Refresh & Restore — July 8, 2021

Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 4 Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

In this episode, we are continuing our study of Ruth by looking at Ruth 2:1-23. You can find the full text of this devotion at https://justkeithharris.com/2021/07/21/refresh-restore-july-22-2021/
  1. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 4
  2. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 3
  3. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 2
  4. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 1
  5. Test Podcast — Refresh & Restore (April 29, 2021)

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.

19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.[1]

Ruth 1:6-22

Greetings, Sojourner!

I hope this finds you well and ready to dive back into the world of Naomi (“Pleasant”) and Ruth. Last week, we started our journey through this narrative and saw that “Pleasant” and her two daughters-in-law were in grief-stricken after losing their husbands (or in Naomi’s case her husband and both her children). While this is an extremely sad situation, it says something about the genuineness of the Bible that it does not glaze over the sad and unfortunate moments. It does not glaze over the sin, either. After all, what good is an example if we cannot identify with it? And what good is a Savior if no one needs rescuing?

Good News (Gospel) for Broken-Hearted Sinners

There is a common phrase in modern-day culture: there is good news and bad news. This usually prompts the person talking to ask if their audience wants the good or bad news first. No matter the order, the good news is always preferred over the bad. Naomi and her daughters-in-law already had the bad news covered. But God made sure that they were in the right place and time to hear the good news; Verse 6 tells us that “she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited His people and given them food”!

Even though they were in a foreign land (where they went to avoid consequences of sin and their need to repent) and heard specifically that God Himself had heard His people’s cries of repentance and ended the famine in the promised land – it was harvest time at the “house of bread”! While that news was indeed good, no amount of food would cure Naomi’s broken heart, but it was enough to prompt her to return to the promised land from Moab.

Before she could “return to the land of Judah” (v. 7), she needed to take care of her daughters-in-law. They, after all, had their own gods, their own ethnic group, and no ties to Israel since neither had children. So, Naomi sent them back to their “mother’s house” – basically giving them permission to go home, get over their sadness, and start fresh. Before she parted ways with them, she did something interesting: she blessed them –  she prayed for them.

This is good news for two reasons. First, it shows that even during her sorrow and bitterness God was working in her life. Second, the specific things she prayed – “May the Lord deal kindly with you” and that He would “grant that you may find rest…in the house of [your] husband” – were very clearly and specifically answered for Ruth (and Naomi, as well, but more on that next week)!

Naturally, there was crying – a lot of it and understandably so since these women had shared life and grief together. Orpah went home just as Naomi told her to do. There was nothing sinful or wrong in her obeying her mother-in-law and starting fresh. There was just something else going on in Ruth’s life that compelled her to stay. Here, it is important to see how the phrase “good news” means something different in the New Testament: it refers to the gospel. And God was working in Ruth’s life in a gospel sort of way which impacted her decisions.

This is good for us because it reminds us of the good news – the gospel – impact of what Jesus has done for us through His death and resurrection. It helps us to identify with Naomi and Ruth. I love the way that Tony Merida illustrates this:

“According to the gospel, it is all of us who are the afflicted, the weak and wounded, the sick and sore. And Jesus has come to our aid. Christians are the people who should most identify with the orphan and widow. We were the orphan, and God adopted us. We were the widow, and Jesus became our Bridegroom. We were the stranger, and God made us citizens of heaven. We were the poor, and Jesus gave us a glorious inheritance. We must remember how God has visited us with grace.”[2]

Let’s look at how God visited Ruth with His grace.

Ruth’s Conversion and Naomi’s Identity Crisis

Looking at this backward across the New Testament at these events, we know that there was no true hope for them in the land of Moab – that the only hope anyone had came from Ruth’s great-great-descendent Jesus Christ. Knowing that highlights how awesome what God was doing in the lives of Naomi and, especially, Ruth truly was. After Orpah went home, Ruth doubled down on her intent to stay with Naomi (v. 16). She did not care that Naomi would not be able to produce another son for her to marry. She did not care that she would be a foreigner in Naomi’s land. She did care for Naomi. And it is in this care that we see the change that God produced in Ruth’s heart.

She told Naomi, “where you go, I will go”, showing their deep bond that she was unwilling to forsake. It showed a commitment to her mother-in-law, but there were bigger changes afoot. Next, she said, “your people will be my people, and your God my God”. This is a big deal because she was forsaking her Moabite heritage and native religion to completely embrace Naomi’s! This meant more than simply moving to a different country; it was equivalent to moving from death to life – from false gods to the God, from the wages of sin to the grace of the promised land. That is good news!

The spiritual change in Ruth’s life shows us the same sort of change that we need even today. Yes, the blessings that Naomi sought for Ruth would occur. God would bless her with a husband in her new home. God would deal kindly with her in many ways. But, before any of the physical or surface-level needs were met, God gave her a new life found only in Him! And, through His blessings in Ruth’s heart, Naomi would eventually find these same blessings again in her own.

Ruth’s conversion provides a huge contrast to Naomi’s identity crisis. Remember, Naomi meant “pleasant”, yet she found herself feeling the exact opposite, bitterness. She changed her name to reflect her heart: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [Bitter]” (v. 20). For Ruth entering the promised land allowed her to begin to realize that she could “hold fast to the confession of hope” (“your God will be my God”) as she learned that “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). But, for Naomi, re-entering the promised land felt like a prison sentence.

The Barley Harvest & the Beginnings of Healing

“Bitter” and Ruth were a sight to behold when they came into Bethlehem. In fact, we see that “the whole town was stirred because of them” (v. 19). Instead of seeing the family of four that left for Moab, or even the six that could have been including Ruth and Orpah, two grieving widows entered town alone. Ruth had the testimony of a new God and was coming into the land of her new people. “Bitter” believed that “the Lord [had testified] against [her] and the Almighty [brought] calamity upon [her]” (v. 21).

