Refresh & Restore — August 11, 2022

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

Psalm 119:27-28

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

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

Greetings Sojourners!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He loves me and you, too.

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

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

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

Passages for Meditation

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

Nahum 1:7

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

1 Peter 5:6-7

19  Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20    My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21    But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
23    they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24    “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”

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

Lamentations 3:19-26

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 40:21-31

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

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

Philippians 4:4-9

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

Matthews 11:28-30

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

Refresh & Restore — July 28, 2022

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.[1]

Colossians 3:5-11

Greetings Sojourners!

Today is my 37th birthday, and birthdays are a good time for introspection.

Younger me had a lot of different goals over the years – plans for where I thought I would be by this point in my life. At 7, I wanted to be a “singing-preacher” (what I thought a minister of music was). At 17, my plans included teaching for a few years, getting my master’s degree, becoming a principal, and having a doctorate by 35 years old. At 27, I wanted to overcome the burnout and depression I was experiencing. I had burned out and quit ministry a few weeks before my 30th birthday and moved back home.

If someone had told me in 2015 that I would have the contentment and peace I have today in my walk with Christ and in my home life, I would have laughed in their face and probably told them they were full of something. I spent so long wanting to be something that I lost track of who I was. My identity became wrapped up in my job. That is a very modern way of putting the situation. Biblically, workaholism is a form of the sin of pride. Burnout, for me, was when my prideful pursuit of being somebody turned into the realization that work or status could never give me what I was looking for – was never intended to provide the feelings and validation I craved (really, coveted).

All of that sounds really negative (it definitely felt negative), but as I sit here in reflection today, God has blessed me and fulfilled me over the past seven years in ways I never could have imagined. The first blessing was finding Him in His Word and in prayer and realizing that He had never moved. The second blessing is realizing how amazing and beautiful a life God had built me by giving me Candice and the kiddos. There were more blessings than I can possibly list here, but ultimately, finding my identity in Christ helped me see which aspects of my life needed to removed – or put to death. Work had to have its place. Success and recognition had to have theirs, too. Eventually, after a lot of repenting, life rearrangement, correction through the Word, and more than a little training from Candice, I found joy in pastoral ministry that I never had in the years prior to burning out.

I do not want you to miss this: the issue that burned me out was sin. Pride is a dangerous thing. It is like the carbon monoxide of sinfulness – tasteless, odorless, and deadly. It crept in subtly and slyly. It began with a mix of not getting the recognition I felt I deserved. People told me that. Church folks, even. Then, I got a taste of recognition. Humility left quickly. I wanted more. The idea that I could become something quickly overtook my ministerial life. The fulfillment that came from compliments and attaboys was fleeting. The larger my pride became, the smaller my satisfaction. I just wanted to quit – and did! But pride tainted that, too. I faked a sabbatical so I would not have to live with the reality of failure, intending to extend it until I could bear the reality that I was spent.

As I said, there were things in my life that needed to be killed – that needed to be dead to me. There were areas of my life that had to be pruned, cutting away some of the weeds and thorns that were keeping me from growing. That is what Paul is talking about in this section of Colossians. In the midst of their dealing with false teachers, they had sin of their own that needed to be taken off as well as aspects of being like Christ that they needed to put on. We, like the Colossian church, need to be active in putting to death the sin in our lives and taking it off so that we can live the life we have in Christ.

Put to Death (vv. 3-7)

There is a famous quote from the puritan pastor John Owen: “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”[2] In that quote, he describes a daily process of examining one’s life in order to kill – mortify, as he calls it – sin before it kills you. If you compare that to the way we talk about sin today, Owen sounds a bit crazy. How can he take something so seriously that obviously is not anymore? Either he is wrong, or the modern view of sin is. Which one lines up with the Bible? Owen, obviously.

There is a lot of anxiety around talking about what sin is. I have read or heard no fewer than a dozen people – in the last month, mind you – who talked about how things that used to be a sin or actions that people used to consider sin are sins no longer. This is related to the necessary presuppositions we have been talking about over the past month. If you believe the Bible really is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then what it calls sin is sin. If you believe that those who are saved are different, as taught in the Bible (Ephesians 4:20-24), then what is taught to be sin in the Bible should no longer be a part of our lives. God knows what we need and how we need to live – and not live.

Before we dive into what appears to be the first of two lists of sins, we need to ask ourselves a question: if sin really is as deadly as the Bible says it is (Romans 6:23, James 1:14-15), why would someone want to convince us otherwise? It reminds me of the difference in the way people talk about cigarettes now versus how they did thirty years ago. Thirty years ago, the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel were cool culturally and iconic. Then, the dadgum surgeon general decided to attack the tobacco industry and act like cigarettes could cause lung cancer. I remember seeing commercials in the 90s talking about why “big tobacco” wanted to downplay the cancer risk of smoking: they wanted to sell cigarettes. Who would take advantage of us like that in regarding sin?

Ultimately, Satan! Look at the way he is described in Revelation 12:12: “But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). His agenda is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He is dangerous in that since “he knows his time is short” he is like a predator backed into a corner. But understand this: he is not looking for minions to rule over in hell. He is not going to be in charge there. He is going to be an inmate. And he is spitefully evil and wants to see as many people misled as he can.

As we begin to look at these sins listed, we need to acknowledge a few things. First, God’s Spirit gave the list, not Paul. These were not pet peeves that Paul had and wanted to get rid of or to pick on. We need to be careful and guard against calling “evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Second, we must be careful to present it as it is in the Bible. There is always a temptation to emphasize sins that we hate while making light of sins we either commit ourselves or that we just do not think are a big deal. God alone gets to set the agenda regarding His righteous standard and sin. We must guard against letting our own agendas try to steer the text of Scripture.

I have thought a lot about how to present this information and have decided to merely list it out in a chart format. I have used the same lexicon and Greek dictionary on all the words to present their definitions fairly. Even when there are not quotations in the definitions, the information comes from Spiros Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament[3]. More importantly, I looked at every verse in the New Testament and a few from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament, 3rd century b.c.) that contained these words. This may seem like a boring way to present the information, but I want to make sure you can see what the information is and keep it as objective and free from bias as I can. Take notice of some of the passages that are used multiple times as it shows that those particular sins were affecting multiple places, people groups, and churches.

These are the sins Paul says we need to put to death – things that are “earthly” rather than godly:

“sexual immorality” πορνεία (porneía)This is a catch-all term that describes anything sexual that deviates from the intimacy between husband and wife. The WSNTDICT uses “fornication” as a part of the definition, which means any sex outside of marriage, emphasizing that the sin is not merely an issue of timing (like calling it premarital sex) but emphasizing that marriage between a husband and wife is God’s plan for sex.1 Corinthians 6:13 – “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” – and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

1 Corinthians 6:18 – Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

1 Corinthians 7:2 – But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

2 Corinthians 12:21 – I fear that when my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality….

Ephesians 5:3 – But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality….

