Thursday, September 22, 2011

Struggling With Failure

Struggling with Failure
By Debbie Johnson
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

My inability to accomplish all I think I should right now reminds me of these words of Jesus.  “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48).

One of the most obvious things about Jesus teaching is that He expected His followers to live a righteous life, right in God’s eyes.  His statement commanding us to be perfect or complete came near the end of  the Sermon on the Mount .  Perfection, according to Jesus, included power to avoid saying or doing anything in anger against another person, freedom from looking at anyone with lust, ability to stay in marriage, to keep our word, to turn the cheek at evil, to give to those who want to take from us, to truly love everyone, including our enemies (Matthew 5).  This perfection went way beyond the letter of the Old Testament laws.  In short, being perfect or complete is being like God “who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45).

During my teenage years I read this chapter and was tempted to give up on being a Christian.  If this is what following Christ is all about, I have no hope,” I thought.  I fell far too short of the glory, the standard, the righteousness of God.  As the apostle Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  But if I had studied this verse in context, it could have helped me then:
 
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. That was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

In other words, God’s righteousness is revealed in His mercy and love when He freely rescues people from the consequences of their sin by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  There is no distinction between those who try to keep all the rules, those who try to keep all the Old Testament laws, and those do not.  We are all sinners, all deserve death under God’s law, but God in His righteousness offers us all life.  God justifies us all, makes us all righteous, when we put all our faith in Jesus, not our good works, for our righteousness.  We don’t deserve to live forever with God.  But it is a free gift.  That is the wonder of the message of Christ.   He, the only righteous person who ever lived, died for us, so that we could be made righteous before God.
Two years ago Dave and I had been back at our missionary itineration for three months when I realized that we were falling apart.  Dave was quite depressed and I was in burnout.  Being full of uncertainty during this dark time, I really wasn’t sure God had too much use for us.  But I forgot something so important.  God made us loved and accepted and forgiven and in right standing with Him, not because of our performance, but because of our faith in what Jesus did for us.  Yes, Dave and I had our struggles to work through, and we stayed at it for a full year. But because of God’s great love, our standing with the Lord never changed.  He cherished us even though we felt we weren’t much good to Him at the time.  He simply loved us.  We were always right with Him, complete and accepted because of the testimony of the blood of Jesus Christ on our behalf.   
It is so easy to look at our own incompleteness or that of others and judge. We see the same struggles in the disciples.  Peter boasted that He would die with Christ and then denied His master before the Romans. The disciples fought over who would be greatest in the kingdom.  James and John wanted to kill people with fire from heaven.
But everything changed in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples.  Peter stood boldly before great crowds and preached about the resurrected Jesus.  We no longer see the apostles fighting and John became the apostle of love.
This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the key that helps me now. Yes, Jesus wants us to be perfect, complete, lacking nothing as He said in Matthew chapter 5.  His vision for His followers is much greater than we have for ourselves.  But He never intended we would do it in our own strength.  Jesus promised us another “Helper,” the Spirit of Truth to be with us forever who would live with us and be in us and teach us and help us to remember all that Jesus taught (John 14:16-17, 28).  The Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father, is the Helper who transforms our lives to be more and more like Jesus’ life.
Where I get caught is when I view the difference between my life what Jesus taught and despair because I know I can’t do it.  On one hand, I forget that I am absolutely loved, accepted, forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice for me and therefore I am right before God, regardless of my performance.  On the other hand, since I know God wants His people to be holy I get frustrated, forgetting that God never meant me to become like Jesus on my own. He gave us the Holy Spirit, our constant Companion and Teacher, to give us the grace to live like Christ.
I know what I need to do.  I need to humble myself, and instead of taxing my own small resources to the limit, I am slowly learning to depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance, strength and transformation in my work and the details of my life.  The Holy Spirit works in me by His love and wisdom so that while I am in this sometimes messy process of becoming complete, I remain in perfect right standing before God because of Jesus’ sacrifice.  What amazing grace the Lord offers us every single day!
 The Holy Spirit now is my counselor at the beginning of my tasks and my teacher at the end, the One who never leaves me alone to my own resources. If I will only ask Him, He will help me with people, projects, work and even the things I do to enjoy this life He has given me.
I am His new creation, (2 Corinthians 5:17), and as I continue to cooperate with His guidance, He continues sculpting me into His vision for me--someone beautiful for His glory.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Leaving, Grieving, and Embracing

