Author Archives: MJ Johns

Climb Every Mountain

Remember It | Devotion #3: Climb Every Mountain
Mary Jane Johns | Worship Leader

When I was in high school, my life was all wrapped up in music and sports. I sang in a number of musicals. We did “Brigadoon,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Music Man,” and “The Fantasticks.” It was so much fun getting to know each cast member, the music, and last but not least the dance steps. The time spent learning the music, blocking, and memorizing lines was not lost when it came to the performances. I can still remember the actual feeling of being in character. What sheer joy it was to sing those words and feel those feelings like the real characters. 

My two favorite musicals were “The Sound of Music” and “Music Man.” I do not think I will ever forget the words to the songs. My director at the time was terrific and really left an impression on me. He recently sent me a message reminding me of how great that time in my life was. It was so good to reminisce. No matter how memorable that time in my little world was, I do not need to go back and live those moments again. In the midst of that joy, I also felt an emptiness. It was a very painful time for me. My dad had passed away, and my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Our family was experiencing financial difficulties, and I felt a bit lost. Walking through those deep waters was rough. As a sixteen-year-old girl, I was secretly feeling insecure and deeply hurt. I remember getting all wrapped up in those musicals and feeling safe within my character. I was at a crossroads. Instead of my own ambition, I chose to seek God. I chose to let go of my own aspirations and decided that God would be the One that I relied on for strength, wisdom, and direction. Seeking after His heart was a huge decision and a very life-altering moment. Jesus has been and will be my portion and my help. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” I will choose to remember this verse in times of struggle and loneliness. 

Philippians 3:12-13 adds, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” 

I am living my best life right now in Jesus. With Jesus as your personal Savior, you are living your best life, too! This is our happily ever after. Remembering that time of loneliness, insecurity, and hurt has helped to shape me into the wife, mother, and grandma I am today. Jesus wants us to continually stretch ourselves to be the very best version of ourselves that we can be.

The song, “This We Know,” is filled with such powerful phrases:
You are Who You say You are.
You’ll do what You said You’ll do.
You’ll be Who You’ve always been to us, Jesus.
This we know.
We will see the enemy run.
This we know.
We will see the victory won.
We hold on to every promise you’ve ever made.
Jesus, you are unfailing. 

I love the promise that Jesus will never leave us. When walking through this earthly life, we may flub a line, forget a verse, or sing a bit off key. God’s promises are sure and steady. We can stand on it, believe it, claim it, and remember it. By remembering these things, we can climb every mountain.

To the Moon & Back

Gather | Devotion #2: To the Moon & Back
Mary Jane Johns | Worship Leader

We have four crazy children. It seems as if our boys came out of the womb full of vinegar. My sons love to challenge us and keep us humble. The game of soccer runs deeply through their veins, and they have the stitches to prove it. Whether it is in their eyebrows, fingers, lips, knees, or cheekbones, we have been to the emergency room to stitch things back up and put them back in place. I will never forget during one particular game, my son went up for a header and crashed into another player. The player on the opposing team immediately went down. My son, however, kept playing and got blood all over the field. Thirteen stitches later, he was back on the pitch the next day. The boys have broken lamps, dishes, and clocks by juggling in the house. Sometimes they blame their sister who is also an accomplished soccer player. Almost every time it is one of our boys who are to blame. We like to think they are wonderfully stitched together.

We love our children all the same; however, whenever they ask me who is my favorite, I always say, “You are my favorite. Shhh! Do not tell your brother or sister. I love you to the moon and back.” It is just a thing we say to one another on a regular basis. It is almost habitual.

1 Peter 3:15-16 says, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” This is our family verse. Each one of our children has a ring that has this reference engraved on the inside of it. It is a reminder for us to honor and love God but mostly we need to be prepared to give an answer for our hope.

Merriam Websterdefines hope this way: “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen, be true or to expect with confidence.” We live in a broken world with emotions, ruined relationships, and shattered families. Our family has seen serious problems. We do not claim to be perfect. The Johns’ family has been humbled and brought to our knees. There have been times our children have steered away from God’s love and forgiveness. It has been difficult for us, yet we continue to love unconditionally. I believe this is what God would want. There is hope!

