Two Things We Can Boast in: Weakness and the Cross

It’s been quite a week since last Thursday. I have had several sleepless nights, I have had a mental war. I have worried. I have fretted. My digestive system has suffered. Why you ask? Fear!

I am going to crack open my heart and soul with you. I struggle with worrying too much about what other people think. I also simply take myself too seriously much of the time. I struggle with anxiety. I worry I am going to appear a failure.

My story this last week began when me and my students performed at a retirement home last Thursday. I got up to perform and well I basically fell flat on my face. I lost where I was in the music, got distracted by my thoughts and was overwhelmed with anxiety. You would have thought in my mind that the world came to an end. I did not externalize my feelings. I acted as if nothing happened, but the inner war was tremendous and for a week straight I worried and fretted over that. I assumed people’s thoughts. I was not thinking rational, and I even told myself that, but I was still tortured by it.

In my Psalm study I have been reading through Psalm 64, the first couple of times I read it, it didn’t resonate with me in any particular way, and then I felt compelled to read it again last night, and it jumped off the page and into my heart! The Psalmist in the beginning says, “deliver me from my fear” He didn’t say deliver me from the situation. This is what I was pleading with God, deliver me from this dread! The Psalmist sounded just like me tortured in his mind. He continues on to say “hide me from the secret plots of the wicked.” Now for him it was external enemy, but for me, I resonated with wanting to be hidden. I wanted to go hide. I felt humiliated. Then the Psalmist says, “they hold fast to their evil purpose” I just thought about how our enemy, satan, can use this as an opportunity to try to overcome us, discourage us, condemn us, ensnare us. This is a perfect opportunity for him to get a foothold on us. In verse 7, the Psalmist says, BUT GOD! I just stopped here, because really we needn’t go any further. Everything that preceded this is not the final analysis. GOD is the one who has the final say. God is my deliverer. It says in verse 10, “let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in Him. Let all the upright in heart exult.”

I was humbled by this situation. God allowed my to fall. God knows my struggle with perfection and people pleasing, and the only way for me to overcome it is through the fire. How can I expect to be refined and to grow to be more like Him if I don’t go through some discomfort. It really has been a thorn in my flesh. I have to learn that it isn’t about me and there is noting like going through something like this, to humble me.

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25

Being a Christian does not mean perfection, or no struggles, and I think of the verse “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” The word fear here is not anxiety but a reverence and respect for God’s authority, and trembling is admitting our weakness, and submitting to our dependence solely on God. This is an ongoing sanctification process to bring us into more of HIs likeness. To do this, God has to test and try our hearts. We have to be humbled, and this is not comfortable, but it must be done.

I have hanging in my hallway as a huge reminder from 2 Corinthians 12:9……..

“My grace is sufficient for you, for MY POWER is made perfect in weakness.”

We have nothing to boast in except our weakness and the cross. It is a truth that I am still learning every day. The layers of of my own self focus are being pulled back. God is gracious with me and he is gentle. I am being refined. I don’t want to remain the same. I want to be more like Him, but I have to be willing to go in the fire, be uncomfortable. I have to deny myself and take up my cross. I have to also remember this is a daily process. Every morning his mercies are new, and I have to come to the feet of Jesus to be renewed every day. Like the old hymn says…….

“Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up Lord. Come and quench this thirsting  of my soul. Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more. Here’s my cup, fill it up and make me whole.”

A final thought — You might have heard that joke/story about the kid who was in church listening to the sermon. The minister prayed, “Dear Lord without you we are but dust.” When the child heard this she leaned over  to mom and said, “Mommy, what is butt dust?”  haha!

I  was sent this joke by my childhood piano teacher and friend before she passed away this past February. We laughed so much about that.  She texted about a month before she died, and the text read simply, “We are SO butt dust!” 😛

Don’t take myself so seriously. Depend on him. Boast in my weakness. Boast in the Cross. I have to beware that just when I think I am something, I will find out pretty soon that I am nothing.

He’s still working on me! He began a good work in me, and he is for sure going to see it though to completion!

God gets the glory!

