Refresh & Restore — October 21, 2021

14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.[1]

2 Timothy 2:14-26


Greetings, Sojourner!

I have thoroughly enjoyed looking at these But GOD moments in this series. We have seen them be as simple as trusting Christ in salvation and as beautifully complex as Him bringing those who are dead in their sins to life in Christ. We have seen God change the trajectory of men – change their entire lives by saving them and working through their lives. We have seen those men share Him with others and God give life to the seeds of their work by changing the trajectory of future generations, even unto our own.

I do not know whether or not I realized it when I set out to write this series, but I think – deep down – it has always been my goal to emphasize that there must be a change in the lives of those who profess that they were once lost but GOD saved them. If one’s testimony is that they are in Christ, it is that they were once dead but God made them alive. Remember that the conjunction “but” means that all before it is cancelled out by what comes after. So, if all of our past life is cancelled out by God, what comes after should be characterized by Him – we should be different. Our trajectory should be heavenward, even while still on the earth.

A Worker for Christ: Unashamedly Handling the Word

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is markedly different than his first. This is largely because both Timothy and Paul were different. They were both older. Timothy was no longer the young pastor who needed a guidebook for starting out. He had blossomed beyond needing to be reminded to not let his flock “despise [him] for [his] youth” to one whose “example” needed a bit of correcting (1 Timothy 4:12). Paul was at the end of his life and ministry in Rome, having “fought the good fight”, “finished the race”, “kept the faith”, and ready to accept that which was “laid up for [him by] the righteous judge [with] all who loved His appearing” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). He loved Timothy like a father loves a son and wanted to remind him to continue in what he had “learned and…firmly believed, knowing from whom [he] learned” it (2 Timothy 3:10, 14).

We need to be reminded that – despite the trials, tribulations, and trip-ups – God brings us from death to life to live for Him (Ephesians 2:10)! So, let us look at the reminders that Paul gave to Timothy and see how the Holy Spirit wants to remind us. Just as Paul wanted to remind his spiritual son of who he was in Christ, let us be reminded that we are sons and daughters of the King and we are who He says we are!

How we talk matters!

He mentions this several ways in this passage: “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (v. 14), “avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene” (vv. 16-17), “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies [which] breed quarrels” (v. 23), “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach” (v. 24), and “correcting his opponents with gentleness” (v. 25). All of these point to how difficult it is to control our speech; so much so that James says that if “anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2) and that “the tongue is a fire” that sets the whole life afire via hellfire and “staining the whole body” (James 3:6)! It is no accident that Paul emphasizes it so much here.

If we are going to profess that God has changed our lives, our speech will be the first to betray the depravity of our hearts. We can see how Jesus condemned the Pharisees with the same evidence in Matthew 12:34 and 37:

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…. …[F]or by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

I realize that this concept seems harsh, but the fact remains that if one’s life has been changed by Jesus there should be evidence in that life of it.

In the earlier years of my marriage, my wife would be quick to tell me that “I’m sorry” loses its meaning if there is no change to follow it. How can repentance mean anything if our speech is still as quarrelsome as those who do not profess Christ? How can we “speak…all the words of life” (Acts 5:20) if our irreverent talk spreads like an infection through the body of Christ?

How we handle the Word matters!

Just as how we talk illustrates the reality of our heart, the place we give to the Word of God shows our hearts, too. I know that I have been guilty of proclaiming that I believe the Bible to be inerrant, infallible, and inspired, yet only following it on a level that was visible to church-folks around me. There was a certain amount of acting that was not being a doer of the word and deceiving myself and others (James 1:22).

Our lives will indeed reflect what we believe about the Bible. Several things that Paul reminds Timothy of in this passage reflect this: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (v. 15), “let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (v. 19; cf. Isaiah 26:13), and to be “able to teach” so that “God may perhaps grant…repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (vv. 24-25). I can already hear the counterarguments of how no one will be able to be perfect and that all of us sin. Yes, and yes. I agree with you wholeheartedly and see the same difficulties in my own life. But I will respond with the same question I have to ask myself: what is God doing in your life, and what evidence is there that He has worked in it and is working in it now?

When Paul tells Timothy that he should do his best to be an unashamed worker, it is not a command to act a certain way or simply not to fail. No! It is a testament to following Christ. It is a testimony to the fact that repentance is necessary to continue following Christ despite our hang-ups and mis-steps. He is not telling Timothy to seek to earn his salvation but reminding him that the esteem given to the Word – the respect, focus, and usage (mileage, even) that it holds – will impact his following. Just as David wrote in Psalm 119:9 – “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your Word.” – if we, like Timothy, will be willing to rightly handle the Word of truth, we will have no need to be ashamed because we will end up face-to-face with our Savior before His throne.

