Holy Week 2021 – Palm Sunday, March 28

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

    “Say to the daughter of Zion,

       ‘Behold, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

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.”

Matthew 21:1-11

21 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

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Revelation 3:20

It’s Palm Sunday – the anniversary of what is known as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This is how Jesus’ last week on earth began, with people shouting “Hosanna!” and praising Him while celebrating His entrance into Jerusalem. The city streets were packed and overwhelmed with crowds of people waiting for His arrival.

This is usually the way that Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Easter) goes for the Church. For most of my lifetime and many years prior to it, it has been the busiest time for churches – Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday, in a typical year, would see crowds cheerfully gathering in church buildings, dressed in bright, pastel colors, and joyfully singing and celebrating the Resurrection. But this past year has been anything but typical.

2020 saw church buildings empty or nearly empty on Easter Sunday. At Christ Community, we gathered in the rain with services led under the front porch and people praising through cracked windows or huddled under umbrellas; it was the best we could do to gather (separately) at the beginning of the pandemic. We then hurried home in fearful anticipation of the coming storms that knocked out power for many and damaged homes for others. It did not feel like Easter. But, maybe, that was what we needed to truly grasp what it means to cry “hosanna” to the King Jesus as we await His second coming!

This may seem overly simplistic, but we have had a unique opportunity to truly grasp the need for Easter, and, specifically on this Palm Sunday, to live out this out. “Hosanna” is an Aramaic cry/shout of praise. It means “Help! I pray!” or “Save! I pray!”. Somewhere through the passage of time, that cry for help or salvation became a cry that meant “praise be to God!” Think about it: God’s people cried out to Him for help and salvation, He helped/saved them time and again, and they praised Him out of a spirit of thanksgiving. This happened enough in their history that it formed part of their culture so that their cries for help transformed into shouts of praise.

That is what we needed for Easter 2020 and every other day, week, and year of our lives. It is what we need today.

If we have learned anything this past year, it is that life is precious, and that time spent together is too. We cannot look to Capital Hill for salvation or trust in a stimulus. We need to look to the hill called Golgotha – the place of the skull where the celebrated King died for in our place. We need to trust in the Savior who answered the cries of “Help us, we pray! Save us!” in the form of “Hosanna!”, even when the people knew not what they were saying. After all, He knows what we need, and only He can carry us through because He has been through it Himself.

God is clear in His Word that He has made a Way for us (John 14:6) so that we can be saved from our sins. If we trust in Him as Savior, He takes our sins and trades it for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is quite a trade off!

There is perhaps no greater image for God inviting us to Himself than that of Him standing at a door and knocking (Revelation 3:20), especially coming out of a year when many of us have neither visited others nor received visitors ourselves. But, our whole lives have been interrupted by a virus, we need to rejoice in the fact that Christ is, in fact, immune – it cannot kill Him because He has already died and risen from the grave!

So, on this Palm Sunday, I invite you to look toward the coming of the King. This time, He will not be riding a donkey into a crowded street. No, this time, He will come in all His glory and resurrected divine splendor and bring His people home. But there is good news for us even while we wait: He has promised that He is with us “always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:24).

Cry out to Him – “Hosanna!” Call upon His name and pour out your heart saying “Help me, I pray! Save me!” And know that He hears you and will save all who cry out to Him (Romans 10:13).


Holy Week 2021 — Reading Guide

Easter is almost here!

The week leading up to Easter is known as Holy Week, starting Palm Sunday and featuring days like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. We have produced a seven day devotional reading guide to help you focus your hearts on King Jesus and His death and resurrection.

This reading guide is an opportunity to spend time reading God’s Word and meditate on what He has done for us! You can access the reading guide below, free of charge:

Download a copy of the reading guide here.

Thanks, God bless you, and Happy Easter!

If you would like to sign-up to receive weekly devotions and other content, enter your email address and click the “follow” link below:

Refresh & Restore — March 25, 2021

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.[1]

1 John 3:11-18

Greetings, Sojourner!