Our Heavenly Father is our hope. We make a choice every single day to love our kids even when they are unlovely. Why do we do this? We do this because God first loved us. He is the ultimate example of love and hope. Sharing Jesus and giving Him honor is just part of our story. We can point neighbors and friends to Christ, but it is the work of the Holy Spirit to change hearts. For our family, this is part of our brokenness.

We gain encouragement by gathering together with other saints. We have been humbled, and we do not claim to have all the answers, yet we are willing to share our story with gentleness and respect. By doing this, we point others to Jesus. We continue to love our children to the moon and back. We continue to gather together to give God praise on a regular basis. I love the song “Reckless Love.” 

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
Oh, it chases me down, fights ‘til I’m found, leaves the ninety- nine.
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it; still You give Yourself away.
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. 

I am incredibly grateful that our Heavenly Father is chasing us down and loves us to the moon and back. People ask us why we are different. Why do we have this confidence? It is because of Jesus’ unrelenting never-ending love. He stitches us back up when we feel utterly broken.


Testimony #4

Reach | Testimony #4
Mary Jane Johns | Worship Leader

I was just five years old when I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. Even at an impressionable young age, I wanted to please Him. I believe He has placed His stamp on my heart in loving and serving Him. As I grew up, my family was at church every Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday night. I loved every minute of it. Being part of a great big crazy family with seven kids was super fun – even adventurous! My parents were both only children, so they wanted a large family. We are all two years apart and felt very much wanted and loved. There was always music being played, sporting events to attend, and games to play. I always had a friend for the game time. The Strader kids were tight! 

When I was 11 years old, my world was forever changed. It was shaken to the very core. My dad went to be with Jesus at the age of 47. He had several complications from Diabetes, and his organs failed. We were devastated beyond comprehension. The barometer of our home would never be the same. I watched as my mom struggled with finances for the first time, we switched schools, her health failed, and things were downright rough. Often times I would look into my mom and dad’s room and see her down on her knees with her Bible opened. She was quite a warrior. Even as she felt the heavy weight of grief, she was still crying out to God and seeking His heart. 

Philippians 1:21-27 talks about living for Christ. No matter how much we long to go to Heaven to escape the perils of this dingy Earth, living for Jesus is huge. My parents both knew they would not go through life void of physical pain and suffering. It is like God put His stamp of approval on them as if to say, “You are my chosen ones.” They claimed these verses as their own. In fact, my mom had the verse “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) engraved on my dad’s tombstone.    

I am incredibly grateful for the time I had with my sweet parents. However, I am so immensely rich because of their love for Jesus.  The lessons I learned as a small child left a deep impression on my heart. God’s precious grace, redemption, and love for me prompt me to be a better person.  “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” will forever be engraved upon my heart because I am a follower of Jesus.  

Reuben Taking a Stand

Joseph & Brothers • Devotion #5: Reuben Taking a Stand
Mary Jane Johns

Firstborns are an interesting group of people. Eldest children set the standard. They are reliable, conscientious, strong-willed, controlling, and overachievers. The greatest quality of firstborns is that of loyalty. I am the youngest of seven kids, so I do not fully understand this whole thing. However, I do know my sister Gail. She is eighteen years older than me. Gail was a senior in high school when my mom carefully broke the news to her. She was ecstatic! Out of all of us seven kids, Gail is the best at caring that we stay connected. She is steady, full of integrity, makes lists, and most of all has character; she is full of truth. Gail has seen adversity through suffering from multiple sclerosis yet, she remains faithful, strong, and really works at communicating with her siblings. My mom would say that she was really tough on her because my parents really did not know what they were doing! Gail tends to be a rule follower, a wonderful leader, a bit bossy, and direct (I love her anyway!). She is just like my mom. Someone has to lead this messy Strader family of seven kids. She calls herself the matriarch.

There is a guy in the Bible whom I feel might display many of the same characteristics as a typical oldest child. Reuben, the son of Jacob and Leah, is the eldest sibling in the band of twelve brothers. However, Jacob (who had many wives) was partial to his wife, Rachel. Apparently, he loved her more. Okay, so this is wrong on so many levels. Anyway, I will continue on with our story. Rachel gave birth to two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Unlike our family (for real), Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph by giving him a coat with brilliant colors. All of the brothers were extremely jealous of Joseph. Reuben (who was a bit cocky) and his ten brothers decided to attack their brother. 