Revelation 9:21 – …nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
“impurity” ἀκαθαρσία akatharsíaThis basically means unclean, but it not as clear cut as the idea of being unclean in the OT. This means that something has been tainted by sin and gives a connotation of being rotten. This sort of sin can be by oneself or with others.Romans 1:24 – Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.

Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality….

1 Thessalonians 2:3 – For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive….

Matthew 23:27 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  
“passion” πάθος páthosThis word is only used three times in the NT. Our passage and the one from 1 Thessalonians imply or include lust while the Romans usage is accompanied by “dishonorable”. The understanding is that these particular passions negatively affect those who participate in them.Romans 1:26 – For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature….

1 Thessalonians 4:5 – …not in the passions of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God….
“evil desire” ἐπιθυμία epithumíaThis word is stronger than the English portrays. There is a longing – almost lust – that accompanies this desire. It is like an appetite that needs to be satisfied.1 Timothy 6:9 – But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction….

2 Timothy 3:6 – For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and lead astray by various passions….

2 Timothy 4:3 – For the time has come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions….

Titus 3:3 – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

James 1:14-15 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

1 Peter 1:14 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance….

1 Peter 4:2-3 – …so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensualities, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

2 Peter 1:4 – …by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

2 Peter 3:3 – …knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.

Jude 16-18 – There are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires, they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
covetousness, which is idolatry” πλεονεξία pleonexíaThis is an interesting word. It means covetousness or greediness, but it has a kind of inherent meaning of being the root of other sins – like greediness that sparks a desire to do other sins.   It is idolatry because it seeks to forsake God as the object of worship by being filled or satisfied by things of earth.Romans 1:29 – They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips….

Ephesians 5:3-5 – But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.

Luke 12:15 – And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Wrapping Up

He follows this list saying that “on account” of these sins “the wrath of God is coming” (v. 6). The wrath of God is not to be taken lightly. It describes the attitude of God toward sin. He hates it (Psalm 5:4). That hatred drives His wrathfulness toward sin.

I mentioned earlier how we need to be careful not to over-emphasize or de-emphasize sin but rather to look at it the way it is presented in the Word. There are many preachers who use sin and fear of God’s wrath (which is appropriate) to, in a sense, scare the hell out of people – to motivate them to follow Christ out of a fear of God’s wrath and eternal damnation.

What I want you to see here is that, for those who put their faith in Jesus, He bore the wrath of God our sins deserve on the cross (Colossians 2:13-14, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 9:26, Isaiah 53:10-11). We are all of the things represented – all of the wickedness – in the lists above. Jesus is none of those things. But “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Love is a much better motivator than fear!

So, if you read through those sins and looked at the verses that show them for what they truly are – that show us sinners who we are, you can either decide to ignore what you know about the wrath of God or you can embrace the offer of love and forgiveness.

I do not sit here and type this in judgment. There is no ulterior motive of condemnation. No, I am a sinner, too. The difference is that I have put my trust in Jesus – what He has done on the cross, His resurrection, and what He is doing and going to do. I have given my life to Him. And little by little, day by day, year by year, He makes me more like Him. The sin that I clung to so closely becomes distasteful. And He appears more lovely and dear.

Will you take an honest assessment of your life? I hope that in doing so you realize your need for Him. If you would like to talk to someone, reach out; I would love to help you. If you realize that you have become distant from Him, repent and turn back; He has not moved. Remember the warning from John Owen: you better be killing the sin in your life because it is surely killing you. But Jesus…. He offers life.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:5–11.

[2] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 9.

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

Refresh & Restore — July 21, 2022

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.[1]

Colossians 3:5-11

Greetings Sojourners!

If you look back over the first seventeen installments of our study of Colossians (this is the eighteenth!), I have said again and again how much I love the book of Colossians. And I do. How much I love to study it. Again, I do. But the book of Colossians can be tough – it is meant to be, yet it is loving in its toughness. I am not particularly excited to write on this particular section, though. Why? It deals with sin.

Oftentimes, if asked, church folks would remark that sin is a constant topic in sermons they hear. And it may be in some places. I am reminded of an episode of The Andy Griffith Show that features Barney Fife, sitting right on the front row, sleeping through the sermon of a prestigious visiting preacher. As they were filing out of the church, Aunt Bee, Andy, and Barney stop to talk to their pastor and the visiting preacher:

Aunt Bee: Oh, Dr. Breen, your sermon has such a wonderful lesson for us.

Andy: Yes, sir, you really hit the nail right on the head there.

Barney: Yes, sir, that’s one subject you just can’t talk enough about…sin!

The studio’s laughter follows as does Andy’s embarrassment, but this reveals something about the nature of people’s attitudes toward preaching and studying the Bible – especially within the church. There is a hellfire-and-brimstone view that has left many callous toward talking about sin, in some cases injured by a misuse of talking about sin, or ignorant of it because some pastors refuse to talk about it at all.

When we talk about sin, read about it in the Bible, or listen to sermons from passages that deal with sin, what do we say, understand, or hear about it? If asked, most who are part of a local church would say that they believe the Bible is true and what it says is necessary to live, but what about when we get out into the world? What about our lives and the lives of those around us? When the rubber hits the road, the majority of us would definitely disagree with Barney and feel that we have had enough talking about sin.

Before we get into this passage, I believe we need to have a brief reminder of the presuppositions – “basic beliefs that are essential for a particular type of study to be conducted”[2] – that we have stated to be necessary to study the Bible.

  1. The Bible is what it claims to be (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is God’s Word. It is true. It contains everything that can be known about God and is sufficient to bring us to Him.
  2. There is a difference in the lives of those who know Christ – are saved/born again – and those who do not – are lost/dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-10, 4:20-24).

Today, we add to those the fact that God has authority over creation, which He Himself created. What He intended to be right is right, and what He intended to be wrong is wrong. What He says (see presupposition one) goes. That means He has the authority to declare what sin is. Again, most church folks would say they agree with those statements, but what about when His Word declares an activity you enjoy as a sin? What if it was your family, friends, or kids?

What happens when one of your presuppositions or your world view is challenged by something you come across in the Bible? I am quick to say that, when confront with this in theory, my beliefs will change if I find they are contradictory to God’s Word. That is theory; what about when that theory intersects real life?

This is where the pre- part of presuppositions is extremely important. These beliefs need to be nailed down before the rubber hits the road. Look at people in the Bible who we would call “heroes” whose beliefs before their trials and tribulations made the difference in how they made it through.