 As I have been studying this week’s passage and thinking about our setting off into the second half of 1 John, I have been amazed at the way John shows the difference between the children of God and those who follow after the world. The entire book deals with contrasts – life and death, light and dark, and, now in today’s passage love and hate.

I am struck with how different God’s children should be than the world. Paul describes the difference to the church of Philippi very clearly that we are to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Philippians 2:15-16). Now, as we have talked about many times in our study of 1 John, we are not capable of sinless perfection. But, in our unfortunately sinful lives, we should be pointing to Him who is truly “a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19) – Jesus Christ. This should be our ultimate goal: to live the Life that Jesus has given us through faith in Him and show others who are dead in their sins how to receive that very same Life.

This is where the second half of 1 John comes in. While we looked a lot in the first part about the difference between being in the Light (being in Christ) and walking in darkness, now we shift to how sharing the love of Christ illustrates the Life that comes only through Christ. Basically, this is where we leave the garages of our faith (our local churches and homes) and take our faith to the streets. This is the hardest part because it is easy to shine in a room full of lights, but it is another thing entirely to be a single candle amid overwhelming darkness. It is easy to love people who show you love, but it is terribly difficult to love when confronted with hatred.

I love the way that John introduces this to us (like he has throughout the letter – vv. 1:5, 2:24) by bringing everything back to the basics – back to the way that Jesus taught it. This is good to remember because we are not called to follow Christ in our own strength. John tells his original audience and us to remember “the message that you have heard from the beginning” because we need the reminder that Jesus taught that we should “love one another” (v. 11). This was important enough that Jesus said it was the second greatest commandment (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, Matthew 22:39) and took time to talk about it on the last night He spent with His disciples (“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”, John 13:34).

Cain, Hatred, & Death

John shows us how important love is by showing us how dangerous hate can be. He takes us all the way back to the beginning with the first brothers – Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). If you are unfamiliar with the story, Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s first kids. Both brought offerings to God. Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3), but Abel brought “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:4). There are many opinions about why exactly God had “regard for Abel and his offering” (Genesis 4:4) but “had no regard” for Cain’s (Genesis 4:5). The only light the Bible sheds on it is found in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”

While we will never truly know what God’s issue with Cain’s sacrifice was[2], we know the end result. Cain was so angry because God considered Abel righteous that he killed him in cold blood (v. 12). Even before he was a murderer, the unrighteousness in Cain’s heart – the darkness and his being dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) – hated his brother to the point that he ended his life. The darkness and death in him hated the Life that was seen in his brother.

In Abel, we see Jesus. And, in Jesus “was Life, and the Life was the light of men” (John 1:4). People, like Cain, who walk in darkness hate the Light. Just as Abel’s righteous sacrifice highlighted Cain’s unrighteous one, “everyone who does wicked things hates the light because their works [are] evil” (John 3:20). In the same way, we should not “be surprised…that the world hates [us]” (v. 13). Jesus Himself said that “people loved darkness rather than light because their works are evil” (John 3:19), and, if you have received the gift of eternal life (John 3:16, Romans 6:23), you are a child of God (John 1:12-13) and cannot fit in the darkness of the world. Jesus, the Light of the world “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Hatred is evidence of darkness – plain and simple. John says that “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (v. 15), echoing Jesus’ own words in His Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….” (Matthew 5:21-22)

My first instinct when reading these verses is to make excuses, but none of them will do any good. These verses are clear. Hatred in my heart is clear evidence that I love myself more than I love my brother, and, if I do not love my brother who I have seen, I cannot love God who I have not yet seen. It is plain and simple.

Jesus, Love, & Life

The plain and simple truth about hate and darkness does not have to be bad news. In fact, the fear that I feel when thinking about the sin in my own heart highlights just how good the good news of the gospel is! Verse 16 tells us how we hateful-hearted sinners can “know love” – because “He laid down His life for us”! 1 John 3:16 echoes John 3:16 where we find out that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”!