Usable Vessels and Willing Doulos-es

If God has changed our lives, we will actively follow Him. I do not believe that the Bible leaves room for a fruitless, evidence-less Christianity. Now, you could argue faith versus works and pull you a few proof texts (Ephesians 2:8-9 v. James 2:14-17), but, if we are rightly handling the Word and believe that all of it is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), we need to recognize that all of its teachings are true and let its reproof and correction bring us to repentance. So, if you claim to belong to Christ, you must be willing to be His vessel.

Paul uses the illustration here of a house and the different kinds of vessels that can be found in it: gold and silver for honorable use, wood and clay for dishonorable. Much of Churchianity (a made-up word for churchy-religion in the place of biblical Christianity), gets caught up in who gets to be an honorable vessel and who gets to be dishonorable. In fact, too much focus is given to whether we are being honored at all. I want to help us all with a bit of perspective: 1) none of us are honorable until Jesus saves and redeems us, 2) this means that we are all wood/clay until Jesus gives us the value (His value) of gold/silver, and 3) it is much better to be a terracotta chamber pot in the household of King Jesus than a golden toilet in any kingdom of this world (yes, I went there).

If you are in Christ, be thankful for His cleansing (1 John 1:9)! Be thankful that He takes the dishonorable and gives it honorable usage (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)! Be thankful to be set apart, useful to Him, and excited for the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10)! But there is more to Paul’s reminder than we are comfortable with. Not only do we need to be willing to be His vessel; we also must be willing to be His doulos.

In verse 24, we see the phrase “the Lord’s servant”. Before I dive into the original Greek word translated “servant” in the ESV, I believe that the best place to begin is with the meaning of the Greek word for “Lord” in that same phrase. The word “Lord” is kurios, and it means Lord, master, or owner. It speaks of one who has authority over the entire life of another and goes beyond the realm of employer. In the context, doulos would refer to one who is in bondage to serve the kurios. This goes beyond being willing to be used – it recognizes that if we are in Christ that we “are not [our] own, for [we] were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is uncomfortable because of all the – rightful – negative connotations that go with slavery (both in the historical sense with early America and Britain and in the modern sense with human trafficking). But this ain’t that.

This concept goes back to the beginnings of salvation. In these devotions, we often quote Romans 10:9 as a guide to help us see what needs to happen to come to faith in Christ: “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”. This is the submission that takes place. He is Lord/kurios, and we submit and lay down our lives to become His/His doulos. This is a willing submission that sees us go from death to life, from lost to saved, from bound to hell to bound up in His love, grace, and mercy. This sort of submission means that we entrust our past, present, and future to Him. It means that we step out of the driver’s seat and trust Him to lead, and, in that trusting, submitting to live like He has called us to live.

For many, this is a deal-breaker. This is why many people reject Christ and do not follow Him. They do not want to submit to His will. This is also why many who follow cultural Christianity eventually fall away; they simply cannot abide with Christ being Lord and walk away when their will conflicts with His. This is also why I am bringing this up to you today, dear Sojourner. It is not a minor detail that can be dealt with later. It is foundational to who we are in Him – or not.

Look at how Paul shows how much this submission is going to cost Timothy. It is going to cost him some earthly comfort, respect, and put him in a position to receive some dishonor as he serves out his honorable purpose in Christ. To illustrate, let us walk through verses 24-26 to see why. There will be times where a quarrel will seem logical (or even right) and potentially personally-satisfying, but Timothy will have to choose to be kind and endure the evil. There will be times where his opponents will need clear correction, but Timothy will need to remember that kindness is commanded rather than seeking retribution as he corrects. There will be times that call for harshness, but Timothy will have to respond in gentleness. Why? First, because that is exactly what Jesus would have done (and does for us). Second, there is more at stake than Timothy’s (or our) honor – those who oppose him and are currently enemies of his and God’s are people who need Christ. And they are people that God allowed Timothy to be the honorable vessel to preach Christ to them.

Where do we go from here?

