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Dena Johnson Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson

Crosswalk.com blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

Totally Weird

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.  So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.  For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1 :13-16

My pastor always tells us to be weird because normal simply isn’t working.

I don’t think of myself as weird. I don’t think of my kids as weird. I think of all of us as pretty normal.

And then I see normal people. Loud, verbal outbursts laced with profanity that border on domestic abuse. Obscenities used in every day circumstances. Anger and bitterness and unforgiveness oozing from the depths of their beings. Laughing at inappropriate jokes.

Or maybe it’s the entertainment. No discretion at what movies they watch. Minds filled with song lyrics that glorify anything but God. Or novels that allow you to lose yourself in someone else’s intimate moments, filling your mind with impure thoughts.

What about your own personal relationships? The way we date, jumping from love interest to love interest. Living with people of the opposite sex. Treating sex as if it’s something to be freely used instead of treasured as a special gift to be shared only between two people fully committed to one another.

When I open my eyes and look at my life, look at my children, I suddenly realize just how weird we are.

My fiancé and I have chosen to walk this path God’s way. It’s not easy, but we are committed to seeking God first, to living our lives in purity, to using our relationship for God’s glory. We pray together. We don’t spend the night with one another. We do everything we can to protect ourselves and to present ourselves holy and blameless before God and to one another.

And then I look at my kids. My boys are at the age where they are dating. My oldest has a precious girlfriend that he’s been with for over a year now. They are doing things right, walking in purity, treating one another as precious gifts from God. My younger son hasn’t found anyone special yet. He’s been out with a couple girls, but quickly decided he wouldn’t marry them. Yes, at 15, he broke off two relationships because he knew they weren’t forever relationships and he didn’t want to date just to date.

My sweet girl. Her heart is about loving God and loving others. She’s committed her life to ministry. Her heart is to lead others in worship for the rest of her life. She looks at the trials she has faced in this last year—losing her father and being diagnosed with epilepsy—and she simply responds that God must have big plans for her if he is allowing her to hurt this deeply. She has adopted the prayer, “Lord, do an amazing work in me so you can do an amazing work through me.”

That’s weird.

Yes, I guess if I were an outsider looking in at my family, I would consider us weird. Totally weird. Out of this world weird.

And, if I’m honest, my kids have told me that we are one weird family. Maybe they are in the world more than I am, because they see and feel just how different we are.

But we are ok with it. More than ok. We prefer to live our lives as foreigners in this world, focused on the eternal rather than the temporal, relishing the peace that surpasses all understanding rather than absorbing the chaos around us. We will choose to remain weird because normal isn’t working.

So how did we become so weird? The same way you can.

Guard your heart.

What is in your heart? Is your heart filled with anger and unforgiveness? Is there a root of bitterness growing up within? If so, you need to allow God to do heart surgery.

I am firmly convinced that in and of ourselves, we can never fully forgive someone who has wronged us. But, God can allow His forgiveness to flow through us, to cleanse every ounce of anger and bitterness. He can cleanse every hidden part of your heart. He can fill your heart with purity, beauty, and all things good.

And then, we must protect our hearts from allowing the ugliness of this world to pollute us.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

Guard your mind.

How do we protect our hearts? By guarding our minds. By filling our minds with those things that are lovely and noble and true and right. By saturating our minds with the Word of God.

Be assured that if our thought lives are out of whack, our lives will follow right along with it.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

Guard your eyes.

Not only must we protect our hearts and our minds, but we must also be cautious what we see, the movies and television shows we watch, the entertainment that consumes our sights.

I pretty much trust my kids and their choice of entertainment. But occasionally, we have to stop and check ourselves. My oldest was going to a movie one day with a friend, and the friend’s mom called me. She asked if I had seen the reviews of the movie. I quickly pulled it up on my phone and was beyond shocked at the content. I simply showed the review to my son, and within the first few sentences he was finished. He knew it wasn’t what he wanted to spend his time watching.

What about you? Are you cautious about the movies and the TV shows you watch? Those visions are stored in your mind and are powerful sights that impact you and the way you live your life.

I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. Psalm 101:2-3

Guard your life.

One final exhortation in scripture is to flee every type of evil. Protect ourselves. Run away from anything that could possibly corrupt us. Don’t allow it come anywhere near us. Take drastic measures to avoid anything that could possibly soil us, drag us down and away from our purpose in this life.

Our lives are on the line.

…reject every kind of evil.1 Thessalonians 5:22

Live for One.

What is your focus? What is your priority? As we seek to guard our lives in every way, we must also have a single-minded devotion to the Lord. Don’t worry about this world, what others may think or say about us.

I am frequently criticized for my stance on divorce. It would be easy to allow the words to drag me down into the pits of despair, to let the shame and guilt of my past pull me away from the approval of my Father. Instead, I must often remind myself what my Father says about me, that I am loved, forgiven, chosen, and pure. I must live my life for the approval of One and no one else.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

What about you? Are you weird? Are you living your life as a stranger and a foreigner in this world? I hope that we are beyond weird, and that our weirdness constantly points the world back to the beauty of walking with our Savior.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your love. Thank you that we are strangers in this world, that your life lived through us makes us different from the world around us. I pray we would be so focused on you, on protecting ourselves from this world, that we would be seen as weird. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

Guilty of Idolatry

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6

 

God promised.

God promised Abram he would be the father of many nations, that his descendants would be too numerous to count. And yet, at 99 years old, Abram was still childless.

And what did Abram do while he waited for the promise?

Initially, he and Sarai took matters into their own hands, and Abram fathered a son through the servant, Hagar. But it seems as if he then settled down, took God at His word, believed the promise. His life continued as he trusted and waited.

His life looked something like this:

His wife, Sarai, laughed at God, not believing she could still bear a child in her old age.

Abraham pleaded with God to save Sodom and his nephew, Lot.

He lied to Abimelek, saying Sarai was his sister instead of his wife because he feared for his life.

In short, he went about his life, living and making mistakes and sinning…and believing God’s promise.

And, after years of waiting for God’s promise, Isaac was finally born. The long-awaited fulfillment of a promise decades in the making. The first generation of descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky and the sands of the desert.

And what did God ask of Abraham?

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Genesis 22:2

God asked Abraham to give up the promise, the answer to his prayer. He asked him to sacrifice his one and only son on the altar. He asked him to give up his legacy.

I don’t think I could sacrifice the promise I had waited for so patiently…

I have contemplated God’s promises so many times, especially in the last decade. I’ve read His promises, and I’ve heard His voice. I’ve lived to see promises fulfilled. I have promises, dreams, that I continue to cling to, praying God will be faithful to fulfill them. I’ve even found myself bewildered, confused, wondering if His promises have failed at times.

And one thing I’ve found is that I often cling more tightly to His promise than I cling to Him.

And in clinging to the promise, I find myself living in idolatry, worshiping the promise rather than Promise Maker.

Confused yet? Let me see if I can clarify.

Abraham received a promise from God—the promise He would be the Father of many nations, that he would father a child despite he and Sara both being too old to become parents.

Yet Abraham clung to God. He believed God would fulfill His promise. He took God at His word—and continued to go about his life, living with the hope God’s promises never failed.

He doesn’t appear to be consumed with the promise. Instead, it seems to be tucked into the recesses of his mind, always present but never overwhelming.

We don’t see him begging God to fulfill the promise.

We don’t see him moaning and groaning because it’s taking so long.

We don’t see him whining and complaining because life isn’t going the way he planned.

Instead, he continued to live his life, walking securely in his relationship with God, with a quiet confidence God would do what he said he would.

And when the promise was fulfilled?

Abraham was willing to lay that promise on the altar, to sacrifice his long-awaited son.

He didn’t cling too tightly to the answered prayer; instead he trusted God fully and completely, with quiet confidence, knowing He is faithful always and forever.

He chose to cling to the Promise Maker and not to the promise itself.

I wish I trusted God that much. Instead, I sometimes find myself clinging so tightly to the promise that I forget God. The promise consumes me, consumes my thoughts and my prayers. I focus on the wait, the expectation of the promise fulfilled, rather than trusting quietly and hoping confidently while life continues.

I believe there have been times when God’s promises, His dreams planted deep in my heart, have become idols.

What dreams? What promises?

My marriage

Reconciliation…

The promise of a man who would love me as Christ loved the church…

A man who I truly believed God told me would be the one…

The dream of writing and speaking and giving homes to single moms…

It seems so often I become consumed, begging and pleading and waiting for God to move, to answer, to open doors…instead of waiting patiently, confidently, and going about my life with a quiet trust in the Promise Maker, the One who is always faithful, whose promises never fail.

And when I cling to the promise instead of the Promise Maker? My life is tumultuous. I lack peace. I am blown and tossed by the waves of this life.

But when I cling to the Promise Maker? I move forward confidently, peacefully. I enjoy every day as I live in His presence. I rest in Him. My strength is renewed. And I am overwhelmed by His presence and His peace.

What about you? Are you clinging so tightly to a promise that you have lost the Promise Maker? Are you so consumed with the outcome that you are missing His presence on the journey? Are you clinging to reconciliation for a broken marriage? Are you awaiting the fulfillment of that long-awaited dream whatever it might be?

I encourage you to adjust your grip, to let go of the promise. Only then will you be able to take a firm grip of the One who is always faithful to fulfill His promises. Only then will you find the peace and confidence as you wait for His glorious plan to unfold.
 

 

A New Perspective

The last year has been hard…really, really hard.

Exactly one year ago, I received a call that my ex-husband had passed away suddenly. Telling my children that their dad was dead ranks right up there with the most difficult moments of my life. Watching them grieve and mourn. Sending them off to bury their dad. Night after night wiping the tears as they streamed down their faces.

But we didn’t have long to swallow the news. His death was followed by blow after blow. My own surgery. My daughter suddenly having grand mal seizures, her body convulsing for what seemed an excruciating length of time. Multiple trips to the emergency room. Test after test trying to find the cause. Medications and medication changes.

And now, I find myself in yet another major change. Today, I accepted a new position in my company. I will be changing jobs, leaving a position that has been such a blessing in my life for over five years. It’s been a tough decision, one covered in prayer and not taken lightly.

It’s a difficult season. It’s been a difficult year (really, two years if you look closely). I’ve spent hours in turmoil, hours in prayer, hours with tears streaming down my face. Even as I type right now, I feel the tears stinging my eyes, begging to be released, free to cleanse the pain buried in my soul.

But God…

In the midst of everything, I often felt God was absent, certainly silent at best. I wondered where He was, where were the fulfillments of the many promises He had made. As more pain was heaped upon my already aching soul, I wondered why God would allow us—my children and me—to suffer so much pain. Why? Where? What now?

In my head, I have seen God’s goodness and grace and faithfulness. I’ve learned to trust Him in the midst of the trials. I’ve experienced the beauty of what God does in our pain. In my head, I knew He was still present, still loving, still faithful.

But in my heart, I sometimes couldn’t find Him.

Now, as we turn a corner to the one year anniversary of my ex-husband’s death, I have the benefit of looking back…and the view is so much clearer. It’s still not 100% in focus, but I have a much better grasp of where God was working when I couldn’t see Him in the middle of my pain.

Here’s a few lessons God has hammered home as we’ve walked through the last year.

God’s timing is always perfect. I recently asked my daughter what good things God has given us in the last year. Without a moment’s hesitation, she responded, “Roy.”

When the kids lost their dad, I immediately put my desire for a relationship aside, knowing my kids needed me more than ever before. What I didn’t realize is that my kids needed a dad to love them and support them. While Roy will never replace their dad, he has been an absolutely amazing substitute! He loves them as his own, supports them in their activities, and has stepped into that role in ways I never imagined.