We do not have to go the way of Cain and let our hatred breed darkness and death in our lives. We believe in Christ, repenting of our sin and trusting in Him, and experience His love. It is a game-changer to understand that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We do not have to give into our natural tendency toward hatred and sin but can say with Paul that “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20)!

We know that we have the love of Christ when that love begins to be spread to others. Just as Jesus laid down His life for us, we find that – if we have Life in Him – that our lives begin to be characterized by the same sort of selflessness. Does this change happen immediately? Unfortunately, no. But, through continuing to follow Christ and experiencing more and more of His love and grace, our lives begin to transform to be more like His. And the more we become like Him, the brighter His Light shines in the darkness around us.

This means that our faith will be practical. If we see a “brother in need”, we will be unable to close our hearts to him (v. 17). This means that we will give of what Christ has blessed us with. If we see people in need, we will share of what we have. Again, this is plain and simple. James 2:15-16 questions whether a faith sees someone who is “poorly clothed and lacking in daily food” but does not help meet that need is of any value. This convicts me heavily. God has blessed me with much – not so that I can horde it or show how “blessed and highly favored I am” but to be His hands and feet and share His love and Light in the darkness.

Concluding Thoughts

I leave you with the challenge of verse 18: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth”. Think about your life. Is it characterized by love or hate, light or dark, death or life? I do not ask any more of you than I have had to ask myself while studying and meditating on this passage. But I offer you a listening ear and a sympathetic heart should you need it. But, more importantly, I lift you up, dear Sojourner, to the God who is love and light and life.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:11–18.

[2] The only other context we have is in Jude 11 where Cain’s sin was compared to “Balaam’s error” (Numbers 22) and “Korah’s rebellion” (Numbers 16).

Songs for Sunday, March 21, 2021

Join us Sunday morning at 8:00a (special service for those at-risk for sickness; face-masks worn & higher degree of social distancing) or 11:00a at Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS! Everyone is welcome!

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!

New Opportunity:

This Sunday, we will be offering an 8:00a service for those who are at risk for Covid-19 and/or desire more social distancing and masking. The worship center will be sanitized prior to this service as well as all high-traffic surfaces.

This is not merely an overflow or alternate service but an opportunity for those of our faith family who have not been able to gather to have the opportunity to gather (socially distanced) as we believe it is absolutely essential to gather together (Hebrews 10:24).

Please be in prayer for God’s protection on those willing to begin to gather again in and for this effort in general.

Pray for Our Teachers

Right now, the school district in which my wife and I are privileged to teach is out for Spring Break. All around our area, students and teachers are enjoying some much-needed downtime. But, this year, Spring Break means so much more – it is needed so much more.

I find myself thinking back to the teachers that I had growing up who meant the most to me.

I was blessed in Kindergarten to have Nancy Denley who, knowing my family and having grown up with my father, took a personal interest in seeing how I turned out. She ended up teaching most of my siblings and cousins, so she has definitely earned the status of hero!

In 1st grade, Carrie Mack and Linda Bumpers impacted me more than I could have ever imagined. They saw potential in me and, more importantly, wanted me to see potential in myself. From Mrs. Mack pushing me to do my best when 6-year-old me was satisfied with less to Mrs. Bumpers rescuing me from the principal’s office, I have vivid memories to this day that remind me of the lasting impact of an educator.

In 7th grade, Mike Miles showed me how much a single teacher showing an interest can make in the life of a student. I was the unpopular kid who somehow perpetually managed to wear the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, or be present in the wrong situation. Mr. Miles managed to help me see that I had value during a time period when the world around me said different.

In 11th grade, Gean Gilbert showed me that a love of one’s teaching content can be spread to one’s students. She brought history to life for me and made a state-tested class feel like learning. She also brought a very historically significant guitar and let me play it!

