Develop a Forward Focus to Release the Past

     My childhood home has changed a lot since my father built it in the 1950s. The playhouse in the backyard was dismantled long ago as was a sandbox we played in when we were small. Also gone is the big box of dress up clothes with the fox fur stole and the fat tire bicycles we road in the streets.

     Changes were made as we grew and matured. Eventually all five children moved out. We came back to visit my parents, but we no longer had rooms of our own. Dad converted my old bedroom into a study.

     As I routinely come to take my turn staying with my 93-year-old mother while her caregiver is off for two days, I think about all the memories associated with this home. When I am there, I write in the living room seated next to a large rock fireplace as my mother naps each afternoon. The rocks came from all around Latrobe… the place the house is built. One I carried from the creek on Porter Lane after discovering it while on a walk with my grandmother.

     Eventually we will sell the house. It is inevitable. Yet that is as it should be. This is a physical example of a spiritual principle. Our childhood home gave us an opportunity to mature physically and mentally, learning skills we would need to go out on our own, it was never meant to be a permanent residence. Neither is our earthly home. Its existence gives us opportunity to mature spiritually in preparation for our heavenly home. We are passing through and our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20)

Each time I go to Latrobe I try to untie strings that are still attached to my heart. Although my father died a couple years ago, I can still see him mowing grass in the old horse field or reading Alaska Magazine in the chair at the end of the dining room table. But it was his presence that drew me back to the house. Mom who draws me now. It is God’s presence I want for eternity.

Time passes and we are not to live in what was or what might have been. This is not only true in the physical realm but the spiritual realm as well.

     Paul writes in the book of Philippians: “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (3:13b-14)

     Commentary author Tony Evans states, “It’s not that you don’t remember the past; it’s that you don’t allow the past to be a controlling factor in your life. Don’t spend much time looking in the rearview mirror.” He states the way to get over the past is to have a forward focus.1

     Moving forward to me means continuously studying God’s Word whether on our own or in a Bible study with others. I have facilitated the Women’s Bible study at my church for years and am amazed at the variety of author/teachers God raises up to provide curriculum. No two are exactly alike. Each provide opportunity for new insight and growth.

     Forward momentum is exhibiting the likeness of Jesus in our actions and reactions more and more often. This happens as we walk in step with the Holy Spirit.

     Also embracing our current journey knowing God is sovereign, rather than resisting the path as if it is some sort of mistake.

     When we focus on a deeper relationship with God, learning and applying His Word, the struggles of the past fade. Things we once were not able to cope with are suddenly manageable.

Let’s Talk

1-What are your best tips for maturing spiritually?

2-Paul states in Philippians he is looking forward to what lies ahead. What do you think this is? What are you looking forward to?

Reference:

1-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary by Tony Evans. Holman Bible Publishers Nashville, Tennessee.

Waiting on the Lord for Direction

     I am waiting for direction from God on a book I am writing. Should I pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing?

     Several of my sisters in Christ have joined with me in prayer for direction on this issue and I have joined them to pray for insight in all the areas they need direction. We assembled a list of requests for the purpose of waiting on the Lord and then sharing how we received His answer.

     This list is meant to keep us accountable on the waiting aspect of prayer. So often we pray about something and then proceed in our own wisdom and strength without an explicit answer. Currently, we have two answers to our prayer requests.

     One of my sister’s was putting a rental property up for sale and needed to know how to price it. The Holy Spirit gave her and her husband the same listing price in answer to our prayers. God has confirmed decisions for me in this way. When a Bible study facilitator stepped down, my husband and I prayed about our selection for her replacement. One name kept coming to mind, so I wrote the name on a piece of paper. My husband, who is the pastor, also wrote the name of the woman the Holy Spirit brought to his mind. They were the same.

     Our groups second answer to prayer provided direction on a decision about refinancing a house. In this case, God shut the door. God has used this method to direct my steps as well. When I lived in Sacramento, I prayed about enrolling in a creative writing class at UC Davis. As the deadline drew near, I enrolled, covering the cost with a credit card. Two days before the class was to start the registrar called to tell me it had been canceled. Yes, God removed the opportunity in answer to my prayer for direction.

     We will wait to see how God will answer all the other prayers for direction we have listed. One of the purposes for our shared list is to see the variety of ways God answers our prayers.

