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On Freedom, Fairness, and Faithfulness

Aug 26, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

I love freedom. I love being able to worship as my conscience leads. I love the freedom to pursue the kind of life I feel God calling me to. I love the freedom to be able to express myself the way I desire.

I also recognize that freedom to do such things may come with consequences. They are not all bad. I can be part of a faith community that reflects my personal values and beliefs. I can make a decent living and provide for my family. I can write and think. But sometimes when I do things like these, there are sacrifices. My belief about Sabbath, for instance, creates some constraints about what I will and will not do on that day. Now, I don’t mind that… these beliefs in themselves provide a freedom from another kind of tyranny. I am bound by conscience to pursue things that honor God on that day and reflect upon Him in a way I don’t do on other days, as the working week makes this an unlikely thing. I am also bound to sacrifice some things that prevent me from doing this. Freedom is great.

I also recognize that pursuing something in life prevents me from pursuing other things, especially when the values of that other thing clash with the values of what I am pursuing. I recognize that I cannot just write or say what I want without risking disagreement or even a lost friendship.

Reading Numbers 5 today, I observe several things.

  1. Anyone with infectious diseases were banned from the camp. The camp of God’s people were not to be defiled by sin or its results. That is tough for us to understand today. It seems unfair. It seems to lack compassion. But for their freedom to live in community and to worship God as the center of their existence to exist, I can see why this was necessary. If diseases infected the entire camp (skin or otherwise), and everyone started dying off or was miserable, community freedom would be drastically impacted. They could not deal with these things like we can today with modern medicine. If God just wiped out disease, it would be easy for people to forget a very important thing: this is what sin has done to people! Freedom existed. But freedom needed some boundaries.
  2. Anyone who wronged another person in the camp had to make compensation for it. They had to pay for the wrong, plus 15%. They had to make the appropriate sacrifices. If there wasn’t a relative to receive the compensation, they paid the priest. Freedom needed boundaries. An assault on freedom to live in community and worship had to be dealt with fairly.
  3. If a man suspected his wife was having an affair, they both had to appear in God’s presence, with the priest. The husband had to present a grain offering for his jealousy. The wife had to uncover her head. The priest tok water, added dust from the floor of The Dwelling (Sanctuary), and washed off the ink of the curse into the water. She would drink this water. If she was guilty, she experienced great pain, her womb shriveled up, and her belly swelled. She would be unable to bear children. If she was innocent, she was fine and could go on with her life. A bit more on how I feel about this one to come… but for now, suffice it to say that such things had to be dealt with. If affairs went on, as they must have in many other surrounding cultures with impunity, and if jealousy became a reigning emotion in the camp… freedom destroyed. Freedom needs boundaries, even consequences for assaulting freedom.
Now, I think we have freedom to question. If God cannot take my questions about His Word or actions, I don’t know who can. I also feel that anyone who claims to have never questioned or doubted have either abdicated the right to use their brains, or are lying. Sorry if that offends, but that’s how I feel. And, parenthetically, something about this text bothers me. I realize that theirs was a very patriarchal society. But for the life of me, I have a hard time seeing it fair to have a couple go into the sanctuary, and the man makes a sacrifice for jealousy that carries no apparent risk, while the woman is risking a lot. Even as I read, it wasn’t very clear to me. It’s possible she drank first, felt accute pain, then the man sacrificed his grain (that’s it?), and his jealosy (founded or otherwise) was atoned for… and then the woman drank again(!) and would feel the pain again if she was guilty (and have her child-creating parts immediately rendered useless), but would not if she was innocent. Or, she only had to drink the one time. Not clear on this… but it seems like the man gets off pretty easy if his accusation was unfounded. I am just not seeing how that’s entirely fair! I am glad I have freedom to feel this way! Not sure what the consequences are on this, but there you have it!
I do have some takeaways from this, however.
  1. In my life, my home, my community of faith… if it dishonors or tears down God’s reputation, it needs to be guarded against and gotten rid of. Now, does this mean a person is “banned from the camp” the same way they were in the wilderness? I don’t think so. Our situation is vastly different today. There are ways of dealing with these things that are much more compassionate and healing. I think it’s wise to keep contagious things away from the innocent. But there are those who think we need to keep out the unclean. I think it is too easily forgotten that we have a high priest who helps us deal with sin. If we refuse to deal with it and openly bring things “into the camp,” that’s one thing. But may we never ban the sick and unclean from associating with us who would bring all of this before our merciful Father, in Christ, for forgiveness and cleansing.
  2. Be fair. If I wrong someone, make it right. Go above and beyond in making things right with people. Our homes and our faith communities are built up through reconciliation with each other.
  3. Be faithful. Fidelity with your spouse is a must. Don’t even give your spouse a reason to think you are being unfaithful. Don’t give him or her a reason to be jealous. If unwarranted jealousy exists, deal with it together. We have a high priest in heaven now–Jesus Christ, according to Hebrews. Take it to Him together and work through it. Seek counseling–don’t let such things destroy your freedom to love in your relationship.
  4. If you are unfaithful… please stop. End it now. It may not “shrivel up your womb” (or have an equivalent result in men). But it will shrivel up who you are and cause you, your spouse, and even the one you commit adultery with (and his or her family) a lot of needless pain. The thrill is fleeting and not worth destroying who you are over. Just ask Josh Duggar right now. Ask his wife. Ask scores of people who have experienced the pain of such a thing. I could go deeper on this issue, but won’t for the sake of length and time.
God invites us to experience freedom: to worship, to live in community. Freedom needs boundaries. It needs us to be fair and faithful, to each other and to God.

