Posted in Verses I am Glad I have Read

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: Stay On The Straight Path

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. –Proverbs 3:5-6

We live in a complex world, replete with complex choices. On any given day, we are bombarded with messages and information, so many details that discerning the truth takes time, patience and knowledge we often don’t possess. Like a stone being polished by running water, we sometimes let ourselves be molded by the thoughts of this world without realizing the implications that has on our relationship with God.

Submission can be hard. In this country, we pride ourselves on our independence, on our ability to take care of ourselves against even tremendous odds. But the truth of the matter is acting as if we alone control our fate makes us a slave to a world that thrives on chaos. If I control what happens to me, I have to be on top of all the details that make up my life all the time. I have to come up with contingency plans for factors I can conceive and even be prepared for calamities my finite mind has no way to perceive. Refusing to submit is an exhausting way to live.

Making my own choices comes with other hazards. My human mind is too often influenced by my human heart, the great deceiver.  My heart, no matter my best efforts, will always ultimately love me more than anyone else, no matter how hard I try to make it act differently. How else do people convince themselves it is okay to stray in an unhappy marriage or drink to excess when they are blue, or any of the other myriad mistakes we make when we are most fallibly human?

God loves humility. He honors those who live in full knowing of His omnipotence. I love this verse from Proverbs because it reminds me that I should not be trying to manipulate the world according to what I think should happen. Because the Holy Spirit lives in me, I can depend on God’s guidance as long as I ask Him for it.

This verse also reminds me that I need to fill my mind with God’s messages and not the messages of this world. In His Word, God gives us insight into what is right and wrong. He shows us the value of loving Him first and doing our best to love others as much as we love ourselves. He proves to us that His peace surpasses anything this material world has to offer.

When I fully realize that God will make the best out of anything that happens to me, when I fully embrace Jesus’ admonition to only think about today, which has enough worries of its own, no twists and turns of this crazy world can truly phase me. All I have to do is call out to Jesus and trust in God’s promises to see me through.

God keeps His promises, even if His timetable is nothing like my own. Abraham learned this lesson the hard way, waiting decades for God to even give him a son when God had promised to make Abraham a great nation. Israel wandered the desert for forty years before finally reaching the Promised Land. From the time Nehemiah was written to the arrival of the true Messiah, almost 400 years of silence passed.

The world has enough perils without making more for ourselves. That’s what makes following God and sticking to a straight path even more important. This promise that humbling myself and acknowledging God’s supremacy will help me find the straight path in this life is a comfort when it feels like the world is against me, when troubles are abundant and my hope is bleak. Humbling myself to God’s will each day is the most important thing I can do because it allows me to trust in His power to help me stay on the straight, narrow path that leads to redemption.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

 

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Posted in Verses I am Glad I have Read

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: Make God Your King

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.–Judges 21:25

This is one of those verses that I love, not because of the verse in and of itself, but because of the story it represents.

If you read the book of Judges, you’ll see that upheaval and uncertainty mark this period in the life of Israel. Coups, political intrigue, victories and defeat make for a life that is only consistent in its uncertainty. Over and over again, Israel finds prosperity when it chooses to believe in God and utter defeat when it falls away from following Him. Without making God their True King, Israel makes the mistake of doing what is right in its own eyes.

When we choose to live according to what we think is right instead of closely following what God has shown us to be right, we make ourselves vulnerable to consequences we often don’t even see. Our lives, like those of Israel, exist in a state of constant flux without the calming, constant influence of a loving God.

I am convinced that we live without a king most days without even realizing that’s what we are doing. If you asked us point blank, I am sure we would tell you that God is sovereign in our lives. But our actions, which are much more concrete than our thoughts, prove otherwise.

Here is a case in point to consider. Apparently, one of the latest fads (perhaps fueled by social media) is to do a photo shoot after the wedding day in which the bride “trashes” her dress. This practice is so popular that is has its own hashtag #trashthedress. Search the term on Facebook, and you’ll be bombarded with photos and videos with smiling brides ruining a symbol that has obviously lost all meaning.

A wedding dress should symbolize part of a sacred contract between several parties, parties which include God. Standing in a sacred space, a man and a woman make a covenant with God to form a bond that puts God in the center of a relationship that not only binds the man and woman together, but also creates a union between two different families. The woman’s dress, white to signify her purity, also signifies the sacredness of the vow the man and woman are making with their Holy God, their forever King.

The happy brides following a trend and trashing their wedding dresses aren’t thinking about the message that sends to the world concerning the symbol of this sacred vow. But, they are letting their own sense of right guide them instead of God’s sense of right. Would you post pictures of yourself trashing your baptism clothes? What’s the difference?

