Fact – Christians Mess Up!

How many times do you hear people judging the Christian faith based on the way Christians act? I admit, I get really discouraged sometimes when I see Christians act in an un-Chrsit-like way and it is very easy to fall into the trap of judging the whole of Christianity based on Christians and then I am reminded that I am also at fault for not meeting that standard. Have I not messed up too? None of us can meet that standard and this is what makes Christianity different than other religions. Other religions are based on works; what I do determines my identity.

Christianity is different, our identity is not based on what we do or didn’t do.  If there is no grace then we are all doomed. Christians mess up. Christians are not perfect. Christians are no better than anyone else. The only one who is perfect, holy and righteous is Jesus, and it’s only through him that Christianity is defined, not through the actions of other Christians. If we had to live on a merit system, I would give up. If Christianity was based on what I did or am going to do, well I’d just throw in the towel on the whole thing. I could never hope to meet that standard.

So what do we really want? Are we judging Christians? Are we saying well if that person is a Christian why did she do that, or why did she say that? That’s not very Christian? Do we expect Christians to be perfect? If this is how we are viewing Christians then we need to turn around and look at ourselves and measure ourselves by the same manner? This is where it gets uncomfortable. We like mercy and grace when it’s coming our way but we don’t give it out so easy. I would venture to say that everyone would like to not be judged entirely on what they have said or done. I know I don’t. I have said and done some really stupid stuff. I want grace. I want mercy. That’s exactly what Christianity offers, if offers grace and mercy when I don’t deserve it. It offers the slate being wiped clean. Instead of God seeing all my mess ups, He sees Jesus right in the middle who took my place as the condemned. Instead of me on trial. Jesus went on trial on the cross. All I am asked to do is accept that free gift of exoneration. I don’t have to carry those chains anymore.

All around us we see  broken people. I am one of those. Churches are full of the sick, full of the broken. If we are looking for Christians to have it all together then we will be sorely disappointed. If your faith is based on how Christians act then you won’t be a Christian long. If you are waiting for the Christian church to be perfect, you will be waiting forever.

Simple Solution – Take your eyes off of the way Christians act as the representative of all Christianity and put your eyes on Jesus instead. He is the only reason and representative. If we take our eyes from him, we are going down a slippery slope. What sustains your faith? Is your faith built on sand or on the ROCK?

It’s only through the cross of Christ that we can have hope and for that I am eternally thankful!

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The Righteous Will Stand

When I was a toddler, I recited Psalm 1 to my Sunday School teacher. I could barely talk but I was able to memorize the words by watching my dad’s mouth when he preached. I didn’t understand what I said at the time, but that scripture has resonated with me all my life. It was a seed planted that truly has grown.

I am making an effort to go through the Psalms and praying through them. I was delighted of course to start with the familiar Psalm 1. Even though I know this scripture so well, I still get refreshed by it every time.

In todays culture the line is getting blurred more and more as to what is righteous and what is sinful. If you read through Psalm 1 how can you be confused?

The righteous WILL stand. No matter what, this is a promise. The righteous WILL overcome. This doesn’t mean we won’t go through rough seasons and suffering, but in the final analysis the righteous WILL stand.  Prospering doesn’t necessarily mean our health and wealth but something much greater than that. We have God on our side, so who could be against us. It’s all being worked out for His good. No power can defeat us ultimately even when by the world’s standards sometimes it might seem like we are being defeated. There is a bigger plan and God has it under control. His ways are higher than our ways. Lean not to your own understanding, but instead acknowledge Him and his ways. When we do this our thinking becomes much clearer.

So who is righteous?

  • Doesn’t walk with the wicked. We are to be set apart from the worlds ways. Seek after holiness.
  • Delights in the law of the Lord day and night. Christ is our first love.
  • Bears fruit. Our lives should be bearing fruit for the world to see that we are different so in turn God can be glorified.

Footnote – Its our righteousness through Jesus that is our firm foundation not on our own merit. Our good doing apart from Christ is not good enough.

