Author Archives: MJ Johns


Shining Face | Devotion 6: Mountains
MJ Johns

Currently, we are driving through the mountains of Yellowstone Park in Montana and Wyoming to visit our son, Logan who is working here for the summer. I cannot express how breathtaking the views are! Logan is stepping out of his comfort zone to lead people, work hard, preach sermons, and lead worship at the park. It has been a growing experience. Logan is surrounded by an extremely liberal and godless people who do not even know or understand that they are lost. He has also met some Christians that are on fire for God and Christians who loosely follow Jesus and are involved in partying. This has been a disappointment to him, yet he still loves. People are important, but they are not where our hope is found. God’s faithfulness, steadfast love, beauty, and grace have been evident and life-changing to our sweet son! After this summer in the mountains, I dare say, Logan will not be the same young man he was when he left.

After driving through the mountains, hiking through the rough terrain, and huffing and puffing up the steep slopes (the altitude thing is legit), it is so fitting that I am reading about Moses’ mountain experience. As Moses was hiking, I am sure he witnessed similar valleys, rivers, and incredible views like we are seeing.

The highest point in Yellowstone is 11,372 feet. I would love to tell you that we conquered it, but alas, there is just no way (Once again, I blame the altitude, not the fact that I am completely out of shape). Mount Sinai, in Egypt, is 7,497 feet. Moses did hike this. In the Old Testament, God chose this mountain to speak to Moses by giving him the Ten Commandments. However, more importantly, God revealed Himself to Moses.

In Exodus 34:29-35, it says, “When Moses came down from the Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.”

If we are willing to face it, the human being is naturally sinful, vain, lost, hard-hearted, and godless. We all have seen the reckless partying first hand, and the Israelites were not the exception. They had been caught worshipping an idol of a silly golden calf, for goodness sake. Yet, God called Moses to serve these people. When he brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain and spoke to the people of Israel after this encounter with God, he was completely unaware that his face was different. Moses had seen the absolute beauty and glory of our living God and was demonstrating obedience in sharing what had been commanded to him. It actually terrified people to look at his shining face. He put a veil or cloth over it when he spoke to the people so they would not be afraid. What does the glory of God look like? I think this is just beyond my simple comprehension, but I truly believe that God gave Moses an altered appearance on his skin so that the people would know and understand that Yahweh had spoken to him and that these Ten Commandments were for real, “So listen up.”

Here is what I think:

  1. People matter, so love unconditionally (No matter how pagan they are). Be bold. Do not put a veil over the hope we have in God.
  2. Be the voice, the very skin that shows His power, beauty, and forgiveness. Be that light to both those who claim to know Jesus but just “do not get it” and those who are not there yet. We need to allow a completely holy God to make us different, so we do not “blend” into sin.
  3. In 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Paul says basically that Moses was not alone. Jesus also had a big experience on the mountain. Moses shining face was just a taste of what was to come through Jesus Christ. Have confidence and rest in this truth.

After we spend time with God on the mountain or valleys low, we need to take a beat, reflect, wonder, and then shine.

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. 

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