9th-12th grades saw me in Charlene Leverette’s class. I took every elective that she taught in my 9th and 10th grade years, growing my love of reading into a love for writing – both of which serve me still today. She was my 11th grade English teacher and paid all the costs herself for me to take AP English in 12th. She saw potential in me and did not let up until I met the expectations she laid out for me. Mrs. Leverette was known for giving out tough love. She was hard on me and my classmates. But tough love was what we needed.

When I decided to be a teacher, I was so excited to get to teach alongside Mrs. Leverette. I thought there would be no better mentor for me than her. However, she refused. She told me that I had already learned as much from her as I could. While that hurt me at the time, I am immensely thankful for her wisdom in that decision, and, because of that, I was blessed to have Dorothy Watson as my mentor-teacher during student teaching.

I had Mrs. Watson’s husband, Nez, my senior year. He instilled a great deal of wisdom in me that year. He invested in me personally, and, for that, I am immensely thankful. Mrs. Watson did the same for me as a young student teacher. She taught me the value of working hard during the school day so that my home time was not spent working. She and Mr. Watson took a personal interest in me and my wife at the beginning of our marriage, encouraging us to be good teachers and to be thankful for the opportunity to work together and impact the lives of kids.

Finally, and perhaps the most influential is my wife. While I did not start teaching immediately (it took nearly ten years for me to actually make it to the classroom), Candice did. She did not set out to be a teacher, but, as soon as she realized that God had gifted her to teach, she set aside a much more lucrative career path to help kids learn math. I got to watch her succeed through tutoring needy children in college. I got to celebrate her victories from afar as she achieved great things in every school she taught in. But, it was not until I got to be in her classroom and see her teach that I realized what an inspiration she is.

All of these people have influenced what I want to be in the classroom. They have shown me what it is to be able to have a lasting impact. And, I see many of my colleagues work and strive to do the same thing in their classrooms. But, despite the unseen benefits, teaching is difficult.

There are hours spent outside of the classroom planning and grading. High volumes of testing produces data that must be analyzed causing plans to be altered and implemented. While many people feel that teaching school is limited to Monday-Friday in 9/12 months, it is much more than one could imagine. Additionally, there are many – like the ones I mentioned above – that go far beyond the job because what they do is a calling. There are sleepless nights working after their own biological children go to sleep. There are skipped lunches so that they can go the extra mile for their students. There are sacrifices to be made all around. And, while that makes them phenomenal teachers, it bears a personal cost.

Not only that, but this school year is different. Add the pandemic to the normal rigors of teaching, and you have a recipe for exhaustion and, in some cases, burn out. Now, there are masks and technological difficulties and disinfecting. The work load increases – which it has to in order to meet the needs of the students – but the amount of time we have stays the same.

Take into account that fewer people are majoring in education, and you have the a potential recipe for disaster. Where will future generations of children be without great teachers who care? Where will our schools be when the called ones leave?

Rather than panic, I believe it is time that we join together and pray for our teachers. Two verses come to mind and drive me to hope in God to take care of our teachers:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 15:13


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 4:16

So, here are some prayer requests that our teachers may find “all joy and peace” in their calling and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. I believe that praying to God is the most that we can do because what more can we do than take our burdens to the Almighty God of the universe? Join with me in approaching the throne of Christ in prayer, seeking the help that only He can offer:

  • Pray for rest and relaxation through the rest of the break for teachers and students.
  • Pray for endurance for the final quarter of this school year for teachers and students.
  • Pray that students will not try to find their identity in grades and test scores.
  • Pray that teachers will remember why they wanted to start teaching.
  • Pray that teachers will find the strength they need to keep giving their best effort for their students.
  • Pray that teachers will not try to find their identity in test scores.
  • Pray that teachers will not try to find their identity in observations and evaluations.
  • Pray that our teachers’ homes be the place of solace that they need.
  • Pray that our teachers can find that difficult balance between their personal lives and their professional lives.
  • Pray for our counselors who have taken on more hats than normal and who meet the needs of kids who are struggling in all of the regular ways with pandemic-related issues added in.
  • Pray for our IT/tech staff as they work to keep all of our equipment working and that they may receive grace as the difficulties continue to come up time and again.
  • Pray for the administrators who – for the most part – have not stopped working in-person since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Pray for the administrators as they balance longer hours and more contracted days with their own need for rest and recuperation.
  • Pray for administrators as they have had to make difficult decisions during the pandemic whether or not the public agreed with what needed to be done.
  • Pray for the community you live in that people find it in their hearts to give grace rather than harsh criticism when it comes to schools and school staff.
  • Pray for people by name that you know of who work at school in any capacity.
  • Pray and thank God for teachers who impacted you when you were in school and ask God to raise up more teachers like them in the midst of this pandemic.
  • Pray for students you know by name and ask God to help them have the strength to finish this school year well.
  • Finally, pray for an end to this pandemic and a return to normalcy for our students, faculty, and staff.

Thank you for praying! This list is far from exhaustive, but, hopefully, it will set your mind and heart on a path to continue praying for those working with children in the midst of this continued pandemic.

Refresh & Restore — March 18, 2021

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.[1]           

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Greetings, Sojourner!

For me and my family, it is Spring Break, and, rather than completely taking a break from writing this week, I thought I would share a passage I have been meditating on this week. Hopefully, I can encourage you to meditate on God’s Word, too.

If you think it is odd that I am talking about meditating, you are not alone. But I hope to redeem this word and idea from the way that it is often linked with eastern mysticism. Here are a few of the verses that speak of meditating on God’s Word and a brief definition of the original Hebrew word:

  • Psalm 1:2 – …but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates (to celebrate; to ponder by talking to oneself) day and night.
  • Psalm 77:12 – I will ponder (same word translated “meditate” in Ps. 1:2 above) all your work, and meditate (to occupy one’s attention with thanks and/or praise) on your mighty deeds.
  • Psalm 119:15 – I will meditate (same as “meditate” in Ps. 77:12) on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
  • Psalm 119:97 – Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation (thoughtful contemplation) all the day.

Basically, the idea is for the Word of God to occupy your thoughts and drive you to worship God and be thankful for what He has done for us in Christ through the power of His Spirit. And this is what I have been doing this week with today’s passage.

The goal of meditating on God’s Word seems counter-intuitive for most of us. While we realize that we need to spend time in God’s Word, we often feel pressured by reading plans that push us through the Bible in a year or to read this or that section in a month, etc. But let me challenge you not to be satisfied merely getting through the Bible. Let your time in the Word be God getting His Word through you – getting it in you!

Here is what meditating on this passage has been like for me and how I plan to continue meditating on them throughout my break and how I am seeking God’s Spirit to move and work on my life through it.

I have read these verses. A lot. Seriously, this is important. I read a lot – for work, for enjoyment, for study, but to meditate on God’s Word is different than just reading. I may read much longer portions of the Word or read from several books in a given week. But there is no way I can meditate on it all. I need a bite-sized chunk that I can chew on, ponder, and keep on my mind. I came across these verses studying for a sermon last week. I found myself pre-occupied by them, so I read them and read them some more.

Next, I went and looked at the context for these verses – I looked at the paragraph/chapter prior. When Paul says “So we do not lose heart”, the “so” calls back to how our faith is founded upon “what is written” in the Word (v. 13a), the way that faith/belief figures in to what he speaks/proclaims (v. 13b), the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of eternal life with Him (v. 14), and the “grace that extends more and more” to God’s people producing thanksgiving in their hearts and glory for God (v. 15). This is a solid, biblical basis for not losing heart!