As I wait for my answer about the book, I continue to write the chapters because the Holy Spirit guides my pen and I am learning a lot about the topic placed upon my heart as well as the art of book writing. It’s a project I began last spring after completing a series of lessons in the Compel Training library on this longer writing format (50,000-55,000 words versus a 2,000-word article). My outline is a wheel with the focus or main theme the hub and all the chapters spokes that connect. I envision the wheel of a bicycle.

To date I have written an index and five chapters, a book proposal and one sheet, and met with a couple acquisition editors at writing conferences. There has been no direction on what to do with the manuscript, but I continue to study and learn so I am ready when I receive an answer. It may be that the exercise is simply for my growth, both in the craft of writing and spiritually.

I am certain the Lord will direct my steps in His perfect timing, just as He will direct my sister’s requests on our prayer list. They include direction on when to retire and how to supplement an income, timing in leaving the mountain during winter months as age begins to factor into this couple’s ability to clear snow, insight on the sale of rental property and a home, and when and how to reach out to an estranged daughter.

We will wait on our decisions until we receive clear direction from the Lord. Trusting the timing will be perfect. We will not get ahead of the Lord or lag behind Him.

Let’s Talk:

1-What direction do you currently need? Share it in the comment section so we can join you in prayer.

2-How has God provided direction for you in the past in answer to your prayers? Let us know in the comment section.

Taking a Tally of God’s Love

     My husband, Terry, called to tell me God loves him. What was the proof? He had driven through Marysville without having to stop at one red light. That probably does not mean much to anyone who has not driven through this town located on Highway 70 in Northern California. But it is a bit of a bottleneck. One Friday afternoon on my way to Sacramento from my home in the mountains, I spent over a half hour inching through. There are at least seven traffic lights, if not more.

     Of course, Terry knows God’s love is much more than what we label as blessings… those things that delight us and bring us pleasure. I went to Scripture to tally a few of the ways God loves us. Here are a few:

     –He desires a relationship with us.

     If we were all to recite one verse we know by heart it would most likely be John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” ESV

     This great love is explained in Romans 5:8. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ESV

     Sin separates us from God, but He provides a way for the relationship that was severed by Adam and Eve’s disobedience to be restored.

     Ephesians 2:4-5—”But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—” ESV

     –Our restored relationship is tight.

     This great love continues beyond the point of salvation.

“Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” the apostle Paul asks in his letter to the Christian church in Rome (8:35). He answers that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because we live in a world where we often must stop for red lights along our journey through life it is good to know that God will never leave us nor forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5) We are told in this verse that we can be content with what we have because of this promise. In any situation, whether financial, relational, or physical we can look to the Lord for help rather than strive in our own strength.

     –He completes our sanctification.

     It is that great love that completes the sanctification process. Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

     I have undertaken many projects that are not yet completed. Several years ago, I refinished an antique dresser, stripping it of white paint and staining it. However, the mirror that attaches to the dresser remains unfinished. It was very decorative and required more detailed work, so it was stored in the garage for another time.

     Yet God chips away that “old paint” that taints His original vision of us to bring out our beauty. He does it in many ways. One is by correction. Hebrews 12:6 states the Lord disciplines the one he loves. If we were to be left without discipline, we would be illegitimate children.

     And our sanctification reveals the masterpiece God created, the one He envisioned before we were ever born.

     This is extraordinary love and so are those little blessings each day that reveal His presence. Like driving through Marysville without having to stop at any red lights.

Let’s Talk:

1-What are the small ways God has shown his love for you in the past week?

2-In what extraordinary way did you experience God’s love in salvation, sanctification, or during a difficult time when you knew you were not forsaken?

Signs of a Fiasco—Could it be a Test?  

     Last night, while I was making enchiladas, God tested me. I realized what was happening about halfway through the prep.

     The test was to determine if I was learning how to deal with frustration. I am easily exacerbated under pressure and instead of calmly thinking through issues I often explode. Most recently I started to rant when a field on a form for emailing a manuscript to a publication was flagged and I couldn’t figure out what was required to get it to close. A zoom meeting was about to start, and I would be late.