Ready to Move?

Aug 25, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Our bodies are made for movement.
Think about it. If you hold still for too long, you’ll die. At some point, you’ll need to get something to eat. You’ll need to move to avoid getting a bedsore. You’ll need to get up to use the bathroom. Your muscles will atrophy to the point of uselessness if you don’t move. The health complications of inertia are tremendous.

Our bodies are fascinating. The brain, nervous system, muscular and skeletal structures… all of them have to be coordinated in order to move. Even now, though I am not moving much, my fingers are working in coordination with all of those things I just mentioned. I am thinking these thoughts, they are connecting with something that says, “type this” (a choice I am making), and the messages are getting sent to the fingers to type something on a keyboard that pop up on this screen. At some point, a reader reads this stuff (I’ll call that reader “you” for obvious reasons). Your eyes have to focus on the words. You have to interpret these shapes and process them. You can choose to agree or disagree, to apply them or say, “Meh, not for me today,” and move on.

At some point today, I will get up and go for a run at the gym (my brain is telling me it’s just too hot for a bike ride or an outdoor run… maybe a swim will do). Though all my various body parts may protest, they will all work together to get it done.

But all of it is coordinated.

Numbers 4 is, to me, a picture of a coordinated body. The tribes of Levi were delegated the responsibilities surrounding “The Dwelling,” where God met with His people in the wilderness. Aaron and his sons ministered forgiveness and reconciliation, the life-illustrated plan of salvation. They also coordinated all the packing and unpacking and setup and movement of each part of The Dwelling whenever they would get up and move. The sub-tribe Kohathites carried the implements and furnishings of The Dwelling, but weren’t to touch the furnishings themselves. Gershonites did the heavy lifting–all the fabric coverings and walls for The Dwelling. Merarites moved and set up the framework.

And all of it was coordinated by Aaron and his sons, the priests. God’s anointed ones coordinated the process of the community’s–the body’s–movement.

Here are a few things I learn from this.

  1. Today, I believe there is One anointed mediator for me. His Name is Jesus Christ. “Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. There He ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands… But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for He is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises” (Hebrews 8:1-2, 6). Jesus dispenses the light of the world, the Holy Spirit, and provides us with what we need for real and eternal life. He intercedes between me and the Father, and He takes my prayers to Him. He appears before the Mercy Seat and offers His one sacrifice for me. He does this, and NO OTHER. He is the One.
  2. God’s dwelling–me!–needs to be carefully and intentionally cared for. I am a Dwelling of movement, not lethargy. It needs to be a well-conditioned and cared for body that doesn’t sit around, but goes in coordination with God’s will.
  3. Jesus is the One to coordinate my movement and the movement of His body. I do not coordinate the church, or even my own family. I must seek His guidance and action in His will. If the Levite clans moved out of step with God’s instructions through Moses, Aaron and his sons, they risked inefficiency at best, death at worst (if the Kohathites touched the furnishings, they were dead). To jump ahead of Jesus today is to overstep into areas I have no business being. It is critical that I ask Him, each day, to place me in His plans, where He is going, where He is on mission.
What do you take away from this? Ready to move?