In contrast who is the wicked? They will be none of the things above and the Psalmist describes the wicked like this;  they are driven away by the wind and they will ultimately perish. There is no firm foundation in anything they say or do, they do whatever the wind drives them to do at the time. We all know that winds come and they go. There is no stability and when there is no firm foundation when the wind comes the house falls down.

In our nation we elect leaders in public office, we are either going to elect  leaders with a firm foundation or those that get driven by the winds. Depending on who we elect will depend on whether our nation falls when the winds come or stands strong no matter what comes our way. We can’t elect the right leaders though unless the people who are doing the voting, seek righteousness. It really does start with you and me, the people.

Lord, help me to walk in your ways and not to stumble.  You are my delight. Keep the fire burning day and night. Help me to bear the fruit of your Son Jesus so that all that I come in contact with will see you. In everything I do may I prosper for your name’s sake.

In Jesus name

AMEN

Love? Good? Define.

In Romans 12:1 the apostle Paul says, “Let love be genuine, abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good.”

With the redefinition of words, we can’t be too careful to examine love and goodness, and whether or not we are seeing it by the biblical definition or the worldly definition. These are polar opposites but one is cleverly disguised and can be very appealing and tempting. If we don’t know what good is, how can we know what love is?

Isaiah the prophet warned, “woe to them that call evil good, and good evil. Even thousands of years ago people were trying to redefine what is good. So this has been an age-old problem. Satan’s cunning way to deceive us is to get us to believe that evil is not actually evil but instead good. The world has been painting a picture with the redefinition of marriage and if you aren’t on your guard and rooted in scripture you will be second guessing the truth about marriage. You will be painted a hater, a bigot, and the pressure could possibly get you to back down and give in. No one wants to be the bad guy, but the true Christian that stands up for scripture and Jesus will make you feel like the bad guy sometimes. If we aren’t careful, that feeling will make us think I am not loving or I am not good. It’s a lie from the pit of hell. The enemy wants to steer you far from the real meaning of love and goodness. He is clever, slick, and if you think you aren’t capable of being deceived, beware he already has you deceived by your own self-righteousness. We are all capable of being deceived. The only way to prevent this is to stay sober-minded, guarding our hearts with the truth of scripture and prayer.

Revenge can also look like “good.” In the movies, don’t we love to see the bad guy get beat, hit, and killed. It is not as popular to see  the good guy stand strong, set boundaries yes, but act mercifully and forgive. It is just not as satisfying is it? When that man opened fire in a Methodist church recently, the world was shocked at the response of the families to the killer. They were grieving, hurt, and I am sure angry, but they didn’t repay evil for evil, they chose to forgive and show mercy. This is not natural and it is only done by obeying what scripture says and going against your feelings. I am quite sure that they had feelings that were not as honorable. It would be easy to get a shot-gun, go hunt the guy down and kill him and then say loudly, this was good! He deserved it! I am a hero! It is a feeling that will not satisfy and will leave us empty. What is good? Not repaying evil for evil.

Goodness and fairness are not one in the same. This is a lie. Don’t be deceived by this. Goodness is not equality. We sure do hear a lot about equal rights. Philippians 2:6 says, “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.” Almighty God humbled himself becoming one of us, he came not with crowns and material riches, but as a lowly servant. This is not popular by the world’s standards. The world says get what you deserve, this is good. You deserve it.

The biggest redefinition of good is when we stand before God after this life and He says, depart from me I never knew you.” …….But God, I went to church every week, I gave to the poor, I loved my family, I took communion, I was baptized, I WAS GOOD! Being good doesn’t get you into heaven. Jesus, who is perfectly righteous and good is our only way to heaven. If we try to get to heaven on our definition of good, it won’t work. 

Everything good comes from God. Jesus is the ultimate definition of good. We can choose to do a lot of good things but that alone doesn’t define goodness. All the good acts will mean nothing when we stand before God without Jesus. Don’t try to measure goodness without Jesus because it will never add up. The fact that we can even do anything good is through the grace of God. We need to be reminded of this truth.  Lets not get confused with the definition of love and goodness. When we view goodness as only coming down from the Father above, we are also seeing genuine love. Genuine love is in Jesus. It is not a feeling. Don’t be deceived and ruled by your feelings. You will come up empty every time.