In her sorrow – and anger and grief and, yes, bitterness, she could not see the hope that came from Him, that, in repentance and humility, the “mighty hand of God” would reach down, not to strike but to “exalt” (1 Peter 5:6) and lift her up out of her sorrow and restore her to Naomi. And while the town was stirred and the people had questions, God had stirred the ground in Bethlehem and produced a barley harvest where there was once famine – land that was once cursed by God was bringing bread. “Bitter” misunderstood God’s actions as dealing bitterly with her while, behind the scenes, He was dealing kindness to her like she could not fathom because bitterness had blinded her.

Unfortunately, bitterness can blind us as well. But, fortunately – actually graciously – for us, Jesus offers salvation for people “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [Him]” (Acts 26:18). Amid whatever difficulties we are experiencing – whatever bitterness, Jesus offers hope; He says,

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

Matthew 11:28-30

May it be so for you today!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ru 1:6–22.

[2] Tony Merida, Ruth for You, ed. Carl Laferton, God’s Word for You (The Good Book Company, 2020), 31.

Thinking on Loss, Burnout, & Gospel Recovery


Disclaimer – This post is filled with feelings of lost. Understand that if you are looking for typical JKH writing, this is not it. This is dealing with intense feelings and will likely be updated as these feelings continue to be dealt with.


This morning, I woke up with high expectations for today. An Uber was scheduled to pick my family up from our hotel and take us to Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA; from there we would take in our first Braves game. It has been a beautiful day filled with laughter and sunshine. We heard a riveting example of John 1:14 at church. We shared in ridiculously large pieces of pizza and great tacos. Then, about halfway through the game, I was confronted by the enormity and finality of loss.

If one could add together the analogies of the feelings of being hit by a freight train and having one’s train derailed, you might get close to what loss feels like. And, as jarring as mine was, there are family members and friends much closer to the friend I lost than I, and my heart goes out to them. I pray for them in the aftermath of this loss that they will continue to feel more and more through the next few days, months, and years.

I had not talked to this friend more than in a few passing conversations on Facebook in a few years. Every time we saw one another, we embraced and were thoroughly glad to see each other. I kept up with him through social media. He did the same with me. Again, passing messages and participating in each other’s social media presences was the limit to our interactions for a few years.

We knew each other well when I was youth pastor at Duck Hill Baptist and he was a youth. We spent hours together each week. We talked about the Bible, movies, books, food, and life. We experienced joys together, and we experienced hurt and loss. When he was in trouble during his high school years and on through early adulthood, he knew he could call me and did when he needed me. We stood in ditches together with backward-facing cars in tall weeds. We stood together when parents arrived after the wrong place and time had been experienced. We rode together after vehicles had broken, even after our friendship began to feel a bit more distant. Then, he grew up, and I left Duck Hill. He grew up, and time and distance grew us farther apart.

I have reflected a lot on those years spent at Duck Hill, wondering where I went wrong. So many of those youth went their separate ways, and friendships began to become distant as well.

I was burned out at the end of my time there and did not realize it until I fully burned out in Picayune, moving back here hoping to leave ministry behind for good. There were so many battles fought during those Duck Hill years, so many foolish idols taking center stage instead of what was important. In the past, angrily, I have pointed the finger so many places, but the only blame I can place is on myself for being sidetracked by the idolatry of others and creating idolatry of my own. The fight initially took my focus, but I made it my focus all by myself. And a lot of kids I was responsible for discipling took on the fight themselves and lost a little in the effort.

God graciously redeemed my burnout and lit a fire in my heart that was never truly there in those Duck Hill years. I get to do all of the things that I actively did during those years. I get to lead worship, get to disciple, get to preach and teach the Word. But I do not get to fight any more. God has allowed me to get to make contact with many of those former youth from that era, including the friend that I lost. And I have gotten to reflect with some of them on how I feel like I failed them. But, now, I am thankful to begin to see how God has redeemed even my burnout. I am thankful I got to share that with my friend while he was alive.

I cannot un-live my past. But, praise God, He is redeeming my present and holds my future. I cannot un-lose my friend. But I can redeem the time I have with my friends.

If you are reading this and you were a youth when I was a youth pastor, I want to share with you what I was too foolish to understand then. I was never meant to be your primary example; I was supposed to point you to Christ. I was not supposed to be a role model of works-based theology but a living embodiment of preaching the grace of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

I find my older, present-day self thinking more and more of the value of Paul’s writings in 1 and 2 Corinthians, namely these two passages that follow here.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

During those years at Duck Hill, I pridefully built up a workaholic persona that was “wise according to worldly standards” but foolish according to God’s. I prided myself on how much of the Lord’s work I could do in my own strength only to find out that the Lord deigned sometimes to bless my work with His strength and all of the other times I wasted by showing works over grace. I boasted how much closer to God I was than those who touted their idolatry only to make an idol of the fight itself. Thankfully, he has allowed me to be broken to the point of realizing that I am only “in Christ Jesus” because of His grace, mercy, and love. I no longer want to boast in my strength because “what is weak” has shamed me. I no longer want to boast in my wisdom because foolishness has shamed me. I want my only boast to “boast in the Lord” and Him alone.

The second passage is Jesus’ words to Paul (and what Paul learned through the experience), recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I cannot go back and undo my past. And I do not need to. My weakness, foolishness, and, yes, even my failures have been a proving ground for the grace of God. He has proven that He is enough while I am not.

It is tempting to make a plea to reach out and help those who I may have led astray following my early pastoral example. But my strength now is still weakness. But, praise be to God, I can rejoice in the words of Christ – that His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in weakness. Rather than pointing you to me for more foolhardy examples, I point you to Christ and boast in Him. I pray you are able to find Him.

