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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In the Midst of Our Lot: Seek and Remember

We will all go through the wilderness in this life. We will all face affliction, and sometimes correction. We may not know the reasons why we experience this lot in our life. As in the case of Paul and his thorn in the flesh, he asked for it to be removed, and God did not grant that. Paul gave reason enough, it might not have been detailed, but God’s power would be shown through weakness. No one wants to experience pain, and yet this life is full of it.We can experience pain through the physical, mental, vocational, relational. We cry out to God, WHY?! I can’t imagine what Job felt like.  Much pain is from sin but some is not, and yet God in his providence allows it.

C.S. Lewis said in the, “The Problem of Pain”,

”Not all medicine tastes nasty: or if it did, that is itself one of the un-pleasant facts for which we should like to know the reason.”

There have been loads of books on pain and suffering and I am not going to get into the knitty gritty of that in this post maybe another time.

Just because we would like to know the reason, we may not get it on this side of heaven, but we do know that God is good and all things are being worked together for the good to those that are called according to his purpose. We also know that the power of Christ is made seen through weakness. God is gracious through it all.

So what do we do with our afflictions, our pain, our weakness, our correction sometimes?

What does Psalmist do?  Here is Psalm 63 I have made bold the actions the Pslamist is taking.

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Seek Him. Praise Him. Remember Him. I think the “remember” part is really important. We need to remember that the Lord is good, remember his promises, and he makes earnest on them, remember the times the Lord has delivered us in the past, remember all the ways God is good and gracious to us. One sure way we train our minds to remember is reading his word and meditating. This is a must. Think on it.

Whatever your lot is, it is surely well with your soul because God is good and he has his hand on you. He has his hand on me. My afflictions do not define me and yours don’t define you. He is being lifted up through it all and this is reason to praise him.

Seek and Remember Him!

 

 

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?

 

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

What Garment do You Wear?

I wear a garment of perfectionism. Why do I wear it? I know that no one is perfect. Why would I put myself through that torture? What do I believe about myself? What do I simply believe?

I am my worst judge, I put myself in the courtroom everyday, “You didn’t do this right!” “Did you see so and so do it better!” “Why can’t you add up to that!” “Get it together or they are going to find you out sooner or later!” “Do you really think you can do that!” “B+ is not good enough!” The thoughts scream at me no matter what I do. This garment does me no good. It is really a very heavy garment that weighs me down. Its extremely difficult to wear. No wonder I have anxiety. I continue to wear it and then someone says “oh wow! You did that very well!” And the judge shuts up for just a minute, long enough for me to take another step forward, and then the judge is at it again.

The Lord had another wardrobe in mind that is lighter, and cooler. A garment that may not be the fanciest by man’s standards but is the richest. My wardrobe of guilt and shame and perfection and anxiety and frustration have been replaced with love, compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline. God had this wardrobe picked out for me all along and I chose another wardrobe. I have shed the old heavy garment, but I admit it still hangs in the closet. It is not gone for good, but I am working on at least keeping that door shut. He who began a good work in me will see it through until the day of completion. Philippians 1:6
Until then, I press on. It’s not what I think, it’s not what anyone thinks, it’s what God thinks. I am His and He is mine. I am in the Beloved. Its not about what I can do, it’s about what He can do through me.

Thank you Lord! Put the judge in me at rest and take my garment of perfectionism and cast it into the furthest sea. Open up the blinds so that that the real me in You will be seen. Clothe me with your righteousness.

Colossians 3:12 (The Msg)
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

The Redemption Story in 4 part harmony

As I listen to sacred choral music of the Renaissance period and read Isaiah 52:7(see at bottom of the page), it is fitting. The music has a soaring sound as if traveling from the top of a mountain and raining down on those below. Technically speaking the bass and soprano are on the outer parts of choral voicing. It has an encompassing, surrounding effect. The frequency that these voices create in and of themselves serve that purpose. The basses lay a firm foundation while the lofty sopranos have a lifting effect. They both surround the tenor and alto filling out the chord and complimenting. Music can make its most dramatic and full effect when its all working together. Random sounds and chaos don’t create a very nice sound.

This is how I hear it……..

The basses sing, “How lovely is our Savior that entered mankind walking the lowly path. How blessed are the feet of Jesus that walked in our place.

He brought good news when up to that point the news was tragic. Jesus died in our place laying the foundation but the story doesn’t end there.

The sopranos sing, “HE IS RISEN! HE REIGNS! This is the good news of salvation!”

The basses sing, Jesus’ sacrifice is our firm foundation!”  

The sopranos declare,  “His resurection is our hope and salvation.”

The alto and tenors sing, “Let us receive this blessed gift! He surround us, and we will follow His lead.”

What a glorious sound when we all together sing:

The bass, soprano, alto and tenor sing, We are His hands and feet bringing good news to a tragic world. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news! OUR GOD REIGNS! OUR GOD REIGNS! FOREVER HE REIGNS!”

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7

Who Knows? He Knows!

I know what it feels like to get cut out of communion and communication based on standing firm on what you believe in. I also know the pain it causes because of the love I have for the other person. Grief. Suffering. Hurt. I know the temptation to lash out at the other person for being rejected. I know the temptation to give up on the one who has rejected me.

In Hebrews 4:15 it states, “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus, our King,  knows first hand what this feels like and his response looks like this: He LOVES. He is rejected. He LOVES. He is mocked. He LOVES. He is cast out. He LOVES. He is scorned. He LOVES. He was beaten. He LOVES. He bled. He LOVES. He was killed. HE LOVES. HE LOVES. HE LOVES. He rose above all of that literally! He is alive! He is risen! We can rise above it too, through the power of Jesus. We are conquerers! Love conquers all and God is love. He is the beginning and the end. What is the answer? Jesus is the answer! He knows my weakness and sympathizes with me. He says, “Johanna, I know how you feel. Rest in me. Take heart daughter. I have overcome all of this. Come unto me, my burden is light. Trust me.”

2 Corinthians 1:5 -“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

It’s a comfort beyond anything I know to have a savior who knows how I feel and now I know a taste of what he felt when I shut him out. He loved me. He didn’t lash out at me. He loved me. He didn’t give up on me. HE LOVES ME! Thank you Jesus!

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12

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?

Bad? Me? Naah. 

Compared to him, I’m a saint. Compared to her, I really have it together. What about all the good I’ve done, doesn’t that count for something?

The Bible says, “there is no one good, no not one”

Do we really believe this? I have a hard time believing it sometimes. Proverbs 21:2 says, “man’s ways are right in his own eyes, but God looks at the heart.” I want to only look at the good or find the good within myself. It’s a weights and balances right? I’m not all that bad. The good outweighs the bad right? The truth is God doesn’t operate this way. He doesn’t keep points on our goodness. He also doesn’t keep points on the badness. We have all missed the mark. None of us could do enough good to meet God’s standard. We are all sinful in need of redemption. Jesus is our redeemer. All he asks is for us to accept the gift of salvation offered through his grace.

What would ever posses us to not accept this amazing free gift?! Idols. Idol of pride. Idol of power. Idol of control. Idol of success. Idol of money. Idol of approval. We have to lose the idols and admit our nothingness and our need before the free gift seems of any value to us. Some people claim they have received the free gift but I think maybe they are carrying around a gift card that needs to be cashed in. They are carrying around the gift card as an option but they are still holding on to the precious idols. They like having the “Jesus gift card” with them, but they aren’t fully convinced of its real value.

Oh dear Lord help those that are struggling with being a “card holding Christian.” Help them cash that card in. Go all in, holding nothing back. Give up the idols. They will do nothing but devour you inch by inch and rob you blind of all the eternal riches, fullness, and joy that only comes through Jesus.   Don’t let your idols be your demise.

Lord help me to seek you and you alone casting all else aside that would hinder the work of your Spirit.

CS Lewis said,

When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.