  • Joseph survived his brothers faking his death, selling him into slavery (Genesis 37:12-28), being slandered by his master’s wife (Genesis 39:1-21), and ending up forgotten in Pharaoh’s dungeon (Genesis 40). Yet he was faithful throughout because of the beliefs that came before and could say to the very brothers whose jealousy set all those terrible events in motion that led to Joseph being exalted by Pharaoh: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:19-20).
  • Job’s worship of God was tested in ways we never hope to experience. God Himself described him as being unlike any other person on earth – “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8, 2:3). Satan took his children. His great material wealth was brought to nothing. Satan asked even to be able to attack his health because if one were to “stretch out [their] hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse You to Your face” (Job 2:5). So, Satan made it so their were sores from the tip top of Job’s head to the soles of his feet (Job 2:7). Yet despite all the loss and pain – including three knot-headed friends and a disparaging wife – Job never recants his faith in God.
  • Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego) were taken from their homes, imprisoned, indoctrinated, and made into eunuchs (Daniel 1). Their names that spoke of Yahweah were traded for names proclaiming gods of Babylon (Daniel 1:7). Yet they continued the faith in Babylon as they “had done previously” (Daniel 6:10) and saw God strengthen their bodies (Daniel 1:8-21), answer their prayers (Daniel 2:17-18), give interpretation to dreams (Daniel 2:19-45, 4:19-27), stand with them in the midst of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16-26), and shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:16-24).

The faith and beliefs that come before mattered when it came time to live them out.

For that reason, today’s Bible study will serve as a reminder of what the Bible teaches about sin and why Paul wrote Colossians 3:5-11.

How Sin Works (James 1:13-15)

Most of the time when we talk about sin, we talk about it generically. If asked in church who is a sinner, we are quick to remark that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). At Christ Community, if one of our pastors asks the congregation what the “wages of sin” is, there is a resounding “death” (Romans 6:23). But that is generic. That is hypothetical sin. What about when it gets personal? We see it in other people’s lives and are well-acquainted with their sins. But, when it comes to recognizing it in ourselves, we are like the hypocrite Jesus describes in Matthew 7:1-5; we have a giant log stuck in our eye (unconfessed sin we are willfully ignorant of) while trying to point out the sawdust in the eye of another (sin we would rather recognize). We know how sin works in the lives of others but all too often fail to recognize it – and repent of it – in our own lives. It is important for us to know and understand how the Bible talks about sin and let our lives – “assuming that you have heard about [Jesus] and were taught in Him, as the truth is” (Ephesians 4:21).

If we were to describe the workings of one’s life, we call it the life cycle. James 1:13-15 clearly defines the cycle of sin from temptation to death:

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.[3]

In this brief passage, we see three things that are necessary for our understanding of sin.

First, we see that sin does not come from God. To see it one needs only to look back to the Fall in Genesis 3 and the first sin ever to be committed. God told Adam what was right. He gave Him the idyllic garden of Eden and every tree in the garden for food – except one. God told Adam that to eat of that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, would cause him to “surely die” (Genesis 2:16). There has been debate as long as there has been a Bible as to who made whom sin: Adam, Eve, or the Serpent. The serpent had his role, to be sure, but Adam and Eve each made their own decisions to disobey the commandment of God. But, as we said in our third presupposition above, God has the right and authority as Creator to declare what is right in His creation – and to command against going against that as sin. Adam, who heard the command from God Himself, willingly disobeyed. And every one of his descendants from the beginning until the return of Jesus has dealt with the repercussions and struggles that come from their own sin (Romans 5:12).

Second, we get a picture of what exactly temptation is. Temptation originates in our “own desire”. James gives a fishing analogy. Temptation is like a lure attached to a fishing pole. Fishing lures are designed to look like the most appetizing food for certain types of fish. When a fish sees the lure moving through the water, it cannot help but bite it. Then, the hook hidden within the lure is set, and it is too late for the fish. They are reeled into the real-life consequences of biting onto the lure.

For humans, it is not a shiny lure attached to nearly invisible fishing line but be assured: there is a lure. It looks like what we desire most – what we want that we either know we should not have, or our wants wrapped in a way we should not have them. Do not be mistaken; the sins we desire are attractive to us. So often the struggle one has with sin is because of the great desire they have to commit that sin. Think of the time spent thinking or fantasizing about sinning – not planning to commit said sin, of course, just looking.

Think about King David. He could have easily made the list of “heroes” above as Joseph, Job, Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were all sinners, but David gives a better example of what it looks like to be hooked. David was described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). David’s lure was lust and desiring sexual sin.

Early on in David’s narrative, he married Saul’s daughter Michal (1 Samuel 18:27). Later, he met Abigail who was described as “discerning and beautiful” (1 Samuel 25:3). She helped keep him from making mistakes due to her husband Nabal’s treachery, and Nabal’s death happened to coincide with Michal marrying another (1 Samuel 25:44 – though 2 Samuel 3:13-14 shows David never stopped considering her his wife). It would make sense if David simply married Abigail, yet David married her and a woman named Ahinoam at the same time (1 Samuel 25:43). God never supported polygamy but intended marriage to be between a husband and wife (Genesis 2:24-25). David obviously wanted three wives to support his appetites.

Fast forward to 2 Samuel 11, and we see David chose to stay home rather than be where he should be – at war with his soldiers, on his roof with a clear view of a naked woman – Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, and his sending of his servants to take her (2 Samuel 11:1-4). In 2 Samuel 11:2, it says “It happened, late one afternoon”. What happened? Sin. His looking gave way to taking. David’s sin had him hook, line, and sinker. And what he thought would be casual sex – that 2 Samuel 11:4 seems to say he thought could not result in conception – produced live evidence of their union.

That is a good segue into the third thing James 1:13-15 teaches us about sin. The fishing analogy gives way to the analogy of conception and birth. That desire that lures in verse 14 is compared to conception – to human biology. Conception is when a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg. Lust does not do this. Sex does. Conception is supposed to lead to birth. The baby has a life. But sin is about death. The conception of sinful desire in the mind and heart ultimately leads to committing the sin. It is rarely enough to just enjoy the guilty pleasure of sin once. The behavior grows into a lifestyle. And sin, “when it is fully grown” brings forth death. That life of sin earns – remember “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23) – death.

Wrapping Up

When we look at sin, it is tempting to question all this talk of sin producing death and doubt and whether a good and loving God would allow such – whether He would really let the consequences of sin be death. To that, I would remind you 1) of the existence of death, and 2) what our good and loving God did for sin was to give Himself as a sacrifice to bear the death we deserve on the cross, not ignore it.

Next week, we will begin diving into the specifics of Colossians 3:5-11. The sheer volume and span of the lists (there are two) of sins will hit us all more than once. It will not be enjoyable. It will be uncomfortable. You may even be mad at me before it is over. I promise you that I have been mad at me in studying this, too.

I urge you to meditate on what we have seen from James 1:13-15 and in Colossians 3:5-11. Search your heart. As you do, consider the Holy Spirit’s motives for giving such a passage to the church at Colossae and to us today. Why would He take the time to tell us here – and again and again throughout Scripture – what we should be putting to death in us (Colossians 3:5) and what we should be taking off as if it were a filthy garment (Colossians 3:8)? Does He just not want us to get to do what we want to do and be happy?

