The Standards Are Very Different

Through human eyes, we measure others by their great accomplishments. But God does not. It is the one who is repentant, humble, meek, and obedient to the will of God that will receive the greatest reward of eternal life. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and truth; for the father is seeking such to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:23-24

Oh, how different are the standards by which God and men measure character. God sees many temptations resisted of which the world and even near friends never know—temptations in the home, in the heart. He sees the soul’s humility in view of its own weakness; the sincere repentance over even a thought that is evil. He sees the wholehearted devotion to His service. He has noted the hours of hard battle with self—battle that won the victory. All this God and angels know. A book of remembrance is written before Him for them that fear the Lord and that think upon His name. –Christ Object Lessons

Prayer: God, please help us not to focus on our earthly accomplishments, but to focus on serving you in humility and obedience. We ask this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Fruitless Trees

Born and raised in the concrete jungle of the Northeast, I was clueless about the nature of fruit-bearing trees. One day, my BFF visited and informed me that the large shade tree was a pecan tree in our yard. I started laughing as I relayed that the tree was well past her reproductive stage in life. She stepped off of the porch, walked around the yard for a couple of minutes, returning with a shelled pecan nut in her hands. “Who’s laughing now?” I had a mature tree that produced pecans, my favorite nut, and was totally unaware for five years. The squirrels who were always on the branches enjoyed the tree’s fruit of which I knew nothing about.

Many of us accept Jesus as our personal Savior, understanding that He is the only way to God. Yet, we fail to embrace our Helper, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity Godhead. We have access to the power of the Holy Spirit that would make our spiritual journey bearable even through severe trials. If God sent the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove [Matthew 3:16-17] to Jesus following His baptism, then as humans without Divinity status, we desperately need the Holy Spirit.

And I will pray for the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. John 14:16-18 NKJV

Jesus defines the line of separation–the world cannot receive the Spirit of Truth. If we reject the Holy Spirit through unbelief, then we are part of the world. There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12

The Work of the Holy Spirit

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged.” John 16:7-11

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” John 16:13-15

“Why do believer’s reject the Holy Spirit?”

John 3:8-9 tells us of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus regarding the Holy Spirit. To which. “Nicodemus answered and said to Him, How can these things be?” The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery to humanity. Jesus told His disciples, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” John 16:12. We can thank Jesus for recognizing our limitations.

Truthfully, we struggle every day just to maintain our faith in God. We are often plagued with discouragement and disbelief in the power of the Almighty when facing lengthy trials and sorrows. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NLT. Our loving Jesus is full of compassion. He knows that we are easily overwhelmed with our daily struggle to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. Still, the human effort of confession, repentance, praying, studying the Bible, and living faithful, and purpose-driven lives, while trusting and serving God with obedience is a requisite to receive eternal life. Help! Holy Spirit to the rescue!

We cannot afford to reject the Spirit of Truth. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot discern truth from false teachings. Nor can we fully understand the scriptures when studying the Bible. Believe it or not, false teachers read the Bible and may have more biblical knowledge than we possess. Their problem–a corrupt heart. They begin to analyze the scriptures and search for logical, rational explanations. When none can be found, they begin to develop their own theories.

The victims are the spiritually malnourished who feel they are fully capable of taking care of themselves without embracing and accepting The Trinity-God, the Father, Jesus, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. Living as the redeemed requires spiritual reinforcement only available through our willingness to obey God with a spirit of humility. To bear fruit, we have no other choice than to feed ourselves with the scriptures, which are the Voice of God. Communication with God–through prayer invites the Holy Spirit in to strengthen us, to correct us, and to guide us through our life-long journey of sanctification. Without the Holy Spirit, we are fruitless trees.

Without the Holy Spirit, we will never have the faith that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego possessed when facing the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:16-28]. Nor can we fight spiritual warfare [Ephesians 6:12] alone. Christian believers, we watched our brothers and sisters suffering in Afghanistan, but our time of persecution will come. We cannot afford to be like the five foolish virgins who were not spiritually prepared [Matthew 25:1-13]. The oil that they lacked represents the Holy Spirit. Jesus is on the way. We have but a short time on this present earth. The Holy Spirit is available for all who just ask and believe. Thank you, Jesus.