There was a time in my life where, if you had asked me what my life verses were, I would have given you 2 Timothy 2:24-26. They were my way of showing how humble I believed I was at the time. I first encountered them in a seminary class, and I felt that I was receiving more dishonor than I thought I could bear. I was encountering more opponents than I could count and used this as my mantra to show how much better I was than them. But, rather than seeking for God to grant them repentance, I became more and more self-righteous and highlighted and bemoaned my trials rather than preaching Christ to them.

I eventually dropped out of seminary and quit on those life verses. I even quit preaching Christ entirely for a time. During that time, I found myself clinging to that self-righteousness. I wore what I perceived to be mistreatment by “church-folks” and the dishonor that I felt I had suffered to be my reason for burning out and walking away. But GOD was not done with me!

God allowed my dishonorable vessel to be cleansed and filled once more. He reminded me of these things not through quarreling but His kindness. He gently corrected me, loved me because I am His, and granted me repentance that lead “to a knowledge of the truth” and allowed me to come to my senses and “escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (vv. 25-26).

He can do the same for you, and that’s good news! I do not know where you are in your walk with Him, but I would be willing to wager that you could desperately use a but GOD moment in your life.

Maybe you realize that you do not know Him and want to come to faith in Him. I would love to talk with you or help point you to a Bible-preaching/believing church where you live!

Maybe your vessel has gotten dirty and been used for the wrong tasks. I would love to pray with you and help you seek God in His Word and find cleansing in Him.

No matter your situation, know that you are loveA close up of a logo

Description automatically generatedd, prayed for, and not alone! No matter what is going on in your life, if you are in Christ, Paul’s reminder to Timothy is both an encouragement and a challenge to us today:

But GOD’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’” (v. 19)

Hallelujah, and amen!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Ti 2:14–26.

Songs for Sunday, October 10, 2021

It’s almost Sunday!

I have a passage on my mind that is going to seem odd considering how excited I am. It’s going to seem a bit sad though I am full of joy reading it. But, then again, that is what hope in Christ does – it flips the sad realities of this earth upside down through the hope of what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do in the future.

Here’s the passage:

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?

Psalm 137:1-4

When these words were written, nearly all of Israel was in exile. The punishment God had promised for the idolatry of their kings and the hearts of His people who were supposed to love Him above all had come into fruition. The temple lay in ruins. Jerusalem’s walls were in shambles. And God’s people were far from His promised land and seemed farther away from the covenant promises they had forsaken.

Those who led Israel in worship now found themselves in the crosshairs of mocking and shame. Where there had once been loud singing and music in their hearts, there was only shame. They hung up their lyres. They traded worship for weeping. All the while, their captors tormented them by asking them to sing some of their beloved “songs of Zion” – basically, sing some of those songs about how much you love the Lord and what all He has done for you….

They had no song or desire to sing, only tears.

Their memories of former glory and worship did nothing to satisfy their longing for rescue in their present. The rubble of the temple and reverence for past faithfulness had no effect on their current weeping.

Those feelings are not exclusive to Babylon.

There was a time in my life that I wanted nothing more than to hang up my guitar and sing no more of the Lord. In fact, I sold my guitar to pay the moving expenses to leave ministry behind to move back home ashamed of quitting and being burned out, afraid of the future.

I had barely been home twenty-four hours when a tormentor ridiculed, asking how dare I quit on the Lord and reminding, almost gleefully, of the shame I felt. And tears fell in my car the same as they had once fell by the waters of Babylon.

The joy I had once felt in leading in worship and preaching the Word were not enough to combat the present sorrow I felt during that time. In fact, all of my efforts were wrapped up in the past – past righteousness, past success, past calling, past motivation, past personal worship of Jesus. But, just as with those worship leaders in Babylon with lyres hung on trees and hopes hung up in their past, I found that the past was not enough to sustain my present, much less my future.

Thankfully, God brought repentance and, little-by-little, joy back into my life following after Him. Just as He did for Israel, He healed the pain of my exile, helped me follow Him more closely than I ever did in the past, and held out His mighty hand to me because “He cares” for me (1 Peter 5:7). I remembered that Jesus is alive and well, seated on the throne, and found myself rejoicing in the pains of my past because they highlight Him and how He was with me every step of the way.

And that’s how we will “sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land” tomorrow. That may seem odd since we will be in our homeland, so-to-speak, but this world is not our home because “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)! We will gather together, not because of our past faithfulness but HIS! We will remember what He has done, but we will rejoice because our resurrected King is doing things – working for our good and His glory – NOW! And we will rejoice that our exile in this old world is not permanent and He has promised us future eternity with Him where the last of the tears from Babylon will be wiped away by His own hand (Revelation 21:4)!

