Devotional–Heaven is Not for Everyone

Devotional–Heaven is Not for Everyone from The Struggle of Sanctification by Sonya Johnson

Two concepts are truth: People know when they intentionally hurt someone who loves them and Christians know whether or not they are living a faithful and obedient life.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the [a]gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Satan has deceived us into believing that God understands our sinful desires and that His grace will prevent us from the consequences of sin. Yet, Obedience to God is not an option!

How often do we think of Jesus who is Divine, commanding legions of angels, every breathing organism, and the natural elements, yet, when He came to earth, God required Him to learn obedience and become subservient to the human beings He created? Jesus obeyed His earthly parents along with the governmental laws. Even to His death, Jesus obeyed the will of God, His Father. If God required His Divine Son to learn obedience, then God does not and will not understand the disobedience of us living outside of His will and plans for us.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

The prophet Jeremiah tells us of the natural condition of our hearts–deceitful and desperately wicked. We cannot self-evaluate or judge our sinful hearts. Only the Holy, Righteous and Perfect God can search our hearts and reveal our secret sins. God has set righteous standards that all who desire eternal life in heaven must obey without compromise. “…Be Holy, for I am Holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

God will judge each person according to His standards. He is the Righteous Judge who determines who will receive the reward of eternal life. Still, we play a significant part in our destiny. The Human Effort required for receiving eternal life in heaven is to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind demonstrated by living faithful and obedient lives on earth, and to love others. “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Revelation 22:12-13).

Because we were born into sin and shaped with iniquity, God lovingly gave his only Son, Jesus for our Redemption. Jesus Christ gave His life willingly for us to be redeemed from our plight of sinfulness. So the understanding that God has is we will not intentionally rebel by disobeying and sinning against his laws. Yet, many commit intentional sins because of the Plan of Redemption which provides us with grace and mercy.

The Apostle Paul asks, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?” (Romans 6:1-3 NLT)

The profession of love for God includes humility and surrender. Daily confession, repentance, and praying for God to reveal His will is the lifestyle of a Christian. Making decisions without God’s blessings demonstrates rebellion against His Divine authority. It is easy to fall into sin, the slip of the tongue [using profane words], mistreating others, compromising righteous standards when among unbelievers, speeding down the highway, and having vain and lustful thoughts are sins that we easily overlook. But if our true desire is to spend eternal life in the presence of a Holy God, then we cannot live every day according to our desires or feel no remorse for disobedience.

The church of the Laodiceans in Revelation chapter 3 had grown lukewarm and useless. Their hearts were filled with selfish desires of focusing on wealth and culture. Their love for the carnal, materialistic things of the world kept them from living righteously. Yet, because of Christ’s love, they were given a warning of the consequences of being neither hot nor cold.

There is no middle ground. Living a selfish life of disobedience is rebellion against God. The consequence: “For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1).

We have a choice to make. When we choose righteousness, God provides Spiritual Reinforcement. Our Omnipotent God knows that we are involved in the conflict of spiritual warfare every day. We have a Father who has made provisions for humanity: the Spiritual Team of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and guardian angels who never sleep are the Spiritual Warriors who help and fight for us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.

Yet, the human effort of surrender as demonstrated by faithful and obedient hearts, diligent study of the Bible, and much prayer is required for us to receive the Divine Intervention needed to live as Victorious Overcomers. It is only one way for us to obtain our Heavenly reward. By living courageously with a “Do Right” mindset that shuns evil, and a life that boldly proclaims to all, “I love God and I will not compromise!”

Saul, the ruthless killer being transformed into the Apostle Paul is our ultimate example of the power of salvation on the heart that willingly surrenders to Christ.

35-36 So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

37 For in just a little while,the Coming One will come and not delay.

38 And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.

39 But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

Prayer: God, we confess and repent for our disobedience and wayward life. You have given us everything that we need to live righteously. We ask for forgiveness of sinful rebellion. Please cleanse us from all unrighteousness and fill us with your Holy Spirit. We ask you to reveal Your purpose and calling for our lives. Thank You for giving us the Holy Spirit who empowers us to recognize sin, and to become faithful and obedient. Yes, we desire eternal life. We love You and ask this prayer in the Worthy name of Jesus, Amen.