     Yet I remained calm the evening of the enchilada prep, although there were many frustrations. When the big bottle of chili powder was nowhere to be found in the cupboard, I did not panic. Able to think clearly, I remembered where a small bottle might be kept and averted a seasoning catastrophe. One correct response.

     Reaching for the jar of cumin I knocked a bag of peppercorns over. I discovered the top had not been sealed when the tiny round balls hit the counter like a hail downpour, then bounced onto the floor. Frustration stirred, my mind began to search for the person who did not close the bag to point a finger of blame, and then I paused. I would clean up the peppercorns when I finished the recipe. Although hesitant, another correct score.

     I grabbed the can opener and hooked it on the can of olives. As I turned the knob it snapped flying across the room. Stunned, it took a minute before I grabbed a bottle/can opener magnetically stuck on the side of the refrigerator. I worked my way around the top of the can with the pointed, knife end until there was an opening large enough for the olives to drop through.

     But I had forgotten about a second can needing to be opened, the enchilada sauce. I walked across the street and asked my neighbor to open the can. The final “test” was in separating the tortillas, which were stuck together and difficult to pull apart without creating large holes.

     It does no good to study God’s Word if we cannot put it into practice. And it is the ability to practice it that reveals whether it is simply knowledge in our head or it has been transferred to our heart.

     In John chapter six, Jesus asks Philip where they might buy bread to feed a large crowd (6:5). Jesus already knew He would feed five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish but he asked the question to test Philip (6:6). Had Philip learned that Jesus will provide?

     Tony Evans states in his Bible Commentary, “When God tests us, he grants us opportunity to apply spiritual truth to the challenging circumstances we face.”1

     I think of my frustration, which results in bursts of anger. Trials are to be expected. Also expected is a godly response. There is really no excuse for bad behavior.

Galatians 5:16-17

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. [ESV]

     Prior to this section of Scripture, the apostle Paul describes works of the flesh. One is “fits of anger.” Self-control is one of the attributes we possess when walking in the Spirit.

     The fruit of the Spirit is a package. In my situation, without self-control, I immediately eliminate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. Even faithfulness, for I show no faith in a sovereign God but am angry because what I have ordained and orchestrated has not come to pass.

     Yet if I look at the fruit of the Spirit during the enchilada assembly, I can see that self-control was present. As a result, the other attributes were present. Although the process seemed quite a fiasco, I passed the test.

Let’s Talk

1-Consider the past few weeks. What type of testing have you undergone and what was your test score?

2-Think of a time when you have been missing an attribute of the fruit of the Spirit. How did a struggle with one impact the other attributes?

Reference:

1-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary published by Holman Bible Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee.

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Those Aha Moments that Transform our Thinking

     We refer to them as aha moments. Those times when we suddenly gain knowledge, perspective, or insight.

     I experience them most mornings while I am on the treadmill watching pre-recorded TV programs while exercising. Those tutorials on cooking, decorating, renovating a home, establishing a business, or nurturing a talent.

For example, I thought “aha” when I watched a baker butter a Bundt pan and dust it with cocoa powder instead of flour to prevent her chocolate zucchini bread from sticking. In the past, I thought I must accept the splotches of white flour left atop my cake in exchange for having it cleanly release from the baking pan. Simple method, yet profound impact on baking.

I belong to three writing collectives that provide lessons about the publishing industry. Information shared by authors, editors, and agents provided the guidance I needed for creating a book proposal and one sheet to pitch a book I am writing. Aha—this is how it is done. It’s not only experience that has proven helpful, but interaction with other authors in the private Facebook groups who hope to publish a book. We share knowledge, perspective, and insight. The characteristics of those aha moments.

There are many aha moments when I listen to sermons, Biblical teaching, or complete a Bible study as well. In my current study on the book of Galatians once again I saw how the gospel changes the status of people removing favoritism, boundaries, and barriers.

When Paul says we are adopted as sons and therefore heirs he means all of us, women too. (Gal. 4:7) At the time of Christ women did not inherit their father’s estate. Quoting a commentary the authors explain, “the fact that Paul is telling a mixed audience that they are “all sons” is not diminishing women in the least. To the contrary, Paul’s words are elevating them to the same high status in God’s family as their brothers.”1 Once again one person’s epiphany shared.

