Author Archives: Shawna Johnson

Gather • Devotion #6: Pure Joy

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” James 1:2 (NIV)

Wait, what did that say? Let me try that again, “Consider it pure joy” is fine, but “whenever you face trials” is challenging. Is this saying I am supposed to be joyful not only through my trials but because of them? 

We all face struggles and conflicts. Trials are inevitable. Yet, how do we “consider it pure joy?” 

James 1:3 (NIV) continues, “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Trials can be a blessing because we can come out better for it on the other side!

For the first time in my walk with the Lord, I am beginning to understand this concept. I will let you in on a not-so-secret part of my life. I am not always firm in my faith; I waiver. 

This last season, I struggled with depression (another first for me). I began to question myself, and eventually, it turned into questioning God, and even His people. I knew that He was good, and He knew what I was going through, but even still, my faith was wavering. Once I gained the courage to ask for prayer and seek counseling, I was surrounded by reminders that my feelings were not His Truth. No, our feelings do not equal Truth.

God’s Truth is: 

I am created in His image! “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). 

He cares about me so much; He even knows the ridiculous details, like how many hairs I have on my head! “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). 

He knew me before I knew me – and knows me better! “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).

I am, in fact, a child of God. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 NIV).

Finally, that in Him, I am whole. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10 NIV).

I was able to be reminded of all of this because I am surrounded by a community that loves the Lord and loves me.

I wish I had continued to read. I wish I continued to go to gatherings. I wish I continued to pray. However, when I did not, they did. Community is important. God’s Word is important. When we are down, they both can remind us of this, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 NIV).
Now, on the other side of this trial, I can help someone else be reminded of who they are in Christ! Gathering with the church family is important! After all, it is what He calls us to do! “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).

Lesson Twelve • Devotion Devotion #2: Speak Up

God’s Word tells us with grace and love, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).

Have you ever felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to speak up against a potentially sensitive or personal topic? We are talking about speaking the truth of God’s Word with grace and love here, not stating our opinions. Speaking up can be very difficult! Confronting sin, and having tough conversations do not often come easy.

After being led by the Holy Spirit, did you speak up?

Was it received well?

If not, did you then question whether you should have said anything in the first place?

If you have had feelings of regret from either not speaking up when you felt called to, or from questions whether or not you should have, I pray you are encouraged by an example we see from the Apostle Paul.

In the following passage, he is talking to the Corinthians regarding a letter he sent, speaking out against their ungodliness. In 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (NIV), Paul says, “I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you.” Of course, our intention and desire are never to hurt the people we love. This can be a difficult thing to work through, but beauty lies ahead! “Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended.” He goes on to say, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.”

Though difficult, Paul’s letter helped the Corinthians realize their behaviors and ultimately turn them to the Lord! His courage to speak up is what drew them closer to God.

Galatians 6:1 reads, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

“Lord, I pray for the ability to speak Your truth with grace. Help us to be encouraged by one another, have thought-provoking, biblical conversations, and call out sin, ultimately leading each of us closer to You. Thank You for Your Word and thank You for Your Church. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Lesson Five • Devotion #5: Tough Love

Confrontation – Hard Truth – Tough Love

What feelings come over you when you hear these words? Is it anxiety and fear? Is it hope and potential? Whether you are a fan of having difficult conversations or not, I think we can agree that they are important.

While reading 2 Corinthians chapter 2, we see the sadness that overcomes Paul as he writes to those in Corinth. People he loves whom he once rejoiced in the Lord with, have fallen away from the truth of God. In this chapter we see a great example of grace and truth. Paul says in verses 3 and 4, “And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” Essentially, “What in the world are you guys doing? I love you, but also, your current behavior and actions are not something to rejoice.”

Do you have someone in your life that will call you out? Is there someone that loves you enough to confront you, share the hard truth, and exhibit tough love? If not, I encourage you to find someone who will. It may take practice for you to accept this type of tough love as well. It can be difficult to hear our faults brought to light, but the fruit that comes from a friendship like this, one that is truly based in love and wanting God’s best for you, is priceless. We may think we want the advice of the “tell me what I want to hear” friend, but do we in the long run? I can assure you, the answer is, “No.”

Here are a few verses to remind us of the importance of confronting sin, hearing the hard truth, and showing tough love.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” Luke 17:3 

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Galatians 6:1 

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 

The topic is love. We need to love in word and deed. This should not need to be a daily event, but when it is needed, we must be ready to speak or listen.

Lesson Five • Devotion #4: Pleasing Aroma

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (NIV)

If you think about how many people you know and care about who are lost, the weight of it can be completely overwhelming. Just off the top of my head, I can think of many friends and family members who reject the message of Christ. The gravity of that is not lost on me and there are times where it is easy to feel like the weight of eternity is on your shoulders. Praise be to God, that is not the truth.  

This is a challenging passage for me, but in it, Paul tells the people at the church of Corinth that some people will receive the message of Christ as an aroma that gives life. Others will reject it, and therefore, will experience death and separation from God. How people receive the message of Christ is not up to us. What people choose to believe, or not, is not our responsibility. We are called to “spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” What happens past that is beyond our control. The end of the verse asks “who is equal to such a task?” It is surely not you or me, only God Almighty is equal to such a task. God Almighty is the One who can open and change hearts. God Almighty is the One who can use seeds sown years ago to wake a dead heart and bring it into everlasting life. Let us make sure that we are a pleasing aroma to God by continuing to spread His message. The verbiage in this verse reminds me of the Old Testament. All through Leviticus and Numbers, the Lord would describe the offerings that would be received as a “pleasing aroma of Christ.” The Lord can see our hearts, He knows our intents. Let us offer Him our lives, let us spread His message, and let Him receive that offering as a pleasing aroma to Himself. Let us share the aroma of Him with the world so that He is able to use our imperfect selves and our inadequate words to bring life to many.  

Giving • Devotion #6: Sacrificial Worship

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.’” Mark 12: 41-44 (NIV)

This is an interesting concept. The rich people put in larger amounts, so how is it that this woman put in “more?” The woman gave “more” because she sacrificed more. She felt it. She gave “all she had to live on.” Still, she trusted God. The rich people gave larger amounts, but may not have had to sacrifice or potentially even think about what to give.

This concept translates to more than just finances.

Mark 14:3-6 (NIV) says, “While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly. ‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.’” To others, what these women did with their money and their possessions did not make sense. For them, it was an act of worship.

Do we worship with our money, possessions, and time? Do we worship when it might inconvenience us, or make us uncomfortable? Or, do we only do it when it fits into our schedule?I would encourage all of us to take a moment and really try to imagine giving the way these ladies gave. While we do not necessarily have to give up all we own or donate an entire year’s wages, imagine what God could do with us if we trusted Him with everything we have?

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