Stop! Do Not Retaliate!

Devotional–Stop! Do Not Retaliate! From The Struggle of Sanctification by Sonya Johnson

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

Every day we face spiritual warfare. The conflict with our spouse, children, or coworker, the disappointment of a situation that has gone wrong despite our best efforts, or the unexpected–waking up to a flat tire or sudden illness has many living on the edge. Yet the number one disruption to our peace is the person who intentionally says something to offend us without remorse.

Our societies have declined to the point where morals, values, and the truth are defined according to how a person feels. And to add fuel to the fire, the current worldview is to express exactly what you are thinking. Yes, verbalizing the truth with brutal and razor-sharp delivery is considered a strength. The influencers have promoted and convinced many that speaking the truth according to how one feels provides mental and emotional cleansing. Although the other person may be hurt or offended, the speaker did what they had to, and no apology is necessary.

But inappropriate emotionally charged words reveal the individual’s character defects of the absence of discipline, self-control, and compassion for others. We have progressed to a world environment of anger and hostility. Due to life’s stressors, many are overwhelmed by the constant changes and losses in their personal and professional lives. Despite their best efforts, many are at the breaking point because their lives are out of control, so they hurt others with unkind words.

Unbelievers have worsened and many believers have adopted worldly standards by allowing unholy emotions to replace a Christ-like character.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 2 Timothy 3:1-5

In the Holy Scriptures, God has provided righteous standards for believers when we are dealing with the spiritual warfare of conflict with harsh words. First, we must recognize that Satan is tempting us to retaliate and sin with words from our mouths. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

S–Silence is the best option

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Remember, Jesus used silence with His accusers.

T–Terminate the conversation

God has gifted us with emotions. Yes, vicious words are always hurtful [and will easily stir up anger], especially from family and friends. If the person has escalated, they are not in the right frame to converse with. With face-to-face conflict, turn and walk away. If speaking on cell, texting, or video chatting, respond with “I have to go now, have a blessed day” and disengage the call, texting, or video chatting.

O–Opportunity for reconciliation [or retreat]

The opportunity for reconciliation is only possible if both people have not escalated. Do they show visible signs of being upset? If no, then listen with the intent to resolve the source of the conflict. Offer to pray with the family member or friend before attempting to resolve the conflict. If it is a coworker or stranger, pray a silent prayer.

“A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, But the heart of the fool does not do so. (Proverbs 15:1, 7).

Retreat immediately If during the conversation, you feel your emotions escalating or the person speaking begins to escalate, either walk away or if on an electronic device, simply let them know that you are ending the conversation and to have a blessed day. If possible, when both people are calm and rational, make another attempt to resolve all issues using healthy communication. There are also words spoken in anger to end a relationship. If that is the case, then accept their decision and move forward in your healing journey.

P–Pray for Divine Intervention

As a disciple of Christ, we will face spiritual warfare every day. Satan cannot read our minds, but he and his evil angels can observe our outward behaviors. If you harbor a spirit of offense, you will be upset every day of the year. Study and memorize Galatians 5:22-23. The apostle Paul tells us the characteristics [the Fruit of the Spirit] that every believer of the Most-High God is required to possess to receive eternal life. Prayer and humility are our only options against Satan’s deceptions.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13).

S Silence is the best option
T Terminate the conversation
O Opportunity for reconciliation or retreat
P Pray for Divine Intervention

Prayer: Lord, we pray for our hearts to be filled with agape love and to possess the Fruit of the Spirit. We ask for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, self-control, wisdom, and discernment. In Jesus’ name, we claim the life of a victorious overcomer. Amen.

The Deception of Self-Help

Yesterday, I witnessed to an individual whose life is restarting due to the dissolution of her marriage of 17 years. As we spoke about the Journey of Healing, she began by giving me the names of several authors of self-help books that she read. Due to her own admission of falling away from God when her marriage ended, she no longer prayed or studied the Bible.

“Although, I have followed the advice of the well-known authors, I still do not have peace. Tell me what you did.” I told her the story of Elijah who ran from Queen Jezebel and God’s loving and divine intervention of sending an angel to feed the run-away prophet. Yes, God, Himself spoke to Elijah while he was in the cave of a mountain. Because that’s what our Great, Father God does for those that He has created in His image. He consoles us and gives us peace when our lives are in chaos.

