Priorities.

I was with my cousin Lindsey a few days ago hanging out at the mall, we were ooh-ing and ah-ing as we were looking in all these expensive stores that we would in no way be able to afford. My cousin and I love to shop!  Every year on New Years Day we meet up and go to the huge Dillard’s sale. We wait outside in the line with all the crazed shopaholics, just waiting to score that great deal! Anyway, we are walking around the mall and I am saying how I want this and want that, and then my cousin started to tell me a story. She said, “well I was just humbled recently.” My ears perked up, “Really? What happened?” She began to tell me about this young family that she knew through her husband. The parents were in their 30’s and they had two young children. The wife’s father had died several years earlier from a rare form of colon cancer. Lindsey went on to say that they found this rare cancer in the daughter. She was diagnosed and only lived a few more months. She died leaving behind her husband and young children. Lindsey said this family was active in their church and faith and just all around a family to admire. Here’s the clincher!  Lindsey then went on to say that on her death-bed, the last thing she told her husband was,

“Run to Jesus, cause that’s all that matters.”

She didn’t say walk, she said, “run!” There was urgency. I stood there in the mall feeling humbled myself. Priorities.

I thought about my good friend Donna who just died of ovarian cancer. Her last words to everyone, that I was honored to sing at her memorial service at her request was,

“Give me Jesus, you can have all this world, but give me Jesus.”

Priorities.

Not long ago my brother was at home and he witnessed a fatal car accident right outside his house. He told us the story, he heard the terrible crash. Emergency crews were on their way, but the young driver didn’t make it. My brother told us he bent down over the body and said,

“Look to Jesus.”

This tears me up just thinking about it. Priorities.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Goodwill, a local resale shop. As I was browsing one of the clerks and I started chatting, just small talk, but the small talk soon turned into something more. Robyn, the clerk started opening up to me and telling me of her anxiety and how paralyzing it was, she worried about something catastrophic happening all the time. As she was telling me this, her eyes started to well up with tears. I started to feel my eyes tearing up. I reached out and gave her a hug. I really did understand, because I deal with anxiety too. I shared my own sufferings with her, and how I could empathize. I told her I would be praying for her and I walked off. I prayed silently, “Lord, Oh Lord, what do I say to her? What should I do?”  I went up to the cash register to check out and she was standing there. I told her,

“Look to the Lord. Nothing else will fill that space but Him.”

I gave her another hug and left. Priorities.

It’s easy to get our priorities out of whack, but here recently I have had several incidents that keep shouting, “JESUS!”  I know when you put him first everything else falls into its rightful place.

Blessings,

Johanna

 

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Do You Really Love the Lord?

When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind.”

This kind of love is not mistakable, this kind of love is not confused, this kind of love is not half-hearted, this kind of love involves all three components, heart, soul and mind; not just one of these. This kind of love is not ashamed, this kind of love is sacrificial, this kind of love is only found through Jesus, God in flesh. He makes it possible to love like this, when we genuinely seek Him.

When you really love with your heart, soul, and mind, you want to please Him. On the contrary when you grieve Him by disobeying, or getting out of step with Him, this would grieve you if you indeed loved Him. If you feel no grief in sin or aren’t affected by it, then the question must be pondered, do I really love Him if I am ok with grieving Him. I think we can honestly answer with a resounding No!

There are extremes that we need to beware of, the true genuine love for the Lord Jesus is neither legalistic or a free license. There is freedom in boundaries. God gave us boundaries, because he knows what is the absolute best for us. Don’t you think your creator knows you best?

We needn’t be so obsessed with our sins or past sins that we are tortured by them, this would not be living in freedom but oppression, but this does not mean that we swing all the way to the other side and care less about our sins, and we just do as we please since “God is gracious.”  Grace is not a license to sin. Both extremes are dangerous. There is a godly kind of balance, we want to stay within the boundaries that God set for us, because we love him and trust that he knows what’s best for us. On the flip side, when we go our own way and then face the consequence of stepping out on our own, we should feel the pain and grief for a time over our disobedience. It should initially grieve us, but then we  confess it and move forward not allowing ourselves to be condemned by it.

