Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

I Want You To Know Jesus

If all of my effort to write means anything, my prayer is that I help people learn more about Jesus, growing in faith and maybe seeing ways to improve their relationship with God they had not thought about before.

Jesus loves us more than anyone. I know this truth because I believe He lived as a human, the only human who never sinned, and took on the punishment for my sin when He allowed Himself to be placed on a cross. I know that I will live eternally with Him because I believe He rose from death to be a living God forever.

We cannot rely on just ourselves to define what is good and bad and expect to find peace in this life. The Bible tells us what it means to know God and gives us the roadmap to living a life that pleases God. Jesus describes living according to the Law of God as staying on the narrow path and walking in the light. When we believe in and love Him, trying every day to live right is actually a lighter burden because Jesus is with us, helping us do what is right through the Holy Spirit, His gift to those who believe.

Knowing Jesus is a life-long quest. The more we learn about Him, the more we can lean on Him in times of trouble and to help us make wise decisions each day. Knowing Jesus helped me survive having to watch my mother die from ALS, one of the worst diseases on the planet. Because of Jesus, I strive to be productive even though I struggle with several illnesses that make working and sometimes even moving difficult.

Two of the saddest stories in the Bible to me involve people who turned away from Jesus. When Jesus drove the demons out of the Gentile and into the herd of pigs at Gerasene, the Gentile followed Jesus’ orders and went home to tell about the great things that Jesus was doing. Unfortunately, the people of Gerasene let fear win out over faith. They asked Jesus to leave, which meant He didn’t do any more miracles there or touch any more lives.

The second time Jesus gets rejected is in his own hometown. Even though He went into the synagogue and taught them things that astonished them, the people couldn’t get over the fact that Jesus had grown up among them. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” they asked each other. Because of their unbelief, Jesus left Nazareth without performing the amazing miracles or continuing to preach as He had done in so many other areas of Israel.

In contrast to the people who turned away from Jesus, we have the story of the woman whose belief in Jesus was so great, she experienced healing just by touching Jesus’ cloak. Others followed suit, allowing their faith to open the way up for blessings.

Being a Christian means putting Jesus first. Ironically, because Jesus loves us and wants what is best for us, putting Him first inevitably helps us bring about the best life we could hope for. Praying helps us connect to Jesus, who is the reason we can come before Almighty God and ask for the best of things, as well as seeking forgiveness of sins and guidance for our walk in the light. The more we talk with God, the closer we will draw to Him.

I pray for this country because our media at least has taken an increasingly active role to deny Jesus, just like the people of Gerasene and Nazareth. No love can surpass the love of Jesus, He who stepped down from His divinity to face the wrath of that divinity toward a human race that lived in brokenness. Jesus’ love for us is pure and infinite. Any other kind of love has limits and imperfections. Any one who thinks he or she can live without Jesus’ love lies to himself or herself. And even though Jesus hurts for those who refuse to believe in Him, those who suffer most for unbelief are the non-believers themselves.

Start or re-start your walk with Jesus. Admit that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. Ask Jesus to forgive you and to become your Savior. Make a commitment to change your behavior as you grow with Jesus. Open your heart to the gift of the Holy Spirit by practicing good Christian steps of daily prayer and Bible study. Know the God of the Bible and not just the God of your heart.

Let’s bring Jesus into this troubled world by shining His light. Now more than ever, we need to remember that He has the infinite view, always ready to guide us in love.

In Christ,
Ramona

Photo by nappy from Pexels

Posted in Uncategorized

Mind Your Heart

I’m thinking about how the Pharisees’ hypocrisy can teach us to love God’s Word.

Back then, they wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples weren’t following the “rules.” Before they sat down to eat, the disciples didn’t ceremonially clean their hands. Jesus’ response is that what comes out of us, our words and actions, make us unclean, not failing to ceremonially wash according to traditional rules.

But the Pharisees were master rule keepers. Besides the commandments God gave Moses, the Pharisees upheld a weighty list of dos and don’ts, accumulated through years of traditional practice, but not founded in God’s word.

These traditional rules were so cumbersome, in fact, that many people worked at finding loopholes in the rules. One loophole that Jesus points out to the Pharisees is this: even though God tells us to honor our father and mother, the Pharisees’ traditional rules allowed them to deny help when their parents asked for it, as long as they said that money or resource had already been promised to God.

The prophet Isaiah warned against this practice of relying on traditional rules rather than God’s Word, “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught'” (Isaiah 29:13; NIV). Jesus says this plethora of traditional rules lead men astray, representing themselves as coming from God when they really come from the hearts of men.

But whatever [word] comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this is what defiles and dishonors the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts and plans, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slanders (verbal abuse, irreverent speech, blaspheming). These are the things which defile and dishonor the man; but eating with [ceremonially] unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

Matthew 15:18-20 (amplified version)

Before we condemn the Pharisees for being hypocrites, we should look to our own record when it comes to living by the Word of God instead of being directed by how we think and feel. In the world that surrounds us, doing what feels right has rapidly outstripped doing what God says, so much so that even people who claim to be Christian okay behavior that the Bible says God hates.

But in order to live by God’s will rather than our own, we first have to know God’s Word. The Bible is our roadmap to thinking and acting in ways that please God. Paul underscores the importance of the Bible in this way:

All Scripture is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration] and is profitable for instruction, for conviction [of sin], for correction [of error and restoration to obedience], for training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately–behaving honorably with personal integrity and moral courage]; so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, outfitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (amplified version)

Being human, we are destined to make choices based on our hearts, but that doesn’t mean we have to fail God. We can create hearts that will honor God rather than defile us by knowing God’s Word, studying it and living it so that what He says is ingrained in us. In this way, we will make choices that are clean in God’s eyes, not just our own.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Uncategorized

Keeping On

Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, it will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

As long as I live, God continues to show me new things about His promises. These verses from Matthew took on more meaning for me this week as I read them in the Amplified Bible for the first time. If you compare the Amplified Version above with the New International Version below,

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

you’ll notice what struck me as significant. The simple phrase, keep on, which the Amplified Version includes in these verses gave me an important reminder about the nature of faith and the practical steps of making my belief in God a way of life, not just something I give lip service to.

Keep on asking, Jesus told His listeners during the Sermon on the Mount. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. No matter what challenges I am facing in this world, if I keep on going to God with them, I will eventually make it through any and every crisis I face. I know this because of what Jesus says next:

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will [instead] give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will [instead] give him a snake? If you then, evil (sinful by nature) as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give what is good and advantageous to those who keep on asking Him.

Matthew 7: 9-10

God will give what is good and advantageous to those who keep on asking Him. That doesn’t mean God will always give me exactly what I ask for, but I can keep on asking and seeking and knocking knowing that when God gives me an answer, it will be the answer that does the most good for me.

Herein lies a formula for living without the worry of this world taking over my mind and wounding my spirit:

  1. I know that God is able to do anything in the world. He parted the Red Sea when His people needed to escape the Pharaoh. He saved Daniel from the Lion’s Den, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the flames. He turned water into wine, raised Lazarus from the dead, and showed Thomas the nail holes in His hands.
  2. I know that I am able to do anything God-willed through my faith in Christ Jesus. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Jesus tells us He came to heal those who are willing to admit their unrighteousness and repent of their sin. Through Christ’s strength, Paul nurtured churches and helped them grow, even when he suffered imprisonment and debilitating physical problems. Peter became the cornerstone of Jesus’ church and bore the ignominy of crucifixion even after denying he knew the Savior three times as Jesus lay mocked and beaten at the hands of His enemies.
  3. If I really want a plan of mine to succeed according to God’s standards, I must keep on asking, seeking and knocking. Keeping on helps me continue to place God at the center of my thoughts. If I ask, seek, and knock in full knowing of God’s intention to answer my requests in a way that brings the most advantage to me according to God’s perspective, my daily, or hourly, or minute-by-minute asking, seeking and knocking keep God in the moment with me. How can I be afraid knowing God means well for me and knows what is best for me? Asking, seeking and knocking without giving up keeps me moving in faith as a way of life, right where God wants me to be.
  4. If I really want to get the best solution for my problems, I have to hand them over to God and break the habit of worrying instead of believing. No matter what God’s answer is to my current dilemma, even if His answer is no to my question, I know His answer will lead me in the right direction for my life, a direction that may take much work but that will also make me ultimately into the best version of me that can serve God.

Keep on keeping on. It’s a phrase we throw out there, sometimes in response to those mundane, “what you up to?” questions. But keep on keeping on before Jesus, and you’ll find that your daily worry decreases while your faith in God’s good answers for your life keep on growing.

God is able. Through Christ, I will continue to ask on, seek on and knock on until all my uncertainties and daily stressors are put to rest. Abraham asked on, even as he led his son Issac to slaughter. Jesus asked on even as he prayed knowing exactly the bitterness of the cup from which He was soon to drink in the Garden of Gethsemane.

If I really want to walk my talk and not just pay lip service to my beliefs, then I must keep on loving God and seeking Him, keeping Him in my heart and mind until there is no place left for worry to stick around and keep me from fulfilling my God-given purpose.

What practical steps do you use on a daily basis to help you stay in God’s will and maintain your faith? I’d love to know what works for you, especially since I suffer from anxiety disorder, making managing my worry a constant problem.

There’s another keep on that’s important to this lesson, and that’s the keeping on we do when we continue to study God’s word, reading the Bible over and over, knowing our favorite texts and more by heart. In today’s fast-paced world, slowing down to ask, seek, and knock is more important than ever. Try it and see what results you notice in your spiritual life and your daily walk with Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Christ,
Ramona

The verses in this post were accessed online at Biblehub.com.

Posted in Romantic Fiction, Writing

Thicker than Blood

A young woman looking to re-build her future gets caught up in a decades-old mystery, in my latest novel, available now on Amazon.

1952, a season of murder in the small, West Texas town of Moseby, and Annabelle Rafter knows more about it than even she realizes. As Dr. Hunt Rafter’s wife, she’s seen plenty of children coming into the world and sewn up more ruffians than she’d like, including Henry Runyon, her best friend, Sally’s, wayward brother-in-law. Henry Runyon has gone missing, though only the stars know he lays in the tall grass, a victim of his own bad deeds. And the murders of an entire family remain unsolved as 1952 fades into decades without answers.

In 1988, the horrors of 1952 hang heavy in the air as Texas Ranger Peter Clemmons arrives in Moseby shortly after a skeleton gets discovered outside of town. He’s convinced the skeleton holds the key to the mystery of the 1952 murders, a mystery his grandfather investigated but never solved.

Peter isn’t the only newcomer. Mary Runyon, newly alone in the world, follows the clues in some old letters to discover her one remaining relative, her long-lost grandmother, Sally. Guided by Sally and her best friend Annie (Annabelle), Mary seeks to re-build her shattered life. And when Mary gets caught up in the same mystery with Peter, she joins him in probing Annie for the secrets the doctor’s widow seems to keep.

Weaving between the past and the year 1988, this mystery novel tells the stories about love and loss that make up any well-lived life.

I thank you for considering this novel, my eighth. The character of Annabelle has been brewing in my imagination since I was a child, watching my grandmother make chocolate pies, using her thick kitchen knife to open cans like a warrior princess in the sand-dune “wilderness” of West Texas where she quilted and tended a veritable zoo of animals and told me stories about Bonnie and Clyde. The “regular-ness” of people grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and held fast, how the most mundane of tasks could transform depending upon the character of the person performing it.

In the grittiness of living, we will have struggles and sadness and pain, but in God we have the hope of Jesus’ promise: “I have overcome the world.” If my writing does anything, I sincerely pray it affirms your faith in a loving, all-knowing God who cares for you and has issued an open invitation for all to believe in His Son, who died for the sins of all so that we may know hope in this world and everlasting peace in the next.

I write to you as someone who knows a little about the pain of this world. In February 2014, my grandmother, she of warrior fame, passed away. Around this time, my mother noticed that her fingers were losing strength. By October, my father, mother, and I were in a hospital room in downtown Houston getting the official diagnosis of my mother’s ALS. The horrors of that disease are more than a person should have to bear, and yet my mother, the bravest of us all, managed to give us her sweet smile, even after all her muscle control was lost, drilling her world down to one blink or two.

The hope of salvation helped me cope with the challenges of these times, knowing that Jesus’ loving arms waited to embrace my mother when she passed from this world into the next. His promises to love us, to lighten our burdens, to forgive our failings, all comforted me when I needed to get out of bed for another day and another.

Knowing God’s Word became even more of a blessing during the trying times of these last years, watching my mother die so horribly and then dealing with the loss of her. Whenever I despair, I am able to pull myself up again by looking toward the promises in the Holy Bible. God is my refuge, rock, and fortress. Many psalms reflect my feelings, showing me that God wants my honesty and can take my pain. Paul assures me God can take anything that happens to me, even my mother’s death, and bring something good out of it for me.

Never doubt that evil exists in this world, but that God will shine His light in the darkness. As Christians, we must strive constantly to remain on the narrow path in that light. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are imbued with the Holy Spirit, who offers us the insight to seek that light, even though the devil, the master of evil, actively seeks to pull us into the dark.

But God promises to conquer evil. In the last days, He will return to vanquish the devil. In that world, we will know ultimate peace. We will feel love as we have never felt it before. We will be in our forever home.

I pray my characters show people how to manage a Christian life, even when we stumble from the narrow way. If even one person comes to know Christ through my writing, then I feel I will have fulfilled God’s purpose for me in this world.

May His will be done in your life as well.

If you enjoy my novels, please leave a review for me. These reviews help other readers discover a good read, and they help me reach more people. You can also discover more of my books at ramonalevacy.com.

In Christ,
Ramona

Find Thicker than Blood on Kindle.

Posted in Christian Living

Take Care Of Your Own Backyard

Elvis Presley had a song about it: people who say one thing or judge others about another, while they are doing the very things they speak against (or worse) when they think no one else is watching them.

Clean up your own backyard
Oh don’t you hand me, don’t you hand me none of your lines
Clean up your own backyard
You tend to your business, I’ll tend to mine

Elvis Presley’s Clean Up Your Own Backyard

Jesus had another way of saying the same thing. He encourages us to consider the moat in our own eyes before worrying about the speck in somebody else’s. Of one of the many lessons from our pandemic experiences, perhaps the most important comes from this concept. If we take care of the business in our own backyard as we ought, we won’t have time or energy to commit the sin of judging other people (God’s job) or sticking our nose in their business. And if we look more closely at ourselves, we’re bound to discover more empathy for others because we’ll see just how far from perfect we are ourselves.

Proverbs contains several verses with practical steps to take care of the business in our own backyard, God’s way. Chapter 3, verses 5-6 advise:

With all your heart, you must trust the LORD and not your own judgment. Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow.

