there are no days that will shake the throne of heaven – the throne of the King of kings. I know that God has all of this under control – that He has not and will not be caught off guard or surprised. These facts should give us hope.

I like the way that the Jesus Storybook Bible (yes, a children’s book) reflects today’s passage. When you read these words, notice the hope that comes from what it says about Jesus:

“Mary and Joseph named Him Jesus, ‘Emmanuel’ – which means ‘God has come to live with us.’ Because, of course, He had.”

Just as Joseph rested as he dreamt of the hope yet to come in His life, may we rest and hope in the promises of Emmanuel – of God with us. Because, of course, He is.

Refresh & Restore — November 19, 2020

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.

1 Peter 4:12-13

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:8-11

Greetings, Sojourner!

It has been so good these past few weeks to look at God’s faithfulness throughout the trials of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. This world can be a scary place sometimes, and we need to remember that God is in control – His sovereignty and power know no bounds! It is also important to remember that God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon our own faithfulness.

Through the examples of these young men, we have seen what one’s relationship with God should look like before, during, and following difficult times. Thankfully, most of us have not had to endure a fraction of the suffering that they did. We followed them from the beginning of their exile, their endurance of tyrannical leaders and near death experiences (through furnace and lions’ den). But where does that leave us?

I believe that the guidance we have in 1 Peter helps us to see how we are meant to live our lives in the face of the “various trials” (1 Peter 1:6) that will – or already have – come our way. Depending on what date you hold 1 Peter to, it was either written in the period right before or right after the Roman emperor Nero came into power. There is a saying that goes with Nero’s rule, particularly how he reacted during the Great Fire of Rome in 64ad: “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”. Whether or not he started that fire or played the fiddle, we will never know, but his persecution of the Church in Rome was wicked and terrible. King Nebuchadnezzar would have been proud.

Looking at Peter’s advice and encouragement to his original audience (and to us today through the Holy Spirit), we can pull out some principles that will help us to live out our faith in the midst of whatever trials may come our way.

1. Trials and Tribulations are Part of the Christian Life

Trials and tribulations are constants throughout Church history – from the time of Christ to the present. “…[A]ll who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter is trying to relay this in our first passage today. He is showing us that we can and should prepare so that we are not shocked when times of difficulty arise (4:12).

Many believers in the world at the time of Peter’s writing faced trials (5:9), and many around the world today face them as well. Are you? I think it is important to examine our lives to see: 1) whether or not we are suffering because of our faith, and 2) if we are suffering, is it for our faith and not situations of our own making. I do not think that suffering is something that we necessarily need to covet or invite, but we do not need to walk with Christ in such a way as to prevent it out of fear nor avoid it when it comes.

2. Our Trials Identify Us with Christ

So often Scripture perplexes us when it talks about rejoicing in the midst of suffering (James 1:2, Romans 5:3), but Peter helps us to see why we are rejoicing. We are not supposed to rejoice that we are experiencing misery – that would be crazy. We are not supposed to relish in the pain – again, nuts. We are supposed to rejoice because we get to be identified with Jesus and “share in [His] sufferings” (4:13).

Jesus Himself promised such treatment for being identified with Him:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

John 15:18

Oh, to be identified with Christ – to live for Him in such a way that the world looks at us and sees Him! That is, after all, what the word Christian means: little Christ. And it was meant as a slur to Christ-followers long before our people began to wear it as a badge of honor (Acts 11:26, 1 Peter 4:16).

3. These Trials are Not Meant to Be Faced Alone

If we are not careful, all this talk about trials and tribulations can scare us. That is not the intent of the Bible, and it is not my intent here. As we move to our second passage where we see the devil depicted as a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (5:8), we could be tempted to be afraid. I would definitely feel fear if I encountered a hungry lion! So, let me remind you of the words of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah:

“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.”

John 16:33

In regard to encountering the devil, I do not want to downplay his strength and ferocity. I just want you to remember that there is a greater Lion.

I believe it is for this purpose that Peter begins this section with the command to be “sober-minded”. We need to keep our minds clear from all of the thoughts and desires that tend to take it captive (Romans 7:23, Colossians 2:8) and, instead, allow the Holy Spirit to rule in our hearts and minds and destroy the strongholds of the enemy, especially fear (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). In our sober-mindedness, we find ourselves able to “be watchful” so that we can “resist him” and remain “firm in [our] faith”. You cannot have one without the other.