In the Bible the apostle Paul tells us “examine ourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test Yourselves.” In the Psalms, “Search me, God and know my heart; test me..” Clearly we need to be concerned with sin, if we truly love Him who loved us first and died for us. Jesus, God in flesh, loved us so much, he sacrificed his life on the cross to make us in right standing with Holy God. Our fate was doomed before Jesus. Mankind’s sin kept us from having a direct relationship with Him, but because of Jesus work on the cross we can know God and have a living, real communion with our creator.

The closer we walk with God the more sensitive we are when we get out of step with Him.

The gospel is just this – God is a holy God, a perfect and righteous God. I am not. At the end of my life I will have to stand before a just and holy God, and I will be judged.  God became flesh, Jesus, to set straight the balances, something we could not do ourselves. Our good works could never be enough. If being good was good enough, why did Jesus even die on the cross?  Jesus, being perfectly sinless became the sacrifice for our sins and our redeeming grace so that when I stand before God one day he will let me in. We just have to genuinely accept this free gift and surrender to Him with our heart, soul and mind. We can reverse our eternal fate without God to living in his presence forever when we love and  trust him completely.  It is only then that we can have a loving relationship with our creator and when we behold him face to face at the end of this road, it will be a joyous meeting.

Will you love him with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind?

 

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.

Spiritual Exam – Patience 

I’m sorry I haven’t posted a blog in a while. I’m running these summer band camps and it’s been real busy. I hope you will be patient with me. I intend to get back to writing. Speaking of patience, patience was next on the fruits of the spirit. The last blog, I started a spiritual examination based on the fruits of the spirit. We looked at love, joy, and peace. Let’s look at patience.

We live in a culture where we don’t need to practice much patience. We have so much convenience right at our fingertips that this age we live, l’m afraid, is losing a grip on how to have patience. We hardly have to wait for anything and when we do have to wait we are so frustrated that we have to wait. The other day I was at the post office and I got in the line that was out the door and I began to feel my skin crawl. I hadn’t even stood there 30 seconds, when the lady behind the counter saved me from a panic attack. She said, “if all you need is a stamp you can use the self serve machine using your credit card.” Awesome! I now only had to wait behind one person instead of 10. I can make it. We just don’t like to wait. Our very human nature wants everything now! Patience is not an automatic response, I think it’s a learned discipline. We have to practice it.

In Romans 12:12 the apostle Paul reminds us that we should “rejoice in hope, BE PATIENT in tribulation and be consistent in prayer.” This is how we should treat every circumstance. I didn’t say it was easy, but we can make a choice to grumble or rejoice no matter what.

I’ll be back writing soon. Be patient. 😉

Johanna

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

Aliens Are Real.

Alienated. Communication cut off. No longer close. Communion broken. I still love and this is why it hurts. I’m in anguish, but I can’t control another. Separated. Cast aside. I still love and this is why it hurts.

I am not the only one. There was another that walked among us. He, like me, felt estranged. He walked in a world that alienated him, cut him off. He was pushed aside and yet he loved. His sorrow was for me. Yes, I too am guilty. I once cast him out. I once alienated him. I once went my separate way, but he loved me all the same. His love hurt to the point of death. He took my place. I should have been the one. He hurt for me because he loves me. He suffered for me because he loves me. I know I am not alone. I’m estranged but not from my Lord. He loves me. He rose from the dead and conquered it all.

The glory that will be revealed is not worth comparing to our present suffering, but instead rejoice that we don’t walk alone. We share in his suffering but not in vain, all for the insurmountable glory of Christ Jesus! The world hated Him and the world will hate us because of Him. This would be a bleak picture IF this world was our home. We are estranged, cut off, hated, separated, cast aside. We are aliens in a foreign land. Our citizenship lies beyond this world, this is why the soul continues to have that longing for home. We just can’t fit in here. We weren’t created to fit in here. As Christians, we are aliens. The more that we become like Christ the less we understand the language of the world and the less we feel comfortable or integrated. The more we become like Christ the more segregated we become from this world. It doesn’t mean we go hide under a rock and throw out our televisions, it simply means that our understanding and allegiance is not on the things of this world. I am not just living for the things of this world anymore, but I live for Him. We are aliens, yes but we are here not to isolate ourselves from the world but to shine His light so that others can finally see too, the light of our Lord Jesus to which they also were created for. These same people who are living day by day trying to fit into this world but can’t find ultimate fulfillment.

We may be aliens here on earth but our home is not far off. In the blink of an eye, we will be home with our Lord.

Philippians 3:20
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,..”

Romans 8:18

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis

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