This basis explains how we can be “renewed day by day” while we are wasting away in this world (v. 16). It explains how our trials can be considered “light momentary affliction” when compared to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (v. 17). It reminds us that we do not need to look at the “transient”, passing things that we can see here on earth but, instead, to “things that are unseen”, things that are “eternal” (v. 18).

Having this occupy my mind has helped me have an eternal perspective in the events in my life. I can rest my mind and not think about work while on break because I trust in the finished work of Christ. Usually, I allow my mind to be pre-occupied with future worry, but, this week, I have tried to treat the present as “transient”, the future not a guarantee (James 4:14), and set my mind on things above (Colossians 3:1).

I challenge you this week to give meditating on God’s Word a try. Find you a chunk of Scripture and read it. When you get through reading it, read it some more. Keep it on your mind and seek God to help you apply it in your life. Do not lose heart. Set your mind on the Word of God, and I promise you will find Him there!

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 4:16–18.

Songs for Sunday, March 14, 2021

We would like to invite you to join us if you are in the greater-Grenada, MS area for worship at Christ Community Church — everyone is welcome!

Here are our songs:

  • Psalm 42

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
By day the LORD commands His steadfast love,
and at night His song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God.

  • Zephaniah 3:17

The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by His love….

  • Titus 2:11-14

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

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.

New Opportunity:

This Sunday, we will be offering an 8:00a service for those who are at risk for Covid-19 and/or desire more social distancing and masking. The worship center will be sanitized prior to this service as well as all high-traffic surfaces.

This is not merely an overflow or alternate service but an opportunity for those of our faith family who have not been able to gather to have the opportunity to gather (socially distanced) as we believe it is absolutely essential to gather together (Hebrews 10:24).

Please be in prayer for God’s protection on those willing to begin to gather again in and for this effort in general.

Refresh & Restore — March 11, 2021

2:28 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. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.

3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.[1]

1 John 2:28-3:10

Greetings, Sojourner!

Today marks the end of the first half of our study of 1 John! It has been so good to slow down and take this book of the Bible section-by-section, making it as easily understood as possible. We have eaten our way through some tough portions of Scripture, sometimes taking a week or two to chew on them, but today’s passage is too rich to divide up. It’s a bit longer than usual, so we will not nibble through an introduction.

In this week’s passage, John uses the image of either being a child of God or a child of the devil. This refers to the characteristics of an individual being similar to their father. For the church, it should be apparent that God is our Father similar to the way that children are viewed as sharing similar traits to their parents. But walking through this passage is going to require us to ask tough questions of ourselves to make sure that we resemble the Father and not look like children of the adversary.  

God’s Children are Characterized by Confidence

Our first verse this week (v. 2:28) is the same one we finished with in the last devotion. But I believe that we can dive into it a bit more. Look at the contrast between the phrases “have confidence” and “shrink from Him in shame”. Both of these are linked with the end of that sentence “at His coming”. In the context of being a child of God, I get the image of a child reacting to a parent returning home from work.

The ideal image would be like my nephew Caleb who, every time his dad walks outside, stands at the door with his hands up waiting for him to come back in and pick him up. Now, if he was a bit older and his mom told him something along the lines of “wait until your daddy gets home – you’re gonna get it”, he would likely avoid greeting or even being seen.

Throughout this passage, we are going to look at the dreaded subject of sin and what it means – both for children of God and children of the devil. But I think v. 2:28 very clearly sets the standard for God and His children that is put out in Hebrews 4:16, “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”, resting and having confidence in our Father rather than trusting in what we did wrong or tried to accomplish on our own.

When you look to the Father, do you have confidence in what He has done or do you shrink in fear and shame at what you have done? Do you look at His coming return with hope and joy or with anxiety and fear?

God’s Children Practice What They Preach

I know that the phrase “practice what you preach” is loaded. It is often used as a response to a religious person acting wrongly. And that is why I want to use it here.