Without the Holy Spirit, we will not have the fruit that is described in Galatians 5:22-23, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Our character must align with God’s requirements to receive the reward of eternal life.

And not only that but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Prayer: God, we thank you for your love and for giving us access to the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. We pray for an outpouring and anointing, wisdom, and discernment from the Holy Spirit. Thank you for hearing and answering our prayer that we ask in Jesus’ Name. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry

You Are Not Your Own

Lord, I know that peoples lives are not their own, it is not for them to direct their steps. Jeremiah 10:23

When we surrender to Jesus Christ and accept the free gift of salvation, we commit to discipleship. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. John 10:27. We are followers–sheep. Jesus Christ is our Shepherd. Like many of us, the original twelve disciples were a rowdy, self-seeking group of men that had their own agendas. Why would Jesus choose men like this? Especially Peter, who was prideful [And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Matthew 14:28]. Yes, Peter was impulsive and lacked self-control. Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” John 18:10-11].

Again, Jesus reprimanded Peter: But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me. For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.… “Matthew 16:23-25

The Apostle Peter who Jesus prayed for: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”… Luke 22:32, wrote the Books of 1 and 2 Peter giving us instruction in the areas that pose the greatest challenges, “Living for God” and “Suffering for being a Christian.”

The reason that Jesus chose the original twelve disciples is that He knew eleven of them would eventually experience a complete spiritual transformation. And Judas Iscariot would fulfill the act of betrayal that was required for the redemption of the human race. Yes, they were wayward, but each went through a complete spiritual makeover following the crucifixion of Jesus [Judas died before–Matthew 27:5].

Jesus chose every human–past, present, and future to willingly give His life for. If only we could make a definitive choice like Christ did. Can you imagine Jesus wavering in His decision to die for us? No, it is unthinkable. Yet, many individuals never hesitate to satisfy their desires through willful acts of disobedience against God.

For those who made the commitment to serve God, but are in the valley of indecision: “You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.” 1 Peter 4:3. Is this Jesus’ disciple? Yes, but a changed man who allowed God to transform him into a spiritually converted Apostle.

We cannot serve God and seek after our desires. The Apostle Paul clarifies the status of Jesus’ disciples: Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

In accepting God’s gift of His Son, Jesus, we give up our natural inclinations to “Have it our way.” Full surrender and obedience are required, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added. Matthew 6:33, which we willingly do because we love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Matthew 22:37.

Many will fall away from God because they want to belong to themselves. Even so, for those of us who are weary from suffering the negative consequences of disobedience, and believe that we fully belong to God [as evidenced by our faithful obedience] Jesus is waiting to give us the reward of Eternal life:

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Bible Readings: 1 Corinthians 2 and 1 Peter 4

Prayer: God, we ask forgiveness for seeking after our desires. We pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for your love, grace, and mercies. In Jesus’ name. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry

Love in Action

“Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.…And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22:36-40

Our various backgrounds produce different views and definitions of what love is. A child raised in a hands-on affectionate home possesses an inner warmth, easily connecting with others. For the child who learned that love was associated with receiving tangible items, their defining characteristics for loving others consists of giving gifts or doing tasks for their loved ones. And then, the emotionally neglected child who received food, clothing, and shelter, the basic physiological needs, but grew up in an environment where love was [somehow] understood. A home full of provisions, but they never heard “I love you” or “you did a great job,” or received the joy of a parental hug. These are the quick handshake or “don’t touch me” individuals.” Unfortunately, they usually develop into people who do not possess the knowledge or the experience to give and receive the most powerful need, Love.

Even so, the child who has past emotional scars are the most dangerous to try to love. Abusive homes were corrosive eating away all of their intrinsic abilities to learn and embrace love. They are hurt, bitter, angry, and feeling dejected from past relationships gone wrong. Their capacity to love again is overshadowed by the darkness of unforgiveness, hatred, and revenge. Yes, they appear to be in a lose-lose predicament. But it is the battered ones to whom God reaches out and wraps them in His blanket of love that pierces the soul and erases the darkness while healing their broken, fragile hearts. It is then that they learn love does not hurt.

