Refresh & Restore — May 6, 2021

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

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

1 John 4:7-21

Greetings, Sojourner!

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

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

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

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

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

  • (1:5) This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
  • (2:2) He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the world.
  • (2:5) …but whoever keeps His Word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him….
  • (2:29) If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.
  • (3:10-11) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It means I need to repent.

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

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

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

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

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

Refresh & Restore — April 29, 2021

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish….

32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.[1]       

Greetings, Sojourner!

Have you ever had something on your mind so much that you cannot let it go? When that happens, it is like you feel like it shows up in everything you look at – commercials, conversations, stores. It even seems like it is all you can talk about. That is what the past few weeks have been like for me, and the topic that has been the epicenter of my focus has been church – not a church, my church, or your church: the Church.

I have preached on it several times during these weeks. Even as I studied and planned to write on 1 John 4:7-21 today, the Church has been on my mind. Verses like 1 John 4:11 (“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” and 4:20 (“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen”) have me thinking of the way that the Church is to share the love of God with each other and the world around them. In 1 John 4:9 when John says that “the love of God was made manifest”, that is the love that was shown to, and now through, the Church. And, when you read passages like ours in Ephesians 5, you see that love is to be at the center of everything in the Church because Christ loves His Church and calls her His Bride.

What a beautiful image that is – the Bride of Christ!

Look at how the voice (“of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder”) speaks of the Bride of Christ in the end times:

Let us rejoice and exult
and give Him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and His Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”…. (Rev. 19:6-8)

The picture I see painted in Scripture here is the arrival of Christ’s Church in Heaven to be a marriage celebration – His Bride will finally have arrived! I think back some fifteen years ago when I laid eyes on my bride when the back doors of the Church open. That moment is seared into my memory and is clear and fresh on my mind today; it is a watershed moment for me. But, the magnitude of that moment, is but a tremor compared to Christ receiving His Bride.

Yet many of us do not see the Church in the same light. When we think of the Church, we think of buildings or denominations or traditions or religion or someone who professes to be a member of a particular church who we think lives more like Hell than Heaven. I have heard people say that they do not have a problem with Jesus; their problem lies with the Church (or with a particular church they have in mind). How does that fit with the way God’s Word talks about His Bride?

In Ephesians 5, we see a passage that often appears only at weddings. It seems to talk about this ideal marriage where a husband loves his wife with this self-sacrificing love. It absolutely is! It lays out that husbands are supposed to give themselves up for their wives in the same way that Christ did for His (v. 25). It shows how husbands are supposed to set their wives apart, loving them with the same care that they give to their own bodies (v. 28). But, while it highlights the way that earthly husbands should absolutely love their wives, it does so by looking at the way that Christ loved/loves His – He died for her, but He also lived for her!

It seems so easy to look at the church as a building or a house of religion. It is another thing entirely to look at her as Christ’s bride. Take the example above where people say they have no problem with Jesus, just the Church. How would that work if said to an earthly husband (even a mediocre one)? “Hey, man, I like you well enough, but I cannot stand your wife!” Any husband worth his salt would at least have a salty retort, and, at most, feelings would not be all that get hurt!

Jesus loves His Bride. He gave Himself up for her, knowing full well her faults and all the difficulties that would come as He – through His Word and His Spirit – grows her, sanctifies her so that “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (v. 27). He knew her/our blemishes. He knew the wrinkles. He knew the sin. Yet “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

He gave us the example of Hosea who loved his wife even though she was a prostitute when he met her (Hosea 1:2-3) and had sold herself into physical bondage to another man. Just as Hosea went to that man and purchased his wife from him (Hosea 3:1-5), Jesus paid the price for us – His life – so that we could be free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:6) and be His alone (1 Peter 2:9). Except in this scenario, the Church has a husband who loves her enough to die for her – but He LIVES for her despite death, “because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24)!

What a beautiful image that is! Yet I find my heart hurting as I think about the Church more and more. You see, part of the reason that the Church has been on my mind is noticing that the more I study the Word and the closer I get to Christ, the more precious the Church becomes to me – the more precious getting to be part of the Church becomes. And, when I see how the Church is treated around the world, facing persecutions and distress and dire circumstances, it both breaks my heart and fills it with joy and hope.

It breaks my heart because I am afraid that I would fail and fall away if such treatment began here. I am afraid that I would care more for the safety and comfort of my family than I would being a part of Christ’s Church. As bad as I hate to say it, I am afraid.

I see how many churches have shuttered their doors, even before the onset of the pandemic. I hear of people citing the recommendations – yes, they were merely recommendations and not laws where I live in Mississippi – of our state government as reasons to shut the doors of our churches. Now, I realize that most of this was done out of an abundance of caution (the recommendations and the decisions), but I wonder what the cost has been. I also do not fault the government for recommending such things. Are we to expect worldly government to recommend biblical teaching? I do not fault churches who, out of caution for their members, made decisions to go virtual or meet outside or have church in the parking lot or gather in homes. The Church is not a building, remember?