So, I hope you will join us tomorrow as we make much of Jesus. You can’t do anything about your past, but – PRAISE GOD – He already has! And He has given hope for a better future than we could ever earn on our own.

Here are our Scriptures & songs:

  • Romans 6:1-5

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

  • Romans 6:6-11

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.


We invite you to join us this Sunday at Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS!

We have Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30a and worship – everyone is welcome – at 11:00a!

If you are concerned about social distancing or are at-risk, consider gathering with us at 10:00a for a small group Bible study in our worship center. There is plenty of room to spread out, but there is also opportunity to gather with others at the same time! No one will crowd you, and you can exit out of our side door and avoid the crowd coming in to worship after the Bible study!

We also continue to live stream from Pastor John Goldwater’s facebook page and have current and past services on the CCC YouTube page.


Refresh & Restore – September 9, 2021

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[1]

Romans 5:6-11


Greetings, Sojourner!

As we continue to look at the idea of “but God” – that God intersects Himself into the lives of people, even our own, we are going to delve more and more into what is known as the gospel. You probably feel very comfortable with the idea of the gospel, but you may not feel as comfortable defining it. At its very simplest it means “good news”, specifically the good news about what God has done for us in Jesus. The specific Greek word that our word gospel comes from (evangelion) is a compound word made up of the words for “good, well” and “proclaim, tell”, giving the meaning that we should be going and telling the good news of Jesus.

In our current world, good news is all too often associated with bad news. Many people (unfortunately, many church people fall into this category) are now bad news people. They (often, we) thrive on bad news. My friend Jamie describes those people as always having their horse in a ditch; no matter their situation, its always the worst. Mainstream media thrives on terrible news, the next always out devastating the earlier. I talk to students every day whose days are consistently worse or the worst. I have to fight within myself to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated” instead of “things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). When asked how I am, I find myself saying phrases like “making it” or “I’m present” even when things are actually going well.

Realistically and biblically speaking, things are going to continue escalating – even for those whose joy is in the Lord – showing us that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1). Yet can we not rest in assurance by holding “fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)? Can we not rejoice that our God remains strong and unaffected by the realities of bad? To a certain extent, we may even have to ask whether the good news of the gospel can be good without news of the reality of evil, wickedness and sin – even and especially in our own hearts.

In today’s passage, the presence and existence of sin and its impact on lost sinners makes the good news sweeter. It is, after all, sin that reveals our need for a Savior. So, today, we are going to look at the reality of sin and God’s wrath toward it to understand how those who are saved can say that they were once sinners, but God redeemed them – once were enemies but God reconciled them, even still.

Give Me the Bad News First

In this section of Romans, Paul uses several words to talk about the existence of what we will call bad news: “weak” and “ungodly” in v. 6, “sinners” in v. 8, “wrath of God” in v. 9, and “enemies” in v. 10. Before we dive into these words and their effects, I would like to remind you of our passage from last week’s devotion where we looked at Peter preaching that repentance and turning from one’s sin is what brings the “times of refreshing…from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20) – that the reality of the bad news move people’s hearts to turn from their sins to the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ! So, we will move through the words listed above and hope that God moves our hearts to repentance, faith, and hope in Him.

The words “weak” and “ungodly” in v. 6 are fair and valid descriptions of the before of anyone who is saved or the reality of all who are not born again, redeemed, or saved by Jesus. To say that we were “weak” is to say that we could do nothing to save ourselves. The “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), illustrating that all of our work – all we can accomplish – is sin and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). In reality, it is our own sinfulness that separates us from God and makes us “ungodly”. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was tempted to sin in “every respect” that we have yet remained “without sin”. Sinners are his opposites. It leaves us “separated from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

You would think that is about as bad as the news could get. But, then again, we have yet to get to the “wrath of God” in v. 9. This is definitely not a popular or comfortable topic, even for people who crave bad news. Spiros Zodhiates defines the word translated “wrath” here as “the effect of anger or wrath, …  punishment … from God, referring to divine judgment to be inflicted upon the wicked”[2], so it is a reference to the reality of hell (Matthew 3:7, 10:28, 23:33; Luke 16:23; Romans 1:18, 2:8; Colossians 3:6; Revelation 14:10, 20:13-14). God does have wrath toward sin. I am a sinner myself, so that scares me more than I have words or ability to describe. The reality of the bad news is made complete when, in v. 10, we realize that being the focus of God’s wrath classifies us as His “enemies”.