Love, is the emotion that caused God to create humanity despite knowing that we would mess up His perfect plans. Love was the foundation for the sacrificial gift of Jesus’ life. The covenant between the matchless Lamb of God and His Father provided redemption for the sins of the human race. Every person can receive the unmerited gifts of forgiveness, grace, and mercy from a loving God. We have the love and benefits from our Spiritual Team. Messenger and guardian angels keep us safe every day from evil and physical danger. Yet, we repay God with open defiance–disobedience by refusing to love Him with obedience, faith, and trust. Nor do we love one another unconditionally.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, RSV)

As a child, I witnessed the National Guard and the war of humans against humans in the 1967 Riots of Newark, New Jersey. I never thought I would relive this terror again on earth, but in 2020, America established a new diabolical standard of hatred. And on January 6, 2021, the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., was violently attacked by a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump. Our disregard for established government, hatred for one another as evidenced by our prejudices, lack of compassion for those in need, the pursuit of selfish desires, and abolishing godly morals and values has a deadly proliferative root. We do not love God!

Still, God lovingly reaches out to each person giving us the opportunity to embrace salvation. God knew that we would not understand how to love, so, He gave us the Bible whose central theme is love. Like the Pharisee’s, our spiritual insight would not understand the miracles throughout the Old and New Testaments were based on agape love. But God sacrificing His only Son, Jesus Christ should have opened our eyes and hearts to recognize that agape love–an unfamiliar level of love to most was the only reason for the suffering, shame, and spilling of Jesus’ precious blood on Calvary’s cross. God and His Son created an invincible team to save us.

Jesus died and was resurrected because we were born into spiritual bankruptcy. From the depths of our soul, we should acknowledge that Redemption is for humanity [we are the only living beings created in the image of God] who required mercy. Jesus did not die for the angels. It is you and me who are the recipients of the redemptive Plan of Salvation. Thank you, Lord and Savior, for giving us the opportunity for Eternal life. 

Reflection of our lives complete with God’s grace, mercies, and miracles should prompt us to desire immediate change. God specializes in New Beginnings. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:19. We must empty ourselves of past dysfunctions and previous experiences by praying and fasting. Our thoughts are redirected toward God when we diligently study the scriptures. When we put forth human effort then Divine intervention provides completion. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

Loving others is a requisite to receiving eternal life. There will be no heavenly neighborhoods based on economic or social standing. Debating, anger, holding grudges will not be part of our character [Read Galatians 5:22-23]. We will have nothing to apologize for in the New Heaven and New Earth. If you do not enjoy the spectrum of colors now, you will not have the opportunity to see Jesus. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 1 John 4:20

Learning God’s definition of love requires unlearning and acquiring new knowledge and wisdom. Loving God means putting Him first. Surrender to God equates to seeking His will in every aspect of our lives. It is then that we experience a complete spiritual, mental, and emotional transformation. Not one plan is developed or strategy executed without bringing it to God in prayer for His Divine approval. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 provides us with a complete definition of how to love others. The core emotion of unconditional love must permeate our hearts, souls, and minds. Love is not a word or a fleeting feeling. Love is an action that manifests itself in the manner in which we love others and bow in humility to serve a Most Loving, Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent God.

Bible Reading 1 Corinthians 13

Prayer: God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, we just want to say thank you, and that we love you. In Jesus’ name. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry

The Character of Christ

The willingness to accept Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Savior is from a responsive heart, which embraces Jesus’ sacrifice to give humanity salvation. As a result, we receive a spiritual transformation with a transformed heart that leads to a life of loving and caring. And yes, Jesus gives us a life complete with joy and peace, but also one of trials and sorrows as we travel down the Path of Righteousness. 

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” John 14:27

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

If accepting Jesus and serving God provides us with peace and joy, then why are we in the predicament that even caused David to question himself: Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God! Psalm 43:5

The ongoing hardships of the 21st century have produced believers plagued with discouragement, depression, and a mindset surrounded by darkness. Something isn’t right! I asked a couple of individuals to give me their opinion of why we have so little faith and trust in God. They were not sure of how or why the mental and emotional conditions have increased throughout the years. Still, I do not wish to present only my viewpoint of this terrible dilemma. 

I deferred the question to my mother, who is 88 years young. “Mom, why do you think that modern believers do not possess the faith, trust, joy, and peace that serving God offers?

Her response, “They do not know God. Prayer and Bible study are not their priorities. How can you have faith and trust in someone that you don’t know? Life is tough, but God has promised to never leave us or forsake us.” 