Genesis 37:21-22 records, “But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’ And Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him’ –that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father.” 

Joseph’s brothers hated him with a jealous passion. It was pretty ugly. They wanted to kill him through starvation and thirst by throwing him in the deep pit in the middle of nowhere. Reuben was not a big fan of Joseph but, he did not want him dead, and felt the weight of displeasing his father. I believe Reuben was still trying to honor his father and follow the rules even with his dysfunctional family. In his mind, killing Joseph was not an option. Completely losing him was definitely not what he had planned.

Genesis 37:29-30 adds, “When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, ‘The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?’”

 Reuben completely freaked out when Joseph was gone from the pit when he got there to set him free. It was never his intention to have Joseph die. I can only speculate why he went back. That is where he showed family loyalty. Reuben was responsible for his younger brothers, and he had let his father down. He tore his clothes, which is a sign of remorse and grieving. He panicked and lied to cover it all up to his father. Meanwhile, Joseph was picked up out of the pit and sold into slavery in Egypt. However, we will leave the story there.

There is much about this story that is questionable, and I can not be sure of Reuben’s ulterior motives. His commitment to his father and younger brothers were completely changed after this account. I would like to think he was a broken man, but seriously, who knows? Maybe he was a bit less self-righteous and cocky. He was more diligent in his protection of Benjamin after Joseph was sold into slavery.

Loyalty, strength, and concern for parents’ approval are huge to firstborn children. My sister Gail would lay down her life for her siblings. In fact, we are all that way. I cannot even fathom being so jealous of my brother that I wanted him to die. It is a foreign concept to me, yet this is the case with Reuben and his ugly and uncompassionate brothers. Jealousy brings about ruin in the lives of families. Do not let it rule yours. 


Abraham “Sacrifices” Isaac • Devotion #4: Confidence
Mary Jane Johns

My son-in-law, Chris is an exceptional human being. He is a geologist (the study of rocks) in North Dakota. Chris has been part of our family for about four years now, we love him to pieces, and he is a rock star! We also have the world’s greatest grandchildren, Calvin and baby ToriKate. But, I digress. When our daughter, Kaili Mae was expecting Cal, we were all elated! She was having a baby boy. What would this boy child look like? Whom would he favor in appearance, disposition, coloring, and eye color? What I failed to share with you is that Chris is an only child. Chris is adopted as well. His genetic history is somewhat of a mystery. However, we do know that Chris was and is very loved and very wanted.

There is a child in the Bible that was also very loved and very much wanted. Although Isaac was not adopted, he was the only child of Abraham and Sarah. For years they had longed for a babe to love and hold. God kept His promise to Abraham and Sarah (after a series of mishaps on both parts) by allowing Sarah to conceive at the age of 90 years old. I can not even imagine how she must have felt knowing at the age of 90 she was going to have a baby! How crazy is that? God showed complete and utter grace in this situation. Sarah is one of only two females listed in the Hall of Fame of Faith listed in Hebrews chapter 11. Verse 11 (NIV) says, “And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.” 

Genesis 22:2 adds, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” God continued on to command him to take two servants, a donkey, and set off on the 50-mile journey to the region of Moriah. God was asking Abraham for the ultimate sacrifice. What was God thinking? Asking Abraham to give his only son as a sacrifice instead of a clean lamb was just too much! Yet, in John 3:16 God did that very thing, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Jesus, God’s Son was the ultimate sacrifice. He was offered up for us.

To make his son, Isaac, an offering was a test of character, will, and faith of Abraham. Earlier in Genesis, God specifically said that the promise would be through Isaac (Genesis 21:12). Abraham remained obedient. There was hope.

Genesis 22:8 says,‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.” Abraham, Isaac’s dad, was proceeding in faith toward the sacrifice and trusted that God would provide for them. That my friend is real faith. God did provide. God always provides. Whether it is a ram in the bushes, extra money to cover a bill, a child that a desperate couple desires, or a husband for your eldest daughter (Chris), He is faithful. Will you be obedient and trust God to provide for you, too?

Office: 8393 E. Holly Rd. Holly, MI 48442 | 248.328.0490 |

Copyright © 2016 The River Church. All Rights Reserved.