I Skipped Over Kindness

Kindness is oh so easy when people are kind to you but when they are against you, the very last natural thing to feel is kindness. Yesterday I had an incident that tested me on this. I implemented some new policies in my music studio and i had a parent protest. She threatened to maybe quit lessons. I tell you my first response was anxiety and defense. I had been preparing for a revolt. After a few professional  email exchanges I thought to myself, “I am being reasonable. Why can’t she get that?” Later that night, I was in bed doing some reading and I realized I had skipped “kindness” in the fruit of the Spirit blogs. I thought, “Lord are you telling me what I think you are telling me? This lady needs kindness?! But Lord……….she doesn’t value me, she is taking advantage of me. I can’t!

Then I thought about the fact that Jesus still set boundaries. Kindness doesn’t mean that you don’t stand firm or let people run you over. In Matthew 10 Jesus told the disciples go and preach and if they hear you, stay and if they don’t, leave. Jesus was saying we can’t control anyone’s response. We just have to send the message. The message is kind, it is looking for the person’s best interest. The gospel message is kind but it is also offensive. It inconveniences our selfish life.

My policy that I put into place was for the benefit of my students to get the very best from me as a teacher. I can’t control her response. I have to let it go. If she won’t listen and hear, I have to shake the dust off my feet and leave in peace. This is kindness. Trying to prove myself or defend myself is stirring up more strife and that wouldn’t be kind. Being gentle yet firm and respectful in my responses is kind. Letting go and not feeling resentful is kind. Letting her make her own decision and not manipulating her is kind.

Jesus loves us so much, He died for us. Jesus doesn’t force us to come to him. This is kindness, even though we miss out on the eternal benefits when we walk away from Jesus. It is still kindness when we allow others to make their own decisions. God didn’t create robots. He wants us to come to him willingly.

So in short, Jesus set boundaries. Jesus was kind in setting those boundaries. It’s not just good enough to set a boundary, we need to do it with kindness. Don’t skip over kindness.

Gentleness and Goodness Exam

Gentleness.

What do you picture when you think of gentleness? I think of words like, delicate, meek, humility. What’s the opposite of gentle? Careless, reckless, prideful, harsh. Gentleness is definitely a Christian characteristic. If you are a Christian, how does this fruit of the spirit fit into your daily life? Are you doing a good job of representing Jesus by being gentle?  Is there a sense of calm and humility that you show towards God and to others? Are you worried about equality or are you like Jesus, coming as a servant?

Goodness.

When I am sick, God is good. When I am well, God is good. When I am rich, God is good. When I am poor, God is good When I am alone, God is good. When I am not alone, God is good. When I am happy, God is good. When I am sad, God is good. I could name a million circumstances and feelings and God will always be good. God will always be perfectly righteous and holy making everything right no matter what my circumstance or feeling. “God works all things together for good of those who love him, to him that are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Feelings and circumstances come and go, but God is always good. I rejoice in this because in this upside down, fleeting world with so many changes, I can rest in knowing that God is the same yesterday today and forever.  There could be nothing good without Him. He is the creator of everything good. Every good gift is from the Father above. Goodness displayed in us would be  wanting what is right, honorable, and true, for God and others. Goodness can be demonstrated in all kinds of ways, but it always is up-right, true and honorable. Does your life show the goodness that comes through God alone?

We need Jesus everyday to display gentleness and goodness. It’s easy to fall into wanting our rights, equality first above everything else. Seek Jesus and when you do ask him for more of his gentleness and goodness so that more people would see Jesus and come to repentance.

Jesus, Give me more gentleness and goodness.

Spiritual Exam Part 1

Its the end of the school year and students all around are taking their exams. Exams are good and healthy. We do them in school, we do them for our bodies. There are all kinds of ways we do examinations. How much more should we examine our spiritual lives?