God is the Creator. He knows how He designed life to work best. He knows what truly brings happiness – following Him, and He knows what brings death and sorrow – sin. He knows how to take lost sinners who are dead in their trespasses and sins and make them alive together by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10).

So, I pray that God grants repentance for you where you need it. I pray the same thing for me. And I pray that God helps us to learn to pray like David in Psalm 139:23-24:

23  Search me, O God, and know my heart!
        Try me and know my thoughts!
24  And see if there be any grievous way in me,
        and lead me in the way everlasting!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:5–11.

[2] F. Leroy Forlines, Biblical Systematics: A Study of the Christian System of Life and Thought (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 1975), 5.

[3] ESV, Jas 1:13–15.

Refresh & Restore — June 2, 2022

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

Colossians 2:8-10

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

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

Greetings Sojourners!

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

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

We need Him. Come, Lord Jesus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

See to It That No One Takes You Captive

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

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

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

Philosophy and Empty Deceit

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

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

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

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

Human Tradition

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

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

Elemental Spirits of the World

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

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Refresh & Restore — May 12, 2022

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.[1]


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

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

Greetings Sojourners!

I have wracked my brain to think of how to introduce this week’s Bible study in some creative and catchy way. But all I can think is that I wish this section was not in the Bible. I know that sounds terrible.

This passage highlights an area of struggle – of inadequacy – for me. Simply put: I do not want to suffer. I want to be comfortable. I want to be free of anxiety and depression and anger and difficulties and…well, discomfort in general. To a certain extent, this means that I am just like everyone else. But, for me, specifically, this is part of the “passions and desires” of my worldly self that need to be crucified (Galatians 5:24).

When I read and study the Bible, I try to follow James 1:22 and be a doer of the Word who hears the Word preached (or comprehends the Word while reading) and actually does it. Unfortunately, that is hard. And I fail at that. A lot. And there are parts that I come to, like today’s passage where I just simply do not want to do what it says or participate in what it talks about.

The idea of suffering in Scripture comes up more than most people realize. Many do not see it because the verses that we pick out to focus on allow us to ignore the sections that deal with it. There is a form of false teaching that is quite prevalent today known as the prosperity gospel. It basically proclaims that God has health and wealth for you should you simply remain faithful. If you give money or support certain ministers or speak positive things into existence, then there is a blessing (in the form of, again, health and wealth) waiting for you.

What about Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego)? People talk about the wealth and prosperity they had in Babylon. They talk about the power to rule and govern that they received. What about when Nebuchadnezzar had the made eunuchs and stripped them of their God-honoring names for Babylonian idolatry? Were they not still slaves in Babylon, far from their home?

What about Jesus? He was poor and hated while on earth. Are we more than Him? No. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 15:18-21:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’”

That passage scares me. And it comforts me. I am frightened of suffering and persecution, but I long to be associated with my Savior. I do not invite suffering – and especially do not long for it – but am I willing to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Today’s passage specifically deals with suffering in a manner that continues in Jesus’ suffering during his time on earth (and for His Bride, the Church). We get to see Paul talk about why the suffering he is experiencing – remember, this is one of the prison epistles written prior to his martyrdom – are worth it because they help bring people to Christ and those who are in Christ to maturity.

Are we willing to suffer – or even be uncomfortable – for someone to know Christ? Is our desire for comfort greater than our desire for Christ?

I am asking myself these questions as I write and can assure you of one thing, I am not boasting of what I have or can accomplish in this week’s Bible study. If no one else needs to hear this, I write to myself.

Paul’s Example

To understand where Paul is coming from – his perspective on suffering, one must first understand his testimony. He was not born Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He was born Saul of Tarsus, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). He was the cat’s pajamas – all that and a bag of chips – or, to quote one of my sophomores – good, like great.

When the apostles were preaching in Jerusalem following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the church was exploding. The church at the time was known as “the Way” (Acts 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22) because they were in consistently focused on preaching the gospel to everyone who listed and living it out in their lives. Thousands were being baptized and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Those who were being saved were ecstatic. The Pharisees and Saul were irate – and murderously so.

Peter and John were arrested for healing “a man lame from birth” (Acts 3:2) and proclaiming the gospel in Solomon’s Portico (Acts 3:11-26). The powers-that-were admonished them to cease preaching, leveeing every threat they could muster of suffering and death, and Peter infamously replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). And speak they did.

From there, the church grew even more. It prayed for boldness (Acts 4:23-30), and God answered their prayer by granting that they “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). The status quo in Jerusalem was in the rear view at that point. The church was thriving and ministering to each other and those around them. The Holy Spirit was moving. But the chief priests and Pharisees were not willing to budge a single inch. Instead, they called in Saul of Tarsus.

Saul enters the narrative of Acts at the end of the life of a man named Stephen who was described as “full of grace and power…doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Local synagogue members rose up against him trying to tear down his preaching, but “they could withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). They were not listening. They did not repent and believe at the gospel preached. They grabbed him and drug him before the council. Their anger was met with grace as Stephen’s face “was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). They leveed charges against him to the council, and he charged them all by preaching. They heard him and were “enraged” and “ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). They heard but would not repent. They “laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). They picked up heavy stones and threw them one by one to execute him.

I cannot imagine being in Stephen’s situation. I am afraid I would have faltered or given in or remained silent. Yet Stephen made two more statements: “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). The Lord granted his request and let him sleep while his body was murdered. The servant was not greater than the master. He received what his Savior received. He responded as His Savior responded. “And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1).

Saul went to work against the church in Jerusalem. His task was described as a “great persecution” where he “ravaged the church” (Acts 8:1, 3). He viciously attacked Christ’s bride. Yet her work continued. The work of the church did not stop in suffering but instead spread, “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). It spread so that Saul got warrants for imprisonment and execution against the church in Damascus – that “if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1). His threat against the Bride grew until he came face to face with Christ on the Damascus road.

If someone had ravaged my wife and I found myself in a show down, there would be nothing but wrath and vengeance. I would do all I could to visit the terror she experienced back on the attacker and more. Jesus blinded him, humbled him, and introduced Himself to Saul. The Pharisee of Pharisees had to be led by the hand to Damascus. He sat there blind for three days.

Jesus spoke to a local believer named Ananias and gave instructions regarding Saul – that He had plans for him. Ananias, of course, was skeptical. Jesus was trustworthy, but Saul had a track record of evil against believers. And Jesus gives him a very odd response,

“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

What?! The King of kings and Lord of lords – the God who is rich in grace, mercy, and love sets out to make someone suffer for their sins?!

While Jesus was talking to Ananias, Saul was praying. He had been given a vision of Ananias coming to return his sight. Ananias was obedient. Saul’s sight was regained. The Holy Spirit filled Paul, and he was saved and baptized. That which sounded like a punishment – “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” – can it be a blessing? Can it be grace?

