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?

 

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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

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

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

Jesus Doesn’t Care About the Easter Nod.

Well here it is again…….easter eggs, peeps, chocolate bunnies, lilies, and the biggest church attendance day out of the year. Now wait, I am not being cynical. Don’t yell at me. I like bunnies, and I like painting easter eggs. Peeps are great too, especially when you let them get a little stale. I am really NOT the Easter nazi. Here me out.

What is Easter about? We know it’s  about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, but what does this really mean? It’s about the power of the cross of Christ. It’s about fellowship with the Lord. It’s about being formed into the likeness of him. It’s about Jesus paying for our sins. It’s about Jesus giving new life. It’s about Jesus living in me. It’s about the love that he poured out on the cross for me. It’s about the fact that I am no longer condemned. I am free! I am forgiven.  It’s about having unending joy through Jesus. It’s about everlasting peace, by way of the Prince of Peace. It’s about my savior, my Lord, who I serve forever. THIS IS BIG STUFF! This is EVERYTHING! Jesus doesn’t look at a holiday and say, “why thank you for observing me this one day out of the year.” The true meaning of Easter is not about a single day of the year, that we decide to put on our Sunday’s best and pay homage to this man named Jesus. The true meaning of Easter is Jesus IS alive! He’s not just alive one day a year. NO! NO! NO! When we accept his gift by way of the cross, Jesus is alive in us everyday of every moment of the year. I want to start waking up every morning shouting “HE IS RISEN!” I want every normal day to be a declaration of the Risen Savior. I want the end of my life to have one message, his name is Jesus!

So no, God doesn’t give points for the Easter nod. God looks at the heart. He wants YOU! All of YOU! Once you taste this Water of Life, you won’t want anything else. You won’t just want to give an Easter nod, you will want to live your life for Him. 

 Will you declare with me not just this Easter but every day, HE IS RISEN! This old natural life is put to death by way of the cross. Keep coming back to the cross. I AM MADE ALIVE THROUGH JESUS! 

 HAPPY EASTER!

A Pebble that Shines for Him

Do you ever feel like God is not there? Does his presense sometimes seem far away? I have felt this at times. One time in particular, I was feeling depressed. I continued to pray and read the scriptures, but I was getting these thoughts like “There is no God listening to you.” I knew this was not the case, but the feelings of being alone still were there. “Where are you God?” “Why can’t I feel your presence?” Notice one common word, “feel”, “felt”, “feelings”. I knew I couldn’t put my faith in my feelings.
I stumbled on Romans 11 where the apostle Paul tells of the branches being grafted into the tree. I read “The Message” translation and one verse stood out that said, “You do not uphold the root, the ROOT upholds you.” I thought about how it’s not what I do or how I feel that makes me a Christian instead it’s what Christ has done in me and is continuing to do in me and in all circumstances.
I went out to go walk on the bayou in our neighborhood that we recently moved into. My neighbor kept telling me I should go see it. I kept putting it off, but I finally went out and did it. As I was walking down the pebble paved walkway, I began to look ahead and in the pebbles some of them were glistening beautifully and some even brighter. My eyes gravitated towards the shinning pebbles. It was beautiful! As I kept walking, I crossed under a tree; the pebbles stopped glistening. The thought at that moment occurred to me that it was not the pebbles themselves that were glistening but the bigger LIGHT above shinning on the pebbles reflecting that bigger LIGHT. God was saying, “I am here! I have always been here! I am upholiding you!” God will never leave us or forsake us. Even when we have crossed under a cloud, He is still there. We can’t put faith in a feeling. Feelings are feelings and that is all. Let the truth of Jesus govern above all else. Let Him shine and radiate through your life.

Romans 1:20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

At the brink of disaster, He caught me!

Here I am an empty vessel. I thirst, I hunger, my longings never cease. I want and I need. Its a constant crave cycle. I need to be filled up, emptiness will never do. Oh, I try to fill it up with nostalgia, with family, and fun, approval, even going to church. These things I know will never fully satisfy. My trust can’t be put in anyone of these single things. These things are all good, but they won’t leave me fully satisfied. This I know to be true with my entire being, because I have tasted the Water of Life; it wasn’t by my own might or power. I did nothing, accept dive into His arms – spirit to Spirit. When I knew I had no hope and I was at the brink of disaster, I didn’t stop and analyze the statistics and weigh my options. I had no other option. I knew this to be true; spirit to Spirit. I jumped. In mid air I went from death to life. He caught me and made my fully alive. I am filled up spirit into His Spirit. I am His and He is mine, not by might not by power but by His Spirit! This old nature is still to be wrestled with, and until I reach glory, I have to jump into His arms daily spirt into His Spirit!