If you are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, that is okay, too. Sometimes I get to write to get my feelings out because it is the only way I can. This is one of those times. I pray that God can use this foolishness for His Kingdom.

Refresh & Restore — July 1, 2021

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.[1]

Ruth 1:1-5

If you prefer to listen to this devotion rather than reading, you can find it in podcast form here or listen in the player below. The text will follow the podcast.

Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 4 Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

In this episode, we are continuing our study of Ruth by looking at Ruth 2:1-23. You can find the full text of this devotion at https://justkeithharris.com/2021/07/21/refresh-restore-july-22-2021/
  1. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 4
  2. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 3
  3. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 2
  4. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 1
  5. Test Podcast — Refresh & Restore (April 29, 2021)

Greetings, Sojourner!

It has been a few weeks since we have joined each other for Bible Study, and I am excited to begin a new study together today and embark on a journey through the book of Ruth, looking at a beautiful story of God’s redeeming love!

Welcome to Ruth

Today’s devotion will serve as an introduction for our study and help us to get our heads around this book.

First, we need to understand that the book of Ruth is different from 1 John (which we previously studied). It is different because it is a book of the Old Testament which occurred before the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. It is also a narrative, meaning it is told like a story. This is different than the epistles (letters) of the New Testament which were intended to relay information clearly to a certain audience in specific ways.

The beautiful thing about these differences is that we get to see how God intersects Himself into the life stories of regular, everyday people – how He brought His redeeming love to bear in their lives. This helps us see His fingerprints in our own lives! We will see people who experience the same sorts of troubles and joys that we experience. And we get to see the way that God works in these times – the bad as well as the good – to carry out His redemptive plan.

Second, we need to understand the time in which this book took place. While it simply says, “In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land” and sets up its narrative, there is more than meets the eye – more is meant to give us context.

The time of the judges was a crazy era in Jewish history. There are two verses from the book of Judges that give a clearer picture of the world in which they lived. The first is Judges 2:16: “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of those who plundered them.” The nation of Israel during this era repeated a nasty cycle of 1) being warned by God about the consequences of their sin (really, He is describing the blessings of following Him), 2) willfully committing the sins they were warned against (therefore willingly forfeiting the blessings), 3) finding themselves experiencing the consequences God promised would occur, and 4) repenting of their sin, crying out to God to rescue them – which He faithfully did every, single time they repented (it happened 1, 2, 3, 4 over and over throughout their history – and honestly, ours, too).

The second verse is found in both Judges 17:6 and 21:25: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And somewhere in between Judges 2:16 and 17:6 is exactly where we start the beginning of the book of Ruth. God’s people doing what is right in their own eyes, fully experiencing step 3 and too hardhearted to reach 4.

Setting the Stage for a Big Move of the Lord

What a context – everyone doing what they wanted to do and treating it as if it were right. Sound familiar? Yet that is exactly where we find our family at the beginning of Ruth’s narrative. You see, before God’s people ever set foot in the Promised Land (the place they left when the famine hit them), He laid out all the blessings He would give them if they followed Him (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) as well as the consequences of their sin, two of which being infertility and famine (Deuteronomy 28:15-68; cf. v. 18) which Elimilech and Naomi’s family experienced!

Since I laid out the cycle for you above, what needs to happen to get out of their predicament? Step 4 – repenting of their sin and crying out to God to rescue them! It seems simple enough, yet they chose another path – one that led them out of the Promised Land, away of their home in Bethlehem (Heb. “house of bread”), and beyond the land of God’s promise. Elimelech and Naomi dug in their heels and decided to take an alternate path out of God’s punishment of sin. The only problem is that there is no alternate path, and the Bible is clear on this. The “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And death is what they found in Moab.

Elimelech and Naomi thought they were leaving famine to save their lives, but they only found death. They missed the fact that God had sent them a great warning sign of repentance by striking the “house of bread” with hunger. The shelves were empty, and so were their hearts. The message was clear, and not just because of the name of their town; Elimelech is Hebrew for “My God is King”, and Naomi is Hebrew for “pleasant”[2]. Yet Elimelech sought to be the king of his own heart and strike out to leave the Promised Land to take care of himself despite the warnings of the King.

“My God is King” and “Pleasant” had two children, boys named Mahlon (Heb. “sick”) and Chilion (Heb. “frail/mortal”). And, during the decade they were in Moab, “My God is King” died. It turns out that Moab was not beyond the reach of the wages of Israel’s sin. “Sick” and “Frail” grew up, married Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth, and continued living in Moab – that was until they lived up to their names and died.

Can you imagine the heartbreak that these women felt – especially Naomi? When “My God is King” died, “Pleasant” became a widow, but there is no term for a parent who loses a child because it is a reality too unimaginably heartbreaking to be labeled.

And it is in this heartbreak that our story of Redeeming Love is set – in death and sorrow and loss, in a foreign land filled with foreign gods and strangers. One could argue that “Pleasant” was not alone, that she had her two daughters-in-law with her. But when one experiences grief, loneliness generally accompanies it.

Hope in the Midst of Sorrow

As we look at the beginning of the narrative Ruth, I find that I have a few things in common with the people we meet here. I often try to live as if I am king and can decide that what I want is right. That is called sin. I am a sinner. I often decide to delay repenting because I am angry that I am not God. That, too, is called sin (and idolatry, too). I also find myself identifying with Naomi and the pain that comes with grief.

What she did not know – and really what none of them could know, since they lived in OT times, was the hope that comes only from Jesus. I do not think I need to declare a “spoiler alert” here since the Bible allows us to know Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords has already won, but He is the ultimate hero of the book of Ruth (in fact, He is the only hero of the Bible!). The beauty of the way that this book points to Jesus shares in the same beauty as when Jesus arrived on earth, with a birth.