Blessings,

Johanna

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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

 

A Conversation With a Friend- Religion and Spirituality

The word religion is not a popular one today. It seems many people look at it with a negative connotation. Even Christians want to steer away from using the word, saying things like, “it’s a relationship not religion.” There was a video that went viral a few years ago called by Jefferson Bethke called, “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus. I have even found myself trying to avoid that word when speaking of Jesus or Christianity. I hear people say, “she/he is very religious” another phrase I hear a lot is, “I am not religious, I am spiritual.

I had lunch with a good friend. We got into this conversation. She said she saw herself as spiritual but not religious. I asked, “what does that mean to you?” I really genuinely wanted to know because I myself did not know what that really meant to her. She said, “well religion had a negative association, and she felt “religious” meant rigid and set in their ways not willing to budge. This was a paraphrase from what I recall. Anyway she saw it as strict and unwavering. She also said she did not agree with being held to a man-made set of beliefs written out and using that as your only guide, and she mentioned the Bible. She did not like “organized religion.” I hear that term “organized” and never understood it. If you don’t like religion just say you don’t like religion. Why put the organized part in front of it? It sounds like you might consider chaotic or random religion.

My dad asked me the day before I met with my friend, “How do you keep from worshiping the Bible instead of the God of the Bible?” I thought for a minute, and I said, “prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to search my heart and worship in spirit and in truth. I mentioned this to my friend. A side note, my friend grew up in a very legalistic, religious home, they attended a church that is considered now to be a cult. She even admitted to having deep emotional ties to the topic and even having a distorted view of these things. Can you blame her?

So Back to the story, I told her it’s about spirit and truth. My view of when people say they are spiritual is they are really attracted to the spirit side, which is where longing and desire resides. We all have this deep within our spirits. We have a need to understand our origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. These questions as Ravi Zacharias  says, will have to be answered at some point in our lives. Our spirit longs for these things to be answered. Worship in spirit is only part of the equation, the other essential part is truth. I expressed to my friend to ask herself what she truly believes, and if what she believes is true.  It’s only rational to test our belief systems. She in essence said well, we can’t really know, because our perspectives are all skewed based on our experiences and our emotional attachments. I have heard this argument before, that we can’t know for sure. This doesn’t add up, I told her if we can’t know or if it is not possible, we should have never found out that it was impossible, we should just exist. CS Lewis said, “If the universe has no meaning, we should have never found out that it has no meaning. We humans have something different in us than every other species. We need the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny answered. This is essential in our human need. She is right when she says our experience and emotion can take over and lead us but I don’t think it’s impossible to see through it. I believe the Holy Spirit can knock the lenses right out of our glasses so we can see the truth. When we are really open to finding the truth and seeking the truth genuinely, I believe God honors that. “Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” At the end of the day, if someone asked me are you religious or spiritual, I would say both. Religion is simply a system of beliefs that we adhere to make our decisions on origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. I definitely think we are made for an organized system, because our origin is organized, our meaning and morality is organized and our destiny is organized. We aren’t made for randomness. The only organized set of beliefs that seem to answer these questions rationally, logically and experiential is Christianity. So am I religious? Sure. Am I spiritual? You bet. I am a spirit. This body is wasting away but my spirit is being renewed daily and preparing for eternity. My spirituality is how I commune with God. It is where my deepest longings and desires are. It’s how I can have a thriving relationship with Jesus.

What are your thoughts on this? I would love to know how you would respond in this context.

Blessings,

Johanna

Are You Seeing Without REALLY Seeing?

Have you ever had a time where someone skilled at something attempted to show and explain something to you? The answers were right there in front of your face, but you just couldn’t see it–see it with understanding that is. I am a piano teacher and one of the duties is to teach sight reading. I watch these little kids try to make sense of what is on the page and make it sound like music. They have not been taught what the notes on the page mean, they surly see the notes, but they mean nothing but a big blob of black ink. If they only knew that the meaning behind the black blob of ink is beautiful music. To unlock the beautiful music you have to be able to see it, REALLY see it with understanding. How do we come to know how to read music? Don’t we need someone in the know to show us–someone who is wise to the truth of unlocking the mystery behind the big blob of ink? We don’t come to this knowledge from within ourselves, we don’t have the keys, no pun intended.

