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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

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

How does one reconcile this life’s journey with the God we read about in the Bible?

How do we reconcile the God who hears with a life that seems void of God’s presence?

How do we reconcile the God who sees with a life filled with untold pain?

How do we reconcile the God who heals with the death around us?

How do we reconcile the God who provides with the extreme need we experience each and every day?

The child estranged from his father who prays for forgiveness and a relationship with him…only to learn of his father’s unexpected and untimely death.

The wife who prays relentlessly for her straying husband to repent and come home…only to be served with divorce papers.

The father who wants nothing more than to be an active and involved participant in his kids’ lives…only to have them taken away during a bitter, ugly divorce.

The girl who asks God not to bring anyone into her life unless it’s the one she is to marry…only to have her first true love walk away.

The man who wants to provide for his family…only to be a casualty of the economic downturn.

The single mom who desperately wants to provide shoes and clothes for her children…only to have more month than money.

The Christian who longs to have a deeper walk with Christ…only to experience ongoing disappointments from God.

The parents who wait and hope for a perfect little girl…only to give birth to a severely mentally and physically handicapped child.

Let’s be honest: this conversation isn’t a nice, clean Christianity that we can tie up with a neat little bow. I love reading about the miracles others experience. Have you read The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson? That’s the faith I want, the faith to circle my desires and pray until God brings them to fruition, to see modern-day miracles. I know God is still in the miracle business, and I want to be in on it!

But sometimes I’m more disappointed in the way God doesn’t answer my prayers.

I know all the perfect Christian answers.

God has something better for you.

It just wasn’t His will.

It’s not His timing.

All things work for good to those who love God.

His ways are higher than our ways.

Geez. I’ve given all those answers myself. I’ve been the one desperately looking for ways to encourage, to build up, to help someone I love out of the pit of despair and depression.

And simple little answers just don’t cut it in life’s deepest hurts.

I write these words with tears streaming down my face as I listen to the hurt of someone so dear to me, someone who feels as if his prayers are always unanswered. Honestly, it’s not even that the prayers are unanswered. It’s as if God takes delight in doing the exact opposite of what he asks. Every. Single. Time.

My heart aches. I have no words of wisdom or comfort. I hold him and tell him that God loves him like a good Father, like a Father who delights in giving Him good gifts.

But he can’t see it.

As I’ve walked this journey called life, I’ve come to understand the crisis of belief: that place where your faith is tested, where the rubber meets the road, and you learn whether you can trust God. It’s that place where you are taken to the brink of destruction and despair, and you find out whether God will meet you and rescue you. It’s a scary place, a place where you must walk in faith and not fear. It’s the moment when you must decide if you are going to trust God and walk in obedience, even when it seems like a dead-end road.

After years of experiencing God’s faithfulness, of seeing Him carry me through hurts and disappointments, I have a relative peace in the face of disappointment. I can look back over my life and see where He took the disappointments and gave me something far greater, going so far as to change my desires to His desires. I can see where He provided exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.

But this is my life.

How do I translate that hope to someone who hasn’t experienced the fullness of God’s goodness and grace? How do I encourage that young person on the brink of throwing in his faith because of the overwhelming pain and disappointment? How do I translate what I’ve experienced to someone else?

Even as I grapple with these questions. Even as I struggle with how to share my faith with someone whose faith hasn’t been tested by the fire. Even as I struggle with the weight of the hurt and the pain.

I can see the future. I see the beauty God is bringing out of the ashes. I see the work He has started and I am so excited about what God is about to do in this precious life. I can see how this crisis of belief is about to give way to a faith that has been tested, that has been through the fire of purification. I know He is good. I know He is up to something. I know…

But until then, I cling to my faith. I cry with my precious loved one. I carry his pain. I beg God to do what only He can do, to do something so amazing that it could only come from the God of the universe.

And I cling to scripture, to His word that tells me His ways are higher than my ways. That all things work together for good. That He is the giver of good gifts. That we are His precious, dearly loved children. That God is faithful to do what He says He will do. That He sees our tears and holds them in His hand. That He hears our prayers and answers them. That He will set all things right and one day have us back on our feet for good.

I know that’s been my experience in the trials of this life. And if I know my God, He will come through again.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we read of your goodness and grace, your mercy and love. We read that you lavish those you love with your good gifts, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows. But sometimes. Sometimes you seem so distant, so silent. Sometimes you see so cruel, so unloving. Sometimes in our humanity we simply can’t make sense of the pain we experience in this life. Help us. We don’t need to understand, but we need you. We need your presence. We need your peace. We need your healing touch. We need to see your faithfulness. Open our eyes to your work around us, to see the blessings that abound. Give us eyes to see the little ways you care for us. Look deeply at our hearts and see that we long to be closer to you, to experience you in all of your fullness. Honor our hearts. Honor our desires. Draw near to us as we beg to draw near to you. Only you, Lord, can take our crisis of belief and use it to take us deeper in our faith, to a deeper trust in you. We are yours. Do what only you can do…in us and through us.


The last two weeks have been filled with the news of Billy Graham’s death…or more appropriately, his grand entrance into eternity with his Savior.

When I first learned of his death, I was preparing to attend the funeral of a college friend of mine, a man who left this life way too soon but most certainly heard the same greeting as Billy Graham: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

My life has been incredibly hectic. My younger son turned 16 and I took a day off to spend with him, to take him to get his drivers license. It’s the climax of his FFA livestock showing season (which morphs directly into livestock judging season). My oldest son has been interviewing for scholarships at my alma mater. We also spent a day driving to Dallas for a surgical consultation. My husband and I were out of town for two straight weeks. After one very hectic week at home, he’s now off again on another business trip.

As much as I would like to reflect on the life of Billy Graham (or anything, for that matter), I simply haven’t been able to spend that much time diving into the impact he had on this country, this world. However, I came across a very interesting passage by George Bush about the impact Graham had on his own life.

The younger Bush tells the story of a conversation he had with his mother, Barbara Bush. Let me simply quote the story:

“Eventually we got to talking about religion and who gets to go to heaven. I made the point that the New Testament says clearly that to get to heaven, one must believe in Christ. Mother asked about the devout who don’t believe in Jesus but do God’s work by serving others. She then took advantage of one of the benefits of being first lady. She picked up the phone and asked the White House operator to call Reverend Graham.

“It wasn’t long before his reassuring Southern voice was on the line. He told us, as I recall, “Barbara and George, I believe what is written in the New testament. But don’t play God He decides who goes to heaven, not you.” Any doctrinal certitude gave way to a calm trust that God had this figured out better than I did.”

Did you read that?

Any doctrinal certitude gave way to a calm trust that God had this figured out better than I did.

Wow. Just wow.

That statement hit me hard, really hard. Billy Graham refused to hang his hat, stake his claim, on any doctrine. Instead, he chose to rest in a quiet, calm trust in the Father, letting Him make those decisions.

How contrary to this world in which we live where we bicker and fight about every insignificant doctrinal claim.

Where Baptists cling to their complete abstinence for alcohol and Methodists cling to their ability to consume alcohol in moderation.

Where we argue over whether we sprinkle or dunk.

Where we argue over whether we should raise our hands in worship or stand reverently.

Where we argue over whether we should sing the old hymns or modern praise songs.

Where we argue over which version of scripture we should read and study.

Where we argue over whether we should allow transgender to choose how they identify or which bathroom they should use.

Where we argue over LGBTQ rights to marriage.

Where we argue over whether a divorced woman should be allowed to remarry or if she has to remain single until her ex-husband dies.

Where we argue over whether it’s ok for a woman (or man) to walk away from a severely dysfunctional, and/or abusive marriage or if he/she must suffer for the sake of Christ.

How many times have I been told how I am living in sin for divorcing my husband after his affairs. How many times have I been told I must remain single unless my ex-husband dies (which, in my case, he did). How many times have I been told I am a heretic, preaching a false gospel, encouraging others to sin because of my stance on God as a God who sets captives free instead of holding us captive in abusive marriages. How many times have I had people hold a doctrinal belief over my head, elevating institutions above individuals.

And yet, Billy Graham on the most fundamental aspect of the gospel, simply said, “I trust God. He has it all figured out and I will rest in Him. I will simply let Him be God.”

Maybe we should all take such a humble attitude, recognizing God’s ways are higher than our ways and we were never meant to fully understand His word this side of heaven. Maybe we should all cling loosely to our doctrinal beliefs while clinging tightly to our Savior who wants to lead us day-by-day into what He has for us. Maybe we should all humbly set aside our deeply held convictions to allow God room to mold us into His image.

Maybe Billy Graham is the epitome of Christ’s prayer for today’s believers in John 17. “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (v 21).

Maybe Billy Graham was the epitome of Christian, of one who truly allowed Christ to live through him, to be a drink offering poured out and used up. Maybe he is the epitome of loving God and loving our neighbors while allowing God to be the judge. Maybe we should all imitate Graham as he imitated Christ in his days on this earth.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor— not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways…God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

Sexual purity.

When I was growing up, it was pretty much a given in my circle: sex outside of marriage was wrong. Live pure. Stay pure.

