Sunday, March 2, 2014

Walk on the Water

In my last post we looked at the love of God even though He had to administer judgment on Moab.  I don't suppose it would seem that strange to parents who have told their children 'this is going to hurt me more than it is you.'  God does not send judgment flippantly, it causes Him serious grief when He is forced to inflict judgment.

However I think many who want to blame God for their woes, don't have a proper understanding of God. If our concept of God is that He is good because He supplies all our wants, despite how we treat Him, then our concept of God may be warped.  Perhaps we need to understand who God really is.  Let's go back to the idea of a parent.  After all God is a Father. I am speaking specifically to Christ-followers now, because God is not your Father if you have not sought forgiveness for your rebellion.  It should not seem odd that God disciplines us when we stray from the way.  This is taught in Heb. 12:5-6, but it would be good to read though verse 12.

And if we are trusting God to lead us, don't expect things will then be rosy, because He has a better purpose for you than to make your life easy.  You see, He wants to prepare you for Heaven.  I have no idea how much dross God still has to purge from me, but I am trying to learn what I need to give up, and what I need to embrace, as I walk through this mortal life.  God wants me to shake off the deeds of the flesh, and He wants the fruit of the Spirit to ripen.  All the idols in my life need to be toppled.  These and many more areas of my life need pruning by the loving hand of God.  This doesn't happen without some serious painful sessions!

And then God wants to take us into a deeper relationship with Him.  When we come to Jesus in child-like faith, trusting in His sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, we just use the faith we have.  It may not be much, but it is enough.  God gives everyone enough faith to trust in His Son.  However, He wants more from His children. 

Let's look at an episode described in the Gospels: Peter coming to Jesus, walking on the water.  Before belittling Peter for his lack of faith, we need to commend him for his faith in getting out of the boat in a storm, letting go of the boat, and actually walking on water!  It is a pity that his faith dimmed to the point he started sinking.  But even then, Jesus didn't react in anger at Peter's lack of faith, deciding to let him drown.  No, He was there instantaneously, pulling him up and walking with Peter to the boat.  You can read the account in Matt. 14:22-33. 

Sometimes when God wants us to increase our faith, He doesn't give us a boat to hang onto.  He wants us to come to Him, walking on the water.  You probably have heard of George Muller, who had the orphanage for poor, unwanted orphans in England.  Time after time this man of God prayed for the food his charges would need, knowing the cupboard was bare.  At breakfast, he would thank God for the food they would receive, and he witnessed miracle after miracle, as God provided.  He had more faith than I ever will.  Sometimes God wants us to trust Him, without a back-up plan.  In other words, let go of the boat and walk on the water.  The blessings are great, but developing that kind of faith can be extremely painful.  It may send you through deep lonely valleys from which you do not think you will ever emerge.  Remember this when you are there - God is holding onto you, and He won't let go.

Now neither the discipline nor the work of faith is judgment on the part of God.  He is simply working His perfect work in our lives.  It is when we are willfully disobedient that we incur God's discipline.  And no surprise, because God is your Father.  It should be completely in line with your concept of God.  However if you are not a Christ-follower, and don't know about having a personal relationship with Jesus, please understand that there will be a judgment coming.  It will not be pretty, and it will not be something that will pass.  No, dear reader, it will be eternal damnation.  Read Rev. 20:11-15 which is the account of a future Great White Throne Judgment.  There is very good news - you can avoid all this.  Repent of your sins against a holy God, and accept the substitute He provided to suffer in your place.  Jesus was and still is the Lamb of God, who died in your place and took your penalty.  Ask God to save you today.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Heart of God

God's Word, the Bible contains so much of value.  It is a book to be read for wisdom.  We find in it a moral compass.  The answer to the question, where do we come from? is answered, and we find out why we are in this mess and that God has a plan to save us from a terrible end.  God's Son is introduced to us in this book, as well as His teachings, penned by the apostles.  In the Old Testament, we learn the history of the nation of Israel, from its first patriarch, Abraham to the millions populating the Promised Land.  The rise to power and subsequent defeat and captivity is chronicled, as well as their promised return to the Land.  In this Book God also teaches us about His heart.

For those of us who haven't read much of the Bible, there are some parts of it that may seem bewildering.  After reading through Genesis and the first half of Exodus, you can get bogged down with all the rules and sacrificial rites that take up much of the next couple books.  Then when you start reading I and II Chronicles, the genealogies seem never-ending.  And when we get to that Saharan desert, the Prophets, we wonder what is God trying to say?