So it is with the things of God. We can see it but are we REALLY seeing it? Does it penetrate to the heart and do we see it with understanding to then be able to unlock the beautiful mystery behind the person of Jesus. We can’t see Jesus for who he really is until our eyes have been opened with understanding. The pharisees in the Bible-the religious group, claimed to see, but they were blind. The way to godliness and truth, is not through trying to show that we already know, but that we don’t know. Humility will lead us into the right direction. I think admitting we are pretty stupid is a great place to start when aiming for godliness and then ask questions. Don’t be contented to just stay in the dark. God will honor this, and always will answer and open our eyes when we come in humility, seeking Him.

I truly believe the way to deeper sight into the things of God is through trials. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers in our pleasure, but shouts in our pain.” God doesn’t want us to be in pain, but he is able to use it. The true test to our faith is  in tough situations, through conflict, through adversity. The test to where our faith is truly placed is revealed in these circumstances. It’s easy to say we believe when all is well and things are going smooth, it is quite another when the boat gets to rocking and the storms start raging, when people start letting you down. These are times where real growth happens, when we are forced to confront what we say we see and what we REALLY see.

I don’t claim to know it all, but I do know the one who does, and I will continue to follow Him, so that my sight can become more keen. My vision is not perfect, but as I come in humility, the eyes of my understanding are opened a little more all the time and Jesus just gets clearer and clearer.

 

 

 

 

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

I am a Rock with that Special Element of Mastery!

I always thought the study of rocks seemed kind of boring, I mean, rocks, really? Even Charlie Brown was bummed when he got a rock. Remember in “The Great Pumpkin,”  when the kids went trick or treating and all the kids were excited about receiving their treats, and poor Charlie Brown was shafted, He exclaimed,”I got a rock.” Well, after doing a mini geology study, I got a little more excited about rocks. Why do people even study rocks to begin with? What can a little rock tell us about anything? Turns out, quite a lot. Studying rocks, seems to be simultaneously teaching us about the past to prepare for the future. Really cool, right!? It got me thinking, about how sometimes we want to bury the past, run from it, ignore it, deny it. As painful as the past is sometimes, this is the wrong approach. We don’t know why some things happen, but we know that each part of our lives is preparing us for the future. When I see my life through this lens, it blows me away! There is purpose, there is meaning. So what are rocks? They are combinations of different minerals. There are many different rocks. No two rocks are the same. Each has different characteristics  that make them unique. There are three main types of rock though, Sedimentary, Igneous,  and Metamorphic. Geologists say that 75% of rocks around us are Sedimentary. They are the norm of the rocks. These rocks are soft in comparison to the others and can crumble and fall apart more easily. The igneous rocks form when hot magma cools, they become coarse, and grainy with pockets of air bubbles. When I was reading this I thought about us and our past. Some of us let our past make us soft and we crumble and fall apart, others let our past erupt in us and then when it cools, we are left hard, and coarse, with pockets of emptiness. So what about this last rock, Metamorphic? Metamorphic start out no different from the other two types, but when placed under extreme amounts of heat and pressure they don’t melt they go through a metamorphosis. They change! Are you getting excited?! I sure am. These rocks become denser and can have shiny crystals. Geologists say that metamorphic rocks hold a special element of mastery. Who is the master? I know who he is! Geologists even say they can continue to change with the right amount of heat and pressure. We are ever-changing becoming more like Christ. Every high heat, and high pressure event is changing us. Philippians 1:6 says “He who began a good work in you, will see it through to the day of completion, until the day of Jesus Christ.” The final metamorphosis.

This is reason to praise God in the midst of our trials. Are we going to be a rock that crumbles and falls or maybe becomes hard and coarse, or will we allow Jesus to refine us, to change us, to make us more like him?

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:7

Walking through the fire is something that has to happen if we want to come out more than a mere rock that might crumble and fall apart.

“Coming to him as a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus.” 1 Peter 2:4

I GOT A ROCK! THE LIVING ROCK! THE ROCK OF AGES!  I am a rock with that special element of mastery, his name is JESUS!

“I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages!” Charles Spurgeon