Worldviews tell us to self-validate, read self-help books, listen to transcendental meditation apps, wear jewelry that promotes peace of mind and stability, practice secular meditation, and the list is endless. Every methodology that promises to bring peace and serenity to our inner being–our souls is part of Satan’s deception.

Even so, while witnessing, I never addressed the confidence that many people have in self-help authors. She was aware that after reading many of the do-it-yourself books and practicing their recommended interventions she still did not have peace.

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

Whether we believe in creation or evolution, the fact remains that we were not created to function outside of our spiritual connection to God. The One and Only God who breathed the breath of life into Adam is with whom we have a soul connection that only ends at the cessation of an individual’s life. We are forever connected to God with a spiritual umbilical cord.

God Is the Source of Life and Joy—God is the source of life and light and joy to the universe. Like rays of light from the sun, like the streams of water bursting from a living spring, blessings flow out from Him to all His creatures. And wherever the life of God is in the hearts of men, it will flow out to others in love and blessing.—Steps to Christ, 77 (1892). Ellen White

Sharing the story of Jesus on the cross, and Him telling the disciple John, “Behold your Mother” emphasizes that Jesus has a special place in His heart for the widows, the abandoned wives, the single mothers, and women who are alone and struggling to live productive lives. Does Jesus care? Yes, He does! And I am a living testimony of our Savior’s Divine Intervention of lovingly guiding me through a 2-year journey of healing.

Witness in a manner that the person feels a personal connection to Christ.

And yes, God loves and cares for all of us–men, women, boys, and girls. Yet, when witnessing we must present God on a personal level that reaches the hurting heart of the individual. Whisper a silent prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to anoint you. We always require Divine guidance before we speak and represent the love of Christ to others.

I will never know the outcome of witnessing that God is the source of our lives and only through Him can we have peace, joy, healing, and restoration. Yet, her laughter and expression of “Thank you, for taking the time to help me” proves that hurting people need to know that God is not a distant Father who does not care about us. Taking the time to share my personal experience proves that only Christ can give us a life of hope and restoration.

The importance of studying the Scriptures, praying without ceasing, and sharing our victories does make a difference in someone else’s life. As disciples of Christ, it is our duty to represent Him to those who are unaware that we have a Father who loves us. Someone needs to hear “…I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), and “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

Prayer: God, we pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We ask for a heightened awareness of the opportunities to share Your love with others. You are the only One who can give us peace and inner joy. thank You for Your love, grace, and mercies. We pray this prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Have a Little Talk with Jesus

“It shall come to pass That before they call, I will answer; And while they are still speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

In John chapter 17, Jesus prayed for Himself, His disciples, and His future disciples. Jesus is the Source of all life. Prayer is our connection to an all-powerful and loving Savior.

We underestimate the power of prayer, not only to receive peace and stay connected to God but also to receive our daily dose of spiritual strength. The power of the Holy Spirit gives us the discernment to recognize Satan’s targeted warfare against us and the strength to shun temptation. Acting as an Intercessor for others, whether they are believers or unbelievers is a vital role for a disciple of Jesus Christ. Stay connected to God by breathing whispers of prayer throughout your day.

“When he calls out to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15

Prayer: Thank Lord, for the unmerited grace and mercies of a new day. Your Love for us is endless and unequaled. We pray for the wisdom to understand not only Your love but the desire to have an unbroken connection with you every day. Forgive us for the sins that easily flow from a heart filled with selfishness. We pray for cleansing from the bitter fruits of pride, unforgiveness, and lack of love and concern for others. We pray for the brokenhearted and for those who do not know You. We ask for the provisions to help those in need.

Anoint us with the Holy Spirit and reveal our purpose. Yes, Jesus, we are forever grateful for your sacrifice that we may live righteously on this present earth and forever in the New Heaven and New Earth in the future. Hear our prayer that we ask in Jesus’ Holy name. Amen.

