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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin

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

Why, Christians?

I had a long discussion with a friend last week, a discussion that broke my heart.

“I am learning that the Bible isn’t…”

I don’t even remember the rest of the sentence, but I do remember my response.

“Is it the Bible you have a problem with? Or is it the human interpretations of the Bible that you are struggling with?” I asked.

Immediately, my friend knew the Bible wasn’t the problem. The issues are with people who feel so strongly about what they believe the Bible says.

What’s the difference?

Let’s use divorce as an example. What does the Bible say about divorce? If you talk to some zealous people, they insist divorce is never an option, no matter how toxic a marriage might be. They insist remarriage after divorce is always adulterous and leads to being condemned to hell. One passage they might use to back this position is 1 Corinthians 7.

But is that what the Bible really says? Many disagree and say divorce is allowed in the case of adultery or abandonment according to – wait for it – the exact same passage in 1 Corinthians 7. Even though this group might allow divorce in limited situations, they may still say remarriage is not an option.

Is that the end of the discussion on divorce? Absolutely not. There’s yet another camp that says God’s grace is far greater than divorce, that divorce (when it is a sin) is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.

So how can the Bible say all three of these things? The truth is, it can’t. All of these “doctrines” are human interpretations of scripture and therefore fallible. The Bible is infallible, perfect and inerrant, but our interpretations are not.

There are many more examples of “sins” that divide Christians, of doctrines that Christians shout loudly about. From divorce to homosexuality to women in leadership to alcohol to… the list of controversial topics could go on. These topics lead to Christians shouting loudly, defending what they believe the Bible says…

Dividing the church and turning off those who are desperately in need of the love and grace of the Savior.

I am all about correctly dividing the Word of God. We are commanded to be discerning, to correctly handle the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). We must be diligent in our studies, to look to the Scripture as a whole and the context – both scriptural and cultural – to grasp a full understanding of what those inspired words might mean. We must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us fully understand what God intended when He poured out those words to His chosen men.

And then we must cling carefully to our Father and not to any interpretation of Scripture.

Sadly, our zeal to defend our interpretations of scripture is dividing the church and turning away those in desperate need of the healing only our Father can bring.

Years ago when I was in the midst of my divorce, I walked into a church only to hear a comment about “divorced people” from the pulpit. As I sat there reeling, feeling as if the knife penetrating my heart had once again been plunged deep within and twisted harshly, I vowed to use my life to help others find healing in the Father. I vowed to be a voice in the church, reminding them our job is to love and guide to the true source of healing, not to point fingers and condemn those who are already hurting. I vowed to never cling so tightly to an interpretation of Scripture that I quench the Holy Spirit by blocking His voice to His children and guiding them into the future He has for them.

I vowed to be a voice of unity, calling Christians everywhere to focus on the essentials of Scripture (such as love and the sacrificial gift of our Father) while putting aside the non-essentials. I vowed to be a minister of grace rather than a judge standing ready to condemn those whose sins might be different from my own.

You see, although we as humans may categorize sin, Scripture does not. In James, we are taught that the one who murders is no different from the one who commits adultery because we have all become lawbreakers (James 2:10). I can’t find anywhere in Scripture where God says the one who is divorced is worse than the one who is greedy. Actually, it might be quite the contrary:

There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family. Proverbs 6:16-19

It seems to me those who are prideful, arrogant—those who insist their interpretation is the infallible word of God—are spoken of far more harshly than those of us who have been through a divorce. It seems to me those who so adamantly proclaim a perfect understanding of God’s Word are more like the Biblical Pharisees and teachers of the law who were so heavily condemned by Jesus.

It seems those who insist on judging others should instead see Jesus bending over, possibly writing their own sins in the sand, as they stand with rocks in their hands ready to cast the first stone at the humiliated one caught in the very act of adultery.

Jesus didn’t have kind words for those who sow discord in the Church, for those who loudly proclaim their own good deeds while casting condemnation on others.

Where are we, Church? Why are we so arrogant, so prideful, that we think our interpretation is the only one? Where is the grace that was so beautifully illustrated by our Jesus? When are we going to learn to take the log out of our own eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s eye? When are we going to stop destroying the reputation of our Father by our own misrepresentations of Him, of His word? When are we going to learn to show grace, to be humble? When are we going to be unified as Jesus Himself prayed for us in John 17?

My heart breaks over those who are turned away from God because of His believers. We will be held responsible! Our job is to draw others to the Father by our love.

I pray I am faithful to this one task.

The words flowed smoothly from my daughter’s phone and through the Bluetooth on the car:

Stir a passion in my heart, God
Let it overflow, Let it overflow

Cassie mentioned how much she loved this song and how much it has come to mean to her. As the words wafted through the air, I felt them penetrating my heart and my mind.

Jesus, You are where it all begins,
Your beauty calls me deeper in

Yes, the words were exactly what my weary and exhausted heart needed. They were the words that echoed my heart’s longing, my heart’s desire for this new year. I so long to have God stir a passion deep within my heart, to make my heart so filled with Him, with a desire for Him, that it overflows in every word, in every breath, in every moment of my life.

And in that moment as we drove to church listening to the soothing melody with the words echoing the cry of my heart, I knew the theme of my life for this new year.

Lord, stir a passion in my heart and let it overflow

The last few years have been an incredible mixture of pain and redemption, loss and gain. We have seen God’s hand in our circumstances, wrapped ourselves in His redemption. We have reveled in the beauty of promises fulfilled. We have watched our children wrestle with their faith—sometimes winning the battle and sometimes losing it. We have worked to understand God’s goodness in spite of the loss of parents and relationships and so much more. It has been a roller coaster of a journey, but one we have walked through together, in the newness of a relationship that could only be created by our Father.

But in the midst of it all, it is so easy to become distracted by the busyness of this life, to let the cares of this world pull our hearts and minds away from a steadfast focus on the Savior. It’s easy to get so caught up in the everyday busyness of this life that we lose our first love.

It is all too easy to let this world steal the passion in our hearts.

The past few months, God has been working on my heart. I’ve heard Him call me to a renewed passion, a renewed focus on Him. Sometimes it is a daunting task in the midst of a full-time job, completing a Masters degree, walking my children through the last years of high school and life in our home, and enjoying the beautiful marriage God has given me.

But He whispers my name, calling me back to a deeper walk with Him.

And as the words to this poignant song ring through my ears, it has become my cry. Here I sit, crying out to the Savior, the One who calls me back to Himself…

Father, I need you. I need you to stir a passion in my heart, to renew your Spirit deep within me. I need you to remove my heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. I need you to renew my weary and worn heart and give me the energy and passion I once had, to help me return to my first love.

You know me. You know every square inch of my heart. I don’t want to withhold anything from you. I want you to have free reign, to search every part of my heart and reveal anything that would block me from knowing you better. I don’t want anything to come between you and me.

I need you. You are my everything, even if I don’t always act like it. The cares of this life are often so heavy, so burdensome, that I lose sight of you, of your goodness and grace. I certainly don’t mean to let this world come between us, but I know the many “good” activities in our lives often become the enemy of what is best. The busyness of this life constantly fights for my time and attention, distracting me from you.

I know I am where you want me, slowly but consistently plugging along this journey you laid out for me before time began. I know the days of completing my degree are near. I know when it is complete, I will have the blessing of having persevered. I will have the knowledge I need to move forward in the call you have on my life. Give me the strength to keep going. Give me the renewal I need to complete the task. Give me the passion as I continue this journey.

But Lord, there is so much more than just a degree at stake. Even more importantly is my passion for you, my passion for using the journey you have taken me on to help point the world back to you. There are days I want to just give up, to wave the white flag of surrender and settle into an easy and mediocre life. But you have given me so much! I don’t want to waste any of this journey, any of what you have poured into me. I want to be faithful to share the story of your faithfulness until my dying breath! Give me the passion I need to keep moving forward, to persevere on this journey. I don’t know the final picture, but I know the vision you have given me. Help me to keep it clearly in view as I cling tightly to you.