I know not everyone (probably way more than I even realized in my little naïve mind) lived by my morals, but it seems those days have fallen by the wayside. Instead of expecting that kids—and adults, too—will live a pure lifestyle, the expectation is that no one stays pure. The expectation is that you have sex outside of marriage, that nothing is unacceptable.

As I lived the single-again life for most of the last decade, I realized just how sex-saturated our world had become…even in the Christian circles in which I ran. Singles groups I attended were more like a meat market or a hook-up group. Online dating? I was too scared to stay long. Even the “Christian” online dating sites scared me away, with men making lewd comments from the beginning.

I wondered where the days of living holy, living in honor, holding our bodies and our sexuality in high esteem had gone.

But they are gone. Long gone.

Pornography is at our fingertips every moment of every day. Television and movies are filled with steamy love scenes and we don’t blink an eye. Some movies even seem to glorify sexual abuse (Ok. I admit. I’ve only seen the trailer for Fifty Shades of Gray and I couldn’t even watch it without squirming in my seat.). There’s no escape from sex in this openly sexual world in which we live.

And yet, God in His infinite wisdom calls us to be different from the world, different from our culture. He calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to live as strangers and aliens in this world. And that’s exactly how this world sees us if we are choosing purity as a lifestyle.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. … The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. … Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? … Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

I love that. I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. Our bodies are meant for the Lord who is in us, who has bought us with a price. Isn’t that motivation and reason enough to live holy, pure, blameless?

I hope it hits you as much as it does me. God loves us, and He knows that living by the standards of this world is not beneficial for us. It causes a fracturing of the soul when we give ourselves away, when we make sex cheap instead of the amazing gift it was meant to be.

Let’s be honest, though: living in purity is hard. Really hard. Even if we choose to protect our minds. Even if we flee every type of sexual impurity. Even if we set no wicked thing before our eyes. Even if we set our minds on Christ and living His way.

It’s still easy to let that hint of sexual impurity slip in, to steal away our greatest of intentions, our solemn choice to live God’s way.

I get emails all the time.

“I messed up. I had sex with this man.”

“My husband left me, and I can’t believe what I did.”

“What now? Am I condemned to a life of celibacy because I failed to follow God’s standards?”

“I didn’t mean to, but I let it go too far. I mean, we didn’t have sex but we were awfully close…”

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. Psalm 51:1-2

I get it. I totally get it.

I don’t think I was prepared for the battle after my divorce. Before I was married the first time, it was actually pretty easy. Very little temptation.

I’m not sure exactly what it is after you’ve been down that road, but it’s much harder. I don’t know if it’s the loneliness, the loss of physical touch, or something else. I do know anger at God and uncertainty about living for Him played into it for me. Regardless, I know living in purity was much harder for me the second time around.

But it is possible.

Are you one of those that missed the mark, that has walked the road of sexual impurity? Are you struggling with where you fit in God’s plan now that you’ve gone too far? Are you wondering about your future?

Here’s what I have to say to you:

Forgiveness is an amazing gift! I love Hosea 6:1! My paraphrase is simply, “How can we experience His healing if we’ve never experienced pain?” The same goes for forgiveness. How can we experience His great mercy, His unfathomable grace, His immeasurable forgiveness if we’ve never experienced the grief, the pain, the remorse of coming face-to-face with our sins, with our failures in this life. The waves of His grace flow over us as we drown in the ocean of His forgiveness. There’s no gift more precious, more valuable, than the forgiveness that He offers us by the blood of His Son. And, maybe, just maybe, it takes some great sin to help us understand the value of His forgiveness.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Psalm 51:7-9

Forgiveness is total and complete. God doesn’t do anything partially; He only extends full and complete forgiveness. His forgiveness removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and He remembers our sins no more (Isaiah 43:25). He makes it as if we never sinned before, making us as pure as we were before we were tarnished by our sins. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Forgiveness completely restores your standing with God. When our sins are completely wiped away, we have the freedom of standing in the presence of our all holy God, knowing we have been made pure, complete, right with Him. He restores our hearts, our minds, our joy. He takes our sins and our guilt. He allows us the privilege of basking in His presence. What an incredible gift!

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. … Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Psalm 51:10-12

Can I just tell you that falling to impurity is not the unpardonable sin? Just like greed or anger or hatred or bitterness or gluttony or pride, sexual impurity is sin. Sin is serious business, but sexual impurity is not worse in God’s eyes than any other sin. He has the power—and the desire—to wipe all of our sins away and give us a fresh start.

But, when you experience His forgiveness, don’t forget to thank Him by living His way.

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. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. Psalm 101:2-3

Maybe you’ve stumbled, fallen, done a full-blown nose-dive into the sins of sexual impurity. Let it be the springboard to a beautiful future basking in the grace of our Savior.