There are churches like Grace Life in Alberta, Canada who, when it was genuinely against the law to gather and worship Christ in their location, kept gathering anyway. Even when their pastor was arrested and jailed and fences (yes, plural) were built around their building, the Church was not stopped because “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48). The same goes for His Bride.

Multiple churches in California faced similar situations and, pending legal appeals, face tens if not hundreds of thousands in fines even today.

I am trying to be careful and gracious when I talk about this, but I am reminded of Peter and John’s words when they faced something a bit stiffer than recommendations: “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). If you keep reading, Peter and John did not heed the threats of the powers-that-be but kept preaching (Acts 4:23-31). And the result was more people added to the Church (Acts 4:32-37).

Where does that leave us today? I want to ask you where you stand regarding Christ. Do you belong to Him? Are you a part of His Bride, the Church?

Where I live in the Southern U.S., we have largely lost what it means to be a part of the Church or to be a part of a local church or congregation of believers. We use the word “member” like we would a member of a country club or a fraternity or sorority. But that is not the way the Bible uses it:

  • Ephesians 2:19: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God….
  • Romans 12:4-5: For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

Are you a member (like a dues-paying, sort of part ownership), or are you a member (like an arm or a leg)?

Pardon the pun, but I feel like my message here is a bit disjointed. I do not want you to miss my heart. So I will speak plainly: the Church has been on my mind, and I am afraid that we treat her too casually. I fear we have grown complacent and comfortable, not realizing our playing around is dismembering Christ’s Bride.

There is a set of verses that often get quoted in this context. I have quoted them myself often and increasingly more recently, but I think there is a greater message here:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

It is not hard to see why this verse seems so appropriate. But, I think I have been emphasizing the wrong part. I have been focusing on what “is the habit of some” and not why that is not good. Plain and simple, we need each other. No, we do not need bodies to fill roles and carry out programs and ministries. We do not need teachers and leaders. We need the members of the body of Christ – we need the members of His Bride – to “hold fast” to “He who promised” more than His promises. We need each other to “stir [us] up…to love and good works”. We need to be “encouraging one another” – and “the Day” is “drawing near”! We need the body of Christ to be whole once more.

I pray this helps whomever it is meant to. If you need help finding a church home, I would love to help you.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 5:25–32.

Refresh & Restore — April 22, 2021

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.[1]   

1 John 4:1-6

Greetings, Sojourner!

You have been on my mind a lot over this past week. Thinking through the way that John talks to his audience – little children, beloved – makes me think of the great care he uses when talking to them. As I write to you, Sojourner, I hope you see my heart for you as well – my heart to see you grow closer to Christ through studying His Word and my desire that your relationship with Him become deeper through the process.

In thinking of you this week, I have also been thinking about the assurance that John offered us last week. It is good to be able to know where we stand with Christ and not have to wonder whether we belong to Him because of the hope and truth found in His Word. Part of trusting that the Word we have is true and comes from Him is that we are able to know what does and does not come from Him by how it fits with the Scriptures. This is what John talks about in our passage today – testing the spirits so that we know what comes from God’s Spirit or the spirit of antichrist.

Think back to the way John speaks of the Spirit in verse 3:23 from last week: “And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us”. Today’s passage flows directly out of this, and for good reason. We can be sure that what we are taught through our pastors, Bible teachers, and Christian literature is of God by testing it according to the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

The idea of testing is a little too close to judging for some people’s tastes, but verse 1 here clearly tells us we need to “test the spirits”. The word translated test here means “to try to determine the genuineness of”[2] or “to make trial of [or] put to proof”[3]. Basically, whenever we encounter someone teaching, preaching, or writing about the Bible, we should test it – check its proof/genuineness by what it says about God’s Word. And, before you dismiss this, look at the way that the Berean believers were heralded for doing this very thing in Acts 17:11:

Now these Jews [in Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Yes, they were eager to hear what was being preached, but not so eager as to take whatever was offered as truth simply because a “preacher” told it to them. I fear that we are not nearly as cautious as we should be.  

We have seen warnings like this from John already in 1 John 2:18-27 where he showed us the influx of antichrists – those who are literally against Christ and bring a false gospel to tear up churches and lead people astray. The primary issue with the message of the antichrists was first brought up in 1 John 2 (“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?”) and now emphasized more in today’s passage: “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (v. 3). That word translated “confess” there in verse 3 is the same that is used in Romans 10:9 to describe the declaration or profession that Jesus Christ is Lord that accompanies salvation. Basically, these false teachers are professing false gospel and false truth to keep people from being saved. And anything that keeps people from salvation wants to see them kept in bondage to sin and death. This is serious business because they are presenting a false Christ!