Well, I am not here to tell you why God wrote what He wrote.  He is the author and if He wrote it, then He must have had a very good reason to do so.  It is His Word to us, much more important than anything anyone else wrote.  I would caution those who are new followers of Christ, seekers, and anyone else who hasn't read the Bible that much, that you need to take it easy.  Don't dive into the Old Testament right away.  First read the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Fall in love with the radical rabbi, Jesus.  Then read His teachings in the epistles.  After you have read the New Testament through three or four times you should be ready to undertake a reading of the Old Testament.  Please don't think I am saying one part of the Bible is more important.  It is all God's Word.  But it makes more sense if you read the N.T. first. 

I just finished reading the book of Jeremiah.  He was known as the Weeping Prophet.  He warned the citizens of Jerusalem that the Babylonians would overcome them and take them into captivity if they did not repent of their sin.  They did not repent, and Jerusalem was taken and burned and the people were taken into captivity. 

The last chapters of Jeremiah are dedicated to his prophecies against different nations.  In Jeremiah 48 he tells about God's judgment against Moab.  The Moabites were related to the Jews, since they were descended from Lot, Abraham's nephew.  They worshipped the demon-god Chemosh.  Through this god they were encouraged to do very wicked deeds, including offering their children to Chemosh.  This resulted in the death of children - they were burnt to death.  Because of their wickedness God pronounced judgment upon them.  After their defeat by the Babylonians, their land was destroyed and laid desolate.  What is interesting about this is what God says in verse 31, 'Therefore I shall wail for Moab, even for all Moab shall I cry out.' and verse 36, 'Therefore My heart wails for Moab like flutes.'  This so aptly expresses the heart of God.

Though God was justly punishing Moab for centuries of wickedness, He did not relish what He was doing.  He was doing what His justice required, but He did not deny Himself to vent His sorrow for the Moabites.  When I read that God wailed, it doesn't give me the idea that He cried a little.  No, wailing is a loud heat-rending anguished sobbing of deep grief.  Each of these Moabites was a special creation of God. He loved them, and though it didn't change His judgment, He was truly sorrowful that they would suffer punishment.  God wants us to know His heart.  He truly loves those He created in His image.

And now that we know God's heart, those of us who are Christ-followers should emulate Him.  Not that we should think that we ought to punish the wicked, but we should love them.  We are all created in God's image.  He has taken a special interest in each of us, breathing into each one a soul that will forever.  Though there are billions of people presently occupying this planet, God takes an interest in each one of us, and we should love those we can.  As we love the unloved, they will see God through us.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Is Righteous?

I have seen the word 'righteous' used recently without a real concept as to what it really means.  I don't believe there is a verse in the Bible that defines it, but there are numerous verses that mention the word and it is used either as a noun or an adjective (which means it can refer to a person or it describes).  Righteousness has to do with the Law of God and our responsibility to that law.

God is supremely righteous and has always been so.  We humans have not always been righteous.  The first righteous act that we can ever do is to exercise a change in our hearts toward God.  This involves a renunciation of selfishness.  When one comes to saving faith, he does not do so for selfish reasons.  By looking at the character and claims of a righteous God the sinner renounces his self-seeking spirit and comes into harmony with God.  Now this is not something that we can do on our own.  We can only come to this righteousness through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. 

The change in our heart from selfishness to righteousness involves faith or trust in God, that He will keep His promise to forgive us of our sin by the death and resurrection of the Son of God.  It also involves repentance of our sins - that is rejecting our selfishness and coming into harmony with God.  Faith and repentance are not separate acts but at salvation occur simultaneously.

It must be noted that outward conformity to the Law of God does not constitute righteousness.  When doing all the good things that we believe should please God, outwardly conforming to His will, without the Holy Spirit working in our soul - we are being self-righteous.  True righteousness does not consist of good acts, but of a changed heart.  The righteous acts that we do are the result of the changed heart.

So the question is raised, can we still be righteous if we backslide into sin?  If we look at the life of Lot, Abraham's nephew, I think we can find the answer.  In Gen. 18:24 in a conversation Abraham has with God, He pleads that God will not destroy the city of Sodom if there are fifty 'righteous' there.  Lot lived in that wicked city.  God allows Abraham to dicker down to ten, promising He will not destroy Sodom if ten righteous souls are found there.  God, in His mercy , sent a couple of angels to save Lot and his family from the destruction.  So was Lot righteous?  We see in II Peter 2:7 that Peter mentions that God 'rescued righteous Lot.'