Grievances of the Heart

Devotional–Grievances of the Heart from The Struggle of Sanctification by S. Johnson

Impossible productivity goals and mental and emotional distress were the focus of my coworker’s grievance about the productivity standards established by the Vice President who was also the Executive Director of the Quality Department. The Quality Nurses each had a caseload of 30-35 physician’s offices consisting of weekly visits with a travel radius extending from 30-40 miles. Our contractual agreement included the working hours of 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch and no overtime.

The daily productivity standards did not include exceptions for the late arrival of physicians who missed scheduled appointments, receiving a call from the Doctors office with last-minute cancellations [and we were already sitting in their parking lots], or heavy traffic conditions. The average time for completing our work day with traveling back to the office resulted in 1 to 2 hours of unpaid time every day.

Our courageous coworker represented those of us who remained silent and won the grievance. We no longer had to return to the office if the appointment was 3 pm or later. Our travel time was included in our workday. And for missed appointments, we would drop off the hard copy of their statistical report at their office without rescheduling a face-to-face meeting. Yes, we had someone who used her knowledge and wisdom to fight against oppressive and unrealistic productivity goals.

Not all grievances end with victory, especially grievances of the heart. Although the Israelites were emancipated from Egyptian oppression, they had grievances against God. They felt that God was punitive, that His commandments were too hard to obey, and that He desired them to live unhappy lives.

Didn’t the Israelites cry out for God’s intervention? Yes, but during their enslavement, many became involved in Egyptian pagan worship which involved pagan gods, sexual immorality, and child sacrifice. They desired God to give them the freedom to serve idols, follow their own evil desires, and live without restrictions.

“For I solemnly warned your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, ‘Obey me!’ I have repeated this warning over and over to this day, but your ancestors did not listen or even pay attention. Instead, they stubbornly followed their own evil desires. And because they refused to obey, I brought upon them all the curses described in this covenant.'” Jeremiah 11:7-8 NLT

Fast forward to 2022, it is unthinkable of sacrificing one’s children. Yet, many of today’s Christians engage in sexual immorality. Watching lewd movies and programs, and having sex outside of marriage has become a part of their secret lifestyles. Still, watching pornography has caused many believers to become addicted to this satanic, pagan practice, and without remorse, they sacrifice their marriages and families.

One must ask, how does a believer in the Most-High God become drawn into this level of rebellion against God? Answer: They have grievances in their hearts against God.

“You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.” Leviticus 20:26

The desire to be Holy by worshiping God through diligent study of the Scriptures, praying, and living faithful, obedient lives has been replaced with living for oneself. Many are tired of the restrictions to live the righteous life required of a disciple of Christ. Bible-based churches where God’s truth is taught have few members while pastors in stadium-size churches who twist the Scriptures into prosperity messages are filled every week.

According to the Gallup poll, church attendance continues to decline. 

“WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

“But they did not obey nor incline their ear but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.” Jeremiah 17:23

Trending now: Many individuals research a church’s doctrinal beliefs until they find one that they can comply with and join based on the premise that they are doing enough for God by attending services once a week. The denial of materialism, the constraints of righteous living, Community outreach programs, and fulfillment of the Great Commission –witnessing to others are non-existent topics of weekly sermons.

“LORD, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.” Jeremiah 10:23 NIV

Yet, as the number escalates of those who possess grievances against God, there is a growing number of the remnant who are witnessing, helping those in need, and living pure, sanctified lives. Our hearts belong to Jesus Christ. We have renounced worldly pleasures and are staying true to God.

Despite the Israelites’ deceitful and desperately wicked hearts, the prophet Jeremiah petitioned God for His mercy. As we progress toward the end of this earth’s history, Satan is using false prophets to distract and console those who have grievances in their hearts against God. They are blinded to the signs and fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Our earth no longer has peace! And prosperity from worldly goods is only a distraction to keep their focus away from God.

It is time for us to confess our heart’s grievances against God as we focus on our relationship with Christ. Self-denial, praying for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and continuous study of the Scriptures will give us the knowledge, strength, and courage to live righteously. Loving God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds is possible!

Despite Satan’s temptations, we can live victoriously as overcomers through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Get rid of your heart’s grievances by dedicating your life to God. Every day, intentionally stay close to God. Prepare for the Greatest Event. Jesus’ Second Coming is sooner than we think.

