Sunday, October 11, 2020

An Act of Love

 If you truly want to show love to someone, learn how to listen to them. 

After over fifty years of marriage, I have learned that when my wife has a problem that she wants to tell me about; she does not want me to fix it for her. She wants me to just listen. Still, I can’t resist the urge to fix her. I want to analyze the problem and propose a solution. 

Wrong! She wants to share how she feels and just wants me to listen. 

Listening is an act of love, it's one of the greatest acts of love that we can give to another person. estimates we will spend over $238 billion in 2020 for mental health services in the US alone.

That includes payment to hospitals, psychologists, and psychiatric services, but doesn’t include voluntary services of church and clergy. Ordinary people who are good listeners could reduce or eliminate much of these costs.

We all have a story to tell. This year has been wild, a pandemic, racial unrest, political intrigue, and an overactive hurricane season. Survivors of catastrophic events have a story to tell and need a place where they can share. Survivors of violence, abuse, and danger all have stories to tell and telling is cathartic.

 Recently I watched an Internet podcast by a survivor of a recent hurricane as they described the storm and its aftermath. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think about my own experiences of Camile, Katrina, and several other lesser storms. 

As I listened, I kept thinking, “I'd love to tell him about my dealing with Katrina.” For a moment I considered sending them a comment with my story. Then I realized what I was doing, yes I had a story, but this was their story to tell and I must give them the courtesy of listening.

I’m sure that survivors of earlier epidemics, when hearing survivors of our recent pandemic share their stories, are anxious to tell their story. Survivors of the Titanic must have been chafing at the bit while listening to the Andrea Doria survivors forty years later telling their stories, and survivors of the Swine Fly pandemic of 2009-20010 which infected over one and a half billion people, want to tell their story while listening to the COVID-19 survivors tell their story.

We don't listen to other people because we are thinking about the story we want to tell them and waiting for the opportunity to jump in when they slow down or pause for a second. 

That reminds me of a story I once heard about a man that survived the Johnstown flood on May 31, 1889 which killed over twenty-two hundred people when a dam broke. This survivor always wanted to tell his story of survival, but people kept putting him off. He died seventy-five years later without ever telling his story. When he arrives in heaven, he thinks, “This is heaven I know I can tell my story here.

 So he talks to Saint Peter who seems to be in charge and Saint Peter says, “That's wonderful, we have a time where people get to share their stories of bravery and survival and you can tell your story. I'll just check the schedule and plug you in at the next opening.”

 Later,  Saint Peter comes up to the man and tells him he is on the schedule. “You are on the schedule to tell of your survival in the Johnstown flood. That's the good news.”

The man stared at  Peter with a quizzical look on his face and asked, “Good news? Is there bad news? What's the bad news?

Peter responded, “You will share right after Noah tells his story.”

 It's so hard to listen to others while we wait to insert our comments. That's why communications has become so garbled in our modern world. We do not seriously listen and that is why we cannot get along. Our minds are too busy thinking about what we want to that we can't hear others. When we cannot hear what they are saying, we misunderstand and jump too often false conclusions. It would be a different world and we would all get along better if we could listen better.

Listening is valuing others. When we listen to others, we give clear evidence that we value what they have to say, and therefore value them. 

Proverbs 12:15 Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice (NRSV)

James 1:19 So then my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.

How we listen and respond

Romans 12:15-17 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.”

Humility sensitizes our spiritual hearing, whereas pride dulls our ability to hear. 

Wouldn't it be great if we started a ministry of listening, listening without an agenda, listening without trying to tell our story, can we do this? 

I don't know,

but we need to try. The next time your best friend, spouse, child, or parent wants to tell you something, try to listen;

  •  Listen without thinking about what you're going to say, 
  • Listen without disagreeing 
  • Listen without interrupting 
  • Listen with your mind, listen with your soul,  listen with your heart. 
  • Try to understand what they're saying.
  • Try to understand what they're feeling. 
  • Try to understand them in this way and you will be showing them great love. 

You will probably eliminate a lot of arguments and you might learn to love them deeper hand 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Truth or consequences II

[ I originally wrote this article in 2003, but felt it is worthy of repeating

Bill Johnson]

When I was a child growing up there was a radio program and later it was placed on television, named “Truth or Consequences”.  They gave contestants difficult, sometimes impossible questions to answer.  If they failed to tell the truth - gave the wring answer - they had to pay the consequences.  The consequences were to perform some embarrassing acts that required suffering.  There had no choice, if they missed, they had to pay the consequences.  After they paid the consequences, they received a prize for their efforts.

 I grew up realizing that all of my actions had consequences - some were good and some bad.  It was a simpler time.

 Our neighbor’s chicken house intrigued me and my friend Norman. We loved to go in and scare the chickens.  It was fun to watch them squawk and fly away as we invaded their privacy.  Once, a chicken flew into a window that was not open, breaking the pane and causing a cut on the chicken's leg which bled profusely. We tried to sneak quietly away, but got caught. Before I got home, my grandfather was waiting for me ready to mete out a stiff penalty.  We had to pay the consequences for our mischief.

 Fate was against me, every time I did something bad, I got caught and had to pay the consequences. Cheating in school was not an option. I was a terrible liar, so I always got caught.

