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

Posted in Verses I am Glad I have Read

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: Not Just Words

It may be one of the most confusing episodes in a long line of confusing episodes as Israel treks through the desert for more than 40 years, anticipating the fulfillment of the promise of a land overflowing with milk and honey.

Moses, weary of leading, has spent those 40 years in constant communication with a mighty God, with THE mighty God. Unlike almost anyone else in the history of mankind, Moses has conversed with GOD ALMIGHTY as close to face-to-face as a mortal being can get. He’s even come down from one of these conversations glowing in the face so that he has to cover himself to avoid freaking everyone else out.

But even Moses can make a mistake.

Near Moab, the people get grumpy–again. Is anyone surprised? They beg for water, whine that in Egypt they were never thirsty. God tells Moses exactly what to do to provide the needed water for the Israelites. But Moses, being human, gets angry with the people, striking the stone to bring forth water instead of speaking to it as God had commanded him to do.

God never changes. His constant character is underscored in what happens next. Being merciful, He doesn’t discount everything good that Moses has done for Him in the past by striking Moses dead for disobeying Him. But, He also doesn’t overlook Moses change of plan. As punishment for failing to follow His orders, God tells Moses that the prophet will not indeed enter the land of promise he’s spent the last forty years wandering in the desert trying to lead a stubborn people toward home.

I find this episode in Numbers most chilling every time I read it. It reminds me how easily I can take for granted God’s merciful and forgiving character. If Moses, who saw God face-to-face, could fail to live up to God’s complete and clear instructions, what does a simple girl from West Texas stand a chance in accomplishing?

Of all the verses I will ever read, those that concentrate on God’s grace as exhibited through the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood for my sins will always be the most important, especially on those dark nights when all my sins swirl around my mind like a heavy cloak threatening to suffocate me. Only because of that mercy can I go forward with the challenges of each new day, knowing that forgiveness is real, that someday I will join my Savior in heaven, the ultimate Promised Land.

In my pile of notes that I keep stocked away in my old desk drawer, I found a list today that I’m sure I copied from somewhere. I don’t have the original reference, but it’s too good not to share. When it comes to trying to figure out what God would say to me, I too often come up with my own solutions, just as Moses hit the rock in his anger instead of speaking to it, especially when I forget to remember what the Bible actually has to say about anything that might be bothering me.

So, here’s a list of what my feelings, like anger, might say inside my brain instead of what God’s voice would really say if I would just take the time to listen for His true Word, as revealed to me through scriptures.

WHAT FEELINGS SAY:

  • You deserve it.
  • Just one more.
  • You only live once.
  • Did God really say __________?
  • What can it hurt?
  • Today, or for once, it’s going to be all about you.
  • She/he started it, and you must finish it.
  • Nobody loves you.
  • You are too weak to control yourself.
  • If it feels good, do it.
  • The end justifies the means.
  • You are worthless.
  • You can just ask God to forgive you after.
  • If you do this, you will feel so much better.
  • Revenge is sweet.
  • Do whatever it takes to get what you want.
  • Second place is just first loser.
  • You feel so bad, you’re gonna die.
  • Being alone is the worst thing in the world.
  • God can never forgive you.
  • You’re not good enough for God.

Paul offers a different approach for our minds than giving in to the impulses of feelings. In his letter to the Philippians, he admonishes them,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (4:8-9)

The prophet Jeremiah says, “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit” (17:7-8).

Faith in God involves a daily commitment to communicate with Him through prayer and through time in His Word, building each for our own purpose a set of verses we are glad we have read, those holy words that will keep us on the straight and narrow path that pleases a loving, patient God.

Looking for your own list of verses you are glad you have read? One of the easiest places to begin your search is the book of Psalms, a collection of many writers openly communicating with a loving God. The poems are raw and real, painful and uplifting. They beseech God for mercy, lament the tragedy of the human condition, rant against the seeming unfairness of a fallen world, praise God for His glory and giving nature.

Here are two of my favorite Psalm verses to get you started:

The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid? (27:1) For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may last for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning (30:5).

May rejoicing in the morning be part of your life in the trying days ahead, no matter what challenges you may be facing. I hope my verses I am glad I have read have helped you find or remember some of the wonderful benefits of spending time in the Word of our most Holy God.

It sure makes more sense than beating a rock, even if you are as smart and wonderful as Moses.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: The “Price” of Worship

Practice thankfulness on the easy days, and you’ll be ready to be thankful even on your darkest days.

. . . For today, the LORD will appear to you. I will be treated as holy by those who approach Me. (Leviticus 9:4, 10:3)

In my copy of the amplified Bible, whenever I see the word lord spelled out in all-caps, I try to take a moment to remind myself that the Hebrew word being translated means LORD in ways my finite mind may never fully imagine. Translators explain it best as equating to the phrase GOD ALMIGHTY. The word, capitalized so that it stands out from the other text surrounding it, reminds us that GOD is awesome, perfect, omnipotent, more than.

Too often, I think we take for granted the ease with which we access our LORD. Because Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice, becoming our High Priest and opening the way into the Holy of Holies for all who believe in Him, we only need call out to the LORD and know that GOD ALMIGHTY is with us.

But this easy access wasn’t always the case. Reading through Leviticus this week, with its detailed instructions on how to make sacrifices to God, my poet’s mind filled with images of slaughter and blood. Animals without blemish cut into pieces, the choicest cuts rising in smoke to heaven, the tendrils of all that killing and slicing became a pleasing aroma to God because it all signified the desire of His people to do whatever it took to come into fellowship with Him.