Leaving, Grieving, and Embracing
By Dr. Dave Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionary to the Philippines

Saying goodbye again.  It began a couple of weeks ago when we invited a few friends out for lunch.  Other occasions with more friends and relatives followed. Finally, we had a tearful farewell at the airport a couple of hours ago. Goodbyes.  As much as I dislike them, they are a part of life, especially for missionaries. 

I used to be na├»ve enough to think that leaving would get easier as the years passed, but the thought of possibly losing aging parents makes it increasingly difficult.  Leaving means grieving, not only for those who leave but for those who remain.  But the positive side of these emotions is that we have people that we love and that love us. It’s the kind of love that only deepens through the years. 

I’m writing this from a Frontier Airlines flight from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Denver, where we will connect to a flight to Seattle, Debbie’s home area.  We will spend about two weeks with Debbie’s family, going through the same leaving and grieving process all over again before going on to the Philippines to begin our fourth term of missionary service with the Assemblies of God World Missions. With Debbie’s family, the grieving is accentuated by the fact that Debbie’s mom has Alzheimer’s and there is no assurance that she will remember us the next time we come home.  Hard times like these give us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the beautiful relationships we have with family and friends in America.  We cherish all of them and carry the memories with us back to the Philippines. Even while we are overseas these relationships remain a vital part of our lives, and the advent of Internet communications allows us to remain in close touch. 

In our case, leaving and grieving also mean embracing.  First, it means embracing our pain.  We have a choice to acknowledge our pain of loss or deny it and bury it deep inside—an unhealthy but all too common response.  Embracing our pain means understanding that this is simply a part of following Jesus.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had the choice to endure the pain of the crucifixion in following his Father’s will or walk away from it all.  Fortunately for us, he chose to own his pain and take the path of the cross. While our pain is far less dramatic, it is, nevertheless, just as real.  Like Jesus, I have to choose to acknowledge my pain and deal with it, or try to ignore it although, unlike Jesus, I cannot really escape it. Putting these thoughts in writing has helped me deal with my grief in a positive way, and gives you an open window in the soul of a missionary. I also have the assurance that if I will face my pain, He will walk with me through the difficult moments.

Leaving, grieving, and the pain they cause is much easier to endure if there is a purpose.  In our case, leaving family and friends also gives us an opportunity to embrace the future.  We look forward to being reunited with a host of friends and co-workers, missionaries and Filipinos alike, in our beloved adopted country.  We look forward to again engaging the ministries that we left behind when we came home for itineration.  We eagerly anticipate the new doors that God has waiting for us as we continue to walk with Jesus in a land that has increasingly become our own.  Whether at home or abroad, following Jesus can be a great adventure, and we’re looking forward to what God is going to do in our lives. The future is indeed as bright as the promises of God.

Leaving, grieving, and embracing call for engaging a variety of emotions on many levels, and these emotions are real. But so is the opportunity experience God as he walks through the trials of life with us and takes us into the great future that He has planned.          






*All Scripture references are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

PLEASE NOTE: Permission is hereby given to forward, print, and post this blog as long as it is done as a complete blog, and its authorship is acknowledged. Thank you for your cooperation.  For automatic notification of future blogs please visit www.drdavejohnson.blogspot.com and click on “follow.”

Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 


Monday, September 12, 2011

Reflections on a Visit to a 9/11 Memorial

Reflections From a Visit to a 9/11 Memorial
By Dr. Dave Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionary to the Philippines
www.drdavejohnson.blogspot.com


What would they have written about me?  Or you?  On the evening of September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, my nephew, Tim, and I visited a memorial of that horrible day at the Cannonsburg Ski Area, just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan, my hometown.  The skiing hill hosted 3,200 American flags, one for every person killed on that disaster.  As we walked among the flags, we noticed that many of them had a card attached, giving the name and bio-data of someone who was killed on that day.  The bio-data also included where they worked, things about which they were passionate, or, if they were young, what they looked forward to in the future.

Those cards reminded me that those who died were real people, with real jobs, real interests, and real dreams.  They were just ordinary people going about life. Lives that were cut short like a movie that breaks in the middle of the plot leaving only a freeze frame of the last scene on the screen.  Theirs were lives that, humanly speaking, were unfinished.  Naturally questions arose in my mind of how a good God could allow such unspeakable horror, an issue that even the Reverend Billy Graham mentioned in his remarks at the memorial service at the National Cathedral just a few days later. He didn’t have the answer, and neither do I.

But the memorial did cause me to stop and ponder the reality that no one knows how long they will live.  We may live a full life, but we may not.  And Hebrews 9:27 is clear that we don’t get a second chance.  What we do have, however, is the opportunity to live today.  From my perspective, the question that must be raised is how should we live? Many would answer this question by saying, like the old beer commercial, “You only go around once in life, go for the gusto.” While I certainly agree that life should be lived to the fullest, the question then, is, for whom do I live or to what goal or purpose? The answer to this question depends on one’s worldview.  If I have only one life to live and no guarantee as to how long that life will be, the thought of living only for me leaves me feeling cold.

I have two choices that I can make everyday.  Will I live for myself or for God?  Will I be hell bent or heaven bound? Will I be selfish or selfless?  Will it be my path or God’s way?  My dreams or his? And if I should suddenly die or be killed, what will others write about me?  Or you?



PLEASE NOTE: Permission is hereby given to forward, print, and post this blog as long as it is done as a complete blog, and its authorship is acknowledged. Thank you for your cooperation.  For automatic notification of future blogs please visit www.drdavejohnson.blogspot.com and click on “follow.”

Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 

  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Daniel in the Palace Part I Overview

Daniel in the Palace Part I Overview
By Dr. Dave Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionary to the Philippines

[This blog is the first in a series of blogs that will examine the book of Daniel.  At the outset, I am uncertain as to whether I will cover the entire book or only the first six chapters.]

The book of Daniel is rich in history and cannot be understood apart from the cross currents of the events of his day.  Daniel, the statesman-prophet, the author of the book that bears his name, was born circa 622 B.C., in the latter days of the southern kingdom. Palestine lies along the major trade routes of the Middle East.  Not only did merchants travel along these routes, so did kings with their armies—and some that did so deeply affected the children of Israel. 

Not only is the book of Daniel rich in history, it comes in time in which Israel had at least four other writing prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, and Haggai.  On the broader world scene, Daniel was also a contemporary of three other significant religious figures Confucius, Buddha, and Zoroaster, the Persian religious reformer, although it is not likely that, with the possible exception of Zoroaster, Daniel would have been familiar with them.

The book of Daniel must also be understood within a certain theological framework.  At this point in history, the Old Testament canon was not yet complete.  Daniel was obviously familiar with the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible penned by Moses, the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel and probably I and II Kings, the Wisdom Literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon), and some of the prophets. Isaiah predated Daniel by about a century.  Daniel quotes from the book of Jeremiah and was probably also familiar with Lamentations.  Since Ezekiel was a contemporary who lived among the exiles in Babylon, Daniel would surely have been familiar with his work.  Among the “minor” prophets, he would have known of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk.  Since Nahum may have been written late in the 7th century B.C, he was mostly acquainted with it.  Haggai was a younger contemporary of Daniel’s and his prophecy was recorded during the second year of Darius the Mede’s reign. Since it was recorded in Judah and Daniel, by this time, was an old man, there is a small possibility that he may not have known Haggai’s work, but since there was an obvious free flow of communication between Judah and Babylon, it is more likely that he did know it.  He would not have known the books Esther, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, Zechariah, Malachi, as these were not written until after his death.  

Seismic shifts also took place in the children of Israel’s religious practices during this time.  By Nebuchadnezzar’s order, Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. Sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood were abolished.  Even the Ark of the Covenant disappeared from the pages of history, most likely destroyed along with the temple.  All of these were iconic aspects of Jewish worship.  The beginnings of the synagogue can be traced to the time of the captivity as well as the birth of the Pharisees—the evangelical preachers of the day, who appear to have been a far cry from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day in terms of their attitudes.  A positive result of the Babylonian exile was that the Israelites were forever cured of idol worship.

