Posted in Verses I am Glad I have Read

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: God Whispers

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19: 11-13)

In a world where messages are so plentiful that most of us resort to extreme measures in order to gain any attention, it’s paramount to realize that God, the most powerful and omnipotent Voice in the universe, doesn’t speak to us in the loud, booming tower of fire of which He is able, but rather in the gentle, kind whisper that is capable of shooting straight to the core of every wounded soul.

Reflecting on these verses from Elijah’s story this week, I am struck with three, key things we can do to help us ignore the thunder and avalanches of the world’s messages and concentrate instead on God’s whispers: SLOW DOWN; BE STILL; BE QUIET.

SLOW DOWN

The most obvious way to make room for God’s gentle whispers in your life is to slow down the incoming messages that threaten to drown Him out every day. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have to walk around with our cell phones as an extension of our arms. Moments standing in line might be spent practicing deep breathing instead of catching up on the latest posts on Facebook or Drudge. If the television must be streaming in the evening, why not the spa channel, nature sounds or classical instrumentals instead of news, dramas or reality TV?

My “bestest” friend and I are always trying to point out to each other the times when God is plunking tiny pebbles on our heads, trying to save us from a boulder before His message gets across to us. But, if I am so busy working, ferrying kids around town, running errands, squeezing in exercise and meeting social obligations, how can I be aware enough to notice that pebbles are plopping down?

The first step to hearing our God’s whispers is making sure there is enough space in your mind and schedule to notice the slightest wisp of information that can be overshadowed by the world’s more colorful, abrasive ramblings.

BE STILL

Slowing down is just the first step toward an even more important requirement when you want an honest, strong relationship with God. We must find time in each day to just be still in His awesome presence.

Perhaps this stillness differs between believers. For me, stillness with God is five, deep breaths of the clean, early Spring air on a sunny afternoon that just feels right, thanking Him for the moment, for the experience of being human and surrounded by a peaceful reminder of His master creation.

Being still is also my morning habit of praying to help me focus my actions for the day, of studying His Word and devotionals by others that give me different perspectives on the depth and breadth of the Bible and its application to my life.

Mainly, being still is taking the time to stop everything else and just focus on God, whether that be a prayer of gratitude, singing a hymn or just sitting comfortably in a chair with nothing else going on around me. This is a lifetime habit that must be cultivated, even if we have to set an alarm on one of our many electronic gadgets to remind us it’s time for stillness.  Otherwise, I’m convinced, the world will always scream louder than God whispers.

BE QUIET

But being still isn’t exactly enough. Too many times, sitting in half-lotus position with soothing sounds reverberating softly in the background, my mind refuses to concentrate on nothing but my breath going in and out of my lungs. Too quickly, it flits back and forth between worries, to-do lists and a thousand other things I need to accomplish or think I should do. How can I hear God whisper if I’m busy talking to myself?

Quieting the mind is another lifetime practice to perfect. But it begins by at least working to place our minds on the one, true God as we sit in stillness. We can thank Him for everything, including troubles because these take us closer to God, talk to Him about our troubles, bring the troubles of others before Him and ask Him the deepest, darkest questions of our hearts. When our minds are focused on God in this way, we can take the time to make our mind as quiet as possible to listen.

Listening is another skill we all need practice improving. Listening keeps us from making judgments about others, putting ourselves down, gossiping, or otherwise saying things that might break Jesus’ heart. When we concentrate on listening instead of being heard, we are open to understanding the messages in God’s Word and in the communications we have with others. Only by listening will we ever truly hear what God tries to tell us.

 

God coming in a whisper also reminds me that I have to be patient with my questions. I have to realize that sometimes His answers have been lost in the whirlwind of noise that constitutes a modern life.

I also have to ask myself why a God so mighty in power restrains Himself to a whisper. It’s a lesson I can apply to my relationships with other people, this knowing that words softly spoken can have more power than the force of a mighty wind.

This week, attend to how many opportunities you seize to hear God’s whispers and also how many opportunities inadvertently slip through your fingers.  After all, pebbles are much less painful than boulders.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

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Posted in Verses I am Glad I have Read

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: Learn To Fish

Give a man to fish, the saying goes, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

When Jesus came to earth as man, He not only gave us the ultimate fish, His gift of saving grace, but He also spent the bulk of His ministry teaching His disciples and followers how to fish.

After almost five decades on this planet, I am convinced it will take me a lifetime to learn how to live according to Jesus’ simple truth: love God first and foremost and love everyone else with the same fervor with which you love yourself. The truth of the gospel is as simple and as complicated as living each day in humble acknowledgment that God is in control and by continually acting out one’s faith through love.

