Thursday, October 22, 2009

Man the Fort!

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Jonah. Too often in my life I see many similarities between Jonah and myself. God tells me to do one thing and I want to do another.  Do you find yourself like Jonah going in a different direction than what God wanted? As fun as the book of Jonah is to read it is still a powerful story of a sinful city (Nineveh) and a stubborn prophet (Jonah). If you are not familiar with the story it only takes about 30 minutes to read. It is short but it will show some powerful truths about God, the Gentile people, the nation Israel, and opportunities for repentance.

The city of Nineveh was doing all the wrong things. They were prideful, worshipping idols, and self-centered.  It was known as one of the most luxurious cities of its time and has been compared to modern day America. The prophet Jonah had a message for Nineveh; repent or be destroyed. In reading the book, you will see an immediate response from the people of Nineveh. They cried out to God and turned from their evil ways. Because of their response, God spared their city and then spent time teaching Jonah valuable lessons about His grace.

When we finish the book we think "all is well that ends well". However, 100 to 125 years later, Nineveh is back at it again. They have fallen into the trap of rejecting God and living evil lives. The prophet Nahum has a serious message for the city. Nahum 2:1 says:

He who scatters has come up before your face.

Man the fort!
Watch the road!
Strengthen your flanks!
Fortify your power mightily.
[The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Na 2:1.]

The city is commanded to be ready because God is getting ready to destroy them! The book of the prophet Nahum is only three chapters but outlines Nineveh's destruction. They have returned to their former habits of arrogance, violence, and idolatry.

We have heard many times that God is love. That statement is true; God is a God of love. He is also a God of mercy and grace. But here is where we make a mistake. We stop at this point and go no further. Not only is God a God of love, mercy, and grace, but He is also the creator and the judge. He is Holy and just and the result of His character demands Holiness from His creation (1 Peter 1:15-16). If we are disobedient to our creator, then a penalty is required for payment. Romans 6:23 says that penalty is death.

So, what about God's love"? He has shown it to us! We all have messed up (Romans 3:23), so He provided the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Out of His love for us, He sent His son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sins. John 3:16 says whosoever believes upon Him (Jesus) will be saved. He provides that opportunity everyone because we can not correct our problems on our own. We can either accept it or reject it. If we believe and repent, we will be saved and have life. If we reject Him then we choose death. God has provided a way, but the decision is ours. So, when someone asks "why would a loving God send someone to a place called hell?" the answer is that He doesn't, but rather we choose it.

God had enough of Nineveh's rejection and Nahum painted an accurate picture of their destruction. I am heartbroken over our nation and the direction in which we are headed. Our great sinfulness is leading us on a path to destruction. As we move further and further away from God, we are beginning to see the results. Is it time to "man the fort"?

In Christ,
Doug Johnson

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Drama - It's Inside the Box

Drama! Life is full of drama. Drama is what I see when I turn on the TV and watch one of theses so called "sitcoms". The result of drama is what I see on the nightly news. Drama seems to begin in the seventh grade and never ends. We live in drama central. It's in our schools. It's in our families. Our lives are in reaction mode because of all of the drama!

Is this how God wants us to live? Does He want us limited by our own perceptions and ideas? Does He want us limited by all of the drama? Solomon talked about living life to the fullest in Ecclesiastes chapters 11 and 12.

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, And put away evil from your flesh, For childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”. [The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ec 11:9-12:1.]

These verses offer an awesome and inspiring challenge to all of us. Solomon says "rejoice in your youth". We find those verses difficult because we are not following our true heart's desire. We are limiting our God given abilities by trying to fight for a status in life.

"Let your heart cheer in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart". Unfortunately, for many of us our heart's desire is to cannon ball into the drama swimming pool. For some reason we seem to live in the drama arenas of life. The reality shows carry some of the highest ratings on TV. Why? They rank high because it entertains us to see someone else in the midst of situations where they fight for control and position.

In John 10:10 we see Jesus painting the picture of life. He says in these verses "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. [The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 10:10.]".