As I said, this bad news frightens me because I know me! I know that what the Bible says about my sin and my heart is true! But I also know that my story does not end as an enemy on whom God has and is going to pour out His wrath. I know that I deserve it, but my story takes a turn with the reality that all of this is true, but God…!

Alright, Give Me the Good News Now

As I have stated several times, bad news makes good news better! Water is never more refreshing than when you have been laboring on the hottest day. One’s health is never more valuable than after facing death or disease. Loved ones are never more cherished than when experiencing great loss. And no one will ever turn from their sin to the Savior without the reality of sin, death, and the wrath of God!

If you looked at our passage for today, you know that this is not a passage of doom, gloom, and terror. No! This is a passage of redemption, salvation, and life! Each of these realities that we have looked at as part of the bad news has a rescue available through faith in Jesus Christ!

Yes, sinners are “weak” and “ungodly”, but at the “right time” Christ gave His own life that they may believe in Him and live! He came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) that they may be “found in Him, not having a righteousness of [their] own [actions and deeds], but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9)!

It is in His willing sacrifice for sinners that He “shows His love for us” (v. 8). In America, we have a long heritage of people willing to serve their country, to give their lives if the need arises, so that the American people can have the freedoms we celebrate. Yet we also have prisons full of wicked men and women for whom no one would dare to die. Our American soldiers have gone up against and fought evils from Nazi fascism to terrorist despots and beyond. Yet Christ’s sacrifice stands apart even from theirs. He – our “blessed hope”, our “great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) – demonstrated “the great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4) by reminding us “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8).

This is a love that we cannot fathom. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up because we are too weak to do that. He did not wait for us to find goodness in ourselves because we are ungodly. He did not wait for us to come for Him because He came for us! He came for us while we were sinners. He came in righteous and redemptive love while we were still facing the reality of His wrath as His enemies. That’s good news! There is no better.

The Depths of God’s Love for Sinners Like Us

I am afraid that my trying to illustrate just how good this news is will fall short, and, ultimately, it will because He is better and more powerful and more loving than any feeble human words could describe. So, I want to draw your attention to the reality of what that love cost Him. Let His Word move on your heart and clarify this.

  • God’s love cost Him His Son (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.”
  • Jesus did not deserve to die in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21): “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
  • Jesus bore our sin that we may have life in Him:
    • (1 Peter 2:24) “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.”
    • (Colossians 2:13-14) “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
  • His resurrection means that His love continues forevermore!
    • (vv. 10-11) “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. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
    • (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….”
    • (1 Corinthians 15:54-57) When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

No matter the reality of the bad news of your sin, you can look to the Savior. Your reality may seem dire, but God alone determines your eternity.

Will you trust in Him and in His great love today?


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 5:6–11.

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

Refresh & Restore — September 2, 2021


Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”[1]

Acts 3:1-26

Greetings, Sojourner!

I am excited about the new series we are beginning today. It is almost like the idea of it has been picking at the edges of my mind for quite some time, and I hope over the next month or so we can see just how beautiful, awesome, hope-giving, and worship-inspiring the words “but God” can be.

While the phrase is just two words, it carries a lot of weight. The word “but” carries with it the idea that whatever comes after it cancels out what preceded it. In this case, whatever comes before is canceled out by God. “But God” carries with it the message of the gospel that shows us that whatever came before – sin, shame, guilt, condemnation, death – is canceled out through the death of Jesus on the cross and, most importantly, His resurrection from the grave! For those of us who live a lot of our lives in the whatever-came-before, there is perhaps no greater comfort than “but God”, knowing that He is a God willing to intervene and make the sad things come untrue in Him. May we find hope in this truth – truths, really – over the weeks to come.

To begin, we are going to look at a passage that we have looked at a couple of times already. It was in this very passage that the idea of these Refresh & Restore devotions came about. In this passage, we see two men whose testimony was “but God”. Peter and John, two ordinary fishermen from some backwater hamlet had their whole lives changed when they met Jesus. They followed Him and became fishers of men (Mark 1:17). Little did they know as they approached the temple to pray that they would reel in a powerful opportunity to see God move in the life of a man who desperately needed God to interrupt his status quo – and get an awesome opportunity to offer the same hope to others and preach outside the temple.