But we should realize that although God is extremely merciful, the life of Lot is not the example God would have us pattern our lives after.  Lot was a sorry Christian, but he was found righteous by God, not because of his actions, but because earlier in his life, he had a change of heart.  That made the difference.  God does not want us to follow Lot's example.  His biography is placed in the Bible to show that he made some very wrong choices, and ended his life miserably (see Gen. 19:30-38 if you doubt me).

God has invested much in us.  First, He gave His best, the Son died for our sins in order that we might be redeemed and become righteous.  God has also given His Holy Spirit to dwell in us, so that we can live righteous lives.  Remember righteous acts come from a righteous heart in conformity with God's will.  Being righteous is not conforming with a long list of 'do nots'; it is allowing the Spirit to live and work in us.

When we think of all the Lord God has done to bring us to Himself and all He has offered to help us live righteously and victoriously, what can keep us from allowing Jesus to reign as King in our lives?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Joe and Danielle's Growing Family

Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward.  Ps. 127:3

As many of you know, our daughter-in-law Danielle gave birth to another girl, Kendra Mally.  She must be either stubborn or shy, since she didn't show up when expected.  She was nine days overdue, which partially explains why she weighed in at 8 lbs, 14.5 oz.  Not a typical Johnson baby.  She is a very cute little girl with a nice head of hair. 

The arrival of Kendra marked the arrival of our sixth grandchild.  Each one is precious to us, and also precious to our Savior.  Formed by the hand of God, who put within her an eternal soul, so why wouldn't God care for His little helpless creation?  This innocent newborn has been blessed by God, who gave her to loving parents who will care for her physically, but more than that, she has been born to parents who will care for her spiritually.  I have seen them with their first-born, Nicole.  Although only 18 months old, the evidence of godly upbringing is evident in her life.  As a grandfather, I rejoice to see that, and to know that her little sister will have the same upbringing. 

In this post my charge to all my children and the rest of you who are reading this is that you will take to heart the words of Moses in Deut. 6:4-9.  First we are to love the LORD our God with all our ability, then we are to diligently teach God's Word to our children: when we sit in our houses, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise up.  In other words, this is not something reserved for a couple hours on Sunday.  No, this is 24/7.  And in order to teach our children well, we should know what we are teaching.  God did not give us His Word to collect dust on the shelf.  I suggest that you dust it off, and read it, learn it, and diligently teach it to your little ones.  Their minds are sponges, soaking up what is before them.  It is up to you as parents to determine what their little minds will be filled with.

Actually, as we enter into 2014, we should make this a New Year's resolution.  I am not big on New Year's resolutions, but occasionally I will make one, and try to remember to keep it throughout the year, but often forgetting to do so.  But reading the Bible should be daily, and can soon become a habit.  And teaching your kids the Word of God should never be dull or a drudgery.  Make it enjoyable and geared for their age-level.  Although you may read a Bible story before their bedtime, this teaching can and should be done throughout the day, often in a casual format.  I think that God expects and wants that.  We should make talking about Him and the Bible a natural part of our lives and conversation.  And our lives ought to demonstrate the love we have for God.

My prayer for all young parents is that you will purpose to love God with all your ability and that you will train your children in His way.  If you do so, God promises that His Word will not return empty.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Toddler Time III

Although this is the third (4th if you include the Father's Day) post on raising kids, it may not be the last, but is the last of the series for this summer.  I trust that what has been mentioned so far is of value.  This post is on what has become a controversial subject - that of corporal discipline.  I use the word discipline instead of punishment for a specific purpose.  As we learned in the last post, discipline comes from Latin, meaning 'to learn.'  When spanking you child your purpose should have as its motivation to teach rather than to punish, although punishment is definitely part of it.  And I should know.  It has been many years since I was on the receiving end of the 'board of education,' but I can assure you that the pain that was inflicted was punishment!

First please never use types of punishment that God did not intend you to use.  There are some parents that feel they need to use extreme forms of punishment because their child is incorrigible.  This is usually the case of not starting to discipline early enough in life or of waiting until the child is really testing your patience.  In the next couple paragraphs, I will address both of these failures of proper discipline.

If you have waited until your child is three or four before exercising the paddle, you have waited far too long.  These first formative years are critical in setting boundaries.  The boundaries that you set should be reasonable - set with love and your little one's best interests in mind.  An example would be to expect your child to stop when you tell her to.  She may not see the danger of a moving car, and if she doesn't mind you, the result could be horrible.  To teach obedience to this rule is an act of love. 