The word that is translated “practice” can also be translated as “perform”, “behave”, or “make oneself out to be”, and making our practice as Christians into a performance or a behavior is part of the problem. We often try to make ourselves out to be something in order to show the world something or convince others or ourselves about something. I believe the best alternate translation is “produce”, “yield”, or “bear”.

Jesus Himself uses this exact word in the context of those words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7. You may notice that we cited the first few verses in this section in last week’s devotion:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Matthew 7:15-20

 Jesus uses the same Greek word that John uses as “practices” five times in that one paragraph, and, if we truly want to understand the Word better, there is no better person to have interpret it for us than Jesus Himself! So, when John says “practices righteousness” in vv. 2:29, 3:7, and 3:10, he does so like he would discuss an apple tree bearing apples. It also means that when he says “makes a practice of sinning” (vv. 3:7, 8, 9) and  “practices lawlessness” (v. 3:7) that he does so in the same manner. Just as apple trees bear apples, those who are born again (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:3) are children of God and bear the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who are spiritually dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1) bear the fruit of sinful flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) and reflect the heritage of sin that mirrors the rebellion of Satan against God (John 8:44).

This is an opportunity to look at our own lives and test whether or not we “walk in the Spirit” or “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Are you able to see the fruit of the Spirit in your practices, or are you trying to bring your own plans and desires into fruition?

God’s Children Reflect His Righteousness

We must be careful here because we run the risk of falling into the same heresies that the antichrists and false teachers were spreading to John’s original audience. The specific brand of heresy that they were spreading is known as Gnosticism where they believed that knowledge could save people. As we talked about at length a few weeks ago, anything that twists or purposefully alters the gospel is not of the Spirit of God but of a spirit of antichrist. One of the things that gnostics believed that is particularly appealing to sinful people is their beliefs that sin was not harmful for those who have become intellectually enlightened and that they were perfect as they are. Both of these are dangerous. One the one hand, God alone is sinless and perfect, and He alone – as the sovereign, all-powerful Creator of the universe – defines what is and is not sinful.

Furthermore, we have to have a complete view of sin here. This is why context is so needed and why walking through a whole book is helpful to us when trying to understand the Word of God better. Everything that John says here in chapter 3 (his original letter did not have chapters and verses anyway) cannot be interpreted apart from what was already written in chapters 1 and 2. Let us look back at a few verses that are extremely important to get this part correct:

  • John 1:8: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
  • John 2:1: 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.

Both of these are important here because, 1) they show the danger of false teachings regarding sin and salvation, and 2) how, even though we are to strive to follow Jesus and live following the example He laid out with His life and in His Word, He knows our limitations and has borne the burden of our sin Himself as our propitiation (ch. 2:2) so that we can find cleansing and justification in Him (ch. 1:9).

This is good news for us because we are incapable of being righteous on our own (Romans 3:10) and need Jesus to be righteous for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we follow after Him, we find that practicing righteousness becomes part of our way of life. It stops being about doing good deeds to earn salvation or to make ourselves look like something we are not and becomes simply being about what He is about.

We no longer find ourselves making “a practice of sinning” because He has changed us from the inside out, bringing us from death to life (Ephesians 2:4-5) and transplanting our hearts of stone with hearts that live and beat for Him alone (Ezekiel 36:26). This is even seen in how John defines sin here – “lawlessness” (v. 3:4). Most of the time, the words referring to sin in the New Testament have negative consequences (hamartia, sin, which is an archery term meaning to miss the target; adikia, unrighteousness, meaning to not do what is known to be right and good; and paraptoma, tresspasses or transgressions, meaning getting off of the right path), but, in this passage, John’s saying that “sin is lawlessness (anomia)” basically describes being in active rebellion against God. This is important because it explains all of the talk John makes about those who are “children of the devil” (v. 3:10).

Concluding Thoughts

I know this has been a lot, but I want to sum up what we have been talking about this week with a closer look at the illustration that John gives in talking about the different children (of God or the devil).