The thought of consequences was a strong deterrent to bad actions. I had heard gruesome stories and watched those dark videos in school about the consequences of sexually transmitted diseases, and that was before AIDS became common. 

The deterrent for bad behavior was that you would always be caught and then there would be consequences to pay. 

Our society has changed. Today there is a laxity in enforcing the rules and even civil law.  

Now imagine a basketball or football game without referees. And you can visualize the problem. The biggest or meanest kid wins.

 Several years ago, a new police chief came to town to try to make a dent in the growing crime rate.  One of his first orders was to enforce all laws, including the speed limit on the Interstate Highway during the morning rush hour.

You could hear the squawks of all those decent citizens, “We hired you to put an end to the growing crime rate, not bother us upright citizens.” 

What the people didn't realize was that upholding the law does not mean to let lesser kinds of lawlessness pass and then stop it when it gets violent.  If there is no consequence to a minor infraction, people will continue to push the envelop until they get stopped and have to face consequences.  Once you go too far into lawlessness, it is difficult to stop.

Our society insists upon eliminating the consequences for whatever actions people want to take. Today, rather than face the consequences, society provides ways of reducing the consequences. Abortion has become an easy way to eliminate the consequences of extra-marital sex. 

Today we are fighting Islamic fundamentalist terrorism on our own shores. Suicide bombers do not mind blowing themselves up as long as they take people with them.  In their mind, the consequences for their actions are a blessing in heaven.

We have to take another look at consequences.  If you don't tell the truth, you have to face the consequences.  If you destroy someone else's property, there must be consequences. Most people realize that there are many factors which cause an individual to take part in riots, looting, violence, and other anti-social activities, but there have to be consequences for these acts. Some would rather blame society for creating the atmosphere in which they take theses actions. It does not matter why people do these things, it is their choice. But there must be consequences for their actions. 

Changing people is not accomplished by allowing them to escape the consequences of their actions, but by ensuring that there are consequences.



Thursday, August 27, 2020

My Desert Storm

 As I am writing this, Hurricane Laura is closing in on the Louisiana Gulf Coast,  and it makes me wonder, "Why." 

Why do we have storms? Is there any prophetic meaning in them? Some writers have speculated that it is God's vengeance on sin, but I am not so sure about that. I do believe that there is a correlation between the physical world and the spiritual realm. However, it's far more complex than simply attributing disasters to God's vengeance. 

We need to pay attention to these signs and learn from them.

I never knew what trusting God meant until the day I lost my eyesight during "Operation Desert Storm." No, I wasn’t in that war in Iraq. In fact, it had been over twenty years since I wore a uniform. We were thousands of miles away in Southern California, a few miles from the back gate of Camp Pendelton, the home of the 1st Marine Division which was fighting in Iraq. We were leading a renewal event at a church in Vista, CA. where many of the families were praying for their loved ones deployed to the Middle East. 

Driving through the glaring sun and afternoon heat of the San Pasqual Valley on highway 78, my friend Mylon was driving while I navigated. We were on our way to visit an elderly family who were unable to attend our meetings because of illness. I had directions on the border of a local map that now lay in my lap. Suddenly, something unexplainable happened. 

Like most sighted people, I took my vision for granted. Eyesight is important for reading, viewing a computer screen, observing nature, and people watching.  I love the changing colors of fall, the snow-covered trees in winter, and the vibrant blossoms breaking forth in spring. It is a spiritual experience as God reveals Himself through His creation. When you can't see these things, a large part of your life disappears,

One minute all was fine. The next minute, I could not see. The map in my lap disappeared into a black abyss. Looking up to the road ahead, all I could see was a halo of kaleidoscopic colors with a dark center. 

My immediate reaction was not fear or panic, but curiosity as I analyzed the situation. I shut my right eye, leaving the left open, then reversed the order. There was no difference. Whatever happened had happened to both eyes. I leaned back in my seat, closed my eyes, and told Mylon he would have to get us to our destination by himself. I remembered enough of the map to give some help. Mylon wanted to take me to the hospital immediately, but I refused.

"No, we have to see these people. There will time later to see a doctor."

We Arrived at our destination, and Mylon led me to the front door. Our host invited us in and down a cool, dark hallway. It felt good after the bright sun and dusty Santa Ana winds outside. As we passed into a well-lit bedroom, our host introduced us to his sister, laying in the bed. 

Somewhere between the front door and the bedroom, my sight had returned to normal. 

As we visited, we discovered that the man was visually impaired. He explained that he lost his sight after finishing a round of golf when he bent over to retrieve his ball. Instantly, he lost his sight. He described his blindness as seeing colors and figures around the periphery, but the center of his vision was like a black hole. It was identical to my recent experience. He seemed content with his condition and admitted that it had given him opportunities to develop relationships in the church that would not have happened if his sight was normal. 

We felt that my experience might have been a sign that we were to pray for the man's eyesight to return. We did, but had no sense that God was healing him. We also prayed for God to heal his sister, which had an immediate effect. As far as we know, the man is still without sight, but his sister was up and walking the next day for the first time in several months.

I am not sure what happened that day, but three possibilities come immediately to mind.  