Prayer: God, we are caught up in the pleasures of the world and living as if You do not exist. We confess that our hearts are desperately wicked. Lord, please forgive us and reveal the secret sins in our lives. We desire to serve You and to live according to the plans that You have for us. We ask this prayer in the Worthy Name of Jesus, Amen.

Steps to Living a Blessed Life

Devotional–Steps to Living a Blessed Life from The Struggle of Sanctification by S. Johnson

If you are over the age of 50 then you can appreciate the innovative changes [technology, strategies to work smarter not harder, work from home, etc.] that have reduced the mental and physical strain we suffered from doing tasks that always required taxing efforts. Yes, change is primarily good, especially when it delivers quality results and allows time for relaxation and restoration of the mind, body, and soul.

God’s Divine Intervention is above and beyond our best efforts to have a better quality of life. Yet some believers do not have God’s joy and peace. They choose to live alternate lifestyles which include following the advice of others, busyness, and the pursuit of personal desires. Relying on their judgment, they create an overall compromise of the mental, emotional, and physical state of equilibrium of their minds and bodies. Not only are they stressed, but their resistance also places them outside of God’s safety net for receiving the benefits of His promises.

Yes, we have the right to make decisions without asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit, but the consequence is suffering from hardship and the additional burden of a failed solution.

We were not created to figure things out! “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.” Psalm 55:22

The Warning: “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

The Promise: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears; He delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted; He saves the contrite in spirit [penitent, humbled by our own sins and failures, seeking after God. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” Psalm 34:17-19

God is never intrusive. He has given us free will of choice. Yes, God patiently waits for us to ask for His intervention. With His help, we can enjoy peace even when times are hard. Serving God does not stop life’s trials and hardships. Even so, unlike our best efforts of creating solutions, failing, and trying again, His promises are steadfast and provide fail-proof resolution.

With God, we have the opportunity to live a life without suffering the consequences of making unfavorable decisions. “Human Effort plus Divine Intervention always equals Victorious Outcomes!”

The Israelites received this promise: “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace'” (Exodus 14:13-14).

God is waiting to give us our best lives not only now, but also eternally in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

Prayer: God, we have chosen the hard life of the transgressor by excluding You. We ask for forgiveness for doing it our way. Yes, we need Your help every day. Thank You for hearing and answering our prayer that we ask in Jesus’ worthy name. Amen.

The Blessings from Attending Church

Devotional–The Blessings From Attending Church–From The Struggle of Sanctification by S. Johnson

Last Thursday, just before sunset, I heard a knock on the door. Looking through the slanted blinds, stood three women carrying two supermarket bags in each hand. My first thought was a food delivery at the wrong address. Yet, it didn’t make sense, how could three individuals be confused about where they were going? Without hesitation, I opened the door, prepared to tell them that I didn’t order food.

After looking at the smiling faces, I smiled back and said, Hi. They introduced themselves as members of a community church that has a monthly bread and pastry ministry. After receiving two bags, one of the sisters asked if they could pray for me to which I said yes. “What would you like us to pray for?” Immediately, I responded, “Pray for peace.” Following the prayer, the elder asked for my phone number and told me if I ever need anything to give them a call. No, they did not have the wrong address.

The request for a prayer for peace was not due to a personal struggle of inner conflict, it was for the community of Christian believers. Earlier, I was thinking of the detrimental effects of not attending church. God created us to receive happiness and spiritual and emotional strength from socializing and worshipping with each other. Intentional isolation from other believers prevents us from forming vital relationships with the Family of God. And Satan uses solitude to attack our minds with worries and anxieties which prevent us from receiving Jesus’ gift of peace.

Although church hurt is among the top answers for refusal to go to church, the reality is that many Christians do not feel the need to be around the body of believers. Yet, God is not in agreement with that mindset.

“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.” (Hebrews 10:25 NLT)

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus.” Romans 15:5

Our spiritual insight is stunted when our daily interactions are limited to unbelievers. The carnal world resents that we believe in and serve an invisible God. What does light have in common with darkness? Without becoming active members of the family of believers, we cannot give or receive the validation needed to stay courageous in a wicked world. Isolation creates stony, self-centered hearts. In-person attendance allows us to become full of compassion as we learn to extend loving kindness not only to those who are in the body of Christ but also to those who resent us.