Kids will push against the boundaries set for them, seeing how far they can stretch them.  It is your job, as the parent, to make sure the boundaries stay firm.  There are two aspects to obedience: instant and complete.  When you ask your little one to do something, you should not have to ask them three times.  You may give them the benefit of not having heard you the first time you requested.  But if they still ignore you after the second request - they are pushing against those boundaries - they may know they will eventually have to do as told, they are going to find out how many times they can ignore you!  So as a general rule, do not allow your kids to refuse to do as they are told after two requests from you.  Once they learn this, they will not be trying your patience as much.  Then you should expect complete obedience.  Young children should learn that the chores they are given should be done to the best of their abilities.  It will stand them in good stead when they get a job.

It is very important to talk to your child after administering discipline.  He may want to run to his room and shut himself away, but that is not best.  He should be told why he was spanked and asked if he was sorry.   After repenting, he should be loved and hugged.  Pray with him.  Notice that this doesn't include any shouting or anger on your part, although perhaps disappointment.  Please make sure you discipline before you lose your temper.  The discipline is so much more effective if you are calm.  Remember this should be a time of teaching. 

I don't remember when I stopped receiving spankings, but I was told by Dad years later that he didn't remember spanking me by the time I turned eight.  And as a parent I don't remember spanking my kids after that age - give or take a year.  The early years spent in consistent discipline produce good results.  If you wait, your child will likely become the incorrigible brat you will dread to discipline.  Just remember that God made a place on the body where the spanking is to be applied.  And aside from swatting a baby's hand when they attempt to touch things they shouldn't, you should never use any other parts of the body to inflict the punishment.  It is cruel to slap a child on the face.  It is evil to use other forms of 'discipline' on children, some that I would refer to as torture.  Too often the failure of parents to lovingly discipline their young children results in older brats.
May our Father, who disciplines us in love, give you the wisdom to deal well with those He has put in your care. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Toddler Time II

I would like to address the subject of discipline in this post.  Though we often think of discipline as punishment, we all understand that the word has other meanings.  Noah Webster in his 1828 Dictionary lists punishment third, and learning is the first meaning he gives to this word which comes from a Latin word translated 'to learn.'  Therefore we will try to hone in on the learning aspect of discipline. 
Children are sponges.  They soak up information.  As parents, it is our duty to make sure the information they take in is the right kind.  From a very early age they should hear the Bible read to them, they should hear accounts of God's working in the Old Testament and lessons from Jesus' life,  death, and resurrection in the New Testament.  They should be learning Christian songs, memorizing Bible verses, and in other ways they should be taught to be disciples of Jesus. 

Pre-school salvation experiences are often doubted later.  I have had my share of doubts when I would listen to others give an amazing account of their wicked lives powerfully transformed by the grace of God.  I never had an outwardly wicked life.  Then some would say, 'You should know when you were saved.'  Well, I don't know when I was saved.  I just know that I was saved when I was a little kid, possibly when I was five years old.  Three of our four children have pre-school salvation experiences.  Of those, they all have had doubts and have done like I did.  They asked Jesus to save them (again), because they weren't sure if they were saved.  I believe in most cases, these young professions of salvation are real for kids who have been raised in homes where the Bible is taught.  And for those of you who think I am full of hot air, consider John Wesley, England's greatest evangelist.  He came back from a failed missionary trip to Georgia, convinced he wasn't saved.  At an Aldersgate meeting his heart was 'strangely warmed' - his point of conversion.  Yet I read in his journal, later in life he really believed that as a child when he prayed at his godly mother's knee, was when he was truly saved. 
Now all of that is to emphasize the importance of your small children coming to you and telling you that they want to accept Jesus as their Savior.  At this point of their lives, I believe it is harmful to press them to be saved.  They have soft hearts, and pressure would easily force them to comply with something they may not even understand.  But with your faithful prayers for their salvation, coupled with the instruction of the Word of God, your precious kids will ask questions and seek a relationship with God.  Though they may be young, do not think they are not ready.  There was a time in some denominations when it was believed you couldn't be saved before you were 12 years old.  I trust no one reading this believes that.
For many years I have tried to avoid using the term 'Bible Story' when teaching primary age kids.  I always wanted my young charges to understand that the accounts I was relating to them were real, not fairy tales - though they may have included supernatural events.  At any rate, invest in some Bible 'story' books, read them faithfully to your children.  They make great bedtime memories, and let them ask questions, even if they are just trying to prolong things before lights out.  And above all, don't be doubting the accounts of the Bible yourself.  Yes, God created the world and all life on it in seven literal days; yes, there was a world-wide flood which destroyed all mankind except for eight people; yes, God parted the Red Sea and the Israelites crossed, after which the Egyptian army was drowned.  You see, if any of these miraculous events is too much for you to believe, your kids may wonder if the miracle that Jesus was really raised from the dead could have really happened.  It is either 100% true, or it's a lie.  It is the Word of God and can be trusted.  At young ages kids will readily believe it; you should too.