Contemporary English Version

So many people say God wants them to do such and such without seeing the fallacy of their thinking. They mistaken following the desires of their hearts for listening to God’s instructions. God will never tell us to do something that goes against His word. The truth of the matter is that none of us are trusting the LORD if we are relying on our understanding of HIM from our own feelings about God rather than knowing the WORD of God, which is how the LORD leads us to the ultimate truth.

How I wish we could know all there is to know about God merely by saying aloud something like, “I believe God exists and that He wants the best for me.” Too many people live this way, which is why you see them on television claiming to be Christian in one breath and saying something that goes against God’s Word in the next. (We all do this at some point and to some degree, which is why we need Jesus, our Savior, to attain salvation.)

Proverbs 16: 2-6 goes into more detail about the steps necessary to follow God’s will and not our own desires:

All the ways of a man are clean and innocent in his own eyes [and he may see nothing wrong with his actions], But the LORD weighs and examines the motives and intents [of the heart and knows the truth]. Commit your works to the LORD [submit and trust them to Him], And your plans will succeed [if you respond to His will and guidance].

The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked [according to their role] for the day of evil. Everyone who is proud and arrogant in heart is disgusting and exceedingly offensive to the LORD; Be assured he will not go unpunished. By mercy and lovingkindness and truth [not superficial ritual], wickedness is cleansed from the heart,

And by the fear of the LORD one avoids evil.

Amplified Version

These verses make several clear points about how to live by the code of taking care of our own business and leaving the business of others to God.

  1. Even though you may see nothing wrong with your actions, be aware that God knows you better even than you know yourself. How well do your actions hold up when you compare them to what the Bible tells you to do?
  2. Our actions are only going to succeed if we offer them to God, truly trusting Him to bring success to those actions. But this process only works if our plans line up with God’s will and guidance. How do we know God’s will or understand how He may guide us?
    • We cannot truly know God’s will without having knowledge of God’s Word, where He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Bible is God talking to us through the centuries. It is a book meant to be understood in whole, not by piecemeal to twist things to our point of view.
    • We cannot know how God may be guiding us without being in constant, real communication with Him. Prayer can happen anytime, anywhere. It can be a silent moment before you start the car, asking for safe journeys and open eyes to catch opportunities to do His will while you run your errands. It can be long meditation in a closed room, free from distractions, when you pour out all of you in the faithful confidence that God listens.
  3. The proud and arrogant of heart, those who choose to do what they want without any care as to what God’s will might be, are destined to punishment. Whenever we want to rush to judge somebody else, we need to remind ourselves that God clearly reserves the sole right to have this privilege. Our job is to take comfort in the knowledge that God punishes all evil eventually.
  4. Mercy, love to others, and truthfulness help us purge wickedness from our hearts. Fearing God means respecting what He says, reading His Word, doing His will, following His rules and approaching His throne in full-knowing of how much MORE He is than we can ever be. These steps, this kind of fear of God, helps us avoid evil, including the evil of looking over the picket fence and judging next door instead of taking care of the waist-high weeds in our own yard.

Elvis fans know he took the letters TCB (take care of business) as his personal motto, in part a reminder of these very truths. As a person always in the spotlight, he had more than his fair share of people looking over the fence to judge his business. By concentrating on his own business instead of what those people had to say, he helped keep his life focused on what mattered most to him.

As Christians, what matters most to us is our relationship with Christ. We want the angels to dance around His throne for us. Let’s focus on that goal. When we quit looking over the fence, I firmly believe we will love our neighborhoods again and keep God at the center of all our actions, just like He wants from us.

In Christ,
Ramona

Visit RamonaLevacy.com to find out more about my novels.

Posted in Christianity

What If We Loved Like This?

Jesus loves us according to what we need, not what we deserve. If He loved us according to what we deserve, we’d all have nothing, waiting in terror for the judgment we’ll have when we face Him in all His glory.

Did you notice I say ALL of us would suffer? Not one of us is perfect. Each one of us has committed a sin, and sin separates us from God. Realizing this makes many of the arguments people have about lifestyle choices and actions superfluous. We all stand in front of the prospect of God’s consuming wrath except for the saving grace of believing in and accepting Christ as our Savior and LORD.

When Jesus offered the love that people need, He found all kinds of sinners willing to embrace His ways of doing. The woman living in sin presumably went home to leave the man she currently lived with. Taxpayers and prostitutes welcomed Him to dinner.  One wayward woman poured expensive perfume on his hair because she realized the breadth and depth of His salvation gift.

He also found sinners not ready to accept the love they needed. The young man Jesus encouraged to sell his worldly goods to follow Him walked away from the greatest treasure of all. The money changers at the Temple ignored Jesus’ promise to fill their needs so that Jesus was compelled to tear apart their selling booths. Peter denied Him three times. Judas rejected Him and the promise of salvation by betraying Jesus to the cross.

Too often, we approach others offering what we think they deserve instead of approaching them with what they need in mind. Unfortunately, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Our attempts at love are tainted by a deserve approach instead of a need approach because looking at people through a lens that only sees them in light of what we think should happen to them based on their actions is really our natural approach to most interactions.

No wonder movements that want to help people turn from actions that may ultimately hurt them too often dwindle into finger-pointing and yelling. No one stops to listen to the other side. No one is thinking about what the other side actually needs. No wonder too many people say that religion fails them.

When we think about people in terms of what they deserve, we put value judgments on everything they do. We let what we think about their actions taint what we convince ourselves they need from us. But what they really need is for us to think about the situation from their point of view. When we are in a quandary about sin, we don’t want someone to judge us. We need someone to try to see things from our point of view, as if they are literally walking in our shoes.

When we look at people through eyes that want to see a need as opposed to what someone deserves, we open our arms instead of holding up rules to block the distance between the two of us. We talk about the joys of knowing God, about the positive things we’ve learned from our study of the Bible. We quote verses about God’s love and patience, not about His judgment as if we are supposed to mete it out.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of trying to choose need over deserve is putting to the side your conviction that you are right and the other person is flaunting God’s law. But only God is the true judge. There are many steps between the words a fellow sinner needs to hear and the ultimate truth we all will face on the final day of judgment. Too often, we confront others from a deserve perspective, forgetting that they need something entirely different from us.

If we want to love like Jesus, we must approach others thinking about what they really need from us, which means considering what we would need from them if our roles were reversed. This approach doesn’t include lying to others just to make them feel more comfortable, though keeping our lips sealed might sometimes be best. We must always speak God’s truth when asked, but we must also always trust God to impart His truth when someone truly accepts Jesus as Savior.

Next time you catch yourself treating someone like you think they deserve instead of like they need, take a breath, apologize, and change your tactics. One-on-one and one by one, we will make a Jesus difference in this world.

We need it even though we don’t deserve it.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

Posted in Christian Living

For Such A Time As This: A Time For All

It’s one of my favorite quotes in the Bible. Esther, a common woman, finds herself in extraordinary circumstances. She can save her people from a death sentence, but she must risk her life in order to succeed. As she struggles with doubt, her cousin Mordecai tells her, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Today, all of us face extremely different, extraordinary circumstances. We find ourselves facing peril on many fronts, from trying to stay healthy to dealing with political, social and economic issues. For all intents and purposes, it seems like the world at large is balanced on a narrow thread, teetering on the brink of success or failure.

To God, each of us matters. Jesus talks about the shepherd who goes looking everywhere for the one sheep that is missing. The father of the prodigal rejoices over his son’s return. Jesus points to the birds and asks us to consider how much more God will take care of us when He provides so well for these feathered wonders. Christ died on the cross to ensure each of us has the opportunity to be saved.

What if God has put you in this time and place for such a time as this? As Christians, showing the world the kind of difference following Jesus makes in our lives is so important. His kindness, compassion and empathy provide the love and understanding the world needs to find healing, now more than ever. For such a time as this, the world needs people who can absorb the impact of uncertainty and change and walk in the faith that God is in control.

As Christians, we know that ultimately God’s Will prevails. If we live each day walking with God, strong in the knowledge of His sovereignty, providing vibes of His peace with our patient interactions with people we meet, have we not fulfilled the promise of doing what God needs us to do in such a time as this? No, we can’t change the whole world with the actions we can control on a daily basis, but we can make a difference one person at a time. If enough of us embrace our faith and walk this planet as Jesus would do, we will see a changed world, a world better than what it has ever been before.

Kindness can be tricky. We want to believe that all kind people are going to heaven. But kindness that does not root itself in faith is fleeting, likely to crumble at the first signs of challenge. When this current crisis passes, much of the good deeds being done will shrivel away. But kind acts rooted in faith breed more kind acts. We love and are kind every day when we walk with Christ, whether the world is falling apart around us or not. One person at a time, one day at a time, we make a difference by acting on God’s Word.

Small acts can make a large difference. In this masked-up reality, we can’t see a simple smile, but we can meet people in the eye. And the looks our eyes project can be full of joy or empathy. We can respond with polite words when we are confronted with rudeness. We can understand that no one is operating at full capacity at the moment. We can offer people the benefit of the doubt.

What is your spiritual gift? How are you using it during this crazy time? I believe my spiritual gift involves writing. When I feel that God has given me something worthy to say, I write a blog post about it to share that idea. There are other ways I can use my writing as well, like sending cards to people who are struggling or alone.

How are you applying your spiritual gifts during such a time as this? Instead of worrying about the speck in your neighbor’s eye, are you working on the log in your own? Are you good at talking to people about faith and hope, especially when they are caught up in despair? Are you praising God for His mercy and wonder and grace? Are you praying for and with others? Are you prepared to be mocked for your beliefs, sure in the knowledge of the promise of what is to come?

Conservative views are under attack, prompting us to respond with anger or bloated righteousness instead of turning the other cheek. The late Ravi Zacharias perfected the model of responding like Jesus to such attacks. Never giving up what he knew to be the truth, he would calmly ask questions of his attackers, working to understand their point of view at the same time he tried to help them see the issue from his point of view. Because he applied this Socratic method in love, regardless of the hate being directed to him, he often showed how love and patience will always reveal God’s truth better than hatred and anger.

What if we as Christians in such a time as this applied the methods of love and patience and turning the other cheek each day instead of attacking back? What if in such a time as this, God needs us to be like Jesus more than ever? What if He put you in this time and place because He knows you can walk by faith and find the strength to see everyone through a lens of love, even as you cling to the conservative truths that help you continuously walk with God?

Pray to be like Jesus. Know His Word. Let it begin your day and guide it. Return to Him every time you feel yourself slipping into fear or anger or despair. When we model the perfect peace of knowing God, we will make others want what we have. At such a time as this, helping others find the gift of knowing a loving God seems like the most important thing of all.

What is your next step? Why did God put you here, in this time and place? Anyone can make a difference, for the good or the bad. Choose the good. Choose Jesus.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

Embracing Opportunities: God In Times Of Crisis

Nothing is worse than watching someone you love die. Unfortunately, I know from first-hand experience. When that death comes at the hand of ALS, the journey is slow, humiliating, painful and horrifying, the kind of death that will haunt your dreams at night, wake you in a cold sweat.

Living through that kind of death puts all other things in perspective. What is a stay-at-home order, or a week without electricity because of a hurricane, or a long to-do list, filled with things you’d rather not do, when compared to the misery you’ve already survived?

Unfortunately, too many other people are having to live through watching someone die these days. It may be quick, but no less horrific. Worse still, many are being deprived the final moments with their loved ones because of the demands on medical facilities and the needs for social distancing.

The best time to seek God is always right now. When my mother was diagnosed with ALS, I had spent a lifetime studying the Bible, seeking God, praying to my Savior, and building a relationship. That foundation helped me cope in so many ways. I had deep wells of faith from which to draw when moments got really hard. I had the conviction, the real belief, that my mother’s final destination was a much better place.

Not everyone has this foundation when life throws a curve ball like a scary pandemic. I’ll never forget the astounded look on the palliative care doctor’s face when I told him I knew my sweet mama would next see Jesus. He seemed a little shocked and a lot like he didn’t know how to process that idea. Maybe he expected me to break down in tears, but I had had three years of watching my mother’s body fail her to shed those. Now was the time to lean on the power of the Holy Spirit in me to bring me whatever peace was possible from these really bad times.

But, you don’t have to have a lifetime of building a relationship with God to benefit from learning more about Him when crisis comes. Tomorrow, we celebrate the most important event of all time, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, proof positive that the sacrifice of Himself for the sins of all–including you and me–manifested God’s great love for us. Through the mercy of Christ’s sacrifice, we all have the opportunity to be saved, to claim the promise of an everlasting life spent in heaven with the One and Only, Omnipotent God.

Here are some practical things you can do during this COVID crisis to help bring you closer to our merciful God:

  1. Know that God is a patient God who wants all of us to come to repentance. No one has done too much bad. If you come to God with a sense of the bad you’ve done, seeking forgiveness, He will forgive you. He wants you to bend your knee and tell Him, “God, You lead my path. I will follow You.”
  2. Pray. Thank God for the good things in your day, even the little things like the sounds of the birds outside your window are praises that bring joy to the Almighty. Ask Him to forgive you for hurting other people, for saying things you knew better than to say, for cheating or stealing or worrying about things that God alone controls. Then, talk to Him about whatever touches your heart. Pray for other people’s needs as much as if not more so than you pray for your own. You can pray anytime, anywhere, but it’s also nice to have a special time and place you’ve dedicated every day to spend time alone with God. The more you study the Bible, the more you’ll realize how awesome our access to the LORD really is.
  3. Read the Bible. Don’t be afraid to open the Word of God just because it’s a really long book. Find a translation that works best for you. Ask God to reveal what you most need to know, and fight the urge to pick and choose the Bible to formulate a story that matches what you think the Word of God should say rather than what it really says. For times of trouble, try looking at the Psalms, where writers call out to God in pain and even anger besides praising Him for His blessings. Perhaps begin with the New Testament, the story of Jesus’ covenant of love with us, but don’t ignore the Old Testament because God is in the details there too. Use Bible study books to help you with your reading or follow lessons on YouTube from great teachers recommended by people you trust.
  4. Use google. Search for verses about whatever problem you currently face. Read through these verses. Write down the ones that speak to you. Memorize them for times when you will need them most, when repeating them in your head can calm the palpitations in your chest.
  5. Reach out to others. Church websites, Facebook groups, and so much more are available to help you find other people experiencing the same things you feel during these trying times. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.
  6. Seek God’s truth, not your wants. We can experience God in a multitude of ways, but God’s truth never changes. Believing in God doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. Submitting to God’s way of doing things, however, allows us to experience a kind of lightness of spirit that must surely be part of what Jesus means when He says His “burdens are light.”