Ruth 4:18-22 give us a genealogy bridging the gap between Judah, father of Perez (whose mother was Tamar – Genesis 38), father of Hezron, father of Ram, father of Amminadab, father of Nahshon, father of Salmon, father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab – Joshua 2), father of Obed (by Ruth), father of Jesse, father of David, who is the great-great-many-times-over earthly ancestor of “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

God struck the “house of bread” with a famine and events of incredible sadness occurred when His people decided not to repent. But God, in His sovereign and redemptive plan used those sad things to highlight the good news of Jesus, “the Bread of Life” (John 6:48). Although Naomi and Ruth, in their grief and mourning, do not realize it, “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5); joy in their case would come later when their hearts become as full as their bellies, when God does what He does in redeeming sinners. The cry of a baby will bring joy into their lives just as that baby’s many-times descendant would do for all who put their hope in Him throughout the ages:

“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

So, as we walk through the lives of Naomi and Ruth in the coming weeks, let us fix our eyes on what is to be while we are seeing the redemptive plan of God work out in their lives. And maybe – just maybe, we will begin to see how God is working through the sad and unfortunate things in our own lives.

It is my prayer that we, because we can see more than Naomi and Ruth by having the finished Story, can rejoice that our “light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) if we put our hope and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-10). Then, and only then, can we realize the beauty that comes with rejoicing “in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Hallelujah, and Amen!


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

[2] The specific English translations for the names came from:
Tony Merida, Ruth for You, ed. Carl Laferton, God’s Word for You (The Good Book Company, 2020), 20.

Refresh & Restore — May 6, 2021

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:7-21

Greetings, Sojourner!

I chuckle as I begin writing to you today because I have had a song running through my head; I have even caught myself singing it. If you have a church background, you may be trying to guess which glorious old hymn or praise song about God’s love I am singing. And, if so, you are about to be terribly disappointed (although I imagine many of you singing along as you read the lyrics). The song is from 1984 – Tina Turner’s classic, “What’s Love Got to Do with It”. Here is the chorus:

“What’s love got to do – got to do with it? 
What’s love but a secondhand emotion? 
What’s love got to do – got to do with it? 
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”

To answer and apply Tina’s questions to today’s passage: EVERYTHING! Love has everything to do with today’s passage and everything to do with the lives of those who profess to know Christ. Over the next few weeks, we will be walking through this passage and find out just what it means for us and our lives.

At this point in John’s letter, he is beginning to wind down toward a close. The first half of the letter was devoted to making sure his readers (then and now) knew what it was to have life in Christ and walk in His light. Now, love is being treated similarly – both as an example of what He has given us and as a test to find out if we indeed do “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (1:7).

To some it may seem like John is repeating himself, but it is important to note that he is not merely writing a letter. First, this letter reflects his heart as an apostle and teacher of the Word to see his readers know Christ more fully and walk in Him. Second, this letter is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) through John, giving his audiences the Word they/we need to hear from the Lord. So, this is not John repeating himself but the Lord emphasizing truths He knows we need to hear again and again. With that in mind, we can see the importance of reflecting on past sections of 1 John:

  • (1:5) 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.
  • (2:2) He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the world.
  • (2:5) …but whoever keeps His Word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him….
  • (2:29) If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.
  • (3:10-11) 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. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

It is easy to see how the Spirit builds these truths over the course of the letter, namely light, life, and love. Today’s passage begins the final build of the topic of love.

The teaching that we are supposed to “love one another” (v. 7) is not new. We have looked previously at how John’s message here comes directly from Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). The difference in John’s teachings on this in chapter 3 and our passage today is that John adds explanation to his earlier examples: “God is love”. Our lives cannot be characterized by hate and love at the same time any more than we can live lives that point to Christ while walking in darkness; we would be liars (1:5-7).

While v. 7 speaks positively to John’s “beloved”, what we find in v. 8 is tough love. A life that is absent of love is absent of God. I realize this sounds harsh, but the contrast is important. Just as you should love because “God is love”, hatred shows absence of God in one’s heart because “God is love”. This is meant to be tough because love, like we have seen throughout this letter (1:6, 1:8, 1:10, 2:4, 2:9, 2:11, 2:15-16, 3:6, 3:8, 3:10, 3:14, 3:17), is another means to test our lives. God very clearly wants us to know whether we are – or are not – His children (3:10), whether He does – or does not – abide in us (3:24). This is serious business and requires us to honestly check our lives.

On the subject of loving one another, it is important to see that John continues to emphasize this at the end of our passage. In v. 19, we see a bold statement that should give us pause: “we love because He first loved us”. This is reminding us of the love that Christ has shown us! And, while this is something that – if we have experienced it – we should not need to be reminded of, this is a common theme throughout Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, God describes Himself as “abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18). The Psalms remind us that God’s “steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136). The most widely known verse in the Bible proclaims it beautifully (John 3:16): For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 

That is a rare, unique love, so special that it multiplies in the hearts of those who receive it. Think back to how, earlier in this writing, we love others because “God is love” and our lack of love shows a lack of God. People do not like being presented with stark realities like that (think right/wrong, love/hate, etc.). In today’s world people want to blur the lines or add gray areas to soften hard truths we are not yet ready to face. But the Holy Spirit through John does not allow for softening this hard truth; look at v. 20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar”. That, dear Sojourner, is a stark reality. He continues, “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 

Look at that word “cannot” – can NOT. This word pains me because I struggle with loving people, struggle with hate in my own heart. It seems to say that hatred of a brother and love of God cannot both be in my heart at the same time. And, no matter how hard I try to rationalize – no matter how hard I try to make this fit in my justifications as to why what I feel is right, the Word of God says what it says. What does that mean for me?

It means I need to repent.

It means I need the love that Christ has shown me to impact my life. 

I need to remember that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) – that He died for me knowing all my sin. At the same time, I need to remember how much that love has changed my life: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). Basically, I need to remember that, in my sin, I was an enemy to God and that, while I was His enemy, He loved me enough that He lived for me, died for me, and rose again defeating death, hell, and the grave. If He could show His love for me while I was His enemy, what ground do I have to hate anyone, especially a brother.

“What’s love got to do – got to do with it?” Everything when it comes to knowing I am in Christ. I have to look at my life and test it according to the Word of God, and the Word of God says that hatred – again, especially for a brother (another belonging to Christ) – is evidence that I am not walking with Him. When faced with that fact, those who are not in Christ will make excuses and, ultimately, justify their behavior or decide that their will, their hatred, their sin trumps the Word of God. But, when one of God’s children is faced with the reality of their sin (hatred or otherwise), they are driven to repent and turn back to God.

Where does this leave you? Is your life characterized by love or hate? Do you love (v. 7) or not love (v. 8)? Do you say “I love God” while knowing full well the hatred in your heart (v. 20)? These are questions that I must answer for myself. And they are questions you need to answer on your own, and I pray that you do.

As usual, know that I love you and am praying for you. This week, I am praying specifically that the love of God is poured out on you and that, if necessary, God grants you “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).

Refresh & Restore — April 15, 2021

18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.[1]

1 John 3:18-24

Greetings, Sojourner!

It has been a few weeks since we have been in 1 John together, and I think that today’s passage is quite an appropriate diving board for us to get back into the swing of things.

Part of the purpose of 1 John is to help people know that they have the Life of Christ, that the Light of Christ has shone on them, and that the Love of Christ has been extended to them. That knowing is called assurance, which basically means that we can be sure –  we can truly know – that we are children of God. Throughout the first half of 1 John, the idea of walking with Him in the light “as He is in the light” (ch. 1:7) and abiding in Him and His truth (ch. 2:27) is used to help us see what it means to be God’s children who do not have to “shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (ch. 2:28). Today’s passage continues that in helping us have confidence in His promises to know who we are in Him, and more especially whose we are – His, even in the presence of doubts.

Doubt, believe it or not, is not necessarily a bad thing. It can keep us real and honest. It can make us double-check our motives. But it can also freeze us up and make us ineffective. There are five truths in today’s passage that can either help overcome our doubt or show us that we need to repent – both of which are blessings in and of themselves. If, through the reading of God’s Word, His Spirit lets you know you have no reason for doubt, you will no doubt feel blessed. But, if through reading He shows you that you are not His, this is a more gracious blessing than we could understand in the moment.

It is my prayer that whichever you find – doubt or repentance – that you, ultimately find yourself closer to Him.

Truth #1 – Love Reassures Our Hearts (vv. 18-19)

Verse 18 is like a hinge of a door, opening up from John’s discussion about the love of Christ and how it does (or does not) show up in our lives. I believe that we underuse this verse and just kind of tag it onto other verses to prove what we want to say. Look at what it says about how we should love – it does not exist in “word or talk” but in one’s actions, “in truth”. I work with kids every day who are not fooled with the words of love – they understand what love is through experience, through truth.

In the case of the love John speaks of here, it is the love that comes from Christ (Romans 5:8, Galatians 2:20). Those who are in Christ (who is Himself the Truth – John 14:6) have experienced His sacrificial, never-failing, never-ending love. And part of being in Him is sharing the love that He has given us with others –
“He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (ch. 3:16). Loving others with Christ-like love trumps any “I love you”, it triumphs over any promise or lie but is true through and through because He said it was:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

The Truth has spoken on the matter, and, when His love shows up in our lives and practices, our doubting hearts can be reassured that they belong to Him.

Truth #2 – God is Greater Than Our Hearts (v. 20)

Rather than diving into an analogy or illustration, I think we need to get down to the truth regarding our hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hearts lead us to sin. Despite what we would want others to believe, we enjoy sin (just not necessarily the consequences that come with committing it). Sin is the sum of our heart’s desires. Yet the most common advice I hear given to people who are seeking truth or counsel on big decisions in their lives is for them to follow their hearts!

In the context of today’s passage, John talks about the heart acting as our conscience. This can be a good thing, but, remember, the heart is “deceitful” and knows how to trick you better than anything else because it is truly and foundationally you. Why else would our hearts lead us to sin that leads only to heartbreak? Why else would pursuing the “loves” (word and deed) that end up being lusts?

Sometimes, our heart – our conscience – cues us into something wrong. And, in those times, it serves us well. But, sometimes, our heart merely aches because we do not get what we want – that missed opportunity, that time you chose this over that, that time you could have gotten ahead and could have prevented so many struggles. Jeremiah 17:9 ends with a question: “Who can understand [the heart]?” Today’s passage answers that: “God is greater than our heart” (v. 20).

You see, when one repents and believes in Christ and becomes born again, God performs a heart transplant. He gives a “new heart” and a “new spirit” to replace “the heart of stone” (Ezekiel 36:26). I have already said that our hearts give us what we want whether or not it is what we need, but the new heart that God gives us beats for Him and what He knows we need. He alone is the one who “search[es] the heart and test[s] the mind” so that He can know who we are and whose we are (Jeremiah 17:10).

So, if your heart – your conscience – is condemning you because you have sinned, it is God working in you to bring you to repentance. But, if your heart is doubting and dragging you back into former sin, be reminded that “God is greater than your heart” and what He says about you is what matters into eternity.

Truth #3 – Prayer and Assurance Go Together (vv. 21-22)

I remember vividly receiving my first Walkman[2] and Garth Brooks’ debut album. If I close my eyes, I can take myself back to walking around the yard and having the music pour directly into my brain (no doubt too loud). There was a song on that album whose lyrics try to speak to me even some thirty years later: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers…”. While this is a song about a man reminiscing on an earlier love not coming about in the light of his current romance, it illustrates John’s point here. How we pray and what we pray for – counting our motivations and desires and hopes – shows our hearts and can either reassure us that we belong to Christ or not.