As they grow older and connect with the internet, your role as parent gets more difficult.  First and foremost, make sure you are not indulging in hidden sins on the internet (or anywhere else).  Continue to pray for them and try to monitor their computer activities as much as possible.  I was blessed with a wife that kept the communications open with our kids when they were teens.  After school they all talked about their day and what happened.  Don't be afraid to confront your kids if you suspect they are doing wrong.  Along with internet use, I believe it is important to limit the time spent playing computer games and make sure the games are not suggestive of sex or filled with violence.  Also monitor what they watch on TV.  Know what your teens are doing and keep the lines of communication open.  Don't let them shut you out of their lives.  And Moms and Dads, agree with each other. Don't let your kids 'divide and conquer.'

Raising kids is hard work, time-consuming work, and thankless work.  But remember that for the short time that you have them, they are lent to you by God, Who has commissioned you to raise them to walk in His way and for His glory.  Seek the face of God and ask Him for wisdom to see your dear children become disciples of Christ Jesus, their King.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day


A careful man I ought to be,                                                                                                                                A little fellow follows me.                                                                                                                                      I do not dare to go astray,                                                                                                                                 For fear he'll go the selfsame way.

Not once can I escape his eyes;                                                                                                            Whate'er he sees me do he tries.                                                                                                                   Like me he says he's going to be                                                                                                                    That little chap who follows me.

I must remember as I go                                                                                                                          Through summer sun and winter snow,                                                                                                         I'm molding for years to be -                                                                                                                         That little chap who follows me.

I first posted this three years ago on Father's Day, 2010.  It bears repeating for what I want to say.  On Father's Day I naturally think of my father.  He was a good father and when I became a dad myself,  I tried in many ways to emulate him.  Although a strict disciplinarian, one whom I feared when I had done wrong, he rarely paddled in anger.  He may have been angry with what I or my brothers had done, but usually not with us.  I say usually, because there were those times when my dad lost his temper.  He was, after all, only human.  However he was one in whose footsteps I could follow.  Although I left home at the age of 17, his godly example is with me still. 
Several years ago I was with three Christian men and as we spoke, the discussion turned to fathers.  They spoke of their fathers as either abusive tyrants or men who were absent more often than not.  One turned to me and told me I was very blessed.  He was sure there were very few fathers who were like mine.  I'm not so confident he was right, at least I hope that is not the case. 

America needs fathers who will give attention to their God-given duty and privilege.  Although we may not feel we are capable of raising children for His Kingdom, God will give wisdom if we ask, and He has already given us a guidebook.  I urge each father to not only read through the Bible at least once every two years, but also to read through Proverbs once a month for at least a couple years.  There is a lot of sound wisdom for fathers and sons.  

Although husbands and fathers need to be the leaders in the home, what I want to emphasize in this post is the importance of being a good example.  And please don't give them the excuse, 'Do as I say and not as I do,' which is a serious copout and dereliction of duty.  Your sons and daughters will not listen nearly as well as they will watch and follow.  Make sure your language is free of offensive words and dirty jokes.  Don't gripe and complain about the workplace, the preacher, or your wife - especially your wife, your child's mother. Try to be cheerful and industrious in all you do.  Don't just send your family to church, make sure you are there as well.  And if you can, participate in children's church, Awana, or other children's programs.  Kathy and I ran the Primary church program at our church for seven long years when our kids were in that age group.  Then we involved ourselves in Awana for several more years.  It is one of the best ways to be involved in your kids' spiritual lives and is a good example for them.

There are other areas that could be addressed.  You will be able to figure them out.  I hope this doesn't sound preachy, because I don't want it to.  My heart's desire is that you as a Christian dad will raise up a generation that will be proud of you, follow in your footsteps and eventually follow you to the Celestial City and the presence of the Savior.  After all, when you are at the end of life, what can you take with you?  Some will say, 'He who ends up with the most toys wins.'  But they are wrong.  In the end we all die, and we take nothing of material value with us.  But if we leave without having done all we can to take our loved ones with us, surely we die miserable.

Fathers, go out in the strength of the Lord.  In Him you can be all that you ought to be. I pray God will give the leadership and wisdom you need to be the exemplary dads God wants you to be.