Esther Johnson

About Esther Johnson

Esther's Blog





Esther Johnson is a freelance writer, editor, and magic bean buyer with a passion for lemon bars, folk rock, and morning runs. She has written for Piercing Word ministries, CHAP Magazine, and The Rebelution, and a regular contributor to TCB. You can find other writings and updates, and get in touch, on her blog.

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To Abide

To Abide by Esther Johnson

To Abide by Esther Johnson

I want to sit at Your feet, Lord. I do.

And I try—I kneel next to You, open my Bible and journal, and prepare to hear Your voice.

But maybe You don’t speak loud enough, because next thing I know I’m drafting my to-do list under my journal heading “What does this passage say about God?” (I would probably scribble to-do’s in the margin of my Bible if it didn’t look ugly.)

The day encroaches, creeping into the corners of my mind and claiming my emotions. Whether excitement or anxiety, what I’m feeling soon has nothing to do with the passage my eyes are scanning.

I don’t want to be this way, because sometimes I have a headache before I open my eyes in the morning.
Sometimes sleep is so thick and bitter on my tongue I can’t swallow it down with a glass of water.

Sometimes the coffee doesn’t help, and I know I need more than a duty to a far-off God to give me joy, and hope, for the day.

Once I’m awake, though, there’s no stopping me.

I rule my life by lists of where I’ve been and where I’m going. I slice my time and steam when my plans are knocked askew. And when I cross off one item, another awaits.

I don’t know how to focus on You without dividing our time into a series of tasks. List what a passage tells me about You. List what it says about me. And—my favorite—list what I should do about it.

What practical steps can I take to apply this passage? What can I praise God for—and rattle it off now. How can I intentionally serve others with what I’ve learned?

I am an analytical machine, reading and regurgitating for a recommended thirty minutes each day.

I am a Martha, and I am tired.

And one day, when I’ve barely pried myself out of bed and I can’t stop thinking about the exam I should be studying for, I flip open to John 15.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

And it stops me in my tracks because the first command is—abide.

I want to skip on to the parts about bearing fruit and loving one another perfectly, but this is how the passage begins and I must confront it.

I rub my eyes and I swallow a yawn and I puzzle at the word.

Merriam Webster confirms what I suspect:

“Definition of abide

1 a: to bear patiently: tolerate

b: to endure without yielding: withstand

2:to wait for: await

3:to accept without objection

1:to remain stable or fixed in a state

2:to continue in a place: sojourn “

Stable and fixed, await and withstand—this is a word of watching for the work of another. It is the word, in fact, that a branch would use within the Vine.

Yes, the passage commands me to bear fruit, and expands this into loving and serving and speaking and rejoicing. But it begins with the command to endure, and accept, and wait—to abide.

What does this waiting mean? This sojourning in the Lord?

The metaphor does not allow me to make a checklist for abiding, a step by step plan to becoming a fruitful branch. I cannot dissect the vine and discern how I fit. But I can wait, and ask for understanding, and I begin to understand the passage by beginning to live it.

A branch has no value or life on its own, but it is the manifestation of the vine’s life. Its fruit is the outpouring of the vine’s unseen roots. Without a deep connection to the vine’s vitality, a branch cannot produce fruit, and its leaves will quickly wither.

I cannot force the fruit, I can only connect deeply to my source of life.

Without Him I have no fruit—or the false, bitter fruit of self-glorifying labor. In Him I am given righteousness, strength, and comfort.

Remain in me, He promises, and you will bear fruit. Not may, or can hope to, but will. Certainly.
He does not cultivate in me what is already good as though I were my own vine, but rather trains me that I may more effectively display the strength and value of the Vine.

And this abiding, this waiting on His strength and life, begins when my alarm shatters me awake in the morning, and I’m tempted to hit snooze.

In that moment, when exhaustion prevents me from following a cold checklist, I hear the voice of the Vinedresser whispering my name, calling me to join Him and take the life He gives. Eternal life has begun already, and the call to abide is the call to thrive.

So I want to sit at Your feet, Lord. I do. And when the stress of the day forces its way into my head, I rest, and wait, and remain until Your voice comes, bringing life.

2018-01-08T13:43:49+00:00 By |

The Heart of Church

The Heart of Church by Esther Johnson

The Heart of Church by Esther Johnson

Growing up, I attended the same church for many years. Full of people who watched me mature and had seen me at my best and worst, that community became home.

Then my family moved, and attended a series of churches while searching for a new one. Then I moved, and repeated the process. While performing with a Christian theater troupe, I attended a score of churches, all different denominations and styles. Traveling in Europe, I went to several churches where I couldn’t understand a word of the service.

These churches were full of strangers, most of whom I’ll never see again, but in many churches as members welcomed me, as they worshipped, and as they opened the word together, the feeling of family surrounded me. I began to wonder, attending church down an alley in Austria, how I shared the heart of these people without sharing their culture or knowing their names. And looking at Scripture, I found what I should have realized before: that the heart of the church is deeper than any of the external trappings. The heart of church is Christ.

