JUST DO YOU

“That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being —Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” (Johns 4:23-24, The Message)

Once as an aspiring writer—still aspiring—a speaker set me free with the words, “just do you.” I struggled for years, not knowing what to write. After teaching Bible study for a long time, fiction seemed trite and unimportant, except it had been my go-to since childhood and probably contributed to my sanity more than anything else.

Those closest to me wonder about the sanity-part.

When I did decide on fiction, I didn’t know what genre to choose. So I went through the list. I don’t dislike Sci-fi, but not a huge fan either. Fantasy requires too much world-building. Much of Mystery/Suspense/Thriller involves guns and serial killers. Nope. Not there yet. No YA or children’s lit, although I enjoy it from time to time.

That left Romance. Who? Me? I have to admit, I didn’t have a high opinion of romance writing, but those are the only ideas that come together for me. The only books I’m able to write from start to finish are romances.

Then I realized that romance, along with a million other things, remains stereotyped and has a bad rap. Probably because there is a plethora of poorly written, bad stories out there.

But I write the kind of romance that I want to read. In other words, I “just do me.” Stories with truth infused through the pages. Light. Humorous. Fun.

If God is mainly interested in us being ourselves, and He is, then it’s perfectly acceptable for me to write romance. Especially since nothing else works.

On a larger scale, though, he wants me to “just do me” all the time. I don’t need to hide or put on a mask. I’m fine with the God who created the universe.

I check myself often to make sure what He says is fine … is fine with me.

By Mary Pat Johns

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Set Free

Happy Memorial Day!

By Amre Cortadino

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GOOD, BETTER, BEST

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.  (1 Chronicles 16:34 and Psalms 118:1, NIV)

Sounds familiar, right? We often sing this popular chorus as a praise to the Lord. And well we should.

David composed this celebration song when the Ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem.

The movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, offers an entertaining attempt, but bringing the Ark out of the woods to a safe dwelling place, was no small feat. In fact, it cost a man his life.

Though Uzzah had the best of intentions, David used the wrong men and method to move the Ark. And God issued a message, loud and swift.

David’s reaction to Uzzah’s death? Anger. At God! After all, Uzzah was just trying to help. Image result for free to use james tissot's picture of the ark of the covenant

But God’s action proclaimed His anger. The dead man beside the Ark served as proof.

Designed by God, the Ark symbolized a covenant between Him and His people. He’d laid out the specifications with great detail. Its construction, its covering, and how and who should carry it. Much like a parent, our Heavenly Father gave step-by-step instructions. For our good. Just as He’d done from Day One.

Whether our intentions are righteous or not, if we haven’t followed God’s guidelines, consequences will follow.

David, the man after God’s own heart, learned of the goodness of God through this incident and many others. We know this because, in the next verse (1 Chron. 16:35), David encourages us to cry out, “Save us, God our Savior.”

We can count on this constant: His mercies and love endure forever, unshakeable and never-ending.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)

By Amre Cortadino

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BATTLING WORRY

Think back to the beginning of this year. Despite previous failures, many of us made New Year’s Resolutions. This year would be different, we reasoned. Little did we know just how different!

Churches, restaurants, stores, and schools closed. Stock market earnings flattened. Gas prices diminished. Meetings and flights were canceled. And masks and toilet paper became the leading consumer must-haves.

Social distancing, now known as physical distancing, became our mantra. We obeyed one-way aisles and six-feet markers in grocery stores and elsewhere.

We may never know whether every bit of information about the pandemic contained news-you-can-use or added an over-sensationalized tidbit. With reality seeping into blurred lines, truckloads of worry moved in like caravans.

The textbook definitions of worry include words like anxiety, unrest, focusing our minds on our troubles, and concern. There’s a secondary, interesting definition having to do with the use of dogs or carnivorous animals’ teeth for tearing, gnawing, or dragging objects. Who knew?

Is worry more prevalent in this day and age than at any other time in history? The short answer is no. Why? The Bible lists more than one hundred verses on the topic! God knew our need to win the battle worry would wreak in our minds then and now.

Here are a few worry-relievers:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV)

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7, ESV)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27, ESV)

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matt.6:27, ESV)

A couple acrostics I devised when my mind seems bent on wallowing in Worry Land are:

Who

Offers

Relief (and)

Revives

You?

 

Just

Empty

Stress

Upon (our)

Savior

Using your tried and true verses from God’s word, see what acrostics you can come up with. Then, the next time you feel prone to wade into Worry Land, arm yourself with God’s promises to you.

By Amre Cortadino

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EVEN MORE VICTORIOUS

The past several weeks certainly have been strange, dark, and restorative! Strange because of confusing, conflicting information about this virus. Mandatory insolation cloaked another dark layer to winter’s usual cold and gloom. Yet innovative ways to communicate invigorated us, and tackling all those someday projects spurred a sense of accomplishment.

Long before COVID-19, we saw others go through dark times, flourish, and emerge even more victorious.

Daniel sat in a dark den with lions roaming whisker-close until first light when the king opened the door and embraced him.

Before he ascended to the throne of Israel, David hid in dark caves, not knowing if he had breathed his last.

Noah rode in a DIY boat with his family and hungry animals until God’s perfect moment when He docked the cruiser on dry ground.

Abraham built an altar and obediently raised his knife to kill his son Isaac. God ordered, “Stop!” and renamed him Abraham, Father of Many Nations.

As if it wasn’t enough that his brothers dropped him in a hole, Joseph languished in jail for many years until he became second in command to Pharaoh.

Moses’s mother had no idea the baby she let drift down the Nile in a basket would save God’s people.

Jesus, murdered and bound in a dark tomb, burst through the gates of hell – the darkest pit – to set the captives free. He sits at the right hand of the Lord God Almighty, praying and waiting for us.

Whether quarantined or not, we know we have truly passed from darkness to light. There’s been a shaking, a reawakening, an urgency to share the Light that we have for too long kept to ourselves.

As the song says, it’s time to raise a Hallelujah!

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By Amre Cortadino

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Raising the Roof

During this time of quarantine, some wonderful and extraordinary occurrences have taken place. We’ve learned some new technology—Facetime and Zoom, for example. Neighbors have gone out of their way to help each other. And at drive-in churches, parishioners honked their horns or flashed their lights during sermons.

Creative ways people have stayed in touch or expressed their love abound. Blue tape has been used to make Tic-Tac-Toe boards on sliding glass doors or windows of nursing homes. Friends drive to the homes of their loved ones, blowing their horns until the front door opens, and the occupants read words of love on homemade signs.

A heartwarming story recorded long ago shows us the love of friends and what they did during a desperate time. They wanted to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They’d heard of the home the Master was visiting, and carried this man to Him on a mat. But the jam-packed house had a “No Vacancy” sign hanging on the front door. They tried the back door, too, but couldn’t gain access. In their tenacious love for this friend, one of them looked up and decided the housetop was the way to go. Using creative genius and muscle, they removed tiles from the roof and lowered the mat with perfect precision – right in front of Jesus.

This event in Luke 5 gives no mention of this man’s thoughts. No doubt overwhelmed by his friends’ love and desire to have him healed, he eagerly trusted their plan. Hope rose at the mention of Jesus, but defeat greeted him at the front door. What’s this? Fear invaded as they carried him onto the roof, ripped off enough tiles for him to fit through, then tied ropes to the ends of his mat. They’ve gone mad! And he was powerless to stop them. He saw the strain his friends bore as they lowered him into the house. His mat swayed and wobbled as they pulled together to handle his weight. Silence filled the house, and bewildered faces appeared beside his mat. Then Jesus spoke, and his life forever changed. He walked home that day, forgiven of his sins, a new creation.

Jesus knew this man long before He came face-to-face with him. And He loved him enough to give him the gift no other could. Eternal healing.

The Savior sees us now. We may feel paralyzed, stuck in a tile-breaking experience. Maybe our mats wobble a bit. We’re strained. The house is loud, or much too quiet. But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 18:24b, NIV)

Like this man, we may expect, want, or have our focus on a front-door miracle. But what if the Lord has a much bigger, better plan? Let’s choose to trust in the Lord with all our hearts, not stay paralyzed in our own ways, and in everything we do, acknowledge that He is in control, and will lead us home. (Prov. 3:5-6)

By Amre Cortadino

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JUST AS IF I NEVER SINNED

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus …” Romans 3:23-24 (ESV)

I hope everyone had a lovely Easter celebration, even if it was on the quiet side due to social distancing. Our family usually celebrates with a huge dinner. One of the highlights is the Easter Egg hunt for the grandchildren where we all take great delight in cracking cascarones (confetti eggs) on each others’ heads. Even the adults get in on the fun, and if someone is a newbie—well, they get a double dose.

None of that happened this year. But Easter is the time of year Christians hear a lot about the term justification. Spiritually speaking, it has to do with how we stand before a holy God. A different definition, justifying margins, has to do with how the text of a document is aligned. As is often the case, the two definitions are linked.

We could say, justify has to do with how we line up with God. Are we straight with Him?

Certainly not by our own efforts. We’re only straight with God because of Christ’s sacrifice. Because of our sin, and there’s no one who hasn’t sinned, we’re not good enough to stand before a holy God.

Actually this flies in the face of secular thinking. Lots of folks want to believe that we’ll go to heaven if we’re good enough. But who decides “good enough”? You? Me?

The truth is, God’s standard is the final authority. And God says all have sinned.

Another popular lie is that passage to heaven is contingent on how big the sin is or how often we do it. But this faulty logic is more like wishful thinking in disguise. None of that matters to God.

God set the standard for sin, but He loved us so much, He made a way so we could be justified. We can line up and be straight with God for all eternity.

This is why we celebrate Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection. Jesus never sinned, and God allowed Him to be the perfect sacrifice. For us. So we could be justified before God. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sin, He only sees that Jesus took our place. He satisfied the law. What He did made everything line up. All we have to do is receive His gift.

Yes, I’m justified before God. It’s how God sees me and how I stand before Him.

But since the definition can get cumbersome, I have a shorter way to think of justification. Whenever I hear the term, my lips curve up in a smile.

Because of what Jesus did, it’s just as if I never sinned.  

Now that’s reason to celebrate!

Guest blog post by Mary Pat Johns

www.marypatjohns.com

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PEACE, BE STILL (Part 3)

The week began with perfect temperatures, a slight Mediterranean breeze, and palm branches cascading on a sunlight path, ushering Jesus’s triumphant ride into Jerusalem. Then, from the Passover feast to the crucifixion, an escalating storm unleashes, rewriting history and our very lives.

Look around the Passover table. Raised eyebrows and whispers question why Jesus washes their feet. In another surprising departure from tradition, Jesus passes one cup among the disciples. He says the wine represents His blood and the unleavened bread His body, but how is that possible? He’s sitting right there, isn’t He?

A chill skims the breeze on their walk into the Garden of Gethsemane, a place well known to Jesus and His disciples. The olive tree branches hang as eerie backdrops to soldiers accompanying a betrayer. A timeless foe creeps along the ground, rejoicing in the upgraded storm, scattering the disciples and dashing the hope of mankind.

The squall between Pilate and Herod halts with clean hands to clear the road for Jesus to Golgatha – the skull-shaped hill. And flogging stains their record for all eternity.

Simon attempts to pass through the area with his sons but is swept onto center stage, forced to carry the jagged, wooden cross. As gusts of wind whip around him, Simon looks into Jesus’s blood-stained face and sees His beaten body. The world slows, and the crowd and commotion blur as the Messiah’s love bathes him. No longer buried under the weight of the cross, Simon witnesses the innocence of the Lamb of God. His task completed, he and his boys remain at the foot of the cross.

Muscles bulge as a soldier wields his hammer, driving hand-forged spikes into the Creator’s hands and feet. Gale force winds echo excruciating pain, delivering blows to the hearts of disciples and Mary, the mother of Jesus. At the apex of the storm, darkness engulfs the land, the earth quakes, and the temple veil that has separated sinner from Savior splits.

Listen. The storm has passed. Love bursts through the horizon. The acrid aroma of Jesus’s blood mingles in the air with the sweet fragrance of forgiveness. The gates of hell cannot prevail and its captives are set free. See for yourself! The grave does not hold Him. He has risen! The Prince of Peace reigns eternal!

Jesus opens his nail-pierced hands to you and me. He offers the cup, His blood, and the bread, His body, a living sacrifice, and whispers “Peace, be still.”

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matt. 28:5-6, NIV)

EASTER TREAT:  As a thank you for reading this post, please click on the following address. I promise this song will bless you!  🙂

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By Amre Cortadino

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PEACE, BE STILL (Part 2)

We’ve entered an alternate universe where the TV show Monk is entirely relatable and toilet paper has enormous value. One news source says it’s inevitable – we’re all going to die, but the next says just wash your hands, keep them away from your face, and we’ll be fine.

A friend emailed about a possible tornado, and that night my husband and I experienced our first earthquake. As surreal as it sounds, we heard the earth groan.

Good to know raging storms are not new to our Lord. We can take comfort in the many Biblical examples showing how He quieted them.

Zacchaeus may have created his own storm. No one wants to pay taxes – not even then. But a tax collector for the Roman conquerors? Perhaps that’s why the crowd wouldn’t step aside for this short-statured man.

Did Zacchaeus wrong others? Maybe assess more taxes than he should and pocket the excess? Is that how he acquired his wealth? Let’s let him speak for himself. . .

Zacchaeus dresses the part. After all, he’s a wealthy, upper management government official. He enjoys his job and has a bright, secure future. His shingle says “Pay the Taxes or Else.” Who cares what storms it creates for others? He’s living the dream.

Then Jesus comes to Jericho. Since Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus over the crowd, he climbs a Sycamore tree. Why not? Think of it as a precursor to creative financing. He can conduct business from a high perch. These trees can grow 75’ to 100’ or taller. A Sycamore, known for providing shade with its six-inch leaves, also symbolizes hope and protection.

Did Zacchaeus climb in the tree only out of curiosity, or did he hope to hide from others? From the Lord?

Jesus jumps over these questions. He stops and calls Zacchaeus out of the tree, and the storm intensifies. Can you hear the thunder of whispers rumble through the crowd? Doesn’t He know who that man is? Why go to his house? Isn’t it just like Zacchaeus to hide in a tree?

Why did Zacchaeus offer to give away half of his possessions and pay back four times the amount he’d obtained by cheating? Maybe he was tired of his storm. He wanted to surrender. He wanted peace. Zacchaeus listens to Jesus. The only one who can restore calm in his life.

We can have peace in the most devastating storm because Jesus’s response remains the same.

Today, salvation has come to this house. (Luke 19:9a NIV)

By Amre Cortadino

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PEACE, BE STILL

Our world has changed significantly in the past few weeks. However, some things are true in any storm. Fear can overtake our common sense, but faith and prayer will see us through.

Our book club chose to read Ruth Graham’s wonderful book, Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There. I’m a fan! I am so thankful for her well-written, encouraging words of truth.  Funny how God brought this book into our lives “for such a time as this.”

While reading Ruth’s book, I listed all the storms Jesus calmed during His time on Earth and how they significantly changed the lives of those involved.

Consider the woman caught in adultery. In her day, adultery brought a storm of stones, but remember what happened to her? Jesus asked a simple question: who among you is without sin? Poof – the storm walked away with her accusers, and the woman was changed . . . her life completely altered by her Creator.

Jarius, a synagogue ruler, asked Jesus to calm a storm in his life. He needed Jesus to come heal his twelve-year-old daughter who was near death. Instead, on the way to Jarius’s house, another storm blew in.

A woman whose life was plagued by severe bleeding for twelve years believed if she touched Jesus, she’d be healed. Jesus stopped the procession to Jarius’s place and sought the person who had touched Him.

Didn’t He know who she was? Of course, He did! Maybe he drew her out from the crowd to acknowledge her existence and her faith. Since women were shunned and considered unclean during menstruation, we can speculate this woman couldn’t attend social gatherings for a dozen years. No doubt her friends were probably sick and tired of listening to her prolonged problem. When Jesus shone His spotlight on her, all that changed. Her faith and healing catapulted her into the public eye. Storm over.

In the meantime, Jarius’s storm escalated to a Category 5. His daughter died, but that didn’t deter his belief in Jesus. When Jesus entered the home, He dismissed the wailers and unbelievers, and raised the girl to life.

We’re experiencing a storm today – a nasty one – but stay tuned. Next week, during part two of Peace, Be Still, a short man will climb a tree and a squall will hit the Sea of Galilee. And Jesus will bring peace and hope into those storms, and ours too. Trust Him!

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt:19:26 NIV)

By Amre Cortadino

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