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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

What Do You Need?

  • 2023Mar 09

This weekend, I was looking at what seems to be a never-ending to-do list. As we discussed how exhausted we were from a late night attending Cassie's latest performance, I made the statement that I what I want to do seems to be different from what I need to do.

And then I immediately stopped.

I realized it's not always accurate to discuss what we want vs what we need. Sometimes, the struggle is a little more discrete.

My struggle was what I need to do vs what needs to be done.

You see, I had a to-do list. I still have a t0-do list. I have lots of things that need to be completed. Taxes. Writing. Prepping for a course. Work. Plan meals. Shop for groceries. There's no end to what needs to be done.

But what did I really need this weekend?

Most likely, I really needed to take a deep breath, put away my to-do list, and rest.

How many times do we talk about what we need to do vs what we want to do? Is our want really a want? Or is it what we need to do?

For our mental health.

For our emotional health.

For our spiritual health.

For our social health.

I have come to the realization that even though I try to be very relationally-centered, the truth is it is easy to become task-oriented. This weekend, I was focused on the tasks that were clamoring for my attention instead of the true needs in my life.

What do I need?

Rest. Our world values busyness. We think the more we go, the more value our lives have. I know sometimes busyness is unavoidable such as in the case of a single mom.

But rest is of utmost important. God set the example at creation when he rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). He commanded us to set aside a day of rest every week (Exodus 20:8). Jesus said He would give us rest (Matthew 11:28). The word rest actually appears in scripture between 200-300 times depending upon which version of scripture you read.

Rest is not optional; rest is a command. How are you doing at this necessity?

Relationships. God created us to live in community. When He created man, He created us to live in relationship with Him. When He saw the man was alone, He said it was not good so He created woman (Genesis 2:22). We are commanded not to forsake the gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). Christ made it a point to surround Himself with a group of people who loved and supported Him.

How much more should we follow that example. The right relationships help us become more like Him (Proverbs 27:17). They strengthen our faith. They provide encouragement in every area of life. Relationships are essential to helping us through the difficulties of this life.

Relationships are essential for our well-being.

Peace. Do you have peace? I'm in a difficult situation right now. I'm surrounded by people who experience a tremendous amount of anxiety. While I am not thrilled about the situation and would love to see things change, but I tend to just laugh and let it go. Why? Because His peace is the one thing that keeps me going.

Peace is a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit that comes from being connected to God (Galatians 5:22-23). It comes from keeping my mind stayed on Him, by taking everything to Him (Philippians 4:6-8). It comes from keeping my mind focused on Him (Isaiah 26:3).

Peace is such a gift to life. Do you have it? What do you need to change to gain it?

There are so many other essentials in this life. Things such as forgiveness. Righteousness. Holiness. Joy. Love. Those are the things that we need. All the rest? Those are just things we may need to get done.

Don't neglect what you need because of what needs to be done.  Take time to absorb what you need.

And just so you know, I'm still working on my to-do list. It hasn't gone anywhere. It is still calling for my attention. But, it will be completed when I can get to it.

My Favorite Bible Story

  • 2023Mar 02

ecently, I heard someone talking about their favorite Bible story. As I began to contemplate what my favorite story is, my mind quickly jumped from story to story.

As a child, I loved story of Isaac and Rebekah. I guess I've always been a romantic at heart. I remember hearing this story in Sunday School one day when I was six years old. I came home, took my Bible, and began to read. I guess the story of Isaac and Rebekah is the one that started my Bible reading habit.

As a single adult, one thing I found fascinating in this story was how Isaac was just going about his normal business when God brought Rebekah to him (Genesis 24:63). I was firmly convinced God would bring someone to me as I chose to wait on Him, to go about my life trusting God for my future (and He did!).