History reveals that most individuals decided to walk into a church to turn their lives around by accepting Jesus. They were aware that their habits and behaviors had to change. Attending church, praying, and studying the Bible were the building blocks to forming a solid relationship with Jesus Christ. New believers were told that suffering through trials was necessary to change their character and to be a disciple. They understood that hardships would show up as changes in their lives, job loss, sickness, etc. We sang songs with lyrics that told us to faithfully hold on because Jesus will work it out.

Our conversations consisted of trusting in God because faith believes that God does the impossible. We kept hope alive by telling each other to expect deliverance and never give up while waiting for God’s answer. Oh, and the songs we learned and sang, “Trouble in my way, Jesus will fix it, after awhile,” “Victory is Mine,” “We are Marching to Zion,” and “Trust and Obey,” provided the additional strength to make it through those tough times. We prayed all day and night for stronger faith and trust in God. And we demonstrated our love for each other by calling, praying with them, and home visitation, always asking, “What do you need?”

Fast forward to 2021, and we now have a body of believers who have accepted Christ and do not attend church. They may find out through social media that believers must study the Bible and pray without ceasing. The “babes in Christ” require nurturing to help them through their spiritual journey. Sadly, many fall prey to the loneliness of being a Christian and succumb to discouragement and temptation.

Then we have the seasoned Christians who are mature, but are more concerned about self. They are the believers with spiritual strength, Yet, they have no desire to help the new believers or anyone overcome by the tribulations of life. In fact, the trending behaviors of performing random acts of kindness, pass it forward, giving tax-deductible charitable donations, and paying for the person’s groceries standing behind you while filming it for TikTok, they have consoled themselves with the thought that good deeds are acceptable to God. 

Still, these actions are not the same as having the “Character of Christ” and the “Fruit of the Spirit. “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you? And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'” Matthew 25:44-45

In the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, God has given us a record of the many events that reveal Jesus’ character. The life of Christ is given by four different men who followed Jesus. The Gospels agree that the Son of Man ministered to others without discrimination. Yes, Jesus was stern when He pointed out the pride and hypocrisy of the rulers who were teaching the law but oppressing the people with man-made rules that they did not keep. The central theme of the Bible is based on the Love of God. Jesus was loving, fair, tender, and full of compassion.

Remember the woman caught in adultery? Have you ever wondered why Jesus bent down? And what was He writing on the ground? What caused the people to turn and walk away?

4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

Adultery for the woman was punishable by stoning to death. A theologian gives this answer, “Two scriptures point out that Jesus was writing on the ground. Many ask, “Why was Jesus writing on the ground?” He was writing the secret sins of her accusers. Once exposed, all they could do is turn and walk away in shame.”

One would think that Jesus’ disciples would possess His character. No, they had the same mindset that many possess right now:

That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.” “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered. Matthew 14:15-17

When we accepted Jesus’ invitation, He accepted us just as we were, no questions asked. However, by studying the scriptures, we learn that our surrender to God involves a complete spiritual makeover. 1 Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter, gives us God’s definition of love, Galatians 5:22-23 tells the importance of being anointed with the Holy Spirit and the characteristics we are expected to possess. The Apostle Paul commands us, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32.

The believer’s financial responsibility: But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 1 John 3:17

There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12. 

We have the free will of choice to serve God. Even so, with our commitment [to surrender], we agree to the transformation of our hearts and mind. Submission to the will of God is no longer an option. Giving ourselves wholeheartedly–without reservation allows us to conform obediently to our Heavenly Father.
We become transformed into the likeness of Christ. The person that we used to be, no longer exists. God uses trials to purge undesirable behaviors and negative traits from our character.

We must die daily to the fleshly desires of self [Romans 8:13]. Sanctification is a life-long journey on the Path of Righteousness. Preparation to receive the reward of eternal life in the New Heaven and New Earth requires Divine intervention. We cannot save ourselves. Allowing God to do a great work within gives us the perseverance to move forward in Jesus’ name.

The struggle is real. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, suffering is part of our servitude. Still, we have a loving, compassionate, and powerful Heavenly Intercessor, Jesus Christ that promises to see us through. 

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; Philippians 1:6

Prayer: Thank you, God. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Holy Spirit. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry