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 Christian Living, Faith

God Has This

I love it when my Bible reading lines up with the current season of my life, when I read a story or verse that speaks right to the situation with which I currently struggle. Like Gibb’s Rule 39 on NCIS, I don’t believe these times are a coincidence, but God intervening to communicate with me when I need it most.

For a long time, despite my faith, despite all the work I put into trying to be otherwise, I’ve found myself bogged down with sometimes debilitating anxiety. I’m not talking about increased stress. I have a mind that views the world through a lens of constant worry. If I find a moment of calm, I am already thinking about the next thing that will cause me trouble.

If you don’t have anxiety disorder, you might find it difficult to imagine a day in my life. But since we all face times of extreme stress or worry, everyone can relate to needing coping mechanisms for those moments in our lives when we feel out of control or in danger.

David certainly knew the challenge of keeping strong in his faith even though the world seemed to be against him. King Saul, the God-appointed king David had been named by God to replace one day, meanwhile sought to kill his erstwhile successor. On more than one occasion, David had the opportunity to kill Saul before David could be killed. But, each time David refrained from taking Saul’s life.

The reason David will not kill the current king is simple. David knows God has anointed Saul king, and David trusts that God alone will remove Saul from the throne in order to put David in his place. Even though a mighty king wants to kill him, David has faith that God has the situation under control. David leans into trusting that God’s will prevails instead of leaning into anxiety.

One episode in David’s story seems slightly out of place, until you consider it in the light of this trust, that God has all under control. This episode is the story of Nabal and Abigail.

One of the places David and his men have hidden is on the lands belonging to Nabal, a selfish man who married well. Because David and his men have protected Nabal’s shepherds, when it comes time for shearing, David requests a share of the harvest. Nabal denies David out of hand. Nabal’s denial makes David immediately angry. Unlike the times when he overlooks Saul’s attempts on his life because Saul is the God-ordained king, David immediately sets out to take revenge on Nabal for the insult he has given David and his men by refusing to share some of his bounty.

In the meantime, Nabal’s servants, knowing David’s wrath will come upon them all, run to their mistress, Abigail, to tell her the entire story. Being wise, she loads up two hundred mules with goods for David and his men. She meets David on the road, humbly offering her goods in thanks for the services David and his men have rendered to Nabal.

Moved by her gift, David turns away from seeking revenge on Nabal and his entire household. In the end, Nabal gets struck down by an illness and soon dies, allowing David to acquire Abigail as a wife.

This episode shows us that David has the personality to seek his own revenge. He isn’t the type of person to take an insult and just turn the other cheek. So, when David refuses to take revenge on King Saul, even when he knows God has told him David will some day be king, we know that David is truly putting the fate of his future in God’s hands, trusting wholly that God is in control of his destiny.

Reading this story for the fifth or tenth time in my life in these last weeks, this truth imprinted itself on me. Why do I let anxiety keep me from facing each day knowing that GOD HAS THIS? If I believe that God controls my destiny, and I do, then why let all the tiny things that worry my anxiety-riddled brain get to me? Remembering that God Has This when I start to worry or fret has helped me get a better hold on my anxiety.

God loves me. As a good friend reminded me this week, He has “searched me and known me. [He] know[s] when I sit and when I rise; [He] understand[s] my thoughts from afar. [He] search[es] out my path and my lying down; [He is] aware of all my ways” (Psalm 139: 1-3). I don’t have to be great like David (who has his share of sins recorded in God’s word, by the way). God loves all of us, from the best to the worst. If we submit to His will, He controls our destiny.

GOD HAS THIS! Try reminding yourself of this truth the next time you face a challenge. I am confident it will make a big difference.

In Christ,
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