Author Archives: Dr. Randy Johnson

Gather • Devotional #6: “Increased Love”

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12

Paul wants believers to “increase and abound in love for one another.” This is not a new concept. We know we need to love one another. It is not just a good idea, it is crucial.

In Mark chapter 12, a scribe asked Jesus what was the most important commandment. We are familiar with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5), but the Jewish leaders had added to the list. They had about 613 commandments. Jesus gives the greatest commandment, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (verse 30). The greatest commandment is to love God! Jesus did not stop there. He continued, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (verse 31). Loving one another is a commandment and it is high on the list.

It is hard to ignore how often this command to love one another is given:

  • “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
  • “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
  • “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” John 15:17
  • “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
  • Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11
  • “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22
  • “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10
  • “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” 1 John 3:11
  • “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8
  • “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” 1 John 3:23
  • “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
  • “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14

Finally, as Christians, love should be our distinguishing characteristic. John 13:35says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The key ingredient to our walk is love – love for God and love for one another.

Gather • Devotional #5: “Pray”

“As we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” 1 Thessalonians 3:10

One of the best gifts I was ever given was when an inmate wrote me that he fasted and prayed for me for a whole day. Most people would view him as having nothing to offer, but he regularly encourages me. He also prays for me often. I am so thankful.

Paul was praying for them “earnestly night and day.” He wanted to see them, but more importantly, he wanted them to see Jesus. He wanted their faith to grow.

I like how Acts 20:32 states it, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” To commend someone to God is to pray for them. We pray for God’s best for them. We understand that God knows what is best, so we pray they would seek and follow Him.

I am regularly challenged by 1 Samuel 12:23, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” We owe it to each other to be praying for each other. Not only is it a good thing, but not doing it is a sin. Part of Gatherings includes prayer. We have prayer led by the Pastor, but we should also be looking around the room to pray for each other. Take time throughout the week to pray for others.

You might be wondering, “What should I pray for them?” Paul gives a great example in Philippians 1:9-11, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Pray that their love for the Lord and others may continue to grow. Pray that they would not settle for good when God is offering excellent. Also, pray for proper living. Pray that God would protect them from the evil one. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

“Pray without ceasing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Gather • Devotional #4: “Thankful”

“For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God?” 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Pastor Chuck recently recommended The Pillar New Testament Commentary. It went on sale on Logos so I bought it. I am enjoying it. I was enlightened on how Gene L. Green translated 1 Thessalonians 3:9, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”

Actually, this passage is a rhetorical question. With a rhetorical question, one is not expecting an answer. The question might not have an answer, or it might have an obvious answer. So, why would you ask a question and not expect an answer? A question can be so obvious that it is a statement.

Psalm 116:12 also asks the same kind of question, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” God has been so good to us, how can we ever repay Him. What do you buy or give the One who has “everything?”

However, what is Paul saying he is thankful for? He is thankful for the other believers. He is overjoyed with how other believers encouraged him and what they had accomplished together by the Lord.

Weekly Gatherings consist of singing, giving, and a message, but that is not all. Hebrews 10:25 mentions that part of Gatherings should be the act of “encouraging one another.”

This Sunday, look around the auditorium and realize how blessed you are by being able to freely meet and by those around you. Pause and pray for them. Thank God for them. Paul recognized and acknowledged the hand of God at work in the lives of his readers.

One of the biggest choices many of us make each day is whether we will focus on affliction or blessings. Do you think God placed the wrong people around you? That was a rhetorical question. Look around you and be thankful.

I challenge you to let others know your feelings. Say something like:

  • “I am thankful for you!”
  • “I appreciate you!”

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

Philippians 1:3

Sharing the Light • Devotion #6: “With Us”

When I think of Christmas carols, I tend to think of a song that is more than one hundred years old. I appreciate their message, heritage, and tradition, but writing strong Christian music is important today. In 2016, Life Church released a newer Christmas carol entitled “With Us.” Verses one and two cover from birth to death and to life again:

Not a king adorned in splendor, robed in glory

But a baby in a manger born to save

Not a warrior who fights His way to power

But a friend who faced the cross to set us free

Wrapped in rags, receive the gift of heaven

With a word You bring the dead to life again

You were there from the beginning of creation

With a promise to be with us in the end

The chorus reminds me of Matthew 1:23, “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Jesus coming to Earth (Christmas) meant God is with us:

You are with us

You are with us

In every moment You are with us

You are Jesus

You are Jesus

In every moment You are with us

The bridge is from 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.” It ties Christmas to our lives now:

When we don’t understand

We know You’re working

For our good, For our good

We’re trusting in Your plan

Your purpose always wins

You are with us, You are with us

“With Us” is a great reminder that Jesus is with us even today. In Matthew 28:20, we read, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Hebrews 13:5 repeats the teaching, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Christmas means God is with us!

“For I am convinced

that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor principalities,

nor things present, nor things to come,

nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

nor any other created thing,

will be able to separate us

from the love of God,

which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

Sharing the Light • Devotion #5: “What Child Is This?”

William Chatterton Dix wrote the lyrics to the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” in 1865. It is only three verses long, but it is unique in how boldly he describes Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth in verse two:

Why lies He in such mean estate

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christian, fear: for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce him through,

The Cross be borne for me, for you;

Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,

The babe, the son of Mary!

Most Christmas carols celebrate the birth of Jesus. That is obvious and makes sense. However, this carol talks about nails and a spear piercing Him. It references the cross! Jesus came to earth to die for our sins. He was born to die. Seldom do Christmas carols associate Jesus’ birth and death together.

Peter and Noble (a couple of my former students who are now pastors) made some interesting observations between Jesus’ “start and finish.”

Birth                                      Death

Womb                                    Tomb

Mary                                      Marys

Virgin                                    Unused burial

Joseph                                   Joseph of Arimathea

Linen                                     Linens

Angels                                   Angels

Frankincense, Myrrh         Ointments, spices

Wooden manger                  Wooden cross

Matthew 1:21 tells us why Jesus came to earth, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus was born to die in our place. He came to “save his people from their sins.”

In 1 Timothy 1:15, this concept is repeated, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Jesus’ birth is so special because it was the start of a life that would make for a perfect sacrifice in death. He died so we can live – forever.

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