Two verses from this section are key to our understanding how this applies to our lives. The first verse is 3:3 which says, “everyone who hopes in Him purifies Himself as He is pure”. This is the reason that children of God are characterized by righteousness. It is not because we are better than other sinners because we are not – the difference is Christ’s righteousness. It is not because we have something to prove or earn. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation, and Christ’s life, death, and resurrection prove it. Just like the quirks and qualities that come together to make me Just Keith come largely in part to my parents and my upbringing, the way that our lives gradually become more like Christ is because we learn to “walk in Him” because we are “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [we] were taught” (Colossians 2:6-7). Our hope stems from what He has already done in His first coming and leads us to walk in the hope that He is coming back as He promised.

The second verse 3:8 which clarifies the relationship between one who “makes a practice of sinning” like “the devil [who] has been sinning from the beginning” and Jesus coming in order “to destroy the works of the devil”. Simply put, if we are making a practice of sinning – not committing individual sins but habitually continuing a purposeful pattern of keeping sin going – we are working against Christ. We cannot seek to continue building up what He is actively tearing down and be of Him.

This passage has caused me to look at and evaluate my life and choices that I make on a regular basis. That makes it hard. But hard questions are good so long as they produce good answers. It is good for those of us who identify as children of God to check our walks by His Word. The good news is that, should we find that we are not His children, we can be because all who “receive Him, who [believe] in His name, He [gives] the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). And the way you do it is laid out simply in Scripture. If you want to be a child of God, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, [and] you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

As always, I love you and am praying for you.

[1] The Holy Bible: ESV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:28-3:10.

Songs for Sunday, March 7, 2021

I am looking forward to Sunday. The freshness of the new week and the reminder of the empty tomb give hope for the future by pointing to eternity.

Last week, we began a series of sorts in our Songs for Sunday posts where we are looking at verses that drive our Sunday gatherings as a church as part of our collective focus on memorizing the Word together as a faith family and putting it in our hearts and minds (Psalm 119:11).

The Word of Christ in Us Makes Us Rich

16 Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Colossians 3:16-17

This particular passage is a treasure trove for our worship gatherings. What I love about it is how it places God’s Word at the forefront. It elevates it to its appropriate place, which makes sense because we cannot gather with Him and not hear from Him – from the Word that He gave us. This, like 1 Timothy 4:13, takes our focus on worship and lifts it above our individual wants or needs – above our favorite songs or worship styles – and focuses on what God Himself has told us.

I love that the word used here to describe our interaction with the Word is “dwell”. God, in His infinite wisdom, could have used memorize if that is what He wanted to communicate. He could have told us to meditate on His Word as He does in other passages. But, here, He tells us that He wants us to let His Word “dwell” – live in/be at home – in us. And where His Spirit and His Word are dwells riches that surpass anything in this world. We need His Spirit and Word to guide us in all our life, but especially in our worship of Him.

We’ll talk more in the coming weeks about the “teaching” and “admonishing” and “singing”. For today, let us understand how much we need to rely on the Word to worship God as He commands. Rather than offering what we think He might want from us, we can offer the worship that He wants.

This Sunday, we are singing about and to Jesus about how much we rely on Him. We will delight in His forgiveness, relish in the hope that only comes from Him, praise Him despite our struggles and difficulties, and pour out our hearts to Christ alone and stand in His strength, love, and grace.

Here are our songs:

  • Romans 5:1-5

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

  • Colossians 3:1-4

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

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.

New Opportunity:

This Sunday, we will be offering an 8:00a service for those who are at risk for Covid-19 and/or desire more social distancing and masking. The worship center will be sanitized prior to this service as well as all high-traffic surfaces.

This is not merely an overflow or alternate service but an opportunity for those of our faith family who have not been able to gather to have the opportunity to gather (socially distanced) as we believe it is absolutely essential to gather together (Hebrews 10:24).

Please be in prayer for God’s protection on those willing to begin to gather again in and for this effort in general.

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.