No wonder we live in a world where marriages splinter regularly. By forgetting God is our King, we’ve also forgotten that marriage vows are meant to last a lifetime, as sacred as the covenant we have with God and Jesus, the covenant that allows the Holy Spirit to dwell in us as long as we believe.

So, how do we make God our King each and every day? It begins by humbling ourselves daily, acknowledging that we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make the right choices each day. We need to know His Word so that we understand God’s standards for right and wrong.

If we find ourselves doing things the way the rest of the world does them, we should step back and consider our path, for God’s ways are not like man’s. Jesus tells us that the path to His Kingdom is narrow, not wide. If your choices are generally easy, almost no choices as all, then chances are you have strayed from that narrow path in which God is King.

We live in a busy world, but don’t let busy-ness get in the way of making choices influenced by God as your King. Taking the time to humble yourself and your mind before God is time worth taking. Most importantly, it is time God will reward with the peace of mind God alone can provide.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

 

Posted in Verses I am Glad I have Read

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: Be Courageous

verses I am glad I have read

Even if the world around us claims differently, often at the top of its lungs, God’s Word contains a wealth of information pertinent to a modern life, to your life. No matter that sometimes my head may spin with the names of rulers and countries I can’t pronounce or that I become uncomfortable with the knowledge of my own sin by reading about the stumbles others have made, reading the Bible ultimately offers me the skills I need to survive in a fallen world. Within God’s Word, I find the verses that keep me hoping, that help me strengthen my faith, when I would otherwise fall into darkness.

To begin this 2019, I’d like to share some of the many verses I’m glad I have read. Whether they help me when I am afraid, are vital to my understanding of my relationship with God, or just plain make me feel good, these verses give me some of the best reasons I could offer for investing time in reading God’s Word.

The first verse I want to share comes from the Old Testament. (Yes, there’s plenty in that book, the Bible Jesus read, that we can apply to our New Testament lives.) In Joshua, God brings to completion the promise He made to Abraham so many generations before, culminating his initial covenant with the Israelites by finally allowing them to enter the Promised Land. Joshua, who replaces Moses as leader of the people, guides Israel in its quest to defeat the native peoples of Canaan and to help the nation disperse the newly conquered land between the tribes of Israel.

But Joshua knows better than anyone that he does not lead alone. In handing Moses’ reign over to the younger man, God tells Joshua,

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9

Joshua will need to hold these words close through the years, for, on paper at least, Canaan possesses superior forces and arms. Indeed, time and time again as the story of Joshua unfolds, perhaps in order to prove His power, God’s presence on the side of Israel is the only reason Canaan falls.

But that’s just the  bare context of this verse I’m glad I’ve read. This is one of those verses I can lean on whenever I am afraid or tempted to give up. I may not have God with me in a literal tower of fire and light as the tribes of Israel knew Him, dwelling in the tabernacle and leading them through the desert, but what I have I think is even more dear because it came at the ultimate price. The Holy Spirit, the promised gift from Christ that comes to those who repent and believe, dwells in me. The Spirit is always present to guide me, as long as I do my part to be still and listen.

One of the easiest ways to call the power of the Spirit into any given moment is just to call out to Him. Jesus, help me, is such a simple phrase. But when it is spoken in earnestness, you can depend on feeling His immediate presence, helping you to find the peace you need to make it through your current troubles.

Don’t believe me? I don’t expect you to. Test this practice yourself the next time you are feeling particularly low or stressed. Ask Jesus to help you. And in the meantime, stay focused on His Word as much as possible. The more quiet time you spend with God, the more weapons you have when you really need the armor only God’s love can provide.

I hope you already have your own plethora of verses you’re glad you’ve read. Maybe we can share them this 2019 and grow our faith together.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living

Free From

 

Natural, whatever that means, is in. People all around the world search daily for products and ways of doing things that are as clean and simple as possible. Being free of synthetic chemicals or genetically-manufactured ingredients, eliminating waste by recycling and switching to re-usable instead of disposable packaging are all growing trends on this planet that seems to shrink minute by minute.

We seek to be free from other things as well, things like pain and discipline and hard choices. Instead of sitting in the quiet of our mind, we sit with our eyes glued to electronic screens, streaming cat videos even as we wait in line at the supermarket. We long to be free from confrontation so that we embrace a live and let live way of doing things. We trade momentary comforts for the much longer-lasting future of our eternal home. Why don’t we humans realize that in seeking to be free from so many of these hard things, we also free ourselves of the many blessings available to us when we fully embrace God?