1.  God allowed me to experience the man’s condition so I would be more understanding and know how to pray for him; 

2. I experienced the same condition, and God healed me instantaneously.  

3. The Lord sent a storm into my life to get my attention.

Theologically, it makes a difference which of these is true, but to me it doesn't really matter.

I learned a very valuable lesson.

Rita and I had been following Christ for several years, we were ministering beyond the local church, leading conferences and training events, and I was preparing for full-time ministry.  

Like many, I trusted God, but fear held me back from freely following the Lord. I was playing it safe. If I kept one foot planted firmly on the ground over which I had control, I could stretch the other foot out over the rough waters of uncertainty.  Like Peter hearing the Lord's voice and trying to walk on water, I wanted to take the big step, but fear prevented it.

Then on that day I lost my sight, I came face to face with the realization of my vulnerability; How could I trust myself to be in control if I could not protect myself from losing something valuable, like my eyesight? Everything I had could be taken from me in a second. 

We live in a dangerous world, pandemics, wars, violence, and severe weather. We are not in control, but we cannot just hide from trouble, we have to live life. So let's trust in God, not just for our eternal destiny, but for our life here and now.

I had to trust God for everything. That day, I decided to no longer play it safe. I would follow the Lord wherever He led. 

That very day, the war in the Persian Gulf ended, and California's longest drought in recorded history ended. 

Within a month, we made decisions that forever changed our life.

When God calls, it is time to take on tasks that will stretch you beyond your comfort zone, so that you become dependent upon Him. Take such action that if He doesn't show up, you will fail dismally.

It is well worth the trip. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

When Storm Clouds Gather

It was a great day for sailing. A steady six knot offshore breeze was just enough to keep us comfortable as we anchored a thousand yards out in the Mississippi Sound observing the sailboat races sponsored by the Pascagoula Yacht Club. 

Our boat was a twenty-three foot John Allmand, Ticonderoga we named “Myrioko,” meaning “attraction” or “fascination.” It had been my dream to own a boat, and then living on the Gulf Coast, my dream had become a reality. 

My crew that day consisted of a couple of friends and a Seaman 1st class from Coast Guard Station, Pascagoula. As an active member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, we were on the rotation for patrol one weekend each month. This was our weekend and our assignment was to monitor the sailboat races. At about four PM, most of the larger sailboats had finished and their crews were back at the club eating and having some adult beverages as the children and youth continued tracing in their Sunfish and other smaller sailing craft. 

On such a beautiful calm day, what could go wrong?

The time it took from my spotting the wall cloud until it hit the race course was less than three minutes. We raised the anchor, pointed the bow into the wind and prepared to ride out the storm. The wind, rain, and hail rammed us like we had run into a wall and the temperature dropped twenty degrees. I climbed down from the flying bridge and took control in the cabin. 

The radio blasted a frantic message from shore, “Boats over - kids in the water!” The “Myrioku” held steady as the Chrysler 350 I/O  kicked in and held us straight on course to the first capsized Sunfish. As we pulled alongside and pulled the young sailor from the water, he appeared to be in shock as they wrapped him in blankets and lay him on bed. Then we received directions to the next boat. By this time the rain was so intense the wipers could not keep up, I was flying blind. We had to steer by compass and get directions from the crew on deck. I had never been aboard a small boat like this in such a storm. In fact, I am not sure I have ever been outside in that kind of storm. It was sheer terror all the while the storm lasted. The adrenalin was pumping, and we had a job to do. But I did not feel capable in handling it, nor was I sure my boat could perform. All I could do was pray, ask the Lord to guide me. and trust those around me.

When the storm had passed, I was proud of the “Myrioko” and how she had  stood up to the storm. On the other hand, I was a mess physically and emotionally. But we had done all we were asked to do with six scared young sailors on board, wrapped in blankets, and still shaking from the now chilly air or their extreme ordeal. We were headed back to the Yacht club, to reunite the kids with their parents, when we received a radio call to go help an eighteen foot catamaran that had been turned upside down close to shore, about a quarter mile away.

It was an interesting sight, this catamaran with its mast stuck in the sand and two would be sailors wading in the waist deep water. We got as close as we felt was safe and threw them a line. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, we were able to right their ship and offer them a tow back to the club house as the winds had quit entirely. As true sailors, they refused a tow from a "stinkpot" and thanked us for our help. We returned to the Yacht Club with our precious cargo.

That was a day, I will never forget, and it taught me several life lessons:

1.  There will always be intense storms in your life.

2.  They will not last forever, they will pass almost as quick as they arrive.

3.  You do not know how strong you are until you are tested by the storm.

4.  You are much stronger than you believe you are.

5. When in the midst of a storm, keep moving into the storm. Meet it head on. If you try to run from it, or hide from it, it will hurt you.

6. Always, always have positive people around you that you trust to help, encourage, and support you.

I invite your comments.

Bill Johnson

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Stop Worrying - It doesn't help!

Ever since I can remember, I have been a foodie and collector of restaurants, always seeking a novel experience. In a previous life, traveling was part of my job description and dining on an expense account a perk. The places I remember most are the ones with the best food, service, and atmosphere. For instance,  Keen’s Chophouse in New York City, served a calves liver steak that was out of this world, and after dinner I could call for tobacco and my churchwarden pipe, which hung from the ceiling along with those of Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt, Will Rogers, and many thousands more. 