The thief, satan himself, wants to steal your happiness and your hope. When we are concerned with what others think about us, we are allowing the thief to take away our fullness for that day. The thief also wants to kill. He wants to kill relationships and create emotional chaos which is achieved my allowing drama in our lives. The Bible also tells us that he wants to destroy. He wants to destroy our witness and our Christian walk. This can be easily accomplished by participating in the slander and hateful comments of emotional relationship battles.

Is this where God wants us to spend our lives? No. Jesus wants us to have true abundant life. However, because of our selfish focus, we cannot experience the true "abundant life" that God has given us. We have limited ourselves. It is like locking ourselves into a room in which there is no obvious way out.

My son and I decided we wanted to build a storage building early this spring. We finally decided on a set of plans and began to build. This month we are in the final stages of completing this building and this week's project was to hang the garage door on the front. Keep in mind the garage door is the only entry point into the building. If you have ever hung a sectional garage door then you know that you build the garage door over the opening from the inside. Ryan could not help me this week so my father graciously came over to lend a hand.

We started early Tuesday evening assembling and hanging the door. As the panels were going up over the door opening, we realized there was no way out of this building until the door was completely assembled and functional. At 9:30 the realization hits us that we are not finished and we have no way out. There were a lot of questions that began to cross my mind. What if I need to go to the bathroom? What if I get sick? What if I get hurt? It is very easy to become consumed on all of the work and problems inside the building. It would be easy to become discouraged when the task at hand is greater than life itself. Our goal became to get out of the box. At 10:15 the garage door opened and we could move on to better things such as sleep and fresh air.

The reason I say this is to mention that many of us never find the excitement, joy, and peace that God intends for us to have because we cannot get out of the box. We cannot get beyond the drama in life to be able to experience the abundant life God has for us. The Lord has created you for a purpose. Don’t listen to people who put you down or make fun of you.

You see, satan has convinced many of us to believe that we can never overcome the sin or the situations that we are in. Believing that message, we feel that we can never be more than we are, therefore, we settle for the status quo. We believe that we can't live for Christ. We believe that our past limits our ability to have an exciting and fulfilled life.

When your life is over, I believe that there will be a couple of questions God will ask. "Did you do all that you were created to do?" and "Did you live to the fullest you could live because of my Son".

If the answer is no, then what is wrong? Solomon said "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come".  It is the only way out of the box.

In Christ,
Doug Johnson

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oops! I Didn't Mean It!

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 says "Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through much activity, And a fool’s voice is known by his many words. [The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Ec 5:2-3]

Have you ever been quick to speak? Have you ever said something and wished that you could erase the minds of everyone who heard it? Sometimes we speak before we think and the results are devastating. Our commitment behind our words can also be hurtful. If we promise that we will meet a friend at a certain time or place and either don't show or are late, what message does that give? It says this meeting is not a priority to us and the other person becomes a victim to that issue.

These verses go on to say, likewise, in your heart don't utter anything quickly before God. They further state that God is in heaven and you are on earth. Do we think that because we do not physically see God that our words and promises do not mean as much as they would to a close friend? When we talk to God we need to communicate what we earnestly desire. God knows your true desire behind your words. He knows this because He knows our hearts. The Message translation says:

Don’t shoot off your mouth, or speak before you think. Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear. God’s in charge, not you—the less you speak, the better. Overwork makes for restless sleep. Overtalk shows you up as a fool. [Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Ec 5:2-3]

Have you ever known someone who couldn't stop talking? They talked about everything. You realized that the more they talked the less they knew. Solomon also warns us to beware of word play. He said that a fool's voice is known by their many words. In other words, don't open your mouth just to be heard.

The following quote is attributed to George Eliot. "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Actually if you do a Google search, you will find that quote attributed to multiple people. This idea actually came from the Bible long before any of those people quoted it. 

Proverbs 17:28 says:
Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive. [The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Pr 17:28]

Not only should our words to others be kept in check but our proclamation to God should not be foolishness as well. Too often we belittle God in our words. We make promises to God, and never back them up. We act as if we are in charge and it doesn't matter what we say. Remember God is in charge, not you. When you make promises to God, they should be true, wholehearted, and forever. Solomon says; when you make a vow to God, follow through with it.

