The Game of Chance

And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. Matthew 24:12

A concept is causing significant dissension and division among Christians–prosperity! When we hear messages based on God promising us wealth, we will react in one of two ways, “It’s a false teaching” or “Yes, Jesus says to ask anything in His name, and He will do it.” Yet, Jesus has told us “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…” Matthew 6:19, first part.

Sin has given us a natural longing to desire the things we do not have. Is it possible for us to be content? The answer of yes or no is an individual one, which reveals our relationship with Jesus Christ. We will explore the response of no, which many hesitate to say. They usually respond with, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19). And the conflict of truth versus error begins.

The Desire–Are you familiar with the phrase, “Some people are their own worst enemy?” We begin the decline into sin by our heartfelt desires. We have entered Satan’s Game of Chance as inexperienced players at this stage. But Pride continually urges us to pursue our dreams. Unsure of ourselves, we seek and select people who agree that we should follow our hearts. We make sure that we keep our strategies a secret, especially from the Saints of God who always say, “Pray and wait on God.” We grow weary of God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11. So, we begin listening to…the Influencers.

The Influencers persuade us to chase our dreams now. Many have become successful in the financial arena. We readily listen to the testimonials of social media’s elite, successful entrepreneurs or peruse the websites of powerful investment companies. JP Morgan advertises, “Set up a call or virtual meeting with a J.P. Morgan Advisor to discuss your investment goals and help keep them on track.”

An unequally yoked relationship is today’s believers’ second most prevalent deception. We have lost control of our senses, especially our eyesight. When children are younger, they are immature and desire the pleasant things they see. Yet, as they mature if taught restraint, they learn that not everything pleasing to the eyes is good for you.

The Rebellion–In these last days, Satan’s two deceptions are causing an internal conflict for first place in our hearts, seeking prosperity and having unequally yoked relationships with unbelievers. Chasing wealth and giving into lustful desires has many “Christians” renouncing God. Because compromise has overtaken the desire to obey God, they worship God with works–attending church or making tax-deductible contributions. But their minds are far from giving God the reverence of total obedience. “For let, not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:7-8).

The desire for what we do not possess has existed since the conflict with Lucifer in heaven. Adam and Eve gave up immortality and face-to-face communion with Jesus in the Garden of Eden for the deceptive lie of having God-like omnipotence–knowing all. We do not care! The Bible provides God-breathed historical accuracy in the Scriptures of fallen humanity and proof of God’s love, grace, mercies, and restoration. Yet, pursuing our desires becomes the driving force, and we willingly become players in the Game.

The Knocking on the Door of Our Hearts–“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

The Failure–Because our Heavenly Father loves us, He intervenes, and our dreams that we brought into fruition fail. The loss of our financial investment, or the business falters into bankruptcy, and the relationship [no matter how dedicated you loved] is over when the unbeliever continually disappoints or walks away without remorse.

The Choice–God’s Restoration: With heartfelt sorrow, we confess and repent, [leaving the sinful Game] and receive spiritual restoration from the blood of Jesus Christ. “For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight…” (Psalm 51:3-4).

The Choice–Remain a Player: Many become angry and depressed, blaming God for not blessing their pursuits or relationships. They embrace the trending belief, “You can’t have success without failures,” and they decide to develop different strategies and continue to pursue their desires. Pride consoles them as they up the ante, “I’ll develop different strategies or find another individual with different values.” Now they have no need for God’s divine direction. They think of themselves as experienced players in the Game of Chance.

The Apostle Paul has forewarned us in 2 Timothy 3 regarding the condition of the last days. There is no middle ground. The player is seeking earthly rewards. But the righteous believe Jesus’ promise to supply all of our needs. We ask in prayer for God’s will to be done and patiently wait for God’s blessings. “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be My son.” (Revelation 21:7).

Prayer: God, we thank You for seeking us to save our souls when we have wandered away. We pray for forgiveness, not because of the devastating consequences we have suffered. But because we desire to leave the Game of Sinful pleasures. Today, we surrender our hearts and ask to renew our covenant vow with You. In Jesus’ Worthy Name, we pray. Amen.