The Longfellow House in Pascagoula, MS,  where the poet presumably wrote some of his best stuff, served a Crabmeat au gratin you would die for. Who says you don’t mix cheese with seafood? Then there was; She Crab Soup at the Kitty Knight House on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; Prime Rib and strawberry shortcake at Boston’s Durgin Park; Pompano en papillote at Antoine's and  Eggs Hussarde for breakfast at Brennan’s both in New Orleans. 

Each fine dining experience left a lasting impression, but one changed my life. 

That one dining experience had a spiritual impact that kept drawing me back. The setting was so exceptional that I don't even remember the food, although I am sure it was great.

Two miles inland from Kaneohe Bay on the windward side of Hawaii’s island of Oahu lies the Haiku Gardens and its restaurant, Haleiwa Joe’s. Entering the restaurant, the hostess will lead you around an enormous salad bar - with many tropical fruits and salad mixings - then if you are lucky - out to the lanai where your table overlooks the gardens below and the mountains in the distance. The gardens are set on the rim of a long extinct volcano, where bright colorful flowers grow wild in the lush jungle. 

Everything not blooming was a brilliant shade of green. I had never seen the variety of colors outside a flower show. Hundreds of black Mynah birds, boldly visited the diners and enjoyed the crumbs on the floor. Some even landed on tables and attempted to eat off plates. About one hundred below, on the floor of the crater, was an acre of clearing. The grass in the clearing was neatly cut. The gardener had piled grass clippings in one corner waiting burning.

 In the clearing was a small pond with a gazebo. A foot bridge allowed people to walk out to the gazebo. On that first visit, there was a wedding in the gazebo, and we had a ring-side seat. 

The entire vista felt like landing in the Garden of Eden. Immersed in the peace and beauty of the setting, Jesus' instruction in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 12 came to mind;
Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the [MYNAH’s]: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 

Jesus prescribes the proper attitude of His followers. It is a warning against worry. He tells them not to worry about their life.

Is this possible?

Fear and worry are intertwined. In these unsettling days there is cause for concern for our health and wellbeing. When there is fear, we worry. When we fear that our needs will not be met, we worry. When we are not in control we worry. Worry is the fear of insufficiency.

Jesus gives us a loving command, “Do not worry!”

We often fail to appreciate what damage worry does in our lives. Research clearly shows that stress deteriorates our immune systems; people under constant or high stress show lower T-cell counts, essential for immune response. Stress has a definite effect fertility. Prolonged stress affects the brain, it makes a person less able to respond to future stress. Stress is also related to sudden heart failure.

We don't have to point out that these are stressful times in our nation and in the world. Everyone feels stressed from time to time, over half of all Americans say they feel stressed out at least once a week. Only ten percent say they never feel stressed.

Myna birds picking up crumbs under my table at Haleiwa Joe’s didn't worry where their next meal was coming from. God sees to it that they have food. If the restaurant closed, they would go back to feeding off the plants and trees in the jungle below.

Worry doesn’t stop because we close our eyes to our circumstances, but because we know a loving God is greater than all our needs. Worry is not productive, the stress it brings in our life does nothing but destroy. Trusting in God makes sense; if He takes such good care of the birds, the flowers, and the grass, won’t He take care of us, His children? Worry can’t make you live longer, and worry can’t make you any taller. If it is futile to worry about small things that are out of our control, it is even more futile to worry about big things even further out of our control.

Instead of worrying, Jesus wants us to have a child-like faith in Him. Children don’t worry about paying the bills, or such things. They live lives of simple trust in their parents. 

God cares for the flowers, but every day is not sun and sweetness for the flowers. If every day was sunny without clouds and rain, the flowers would die quickly.

God’s intention is that your attention be on His kingdom and His treasure, not the treasures of this world. 

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.     

But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. 

We can seek God in what we do every day; For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The correlation between where your heart is and where your treasure is isn’t a suggestion; it is a simple fact. If you regard your material possessions as your treasure, then your heart is set here on this earth.

How can we ignore all the worries and seek His kingdom? Do not hold on to any physical thing too tightly, hold on to eternal things.

It was not too long after my first visit to Haiku Gardens that an incident that could have devastated me, tested my renewed faith. I lost my eyesight for almost an hour while on a mission trip, While I have to admit I was concerned, but did not panic. 

Believe that God loves you and wants the very best for you!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

What ever happened to her?

When you read about a character in the bible, don't you often wonder, "What ever happened to them?" Like: whatever happened to the Good Samaritan, whatever happened to the Demoniac after Jesus left town, or what became of the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well? 

I think that would make for some interesting blog material.

Radio personality and newscaster Paul Harvey had a program I loved and tried not to miss. Its was  called, "The rest of the Story." In this five-minute segment, he would discuss significant events in the life of a well-known person, and then - after a commercial - he would tell an amazing story about the person that was mostly unknown.

John the Evangelist describes the event when Jesus met a woman at "Jacob's Well" near the Samaritan town of Sychar, He showed His love by engaging her in a serious conversation. As a Samaritan, she was an outcast and unclean with five unsuccessful marriages, and was now living with a man who is not her husband. She had little to recommend her to Jesus. But He saw beyond her disqualifications. He saw her as one created for true love. He saw beyond her sin. Jesus saw her as one destined for a genuine relationship with God and with her fellow humanity. Jesus knew she was a bearer of His image and likeness. He beheld the accurate image in her. Despite her brokenness, He saw her as one created for a worshipful union with God and complete relationships with others. He invited her to partake of the living water of His love. 

We read in John's Gospel how this woman went into town and proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah to all who would listen, but did you ever wonder whatever happened to her after this encounter with Jesus?

Here is the rest of the story.

Baptized on Pentecost along with her five sisters and two sons, she took the name Photini meaning the enlightened one and followed the apostle John. 

She then began a missionary career, traveling far and wide, preaching the good news of the Messiah's coming, His death and resurrection. When Nero, the emperor of Rome, persecuted Christians, Photini and her son Joseph were in Carthage, in Africa, where she was preaching the Christian gospel. After Jesus appeared to Photini in a dream, she sailed to Rome. Her son and many Christians from Africa accompanied her. Photini's arrival and activity aroused curiosity in the capital city. Everyone talked about her, "Who is this woman?" they asked. "She came here with a crowd of followers and she preaches Christ with great boldness."

When Nero, the emperor of Rome, persecuted Christians, Photini and her son Joseph were in Carthage, in Africa, where she was preaching the Christian gospel. After Jesus appeared to Photini in a dream, she sailed to Rome. Her son and many Christians from Africa accompanied her. Photini's arrival and activity aroused curiosity in the capital city. Everyone talked about her, "Who is this woman?" they asked. "She came here with a crowd of followers and she preaches Christ with great boldness."

Nero ordered his soldiers to bring her to him, but Photini expected them. Before they could arrest her, Photini, with her son Joseph and her Christian friends, went to Nero. When the emperor saw them, he asked why they had come. Photini answered, "We have come to teach you to believe in Christ." The half-mad ruler of the Roman Empire did not frighten her. She wanted to convert him! Nero asked the saints their names. Again Photini answered. By name she introduced herself, her five sisters and younger son. The emperor then demanded to know whether they had all agreed to die for the Nazarene. Photini spoke for them. "Yes, for the love of Him we rejoice and in His name we'll gladly die." Hearing their defiant words, Nero ordered their hands beaten with iron rods for three hours. At the end of each hour another persecutor took up the beating. The saints, however, felt no pain. Nothing happened to their hands. Photini joyfully quoted words of a psalm by David: "God is my help. No matter what anyone does to me, I shall not be afraid." Perplexed by the Christian's endurance and confidence, Nero ordered the men thrown into jail. Photini and her five sisters were brought to the golden reception hall in the imperial palace. There, the six women were seated on golden thrones, In front of them stood a large golden table covered with gold coins, jewels and dresses. Nero hoped to tempt the women by this display of wealth and luxury. Nero then ordered his daughter Domnina, with her slave girls, to go speak with the Christian women. Women, he thought, would succeed in persuading their Christian sisters to deny their God.

Domnina greeted Photini graciously, mentioning the name of Christ. On hearing the princess' greeting, the saint thanked God. She then embraced and kissed Domnina. The women talked. But the outcome of the women's talk was not what Nero wished.

Photini catechized Domnina and her hundred slave girls and baptized them all. She gave the name Anthousa to Nero's daughter. After her baptism, Anthousa immediately ordered all the gold and jewels on the golden table distributed to the poor of Rome.

When the emperor heard that his own daughter was converted to Christianity, he condemned Photini and all her companions to death by fire. For seven days the furnace burned, but when the door of the furnace was opened, the fire had not harmed the saints. Next the emperor tried to destroy the saints with poison, Photini offered to be the first to drink it. "O King," she said, "I will drink the poison first so you might see the power of my Christ and God." All the saints then drank the poison after her. None suffered any ill effects from it. In vain Nero subjected Photini, her sisters, sons and friends to every known torture. The saints survived unscathed to taunt and ridicule their persecutor. For three years they were held in a Roman prison. Saint Photini transformed it into a "house of God." Many Romans came to the prison, were converted and baptized. Finally, the enraged tyrant had all the saints, except for Photini, beheaded. She was thrown first into a deep, dry well and then into prison again. Photini now grieved that she was alone, that she had not received the crown of martyrdom together with her five sisters, Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve and Kyriake and her two sons, Photeinos and Joseph. Night and day she prayed for release from this life. One night, God appeared to her, made the sign of the cross over her three times. The vision filled her with joy. Many days later, while she hymned and blessed God, Saint Photini gave her soul into God's hands. The Samaritan Woman conversed with Christ by the well of Jacob, near the city of Sychar. She drank of the "living water" and gained everlasting life and glory. 

That is the rest of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well who, when she encountered Jesus, her entire life changed forever. 

The love of God has the power to transform our entire being.

Do you have a life story to add that we can use in "The Rest of the Story?" If you do, visit and click on the "rest of the story" in the menu. And pick up a free book while you are there.

Bill Johnson

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Cost of Control

It was a cloudless day in San Diego’s Mission Gorge area. The marine layer had burned off early and it was another beautiful day in paradise. My spirits were high, and I was overflowing with the love of God. It was Monday, but very different from the rest of my Mondays at work. After returning from a men’s retreat over the weekend, I was basking in the afterglow of God’s presence. Morning had arrived too early, but lack of sleep could not destroy my sense of joy. At the office, most of the team was off on assignment so I dug into routine items that needed my attention, avoiding serious stuff.