Over the years I have realized we are a visual generation. We see it, we like it, and then we buy it. We leave the store and walk past another store window and we forget what we just bought. We see something new and desire to have it too. Sadly we do the same with our promises to God. We say yes to God and then before long something else grabs our attention and we find ourselves failing in our original promises.

If you know that you need a savior and you choose to believe and repent, then you should not desire anything that will take the place of God. If the Spirit calls you into ministry or missions, don't say yes in haste and then never follow through. This illustrates to God that you are not serious. Our promise to God should be met with payment. If not, "sorry I did not mean it" will not get it. God will judge accordingly.

Solomon goes on to say "fear God". We need to change our perspective of who God is. React accordingly. It is not about you, it is about Him who made you. God is the rock, the firm foundation of our salvation. Why would we want to be anywhere else?

Committed to Him,
Doug Johnson

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Changing Encounter

Are our Churches social clubs? Before you get upset with me, I know the Church is the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:24) of which Christ Himself is the head. The church of the New Testament comes from Greek word ecclesia meaning those "called out" or "the assembly". But that is not where I want to begin. I want to think about how we approach this place we call the "Church" or the "House of God".

Ecclesiastes 5:1 says:
Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.   [The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ec 5:1.]

Why do we go to church? This is where many have messed up. I think many "go to church" for the wrong reasons. Here are just a few reasons I think people go to church:
  1. Many come to church to see and be seen. You know the ones:
    "I have an new outfit and I just have to show it off!"
    "I wonder if John Doe will be in church today. You know he lives a life contrary to Christianity. I can't wait to see if he is there!"
  2. Many come to church to promote a business.  Some people utilize public gatherings to promote themselves or their products. They feel that if they "do Christian things" people of the Christian faith will be more apt to buy their products or services. 
  3. Many come to church to make themselves feel better. The altar is certainly a place that a person's guilt and shame can be removed. However, some people believe that just walking through the doors of the sanctuary can accomplish everything they need in their lives. In other words, they are saying "I have done my good deed for the week".
But is that what the Bible says? No. It says when we come into the presence of God we need to "walk prudently". Walking prudently means to walk wisely. When you walk prudently it literally means to "watch your step".

Why do I say that sometimes we are just "hanging out" and doing the social thing? It is because we don't watch our step. If I go to the Grand Canyon and I decide to take one of those narrow pathways down to the base of the Grand Canyon. How will I travel that path? Am I going to run as fast as I can down that narrow path? No. Am I going to take my mountain bike, put it in high gear, and see how fast I can make it to the bottom? Absolutely not! Why? Because in doing so, I show no respect for the large drop-off on the side of the canyon. If I have no respect for something that can alter my life, I will probably do something I will regret. Therefore, Solomon says that our approach to God is important. Come to God's house, enter into the presence of God to learn something, to worship, to commit, to be changed. Too many times we focus on the sacrifice rather than the purpose. "It is such a beautiful day. It is a perfect day to be out on the lake, but I am going to make the sacrifice and get ready to go to church because that is what I am 'supposed' to do".

Focusing on the sacrifice rather than the purpose is not the picture of the New Testament Church found in In Acts 2:42-47:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.  [The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ac 2:42-47.]

These verses paint an awesome picture of the actions and attitude of the Church. Yes they made a sacrifice, but that was not their focus. Their focus was upon their obedience and their love for God and others. They met daily, learned the apostle's doctrine, ate together, and became the example of Christ to others.

The Bible says that our approach to God should be prudent. It should be in humility, with wisdom, and not arrogance. When we come into the house of the Lord we should come seeking Him, and in doing so, it will change our actions and appearance.

Do we look like the Church? If so, I hope it is in the image of Christ.

In Him,
Doug Johnson

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Grasping for the Wind

What an incredible image the phrase "grasping for the wind" paints in my mind. Have you ever tried to capture the wind? Scientists have spent decades attempting to harness the energy from the wind but have they ever captured the wind? If we could capture the wind, what would it look like? How would we feel? Would it change us forever? Would we be better off with our new possession?