Paralyzed & Poor BUT GOD…

For a “man lame from birth” (v. 2), there were not many options to make a living, but he was blessed to have people who would carry him and putting him in the path of people heading to the temple. Imagine the conviction you would feel encountering a person laying outside your church building “to ask alms of those entering” (v. 3); surely we would be willing to help under any circumstance, but especially one so convicting! The Beautiful Gate was covered in Corinthian Bronze and richly elaborate. There was no better place for one seeking to be richly blessed by people who would be nearly guaranteed to help him.

He was more blessed than he knew when Peter and John walked up. He asked for monetary help from them, but they were poor themselves. BUT GOD moved in the paralyzed man’s life by having Peter and John share of Christ instead of coins – the power of the Almighty instead of alms! Peter’s words in verse 6 fire me up every time I read them: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Basically, “We’re as poor as you, buddy, except in one area – our God is rich in mercy and overflowing in love and power; in His name, come here!” The entire trajectory of this man’s life pivoted in this “but God” moment!

It seems so simple when we see the words written. Peter reached out and took the man’s hand in his, and “immediately his feet and ankles were made strong” (v. 7). Think of how much it takes to learn to walk for the first time – how long it takes to build the muscles, impulses from the brain, reflexes from so many unperceived impulses. Yet a lifetime of brain chemistry and years of physical therapy occurred in as much time as it took Peter to invoke Jesus’ name. And rightfully, the man’s first steps were not just walking but also leaping, and more than that praising God (v. 8)! As unexpected as this must have been for these three men, none of it was a surprise to God who prophesied such things would come about when He would intersect history in the person of Jesus:

Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Isaiah 35:4-6

In Isaiah’s days, these prophesies gave hope but must have seemed so distant, but God gave hope in their fulfillment in the name of Jesus.

Guilty of Killing Christ BUT GOD…

As I said, we have looked extensively at Peter’s sermon before (here, here, & here) since we first launched this ministry. Today, I want us to look at the context of the hope that Peter offered in his sermon outside the temple.

The formerly-paralyzed man clung to Peter and John and followed them – actually ran – to Solomon’s Porch on the side of the temple (v. 11). Peter and John’s fishing expedition was about to cast a much wider net! The crowd could not help but recognize the drastic difference in the man and were rightly “filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (vv. 9-10). Peter began his second sermon, and the content was quite shocking and definitely much tougher than many typical evangelism sermons.

Some of those men in the crowd were in a crowd a few months earlier that was crying, “Crucify! Crucify!” That’s right. The Holy Spirit through Peter called them out by saying, “Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life…” (vv. 13b-15a).

Some, when looking at this passage see Peter seeking vengeance for His crucified Savior and friend. They see anger and empathize with the pain he must have felt. But we need to remember that God’s Spirit was at work this day, not the Peter who drew his sword in the garden. No, I believe that the Peter here today was in full remembrance of the sound of the rooster crowing to herald his betrayal of Jesus. I believe Peter remembered the forgiveness of Jesus when He asked him once for each denial whether he loved Him. I see Peter here essentially preaching to these lost men who voted in favor of crucifying their Messiah something similar to what he said to the paralyzed man. I hear him saying, “What I do have I give to you. I also betrayed the Holy and Righteous One and have experienced His grace.” I hear that in the way that he gave them the offer to “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (vv. 19-20b). Rather than vengeance, he offered the chance to “repent” or cease their sinning and “turn back” to the God they had sought to kill. He reminded them that while they were successful in killing Jesus that His death did not stick because “God raised [Him] from the dead” (v. 15). Essentially, he said you meant evil and committed great sin, but God has already undone it. They had great guilt due to great sin, but God offered grace to be found in the presence of Him who they killed.

There were many who entered the temple mount dead in their sins, but God gave life – that day alone – when “many of those who had heard the Word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (ch 4:4)!

BUT GOD Still Today

When Peter was preaching in Solomon’s porch and confronted those men of their sin, he said, “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer He thus fulfilled” (v. 18). It is because of this we can trust in what He says. If He will prophesy that He would take on our sin “for our sakes” (2 Cor. 5:21), we can trust that He, having our best interests at heart, will be sure to offer those who repent and trust in Him “times of refreshing in His presence” (v. 19) and, ultimately, will restore “all things about which God spoke” (v. 21).

Maybe you have yet to have that “but God” moment where God intersects Himself into your life. I cannot intervene for you. I cannot save you. I may not even be able to meet your physical or temporary needs. But what I do have, I give to you: the message of hope that comes from Christ alone.

Will you receive what He offers?


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 3:1–26.

Refresh & Restore — July 29, 2021

23  Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.[1]

Psalm 73:23-28

Greetings, Sojourner!