Daily, practical steps toward knowing God make important differences in how you face and experience crisis. As this pandemic lingers, take advantage of every opportunity to truly know God, including knowing how even little things from Him can make a big difference.

In health,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

Make God King

Only God should be King

Two common phrases dominate throughout the book of Judges:

  1. The people did evil in the sight of the LORD
  2. Every man did what was right in his own eyes

God makes it clear that He is King over Israel. But Israel’s actions show they are far from accepting God’s leadership. Surrounded by enemies, constantly in and out of trouble with one neighbor or another, Israel salivates for a human leader under whom to rally. They want to be led to victory, not by an invisible God, but by a person they can see, hear, and touch.

Living according to what each person thinks is best leads to chaos. Two episodes at the end of the book of Judges underscore the nastiness, the utter shamefulness that ensues when we think we know better than what God says.

In the first episode, a man named Micah creates his own shrine to God, including making false idols and even importing a Levite to name as priest over his collection of religious memorabilia. When a troop of soldiers happen upon Micah’s setup, it doesn’t take much to persuade the Levite to join the soldiers instead, taking all of Micah’s religious items with him. Instead of truly understanding the God who should be worshiped, Micah and others learned the hard way that no one benefits when we believe in the power of things over the power of the living God.

In the second incident, a Levite and his concubine wind up in a village among the tribe of Benjamin. They are offered hospitality by another stranger who happens to be staying in the village, but the rest of the men there knock on the door in the wee hours of the morning demanding access to the Levite so that they might defile him. The concubine, considered property, gets offered to the men of the village instead. When the Levite finds her assaulted to death the next morning, he returns home, cuts her in twelve pieces and sends those pieces across Israel to tell the tale.

In vengeance, tribe goes against tribe, so that the tribe of Benjamin is almost completely wiped out. It seems that even people going along in life following their own definition of good and bad have their limits. But God’s limits are even more strict, and certainly more consistent, than anything man can create. Saul’s rise and fall proves how thin the line between bowing to God’s edicts and deciding what is right according to your own heart and mind.

Saul starts from a good place. When Samuel tells him he has been chosen to rule his people, Saul reminds the prophet that he comes from the smallest tribe and one of the smallest families in that tribe, so unworthy of the title of king. For a man of striking good looks, who stands a head above everyone around him, Saul’s humility seems like a good sign.

However, Saul shows a distinct habit of thinking too much from himself without following Samuel’s instructions concerning God’s guidance. First, when Samuel runs late for his meeting with Saul before a battle, Saul goes ahead and offers sacrifices himself, ignoring the fact that he is no priest and therefore not allowed to offer said sacrifices. Then, when God hands the Amalekites over into Saul’s hand for victory, instead of killing all the livestock as God instructed him to do, Saul saves the best animals to offer in sacrifice at the altar.

Each of these acts may look like simple slips, logical assumptions on Saul’s part that he justified in his own mind as honoring God when he should have squashed them instead. We might want to shake our heads at Saul, but we must remember the king grew up in a world that decided what was right in its own eyes. How easy it is in those situations to follow human logic instead of Godly instruction.

Reading Judges, I can’t help but think about how much in our society we also decide what is right in our own hearts rather than following God. How often in each day do we make decisions assuming we know what God would have to say about a matter without really specifically and prayerfully approaching Him about it before acting? Do we fall in the trap of looking to the outside world to validate what we decide in our own mind is right? How many churches have turned a blind eye to the secular immorality of couple living together? To marriages dissolved not because of infidelity but because no one wants to work on the relationship anymore? How many think it’s OK to embrace politically-correct lifestyles, even though no biblical foundation exists to credit these lifestyles as righteous?

God makes His reaction to disobedience very clear. He tells Saul that his proclivity to choose according to Saul’s heart has cost Saul the kingship. God plans on passing the kingdom on to a man “after his own heart,” David.

More than that, God makes it clear that there can truly be only one REAL king in a believer’s life, and that King is GOD HIMSELF. When Samuel feels rejected because the Israelites don’t want Samuel as judge anymore, God is quick to assure the old prophet that the one being rejected is God. They don’t want me as King, God tells his faithful servant, which is too bad because I had such plans for them.

God has plans for me, for you, for the guy selling newspapers at the street corner even though the wind is bitterly cold these winter mornings. He invites us to let Him in and let Him lead.

If I don’t want to end up like Saul, thinking my logical mind and its shortcuts work somehow better than what God clearly states He wants, I can learn well from the man after God’s own heart. The lessons from David’s struggles against Saul teach us much about leaning on the understanding that God’s will is the only inevitability.

Next time, I want to share some really cool insights about David’s way of approaching stressful situations that have helped me deal with my own anxieties and stress. I hope you find them as helpful as I have in your own spiritual journey.