I have never slaughtered an animal. I have enough trouble sometimes handling the comparatively pristine meat in its cellophane package, the liquid red juices sending a pungent odor to my nostrils. So, I can only imagine how messy Aaron’s job of slaughtering animals for sacrifice must have been. I can almost picture him after a long day in the tabernacle, his fine tunic, his skin, his hair, all splattered in blood, everything on him and around him heavily scented with the smell of burning wood and flesh.

How ironic it seems that cleansing people from sin should require such messy business. After a long day at the tabernacle, Aaron’s knuckles, the cuticles around his nails, the space between his nail and his flesh, the curves of his earlobes, the creases around his eyes, every surface on his exposed body would be caked in blood. I can imagine his skin rubbed raw from the scrubbing it would take to clean up after cleansing all day.

When I seek God, how grateful I am that I don’t require a hose down after! Still, because my worship, my ability to come into the presence of GOD ALMIGHTY, does not require a human go-between or the perpetual shedding of blood, I can too easily take advantage of this easy access. I can approach God without the reverence the moment deserves. Also, I too often don’t  take advantage of my ease of access to the LORD, failing to thank Him as often as I should or forgetting to call out to Him for help, instead trying to solve my problems all by myself.

But more important than letting my imagination fill with the filthiness of a process that represented cleansing to the Jewish people is remembering that what God wanted most from the Hebrews was the first of their goods as well as their best. The value He placed on His requirements for sacrifice emphasized the value God places on worship and fellowship with Him.

I heard a preacher many years ago state this obvious, but often overlooked lesson this way: If God wanted so much from those who would worship Him before He sent His only Son to die for all sins once and for all, how much more do we think He might want now that that ultimate sacrifice has been made?

God wants to be first in my life. He wants me to give Him the first of my energy, not what’s left over after a long day of work and driving and taking care of family. He longs for me to come to Him with the best version of myself, with my full attention and wholeheartedness.

Thankfully, God takes whatever of me I give. When I fail to offer my best, God still listens. The person I harm when I don’t give God my first and best is myself because God stands ready to provide the fullness of fellowship with Him at all times and in all ways as long as I do my part.

The next time you go to God in worship and prayer, take a moment to remember how Christ’s sacrifice simplified your access to the LORD. Your thankfulness will only enrich your experience and please God.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Uncategorized

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: You Gotta Serve Somebody

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:22-23)

Autonomy is so ingrained in the American psyche, it is practically sacred. We want to believe that we are free to make the choices in our life, free to make true whatever grand dream or scheme we might conjure. We want to know that rags to riches stories are not only possible but reality.

But autonomy is a lie.

In the song, You Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan explains it this way, “it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna Serve somebody.” The words point out an ultimate truth. No matter your pursuit, you will always be accountable to someone or something bigger than you, something that requires you to bend your will in one way or another in order to achieve your ultimate goal.

The lyrics of the song give several examples of the illusion of power. You might be someone’s heir, you might like to sleep on silk, you might be a congressman, you might like to gamble, you might like to dance. In each instance, no desire can be fulfilled without ultimately making concessions to appease the person or powers that help make your desire possible.

At the furthest extent of this truth that we serve somebody is the reality that we humans too easily fall into the trap of letting the things we desire rule over us. I am a Diet Coke addict. If you don’t see me with a Route 44 in my hand, something is seriously wrong with my day. I use the drink to help me cope with my ever-present anxiety. (And yes, I know the caffeine is only fueling it.) Too often, I am a slave to my Diet Coke needs. I have to get in the car and drive to Sonic or Whataburger when I would rather be doing other things, but I need my drink more.

What Paul writes to the Romans applies just as much to me. I would be so much more at peace if I aligned my desires with those things that are of God. When I focus on the things of this world, like fine dining or acquiring wealth or movie stars, I unwittingly give myself over to the service of the Evil One, who uses these desires to distract me from the love God longs to give.

God’s love differs from the world’s view of love. In this world, people want to think love means letting everyone do whatever feels “right” in the moment. With this view of love, a God who calls us to a standard of goodness and morality doesn’t click. But God’s love calls us to believe in something bigger than we are, so much bigger that we have no way to comprehend its vastness.

God’s love, the love Jesus offered while He was on earth, the love that healed and showed compassion and empathy to cheaters and tax collectors, requires us to submit to God’s will at the same time its grace takes away the condemnation we deserve when we sin.

Unless you actually give serving God a try in your life, it may be hard to understand how God’s love means sticking it out with a spouse when you think you’re in love with somebody else, how God really loves you even when His law, His morality means you can’t do some of the things your heart tells you you desire most. The world may try to tell you God made you that way. Perhaps He did. I can’t keep my mind from responding with anxiety to everyday situations, even though worry goes against God’s admonishment to trust in Him each day. But, I can continually strive to submit to Jesus’ way of facing challenges rather than giving in to my anxiousness.

Because I can proceed in life knowing I will not be condemned, I can trust in Jesus’ love for me to help me live a life in submission to God’s will, which is where true peace exists.

I heard someone say recently that grace, like life, isn’t fair. It’s on offer to anyone who is willing to accept its gift, no matter their past. Aren’t we grateful for this unfairness?

Serving Jesus isn’t the popular thing to do, but it sure beats anything the devil has to offer. I’m picking Jesus. Whom will you serve?

In Christ,
Ramona