I have heard it said that hell is God’s way of giving non-believers just what they have asked for, an existence without Him. But, even we believers sometimes live as if there is no God without realizing all the implications of a world free from His ever-present love.

Without God, life’s challenges amplify. We have no knowledge of salvation to lean upon. A world without God, without a master Creator, has no grand plan, only a kind of chaos that can give and take without rhyme or reason, without purpose. The bad things that happen only teach us the pain of bad things. The good things of this earth are the limit of the good things we will ever know. We let our own minds define good and bad so that my definition of right ultimately ends up being someone else’s definition of great pain.

When we face the world on the world’s terms, we accept as okay behaviors and attitudes that break God’s heart. We allow the world to think there is nothing wrong with sexual immorality, making any relationship acceptable, negating the importance of marriage and faithfulness. We allow our words to be foul and hurtful and mean, even when we think we are doing right. Worse, we hold back words that need said in order to avoid offending a world that thinks it wants to be free from God.

But living always and in all ways in full knowing of God’s omnipotence offers a different kind of free from. The things we are free from when we fully embrace God are the most important things of all.

With God, all things are possible, which means that even when the worst things happen to us, God finds a way to bring something positive out of the bad. Maybe, we learn to slow down and appreciate the little things in each day that build into a peaceful life. When I find myself worrying about things that might happen, turning to God instead and putting my mind to thanking Him for the smell of honeysuckle in the air or the slick fur beneath my fingers of a kitty cat purring in my lap helps me feel centered and less stressed.

Believing in and following God also gives me freedom from judging, myself as well as the people around me. Only through a God-inspired lens do I tap into the ability to empathize and see life from multiple perspectives. I am free from a self-centered reality that only leads to loneliness and emptiness when I fill myself up with the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when He came to live among us.

Jesus tells us to come to Him because His yoke is light. Because His grace is a present for all who believe, we are released from the burden of always being perfect. Salvation under the law means that breaking even one of God’s rules puts you in breach of the entire contract. Salvation under grace means that as long as we recognize our stumbles and repent of them, we maintain our wonderful, personal relationship with our God. Being free from the burden of the law frees us to embrace living Christ day to day.

Be free from the fear of your future, free from the fear of losing out on forgiveness, free from the impossible expectations of a greedy world. Turn to your personal, omnipotent Creator. Love and live Jesus and be free from everything except the only things that matter.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity

I’m Missing My Jack-O-Lantern

Jesus wants to fill me up. The entry from my reading in Jesus Calling a few days ago reminded me that sometimes, in order to make room for Himself inside the worries and cares that crowd into this human vessel known as me, Jesus has to carve out the room He needs to fill me up with His Spirit.

Like a pumpkin full of stringy guts and hundreds of seeds, the inside of me can easily fill with ideas and concerns that take me away from God instead of drawing me closer to Him. When I worry about the treasures of this earth instead of the valuables from a heavenly perspective, I take myself farther away from God.

Often, nothing clears up the proper priority of things better than crisis. In crisis, we realize how little in importance are worries such as having new carpets for the relatives visiting this holiday season or how the prices on everything keep rising so that we can afford fewer luxuries.

Think back on your absolute worst times. Did you not turn to God then, asking Him for help and peace? These troubling times have a way of narrowing our focus back on God and the importance of a heavenly perspective. Like a Jack-O-Lantern artist preparing a pumpkin for display, sometimes Jesus has to scrape out the mush that gets in the way of putting Him first to make room for His Spirit inside our murky souls.

Why is space for Jesus to fill us so important? Maybe it is to make room for the light, the love of Christ that Jesus tells us should not be hidden but rather displayed for all to see. Like the candle burning brightly through the smiling face of a Jack-O-Lantern on a dark October night, we Christians can shine the light of God’s love every day.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Through the challenges of this holiday season, let Jesus make room to fill you up with His joy and peace so that His light in you shines bright no matter how dark the shadows around you.

 

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

These Hard Things We Do

“God is good.”

The Facebook comment in response to a post about a young man who’d been in a car wreck finally coming home from the hospital blinks at me from my iPad’s blue-light screen.

I am 48 years old and have loved God all my life, and yet today, those words, God is good, sting.

As one family praises God for a life spared, I sit in a sterile hospital room, listening to the ventilator hissing out its death-knell rhythm, as my sweet mama spends her last days on earth fighting pain and waiting for us to just let go.

Spit-in-the-hand, pinky-swear truth? God doesn’t feel so good right now.