With this broad overview in place, we now proceed to a review a more detailed historical backdrop of Daniel’s day in the next post.




*All Scripture references are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

PLEASE NOTE: Permission is hereby given to forward, print, and post this blog as long as it is done as a complete blog, and its authorship is acknowledged. Thank you for your cooperation.  For automatic notification of future blogs please visit www.drdavejohnson.blogspot.com and click on “follow.”

Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 


Thursday, September 8, 2011

News From Dave and Debbie Johnson

Dave and Debbie Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionaries to the Philippines
 

News from Dave and Debbie
Fall 2011 Edition

Packing and Parting

Our offices have been in chaos.  Dave’s is worse than usual, if you can believe it.  Why?  It’s that time again as we are preparing for yet another move to the other side of the world.  We’ve already shipped six huge boxes, and we will send another one or two before we leave.   We will leave Grand Rapids in mid September  and spend a couple of weeks with Debbie’s family in the Seattle area. Then, we will continue on to the Philippines near the end of the month.

Our first order of business in Legaspi will be to find a house and reestablish our relationships with our Filipino brothers and sisters. We will also take some time to assess our role the ministries we have left behind and get some direction from the Lord regarding where we fit in.  These ministries have been handled well by Filipino leaders while we have been gone, so we want to approach our reintegration with great sensitivity and appreciation for the great leadership they have given. The evangelistic team continues to be ably led by Pastor Alan Esplana, a Filipino that has been working with Dave for fifteen years. The house church planting program that Debbie and the Filipino district leadership launched in 2007 has grown to fifteen church planting schools and at least 191 house churches!  Praise the Lord! 
While we are excited about being reunited with people we love in the Philippines, we dread leaving friends and family, especially our aging parents, here in America. In times like these, we just have to draw closer to Jesus.

Knee Benders

1.  Please pray for both us and our families as we separate after more than two years at home.
2.  Please pray for our reintegration to life in
the Philippines.
3.  At the time of this writing, we still need $456.32 in monthly support and would appreciate your prayers.  If you can help us please let us know.  A pledge form can be downloaded from our website, www.daveanddebbiejohnson.com. Thank you!


Reflections on Itineration

Over fifteen months of itineration, we have visited around 150 churches and met with numerous pastors over lunch or coffee.  Here are a few observations:

1.  We are blessed to be part of such a wonderful fellowship with a deep commitment to missions for which we are grateful.
2.  In 28 years of ministry, I (Dave) have never seen more bi-vocational pastors.  The recession has affected our pastors deeply, but I never heard one complaint. Some have even taken jobs in order to avoid cutting their churches’ missions budget.  This has humbled and touched us deeply.
3.  We share the heartfelt burden of many of our churches that are on a plateau or in decline.  On the other hand, we have seen some great revitalization of churches.  The concept of a strong mother church sponsoring the renewal work seems to work quite well.
4.  We have seen a great increase in the number of churches doing need oriented community evangelism, and we believe that this is a key to the growth in our churches in this generation. We also believe that is one antidote to the marginalization that Christianity has experienced in American culture.
5.  In the last few months we have been in some new church plants in Michigan or met with pioneering pastors over lunch, and we are excited with what we have seen.  In almost every case, the pastor was under forty years old and doing non-traditional things that are working!! I hope those of us “older” folks will make plenty of room for this younger generation to express the creative gifts that God has given them.  They are the future.

Dave’s Blog

God has been doing some refreshing work in Dave’s life as a result of the healing God brought while we were on sabbatical.  One of the results is fresh spiritual insights from a renewed passion for studying the word of God.  He has been sharing many of them through blogging.  He has done a series of blogs on Moses and the gods of Egypt, God and Abraham, the Tower of Babel and, most recently, the Inauguration of Jesus’ Ministry in Luke 4:16-30.  His next series will be on understanding the book of Daniel in its historical context, and he is really excited about it.

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Thank you with all our hearts for all your prayers and support.  We could never do this without you!

In His grace,

Dave and Debbie Johnson