I think Paul (Saul made new) can speak best to whether this is grace or judgment. We looked earlier at Paul’s pedigree (“Hebrew of Hebrews”, etc.), now let us listen to the rest of the testimony:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul knew what Christ’s salvation meant. He felt like he was the “least of the apostles” because he had “persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). It is through Paul’s words that we know “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). He even described himself as being the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He knew he deserved death and Hell. Yet Christ had saved him. The servant was not greater than the master. He received what his Savior received. And He was forever in awe of the love and mercy that Christ showed him – that Christ had forgiven the sins against His Bride and allowed Him to serve her and bring her members to maturity.

That’s good news.

What Does This Mean for Us – for the Church Today?

The example of a sinner as bad as Paul gives hope for a sinner as bad as me. I hear people often mention some wicked and wretched sinner in their area and tout that there is no hope for him or her – that God simply won’t fool with someone like them. Well, he saved Paul. He saved me. And, if He hasn’t yet, I pray that He saves you, too, despite your sins!

Usually, I give a better exposition and explanation of our passage, but I felt strongly about showing Paul’s history and example. I think that his example – and what he says here in this letter to the Colossian church shows us how we should be working for God’s Kingdom in our local church and the communities around it. So, we will break it down into some bite-sized chunks for us to consider.

  • (v. 1:24) Paul did not mind suffering for Christ because he got to follow after His example and care for His church.
  • (v. 1:25) Paul’s primary goal in his ministry was to be a good steward of what God had given him – the Word of God, and he intended to make it “fully known” to everyone he could.
  • (v. 1:26) The church now knows “the mystery” as God has revealed His full story. We have all the information we need. Everything that can be known about God is found in the Bible.
  • (v. 1:27) God’s people are no longer just Israel. He has made a way in Christ for all people to experience “the riches of the glory of this mystery” and have Christ, “the hope of glory”, in them – to be in Christ.
  • (v. 1:28) Spiritual maturity is a thing. Paul felt a sense of responsibility to help people grow in Christ. That is called discipleship, and it is the command of the Great Commission (“make disciples”, Matthew 28:19). Paul considered it worth suffering for, so maybe we need to repent of not discipling or not being discipled in the Word of God.
  • (v. 1:29) Paul spent his life and all his energy in this task. It was not enough. Nothing would be accomplished without the Spirit’s “energy that He powerfully work[ed] within [Paul]”. The same is true for us today. Our efforts are nothing without His strength (Philippians 4:13).
  • (vv. 2:1-3) Paul wants to make sure that all the churches he can are being discipled – not just the one’s he planted. There are three things that he desires for those who have not seen him “face to face”: 1) “that their hearts may be encouraged”, 2) that they be “knit together in love”, and 3) that they may “reach all the riches of full assurance and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Basically, he desires that they know Christ and make Him known. Such is the essence of Kingdom work.
  • (v. 2:4) There are those who are seeking to tear down the church. They may attack it with the same persecutions that Paul once did. In the case of Colossae, they are attacking it from the inside with cancerous false teachings. This highlights the necessity of discipleship. If one is not rooted and established in Christ, they will be blown over and hoodwinked by false teaching. We will hit on this more in the coming weeks.
  • (v. 2:5) Paul is able to rejoice for the Colossian church’s “firmness” of faith because he trusts that God is going to work in His church by His Spirit and through the ministry of the Word.

Wrapping Up

While I do wish that this was not part of the reality of walking with Christ, I am immensely thankful that he saved a sinner such as me. I do not want to suffer and am not going to seek it out, but I pray that God receive the glory for whatever He chooses to do with my life.

I find that it is not suffering that causes me to stumble. It is aggravation. It is the discomfort. It is not fitting in and being an outsider because of what He has done in me. I want the epitome of the American dream with heaven as a nice retirement plan. But the servant is not greater than the master. If the world hated Him yet loves me, am I His?

I do not deserve the second and third and sixty-seventh chances that He has given me. I do not deserve Him. But He loves me and has given Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). That matters. The fact that I know the magnitude of His love because of the depth of my depravity and sinfulness means that there should be nothing more valuable than that love. I was His enemy; He adopted me into His family. I deserved wrath; He gave love instead.

The servant is not greater than the master. The world hated Him, so it will hate me, too. But, praise be to God, He loves me despite that hatred. His care is greater than the suffering. And, when it inevitably comes, may we be found like the disciples, “rejoicing [to be] counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name” (Acts 5:41).


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

Refresh & Restore — April 21, 2022


***Audio will be uploaded later!***


Greetings Sojourners!

It has been a few weeks since we have last opened the Word together. This is the busy season for me. I teach high school English, get to serve as one of the pastors at Christ Community, and have begun in a Masters of Theology program at William Carey University. Maybe, busy is an understatement.

While I found myself needing to take a break from our Refresh and Restore Bible studies for a bit, I have been thinking more and more about so many who are struggling – including myself. This world is a harsh place. The burdens of life can seem more overbearing that what we can bear alone. And they are. There are weights and burdens that we cannot and were not meant to bear.

Part of the struggle is the perceived demand to be self-sufficient. People misuse and misquote passages like 1 Corinthians 10:13 and make it say that God will not give us more than we can handle on our own. I want to assure you God did not intent for us to bear burdens alone. Those He saves are given His Spirit to dwell inside them. The saved are gathered together as the Church and are parts of local churches.

So, if you feel as if you are at the end of your rope or barely holding on, let the passages of Scripture I offer you today encourage you to reach out to God – and to the support system of your local church. Rest assured, He will not give you more than HE can bear.

His Grace is Sufficient

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.[1]

2 Corinthians 12:8-10

This is the end of a passage in 2 Corinthians 12:1-11 where Paul talks of someone receiving a thorn in the flesh. There are many theories regarding who the man is and what the thorn is (along with variations depending on the combination of man and thorn), but that is not what I am drawing our attention to here. Look at the response that Jesus gave him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That’s good news!

Whatever the thorn was – whatever the reason for the struggle and trouble – Jesus’ direct response to this man was that His grace is “sufficient”. That word in the original language could also be translated as “enough” or something that is satisfactory or to “be contented with”[2]. The grace, the unmerited, undeserved favor, He gives to those He loves is enough. His grace is not only greater than our sin[3]; it is of greater value and satisfaction than the trouble our struggles – our own thorns – bring.

The response of the man brings me hope. It is a testimony that comes while he is still in the midst of his struggles with this thorn. Jesus’ reply to him was not that the thorn would leave him but that His grace would be enough to endure. He has become thankful for his own weakness and inability because he has seen the “power of Christ” carry him. He does not have a testimony of how he overcame and overthrew his difficulties. No, he has a greater testimony that points to Jesus being his strength when he has none.

I know it may not be what you want to hear if you are struggling, but this world is a fallen place (Genesis 3) where evil runs rampant (Ephesians 2:2-3; 1 Peter 5:8-9). Struggles of some form or fashion are part of life here. Jesus promised as much to His disciples in John 16:33:

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

No matter the struggles this world offers, His grace – His strength – is enough. I pray you find yourself so satisfied in Him that your struggles pale in comparison.