Yes, there are many spiritual benefits to attending church. In the house of God, we gain spiritual strength while singing, praying, reading the Scriptures, and hearing sermons because we are in the presence of God. Attending church breaks our normal routine and redirects our focus on the Creator. In-person attendance allows us to be around others striving for the Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23. Our love for God is a common characteristic that gives us a foundation to have healthy relationships with others who also love God.

Fact: Agape love produces spiritual bonding that can only be achieved with Christian brothers and sisters. And we can give and receive words of encouragement from like-minded believers who are also in the daily struggle of spiritual warfare.

I recall a time when I suffered an extremely harsh week at work. On Friday, while at work, I decided to stay home and not attend church on Sabbath. All, I wanted to do was rest the entire weekend. Yet, when I awakened on Sabbath morning, the Holy Spirit prompted me to go to church. For my obedience, I received a great spiritual blessing. Still, I was physically weary which impacted my emotional state of mind.

After the potluck lunch, myself and another sister were assigned to clean the kitchen. Sister H., “Sister Sonya, you look tired.” She did not ask me what was wrong but waited for my response before speaking again. On that Sabbath, 10 years ago, God gave me a second blessing. The Holy Spirit used Sister H. to pray with me and provide much-needed words of encouragement and wisdom.

We can easily present several points to debate as to why we fail to attend church. Always pray for discernment. Never be judgmental of others. The struggle is real. “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one…'” (Romans 3:10). Do not carry the weight of a spirit of offense. People will always say and do the wrong things. Not everyone is spiritually mature and some only attend church as a social activity, yet, God loves them as He loves us. Even so, as a follower of Jesus Christ, we cannot stand alone.

Jesus had 12 disciples to help Him to fulfill His ministry. John [the rugged Son of Thunder] eagerly followed Jesus everywhere He went. John, [the disciple that Jesus loved] experienced a total spiritual transformation from his close association with Christ. From beholding Jesus’ character, John the Son of Thunder became John the Revelator. 

Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal a Bible-based church that teaches Scriptural truths and has community outreach programs. When our focus is on Jesus Christ, we will enjoy the privilege of worshipping with others. Forming the habit of joyful fellowship at church prepares us for worshipping God with countless other believers who made it just like we did in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NLT

Jesus, the Man-Servant

And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:27-28

The zeal has risen to chase success. Social influencers, mentors, and ministers who once exalted God are eager to help us achieve social status and financial wealth. Those who have made it to the top of their game in the sports arena are known as Most Valuable Players. And that concept has infiltrated the mindset of most people who are striving to be among life’s most valuable players. Status and wealth are the most prevalent and valued worldviews.

Christians who once followed in the footsteps of Jesus’ lowly social status have exchanged biblical beliefs for today’s prosperity messages. They will not share their wealth or volunteer their time to help those in need. Pride has permeated the hearts of believers who have been deceived by Satan to accept worldly values. Although they attend church once a week, they are competing to climb the ladder of the elite–the rich, famous, and powerful.

Jesus’ disciples also had a separate agenda from his earthly mission. Because they envisioned Jesus setting up an earthly kingdom, his 12 disciples failed to understand His sermons and parables. Their minds were blocked by the true desires of the heart, yes, they craved status, power, and money. Yet, the brothers, James and John [Sons of Thunder] had a sense of entitlement and were bold and aggressive with their prideful arrogance. When they compared themselves to the other disciples, certainly no one else was entitled to sit next to Jesus when he became King.

“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to Him, ‘Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.'” Matthew 20:20-21

What is very unusual is that the disciple’s mother approached Jesus. Remember this was a time when women had cultural restraints–they were seen and not heard. In biblical times, women were not forward with men nor did they voice their opinions. Yet, she advocated for her sons, James and John. The strong love of a mother’s heart gave her the courage to ask Jesus to give her sons the positions of sitting on His right and left hand in His kingdom.

Note that Jesus did not rebuke their mother. Although human, Jesus was divine. He discerned her request was from a mother’s love for her sons. The desire for Jesus to be King was foremost in James and John’s mother, His disciples, and the multitudes who followed Him. He read the hearts of those who misunderstood the purpose of His earthly mission. Yet, Jesus always demonstrated compassion in His interactions with others and remained steadfast in godly principles.