I have been studying the book of Ecclesiastes over the past four weeks and this image that King Solomon uses frequently in this book is quite amazing. We remember that Solomon was given a great gift of wisdom and in chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes we see a discussion of man's desire for the riches of this world. Solomon said that he acquired greatness more than any man before him in Jerusalem. His greatness included multiple houses, great vineyards, servants, and flocks of great numbers. He acquired gold, silver, and special treasures of kings. He had it all. He had everything man could want. He denied himself nothing. But yet he said "And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:11)
Our economy has shed some light on a great truth. Too many people have spent their lives "grasping for the wind". People have not been satisfied with their current status in life and have spent everything to achieve the next level. They are grasping for the wind and never obtaining their true desire for happiness. Solomon also came to this conclusion in his life for he said "there was no profit under the sun". The things of this world cannot offer complete satisfaction and if we try to "have it all" then we are grasping for the wind.

I am reminded of the story where Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well and He asked her for a drink of water. The Samaritan woman was shocked that He would even speak to her much less ask her for a drink since Jews did not associate with Samaritans. But Jesus offered her living water. He said “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14). 

At what point in life does a person realize that the accumulation of wealth doesn't bring true happiness? Can we ever see the endless cycle of more and better? Marketing experts know the next model of the "item" should appear within a year. They figure the consumer is probably tired of the previous model by then and looking for something new. The cell phone industry is a prime example of marketing to a starving consumer base.

Have you found true peace, contentment, and happiness? Or, are you grasping for the wind? Only in Christ can we find true satisfaction in life. He will change us forever.

In Christ,
Doug Johnson

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Are We Too Busy?

I was recently notified that an article that I submitted to YLO Magazine was just published. I am humbled that anyone would even consider publishing anything I wrote. The article is about how we act around others in our busy everyday life. It was directed to Youth Ministers but can be adapted to anyone who deals with other people. The following is a link to the article:

Youth Leaders Only Magazine

The article is on page 11 and is entitled "Multitasking is Killing My Ministry". Sometimes we are so busy getting life done, that we ignore others in their time of need. We don't realize the message we send to others when we are focused on ourselves or our "to do" lists in their presence.

It is very unfortunate that our jobs, our hobbies, our cell phones, and our text messages get in the way of God and our families. We forget that God is a jealous God and He wants first place in our lives. Sometimes we forget that our families need our attention and support through these tough days. In any case, is it time to sit down and re-focus our priorities? I hope you take time to read the article, and, as always, feel free to pass it on.

In Christ,
Doug Johnson

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Out of Dog Food!

I was pushing my buggy through Wal-Mart late one night on my way to the aisle where the dog food is located. I had once again forgot to buy my dog food before I ran out and am now making an emergency trip before my dog becomes angry with me.

Usually my trips to Wal-Mart result in me running into someone that I know within minutes of walking in the front door. This time is a little different. As I made it to the aisle where you find the dog food I realized that I had not seen anyone that I know. Maybe it is because it is after 10:00pm. However, I had been to Wal-Mart many times after 10:00pm and had seen people that I know, but this time was a little different. In thinking about this, a question that entered in my head was, "I wonder if any of these people here are Christians?" If so, how would I know?

Is it by the clothes that they wear? Is it by how they walk? Is it by how they conduct themselves? Is it by what they say? Do I have to ask someone before I know they are a Christian or not?

A verse comes to mind here. Acts 4:13:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

The last part of that verse is what is important. "that they had been with Jesus." Charles Spurgeon once said "A Christian should be a striking likeness of Jesus Christ." So I have to ask myself the question. Does anybody here look like Jesus? I am not talking about the hair or the robe. I am talking about the characteristics of people. As I think about Jesus, I think about the following characteristics and ask the following questions:

Do they have the patience of Jesus?
Are they expressing the love of Christ?
Are they speaking kindly to others?
Do they go out of their way to help those who are having difficulty?
Are they self-denying?
Are they bold about their faith?
And last, are they zealous about their Lord?