His Love, Mercy, and Faithfulness are Continual

21  But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”[4]

Lamentations 3:21-24

Notice the name of the book of the Bible this passage comes from – Lamentations. It is a book of the Bible devoted to lamenting the fall of Jerusalem in 586bc[5]. It consists of five chapters that basically form a funeral eulogy for Israel. Yet at its very center is our passage. In fact, look at Lamentations 3. Jeremiah was likely having worse struggles than you are; they definitely put mine in proper perspective! Yet in mid-lament, he shares what he “call[s] to mind” that produces “hope”: God’s “steadfast love” and mercy.

Again, this is someone who is not yet free from the struggles bearing down on him. But this is what He brings to mind in the midst of the troubles that brings hope.

First, he reminds himself that the “steadfast love” of God – Hebrew hesed (equivalent to agape in Greek) – will never end. We can know more about this love than Jeremiah’s perspective allowed. We know that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The hope that comes from that love is more to us than something that carries us through trials and struggles; it carries us into eternity with the God who loves us and has promised in the age to come that He “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Then, he reminds himself that God’s “mercies never come to an end”. If grace is unmerited, undeserved favor, mercy is God withholding what we do deserve – ranging from His anger and wrath to “the wages of sins”, death (Romans 6:23). Just like God’s never-ending, never-failing love never ends, the mercy He extends to those He loves never ends. That’s good news for sinners like me! That never ending supply of mercy prompts Him to praise God’s faithfulness – “great is Your faithfulness”! Great it is, indeed!

Finally, he makes the statement that the “Lord is [his] portion…therefore [he would] hope in Him”. That word “portion” in the original language literally meant “share of something” or “a part of something, implying it is assigned”[6]. Basically, it refers to spoils that were divvied out after a victory. Think about that in Jeremiah’s context: he is writing a eulogy for Israel and mourning its fall to Babylon and yet celebrates God giving him Himself as a reward for victory. We know what the victory is! Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is, has been, and will be victorious. And, just as we looked at above in Revelation 21:4, the hope comes from receiving eternity with Him is more than enough to help us in our comparatively-short sojourn in this world!

Wrapping Up

For Jeremiah, knowing that His God would neither leave him nor forsake him put his sorrow over Jerusalem’s fall in perspective. For the man in Paul’s story, knowing that the power of Christ was present during weakness put his hardships in perspective.

And that, dear Sojourner, is what we need: an eternal perspective during our temporal struggles. This is not easy. It is not a quick fix. A perspective focused on Jesus, the concerns of His Kingdom, and future with Him in heaven is something that comes from spending time with Him. What does that look like? It looks like seeking Him in His Word, pouring our hearts out to Him in prayer, and turning to Him again and again (and again some more).

It times of trouble, it is so easy to only see the difficulties in front of us. Times of depression add fog to our points-of-view that makes it difficult to see anything else. At least, I know it is like that for me. Those are times where I have learned – from painful experience and, in joy, finding Christ and His strength during the struggles. I pray. I pop in my ear buds and listen to audio readings from the Bible (the Dwell app is my favorite). I have brothers in Christ I reach out to who are willing to not only share the weight of my burdens and struggles but lift me up to our God in prayer. I know that I can reach out to my faith family at Christ Community to do the same. And all of that lifts the fog and lightens the burden so that my perspective can shift back to Christ.

I hope that this helps you. I know it has helped me to write. But, I want to do more; I want to give you some passages of Scripture that I meditate on when struggles arise. All of them, because most of my struggles currently are mental, deal with the mind in some way. To borrow from Jeremiah, these “I call to mind”, along with our passages from today’s study:

  • If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
  • But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)
  • Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
  • Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
  • For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

And one final verse to meditate on comes directly from Jesus at the end of Revelation: “And behold, I am coming soon.”[7]

I am happy to get to help point you to Christ in His Word and would love to help you know Him if you don’t. I would love to help you to find a church family near you. And I am praying for you, which is the most anyone can do – to talk to the God whose love and mercy never end and ask Him to give you what you need.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:8–10.

[2] The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Logos Bible Software, 2011).

[3] “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” (hymn), https://hymnary.org/text/marvelous_grace_of_our_loving_lord

[4] ESV, La 3:21–24.

[5] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 1475.

[6] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[7] ESV, Re 22:7.

Refresh & Restore — November 4, 2021


…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect….[1]

1 Peter 3:15

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

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

Greetings, Sojourner!

I’m excited to share this week’s devotion with you because it was written by one of my friends and former students, Reid Viner!

He originally wrote this as a profile essay in his English Comp class. It is a profile of Christianity and reads like the appeal of an apologist making a defense for the hope he finds in Christ and in His Word. I am thankful for his heart to share Christ, especially using his platform as a student, and wanted to share it with y’all today!


In a world where people fight to convert other people to their religion, one religion stands out the most: Christianity. 

     Christianity is a religion that wants people to know that what Jesus has done is true and available for them. There’s a great narrative in Acts 3 where Peter and John meet this poor man who has been paralyzed his entire life while they are on the way to the temple. He is looking for money, but they don’t have any. This guy is being passed over again and again. Some are likely casually tossing money his way. But Peter and John stop and get his attention – again, they do not have the money he needs – to share with him something money can’t buy. Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you”, and then tells the man that he has been healed by “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” – to “rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6)! Had they given him money, he would have still been paralyzed, but he offered the man Jesus. That same Jesus is what Christians want others to know about their faith.

The Uniqueness of Christianity

     Christianity’s fundamental aspect of faith being Who that faith is in. Ultimately, the object of worship is more important than the act – which is how worship is inspired in the first place. The Who for Christians is Jesus. And the worship is inspired by what He has done and is doing (which is called the gospel, a word meaning to tell the good news). Basically, the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He is fully God yet also fully man; He came to dwell among us to bring us to Him rather than us seek to work our way to Him; He lived a perfect life in order to sacrifice Himself to pay for our sins; He made that sacrifice willingly to be our propitiation (fancy word that means He bore our sin to give us His favor), and He rose from the grave, living forevermore. So, Jesus – who He is and what He has done/is doing – Himself is that most fundamental aspect of faith.

     Christianity is quite a unique religion, and I believe that the Bible speaks to what is most unique about Christianity. The Bible teaches about Jesus being Emmanuel – a word meaning God with us. John 1:14 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 speak to this beautifully. In John, we see God coming as a human to dwell among mankind. The 2 Corinthians passage tells us why: “for our sake”. He came to dwell among men because men needed Him to make a way to heaven. He traded His sinless life for the sinful life of any and all who would believe in Him. He would trade His righteousness for our shame – and our death.