Many would say these spontaneous moments of insight are solitary, therefore what I refer to as aha moments are not accurate. The concept is really linked to new ideas, a discovery, or invention by one person. Something no one else thought of pops into a person’s head like the Post-it Note created by Art Fry. He took an adhesive that left no residue, which was invented by a colleague at 3M, and applied it to a piece of paper to mark the pages in his church hymnal. The aha moment came to him as he searched for a bookmark that wouldn’t fall out of the hymnal, nor damage the pages.

Aha moments come as we struggle with a problem. Researchers found that sudden insight during problem solving occurs when there is a spark of gamma wave activity in the brain when a cluster of neurons bind together to create a new neural network pathway. Immediately, prior to the gamma spike, alpha-band activity slows over the right visual cortex, an area of the brain controlling sight. This is like closing our eyes to eliminate distractions while thinking. The process seems to quiet neurons in the area reducing distractions. A new idea pops into our head after the gamma spike.2 Of course, God designed our brain.

     While I marvel at the way aha moments originate. All glory goes to God who designed our brain. But it seems just as spectacular to me that aha moments can be passed along, coming at unexpected times as we interact with one another. That means we can have them in abundance rather than occasionally. And we can have them before we even know we need a solution to a problem. We can have them with or without a gamma spike.

Let’s Talk:

1-When have you come across an idea that transformed your way of thinking, made you say aha?

2-When I read about how our brains work, I marvel at God’s creative endeavors. Share a time when God astonished you!

References:

1-“Now That Faith Has Come A study of Galatians” by Beth Moore and Melissa Moore published by published by Living Proof Ministries 2020. Pages 152-153.

2- “The Aha! Moment: The Science Behind Creative Insight,” by Lauren Migliore Brain World April 6, 2020–brainworldmagazine.com/aha-moment-science-behind-creative-insight/

Pointing One Another Back to Jesus

     “What to do when you can’t find God.” This is the name of a podcast listed on an email I received from Emily P. Freeman. The topic is the loss of the felt presence of God. Those times we wander through the wilderness, or the valley of the shadow is the way she describes it.

     One suggestion is to do what Mary and Joseph did when they were returning from Passover and could not find their son, Jesus. They looked for him among community, those who knew what he looked like. [Luke 2:41-44] When we feel disconnected others who know Him can encourage us and remind us of all the aspects of a connected life. Freeman states: “Make sure you are in proximity to those who know what Jesus looks like.”

     Connection to the Christian community happens in a multitude of ways. Our first thought is church, and that has always been vital to me. As soon as my heart opened to Christ, I searched for a place to learn the Bible and fellowship with other believers. I found it at Warehouse Christian Ministries in Sacramento, California. My faith grew within this church community and there I learned to serve. When God called my husband into the pastorship, and we moved to Westwood, my heart broke at the thought of leaving so many brothers and sisters who had become such good friends. But God gave me a new family.

     Church isn’t something we go to on Sunday morning it is a place where we belong. It is important to be with brothers and sisters in Christ that accept us as we are just as Christ does and who allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.

     Although we like to think we will never feel a disconnect with Jesus, it is always possible. And when we are in close relationship with other likeminded Christians, we can honestly approach them for the help we need. They will not tell us our feelings betray us and that we are connected no matter how we feel. They will work with us. They will help us.

     And that is one reason why community is so important. When one struggles or strays, others can point the way.

     When I heard the statement, “What to do when you can’t find God” my thoughts went to Jesus. He was in the wilderness very early in His ministry. During that time Satan came to Him to drive a wedge between Him and His Father, but Jesus was not stumbled because He practiced the Word of God. [Luke 4:1-12] This tells me that during wilderness experiences we can find trail markers in the Bible. We can remember what we have learned, search for guidance by continuing to be in God’s Word daily, by listening intently to Sunday sermons and other teachings, and by having conversations with others who dig deep.

     I have taken part in women’s Bible study for decades. Sometimes I am a participant, sometimes a leader. Discussing the lessons with other women, listening to their point of view and application of the verses to their unique situations has greatly expanded my ability to practice God’s Word. I know that the best for me, may not be the best for them. Their needs may not be my needs. Nor are their struggles necessarily mine. But we become better together. We can offer each other a different point of view, a new way to apply the Word that we would never have come up with on our own.