Escaping the Dilemma

As a wee girl, I have always loved the holiday season of the Christmas celebration. The fascination of the decorations would hold my attention for hours. It certainly was the most beautiful time of the year. But truth be told, I was not interested in the gifts. My DNA includes a three-generational history of artists with raw talent. My preference was always for the deep, rich colors of mulberry accented with gold. Even so, there was always a thought in the back of my mind–Christmas was not Jesus’ birthday, nor was the holiday honoring Jesus, the Son of God who died on the cross. Christmas was a strong family tradition. I did not understand my thought processes, nor did I dare verbalize my feelings because of fear.

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:12

It is not my intent to spark a debate regarding the celebration of Christmas. My love of the season has not changed. However, my perspective of the season has changed.

The Origin of Christmas Celebration

Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

The Dilemma of Christmas Observance

In 2020, Americans were ready to spend an average of $998 on winter holidays. Most of the money spent on Christmas was planned for gifts ($650), non-gift holiday products like decorations ($230), and other non-gift products ($117). https://capitalcounselor.com/christmas-spending-statistics/

The increase in homelessness in the United States has risen sharply for single mothers and children. Since the pandemic, many individuals have lost their primary source of income. The social status of middle-class America has almost vanished. Our societies have two prominent classes of families–Those who Have and Have Not.

Poverty has always existed, and it will remain until the Second Coming of Jesus. In 2019, there were 123 million families in the United States. If half of the average money [$500] spent on one holiday was donated to shelters and churches, we would alleviate the suffering of many individuals. The total amount contributed for one holiday would be 61.5 billion dollars.

Christian believers, May God, have mercy on our ability to spend our money without any thoughts of stewardship or the fact that everything we possess is a gift from God. We have readily embraced the “I” concept indicating that our lifestyles are not in sync with the life of Christ or the Scriptures.

Yes, I will decorate with home with handmade Christmas items. And will send a beautiful handmade Christmas ornament to family and friends. Even so, I realize that my life is not my own. As a disciple, I must obey God. With a good conscience, I can no longer spend the financial blessings from my Heavenly Father on impractical gifts when my brothers and sisters are hungry and homeless.

What does God require of us?

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Matthew 25:34-36

Prayer: God, we pray for the desire to live a life of sacrifice as you did. Are we our brother’s keeper? Yes, God, we are. Please transform our minds that we may see life through spiritual eyes. In Jesus’ name. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry

The Change in the Atmosphere, part 2, The Apostle Paul

For the past week, I have been studying the life of the Apostle Paul. The conversion of Saul, a murderer of Christians, to a devout and faithful disciple is evident throughout the 14 books in the New Testament. In his Second Letter to Timothy, Paul was fully aware that the end of his life was near. Paul’s imprisonment was unjust, but the Roman leaders believed that Christianity would phase out with Paul, the agitator incarcerated. The message of a Savior, Jesus Christ, opposed the ancient Roman pagan belief system. Still, their main concern was the impact on the possibility of decreased financial gifts.

The Roman Empire was a primarily polytheistic civilization, which meant that people recognized and worshiped multiple gods and goddesses. Despite monotheistic religions within the empire, such as Judaism and early Christianity, Romans honored the presence of numerous deities. Jul 6, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/gods-and-goddesses-ancient-rome/#:~:text=The%20Roman%20Empire%20was%20a,Christianity%2C%20Romans%20honored%20multiple%20deities.

But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. 2 Timothy 4:5 NLT

Paul’s only offense: God designated Paul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles who believed in gods and goddesses. Financial offerings were given by the people, which sustained the greed of the governing leaders. Even so, Christianity grew in leaps and bounds due to the continual witnessing by the Apostle in heavy chains. While imprisoned, he endured extreme suffering for many years. Yet, Paul’s abounding faith was an example of Jesus’ suffering, leading to many Roman guards’ acceptance of Jesus Christ. Bible scholars estimate his age to be between 60-68 at the time of death. The wicked Emperor Nero was responsible for the execution by the beheading of God’s faithful Apostle.

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8

The Apostle Paul clearly reveals that immortality is not received at the time of a person’s death. Yet, many believers hold on to the false concept that the person is either in heaven or burning in hell at death. Jesus answered, “You are mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Matthew 22:29.

Jesus’ body was in Joseph’s tomb when He was resurrected. Angels were sent from heaven to roll back the heavy stone. Although the Jewish leaders spread the false news that the disciples had stolen His body, the guards witnessed the event.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had spoken these things to her. John 20:16-18

The Holy Spirit is truth. The Human Effort of praying for the discernment and guidance from the Holy Spirit is vital to our belief in the scriptures, spiritual growth, perseverance, and endurance. We must decide to believe the biblical truth or to embrace the twisted concepts of our greatest Deceiver. It is a conscious decision to faithfully obey God by asking that His will be done in our lives. Turning our eyes upon Jesus requires wholehearted commitment. We have a Spiritual Team ready 24/7 to assist us in our journey on the Path of Righteousness. Through Christ, we can live holy and righteous lives, witnessing to others with confidence that we have fought the good fight, just as the Apostle Paul.

Prayer: God, we thank you for salvation. Please reveal the method of how we can witness the Good News of Jesus Christ to others. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry

It’s All or Nothing

I can recall trying to find a nursing job in Orlando, Florida, when there was an overabundance of Registered Nurses. Finally, I found a position where I was hired on the spot. The irony of being immediately hired is that I had to have security clearance which involved fingerprints, DMV abstract, and nursing license verification. Yes, the red flags were waving from every direction. The following day I received a quick one-day orientation–policies, payday, dress code and was told that I needed to arrive at 6 am in the morning to do rounds with the Wound Care Doctor. Not a problem. The issue was that I never received a job description because the position was recently created.

My day started at 4 am, including travel time. All went well for the first week, which had me thinking that I had overreacted. Monday of the second week revealed the truth. The evening nurse who worked from 2:30 pm to 11:00 pm called out sick. I was notified that I needed to speak with the Assistant Director, who informed me that I would be working until 11 pm that night. The duties of a floor nurse were nonstop. I made it through the night. But decided that my last day would be the following week on payday.

The nurse did not return to work for three days. So, I double-shifted for three days and evenings and was told I would be happy with my check. I found out from the other employees that the facility had a very high turnover of evening nurses, and there was no guarantee the staff nurse would return. I must admit that for the first time in my career, I felt miserable. Being half-committed along with the administration’s dishonesty regarding my job description made me so stressed out that I did not make it until payday.

Our spiritual journey requires 100% commitment to God. Serving God is an All or Nothing covenant promise. We commit to a relationship with Jesus Christ that is high maintenance. Building our spiritual connection with Christ requires surrender, faith, trust, obedience, studying the Bible, praying, helping others, attending church, and allowing God to do a complete character makeover.

I have heard many people say, “It’s just too hard to serve God. The things that I cannot do or the things that I have to do for God it’s overwhelming. The dilemma of placing our desires before God is not a new concept. The Laodiceans possessed material wealth and felt their spiritual knowledge was equal to their social status. They were not interested in doing the practical duties required of the Christian believer in the early church. So, they decided not to stress themselves out. They felt that whatever they did was enough to serve God by continuing their daily routines and just showing up for church.

And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—”Revelation 3:14-17

It is difficult for those who feel secure in their attainments, and who believe themselves to be rich in spiritual knowledge, to receive the message which declares that they are deceived and in need of every spiritual grace. God leads His people on step by step. The Christian life is a constant battle and a march. There is no rest from the warfare. It is by constant, unceasing effort that we maintain the victory over the temptations of Satan. It is not enough to merely profess to believe the truth. All the soldiers of the cross of Christ virtually obligate themselves to enter the crusade against the adversary of souls, to condemn wrong and sustain righteousness. But the message of the True Witness reveals the fact that a terrible deception is upon our people, which makes it necessary to come to them with warnings, to break their spiritual slumber, and arouse them to decided action. Testimonies for the Church, volume 3. 

Serving God is not a laid-back, easy lifestyle that requires little to no human effort. We cannot attend church once a week or sing our way to heaven with uplifted hands. The motivational speeches that have replaced sermons based on scriptures have many deceived into thinking that serving God is based on an  emotional response. 

The Laodicean Church received a strong rebuke from Jesus. You have to be hot [completely committed] or cold [same status as an unbeliever] because lukewarm individuals [who have decided how they will serve God] will be spit out [no chance of receiving the reward of eternal life].

Matthew chapter 28:19-20 is the Great Commission, which is applicable to every believer–witness and make disciples. 

 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

It’s up to each of us to serve God giving our All or Nothing. 

Prayer: God, we confess that we are not giving you our best and for this sin, we ask for forgiveness. Please reveal the work that you have for us to do as we prepare for Jesus’ Coming. We ask this prayer in the Worthy Name of Jesus. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry 

Come and Rest Awhile

How do you feel at the end of your day?

Taking a few minutes to analyze our daily and weekly schedule provides organization and consistency to our lives. Although we cannot anticipate unexpected challenges, we should prioritize our day-to-day responsibilities. Becoming aware of unnecessary interruptions not only allows us to establish boundaries, but we can also fulfill God’s plan for our day. So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Busyness is intrusive and often goes unnoticed. Waking hours easily melt into night and before we realize it, our sleeping hours are significantly reduced. Too much on our agenda propels the aging process. It is not difficult to recognize the individuals who do not get enough rest. Their eyes and facial expressions reveal the effect of ongoing mental and physical fatigue.

Thankfully, God provides us with the mercies of a new day. But have you considered the time that you set aside to worship God? Even more devastating is the impact that lack of rest has on our relationship with God. We cannot engage in the depth of worship required for spiritual growth when we have overtaxed our minds and bodies. Falling asleep while reading the Bible or saying a three or four word prayer prevents us from receiving the much-needed spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical renewal and refreshment from the Holy Spirit.

God Speaks On Not Putting Him First

You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. Exodus 34:14. 

Identifying the demands that prevent mental and physical rest is the first step to changing our lifestyle. Self-denial is required to shut down the stimuli that keep our minds in a constant whirlwind. Too much time on social media, ongoing phone conversations, texting, and placing too many errands on the to-do lists leaves us burned-out. Always taking on the responsibility of being the go-to person also puts us in a lose-lose situation. Time wasted can never be retrieved. 

Remember, spiritual warfare includes the temptations from the evil one. It is Satan’s plan to keep us distracted by presenting opportunities that we chase after. Chaos and confusion are not of God. The Creation story gives us the perfect example of the structure and order that God requires. Make a three-day time log. And on the fourth day, perform an evaluation of time spent. You may be surprised how easily additional responsibilities, personal habits, or performing duties for others who can achieve the task themselves chips away your rest and relaxation time.

Even so, God expects to be first on our daily agenda. In morning worship, we acknowledge the new mercies received of a new day. Praying for God’s will to be done along with protection from spiritual warfare and physical danger demonstrates obedience and dependency on our Heavenly Father. Starting our day with God provides spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical strength to sustain us for the rigorous opposition that we face.

Evening worship provides communion with God and should be the last activity before sleeping. Taking the time to invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts through prayer produces endurance and perseverance. We develop a spirit of gratitude despite our hardships. Studying and memorizing God’s promises in the Holy Scriptures provides spiritual reinforcement in times of weaknesses and trials.

God is not intrusive. His Divine intervention is available 24/7. Still, He waits for our invitation. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. To be still is not living in a state of doing nothing. It is setting aside time–quantity [without distractions] to establish and maintain a 1:1 relationship with Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Intercessor. Returning the love we receive from God is demonstrated by putting God first! He is the Sustainer of our being.

Develop Strategies for Eliminating the Extras

Learn to decline, “At this time, I am unable to do that or attend, etc.” [a tactful way of saying no]. Turn away from ceaseless activity. Resting from life’s stressors by communing with God imparts spiritual strength. We are energized by the heavenly power that connects humanity with divinity. Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit. 3 John 1:2.

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

Prayer: God, we ask you to give us the wisdom to identify and eliminate the busyness of our lives that prevents us from spending time with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry

Non-Compete Agreement

It was the disobedience of the Israelite nation that caused their captivity in Babylon for 70 years. Our surrender to serve God is a Covenant–an unbroken promise between God and us. We do not chase our desires. Love and faithfulness are demonstrated by our obedience and trust in God. Praying for His will to be done in our lives is reverence and respect that God is our Heavenly Father. There are no mistakes or consequences that will happen in our lives when we obey God. Pray for God to reveal your purpose and His will for your life. God always brings a Victorious Outcome! © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity. Jeremiah 29:11-14a.

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 Spiritual Journey–When Do the Trials End?

I can recall the introduction from the Instructor for the 5-day Auditor’s training. “This will be a brutal and relentless five days, but once you learn the guidelines and the software, the task you face for the next 22 weeks will be easy. You are nurses, and will rely on your knowledge of clinical practice to determine if the medical records meet the criteria.” The first two days were so demanding that when we received our 60-minute lunch break, the entire class of 30 escaped for precious moments of solitude. We made a mad dash to our vehicles just to be alone.

Although day one was brutal, all of us returned for day two. We were allowed a couple of extra breaks to regroup from the intensity and overload of learning the software program. But an issue arose on the second day. Many of the nurses began complaining. It was a significant distraction. Still, our Instructor continued her strategic plan without addressing the complaints. After class ended, the complainers huddled together to discuss their grievances. 

Our Instructor was energetic but patient with a laid-back personality. On day three, at 8:01 a.m., she announced that auditing is not a job that is appropriate for everyone. We were informed of a 10-minute break [in which she would return to her office] to give us time to rethink our decision to continue training as MR Auditors. If we stayed, then we would be required to comply with a zero-tolerance policy that prevented any further complaints as of that morning. With boundaries set, the negativity evaporated, and 100% of the trainees passed the course.

Most believers would agree that our spiritual journey challenges us beyond our human capabilities. God created us to love and worship Him with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. He also made us dependent on the Trinity, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for the strength and resolution of our fiery trials. God is aware of our fragile hearts and weakened strength. Still, God has established spiritual requisites and boundaries. He is also aware of our secret desires and the unholy character traits that our trials will erase. Yes, the struggle is real, but not one of us can escape.

Jesus forewarned us about the trials, sorrows, and tribulations we would encounter from serving Him. Christian means Christ-like. “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. Jesus reiterates the dependency, which is required from us, “that in Me you may have peace.”

I understand the purpose of suffering, for the Glory of God, to produce faith, trust, and obedience, and to get rid of my character defects. Truthfully, I desire that my trials would not last as long as they do and the hardships would come around less often. But the life of a disciple is not one of multiple choice. It is a faithful life of humility and obedience. God decides because He is God. I can recall hearing a sermon based on the steadfastness of God, “When we are in our stormy trials, we can cry, have a sad countenance, and pray to be delivered, but God will not change His plans. He knows the end from the beginning, and God desires that none of us perish.”

Here’s the reality check, when I read Galatians 5:22-23, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. My character is definitely missing some of the “Fruit of the Spirit.”

Sadly, some of us assume that because Jesus accepted us, “Just As I Am,” that we have the option to keep our unholy character traits. In Revelation chapter 3, verses 14-21, God speaks to the Laodicean Church–the Lukewarm Church. They are the ones who place their priorities over God. But they are also the believers who have the most challenging struggles. Not because their trials and hardships are more severe. They have faith in themselves and their ability to resolve life’s challenges. These are the believers who only include God in their lives by word of mouth. Their time spent in prayer is limited. Bible studies are not a priority because they are content with making plans for a comfortable life. Determined to maintain complete control over their lives, they appear strong, yet, they easily become discouraged when facing hardships and quickly ask, “Where is God?”

God has no filter with His correction of wrongdoing. Even Peter, the stubborn, impulsive disciple who lacked self-control, was reprimanded by Jesus, “But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23. Even so, in Luke 22:32, Jesus showed compassion and concern for His wayward disciple: “But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

The books of 1st and 2nd Peter demonstrate Peter’s surrender and complete spiritual transformation. 1st Peter, chapter 4, reminds us that God has chosen us to be His disciples. So we must suffer because Christ suffered. He was perfect and without sin. Yet, Jesus suffered for our redemption and to glorify God, His Father.

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 1 Peter 4:12-14

God does not continually rain on us. In fact, our Heavenly Father makes sure that we know He loves us and will never leave us alone:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you, says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. 2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 3. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:1-3

It is because of God’s grace and mercies that we are not consumed. There is always an end to the suffering of each trial that we face.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

God puts us through the fiery trials to strengthen us, remove the impurities of sin, and increase our faith and trust in Him. Revelation chapters 21, and 22 remind us that we are preparing to live in a sinless and perfect New Heaven and New Earth. We must strive daily to run the race. We choose to live a faith-based life. God is Holy!

The Human effort of faith, trust, obedience, and perseverance, along with God’s Divine intervention, result in a life of Righteousness by Faith, which is pleasing to God. Jesus Christ is coming soon to give the faithful their reward of eternal life. So with a renewed commitment, let our prayer reflect King David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24.

Prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life [Psalm 139:23-24]. Amen. © 2021 Sonya Johnson, Faithful Fishers Ministry