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From the Editor

It’s Always Darkest

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By Andrea Johnson 

Remember the saying “It’s always darkest before the dawn”? There was a season in my life when I wondered how dark the “darkest” could get. It seemed that when I thought things in my life were already at their darkest point, it would get even worse. Where was the dawn I longed for?

I wanted desperately for a quick way to escape my pain, such as an unexpected windfall or a knight in shining armor to save the day so to speak. I hadn’t considered the idea that dawn makes its appearance onto the stage one ray of sunshine at a time. We don’t advance abruptly from midnight to midday. I was so overwhelmed by the darkness that I hadn’t noticed the faint rays of hope that had begun to sneak onto the murky landscape.  

Have you ever been in a dark place? A place seemingly void of hope? In that place it can be hard to notice that first faint ray of dawn.  

When I was in that dark spot, a friend gave me a verse:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” The 1977 version says, “Let your mind dwell on these things.

Philippians 4:8 (NASB)

 

I thanked my friend for the verse, but in reality, I was indignant. What right did she have to tell me to be positive, she with her “charmed” life (or so I imagined)? What did I have to be thankful for anyway? Everything in my life was falling apart (or so I imagined). 

Nonetheless, as soon as I voiced my complaints to the Lord, He gently brought to my mind the last part of the verse: “if there is ANY excellence, ANYthing worthy of praise.” Was there ANYthing I had to be thankful for? Of course there was, even if I had to search for it. Was there ANYthing worthy of praise? Of course there was. I just hadn’t taken time out from my doom and gloom to notice.  

Did I have huge obstacles in my life? Absolutely. But I was focusing on those obstacles instead of my bigger God, a God who had angels watching over me as well as normal, everyday people who helped our little family find a path forward. 

The world into which Jesus was born was described by Isaiah as gloomy, distressed, and hopeless (Isaiah 9:1-7). Matthew (chapter 2) tells us it was oppressive, violent, and hostile. King Herod was so paranoid and ruthless that when he learned of Jesus’ birth, he had all the male children two years old and younger killed. (Thankfully Jesus’ family had been warned by an angel to flee.) 

It’s hard to imagine a darker world than that. And in most people’s eyes, Jesus’ birth would not have conjured up the slightest ray of hope. They would have mistakenly viewed Jesus as just another unplanned baby born “out of wedlock” to a young, impoverished mom trying to survive under a brutal dictatorship.  

Of course we know that Jesus purposely came into the world as a light so that no one who believed in Him would remain in darkness (John 12:46). He brought healing to the lame, sight to the blind, freedom for those held captive by sin. Yet even then as people started to follow that Light, Jesus was brutally tortured and crucified by those in power. It would appear that the Light of the World had been snuffed out, the last spark of hope eliminated for good. Talk about dark. 

Thankfully, the light Satan thought he had extinguished exploded as Jesus Christ overcame death and rose from the grave. And with that act He confiscated the keys of death and darkness. Both are now powerless over those of us who put our faith in Jesus. 

Are you going through a dark time right now, exhausted, unable to see past your pain? Have you lost hope? Hold on! Search out even the smallest ray of light and focus on it with a grateful heart. Sometimes it’s that very act of faith that can turn things around. You may, in fact, awaken the dawn you seek! 

Wake up, my heart!
Wake up, O lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song. 

Psalm 57: 8, NLT

About the Author

Andrea Johnson, a credentialed Open Bible minister, is the managing editor of the Message of the Open Bible. A graduate of Open Bible College with a major in theology/missions, she has edited and co-edited several books, including Servants of the Spirit: Portraits of Pentecostal Pioneers, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and We Believe for Kids! Her goal is to reveal Christ to those who are searching for Him. In her spare time you will most likely find Andrea enjoying time with family and friends or hiking. She and her husband, Dennis, are blessed with four children, three of whom are married, and eight grandchildren.

From the Editor

Thank You! 

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By Andrea Johnson

Writing my last article as editor of the Message before I switch gears caused me to think back a “few” years. Open Bible College was my introduction to Open Bible Churches. Randall Bach was president of the college when I was a student. I was privileged to travel in musical groups for which he and Barbara, his wife, were sponsors. We got an inside peak into their private lives, which were led with the same integrity as their public lives. (On those trips I learned how to play Rook from Barbara!)

After college, when my life took some turns I had not planned on, Randall and Barbara lovingly reached out to our family. And then, throughout the last 26 years in which I have served at this office, they have been a major influence – on me and on my family. Even though part of that time they were serving in East Region, I watched them interact with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations rejoicing with those who were rejoicing, weeping with those who were weeping, and lovingly counseling and even correcting those in need. I love hearing Randall pray. He always seems to hear a person’s heart, not just their words. (I’m guessing that’s the Holy Spirit’s anointing!) 

Randall’s message that has stuck with me most is called “The Sweet Spot of Anointing.” If you get a chance to read it, you should! [Read Article]. He would often say that your goal should be to stretch yourself, to aim for something beyond your own abilities to the point where you can succeed only through the Holy Spirit’s anointing, and then be quick to acknowledge that glory is due the Lord, not yourself.  

His prayer at the end of “The Sweet Spot of Anointing” is this: 

Lord, help me to hear and heed your voice, striding with boldness wrapped in humility. I acknowledge I can do nothing apart from you while thanking you that, through Christ, I can do all things! “

Randall A. Bach

It was with that mindset that I accepted this position as Message editor when Randall offered it. Looking back, I’m surprised that I even attempted the task. I KNOW it was the Lord directing, giving me the “desire” to do it (Psalm 37:4).  

Throughout my years as editor, God has always provided what we needed when we needed it. I have gotten to work with an amazing office family. And as Randall worked carefully to build a whole team for communications, I have had more fun than a person ever should have at a “job.” Collaborating with them has been the best! Have you ever been excited to get to work? I have! 

I appreciate Randall for taking a chance on me, for his support, patience, and sound wisdom. I also appreciate Jeff Farmer, Open Bible’s former president, for encouraging me and giving me so many opportunities to stretch. Both have been incredible mentors to me in so many ways. I appreciate our proofreaders, who have kept us from many a blunder. 

I am especially grateful for our incredible writers, busy people who have been kind enough to share through their teachings and testimonies the powerful ways God is working in their lives. We can have the tendency to be quiet about what God does through us or through our churches, not wanting to come across as boastful. But I strongly believe that we need to joyously share what God has done for us and those around us, not to praise a specific person or church, but to give God the glory He deserves. That is our aim for everything. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus” (Revelation 19:10, NLT). 

For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.
Revelation 19:10, NLT

I want to thank you, our faithful readers, who are kind enough to overlook our occasional mistakes and concentrate on the messages we are attempting to relay. And I certainly want to thank my husband, Denny. Without him I could never have followed this dream. 

I am so grateful that my mom made every effort to teach us proper grammar and modeled a love of reading. (She also gave all five of us “kids” the initials A. P., paying homage to the Associated Press.) I appreciate having grown up in a small town, where my uncle published the local newspaper and featured a column called “Good Things.” I always read his column first. 

Although Denny and I are officially “retiring,” we plan to continue many of the things we do now: spend time with family and friends, volunteer, travel, and write – just without rigid deadlines!  

God has been so good to me, and I am beyond grateful. He is so faithful and so kind. When so much of our waking hours can be filled with disturbing news, I have been tasked with focusing on good things that are happening, and there are many!  

And you know what? You do not have to be “in publishing” to spread joy. We all can, and we all should!  

Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts. I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness; they will sing with joy of your righteousness.
(Psalm 145:4-7)

About the Author

Andrea Johnson, a credentialed Open Bible minister, is the managing editor of the Message of the Open Bible. A graduate of Open Bible College with a major in theology/missions, she has edited and co-edited several books, including Servants of the Spirit: Portraits of Pentecostal Pioneers, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and We Believe for Kids! Her goal is to reveal Christ to those who are searching for Him. In her spare time you will most likely find Andrea enjoying time with family and friends or hiking. She and her husband, Dennis, are blessed with four children, three of whom are married, and eight grandchildren.

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From the Editor

Strength Through …

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By Andrea Johnson 

I must have been about eight or nine years old, old enough to know better, when I walked in on a conversation with my grandma, who lived with us, and three of her friends all standing by our front door about to leave. In our neck of the woods, we are known for our long goodbyes, and this was no exception. The nice ladies got to listing off all their ailments, each “one-upping” the tale told before her. The scene struck me as comical, and I burst out laughing, right there in front of these sweet matriarchs. Horrified, I fled to the bathroom and tried to stifle my giggles. 

I stayed in my self-appointed little cell until I thought for sure the gals had gone, fearful about facing my grandma and receiving a well-deserved reprimand. Indeed, Grandma was waiting for me when I emerged, but instead rebuking me, she looked at me with a sheepish grin, chuckled, and said, “I guess we did sound pretty silly talking about all our aches and pains, didn’t we?” 

Talk about grace! 

I wonder if God thinks we’re pretty silly, constantly airing all our complaints about the world. The other day I was reading in Nehemiah about a remnant of Jews who had returned from exile to Jerusalem, their homeland. Though facing extreme opposition, they had rebuilt the temple and city walls and were in the process of returning to their worship of the Lord God. After hearing the words of the law, the people realized they had failed God miserably. Repentant and fearful of judgment, they wept. They were right to first be repentant, but Nehemiah knew they needed to move on. Failure was not to be their legacy. He told them,

Go and celebrate. . . . Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

Nehemiah 8:10, NLT

So, we are not to keep lamenting our past failures? We are not supposed to go around bemoaning the state of the world? Apparently not! We are intended to walk in the joy of the Lord. And like the Jews, we have every reason to be joyful when we grasp what God has done for us. Although the people felt sad at first as they became aware of their own sin, they could now walk in joy because God had restored their relationship with Him. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus did the same for us.  

Our emotions are not beyond our control; we can make the choice to rely on the “joy of the Lord” even when we do not feel like it. We can walk in joy because we know who God is.  

Joy originates from the Lord. He is not up in heaven wringing His hands, wondering what He’s going to do about the state of our world. He is and always will be in control. He has perspective; He knows Himself. As we get to know Him better, we know we can trust Him as well. 

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Bitterness, self-loathing, and anxiety are not. 

Walking in the joy of the Lord is so important that the Lord made sure people were appointed to the purpose of praising God and thanking the Lord. In 1 Chronicles 16:4 we find that David appointed “some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel.” Again, in Nehemiah we find that Levites were to “take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music” (12: 27). Appointees to this role needed to keep this mindset before the people because sadly it is not our nature to be thankful or joyful.  

But what if? What if the first words of our day were words of praise and thanksgiving? What if those things that bring us joy were the things we thought about as we quiet our brains at night? What if we shared our joy with others?  

Throughout the Psalms we are instructed to rejoice and given reasons for doing so: 

Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth! 
Worship the LORD with gladness. 
Come before him, singing with joy. 
Acknowledge that the LORD is God! 
He made us, and we are his.  
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; 
go into his courts with praise. 
Give thanks to him and praise his name. 
For the LORD is good. 
His unfailing love continues forever, 
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
 

(Psalm 100, NLT) 

Our joy is not dependent on circumstances. After the apostles in Jerusalem were arrested twice, beaten, jailed, and ordered not to preach in Jesus’ name, they returned home. But instead of bemoaning the fact they were targeted because of their faith, they rejoiced because they had been counted “worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41).  

A grateful outlook improves your health and makes you more fun to be around. It also changes your appearance! “Praise is becoming to the upright” (Psalm 33:1, NASB).  

I challenge you today to start thanking God verbally for little things, like the fact that you found your keys or that you had a hot shower. Thank Him that He gave you a creative answer for that work challenge. Thank Him for His faithfulness, for His grace. Thank Him that even though He knows EVERYthing about You He still loves you.  

Walking in joy does not mean we ignore other people’s burdens or our own. It means that we pray in faith with joy because we know our God is well able to handle any situation we experience. Jesus was able to “die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy He knew would be His afterward” (Hebrews 12:2, NLT). 

Start thanking God for things He has already done and watch your faith (and your spirits) soar. Consider who God is, think about His attributes, and your heart will swell with praise (and your body will relax). Quit giving Satan the fear he craves. Give God the praise He deserves! You will find yourself “happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy!” (1 Peter 1:8. NLT). 

Of all people, Christ followers have every reason to be joyful. We love and are loved forever by the one true all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God. The joy of the Lord is our strength!

About the Author

Andrea Johnson, a credentialed Open Bible minister, is the managing editor of the Message of the Open Bible. A graduate of Open Bible College with a major in theology/missions, she has edited and co-edited several books, including Servants of the Spirit: Portraits of Pentecostal Pioneers, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and We Believe for Kids! Her goal is to reveal Christ to those who are searching for Him. In her spare time you will most likely find Andrea enjoying time with family and friends or hiking. She and her husband, Dennis, are blessed with four children, three of whom are married, and eight grandchildren.

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From the Editor

The Gift of Sabbath 

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About the Author

By Andrea Johnson 

Can you imagine God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after the completion of the Creation? Do you wonder if He spent some time proudly showing off His creation? I imagine Him saying, “Adam, look at this . . . and this! Look at the way these creatures interact! Eve, did you see that waterfall? Come on, I have so much more to show you. Let’s enjoy it together.” 

In similar fashion, I believe God wants to share His world with us as well. Observing the Sabbath is one way we can do that.  

When I was a child most Christians I knew tried to follow the Ten Commandments, even the fourth one: “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy” (Deuteronomy 5:12, NASB). Most did not work on Sundays unless absolutely necessary. Setting Sundays aside was a huge act of faith for people in the farming community, but as I grew older, I noticed more farmers working seven days a week especially during planting or harvesting. Now people are so busy on Sundays that families are left scrambling, trying to fit in even one church service among all their children’s activities, work schedules, and other errands.  

Why do Christ’s followers seem to at least attempt to obey the other nine commandments, but this one, not so much? Did Jesus do away with it? Do we no longer need a day of “rest”? 

Mike Juntunen’s well-researched article “Remember the Sabbath” [Read Article] helps bring clarity to the issue of Sabbath. I love his first point, that the Sabbath is a matter of lordship. For me honoring the Sabbath is similar to the concept of tithing. My Creator, my Provider knows what I need. Just as tithing demonstrates my trust in the Lord to meet my needs, honoring the Sabbath demonstrates my faith in God to accomplish the tasks He wants me to accomplish even without my working 24/7. Just as the Lord has shown Himself time and again to provide financially for me when it did not seem possible, He helps me accomplish the tasks He has asked me to do. I cannot count the number of times He has provided me unexpected help or creative ideas seemingly out of nowhere.  

A friend once told me, “God will always provide what we need; if He doesn’t provide it, then we don’t need it!” Could it be that as we focus on Jesus as did Mary (Luke 10:38-42), we would realize that some of the things we think we “need” to do would be better left undone?  

Graciously, the Lord allows us to try to accomplish our own “to-do lists” in our own strength, but how much better would it be if we allowed His Holy Spirit to work in and through us to complete the tasks He calls us to do? When we rely on the Holy Spirit, we leave room for the miraculous. 

By Jesus’ day, religious leaders had taken much of the joy out of the amazing gift of the Sabbath by creating an elaborate system of rules that bordered on the ridiculous and were nearly impossible to follow. He needed to remind them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, NASB). In the same way, we can become legalistic about the Sabbath. But just because this gift and other gifts from God have been misused does not mean we should cast them aside. Sabbath is a gift we desperately need. 

What if we reserved a day to focus on how amazing God is? Corporate church services allow some time for that. But what if in addition we carved out some time by ourselves or with our families to wander out into a park or onto a lake or trail and relish His creation? Try gazing up at the very tops of the trees, study the minute details of a delicate flower or creeping insect, breathe in the unique scent of the ocean on a crisp, breezy day. Notice the giggles of a baby passing by in a stroller or an elderly woman shuffling along, determined to resist the urge to confine herself to her recliner.  

Meditate on the Psalms. It’s hard not to contemplate God’s majesty when reading descriptions such as this: “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8: 3-4, NLT). Recall the evidence of God’s hand moving throughout all of history ever since creation – in majestic, miraculous ways and in the tiniest and most personal of details. 

Get some much-needed rest. And as you drift off to sleep, instead of counting your stress factors, consider God’s amazing attributes, His faithfulness, and His grace. Let your heart fill with praise.  

Obviously our world is different than Adam’s utopia; we face serious concerns. But observing the Sabbath is one way we can bring His Kingdom to earth. And when we focus on who God is, it helps us keep everything in perspective. It gives us peace. It yields rest. And it brings Him glory. 

About the Author

Andrea Johnson, a credentialed Open Bible minister, is the managing editor of the Message of the Open Bible. A graduate of Open Bible College with a major in theology/missions, she has edited and co-edited several books, including Servants of the Spirit: Portraits of Pentecostal Pioneers, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and We Believe for Kids! Her goal is to reveal Christ to those who are searching for Him. In her spare time you will most likely find Andrea enjoying time with family and friends or hiking. She and her husband, Dennis, are blessed with four children, three of whom are married, and eight grandchildren.

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