     Also, I thought of Jesus’s heartfelt prayer to God in the Garden of Gethsemane as He struggled with a sorrowful soul and asked if the cup might be removed from him before the hour of his arrest. [Mark 14:32-36] We too, can pour an uncensored heart out to God in prayer. If God is all knowing, we cannot hide our feelings of isolation from Him. There are so many attitudes of the heart we are not supposed to have… jealousy, envy, self-pity to name a few. So, when they creep in, we try to snuff them out. Yet, they are part of who we are, and it is God’s job to hone us chipping away all that should not be so we can become who he created us to be. Pouring out our heart to God is a good “first step” when addressing feelings.

     These are only three suggestions of what to do when God seems far away and you long for that closeness you once had. In community there will be others because of the variety of people and experiences. As these suggestions come, we can sift through them looking for the one that is right for us, right for our circumstances, and therefore can be acted on to point us back to Jesus.

Let’s Talk:

1-If you have ever felt separated from God what caused the separation? How did you find your way back?

2-What’s the best way to build a strong Christian community?

References:

–emilypfreeman.com>podcast>176

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Spring Cleaning, a Good Work God Planned for Us

     This Saturday, I spent about four hours helping with the deep cleaning at my church. We washed windows, dusted ceiling fans, wiped the leaves of artificial plants, and organized the content on shelves. I haven’t started my spring cleaning at home yet but wanted to participate because I am part of this Christian community.

     A mother of five explained why family participation is important. I had the conversation with her at the local Farmer’s Market a few years ago, but it stuck in my head. One of her daughters was selling brownies at the booth where her mom sold freshly made sourdough bread and granola. We began to discuss ways kids could earn money, and I asked the little girl if she did chores at home to receive an allowance. Her mother said the children did not get paid for setting and clearing the dinner table, dusting furniture, or vacuuming the rug. Why? Children helped; it was just part of being a family.   

     This comment provided additional insight into the Scripture on doing good works, those prepared in advance by God. [Ephesians 2:10] I take part at my home church, because they are my family. As part of the family of God, we take part in His work so of course that includes the church in which we fellowship.

     With the sanctuary ready for Resurrection Sunday, my house is next. It’s time to shampoo rugs, reshelve the books stacked by the bed, and scrub the soot from the woodstove off the windows. Reading about “spring cleaning” in columns and blog posts on the Internet, I discovered much is made about this routine cultural task. Some say it is therapeutic because tidy rooms reduce stress. Also, productivity is increased because items that clutter are purged or organized making it easier to find things. In addition, household to-do lists shrink decreasing distraction.1 It is difficult to focus on a project if you keep noticing the dirty windows that need to be washed.

     However, a more appropriate reason for spring cleaning our homes is being a good steward of the things of God. I must admit I first wrote “the things God gives us” such as a house to live in, for example, whether rented or purchased. But further research showed an error in my thought process. As Creator, God is the owner and I am the manager.2 I should have realized this for my husband tells me often that everything we possess belongs to God. This understanding makes it easy for him to let go of possessions as the Holy Spirit prompts him.

     Yet knowing who the owner is and who the steward is also signals acts of good works. Stewardship activities are part of the good works God prepared. Another easy prompt for recognizing those good works.

God entrusts many things to us, our home being just one example. Parents are entrusted to raise their children well. The talents God gives us must be developed and used. For some, that is hours spent practicing piano. For others, hours learning to design fashion or architecture. We are stewards of the Spiritual gifts we are given as well. Paul encouraged Timothy to “fan into flame” his gift. (1 Ti 1:6)

Whatever He entrusts we provide oversight. Therefore, I begin the process of spring cleaning my house.

Let’s Talk:

1-What has God entrusted to you to manage? How are you providing oversight?

2-If you are spring cleaning what are some of the things you do to take care of the home God has entrusted to you?

3-What have you found to be prompts for accomplishing the good works God prepared for us in advance?  

References:

1-www.goodnet.org/articles/5-surprising-reasons-spring-cleaning-good-for-you-list.

2-Gotquestions.org “What is biblical stewardship?”