     This is different from other religions. Here is an analogy I have heard used to explain all world religions. Life is a journey up a steep mountain. The mountain represents all the insurmountable tasks we need to complete to make our way to the positive option of an afterlife. Failure to make it up the mountain leads to the negative option. Basically, all religions would be summed up as journeying up the mountain, overcoming obstacles and trials, to make one’s way to heaven. Yet the Bible teaches us that what is known as Christianity is unique because our God – who Christians believe to be the one and only true God – came down the mountain in the person of Jesus to carry those who trust in Him up the mountain. He overcomes the obstacles. His strength defeats the trials. He just chooses to share the victory with those He saves and loves.

Christianity & Societal Issues

     All religions have their thoughts on societal issues, but Christianity’s are pretty interesting. And rather than looking at ways how Christianity has renounced issues surrounding societal issues, I would like to look at what God intended in the first place. All the way back in the beginning of what we know of as time, God created a man named Adam. He made him in His own image. And He noticed that Adam was alone. Deciding that it was “not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), God sought to make him a helper. 

The first companions were animals, but, other than keeping Adam busy naming them, they were not suitable. God had a better plan. Rather than starting from scratch like He did with Adam, He put Adam to sleep, took one of His ribs, and formed the woman who would be named Eve. Adam was impressed. He immediately responded in gladness that she was “bone of [his] bone” and “flesh of [his] flesh” (Genesis 2:23). And in that act of creation, God set the precedent for marriage. Man would “leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Some people want this to be ambiguous, but it is right there on page three (at least in my copy) of the Bible: one man and one woman to become one flesh. 

The so-called “societal issues” become issues where people try to take different paths than God originally intended. So, let us briefly look at (they all really require longer, more personal conversations) these issues.

Premarital sex, what the Bible calls fornication, takes issue with the “one flesh” aspect of marriage. Sexual intimacy between a man and a woman is a deeper level of intimacy than casual relationships can bear. Think about how complicated sex makes things between people who are not ready for the level of commitment needed to accompany sex. This goes against the original design, and trouble follows. Teen pregnancy would be another result of this. I struggle with the wording of this because pregnancy is supposed to be a joyous thing. Why is it not a source of joy in this situation but instead is a source of stress and, sometimes, causes people to despair? It is because the casual “one flesh” produced a blessing that the people were not equipped or ready to receive. Kids are not ready to raise kids. Deviating from God’s plan takes that which was meant to be a blessing and makes the baby feel like a burden. It messes with His original design. 

Now, we move on to the “issues” dealing with marriage. Rather than heap on verses that some use to condemn, let me move on to another passage that shows us God’s design. In Ephesians 5:32, Paul says that marriage is a “mystery” that “refers to Christ and the Church”, meaning that marriage is supposed to be a picture of God and His Church. What if God were to respond to His Bride, the Church, with divorce the first time we messed up? Then, He would not be the God that He says He is from the beginning – that He is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Numbers 14:18). So, our willingness to divorce (Malachi 2:16) rather than reconcile (and, yes, there are extenuating circumstances in which divorce is allowed – see Mark 10:1-12 for context and the following quote) is because of our own “hardness of heart”. Ultimately, Christians believe the God who reconciled His enemies to Himself to become a part of His church (Romans 10:10) – a part of His bride – wants to see that reconciliation in the lives of His church.

As far as intermarriage (people of different religions marrying each other), this largely is the scope of Old Testament passages prohibiting marrying people outside of the nation of Israel. These were not racial prohibitions but religious. The best example of the issues that can come from marrying people of a different faith (other than the logical reality that opposing religions are not compatible) is Solomon. God gave Solomon great wisdom and riches, but He also warned Solomon about the consequences of sin and serving/worshiping other gods (1 Kings 9:6). Solomon then entered into a multitude – I think 700 wives and 300 concubines makes multitude a bit of an understatement – of marriage relationships. The result was that “his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4). I think a divided heart speaks for itself. 

Wrapping Up

To get back to the essence of what I want to say here, it is important to understand that God – the Creator of everything – has a distinct plan for how things work best. Any time we deviate from that is sin, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). 

     Lots of religions nowadays require you to be perfect, no room for sin, but that’s how Christianity is different. Now it is going to come down to how we define “Christian” to answer this. If by Christian we mean those who are born again (John 3) or made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2), then Hell is off the table. Paul clearly says in Romans 8:1 that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Jesus died in our place and rose from the grave, and all who have faith in Him are covered by His sacrifice because He has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us” by “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). Jesus Himself says in John 10:28 that those who are His – those He has given “eternal life” – “will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of [His] hand”. On the other hand, there is nothing about the label of Christianity that protects against sin. One cannot invoke the name or be a registered evangelical Christian and get into heaven. God is checking whether or not we have been covered by His blood, not checking membership cards. 
To get back to the essence of what I want to say here, Christians believe that it is important to understand that God – the Creator of everything – has a distinct plan for how things work best. Any time we deviate from that is sin, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We can look at all the ways we sin and heap condemnation, or we can point people to the Savior who “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Everyone who “calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 3:15.

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

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

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

Greetings, 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 30, 2021

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Genesis 50:15-21

“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.[1]

Acts 7:9-10

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

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

Greetings, Sojourner!

I took a well-needed break last week and am thankful for two reasons: 1) God made our bodies in such a way that we are built to know when we need rest (it has taken me this long to learn to listen to it instead of reaping consequences of ignoring), and 2) I needed more time to process the story of Joseph.

Last week, during the time I would normally be working on the weekly devotion, I just happened to start a new Bible reading plan. The plan is via the YouVersion Bible app and is called “Look Up: 35 Days to Finding Hope in Dark Places”. It is not a self-help, psychology devotional. It follows people in the Bible as they walked through “Dark Places” in their lives while they followed the Lord. The first person to walk with was Joseph, the focus of today’s passages.

I have told you before that I am an English teacher. One of the ways I help my students is to train them to notice things that “just happen” in a text because nothing can merely happen without it being part of the author’s plan (can I get an RL.5 amen?). Well, I do not believe that it was an accident that I started reading that Bible plan when I did; I believe it was God’s providence. Just like in one of the texts I give my students, the author’s intent was evident. Jesus, the “Author of Life” (Acts 3:15) and the “Founder and Perfector of our Faith” (Hebrews 12:2), gave me the help my soul and body needed when I sought Him – His help – in His Word. After all, His same Spirit dwells in me when I walk through dark places is the same Spirit who penned the promises of Psalm 119 through David (who is also featured in that Bible reading plan) as he walked through His:

My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to Your Word! (v. 28)

This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your Promise gives me life. (v. 50)

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your Statutes. (v. 71)

If Your Law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. (v. 92)

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your Word. (v. 114)

Trouble and anguish have found me out, but Your Commandments are my delight. (v. 143)

But You are near, O Lord, and all Your Commandments are true. (v. 151)

Let my cry come before You, O Lord; give me understanding according to Your Word! Let my plea come before You; deliver me according to Your Word. (vv. 169-170)

For me, my dark place of late has been depression because chemicals in my brain are doing their own thing instead what they are supposed to do. I find myself focusing on all the wrong things “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” instead of shining the Light of Christ as He has called me to do while “holding fast to the Word of Life” (Philippians 2:15-16). So, today, I hope to help you seek help from God in His Word by looking at the example of Joseph.

Meet Joseph
(Brief Summary of Genesis 30, 37, 39-50)

Like many of the Old Testament “heroes”, Joseph’s life was complicated. His story began in one of the strangest and most complicated family situations that one could be born into. He was the oldest son of Rachel (2nd wife of Jacob – and the only wife he loved/intended to marry – check out Genesis 29), and he was his father’s favorite child, largely because of his mother.

You might think that life as the favorite might be – well, favorable, but a good portion of Joseph’s life was the opposite. Being Jacob’s favorite caused a rift between him and his brothers. The family dynamics were already bad since Jacob had children with two wives and two of their handmaidens. In fact his entire clan was born out of the rivalry between his wives Leah and Rachel – over who was loved most and who could most successfully provide sons for Jacob. Add to that the fact that Joseph “brought a bad report [of his brothers] to their father” (Genesis 37:2), was given a “robe of many colors” when the others were not (Genesis 37:3), and multiple dreams that seemed to indicate they (even Jacob) would end up bowing down to him at some point (Genesis 37:5-10) – there is no wonder that his brothers “hated him and could not speak peacefully to him” (Genesis 37:4) and “were jealous of him” (Genesis 37:11). Their jealousy and hatred may seem to be warranted from a human perspective, at the very least it seems understandable, but what happens next is horrific.

Genesis 37:12-36 tells us what happened. Jacob took advantage of Joseph’s willingness to be honest about his brothers’ transgressions and sent him to spy on them. Joseph had to run all over to find them which made them able to see him coming. Rather than be glad to see their brother, their jealousy and hatred won out as they decided to tear his special robe from his arms, throw him into an empty pit, and kill him. Reuben tried to hatch a plan where he could eventually rescue Joseph instead of standing up to their wickedness, so it inevitably failed. Judah saw that there was more profit in selling him into slavery than simply killing him, and the brothers decided to hand him over to Ishmaelite traders for twenty shekels of silver. A little goat blood on his robe and a lie left Joseph secretly on the way to slavery in Egypt and Jacob distraught at the death of his favorite son.

One part of Joseph’s life that his brothers could not see was how God had been working in his life up to that point. God was responsible for Joseph’s mother no longer being barren and conceiving him (Genesis 30:22). He gave Joseph the dreams that showed his future (the ability to interpret would come later). And the “Lord was with Joseph” in Egypt (Genesis 39:2), so much so that his master Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his entire household; Potiphar recognized the “blessing of the Lord” on Joseph (Genesis 39:5). He was even blessed to be “handsome in form and appearance” (Genesis 39:6). But, as with all his blessings, the blessings in Egypt welcomed trouble, too.

Potiphar’s wife was attracted to him and tried multiple times to seduce him. While this was no doubt tempting, he recognized that it was wrong because, as he told her, “you are his wife” and it would be a “sin against God” (Genesis 39:9). This only increased her efforts. She eventually orchestrated a situation where it would be just the two of them in the house. Before Joseph realized what was happening, he was removed from his robe once more; this time leaving it behind in his her grabbing hands. He ran from temptation and sin (like we all should) and found himself in prison when she, angry from her spurned affections, lied to lied to Potiphar.

I could go on, but I believe this gives the necessary context. Genesis 40 tells of his time in prison where God continued to bless him by giving him the ability to interpret dreams. That ability ended up freeing him from all bondage when Pharaoh himself was having nightmares in Genesis 41, proving that, throughout all of his dark times, God never left him – he was never forsaken (Hebrews 13:5).

It is strange to think that we could be right where God wants us when things are not going well. This goes against much of the teachings of churches in America where we like our best life now and all tribulation for those who do not get raptured. But Joseph was right where he was supposed to be: in position to be used by God to rescue Israel, His chosen people yet far from where he would have chosen. But there is no better place than in the will of God!

In Genesis 42-43, famine struck Egypt and the rest of the known world at that time – including the land where Jacob and his family lived and according to Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. His post-prison job was basically vice-Pharaoh where he headed up salvage and storage operations to keep people fed during the famine. Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to by grain. And none of them realized that God’s providence in Joseph’s life, despite their wickedness and sin toward him and God, would save their lives and the lives of their families.

Genesis 44-45 sees Joseph interacting with his brothers to test them and ultimately provide them with the grain they needed. Genesis 46-47 shows how Joseph planned to bring all his family to Egypt and set the stage for all that God would do through Moses in the Exodus. I cannot help but wonder how much the joy of Joseph being reunited with his father overshadowed his darker days. But imagine what it was like for him to meet the God he had followed and trusted through those times – unspeakable, indescribable joy!

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

I spoke earlier about how I believe that it was God’s providence that I read about Joseph’s experiences when I found myself struggling, especially reading through Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7-8 when he mentions Joseph. Maybe you are not familiar with the idea of providence – the protective care of God.

I believe one of the most providential things that God has done for His people is the gift of His Word. In it we find everything that can be known about God. So, I want to close out with some specific application; I would like to point you to some of the same passages of Scripture that reading about Joseph brought to my mind with brief statements to help organize them.

1) I do not have to be strong like Joseph for God to love me. God loves me despite my weaknesses.

  • John 3:16-17 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
  • Romans 5:8 – …but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • 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.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – But [Jesus] 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.

2) God has a plan for my life to point to Him despite the evil that exists in the world.

  • Ephesians 2:10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
  • Philippians 2:14-15 – Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
  • Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

3) God has a long track-record of taking care of His people, and none of them could see it until He carried them all the way through (for this, you can look at anyone who followed God/Christ and had trouble, which was all of them all the way through the Bible – He never fails).

4) What God has done for us in Jesus – the hope He gives us through the eternal life in Him He bought with His death and resurrection – is better than our worst days are bad.

  • John 16:33 – I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
  • Philippians 3:8-9 – Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith….
  • Revelation 21:3-4 – And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

5) We will never see what God is doing if we do not lift our eyes off the world and turn them to Him.

  • Psalm 119:37 – Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
  • Colossians 3:1-4 – If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

At the end of Genesis, it is shocking for us to see Joseph tell his brothers: “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Having walked through the dark times, he recognized that God had never left him at all; after all, “even the darkness is not dark” to Him (Psalm 139:12).

Then, to see Stephen preach about Joseph in the sermon that would cost his life to say that “the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions” (Acts 7:9-10). That same truth he preached to those who would murder him was what he lived out. Jesus was the last face that Stephen saw before he died and the first he would see when he awoke in heaven.

Maybe you are going through dark times right now and do not know where to turn. I would suggest you turn to a page in the Bible and seek Christ. It is my prayer that you find Him in His Word.

Hallelujah, and Amen!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 50:15–21 & Ac 7:9–10.