John, here, illustrates that those who are in Christ have “confidence” to come “before Him” that leads to an openness in prayer (v. 21). That confidence is not in ourselves or our actions but in the fact that He has produced a change in our lives that led us to “keep His commandments and do what pleases Him” (v. 22). When you pray, are you seeking the Lord’s will and wanting what He wants? The answer to that question will either reassure us, drive us to repent, or condemn us. May we find confidence in what He has done in us.

Truth #4 – Biblical Beliefs Produce Biblical Results (v. 23)

Truth in the world today is subjective. I hear more and more people saying things like “this is my truth” or “it is the truth to me”. True truth does not work like that. And Biblical truth does not deviate from what the Bible says because it shows Jesus saying that He is the Truth (John 14:6) – that He is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And, if it is lying about Him, nothing is true.

John references “His commandment” in verse 23. He speaks of this with respect and authority, almost as if acknowledging Jesus’ authorship of the Word in the way He says it. Jesus’ commandment here is two-fold: 1) “we believe in Jesus Christ, and 2) we love one another (“just as He has commanded us”). If you have doubts and need reassurance, this truth gets to the heart of the issue. If you do not believe that Jesus is who the Bible says He is, you cannot be saved (Romans 10:9). He is strong enough to take our questions and our doubt, but what His Word says about Him is true or it is not. The way that John writes this in the original language shows how we can truly know if we believe this: love. Belief, or faith, in Christ is an action that is defined by whether we continue on (ch 2:19, 3:10) in Him, whether or not His love shows up in our lives. This is where it gets tough and ,trust me, I have to wrestle with this more often than I would care to admit, because it is easier to hate others or love myself than love God and show His love to people.

Ultimately, you know how this plays out in your life. Does it lead you to reassurance or repentance?

Truth #5 – Only His Children Have His Spirit (v. 24)

As I type this section, I can hear my father-in-law singing John 15 as a song; look at verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, He it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The final truth to reassure our hearts is whether Christ – His Spirit – abides (lives, dwells) in us. Paul says it thusly in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”.

John here carries out the same analogy that Jesus did in his gospel. He shakes our tree to examine our fruit. If He is not abiding in us, our fruit is sinful, rotten, dead. If His Spirit is in us, His fruit is evident – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Are you connected to Christ? Are you rooted in Him? Is the fruit of His Spirit growing in your life?


I stated at the beginning of this week’s devotion that rooting out doubts would either lead to being reassured – finding renewed confidence in Christ – or it should lead to repentance. Maybe, after reading through 1 John 3:18-24, you have come to realize that you do not belong to Christ. Maybe the fruit – the proof of His Spirit, His love – is not in your life. Let me assure you of this: it can.

The Bible tells us that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). So, if you have found that you do not have Him and want to receive Him, call out to Him and be saved.

If you read these verses and find that you are in Him but need to repent of sin and walk with Him in love and truth again, let the words of the writer of Hebrews be a comfort and guide to you: “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). No matter how far you have strayed, He has not moved. He is still on His throne. And His throne is one of grace where you can surely receive mercy and find grace – where you can surely find Him. Beloved Sojourner, know that I am praying for and love you. If you need to talk, need someone to listen, or would like to pray, I am here for you and would love to point you to the throne of grace today.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:18–24.

[2] For those of you too young to know what I mean, Google it. It was a portable cassette player (cassettes fit in between records and CDs in the time line), had head phones, and was a symbol of cool and a source of music.

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 — February 25, 2021

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 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.[1]

1 John 2:18-27

Greetings, Sojourner!

We have – hopefully – survived Snowmaggedon 2021 here in central Mississippi. I am continuing to pray for those still recovering from the worst of the icy terror in Texas and other places. And I am glad for warm weather. However, this warm weather has not been enough to completely melt the ice.

While Mississippians have taken advantage of this shorts-and-flip-flops turn of temperature, there is still a lot of ice! There are large mounds of ice leftover from parking lots being cleared. There are even patches and mounds of ice around people’s houses, namely mine.

I say this to confess that I have had to live out Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Many people fell and slipped and slid on the ice this past week, but I – due mostly to abstaining from winter shenanigans – was proud that I made it through the entire spell of inclement weather without falling. I gave my father and brother a hard time after their hard falls. Haughty might be mild compared to the joking I threw their way.

But, lo and behold, Tuesday morning found me literally face-planted on my driveway, glasses thrown asunder and wrist awkwardly bent beneath the full weight of my body. I was humbled. And I was angry. I yelled and fussed and made quite a big deal about my fall. Thankfully, it appears that my wrist is only sprained, leaving my pride to be the only thing truly and rightfully broken.

You may be wondering how this relates to antichrists and 1 John, but I assure you they are wedded together in my mind today.

Last week, we began our study of 1 John 2:18-27 and saw that it was more than we could cover in a single devotion. Our first look at this passage helped us see the difference between the church in 1 John and the antichrists that were attacking it. In it, we looked at how God helps His Church to persevere through being attacked and how the those aligned with a spirit that is literally anti-Jesus-Christ will fall away after inflicting their anti-gospel message.

This week, we are going to shift to look at the attack of the antichrists and the effects of the attack on the church in vv. 22-23.

To do this, I again remind you of the truth of the gospel. In last week’s devotion, we looked at several verses (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Titus 3:4-5, 1 Peter 1:3-5) that lay out the foundation for the gospel clearly. I would like to shift to a definition of the gospel written by a preacher so that we can compare the false message of the antichrists with the true message of the gospel proclaimed through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Word. David Platt defines the gospel thusly:

“The gospel is the good news that God, the loving Creator, sovereign King, and holy Judge of all, has looked upon men and women wonderfully and uniquely made in His image who have rebelled against Him, are separated from Him, and deserve death before Him, and He has sent His Son, Jesus, God in the flesh, the long-awaited King, to live a perfect and powerful life, to die a sacrificial and substitutionary death, and to rise from the grave in victory over sin, Satan, and death. The gospel is a summons from God for all people in all nations to repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, turning from all idols to declare allegiance to Jesus alone as King and trust in Jesus alone as Lord. All who turn from Jesus will experience everlasting, horrifying suffering in hell, while all who trust in Jesus will experience everlasting, satisfying communion with God in heaven.”[2]

Look at how he speaks about God. He describes Him as “Creator, sovereign King, and holy Judge” (Genesis 1:1, Colossians 1:16-17, Revelation 17:14, Isaiah 33:22). He emphasizes the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is “God in the flesh, the long-awaited King” (John 1:14, Isaiah 9:6)and that His “sacrificial and substitutionary death” (2 Corinthians 5:21, Colossians 1:19-20) and resurrection from “the grave in victory over sin, Satan, and death” (John 11:25-26, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57) as being necessary for anyone to be saved. He explains that salvation occurs when people “repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, turning from all idols to declare allegiance to Jesus alone as King and trust in Jesus alone as Lord” (Mark 1:15, Romans 10:9-10). All the language that Platt uses to talk about the gospel speaks of God and the salvation He offers in a way that is consistent with Scripture. This, like all true Bible teaching, is pro-Christ.

Look at the contradiction we see in 1 John 2:22. The antichrists are liars who deny “that Jesus is the Christ”, going even further to deny “the Father and the Son”. Let me say that again. They are proclaiming that Jesus is not the Messiah. They are proclaiming that He is not God. They are proclaiming that God the Father is not who He claims to be in His Word. They are proclaiming that God the Son is not who the Bible says that He is.

Everything that comes from the mouth of these antichrists – and will ultimately come from the Antichrist – is designed to turn you away from the truth of the gospel. It is more dangerous than you can imagine. This false gospel is designed to stir up doubt and division in local churches. Remember, that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:9), meaning that his goal is to devour – to devote to destruction – by whatever means he can. But, just as he is known to be “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) and “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), he lives up to that and spews his anti-gospel lies through his antichrists.

We have seen a few weeks ago that Satan has knowledge of Scripture, so he knows that the Bible shows his sure doom. I can think of nothing more dangerous than an angry supernatural being with delusions of grandeur and a nothing-to-lose, take-the-ship-down-with-me attitude. Yet I remind you, “Lo! His doom is sure!”[3]

Revelation 20:10 shows a different picture of Satan: “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. The King of kings and Lord of lords will reign victorious, and hell will forever be occupied by Satan and his antichrists. But how many other occupants will be led astray by his lies and false gospel?

We do not have to be susceptible to fall into his trap to “walk in darkness” and “not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). No, “if we walk in the light, as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

We need to follow the warning of the psalmist and seek that God may “turn [our] eyes from looking at worthless things; and give [us] life in [His] ways” (Psalm 119:37). We need to heed the invitation of Jesus Himself who said, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14).

To do this, we need to be careful. Verse 23 clearly states that those who deny the Son do not have the Father – they cannot be saved because they have no part in Christ or His death and resurrection. But verse 23 also gives hope: “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” We need to be on our guard. We need to be like the believers in Berea who “were more noble than those in Thessalonica” because they “received the Word with eagerness” but made sure they were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). We need to do the same. We trust preachers only when their gospel lines up with Scripture. And we can tell antichrists by the same token; if they wrongly proclaim Christ, they have no gospel – plain and simple.

The issue with the false gospel is that they begin with just enough truth to be familiar to their hearers to get their attention and trap them. In the case of the church in 1 John, the antichrists preached in the name of Jesus; the problem was their Jesus was neither the Christ nor God incarnate. They preached a different Jesus. These antichrists come looking like prophets and preachers – they masquerade as sheep “but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). They come up from “among the people” and seek to “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). Their entire goal is to “distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7). If you add anything to or take anything away from the gospel – if you preach a different Christ, you have no hope and no salvation.

While this is a dire warning, it is not meant to cause fear. Remember that, if you are in Christ, “you have been anointed by the Holy One” (v. 20). He has left you a His Spirit, and the “Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). And His Spirit will help you discern the truth from the lies (v. 27).

I told you earlier that I fell and busted my wrist, face, and pride on the ice Tuesday. What I did not tell you was that I knowingly was standing on ice. I knew that others had fallen but felt that I could stand on my own two feet – until those feet were following my body to the ground. What I did not tell you was that I fell again this very morning. I was more careful today to avoid the ice, but I did not look as closely as I should have, stepped on black ice on my sidewalk, and busted my pride once more. Let us be on better guard against antichrists and their false gospel. We are foolish to stand in its midst and always – always – need to stand on the sure foundation of “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (Titus 2:13-14). He alone can save. Let us trust in Him alone.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:18–27.

[2] David Platt, “Gospel Foundations”, Secret Church 20: God, Government, and the Gospel – Study Guide (Radical, Inc., 2020), 37.

[3] Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (Public Domain)

Refresh & Restore — February 10, 2021

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.[1] 

1 John 2:15-17

Greetings, Sojourner!

I am glad to be back at our 1 John study after a bit of a mental break. Instead of writing a devotion last week, I took the opportunity to get some extra time in the Word – reading and listening, not to study but to spend time with the Lord. Those who support me closely in writing these were relieved and glad I took the break; I am, too.

I was all geared up to write this devotion last week, so it has been simmering in my thoughts longer than usual. Time and again, my thoughts returned to Demas.

If you have no idea who Demas is, do not feel bad. He is typically limited to random Bible trivia since his name only shows up three times in the Bible. The first two times mention him being with Paul on one of his missionary journeys and sending his regards to the Colossian church and Philemon (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24). The final reference tells us that Paul was alone at the end of his life, partly because “Demas, in love with this present world…, deserted [him and went] to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).

That is all the information we have about him. He was with Paul until the world came calling. Then he left.

Demas’ story fits well with today’s passage. Here, John transitions from reminding us to love one another to warning us to “not love the world or the things in the world” (v. 15a). When he talks about the world here, he is not talking about the earth and caring for it as a part of God’s creation. He is talking about the ways of the world – the ways of the flesh. It is similar to Paul’s words in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The ways of the world are contrary to the Way, that is Christ (John 14:6). We are to conform to Christ and imitate Him – not the world.

John continues his warning in verse 15 by explaining that “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”. There is a firm line drawn here. One cannot give their love – their allegiance, faith, and trust – fully to two things. The Way and the world – the Father and the flesh – are polar opposites. Jesus explained that no one can “serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13). James asks his original audience (and us), “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4)? What could be more serious than finding oneself on the opposite side of God Most High? Do we love Him or the world? Depending on our answer, we are either a friend of God or His enemy. There is no middle ground.

At this point, you may be wondering where the refreshing and restoring has gone. My answer is simple: nowhere. These truths are tough, but needed. This is not a stepping-on-toes moment. No, this is a soul-evaluation moment. This has been a call for me to look at my own life and evaluate my priorities – to evaluate my worship. I have had to repent of my worldly focus in some areas. You may need to also.

Thankfully, John does not just spiritually sucker punch us and move on; he helps us to see what it looks like to love the world. Danny Akin has written that verse 16 “is one of the most important verses in the Bible”[2] because it “identifies in vivid terms the weapons the world uses to seduce men and women into joining its side.” This is good news for us because it shows us areas to look at so repentance can occur – so refreshment and restoration can occur.

Perhaps the scariest thing for me about verse 16 is that all those weapons of the world reside inside of me – “desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life”. They originate in my sinful heart. And they are in yours as well.

The Bible gives us clear examples to see how these weapons have defeated people in the past and how God Himself overcame them.

These weapons were first used on the very first people. Genesis 3:6 shows how all three of these weapons were used to bring sin and death to Adam and Eve: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (desires of the flesh) and that it was a delight to the eyes (desires of the eyes) and that the tree was desired to make one wise (pride of life), she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was there with her, and he ate.”

Satan, in the form of the Serpent (Revelation 12:9), came and helped the first humans bring sin and death into the world. He twisted the Word of God, and Adam and Eve let him. But Satan cannot bear the blame. James 1:14-15 makes it quite clear what happened to them and to us:

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

Sin and death continued from that point onward.

If we were left to Adam and Eve to save us, we would have no hope. The way that temptation and a love for the flesh worked in their lives is the same way it works in our own. Thankfully, we have a better example in the way that Jesus handled the same temptations.

In Luke 4:1-13, we see Jesus being tempted by Satan. He had been in the wilderness, eating nothing, for forty days. Luke 4:2 tells us Jesus was “hungry”. Satan told Jesus that He should “command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3), appealing to the desire of Jesus’ flesh. But Jesus reminded him of what the Word of God says in Deuteronomy 8:3 – and did not sin.

Next, Satan “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time”, offering to give Jesus “authority” and “glory” if He would only bow down in worship (Luke 4:5-6). But Jesus reminded him of what the Word of God says in Deuteronomy 6:13 – and did not sin.

Finally, he took Jesus to the highest point on the temple and tempted Jesus to jump (Luke 4:9). He even quoted some Scripture himself, reminding Jesus that Psalm 91:11-12 promise that no harm would come to Him – that angles will “guard” Him and keep even His foot from striking “against a stone”. But Jesus reminded him of what the Word of God says in Deuteronomy 6:16. He did not sin.

It is in Christ’s handling of temptation that we find hope. We are all very susceptible to fail because of the desires of our flesh and eyes and our pride. Jesus is not.

The desires of our flesh are powerful because they come from what we want deep down in our hearts. But, if we are in Christ, we do not have to fear our sinful hearts because “He also put His seal on us and [has] given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22). And, remember, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1)!

The desires of our eyes are powerful, too, because it is through them that we find many opportunities for sin. Rather than spying out opportunities for sin, we should be “looking to Jesus, the founder and protector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and seeking “the things that are above, where Christ is” (Colossians 3:1). Then, we may see God answer the cry of the psalmist in our own lives: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37).

The pride of life is powerful, too. It also hits a bit harder than the first two. This is the part of us that thinks that we can do some things better than God. It is when we think too highly of our own power and possessions and position. It is when we want to receive worship and glory that is only due to God. And, just as God gives us a way out of the first two temptations, He takes care of us here as well. Let us look at the last verse that Jesus quoted to Satan – the one that made him tuck tail and run away: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test…” (Deuteronomy 6:16).

I draw your attention to this command because it reminds us that hope in Jesus is eternal when this world is “passing away along with its desires” (v. 17). You see, Satan was reminded of something that scared him and should give us courage. He was reminded that Jesus is God and is not to be trifled with or tested! And so long as we trust Christ as Savior and Lord – so long as we love and worship Him, Satan and the desires of our flesh will be kept in check!

We looked at some tough words from James 4 earlier. Let us look now at the good news he brings later in that same passage:

“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.”

James 4:7-8a

You and I do not have to meet the same end as Demas. Our story need not end with us “in love with this present world” having deserted Christ. He is “rich in mercy” and loves us with a great love (Ephesians 2:4). The world cares only for itself. Jesus “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The world brings only the wages of my sin – death (Romans 6:23).

I pray that this reminder finds you looking to Christ as your hope and away from the world – and that repentance is granted where we need it (2 Timothy 2:25).


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:15–17.

[2] Daniel L. Akin et al., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014).

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.