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Making the Most of Every Opportunity to be a “Neighbor”

     I had a chance to be a “neighbor” the other day, like the Good Samaritan in the book of Luke. Shortly after pulling onto Highway 36 on a quick trip to Chester, my husband and I came upon a couple trying to retrieve garbage from the middle of the road. It was strewn across the pavement and through the wooded area flanking the roadway for about a quarter mile. A huge mess, that occurred when they lost a garbage can on their way to the transfer station where refuge is deposited in shipping containers to haul to the county dump site.

     Without hesitation my husband said, “We need to help them,” and pulled off the road. So, we jumped out of the car to chase papers caught by the wind.  

If you are familiar with the Bible, you will recognize this term, “neighbor,” from the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Although the lawyer asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” as they discussed the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus drilled down on who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers. The man was badly injured, but a priest and Levite did not stop to help. Only the Samaritan had compassion on him.

The garbage disaster clearly fits the description of a neighbor—the one who shows mercy to the person in need. I am so grateful for those clear, good Samaritan appointments that provide the opportunity to show love and compassion. For truthfully, I sometimes struggle to know the good works God has prepared in advance which are described in Ephesians 2:10. Let me write it for you…

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” ESV

Often these opportunities are not on our schedule, but something we come upon suddenly like the garbage in the road. We have a split second to decide whether to help or go on our way. For a quick decision we can use the criteria Jesus provided for the one who was a neighbor to the injured man on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Ask— “Does this situation require compassion?” This is an action-oriented word that is defined as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”1 To be merciful is to show compassion. I read that in the Old Testament God’s mercy is often described as lovingkindness.

To identify the good works God daily puts in my path I will look for distress. Is the phone call I receive as I attempt to prepare dinner just chit-chat or does the person need a word of encouragement? Do I need to change my schedule so I can go to court with a friend who is experiencing some legal troubles? Can I stretch my grocery budget to include food for a family financially struggling?

Jesus didn’t describe the details of the good works we are to do, but He did describe the type of person who completes them. It is the one who exhibits lovingkindness, like God, by being compassionate. With this attitude we will make the most of every opportunity to be a “neighbor.”

Let’s Talk:

1-What opportunities have you missed to do a good work? Can you provide the details that prevented you from completing it?

2-How will you apply compassion to situations to determine if an opportunity for action is at hand? Do you have any additional suggestions for determining opportunities for a good work?

Reference:

1-Merriam-Webster online dictionary, merriam-webster.com.

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Five Benefits of Meeting Together

     In the physical realm we have this phrase “bring up short,” which essentially means to have something cause you to stop suddenly. That happened while I scrolled through Instagram messages. It wasn’t a beautiful photograph or inspiring Scripture that caused me to pause, but a reference to being a former church goer. A post about getting use to a new way of life outside a church community.

The author of the post thought it was working out, although it was difficult to get use to a new Sunday morning. The idea seemed to be that each Sunday you determine where to meet with God… perhaps a walk, maybe a coffee house, reading your Bible on a beach, gliding across a lake in a kayak, or maybe it’s a comfortable chair next to the woodstove warmed by a fire.

It wasn’t just the physical motion of my fingers on the phone screen, flipping through posts, that halted. My spirit hesitated as well. Is a church of one a new movement?

Recently I changed the lead Scripture on my website to: Heb 10:24-25 “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” NLT

The church has been a significant place for growth since my spirit came alive in Christ. I am not just referring to a meeting place to worship, study, fellowship, and pray for one another. I am referring to what is known in Scripture as the Body of Christ.

Here are a few benefits of meeting together as the Body of Christ:

Lessons in Unity—In the book of 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul urges believers to “be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” This comes by studying God’s word together. The pastor delivers insight on the meaning of Scripture and its application during his teaching. We meet at Bible studies to discuss and learn from one another. Scripture is transformative to our thought processes. As we come to a unified understanding, we come to a unified walk.

A Chance to “Know” Someone-When we study and fellowship together people are more than a name or face. We come to know them. Their fears, their hopes, their struggles, their joy. When ministering, it is helpful to know something about the other person. What might build up one person, acting as motivation or encouragement, may cause another to give up.

We sharpen each other— “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend–” Proverbs 27:17. As we build friendships within the church, working together, our walk and ministries become stronger. A Kid’s Camp, Women’s Retreat, or Men’s Conference becomes better and better as ideas are shared. And when we work together as a team, more is accomplished.