For years, I have prayed and waited, waited and prayed, wondering when it would be my time. I don’t fully understand why God waited until now, but I definitely see how the timing could not have been more perfect. His promises are fulfilled at the perfect time.

God’s provisions are always sufficient. When my ex-husband passed away, he still had marital debts…debts in my name, a debt I am now responsible for. In addition, because of changes in our health insurance plan, I was hit with over $20,000 in medical bills between Cassie and me (and that doesn’t include my $10,000 in insurance premiums). I went from virtually debt-free to buried under a mountain of debt, and I had no idea how I would ever dig out.

But God…

God has been so faithful! At Christmas, I had some amazing, generous Christians pour out love so generously, heaping gifts on me that allowed me to pay for my daughter’s orthodontics. In the last month, I’ve been able to pay off over $17,000 in debt. And, I anticipate paying off the remaining two debts in the next month. My mind is blown, and I am so grateful for God’s provisions. And I will get to enter a new job debt-free.

God’s work is always ongoing. For so many years I thought God was silent. I couldn’t see His hand, His work. I sometimes wondered why I even had faith to believe I had heard His voice.

Now, as I enter this new season, I see where God was still at work when I thought He was silent. He was working in Roy’s life in response to my prayers, calling him to fully surrender and live His life for God’s glory. He was preparing circumstances that would provide for our financial needs when we needed it the most. I see how He was so busy taking the many circumstances of this life and weaving them together to provide a beautiful future for us.

I now know that God is always working to bring good out of our pain, to bring beauty from the ashes.

God’s love is never-ending. Do I even need to mention this one? His grace, His love, are so evident on this side of the pain. His goodness, His mercy, have been abundant, giving us the strength just to reach this one year anniversary. His power, His provision, have been abundant as we’ve walked through the painful days.

I am trying to encourage my children to look for the many gifts we have received in the last year. I am encouraging them to focus on the many things for which we must be thankful. I am encouraging them to see God’s powerful love poured out over us in the midst of our pain. I am encouraging them to ask God to give them His perspective.

 

Levi Lusko, pastor of Fresh Life Church in Montana and Utah, spoke at our church in March. He told the heart-breaking story of losing his young daughter, Lenya, to an asthma attack several years ago. He told of the verse that penetrated his and his wife’s heart, a verse that spoke of His power over death, shortly before God took Lenya home. A verse that prepared both Lusko and his wife for the unthinkable, unimaginable pain they would soon face.

As I look back over the posts I wrote in March of last year, I see how God was preparing me for the incredible changes He knew I would soon face. I wrote about how I was restless, longing for a change of season. I wrote of an incredible passage that tells us we can never experience God’s healing if we don’t experience pain. I see how God was preparing me for the season that would soon be thrust upon me, the pain my children and I would soon experience.

Lusko continued with an important lesson on perspective, a lesson I know impacted my children in a powerful way. Lusko and his family miss their precious daughter. Their hearts ache with an immense pain, a heavy loneliness that only grieving parents can truly understand. He talks of each day that passes as one more day away from their precious daughter.

Or is it? You see, Lusko chooses to look at each passing day as one step closer to being reunited with Lenya, that glorious day when he will enter the gates of heaven and embrace his precious daughter. He talks of this perspective shift as essential in helping him navigate the grief that is still overwhelming at times. It’s a fresh reminder of the hope we have in Christ.

As my daughter and I talked this week, she brought up this powerful lesson. She reminded me that despite her pain, her grief, her sadness in missing her dad, she is choosing to look at each passing day as one step closer to seeing him again, to complete restoration and redemption of everything she has lost.

I pray that as I reflect on everything we have experienced I can have God’s perspective. I pray that as I am faced with new trials in the future I can remember that hindsight always gives us a clearer perspective. I pray that as I am lost in the fog of pain I can remember it is only in the pain that I experience His healing.

I pray that each day I am on this earth I can see life through His eyes.

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