Sometimes in our Christian witness we don’t need to say anything at all. How we live can sometimes speak louder than words. This does not mean that we shouldn’t make every effort to speak of Jesus when given the opportunity, yes we are commanded to preach the gospel of Jesus unashamed. I want to examine Christian character lived out in and through our lives. The Bible speaks of many qualities that a Christian should bear. How about the fruits of the spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) I think it’s a good idea to examine our lives and see how we are fairing in our own actions. Which of these do we feel stronger in? More importantly where do we have the biggest weakness? Where are we lacking or missing the mark? From time to time each of these qualities are put to the test. I am going to do a few blogs examining what Christian character looks like. I hope you will go along with me on this exam and feel free to share your own experiences. We are in this together.

LOVE

The apostle Paul listed love first and rightly placed because we can’t really have any of the other qualities without first being rooted and grounded in love. Love is easy when the other person is being lovable but NOT so easy when the person is the contrary. Where the confusion starts is how we define love. If love to me is a warm feeling, then I am going to have a REAL hard time showing love to someone being difficult or hateful, but if love means acting out in the persons best interest above mine, then that is real love and the definition of love becomes a choice not a feeling. Does love mean being sweet all the time? Does love mean giving hugs? Love can include those things but those things don’t always mean love. Sometimes loving someone means telling them the truth about something that might initially hurt but you know it’s the right thing to tell them. Love is honest and respects the other person. Can you love someone and be angry with them? Yes. Anger is a feeling. I can still feel that but not allow the anger to make me act in an unloving manner. Jesus was the perfect example of real love. He was gracious. He told the truth. He got angry sometimes with unrighteousness. He put others needs above his own. He wasn’t interested in pleasing himself. He came to give of himself for us. He gave of himself in every way and finally sacrificed himself for us. This is real love. How are we fairing in our display of love to the people around us?

JOY

The next quality listed is joy. The common synonym for joy is happiness. When what happens to us is favorable, we are happy, but when unfavorable we are unhappy. How easy is it to get those confused. The Bible speaks of having joy even in the midst of trials, so clearly joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is usually based on our happenings. Here is a quote from an article in Gospel for Asia’s newsletter:

“The steady rain beat against the mud walls. Drops of rainwater seeped through the battered roof onto the dirt floor, quickly forming puddles between the men and women crowded below. Plastic tarps, draped over the hut to protect it from the elements, flapped violently in the wind. Clouds grew large and dark above the little mud house. But the joy of the people who gathered inside the house could outshine any storm.”

How in the world could they find joy in such a uncomfortable situation? Simply they understood what joy really is.  Joy is much deeper and really is nothing like happiness. Joy is in Jesus. We can’t have joy any other way. It’s a deeper more profound state that endures through whatever circumstance. Do you compare joy with happiness or your happenings? Can you outshine the storms in your life? Only through Jesus is it possible.

PEACE

Peace is easily confused with trying to never argue or never have disagreements. “Let’s just keep the peace.” The Bible’s description of peace is quite different. Even Jesus didn’t always keep the peace. He stirred up a lot of war. The peace that Jesus brought was an eternal peace with God not with man. Does your whole life have a sense of general peace and contentment or are you always agitated and restless? Peace with God won’t leave us restless. God fills that void. Jesus is the Prince of peace. Are you living in the peace that passes all understanding?

Stay tuned for part 2 of the fruits of the Spirit

It’s Not About Me!

Having too high a view of yourself is no good, you’ve just got an inflated ego.

Having too low a view of yourself is no good, you’ve just got a deflated ego.

Both at the root, are pride. I have a problem with the “too low a view of myself in many instances. I, then find a way to boost my ego to get a high view of myself. It’s the daily struggle. The ego gets hurt, and then I try to find a way to blow it up again. The ego is the problem. Our ego is NOT who we are, it’s who we THINK we are on our own power and strength. So lets pay no attention to it. Give it up and over to Him. “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, its thinking of ourselves less.” Tim Keller

Read more about this from Tim Keller’s book “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness’

Luke 15:11-32

Jesus was always concerned with others like in the parables, it’s not the 99 its the 1 lost sheep. He chases after that one lost sheep. He doesn’t say “oh well all these good sheep, this is good enough.” In the prodigal son, the father didn’t say “oh well I have other children, let him go.” So Jesus is concerned with every lost sheep, and so should we. It’s not about me and my holiness and “woohoo! now that I am found I can sit nice and comfortable” We have been found and now are fully aware of the lost. It was not about me when I was lost, how much more is not about me now that I am found?