We stir one another up—In my church if the Holy Spirit places a ministry or good work upon someone’s heart, we gather around to provide incentive and motivation so the idea comes to fruition. This includes the pastor. As a result, several ministries thrive that may be described as “grassroots,” or congregation led.

We serve one another—We are interconnected, ready to help in time of need. That may be preparing dinners for a family who has just welcomed a newborn or is overwhelmed with a treatment schedule for an illness. Also, working on a home improvement project, contributing money for rent during a financial crunch, providing transportation to an appointment, bringing food when cupboards are empty, sitting in the waiting room of a hospital during a medical emergency, gathering for prayer.  

We were created for relationship. First with God, and then with others. I encourage you to continue to build relationships within the Body of Christ by finding a church in which you can thrive in acts of love and good works. “Especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Let’s Talk:

1-Do you have a church community? How involved are you within this group? How do you actively participate?

2-What motivates you to acts of love and good works? How do you motivate others?

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Leaving Room for a Different Approach

     “He has a different approach.” This casual comment made by a fellow Christian provided a dissimilar viewpoint of ministering to women contemplating abortion. The goal of pro-life ministry is to save the unborn. Can there be two ways to accomplish the same results?

     I was comfortable joining a young woman from our church to pray in front of an abortion clinic for a few hours one Saturday morning as part of a ministry called 40 Days for Life. Participants, who hold signs that read “Pray to end abortion,” present a “peaceful and educational presence.” A nonconfrontational approach with which I agree. It is the approach I was sure Jesus would use. Yes, in my mind it demonstrated agape love… that intelligent, intense love that seeks the best for others.  

     As we drove to our destination, I learned that on Wednesdays when abortions were performed at the women’s clinic, a different kind of pro-life advocate had begun to show up. The “in your face” kind. Yes, those who would stop women on their way into the clinic to beg them to reconsider. “Don’t do it!” “Turn back!” “You’ll regret this decision!” It was the kind I didn’t want to associate with, wouldn’t Christianity get a bad name?

     But the Holy Spirit grabbed my attention with the words “different approach.” My thoughts, my heart, went out to the women surprised by pregnancy. Perhaps in a desperate situation which would become even more complicated with the birth of a child. Poverty stricken, barely able to put food on the table for themselves and not enough money for childcare while at work. Unmarried, pressured by a boyfriend who wants no part in the responsibility of raising a child. That Saturday morning, I paced up and down in front of that clinic, praying for those type of women. My heart was filled with compassion for them. “Show me how to help them,” I prayed.

     Could a more confrontational approach be just as compassionate? Yes, for those who were trying to snatch the unborn from certain death. Wednesday was a different day. They came each Wednesday because God had given them boldness. Although this approach had not been given me, it was indeed agape love. An intense love, willing the best for the unborn and ultimately the women too.

     That day I realized it is okay to approach ministry differently. Someone who does not teach like I do can get a point across in a different way reaching those I could not reach and vice versa. We often critique teachers from our bias labeling them “good” or “poor,” yet they are instruments of God with one task and that is to remain faithful to their calling. We can also be critical of the way people deliver the gospel message as well. I was surprised to read a testimony where someone came to know Jesus by reading the book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. I guess I had read too many bad reviews, yet the Holy Spirit used this book to open someone’s heart to Christ.

     Matthew 7:1-2 reads: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” ESV

     This judging we are warned against in the Bible can masquerade in many forms that makes it difficult to detect. Yet, it can stifle the work of the Spirit.

     Before I learned the clinic was closed on Saturdays, I suggested we separate from the more aggressive brothers and sisters in Christ. Make sure we did not associate with them. But action was not to be taken that day, only action within my heart. That Saturday our impact was through prayer and the message on the signs we carried visible to the public as they drove past in their cars. But on Wednesdays, many who come to the clinic to save the unborn use a “different approach.”

Contemplate Your Ways:

1-Have you ever judged another group because their way of doing ministry was not like yours? If so, what was it about their methods you didn’t like?

2-How can two people with different methods of ministry work together toward the same goal?

References:

     If you would like to learn more about 40 Days For Life visit their website at: 40daysforlife.com.