Make me spiritually alive. Fill me up dear Savior!
Amen!

Stranger or Lord?

The setting – Three days had passed. Jesus had just been crucified. Two men were on the road to a village called Emmaus. The story unfolds in Luke 24:13-35

On the road to Emmaus, the men were grieved. They were reasoning and conversing when Jesus drew near to them. Jesus draws near in suffering and sadness and searching, but in this grief they couldn’t recognize him. Jesus was a stranger to them. We often are clouded by our own feelings. As a result, we cannot see the reality and truth.

The stranger asked “What are you discussing?” They explained, are you the only one who doesn’t know these things that have happened; the tragedy, the grief? He answers “What things?” Jesus presents the questions so they can talk it out and search it out and be responsible for what they believe. Where is our perspective? Are we focused on the feeling and clouded by a feeling? It might be the very thing keeping us from seeing Jesus.

They explained all the events that had transpired over the past 3 days. They explained that Jesus was a prophet and that they had hoped that he would be the One but he was betrayed captured and crucified, and now they are saying there is an empty tomb but Where is Jesus? Suffering and sacrifice was not in their plan of how it was all suppoesed to happen.
The stanger said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Don’t you see the Messaiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” The stranger began to show them everything in scripture.
Jesus was standing in flesh and blood and yet they didn’t even know and recognize him as he was walking and talking with them. This is a clear indication that you can know a lot about Jesus and think you know him but if you don’t acknowledge the cross and our need and own brokenness we won’t be able to see Jesus.
Our foolishness comes out when we trust our own ways and not His. “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

The men pressed the stranger to stay and have dinner with them. They felt a pressing need for him. And so the stranger stayed. He sat at the table. “Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them.” The two men immediately recognized him! Its Jesus! They were able to then place correctly the feelings that they had.
That great need they felt drew Jesus in and when he broke bread as a symbol of his body being broken for us they saw Jesus!
We recognize Jesus at the cross. There is no other way to see him. His body was broken for us because of our sinfulness. We must be crucified with him. Our old self must be put to death so that Jesus can live in us and through us.

Where are you on the raod? What mile are you on?

Are you in deep grief? Are you asking questions?  Are you confused? Do you see the empty tomb but you don’t see Jesus? Do you feel the need for Jesus? Have you broken bread with Jesus? Have you been to the foot of the cross? Have you been crucified with Christ? Is you heart burning as you search and seek?

My Soul Cries Out, “At Last I’m Whole!”

My soul cries out
lack of self,
redeem myself.
It cries again,
heal this pain
just love to gain.
And still again
full of wonder
as strong as thunder.
And once again
take my heart
a brand new start.
Release my soul
that I may fly.
Let not thy wonder
pass me by.
Much to gain
and naught to lose.
My self desires
I bid goodbye.
My soul sings out
a brand new story;
full of love, full of joy.
It sings again
with not a word
yet still is heard.
And still again
I can feel.
I know He’s real.
At last I’m whole
just ask my soul.

Original poem by Johanna Russell

God’s Dwelling Place

1 Kings 9:3 I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

Describe the kind of home you would like to be for Him:

Pure / Clean
Full of love
Sweet fragrance
Giving / full of gifts to give
Clutter free – get rid of distractions
colorful / personality showing Jesus
Always welcoming / hospitable / open door / House of service
Bright / Shining His light
thoughtful / organized….everything in its proper place
Stress free / anxiety free 

Lord, I pray today that you would wash this house, deep clean my soul. Fill me with love and sprinkle Your sweet fragrance so that all would sense your Spirit. Lord, I give all that I have. Let this house be your house of gifts, providing blessings to all those around me. De-clutter this dwelling so that there is less of me and more room for you. Color the walls of this house. Let the personality and gifts that you have given me sparkle for you. Let me be an open door to your Spirit, welcoming Jesus, treating all those around with heart of service. May this house shine with the brightest light of Your Son, so that in whatever darkness may come, this Light will never be extinguished. Father God, renew my mind and organize my thoughts. Put them all in their proper place. May I always put you at the front. I will serve you always in this house. I know that you will supply my needs. There is no need for stress or anxiety when you rule in this house. Thank you for being owner of this house. Praise the Lord now and forever!
In Jesus name,
AMEN