Lord I am thankful that you have found me not so I can sit comfy, but because of your grace and love and the gift of who I really am. I am hopeless without you. My identity is in You!  Help me show the compassion, kindness, self-discipline, and love for not only my fellow brothers and sisters but more for those lost souls. Help me to think of myself less, so that I can fill up on Jesus, and in my actions show Jesus to every lost soul.

“I am truly hopeless, yet full of hope, truly lost, but nonetheless truly found.” Michael Card.

Find your real identity in Him!

Blessings,

Johanna

Get in on the Action!

But ye beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. Jude 1:20,21

We are not programmed robots. God created us with a free will to do as we please. As I study this verse in Jude, I see four action verbs.

The first is “building up.” Every day our actions are either building us up in the faith, tearing us down, or complacency is causing a slow deterioration. The apostle James said “faith without works is dead.” How can our faith grow without the right orthopraxy (doing of the word)? We must not just be hearers of the Word but doers as James instructs. What does our behavior do in efforts to build us up? Do we just admire the ideals of Christianity and read about Jesus with fondness or are we trying to live our lives like Jesus? Are we just hearing what He says or are we doing what He says? How can we be “building” if we are not “doing”?

The second action verb Jude gives is “praying” Prayer is our direct line to God. This is our communion, our one on one communication. We would never expect any relationship to grow if we never spoke to the person; the same is with Christ. He is on the other end, saying come talk to me. He is calling but we must decide to answer.

Thirdly, “KEEP yourselves in the love of God.” To keep is to “retain possession of.” We have been given God’s love and we must accept and hold on to it. Grasp tightly to the love that sets us free through Jesus Christ. Don’t lose sight of this love.

And this brings us to the fourth; “LOOK for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The enemy does not want us to build up in the faith, to have communion with the Father, to know Christ’s love, so he will do all he can to distract us from Christ’s mercy. The enemy will condemn, but take heart, we know better; Jesus is merciful. He knows our weakness. He knows we fall short of the holy standard and yet, he is merciful.

Let’s look at them in reverse order:

  • Look for the mercy of our Lord, the one who saves us from our sins and gives eternal life.
  • Keep His love and hold it close so that we can give love to others and show the world who this Jesus really is.
  • Always be in prayer, our direct line of communication.
  • Build up your faith continually to the glory of God.

Go ahead! Get in on the action!

In His love,

Johanna

Whatever is True

One of my favorite verses in scripture is “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” Philippians 4:8. I admit I would think of this verse with warm feelings, maybe even a bit shallow. I would think of this wonderful paradise a sort of utopia or even comparable to that feeling on Christmas morning. As I have been reading and studying it other ideas began to pop out at me–a very different idea than I have had in the past.

The first virtue that the apostle Paul states was “whatever is true.” This got my wheels turning. Is truth easy to think about? Does it even maybe give us pain at times? When Isaiah saw the truth of God in all His holiness, He began to see the reality of His sinfulness. He said “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah was clearly in anguish over this revelation. He had been exposed. I don’t know about you, but I have encountered times in my life that I had to face the truth about something and it was painful and even sometimes traumatizing. This sort of puts a damper on the warm fuzzy feeling.

Can we really think genuinely of what is noble and right and pure, lovely and admirable if we don’t first come to know what is true? Truth is what gives reality meaning. If we don’t first define truth, we are left defining all the latter attributes by what standard? Without truth, you will have a false security in everything. I understand that the only way to genuine righteousness, genuine purity, genuine nobility, genuine compassion, genuine love, and genuine forgiveness is when I understand the very truth of my own brokenness. When we cross this threshold from death to self and walk into true life eternal within the person of Jesus, we will find the absolute blessed freedom that we longed for. He does not fail. He will not fail.

In His love,

Johanna

My Identity 

I come to the Father through the cross of Christ.

I will not be oppressed by my weaknesses and strength.

I will not be knocked down by the power of sin and death.

I boldly stand as the person I was made to be.

I am looking unto Jesus who is alive in me.

In His love,

Johanna