Center of Life

Aug 24, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

I have been reading through the Torah this year, taking time to observe what is written, consider what Moses meant when he wrote it, and thinking about what it it may mean in my context today. I fully expected to get some pretty good insights from Genesis-Leviticus. Honestly, I wish I had been writing about this already. But what I did not expect was the insights God would give me in Numbers.

The first three chapters of Numbers are powerful lessons in what should be central in our lives. Chapter 1 opens with Israel being numbered, registered for the army (those men who were 20 years old and up). The Levites were not to be registered, but set apart for their ministry in “The Dwelling.” Anyone who tried to do their job would be put to death.

“The Dwelling,” or “Tent of Meeting” where God met with Moses and Aaron and his sons ministered, was set up in the middle of camp. Around The Dwelling camped the Levites: Gershonites on the West, Merarites to the North, Kohathites to the South, and Aaron and Moses and their children on the east, nearest the entrance to The Dwelling.

The rest of Israel surrounded them. Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun to the West; Dan, Asher, and Naphtali to the North; Reuben, Simeon, and Gad to the South; and Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh to the East. Everyone’s tent faced inward, toward The Dwelling.

The Levites were not to be number with the other tribes. They were set apart for the work of The Dwelling. They belonged to God and by their service “redeemed” the first-born of every other tribe (as every first-born belonged to God). The first-born male of every tribe that exceeded the number of Levites were compensated for by paying 5 silver shekels to Aaron and his sons for their service in the Sanctuary.

A lot of things were accounted for and served as lessons to the tribes. Israel’s security was set up, but the center of their lives and security was The Dwelling. The tribes were not to be facing outward, as though guarding against an enemy, but inward, facing The Dwelling where God met with them.

Anyone who came to The Dwelling to offer a sacrifice would have to pass by the Levite families responsible for the ministry in the Sanctuary, which meant someone was always available to bring a fallen fellow Israelite to reconciliation (and that fellow Israelite couldn’t just “hide” his sin in his tent, so to speak).

That Tent was the absolute focal point of security, economy, and life. It was well-organized, functions were well-delegated (within the Levitical tribe), well-manned, and well-funded.

I take a few thoughts from this about our situation today.

  1. Today, each of us who claim to follow Christ claim the responsibility of a priest. The priests were “living sacrifices,” servants of God in His Dwelling. Today, we are to be such living sacrifices. I think of myself and my family. We belong to God as part of His community of priests. We are living sacrifices. Our selves are to be used in His service.
  2. Redemption, reconciliation… these are supposed to be central to our lives. We are called to be ministers to this purpose, all of us who claim the faith community of Christ.
  3. Our greatest energies, our budget, our security… these must revolve around what God is up to. His Dwelling ministry has not ended just because there isn’t a tent that we all face in the community. In fact, He is still at work, ministering reconciliation to us all before our Father in heaven. How do I spend my energy? In speaking life and redemption to people? Or in making ends meet?
  4. We all have a role to play. Some of us exist to lead the way (Judah, Issachar, Zebulun). Some of us guard against wolves coming in and destroying us (Ephraim, Dan, Reuben, and the ones with them). Some of us build up and maintain people, God’s new dwelling through the Holy Spirit. Some of us minister reconciliation most directly, bringing people to Jesus, our great high priest. When we fulfill our role, the whole community benefits. When we abdicate, the whole community is vulnerable and misses out.
Choose community. Choose life. Choose priesthood today. There’s a church who needs you. There are people in your neighborhood who need you. The High Priest wants you to take part. Make Him the center of your focus, your life, your economy, and your activity.

Thrive – In my Family

Jan 13, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Families don’t thrive by mistake. It takes intentionality. It takes work, practice, repeating certain things until they become second nature even. Sometimes, though, isn’t it hard to keep from getting into a routine–or a rut, maybe–where you leave important things out of the process of thriving in your family? What can we do to stay on track with what God teaches about thriving as a family?

Key Scripture this week: Deuteronomy 6:4-9

(If you read this, let us know when you join us for worship this Saturday!)