At lunch time I took a leisurely walk down Mission Gorge to the Soup Plantation restaurant and for soup and a salad. Grabbing a tray and an enormous salad platter, I fell into line behind two well-dressed men having a rather animated conversation about Jesus. They were joyfully proclaiming the greatness of God and His work in their lives. While talking between themselves, their volume was loud enough to be heard by most people in line.  After paying the cashier, they sat down at a table in a corner. A desire to stay near their joyful enthusiasm led me to take the table right next to them..

After they sat down,  prayed, and ate, there was a drastic change in their moods. The loud joyful praise turned into a serious, subdued discussion, and their countenance transformed.

Suddenly I wanted to crawl under the table or sneak away without being seen. But God had other plans. He had a lesson for me to learn, but it took several months for me to understand what I heard and saw. There was no voice or outward manifestation but deep within my spirit there was a sense as if the Lord said to me, 

“Pay attention, this is important, I want to teach you something.”

Seated about six feet away and slightly behind them, one man was facing toward me, while the other had his back to me. I was only getting one side of the conversation, but eerily I heard from the man with his back to me while I missed what the man facing me said. I realized these men were pastors and the one whose back was to me was seeking counsel from the man facing me. Hearing only one side of the conversation was strange but revealing. To this day, I remember the exact words spoken by the pastor with his back to me.

“I know now why my church is having so much trouble, the members do not submit to me as their pastor.”

After more discussion he made a second memorable declaration, “The trouble with my family results from my wife not submitting to me as her husband.”

Almost immediately, I sensed a different voice speaking to me from some-where inside of me, “This man does not submit to God.” 

Fresh from a spirit-filled weekend with other spirit-filled believers, I was ready for anything. Being shy, I avoid confrontation, but today, on this day, if need be, I could go to that man, point my finger in his face, and declare, “You are having these problems because you do not submit to God.”

Then I remembered the earlier words, 

“Pay attention, this is important, I want to teach you something.”

That incident occurred over 20 years ago, and I am still learning its lesson.  When we get insight from the Lord, we like to share it, even when it is just for us. That evening at a home group meeting, a lady complained about her financial problems. (She had financial issues for years.)

Armed with my noon-time revelation, it compelled me to share my insight, “You are having financial problems because you have not submitted your finances to God.”

The woman’s face turned purple with anger and my wife looked at me as if I had just committed the unpardonable sin.

The meeting ended abruptly, but there was no escaping the woman’s wrath. She was our neighbor and was our ride home.

I had several more opportunities to give away my new insight but decided not to share. Then one day, unexpectedly, it hit me. Rita and I were driving up Balboa Avenue on our way to lunch when a light bulb lit up my mind. Slamming the dashboard with my right hand must have scared Rita, as I shouted, “I finally got it!” 

God protects that that belongs to Him. What does not belong to Him, He is not as much inclined to protect.

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. [James 4:7 (NKJV)]

The lesson God had been trying to teach me was now clear. The enemy of our soul is able to attack us in the areas of our lives that we have not submitted to God.

It is as if we are under God’s umbrella of protection as long as we let Him be in control, but when we tell Him that we would rather do it our way, He may back away and say, “Okay, go for it.” 

That is where we get in trouble - not submitting ourselves to God.

The word "Submission" evokes images of abuse and the sense of becoming a doormat. Yet both the Old and New Testaments show there are great benefits in submitting to God.[1]

The word translated as “submission” in the NT means to place or arrange under like products arranged on a display-table, or an army deployed ready for battle. Submission is also used to accept someone’s admonition or advice.

In our lives we often submit to our boss, the government, our spouse, our pastor, or a spiritual authority. We also submit to our possessions, pride, and sin.

Jesus Himself submitted to the Father. He did not do it from weakness but from strength. Our submission must be as Jesus modeled. Submission is not becoming a doormat. Submission is more like an elevator.

An elevator lifts things up. As we submit to God, we elevate Him. When we submit to our spouse, we elevate him or her to a higher position. The purpose of submission is elevation or exaltation. As we submit to God, we exalt Him.

The entire basis of submission is not control but love.

There is an enormous difference between obedience and submission. Think "Passive Aggressive." 

You can obey without submitting.

As we submit to God, we elevate Him above our agenda. As we submit to our spouse, we elevate him or her above our wants.

Submission is the cure for our control issues.

[1] Job 22:21; James 4:6-8

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Who will Survive

When the storms of life hit us, who will survive?

We live in a world where storms continue to torment the populous. Our storms are war, disease, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts,  wildfires, etc. All impact the physical, mental, and economic health of everyone in their path. They not only kill and destroy, but they affect our minds and attitudes. Today we faced the deadly COVID 19 pandemic with no geographical boundaries in our modern mobile society.

Lets face it, we live on a dangerous planet with hazard all around us. So how do we live with a major threat hanging over us? How do we keep our sanity when walking through this minefield called life?

In 2018, the number of deaths attributed to various conditions are shown below:
  • Heart disease: 647,457.
  • Cancer: 599,108.
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936.
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201.
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404.
  • Diabetes: 83,564.
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 55,672.

Survival formula

1. Maintain Flexibility

We lived in the state of Mississippi for many years during which we encountered dangerous tornadoes and hurricanes, including the famous names, “Betsy,” “Katrina” and “Camille.” But we survived many lesser and unnamed events. In the aftermath of these destructive storms, we gained insight on some important facts that can help us navigate the current pandemic.

Surveying the damage after the storm reveals a pattern of total destruction and repairable damage. They topple immense trees with their roots pulled right out of the ground, while nearby trees lost a few limbs and leaves. Earthquakes tear up highways and their bridges and viaducts while leaving some roads free from damage. 

What is the difference? Flexibility!

Flexible trees, roadbeds and buildings survive because they move with the wind while more rigid structures break or pull away. If we are rigid in our attitudes, lifestyles, or theologies, we are heading for a fall which could be disastrous. 

In the Old Testament, The Lord refers to the disobedient Jews as a “Stiff-necked people.” The Still-necked” are the ones who seem to receive the most trials.

In his famous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle.” Mohamed Ali defeated George Foreman by using the “Rope a Dope,” technique. Rather than coming out fighting as his regular boxing plan, Ali took a defensive position, with his back against the ropes, allowing Foreman to tire himself out by landing many ineffective punches. When Foreman became tired, it was easy for Ali to land the decisive blows. When we are hit by the storms of life, a new strategy might be to take up a protective stance, ride out the storm, and then when it abates, be victorious.

In November 2010, a biopsy revealed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The cancerous tumor had wrapped itself around a saliva gland. A simple thirty minute outpatient surgery lasted nine hours. The doctors followed this with several months of Chemo. We took up our defensive posture. Following the advice of doctors and cancer survivors, we changed much of our lifestyle and the foods we ate. And we maintained a positive attitude about the whole process. Two years later, Dr Bobby Graham declared me cured.

Today we are in the vulnerable class. So Rita and I are “Rope a Doping.” We have taken up a defensive position at home and only go out occasionally to pick up our on-line order at Walmart, or med.’s at the local drugstore.

2. Be Teachable

Maintaining flexibility requires that we be teachable. One of the things that has frustrated the many during the current pandemic is that the rules keep changing. What the more rigid of us fail to realize is that this virus is new and even the virologists are still learning things about it.

The Old Testament prophet Jonah was running away from God’s call. He got on a ship heading in the opposite direction - to Tarsus. A terrible storm came up that threatened the entire ship - its passengers, crew, and cargo. When Jonah realized his disobedience caused the storm, he told the crew, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”[ Jonah 1:12 (NKJV)] Jonah became teachable.
After every major event, pandemic, hurricane, or other disaster there is a time for asking how did this happen, why did it happen, and how do we avoid a repeat? When you travel the coast after a major hurricane, you can see the changes being made. There are normally two distinct forms of remediation. The first is the “brute force” method which requires a redesign of buildings to withstand the forces of wind and surf expected in a hundred years. The second action which is even more effective is avoidance. Don’t build in the affected areas, and build on stilts, etc.

With COVID 19, there will be vaccines to prevent outbreaks, treatments, and social recommendations. Since all this is new, we have to remain teachable as the science develops.

3. Be Humble

Humility is a heavenly sanctuary to shield us from looking upon our accomplishments. Humility is a depth of self-effacement, which no robber can attain. Humility is a mighty tower in the face of the foe.[Climacus, John. The Ladder of Divine Ascent]

Humility is the cure for depression, judging our neighbor, undue envy, hardness of heart, lust, greed, gluttony, ill-will, hypocrisy, and stubbornness.
Stiff-necked people will not survive.

4. Trust God:

Jesus was with His disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm arose causing the boat to take on water and they were in danger and Jesus was asleep. They came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. But He said to them, “Where is your faith?”[Luke 8:24-25 (NKJV)]

Trusting God does not mean that He will always keep you from harm. Faith in God means you can trust Him because of His unfailing love for us. God is love and nothing can separate us from that love. This does not mean that you will not suffer or eventually die. There is an end to our life on this Earth, but then there is resurrection. Jesus died on the cross and rose again thereby defeating death.

Our faith is believing that God exists and that He loves and cares for those who ardently seek Him.[Hebrews 11:6]

As we go through life, don’t expect it to be free of storms, but always remember what Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. [[John 16;33]

Trust Him, there is no way we can be in control of all things. We can take precautions, but cannot completely control our environment.

Who will survive?

You will if you remain flexible, teachable, humble, and you trust in God.

May the Lord bless you and protect you through this difficult time. 

Bill Johnson

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Love is a four letter word

I notice that today, people are really quick to say, "I LOVE YOU,"  but what do they mean? Do they understand what love means? 

How would you explain love?

This is a trick question, don’t even try to answer it. Whatever you say will be inadequate.

The greatest need of the human heart is for love; to be loved and to be free to love others. Giving and receiving love are the hallmarks of our humanity. In order to truly be human, we must be able to receive love and release it to others.

But, what is Love?
The word “LOVE” is one of the most misunderstood and misused words in the English language. This simple, four-letter word can bring joy, peace, conflict, heartbreak, and disaster. What does it mean to you? That depends on your history, culture and vocabulary. Words are merely symbols - elements of language - that communicate ideas. 

 A group of psychologists delved into the meaning of love by asking a group of children aged 4 to 8 years age what “love” meant.
Their answers are truly amazing:
  • 'When my grandma got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandpa does it for her now all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love..."
  • "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouths."
  • 'Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French Fries without making them give you any of theirs.'
  • "Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.'
  • 'Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
  • "If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate."
  • "Love is when mommy gives daddy the best piece of chicken.
  • "Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."
  • "When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you."
  • "You really shouldn't say ‘I LOVE YOU’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget."

Writers have attempted to define love in popular songs, motion pictures, and romantic fiction and it almost always involves getting our own needs met. Love is a warm puppy, a chocolate sundae, not having to say I'm sorry. 

Many of us look at love based upon what we can get out of the relationship;
  • “I will give if I am going to get.”
  • “He makes me feel so good!”
  • “I love the way that ice cream tasted.”
  • “She is so nice to me.”

 If we are truly honest, most of us would define love in terms of getting our own needs met. Even a generous act of giving to others is often based upon an expectation of what we will receive in return. When someone offers us attention, significance, or pleasure, we eagerly give, with the expectation that we will get what we so desperately want or need. But that is not love - that is selfish and manipulative. Even eight-year-old kids have a better understanding of love. 

Love involves giving, giving beyond oneself. It means putting another's needs ahead of our own. Love is the freedom to see beyond oneself in order to see another, not to see them as an object to meet my personal needs. Love sees another as a person worthy of love.

1 John 4:8 (NKJV) He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 

If God is love, our ability to understand LOVE is dependant upon our understanding of God.

Early church monastic, St John of The Ladder, examines the means of ascending to the highest degree of religious perfection by a series of thirty steps. Each step recalls a year of the life of Christ. The most holy example of religious perfection is achieved at step number thirty -”Love.”

The angels know how to discuss love, but even they are only able to do this according to their level of understanding. God is love, so the one who desires to describe this, attempts with dim eyes to weigh the sand in the sea. Love, from its very essence, is the likeness of God. As much as it possible for humans, in its action it is intoxication of the soul, and through its unique characteristic it is a spring of faith, and abyss of long-suffering, an ocean of lowliness. Love is fundamentally the exile of all opposing thoughts, for love thinks nothing evil.[1]

If you want to know love, you must first know God!

[1] The Ladder of Devine Ascent, St John Climacus

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Making the best from working from home?

While most of us are in quarantine and maintaining social distancing, many who still have jobs are working from home. Working from home has both positive and negative issues. It is a great opportunity to grow professionally and relationally, if you do it right.

Twenty-seven years ago, I began working from home and continue to this day.  As a home office veteran, I would like to share some of the things I have learned. It is great to have the freedom to set your own hours, take a break when you want, and not having the boss breathing down your neck. And you can be home with your family to share parenting duties with the “stay at home parent.”

Family dynamics:

After the first few months of working out of my home, I was curtly informed that my wife married me for better or worse, but not for lunch.

With children or without, the family dynamics change when you are home all of the time. Children and spouses have established daily rhythms and your presence in the house will disrupt that rhythm. This is a fact that you will have to understand and accept. There will be conflict over this issue. Be ready for it.


It is very easy to get distracted by family members going about their daily activities, cleaning, taking care of kids, and talking on the phone. You may be interested in what is going on and want to be a part of what they are doing and be distracted. It will take great discipline to avoid these distractions and focus on your work.


Our homes have been places of refuge, places where we can forget work, and a place to kick back and relax in our own comfort space. Now that comfortable place has purposely been converted to the workplace.

Develop a Business Mindset

The first step is to reprogram your mind to believe that you are no longer in your home’s comfort space, but that you are actually at work. When I first began working from home, my home office was in a shed behind the house which made it easier to feel like a business office. But still, it was too close to the house.

In an effort to reorient myself into the business mode, I began to commute to the office. I would get up at the same time I would when I went to a real office, get dressed, eat breakfast, get in my car, drive to the post office to pick up the mail, drive back home and go directly into my office. This set my mind into the business mindset. After years of practice, when I walk into my home office I am in “business mode.”

Establish a place

It is important to set aside a specific place for you to work. If you do not have a room you can set aside for your workspace, you can use a corner of a room.
Make sure that that space is to be used exclusively for business purposes. That is not only important for your mindset, but also for the IRS when you claim a home office deduction.

Keep it clear of personal stuff that may cause a distraction.
Keep your workplace neat.

Set working hours

Set for yourself specific hours to work. While at home, you may have the luxury
of setting your own schedule but make sure that it is consistent day-to-day. You will have the freedom to make adjustments when there are important things that you will want to do. But do not let them permanently interfere with your set schedule. It is easy to let extraneous things, destroy your schedule.

Explain to family

You must explain to your family that just because you are in the house, you are not available for interruptions unless there is an emergency.

Enjoy the benefits of working at home.

Make sure that you treat this time of working from home as a benefit. Enjoy the freedom it gives to you. Enjoy the fact that you are close to your family. Be grateful that you can set your own schedule.

Most of all thank God and your organization, that you still have a job while others are being laid off or furloughed.