My head understands we all have to die. My heart needs a little help getting to David’s conviction that goodness and mercy shall follow me.

And yet, even as I wonder why God gave my mom, who had already faced health challenges like colon cancer and a gallbladder surgery that almost killed her, one of the worst diseases to die from, ALS, I still lean on my faith. Since her diagnosis in October of 2015, I’d say I’ve honed it.

Still, my emotions, in turmoil, show me I still need pruning.

No wonder those who don’t believe in God’s grace hate us. Believe me from the other side of the fence, when you praise God that you got good news today, you’re stabbing in the heart the person for whom God’s answer to prayer that day was a no that felt just like a knife to the chest.

Jesus assures us that suffering is universal and no sign of one’s goodness or badness. He also assures us of His comfort in all circumstances. It’s a good thing He offers it because these tough times are impossible to survive without it.

Calling out to Jesus when I hurt is one of many skills I’ve improved since that day in a Houston hospital when the doctor told my mother she was going to die. I hope I’ve learned to be less judgmental. My empathy skills are growing. I want to embrace mercy and grace and love and not worry so much about truth and right and wrong.

Jesus talks about how narrow the way to God is for many reasons. In one sense, the narrow path is good news. The only way to salvation is to believe that Jesus died on a cross and rose again for the sake of all sin and to accept Him as your Savior and Spiritual Guide. There may be many ways to come to the knowledge of that path to salvation, but the actual achievement of being saved comes only as the gift of salvation from our Lord Jesus. This is the narrow way that makes salvation so simple for any and all to achieve.

But the narrow way of fulfilling one’s potential by growing through Christ is a life-long pursuit from which we easily and frequently stumble outside the lines. We say words we don’t really mean. We judge others without first considering our own failings. We despair.

I am convinced that the farther we stray from treating others with the grace God has bestowed upon us, the farther we are from the narrow way of a life lived in Christ. And I am also convinced that when we work harder at seeing the world in black and white instead of through eyes of empathy and compassion, we are no where near the narrow path upon which we should tread.

Maybe that is why the Facebook comment hit me with such a force. How can we be thankful for our blessings and yet still be mindful of those who don’t have an immediate reason to feel blessed?

I have to turn again to Jesus, the master of empathy and grace. In His ministry, He had such compassion for those in need of physical and spiritual healing that He gave all of Himself. He raised more than one loved one from a death bed. He freed those enslaved to demons. He gave the blind sight. He refused to condemn those who were ready and willing to turn away from sin. Perhaps, like the woman who was to be stoned to death, they turned from sin because Jesus refused to condemn them.

When we are so fired up about something, whether it be a hot-button issue like abortion or our enthusiasm for a miracle, we often bulldoze our way through the mire when a much gentler, slower approach will do. If your idea of promoting a cause is pointing a finger at somebody else instead of offering to help or to try to see things from that other perspective, then you’re just part of the problem, not the solution—no matter how divine you think are your intentions.

Jesus had no use for those who worshiped the law more than they worshiped God: And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.  (Luke 11:46)

I want to be a Christian who lifts not one finger, but both my hands to help others carry the burdens of this life that are difficult enough without the law becoming more important than love.

So maybe, next time you want to thank God for being good in a public forum, consider how you would say that to the family who just said good-bye to someone they love. I do praise God for His goodness. He loves me even when I don’t have Him at the top of my Hits List. He is so good, that if we fail to praise Him, the stones will cry out. (Luke 19:40)

God is able to do all things, even soothe the ache in a much-battered heart. Sometimes, it’s all He can do. It’s one of the many things I want to ask Him about when my own time to pass into glory comes due. My friend, Katie, who’s seen more than her fair share of troubles, says she has a clipboard filled with such questions. It’s a sign of our faith that we hold on to our right to ask them of a loving Creator, even in these moments when we feel least loved.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Love

God Is Love: The Greatest Love Story Almost Never Told

God IS Love

In our enthusiasm for a cause, we humans very easily lose sight of an objective perspective. We go to extremes that push people further away instead of potentially helping them see things from our point of view.

Take for example the issue commonly referred to as Pro-Life. Whenever I see people outside a clinic with signs that point fingers, calling people baby killers and more, I wonder where this approach to attempt change comes from. Would Jesus, who refused to judge the adulteress until someone was willing to throw the first stone and even then merely helped her see the truth about herself admonishing her to sin no more, stand outside a planned parenthood building with a sign that condemned the scared, hurting women walking through the doors?