What’s Happening – Weekend of December 6, 2014

Dec 3, 2014   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments


Adult Sabbath School: “The Book of James” – Saturdays, 10:00 AM (Classroom #1)

Serving God Single – 2nd & 4th Fridays, 7:30 PM (Church)

Healthy Meals… – Dec 20, 1:30 PM (Fellowship Hall)

… Mary Heart in a Martha World – Next meeting, December 13, 1:00 PM (Classroom #3)

Stitching with a Purpose – 1st Saturdays, 1:30 PM (Fellowship Hall)


Our Christmas offering this year will go toward building a special needs and family restroom. We have just over $700 saved for this. Your generosity, above and beyond your regular giving, is greatly appreciated. Mark your “Tithes & Offerings” envelope “Christmas Offering” to give to this.


Saturday evening at 5:30 PM: pray for abundant life and mission at Carrollwood!


Our church needs your help to connect and develop and have the kind of community presence that we want to have. As we are largely a member-supported church, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Mark your “Tithes and Offerings” envelope today for “Local Church Budget.”


Mission Tampa Bay (MTB) exists to strengthen Tampa area churches in unity and mission. Our motto is “Together we are Stronger.” We are working to show the entire Tampa area that the Seventh-day Adventist Church cares and is here to serve. You are invited to an informative event and season of prayer today at 4:00 PM at the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church.


Tonight, 6:00 PM. Agenda: Local Church Budget for 2015.


Speaker: Chuck Reeves

Perfect Timing

Dec 3, 2014   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

“But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” Galatians 4:4-5.

It was December 24, 1978. I was four years old. That year we had moved to western North Carolina from Houston, Texas. We didn’t have much, but mom and dad had gotten me a brand new sled for Christmas, the kind with the metal runners on it (best kind, hands down). But on the 24th, the ground was bare.

We never got a ton of snow in that part of the country, but we got a couple good ones per year where you’d get a foot or so. Usually those came after New Year’s Day. This year, however, on Christmas morning, it came down and blanketed the ground. It was perfect timing, and a four year-old boy and his folks had a white Christmas, with a lot of sledding!

Perfect timing.

A Savior had been promised to God’s people for centuries. They longed and prayed for rescue. Then, on the right day, in the right place, at the right time, Jesus was born. While God rarely comes at our appointed time, He always comes at the right time.

All of us are waiting on something, often wondering if God has forgotten us. In your waiting, let the birth of Christ encourage you. just because God hasn’t come through (as far as you can see) doesn’t mean He has abandoned you. To Him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. This very minute He’s working for His glory and your good. Though circumstances say otherwise, God is going to come through, on schedule, fulfilling His long-appointed plans for you.

Don’t give up before the time is right. Take hope in Jesus and know that you are loved and prized by the God who stepped down from heaven and arrived at the perfect time for all of us.

(Some adaptation from Waiting Here for You, An Advent Journey of Hope, by Louie Giglio. Available as a Bible reading plan on the YouVersion Bible App; also at

What’s Happening – Weekend of October 18, 2014

Oct 15, 2014   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments


Transformers - Transformation Process

Please flip this house…flip this life for me!!! You know life is not  a TV show…it is hard work. Faith is not like wining the lottery…luck. No, faith is about commitment, choosing the right even if it is hard to do. So it is with transformation…it is a process that God helps you choose and stay focused on…day by day! What do you need to transform?


“The Book of James” – Saturdays, 10:00 AM (Classroom #1)

“Singles” – 2nd & 4th Fridays, 7:30 PM (Church)

“Healthy Meals Your Family Will Actually Eat” – 1:00 PM (Fellowship Hall) – Next meeting November 15.

“Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” – 1:00 PM (Classroom #3)


“God’s Not Dead” Movie Night – Oct 25.

Adventist Book Center “Bookmobile” at Tampa 1st SDA, Oct 27, 6:30 – 7:00 PM.

Work Bee – Nov 2, 10:00 AM – noon.

Fall Festival – Nov 8, 5:00 PM.


Mountaintop and Renewal

Oct 15, 2014   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Read Luke 9:28-36

Still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Peter sees something strange. Jesus was in the same place he had been when he closed his eyes to sleep, but everything else had changed. Bright white robes, lights from the heavens, and two men that Peter was somehow able to recognize as Moses and Elijah had entered the scene. The next thing Peter realized was that the men were beginning to leave.

The most monumental moment in history for this Jewish man and he was sleeping! He tries to salvage the moment: “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents…” Maybe if offered a camp-out Moses and Elijah would decide to stick around a bit. Even as it came from his mouth he probably realized how silly it sounded. Luke tells us he said this, “Not knowing what he said.”

It was a great spiritual moment, it was the camp high, the moment of conviction when the pastor delivered that home run sermon, the great night of worship taking your breath away…and Peter did not want to let it pass. How often we do the same thing.

We want the feeling, not the life. We crave the moment, not the endurance. We seek the high, not the sacrifice. God wants better for us. Even as Peter yammers on, the Father speaks to the moment, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

The feelings, the moments, the high can all be great. Only the Son makes us new. Peter wanted something special; the father wanted Peter to be made into something special. When we bounce from event to event hoping it will sustain our faith, we will be disappointed every time. Those times make us feel new for a while, but God is calling us to follow Jesus and be changed for a lifetime.

Enjoying the mountain top experience is fine, but never let it take your eyes off the one who makes you new.

  • How often do we attend a conference, concert, or church service hoping for a moment like what Peter had on the hill? How long do these feelings last?
  • What can you do to keep Jesus the focus both on the mountain, and after you’ve come down?

What’s Happening – Weekend of September 27, 2014

Sep 24, 2014   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

10:00 AM, Saturday

Connection Group: “The Teachings of Jesus” – Second Coming. Classroom #1.

Child Care provided.

11:00 AM, Saturday

Worship Gathering: Simple. “Honoring God in All We Do.” Psalm 1:1-6. Dan McNab.

Carrollwood Kids Worship Gathering: Allaso Ranch. “God is the Great Teacher! I Will Use What I Learn!” Luke 4:1-15.

Following Worship Gathering

Snacks in the foyer.

Connection Groups: Tech Talks. “Photography.” Sanctuary, 1:00 PM.

Other Announcements

Other Connection Groups Information

  • Becoming a Contagious Christian. Meeting time is being adjusted. Will keep informed.
  • Singles. 2nd & 4th Friday of each month, 7:30 PM.
  • Healthy Meals Your Family Will Actually Eat. Next meeting: October 11, 1:00 PM.
  • Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. Begins October 11, 1:00 PM.

Fall Festival (Church & Community Party) – November 8, 5:00 PM.

Paper Recycling continues with the special bin in the parking lot. We are paid by the ton, proceeds going to help build a new unisex family/special needs restroom.

Coming October 4 – Simple. “Strong Relationships.” James Johnson.

What Are You Striving For?

Sep 24, 2014   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

We do what we do, ultimately, for an audience of one. Every prayer prayed, every gift given, every kind deed or act of service—none of it is in vain.

Doing things that would be rewarded in eternity motivated the apostle Paul as well, as he records in this vivid comparison of two kinds of race. In Paul’s day, instead of giving gold medals for winning first place in an Olympic event, a crown of olive or laurel leaves was placed on the winner’s head. By the time the athlete went home that night, the wreath would already be wilting and falling apart. Think of that. All that energy expended for a wreath that didn’t last beyond the day.

Paul contrasts this with putting our efforts into running a race of another kind—a race that advances the purposes of God in the world. If you enter into that race and you run hard, God will give you an imperishable wreath, an eternal crown, a reward that isn’t wilted by sundown, but that lasts forever.

Are you in the right race? Or have you accidentally drifted into a race that is mostly in vain? Are your best efforts going toward a race that results in fleeting applause? Or do you strive for material gain or for passing pleasures?

Having a life verse is one of the most powerful tools I know for simplifying your life. It keeps you on course and helps you make wise decisions about where to invest your time, energy, and gifts. It drives you to live each day with fervency and passion.

Choose a life verse and keep it ever-present in your mind. Let it empower you to run the race that matters, free of distraction. Someday, when you stand before God, your life verse will have helped you receive a crown worth keeping.

Question for reflection: Do you have a life verse? If so, what is it and why did you claim it as your own?

(Adapted from the Simplify 10 day devotional available through the YouVersion Bible app, and from Simplify by Bill Hybels).


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