Sometimes we do not realize the opportunities that we are given to share our Lord. A busy day at the mall or Wal-Mart allows us to learn a lot about people. And as people watch you, wherever you may be, do they realize that you are a Christian?

Peter and John, I am sure not too much to look at, and being seen as ignorant, were seen as having been with Jesus. They were bold in their faith. Obviously they were a striking likeness of Jesus. It is the outward appearance of man that reveals the fullness of the heart.

Is your heart full of Christ? Do you know Him personally? Do you love him? Can others tell by looking at you in a crowded mall?

Something to think about,

In Him,
Doug Johnson

Crazy Devotional

I was reading my Bible this week and I came across a chapter I had to read multiple times before I had one of those "AH HA!" moments. The reference was 1 Kings chapter 20. This chapter deals with King Ahab who was king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. King Ahab was under threat of Ben-Hadad who was king of Aram. You may be thinking, what is the big deal about that? Well, read the chapter and find out what I mean.This chapter is almost chaos.

Ben-Hadad demands that Ahab turn over all of his silver and gold as well as the best women and children. Immediately Ahab sends message "no problem". I am thinking,, WHAT?!? Yep, he wanted no confrontation. Can you imagine giving in to a demand like that one?

Ben-Hadad who must have been thinking that was too easy, decided to demand to be able to search everything they had and take what he wanted. The second demand now resulted in a war. Looking at the odds, you would think Israel was going to be defeated. However, Ben-Hadad was defeated instead, so much so, that he fled for his life.

Ben-Hadad's advisors then tell him that he needs to take on King Ahab in the valley. They told him that King Ahab's God was king of the mountain but not king of the valley. So, he agreed and rebuilt his army back up and then planned an attack in the valley.

Now there was this nameless prophet of God who came to Ahab and told him God would deliver the vast army into king Ahab's hands because they think that Ahab's God is only king of the mountain and not of the valley. Note this is the second time a nameless prophet comes to king Ahab in this chapter. The first time he tells him practically the same thing. He told him to know that God is Lord. In this battle in the valley we see that Ben-Hadad lost 127,000 people in the attack. The defeat was so great that Ben-Hadad himself fleed and hid in the city of Aphek.

Now we can learn a couple of things from this lesson so far. First, God is not only the God of our mountain top experiences but He is also God our our valleys. He is capable of handling whatever comes your way. Have you given your life over to Him? Is He truly God of your mountains and valleys?

The story does not end there. If you notice in verse 42 the Lord expected Ahab to destroy his enemy. Instead Ahab let Ben-Hadad live. Ahab took it upon himself to make a decision against God's will. Here is where it gets interesting. God sends a prophet to Ahab desguised as a wounded soldier. Using this prophet God gets Ahab to prounounce judgement upon himself. Ahab pronounces the death sentence upon himself.

From this entire chapter we can learn a lot about how serious it is when we do not acknowlege God is Lord of both the Mountains and the Valleys in our lives. God is King of all creation and He reigns over everything. Are we being obedient to God in all that He wants us to do? Do we love Him? Have we truly accepted the life that He has given us through his Son Jesus Christ? If so, we will make Him Lord of our lives.

Doug Johnson

First Post

I have to open by the following verse:

You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.-Revelation 4:11

The first thing that I want to do before I say anything else is Praise be to God. The first thing that I want to do is worship. You know, worship comes from an old english term which means to give worth to or to pay homage to. Essentially, the word can be broken down to say "worth ship". The first word of that is worth. I sometimes wonder what we value in life or what we consider is worthy of our attention and worthy of our praise. So, the first thing that I want to do is give praise to what is valuable in my life and that is God himself, our creator and our sustainer of life.

What do you consider value in your life? What is most imporatant to you? Do you realize that everyone worships something? Whatever you spend the most time doing and whatever is most valuable to you is what you are worshipping. Have you ever thought about that? So, as I open up with this blog I want to say praise be to God!

In Christ,
Doug Johnson