When we attempt to support God the way we think we should because we are so enthusiastic about the cause instead of taking serious time to reflect on God’s approach to the issue, are we really serving God the way we think we are?

I may be a slow learner, so forgive the revelation that came to me recently if you’ve known it all along, but when we push God to others based on strict guidelines of right and wrong, we leave non-believers with the impression that God is the God of punishment. We inadvertently make Him out to be a God who is primarily interested in seeing people suffer for their transgressions.

It’s easy enough to see God this way, especially if you do a pick and choose approach to the Bible. Many times, God makes His awesome wrath known, going so far as to wipe out the entire planet in a flood with only Noah and his family as survivors to begin again.

But God is NOT interested in punishing. Let me say this again, because I think most of us operate on the opposite assumption. God’s main focus in this life is NOT to punish those who defy Him but to LOVE and BE LOVED.

You’re wrong, you tell me. God lives to punish bad behavior. He swallowed thousands of people whole in the desert. He sent plagues upon Egypt the likes of which no one in our modern world has ever witnessed. His revelation portrays a coming end that will have no rival in pain and misery and suffering, not even in the best apocalyptic blockbuster. God takes pleasure in sinners’ pain.

Fickle, proud humans that we are, we perpetually grab on to the idea that we can understand the ways of an omnipotent power. Because some of His actions seem awful and cruel, we find it easy to label God as such. But looking at the history of God and man, we can see that God really deals with us from an entirely different perspective. Only a God who loves beyond human knowing could explain how He continues to give us chances to do better, even when history reveals that God can’t seem to win when it comes to the fickleness of the human mind.

Despite God’s worst punishments, His people continue to stray from His commandments. Like a mad roller coaster ride, the story of the Israelite people shows them growing closer to and then farther away from God over and over again. When He blesses them with much, their gratitude from being saved from the latest disaster dissipates all too soon. Look at David. This King who had a heart like God’s, lived to praise Him, but David also failed God, breaking His commandments to give in to his own lusts. Whether God deals with us humans in love or in mighty power, we fall short of giving Him the praise and love He deserves.

But God is not coming from a place of punishment. Instead, even in punishment, God always comes from a place of love. Only God’s love for us explains how any of us are still walking around breathing. Annie Dillard puts it this way:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” -Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk

The Creator looks down upon a world in which His creations flit about as if they are not tiny ants dodging the giant shoe always dangling above them and does not choose to wipe us out to begin the entire, wretched experiment over again. If that is not some over-arcing love for us, then what is?

Even for Christians, who believe that God humbled Himself to become merely a man in order to sacrifice Himself for our very souls, walk through our days as if we are drugged by our own indifference. We judge others. We create black and white scenarios as if we have no beams in our eyes, always in search of specks. We mock God’s love by taking actions in His name that go so far from doing His will they break His heart.

God is all heart. If you read the Bible beginning with this assumption, you will see it everywhere. God postpones punishment. He is willing to bargain for delayed justice, saving entire cities for the sake of one good man, if such can be found. He puts up with fickleness, blasphemy and disbelief and yet still performs miracles for His people.

God believes in second chances, and third, and fourth. In fact, He tells us to forgive seventy times seven in part because He too never tires of welcoming the return of even one lost sheep.

What a disservice we do for non-believers when our actions reflect a God who favors vengeance over mercy. Whenever we act other than from the root of a love that runs deep in us, all the way back to Adam and Eve, we show the world the God they want to believe in, the God whose actions look spiteful and mean instead of patient and kind.

God wants every one of us to believe in Him: “This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). God’s love for us never ends: (for) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

Like a puppy who finds full joy in the presence of his master, we Christians owe it to God and our fellow humans to approach our Christian life in love, as God loves us. Instead of looking for the faults in others, we would be much better served to find the strength in all of us, those traits we share that make our Creator God put up with us instead of smashing us to pieces.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus tells us (John 15:13). In laying down His life for us, Jesus showed us the greatest love of all.

The next time we are tempted to draw a permanent marker line in the concrete, we should consider what Jesus would do. Unless you are willing to become part of a person’s solution, to really become a part of it, not just pay lip service to it, why are you pointing out their problem?

God loves. If that isn’t the God you are presenting to the world, if that isn’t the God you carry in your heart every moment of every day, what blessings you are keeping from your self and others.

Don’t know where to start? One of the things God loves most is our thankfulness. Look for the things you can be thankful for in a day and in others, especially others you may be tempted to judge instead. Give your thankfulness a voice in prayer to your Holy Maker. If you give Him the opening, God, who can do anything, will definitely accomplish the rest.

In Christ,
Ramona