Father, renew me. You promise your yoke is easy and your burden is light. You promise those who wait on you will have their strength renewed, will mount up on wings like eagles, to run and not grow weary. I need to see that strength, that energy. I need to see the refreshing that comes from basking in your presence.

Clear my heart and schedule enough to have time to be still and know you are God. Lord, this world clamors for our attention. There is so little time to be still, to be silent. Show me how to carve out the time to enjoy your presence, to listen for your voice. I know it is you that is the renewal my heart seeks.

I don’t know what 2020 holds for me, but I know you hold 2020 in your hands. You hold me safely in your hands. Hear my plea. Know my heart longs to have a passion that overflows. Let 2020 be the year of passion.

Stir a passion in my heart, God, and let it overflow.

This is our heart’s desire.

 

 

*Words by Josh Gauton, Nick Herbert, Anna Hellebronth, Willie Weeks

“But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19

This scripture was one I clung to ten years ago when my marriage fell apart. I knew God was promising me that the past was just that…the past…and there was something new and beautiful ahead. He was promising me life wasn’t over but we were just changing trajectories, finding a new direction, a new ministry, that fit with His plans for my life.

It was the exact promise I needed to begin the process of moving forward and healing.

Here we sit on the first day of 2020. The old has gone, and we have nothing but the promise of something new ahead. We don’t know exactly how it will play out, but there are some things we can count on:

There will be trouble. John 16:33 tells us there is trouble in this life. As I look back on 2019, I know there was an abundance of trouble. From relationship struggles to financial problems to health issues, we have faced our share of difficult times.

Let me give you a quick example. Five days ago, I finally broke down and had surgery to fuse my spine. I spent 2019 suffering excruciating headaches from a decades old neck injury. I simply couldn’t keep going with the frequency and severity of my headaches. After consulting multiple doctors, the decision was made to surgically fix my neck in hopes of relieving some of my pain.

It was trouble. It was incredibly scary. But I also know He has promised to overcome. So even though there is trouble…

There will be beauty. In spite of the pain and trouble and loss in 2019, we can also look back with a smile because of the beauty. In 2019, we settled into a routine as a family. We began to see all the ways God prepared our hearts, our lives for this journey we are on together. We saw bonding in ways we never expected. We had laughter and joy.

Redemption has been the word I have used this year to characterize our family. It looks nothing like what we expected, but it is truly beautiful nonetheless. When we pictured our lives together, we saw a completely different picture than what has come to be. But no matter how we look at it, we saw God’s hand so intricately woven into this picture. There is no way to deny He has begun a beautiful work.

There is no way to deny that…

God has already gone before us to prepare the way. Sometimes we have to remind each other that our circumstances have not taken God by surprise. He has been leading the way since long ago.

It’s fun to look back on our lives and see all the ways God was working silently in the background laying the foundation for our lives today. It’s fun to look back and see that God was never silent, but instead was working every step of the way. No matter where we are, God was here first. He was planning and preparing and working for our good and His glory.

And no matter where we go…

God will be with us and will overcome. There are definitely years we would like to forget. I look back at 2016 which was such a difficult year for my little family. My kids lost their dad unexpectedly and my baby girl lost her health. The grief and loss have created holes that are not easily healed.

But I can see so clearly where God was with us. I can see where He was preparing us even before the unexpected. And I can definitely see where He has been using our loss to change us, to make us more like Him.

My baby girl has been seizure-free for two years this month!! He has overcome! I have watched as she has embraced the pain and loss and blossomed into this beautiful young lady with a faith that shines so brightly! I have watched the smile return to her face as she shares the painful story of her past and as she sees God’s hand woven throughout, helping her overcome.

And that’s the promise we all have, no matter what our past has been. God is with us. Nothing can ever separate us (Romans 8). He is working to bring something beautiful of our messes. There’s something beautiful on the horizon if we simply surrender and let Him have His way.

He will be with us and will overcome.

What are you hoping and planning for 2020? I hope for deeper relationships with family and friends and God. I pray for faith that moves mountains. I long for wisdom and direction to make the most of this life God has given me.

God is planning good things for my future…for your future. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know He does. I think I will choose to simply rest in the fact He has it all mapped out.

Happy New Year, my friends!

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