 

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

Lessons from Caleb

Joshua, perhaps enjoying a well-deserved respite from the violence and blood of five long years of war to claim the Promised Land, may have been surprised at the visitor who traveled to Gilgal to make a special request. Forty-five years before, Joshua spent forty days in his company, spying out a land that grew everything large and in abundance. Besides grapes that grew in bunches so big, two men were needed to carry them, men descended from legendary giants lived in cities with walls equally large and formidable.

Would Joshua even recognize Caleb? Surely both men formed a bond during their spying adventure. When the party of twelve spies returned to Israel to report to Moses on the land they were supposed to conquer, Caleb and Joshua alone stood up to proclaim their belief that God would bring Israel to victory, no matter the obstacles. When the other spies worked the Israelites into a frenzy of cowardice, Joshua and Caleb mourned, tearing their clothes, not backing down from their beliefs even when Israel threatened to stone them.

Now, 45 years later, Caleb stands in front of Joshua to ask for the chance to redeem the promise made by Moses to reward Caleb for his unwavering belief in God. As this chapter of Caleb’s story unfolds, several lessons become apparent. Here are four of them:

1. God honors ALL who honor Him

Caleb’s genealogy identifies him as being descended from Esau through Kenaz. The Kenizzites were a non-Israelite group, making Caleb just a generation removed from a non-Israelite family. Even though Israel laid claim to being the sole beneficiary of God’s favor, God proves He offers grace to anyone who shows faith in Him, a precursor to the grace that Jesus offers to all of those who believe. “Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, not one of you shall enter the land in which I swore [an oath] to settle you,” God tells Moses (Numbers 14:30).

For forty years, as long as it takes for the remainder of those who stood in judgment of Caleb and Joshua to die, Israel wanders in the desert, learning the lesson of lacking faith the hard way. Now, Caleb comes to Joshua, the only other survivor, to claim the gift his faith granted.

No matter where we’ve come from or what we’ve done, God’s grace is big enough to defeat our evilness, our otherness–as long as we believe.

2. God overcomes ALL things

When the spies come back to report to Israel, they tell them the land they have been promised is great indeed, including being great in danger. The men they would be fighting stood so large, “we were like grasshoppers in our own sight,” they claimed (Numbers 14:33).

Caleb has seen the same sights as his companions. Imagine his nights around the campfire during forty days of sleuthing around the countryside. Perhaps the arguments the men gave to Moses had been honed during many nights of arguing with Caleb and Joshua over the same topic.

Unlike most of his companions, Caleb chooses to believe in God’s ability to defeat the enemy, just as God has proven Himself in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and so far on their journey. The book of Numbers explains, “Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘Let us go up at once and take possession of it; for we will certainly conquer it'” (13:30).

No matter how big an obstacle may seem, or how impossible a goal, if God has promised, He can and will deliver. Facing trouble with an attitude of faith in God’s ability to overcome lay at the core of Caleb’s success, both at this crucial point in his story and throughout his life.

3. God’s timetable requires our patience

Caleb spent a lifetime waiting for God to bring His personal promise to fruition. For forty years, he wandered with his people, watching an unfaithful generation struggle and die. Then, he fought with the current generation for five long years to begin the overthrow of the Promised Land.

Finally, at the ripe, old age of 85, Caleb comes to Joshua to ask for the fulfillment of God’s promise. He reminds Joshua of the bond they share. Of the twelve spies who wandered into the land of milk and honey, they alone escaped God’s wrath and sentence of death (the other ten died shortly after their return to Israel). Now, Caleb proclaims the promise he’s carried so close to his heart through all the long years:

“So Moses swore [an oath to me] on that day, saying, ‘Be assured that the land on which your foot has walked will be an inheritance to you and to your children always, because you have followed the Lord my God completely.’ And now, look, the Lord has let me live, just as He said, these forty-five years since the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, look at me, I am eighty-five years old today” (Joshua 14:9-10).

The fulfillment of God’s promise to Caleb reminds us that He always follows through on His word, even if our wait for that fulfillment makes us impatient. By refusing to grow weary, we will know the great gift of faith because our God keeps His promises.

4. Faith overcomes fear

As an old man, one who has waited decades for God to come through on His promise, Caleb has every reason to be afraid now that he is so close to the finish line. The giant-like Anakim still possess the land of Hebron, the place Caleb holds in promise. No one could blame Caleb if he hesitated to claim his inheritance. After so many years of getting nothing, who could be sure that God still planned to give Caleb victory?

But Caleb is an expert at letting his faith overcome his fear. He tells Joshua:

I am still as strong today as I was the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so is my strength now, for war and for going out and coming in. So now, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke that day, for you heard on that day that the [giant-like] Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:11-12)

As Joshua tells us, Caleb’s descendants indeed receive the inheritance of Hebron “to this day,” bringing a land at such unrest for so long to peace. By letting faith rather than fears guide him, Caleb receives a gift only superseded by the gift of salvation due all those who believe in our Savior Jesus Christ.

In a book filled with larger-than-life heroes and adventures, Caleb may be a minor player, but he proves that even the smallest of us can do great things if we choose to walk by faith. We can all agree that accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation is the most important lesson of all.

In Christ,
Ramona