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.’ ” Matthew 20:25-26

Regardless of the disciple’s rowdy personalities, Jesus was aware that 11 of the 12 would experience a spiritual transformation. Yes, men with hearts that secretly possessed worldly desires would become meek and humble servants.

To follow Christ is to live a life of humility and servitude to others. Because of sin, our hearts are in opposition to being counted as the least. Yet, our earthly mission has been designed by God. The standards of discipleship are predetermined by God and are non-negotiable. Whether God has placed us in a position of status or lowliness [to represent Christ], a disciple must live a life of servitude to God and to humanity.

Prayer: God, we ask forgiveness for having agendas that include self-glorification. We ask for a spiritual transformation of our hearts and to live as Your disciples. Please reveal the areas in which we are to serve others. In Jesus’ Holy name, we pray. Amen.

Making Lifestyle Changes

Devotional–The Struggle of Sanctification–Making Lifestyle Changes

There are stories in the Bible that cause us to feel intense grief, the fall of Adam and Eve, the emancipated Israelites [Exodus chapters 12-14], Noah and the flood, Samson and Delilah, the rich, young ruler [Matthew 19, verses 16-22], and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats [Matthew 25, verses 31-46].

Because of their allegiance to the Egyptian’s pagan practices, God took the nation of Israel through the wilderness to achieve a spiritual transformation in them. Yet, due to their disobedience and love of paganism, a journey that should have been 11 days lasted 40 years. Sadly, the consequences of their refusal to obey God resulted in everyone 20 years and older dying without ever reaching the land flowing with milk and honey.

“Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me…” (Numbers 32:11)

Throughout their 40-year wilderness journey, Joshua and Caleb were the only two people over the age of 20 who demonstrated steadfast faith, loyalty, and obedience to God. Yes, God rewarded His faithful two. Not only did they enter Canaan, but God appointed Joshua as their leader when Moses died.

Neither Moses, Miriam nor Aaron were allowed to enter the Promised Land because of their acts of disobedience. “And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is”(Deuteronomy 34:5-6).

Yet, God’s love and mercy were demonstrated for His faithful prophet and leader, Moses. In Jude, verse 9, Michael the Archangel, who is Jesus, came from heaven and resurrected Moses, taking him to heaven. Verification that Moses is in Heaven: “And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him” (Matthew 17:3). Refer to Matthew 17, verses 1-8 for the story of the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Rich, Young Ruler represents those who value wealth over discipleship. He dutifully kept the law but had immeasurable wealth and social status that he loved more than becoming a disciple of Christ. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:16-22).

The thought-provoking question “Have I lost sight of God’s standards of righteousness?” is quickly answered by our priorities and lifestyle. The time that we give to God in daily worship provides us with a definitive answer to the status of our loyalty and obedience to Him.

Psalm 95, verses 6-11 is a call to worship God with love, loyalty, and obedience.

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice:
8 Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
9 When your fathers tested Me; They tried Me, though they saw My work.
10 For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.
11 So I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest.

Just as an employer would not tolerate substandard performance from an employee, God requires a heart filled with 100% loyalty and obedience from us. Worship flows from the heart that loves God and has a steadfast relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. Human beings are creatures of habit. Praying and studying the Scriptures is a lifestyle that happens naturally when God is first and foremost in our lives.

Discipleship requires humility and is demonstrated by our outward activities of worship, witnessing, and seeking to help others every day. It is not enough to attend weekly church services or to share the love and saving power of Jesus Christ when we feel like it. Giving money to the Benevolent Fund does not replace active service in Community Outreach programs. Disciples are loyal to Christ and follow in His footsteps. If Jesus obeyed God, His Father, and served others, then God has the same expectation of us.

“All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32)

For many years, I did not understand the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. The two groups represent Christian believers, not believers and unbelievers. Sadly, the goats served God, attending church once or twice a week and giving tithe and offerings but did not financially help others. Nor did they fulfill the Great Commission [Matthew 28:18-20].