All over the world, this is what my brothers and sisters have in common…

 

They are unified by the work of Christ

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. –Ephesians 4:4-6

 

Their unity shows God’s love and glory.

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. –John 17:22-23

 

They know no strangers in Christ, but are together His temple, founded on Him.

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. –Ephesians 2:19-22

 

They graciously handle their failings, and boast only in Christ.

… not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” –1 Corinthians 1:26-31

 

They share in each other’s suffering and joy

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. –1 Cor. 12:26

 

They use different gifts, but all serve in Christ and in love

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way. –1 Corinthians 12:27-31

 

They walk in humility, obedience, and forgiveness, eager to maintain their bond.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. –Ephesians 4:1-3

When a specific church gathering embraces these qualities, it shows. They back up encouraging words with practical support, handle conflict in humility and love, and choose to dig in and love each other in the name of Christ. This kind of unity comes from Christ, not homogenous congregations identical in everything from hobbies to worship style. More likely, a healthy church mixes a whole variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. It may look like sweet Sunday School dresses, or a group of pals who smoke before church, and it’s probably some blend of both. Radical differences can’t separate a born-again family empowered by Christ to love each other.

In an ancient cathedral or a rented warehouse, my brothers and sisters are unified in the redeeming work of Christ. And when I’m with them, wherever we are, I’m home.

2018-01-08T17:30:31+00:00 By |

When in Doubt

When in Doubt by Esther Johnson

When in Doubt by Esther Johnson

My camper crumbled a stick in her hands as we sat watching the lake glimmer.

“What’s been on your mind?” I repeated, “Anything in particular?”

Bits of the stick tumbled to the ground, and words tumbled out of her mouth.

She had questions on everything from creation to end times to evil to absolute truth. And below these, she wondered if this God was worth trusting despite her pain.

I don’t remember what I said in the next ten minutes as we sat on that stoop and the sun faded off the lake, but I recalled this moment over and over in the next year as my own doubts demanded confrontation.

If I had this conversation again I would give her a hug and start here…

 

Is the root of your doubt intellectual or emotional?

The two are closely tied, and require similar responses, but often one stems from the other.

For instance, if I can’t trust what the Bible says about history and science, why should I trust this God to take care of my heart? On the other hand, if I’m hurting, it’s easier to argue over science than face my pain.

Know that emotions lie, and that intellect puffs up.

 

Do you fear it?

As clean-cut Sunday School attendees, we quickly cram questions into secret corners, fearing that they undermine God—or simply that others will judge us for them.

But if God is who He claims to be, our questions will only reveal His glory. Just look at the book of Job! And not only do other Christians struggle, but someone nearby is probably wondering the same things, and could be encouraged by your search for truth.

Feeding on secrecy and never confronted, doubt grows from a few weeds to a deep-rooted thicket. Start weeding for the glory of God!

 

Have you told God about it?

God already knows, of course, but He wants to hear it from you. Don’t let this drive you away from Him—instead, ask Him your questions and let it strengthen your relationship. He’s not afraid or angry! Psalm 50:15 promises, “And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (ESV).

God will bring himself glory even through doubt!

 

Have you looked in the word?

Look for answers here first. You can’t ask good questions about something you don’t understand, and you can’t get satisfying answers either—so understand what the Bible says before questioning it. Search confidently, remembering the promise that “the one who seeks finds” (Luke 11:10 ESV). Search faithfully, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17 ESV).

You’ll also find that scripture overflows with fellow doubters and God’s faithfulness. From Abraham who ran to Egypt, to Gideon who set out fleeces or David who wrote a book of poetry about his doubts, right down to Thomas, who’ll never shake that name—they questioned for many reasons, and got many different responses, but time and again God showed himself worthy of trust. He answered the blackest doubt and the heaviest sorrow and the deepest fears and never let them go. Read and remember.

 

Have you asked others about it?

As a well-trained, hand-raising, self-proclaimed expert, it’s hard for me to admit I don’t have all the answers. But that’s just pride, and I need to honestly share my weaknesses and confusion. Otherwise, I miss all the experience of my fellow believers.

Talk to trusted Christians who have walked with God longer and ask them for help. You’ll find they have valuable wisdom to share. And recall that scripture commands us to have grace toward doubt in Jude 1:22: “And have mercy on those who doubt” (ESV).

 

Have you done your research?

It’s easy to let questions gnaw at us without carving out time to address them, and it’s easy to settle on a viewpoint without fully understanding the issues and information involved. But your worldview and faith, your relationship with God, is too important to take the easy route.

Pursue answers! Ask a pastor or teacher for excellent resources, read them, and ask questions. Test the teachings of Christianity, confident that many of history’s brightest minds have done the same. Brilliant men and women have tried God and found Him true, so you’ve nothing to fear from following in their footsteps.

 

Are you turning from sin?

In this time of questioning, it’s tempting to let sin grow—after all, why follow the commands of a God you’re not sure exists? But Jesus puts it clearly in John 3:20-21: “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (ESV).

In other words, stubborn sinners avoid God. Doubt can quickly become a smokescreen for reluctance to repent.