I also love the story of Ruth and Boaz. More of that romantic in me! Again, this one resonates with me in so many ways! Remembering that life comes in seasons--whether a season of trial or a season of peace or a season of singleness. I love how God provides for Ruth and Naomi in the midst of their loss. And I love how God redeems everything they had lost! He took someone who had been through so much pain and brokenness and put Ruth in the lineage of the Savior! What a Redeemer! (Ruth 1-4)

Of course, no one can forget the story of Daniel in the Lions' Den. Daniel's faith stands as an example for all of us! He had determined in his heart to walk in obedience (Daniel 1:8) from the time he was taken as a captive in Babylon. His heart was completely devoted to God, and God protected him.

As we talk about Daniel, we also have to remember his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Just like Daniel, these three men, dragged away as captives, set their sights on obedience and devotion to God. Even in the face of certain death, they proclaimed their faith in God. "Our God is able to save us," they exclaimed. "But even if He doesn't, our hearts are totally His!" (Daniel 3:16-19 paraphrased). Oh to have the faith of those three in the midst of this life!

Who can forget the story of David and Goliath? Here's a little shepherd boy, a little nobody in the eyes of the world, and God ushers him onto the biggest stage! In front of everyone, his faith shines as he proclaims no one will mock his God the way these Philistines have been! With nothing but the most rudimentary weapon, he steps up and takes out the giant. In an instant, his fame spreads across the land (1 Samuel 17).

There are so many more David stories, I would be remiss not to give him more time. Even though he is known as a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), he's definitely not perfect. We have to reflect on the story of David and Bathsheba. Probably few would claim this one as a favorite, but even in David's biggest moral failure, we find the mercy of our Savior. David was supposed to be at war with his troops (2 Samuel 11:1), but instead was on the rooftop of his palace. He saw the beautiful Bathsheba and his lust got the best of him. It was one wrong step after another until he was guilty of adultery and murder. His actions show how one wrong action leads to another as we attempt to cover our sins. Do you know what I love about this story though? Despite the beginnings of David and Bathsheba's relationship, it was a child from their union, Solomon, who was chosen to be the lineage that remained on the throne. It wasn't David's oldest son. It wasn't a child from his first wife. It was Solomon, the child of his illicit lover. You see, God is a God of total and complete forgiveness. When hearts truly turn to him in repentance (Psalm 51), He washes those sins away as if we had never sinned. No one will ever convince me that God cannot bless a second (or third) marriage!

Although for years, I didn't fully understand the story about Jacob wrestling with God, it has become one of my favorites. Years ago as I read through the story (Genesis 32), I realized that it was a pivotal moment in Jacob's life. As you read scripture closely, you will see that until the wrestling match, Jacob always refers to God as the God of my fathers. It's not until he meets God face-to-face and wrestles with Him that Jacob begins to refer to God as my God. So many of us live our lives in our safe little Christian bubble (I know I did), but it's not until we have to wrestle through the trials of this life that our faith becomes real and we truly understand the intimacy we were meant to experience with the Father. I know that was my experience.

While we are on the subject of trials, who can forget Job. Job's life fell apart with wave after wave of trauma, and his response was to fall to his knees and worship (Job 1). Why Job? Because he was a righteous man. You see, trials deepen our faith (if we choose to allow God to do His work in the midst of the pain). God knows who will be faithful to walk through the trials of this life. And when we choose to let Him do His work, we get to exclaim with Job that before we had heard of God but now we know Him (Job 42:5)!

Oh my goodness! I'm running short. There are so many more of my favorite stories! We are going to see the story of Esther play out at Sight and Sound Theater in Branson in a couple of weeks. There's the story of Samson. Who could neglect the faith of Noah. And of course, the greatest story ever told, the story of Jesus!

But I would be remiss not to mention Joseph. Chosen by God. Betrayed. Sold into slavery. Raises to leadership before being betrayed again. Thrown into prison. Forgotten by man--but not by God. Brought to leadership at just the right time. Credited with saving multiple nations, including the line of Jesus. Total and complete forgiveness of the brothers who attempted to murder him. (Genesis 37-50). Joseph is an example of perseverance under the most trying and unfair circumstances. He is an example of grace and forgiveness to those who don't deserve it. I still have unanswered questions (did the brothers ever confess to Jacob they were responsible for Joseph's disappearance?), but one day I will have the answers. Suffice it to say that God used Joseph and continues to use his story today.

What about you? What's your favorite story? Honestly, I don't think I could ever narrow it down to just one story. But we have to remember they aren't just stories! They are the living, breathing Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). We can't just read these stories and move on. We have to read them and let them speak to us, speak to us about our lives and how we should live. I guess that's why I can't choose just one. Every story in scripture has spoken to me at some point in my life. It has corrected my heart, given me peace, shown me a new way to live.

And I pray the Word of God continues to be alive and active in my heart--and in yours!

Marked by God

  • 2023Feb 23

This week, I was listening to a sermon about belonging. Belonging to God. Belonging to a fellowship of believers. The pastor used the movie Toy Story to illustrate his point. Do you remember how Andy wrote his name on the bottom of Woody's shows, marking him as belonging to Andy? No one could deny that Woody was Andy's toy.

As I listened, I thought about how God has always marked his children. In biblical times, God gave an outward sign that the Israelites belonged to Him. He commanded that all Israelite males be circumcised as an outward sign that they belonged to God.

Then He gave the sign of baptism, an indication of an inward change and a sign that we, as Christians, identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

I remember a time when I tried to deny I was His. I was so angry over my divorce that I decided to live like so many others--going to church on Sunday but living like the world the rest of the week. It seemed as if the more I ran, the more He pursued me. Eventually, I realized that at the core of my being, I was His. I could not deny He had marked my life.

2 Timothy 2:13 tells us that even when we are faithless, He is faithful because he cannot disown his own. 

If that doesn't describe a way God marks believers I don't know what is! He is faithful even when we are not! What a beautiful promise to know we cannot escape Him!

Outside of baptism, we no longer bear physical signs that we are marked by God, so how do we know we are His?

A trajectory of growth2 Peter 1:5-7 says, "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love." A true Christian will make progress. That doesn't mean that we are always moving forward because we are human, and we all lose our focus at times. But, a true Christian will progress throughout his or her life. 

As you see, it's a choice to grow. We must make an effort to become more like Him, to allow Him to mold us into His image. As we grow, we see ourselves becoming more like Him, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in ever-increasing measures.

Obedience. Ah, yes! It's easy to say we are Christians, but if we are truly transformed by Him, our lives will be marked by obedience. 2 John 1:6 says, "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." We show our love for the Father by being obedient to what He has called us to do. How do we know what He has called us to do? Be walking so closely that we see where He is at work and we join Him in His work (John 5:19-20).

Forgiveness. Scripture clearly states that God expects us to forgive others if we want our sins to be forgiven. Colossians 3:13 says, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." We often make the mistake of thinking that our forgiveness benefits others. The truth is that forgiveness is for us! Forgiveness leads to freedom and peace! Forgiveness helps us be right with God. Forgiveness is a gift our Father gave us! We simply have to choose forgiveness in obedience to His commands.

I really want to challenge you on this point. Who are you angry with? Who do you think deserves to be punished for his/her actions? Who makes your blood boil?

If there is an individual who gets under your skin, you are being held captive by your anger and bitterness. Oh friend! I so encourage you to find the freedom that comes through forgiveness!

Freedom. Did you know freedom ties right back to obedience? John 8:31-32 tells us that our obedience leads us to truth which leads us to freedom.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

You see, Jesus is the way, the Truth, and the light (John 14:6). As we spend time getting to know Him, we find the ultimate freedom. We find the joy of knowing the Father, of getting to know His perfect character. There is nothing like Him!

PeaceCan I just tell you that nothing compares to the perfect peace that surpasses all understanding? (Philippians 4:7) I don't know if you have ever experienced it in the midst of this chaotic world, but it is beyond anything we can understand! How do you find it? Through prayer with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). It is one of the most amazing marks of the Christian, the ability to walk through the fire with complete confidence in our God!

Do you have the marks of Christ in your life? If not, please call me! I would love to share more about His goodness!