This group of believers had their own agendas. And they were not filled with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. How do we know the goats did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ ” (Matthew 25:44).

The characteristics of love, loyalty, humility, obedience, faith, and trust in God are requisites for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Our willingness to do the will of God prepares us for a spiritual lifestyle change. The Holy Spirit provides teaching, guidance, knowledge, discernment, and comfort to Jesus’ sheep–His disciples. We become aware of our spiritual gifts, spiritual assignments, and specific instructions on using our gifts and the stewardship of our money from the Holy Spirit.

Without love for Jesus, we will not pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal our gifts nor will we have an interest in truly serving God and others. Many are doing just enough to get by because their interests are in temporal things. They perform church duties or random acts of kindness because it is the right thing to do, but never receive pure joy from serving God. And they rarely give up their financial resources to help others, but quickly say, I will pray for you.

Like the freed Israelites, we do not have to end up living our lives in vain. Loving God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds produces humility, loyalty, and obedience for which we will be rewarded. We must persevere in maintaining our heart-to-heart relationship with Christ. With faith, we trust God by seeking Him daily through worship and living a faith-based, purpose-driven life.

Jesus is our Role-Model. Our spiritual gifts [and financial resources] are used to finish the work of Christ [spreading the Gospel and making disciples] as when He was on this earth.

Making a spiritual lifestyle change happens when we have a zeal to complete our Savior’s earthly work. Thankfully, we are never left to figure out the details of our spiritual assignments. The Holy Spirit will guide us.

We must consistently pray and study the Scriptures. Remaining steadfast in our faith keeps us connected to our Spiritual Team, God, the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God gives us daily instructions and provisions to complete His kingdom work. Great is His faithfulness! Allow Him to guide your earthly life and you will receive the reward of eternal life in the New Heaven and New Earth. Amen!

“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.” (Revelation 22:12)

Prayer: God, we need to make lifestyle changes. We ask You to anoint us with the Holy Spirit and to reveal our gifts and how to use them. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Spiritual Refreshment for the Weary Soul

“…For I will refresh the weary soul and replenish all who are weak.” Jeremiah 31:25

Many of us do not live in a peaceful, rustic environment where we can sit on our patio and hear the birds sing, watch streams briskly flowing or inhale unpolluted air while watching the deer in our backyard. The noise and constant busyness that has aggressively entered our lifestyles are out of control.

Sadly, we do not recognize the impact until we are mentally and emotionally weary and our physical health is impacted. Yes, we can take a couple of days off and catch up on much-needed sleep, but can we empty our minds of pressing issues or eliminate most of our to-do list? Rest and relaxation extend beyond physical rest. Even the most powerful machines require maintenance to keep them operating at peak performance.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Jesus tells us that optimal spiritual health requires a continuous relationship with Him. The demands of life are incessant and will create greater burdens if we do not stop, recognize, and rearrange our priorities. We were created to have a forever connection with God. Like inanimate objects that require a connection to a source of power, we must stay connected to our spiritual source–Jesus Christ.

Rest and relaxation of the mind and body are considered a waste of time by today’s influencers who give us their standards for our lifestyles. The lifestyle of pursuing worldly success is in opposition to the One who created us. Listening to tranquil music, verbalizing mantras, and performing non-spiritual meditation can never provide the spiritual gifts of peace and replenishment that our souls require.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Only Jesus can give us a life filled with daily spiritual renewal. And that means quality and quantity of time spent with Jesus in worship. Although divine intervention is always available, we must put forth the human effort of putting God first and asking for His help. Search the Scriptures! From Moses to Elijah, and Paul and Silas in their times of mental weakness and spiritual depletion, God’s intervention was immediate.

“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17)

The righteous are promised Divine benefits. Yet, we must take the time to establish and maintain a meaningful relationship with the source, Jesus Christ. Through prayer, we have 24/7 access to God, the Father, Jesus, and, the Holy Spirit. Daily, we pray for strength and guidance to live according to God’s plans so we may receive the healing power of spiritual replenishment in our minds, bodies, and souls.

Prayer: God, we ask for Your divine intervention. Please reveal the busyness that keeps us spiritually depleted and distant from You. We pray for the anointing, power, and presence of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ Worthy name, we pray. Amen.