We are going to take a brief break in our Ruth series. I feel like there is someone out there who needs to hear this. If not, maybe I just need to write it.

I struggle.

I just want to lay that out there – I do; I struggle. My mind is often a mess, as is my heart. I do not have it (whatever “it” is) all together. I get depressed. I get stuck in my own head.

I am human. I am a sinner. Like I said, I struggle.

As I was reading the Word and studying this morning, I came across this passage. I was initially going to use it for an upcoming series, but I just could not get it to fit. I also could not get it off my mind and heart – two phrases specifically were sticking with me: “nevertheless” (v. 23) and “but God” (v. 26).

So, if you will indulge me. I would like to share a word with you today for those who struggle – for those who do not have it all together. And, it is my hope, dear Sojourner, that you realize you are not alone.

Nevertheless

In the ESV translation, the publishers titled this psalm “God is My Strength and Portion Forever”. That sounds so positive and good. And that is exactly how Psalm 73 starts out: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (v. 1). That is good news if you are Israel or if your heart is “pure”. However, I feel like we are more likely to fall in with the beginning of v. 2 which says, “But as for me…”.

One of my Bible school kiddos did an excellent job explaining what the conjunction “but” means. He said that it cancels out everything that comes before and replaces it with what comes after. So, all that good news for Israel and pure-hearted folks is cancelled and replaced with the psalmist’s (his name is Asaph[2]) reality. He describes his situation like one whose feet “had almost stumbled” or “had nearly slipped” (v. 2). And what tripped him up was his own heart because he was “envious” of “the prosperity of the wicked” (v. 3).

It is easy to get tripped up. For me, it does not have to be some outside stimulus; to quote Tyler Perry, “I can do bad all by myself.” My own mind has a magnetic pull toward darkness. My heart is drawn toward sin like a moth to a flame. But what Asaph describes shows how disheartening our problem can be since he is jealous of those who blatantly work evil because they seem to be doing well (and you can infer that he is trying to do good and struggling).

If you look at how he describes them, it does not seem as if they are doing very well at all. He says that they are not suffering and have all their appetites filled (v. 4). They do not have the same troubles as other folks, “like the rest of mankind” (v. 5). But he also says that their pride and violence is all over them like clothing (v. 6) and that, while they have their appetites filled, they are actually filled with foolishness (v. 7). Ultimately, that foolishness leads them to mock God and mistreat others (vv. 8-11).

Rather than see their plight for what it truly is, Asaph is blinded by his desire to have his appetites filled – to have his own way. Instead of seeing the danger of their lifestyle, he sees them “at ease” and how “they increase in riches” (v. 12). He feels as if his pursuit of God was “all in vain” (v. 13) because of how difficult it was to follow God rather than his own desires (vv. 14-15).

I love the way that verses 16-17 transition and get us closer to our passage today: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to be a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” When he was wallowing in sinful desires and flirting with following the wicked rather than God, it “seemed…wearisome”. It seemed that way until he got alone with God in His “sanctuary”. Then the truth became clear.

That is how that works. When we are with God, spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer, things seem so clear. Yet when we try to live like the world things get muddled. He was jealous of the prosperity of the wicked until he basked in the glory of the only Righteous One! In the presence of God, he could see that those he was jealous of were on “slippery places” and headed toward “ruin” (v. 18). All that prosperity they flaunted would be “destroyed in a moment” (v. 19) as God cast them away like one would a bad dream upon waking (v. 20).

More importantly, Asaph – because of the time he spent with God – saw himself more clearly and honestly! He began to discover that he was closer to the wicked than he was the Righteous One (v. 22)! He found that his “soul was embittered” – he was disheartened. But the good news is that through all of this he was “pricked in the heart” (v. 21). To be pricked in one’s heart is to be sharpened, honed, or taught. In his covetousness of the wealth of the wicked, his heart had become dull. He had grown weary of doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13).

Not only was it good news that his heart was pricked and repentance began to occur, the fact that he could say “nevertheless” in the midst of those difficulties was good news! This is a beautiful contrast to his early descriptions of slipping and sliding because he realizes God was continually with him and holding his right hand providing strength and support (v. 23)! He realized that he was not going to fall – even though he found himself stumbling – because God was guiding him (v. 24). And he realized that striving after temporary rewards like what the wicked had could not compare with the glory that would come “afterward” from his God (v. 24, 2 Corinthians 4:17)!

But God

How easy it is to veer from the path! It does not take much to steer our hearts and minds in the wrong direction; after all, we are only human! Yet the closer we get to God, and the more we realize that what the Bible says about Him is true, the easier it is to see our desire shift – little by little – from the fading, temporary appetites of the earth to God. Asaph’s desires shift when he realizes that there is no one like God and nothing on earth that can compare with Him (v. 25).

The most common advice is to follow one’s heart. But look at where following his heart got Asaph! He began to learn what we find in Jeremiah 17:9-10:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

He could see how his heart and flesh would fail him (v. 26). In fact, that was his reality, slipping and sliding on his path instead of following God on the foundation of His Word. The good news – for Asaph and for us today – comes in the middle of verse 26 – “but God”. Remember that “but” cancels everything before it and replaces it with what comes after. The good news here is that God’s strength replaces our failing hearts and minds; God becomes our “portion”, satisfying our hunger, to replace our earthly failings and lusts. That’s good news!

But For [Us]

Asaph wraps up his psalm by sharing what God taught him through this tough and disheartening time: salvation comes from God and that those who are “far from [Him]” and “unfaithful to [Him] will ultimately “perish” (v. 27). That is bad news for those who do not know the Lord, but it is true. This highlights the contrast in verse 28 when Asaph says, “but for me it is good”. Again, we see that “but” changes things up.

Asaph’s “but for me” shows that his faith in God – his nearness and relationship with Him – has cancelled out the perishing that others would experience. Rather than desiring their wealth, he now takes refuge in “the Lord God” and sets out to “tell of all [His] works” (v. 28). We need the same thing for ourselves today. Maybe you are like me and find yourself disheartened from time to time (or depressed, in a funk, whatever you want to call it). The only lasting solution that I have found is that of Asaph – to take up the “wearisome task” of moping our way to “the sanctuary of God” and letting Him set us aright.

If you are not saved, then you have nothing to set right. In fact, you need a new heart altogether (Ezekiel 11:19). But I urge you: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). God offers us the same help that He gave to Asaph. Yet we have hope that Asaph did not yet realize. God has already come down to help us in Jesus Christ (John 1:14). He has walked every path that we need to walk, overcome every temptation we will encounter, and paid the price so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

If you belong to Him but feel like you are slipping, I want to urge you to reach out to Him. Heed Peter’s words from 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” Then, we can call out to Christ with the words of Asaph:

“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.”


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 73:23–28.

[2] Asaph was a worship leader from back in the days of David (1 Chronicles 15:16, Nehemiah 12:46).

Refresh & Restore — July 8, 2021

Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 4 Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

Christmas is a time when we are able to remember hope, peace, joy,  and salvation — to focus on the One who is the brings those things to  us. We want to give you the opportunity to look at the whole Story of  Jesus – not just the divine swaddled baby in the manger, but the young  boy who taught the teachers in the temple, the man who served rather  than being served, and the Savior who died and rose again “in accordance  with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV). There are twenty-four  chapters in Luke’s gospel, and, between December 1 and Christmas Eve, we  have time to look at the full account of Jesus’ life – and thereby hope  for ours as well. This reading guide is an opportunity to spend time reading God’s Word, singing His praises, and meditating on the Gift – Jesus Christ. You can access the reading guide here, free of charge: https://justkeithharris.com/2021/11/24/christmas-to-calvary-reading-guide/
  1. Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 4
  2. Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 3
  3. Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 2
  4. Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 1
  5. Reclaiming Meditation — Episode 3 (Thanksgiving)

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.

Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 4 Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

Christmas is a time when we are able to remember hope, peace, joy,  and salvation — to focus on the One who is the brings those things to  us. We want to give you the opportunity to look at the whole Story of  Jesus – not just the divine swaddled baby in the manger, but the young  boy who taught the teachers in the temple, the man who served rather  than being served, and the Savior who died and rose again “in accordance  with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV). There are twenty-four  chapters in Luke’s gospel, and, between December 1 and Christmas Eve, we  have time to look at the full account of Jesus’ life – and thereby hope  for ours as well. This reading guide is an opportunity to spend time reading God’s Word, singing His praises, and meditating on the Gift – Jesus Christ. You can access the reading guide here, free of charge: https://justkeithharris.com/2021/11/24/christmas-to-calvary-reading-guide/
  1. Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 4
  2. Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 3
  3. Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 2
  4. Christmas to Calvary (Advent Readings through Luke's Gospel) — December 1
  5. Reclaiming Meditation — Episode 3 (Thanksgiving)

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.