 

Are you expecting fast, full answers?

Scripture tells of many faithful believers who waited decades for answers—and many more who died without seeing God’s promises fulfilled. The Bible does not apologize for this reality; in fact, it celebrates the greatness of God we cannot understand!

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’” (Rom 11:33-35 ESV).

Though the Word of God reveals many mysteries, God does not promise complete understanding. He only promises that if we trust Him, He will satisfy us with Himself.

 

And lastly…Are you trusting that He’ll carry you through?

It might sound crazy to talk about trust within doubt, but Biblical characters often lived in this tension. In the face of darkness and confusion, when God seemed far, they knew He had a good plan.

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:8-10 ESV).

Look to Jesus, and put your heart in the hands of Him who said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1 ESV).

 

Recommended Reading

2018-01-08T19:18:29+00:00 By |

On Monsters and Baseball Bats: Fighting Fear with the Word

On Monsters and Baseball Bats Fighting Fear with the Word by Esther Johnson

There’s a monster under my bed.

Not just sometimes. No, it lives there, and nothing I do makes it go away.

All day I busy myself with good things, with work and play, staying healthy and investing in my family, and for the most part, it leaves me alone.

But every day as the afternoon wears on, dread grows in the back of my mind, because I know the monster is waiting for me. No matter how faithful and strong I am all day, it will still attack.

 

Whether I’m exhausted or exuberant, when I curl up and turn out my light …the monster comes.

Doubt hunches on my chest, crushing my ribcage till I suck in every breath. Guilt plants its claws in my shoulders and leans down to whisper and slaver in my ear, sniggering over the day’s mistakes. This guilt doesn’t inspire repentance; it demands despair. This monster stinks with all my failures, slashes away my contentment, and shouts lies till my head pounds.

I used to curl up and take it, absorbing its attacks and waiting for it to slink away, waiting to fall asleep. I used to believe what it said, and carry its whispers with me even in the morning.

I used to run and hide, plugging up my ears with internet and television until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I would barricade myself into a corner of my mind, blocking the door with constant entertainment and trying to ignore the creature scratching at the boards. But when I emerged from that empty room, it was always waiting, hungry as ever.

Then I told myself the monster was nothing but a shadow of my mind, soon dispelled by a show of courage. I tried facing the monster head on, denying its claims and proclaiming my strength.

Instead of shriveling into a lump of dead fear, it attacked harder than ever, confident in its half-truths. The fact is, I am guilty, and I do fail. The monster isn’t wrong: I screw up every day, over and over. When I flung my courage in its face, the monster’s laughter rang in my ears.

 

I almost gave up. And then I found the baseball bat.

The apostle Paul calls it a sword, I call it a baseball bat—either way there’s no weapon like the Word of God. Without it, I forget the truth and the monster takes me down.

With it? I walk in victory.

Every night I know the monster is coming, and so I arm myself with Scripture. With that baseball bat in my fist, I rest easy, ready to swing hard when the demon strikes.

Sometimes, it’s memorized passages. I recite chapters I’ve learned and meditate on them, pray through them, seeking to absorb their truths into my soul and praising God for His glory in them. The monster whines and writhes and keeps clear.

Sometimes, especially if I let my guard down, my mind is in too much turmoil to recite, so I turn my lamp on and physically open my Bible. Getting my hands firmly on the baseball bat is worth any effort, because God-spoken truths of scripture are the only way to strike back at this creature.

 

And I don’t swing my bat blindly, either. I target the monster’s weak spots.

When it snarls about my guilt I agree that “like a heavy burden [my sins] are too heavy for me.” (Ps. 38:4).
But then I joyfully proclaim: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7), and that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

When it tells me that I’ll never overcome my sins, I trust that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil 1:6).

When it crows over my weakness, I remember that God gets glory by showing His power in me, and “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9).

When it claims I’m alone, I remind it of the great High Priest who “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

And to every fear I shout God’s own words: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Is. 43:1).

I know this monster isn’t leaving any time soon. He still waits to ambush me, sometimes not even waiting till night. And sometimes, I still take a beating.

If I were alone, it would win. But I’m not alone.

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you” (Is. 41:13).

I fight with God’s spirit “not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).

I take heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

When the shadows gather and the monsters growl, I grab my trusty baseball bat and prepare for battle with the confidence that though I’ve got no strength, Christ has power to spare.

This monster isn’t going away any time soon, but I’m learning I have everything I need to fight back. Not on my own merits—no way—I have no strength of my own. I fight with something much greater.

So yes, there’s a monster under my bed. And I’m guessing a monster waits for you, too.

Perched on your shoulder or crouching under your bed, it steals your joy, tells you lies, and leaves you gasping. Maybe, like me, you’ve tried hiding, enduring, or overcoming in your own strength—and like me, you’ve heard the monster laugh at you.

But God’s Word? It has power.

God’s given us a weapon, and His strength to use it—so grab your baseball bat and start swinging.
“For the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory” (Deut. 20:4).

 

Recommended Reading

2018-01-08T20:07:56+00:00 By |

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