The interesting thing about these commands is that all of them are plural. In Mississippi, we should have no problem with translating this because it is like Peter is saying, “Y’all be sober-minded; y’all be watchful; y’all stick together and resist him; and y’all be firm in your faith.” The Holy Spirit, through Peter, is reminding us that we are supposed to be part of a local church – a local expression of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as lone ranger Christianity. He designed us to work together like a human body with Him as the Leader and Head (Colossians 1:18). When we are walking with the greater Lion, the devil knows that he cannot lay a claw on Him.

4. All Trials and Tribulations are Temporary

Peter describes the length of time that our trials last as a “little while” (1:6, 5:10). I do not know about you, but I have never experienced a difficult time and thought of it as being short. Some Mondays seem two weeks long and some seasons of life seem never-ending. It is all about perspective. And that is exactly what Peter is trying to give us here.

He is wanting us to look at our trials with eternity in mind. At the end of this earthly “little while”, those who put their hope and trust in Christ will be “called…to His eternal glory”. When we are with Him in eternity, our final tear will be wiped away, death will no longer be a threat, and mourning, crying, and pain will have all surpassed their expiration date (Revelation 21:3-4). Just like a new mother forgets the excruciating hours of labor when she holds her child, we will forget the pains of our labor from this earth when we kneel at the feet of King Jesus with the rest of the saints around His throne!

Ultimately, that is what this whole study has been about – perspective. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were able to continue serving the Lord because He had never forsaken them in their whole relationship. Daniel could turn to prayer in the face of execution because He was constant in prayer. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah could walk confidently in the fiery furnace because their faith had been tested by fiery trials all along their journey with the Lord. And Daniel was able to faithfully continue going to the Lord in prayer rather than fearing the lions because the Lord had faithfully cared for him all of his long years.

It is supposed to be the same for us. If we look for this life to be fulfilling and never disappointing, we will be empty of everything except disappointment. But, if we look to Jesus as the “founder and perfecter of our faith” and long to be with Him, we can “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” will outweigh the pain of any trial or temptation (Philippians 3:8). My prayer for you is that you examine your life. Are you living for Christ or for yourself? Do you want to please Him or yourself? I think that Jesus’ question in Luke 9:25 is a good place for some self-examination this morning: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” May you see the surpassing worth of King Jesus and worship Him in the good times, cling to Him in the bad times, and be with Him for all time in eternity.

Refresh & Restore — November 12, 2020

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

Daniel 6:1-5

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

Daniel 6:10

Greetings, Sojourner!

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

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

Daniel 4:34a-35

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

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

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

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

They prayed to their God.

They worshiped their Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 5:5-6

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.


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

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

Songs for Sunday — November 8, 2020

What a week this has been!

If you are looking for nonstop surprises, 2020 does not disappoint – or it does absolutely disappoint! So, if you would like a reprieve from the counting of votes, let us look to the One we can always count on.

Psalm 130 is fitting for times such as this because it illustrates how we should reach out from the depths of uncertainty and despair to the Lord as our only hope.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”

Psalm 130:1-2

The psalmist is crying out, begging God to hear his cries for mercy. It is good to be reminded that – whatever our desperate situation – there is a God in heaven who hears and rescues (1 Samuel 17:46, Daniel 2:28).

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.”

Psalm 130:3-4

If we are going to cry out to God, it is important that we understand the reality of our sin (Romans 3:23, 6:23). We need a Savior before we need rescuing from whatever dire earthly situation. Understanding our need for a Savior leads us to rest and relish in the joy of forgiveness! Knowing that King Jesus would be absolutely righteous to condemn us to hell but chose to love us and give Himself for us drives us to our knees in worship and prayer rather than trembling in fear (Ephesians 5:25, 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 2 Timothy 1:7).

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in His Word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.”

Psalm 130:5-6

I have never been a night watchmen, but I am a perpetual sophomore. This, in my mind, is similar to the way that kids look toward the final bell during the last month of school. They feel the relief and rest of summer like the glow of the sun playing on the edge of the horizon. They watch the time, some knowing down to the second how long it is until the bell.

For us, we wait on Him with that same fervency and desire.

We wait on Him with the same pregnant joy of an expectant mother – the joy of motherhood outweighing the discomfort of the last trimester.

We wait with that same hope of relief and joy that comes from feeling complete.

We can hope in His Word. We can hope in His presence. We can hope in His forgiveness. We can hope because He does not disappoint.

And that’s what we are singing about this Sunday – the never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love that the Father has for us and His gift of love and hope in giving His only Son for us (John 3:16, Romans 5:8).

Here are our songs:

I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!

If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.