Look at the way that Danny Akin puts the issue:

“If [Jesus] is just another enlightened religious teacher, He is permitted and tolerated as one opinion, one option, among many. If, however, He is the very incarnation of God, then the gospel and only the gospel is true and He is the only viable option for salvation amid the multitude of imposters.[4]

Basically, altering the truth of who Jesus is according to the Bible alters the gospel. An altered gospel holds no power – it points away from Christ, away from His life, death, burial, and resurrection. And anyone who preaches “a gospel contrary to the one you received” in the Word of God, that preacher is “accursed” – lost, damned, and devoid of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 1:9).

It is tempting to begin to list some people who I believe are marketing a false gospel here, but I believe it best to let God’s Word and His Spirit handle that Himself. Instead, I want to point you to the Truth – to Christ. Look at how verse 4 tells us “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them”. Christ is already victorious over these false teachers, and, if you are in Christ and have received His Spirit – “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world” (v. 4). Christ is greater than the false prophets. Christ is greater than the antichrists. Christ is greater than the Antichrist. Christ is greater than Satan. He has won, is winning, and will ultimately reign forevermore over them – “they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). The Jesus of the Bible – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – is greater.

If you are His, you have nothing to fear from false prophets. But, even though there is nothing to fear, we need to spend more time in the Word of God in order to “rightly [handle] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and adequately test the spirits – to know the difference between “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (v. 6). To help with this, I would like to show you some more warnings in the word of God regarding these antichrists, false prophets, and false gospel preachers:

  Jesus’ WarningsMatthew 7:15-20: 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Matthew 24:11-14: 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Mark 13:21-23: 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
  Paul’s WarningActs 20:28-30: 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
  Peter’s Warning2 Peter 2:1-3: But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
  Jude’s WarningJude 4: For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

I urge you to take these warnings seriously. There are many voices that try to speak and have influence over you, and we need to be more and more vigilant and guarded over who we let speak truth in our lives. One of the gifts that God has given us is His Church. Our Christian walk is personal between us and our Savior, but it is not meant to happen in solitude. We are made to be members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; Ephesians 2:19). And God has called pastors to these churches to make His Word known and shepherd the “flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2, Ephesians 4:11). Sitting under the teaching of these pastors – Bible in hand following the example of the Bereans in Acts 11 – we get to hear from God.

If you are not a part of a local church, I urge you to find one where the Bible is preached, and Jesus is proclaimed. As much as I love you and enjoy writing – as much as I hope that these writings help you get closer to Christ, they are no substitute for being a part of a body of believers in a local church who will hold you accountable and walk with you (Hebrews 10:23-25). If you do not have a church family, feel free to contact me, and I would love to help you find one where you live.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 4:1–6.

[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 331.

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

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

Songs for Sunday, April 11, 2021

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

Hebrews 10:23-25 says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the songs we’ll sing tomorrow:

  • Romans 8:12-18

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Week 2021 — Good Friday, April 2

Today, we have a chronological reading[1] of the events that took place on the first Good Friday from all four Gospels.

No commentary, no devotion – only His Word to describe what our sin cost and the unparalleled depth of His love.

John 18:1-2 —

1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.

2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.

Mark 14:32-45 —

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

43 Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.

44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”           

45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him.

John 18:4-24 —

4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

8 “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.

15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17 “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

Matthew 26:57-68 —

57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 58 But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.

59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.   60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.

Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent.

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

64 “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?”

“He is worthy of death,” they answered.

67 Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68 and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”

Luke 22:54-62 —

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Mark 15:1 —

1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

John 18:29-38 —

29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

Matthew 27:15-25 —

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

25 All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Luke 23:23-25 —

23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

John 19:1-16 —

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.

4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

7 The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

Mark 15:21 —

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.

Luke 23:32-43 —

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

John 19:25-27 —

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,”  27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Matthew 27:45-46 —

45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

John 19:28-30 —

28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Matthew 27:51-52 —

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

Luke 23:47-49 —

47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

John 19:31-37 —

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.     35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

[1] These passages have been quoted from the NIV84.

Holy Week 2021 — Reading Guide

Easter is almost here!

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

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

Download a copy of the reading guide here.

Thanks, God bless you, and Happy Easter!

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

Songs for Sunday, March 21, 2021

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

Here are our songs:

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

New Opportunity:

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

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

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

Refresh & Restore — March 18, 2021

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

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Greetings, Sojourner!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs for Sunday, March 7, 2021

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

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

The Word of Christ in Us Makes Us Rich

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

Colossians 3:16-17

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

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

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

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

Here are our songs:

  • Romans 5:1-5

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

  • Colossians 3:1-4

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

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

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

New Opportunity:

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

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

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

Refresh & Restore – March 4, 2021

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

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

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

1 John 2:24-28

Greetings, Sojourner!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Teachings Abide in His People

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

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

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

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

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

His Promise is for His People to Abide with Him Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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