How can something so simple on the surface be so difficult to achieve in practice? I don’t know. Every day, I worry when I should say, God, I entrust myself to Your mercy. I indulge in self-pity and judgment of others and myself when I should be asking the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts. I let pride guide my actions instead of bending my knee to the will of the Almighty.

And all of that before I even finish breakfast.

But examples of living in ways that will bear fruit abound when you study the life and ministry of Jesus. He challenged judgmental people, trying to take on the role of God by passing sentence on a sinner, to cast the first stone at the adulteress, refusing to condemn her and admonishing her to go forward and sin no more. He prayed often, with His whole being, so passionately in the Garden of Gethsemane that His tears leaked blood.  He gave generously of His time and energy, preaching and healing past endurance, never discriminating or seeing Himself as better than anyone else. He never gave in to temptations, not even when He’d been in the desert for 40 days without sustenance.

Learning to fish in a spiritual sense is learning to make the most of the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised before His crucifixion:

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), to be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive [and take to its heart] because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He (the Holy Spirit) remains with you continually and will be in you. (John 14:16 -17 AMP)

Paul expounds on the outward signs that show a life lived by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He tells us the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These characteristics are not separate, not fruits, but one, all-encompassing embodiment of a life lived as much as lead. The Amplified Bible version of these verses explains it this way:

But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature together with its passions and appetites. If we [claim to] live by the [Holy] Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit [with personal integrity, godly character, and moral courage—our conduct empowered by the Holy Spirit]. (Galatians 5:22-25)

Not only does God’s word provide us with food for our spiritual lives, just as Jesus more than once filled Peter’s nets full to bursting with a live catch, it also provides the instructions for living each day in a way to bring about the most abundant harvest. Looking closely at the fruit of the Spirit, I think about how much better my life can be if I work to make the Holy Spirit the central focus of everything I do.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In my daily planner app, I have long since assigned these qualities to different days of the week as a gentle reminder of where my focus should be. In the end, if I fail to learn how to live according to the Spirit in me, why did I bother inviting the Spirit in to begin with?

In Christ,
Ramona

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Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: Hope

In the sweet by and by, the old hymn choruses, we shall meet on that beautiful shore. The lyrics to this beloved expression of faith reflect the struggle between meeting life’s challenges and believing in our heavenly resting place:

There’s a land that is fairer than day,
and by faith we can see it afar;
for the Father waits over the way
to prepare us a dwelling place there.

We shall sing on that beautiful shore
the melodious songs of the blest;
and our spirits shall sorrow no more,
not a sigh for the blessing of rest.

Too often, the challenges of day-to-day living can leave us feeling soul-tired. Just when we think we have one problem solved, three more crop up out of nowhere. Wanting silence, instead we are constantly bombarded by information from our cell phones, radios, computers and televisions, conflicting information that promises clarity but only increases our confusion.

When so many problems surround us, it can be easy to lose sight of the one, true Light that guides us toward peace. But making God the center of our lives is exactly the key to holding on to the only thing that can keep us going when things are toughest–hope.

Isaiah tells us the reason why hoping in God is so important: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”  (Isaiah 40:31). 

I need reminders about hope. These days, when I am sometimes tempted to ask God why my race isn’t done, when I feel so tired from life’s challenges and losses that I find it almost impossible to see any good reason to keep pushing to follow my faith, the promise of hope keeps me pushing forward anyway.

Hope involves what is most important to me, which is fulfilling the purposes God put me on this planet to do: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).  God knew me before I was a twinkle in my mother’s eye. He knew what He had planned for me, and He knew exactly how I would please and disappoint Him as I go through this life. When I least feel like getting out of bed in the morning, the knowledge that God giving me another morning to wake up to means He still has work for me to do is sometimes the only reason I push back the covers and rise.

Hope also helps me when I am most down, when life is at its darkest. Losing my mother to perhaps the most terrible disease on the planet has brought me dark days indeed, but through it all, I tried to give myself hope by reminding myself of one of my favorite verses of all, this one thanks to Paul:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Remembering this verse helps me look for the positive things, the little moments of joy amidst the sorrow, the sharing of my tough times that I have forced myself to do to try to bring some help to others from the lessons I have learned and am still learning.

Hope is also central to the core message of God’s love for us, a love expressed through the sacrifice of Jesus so that all who believe may find that sweet shore where praise for the Creator will flow from all lips. Making sure that all the people I know somehow learn that message of hope from my actions and words oddly increases my own hope in our eternal resting place, that sweet by and by:

Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!” —Lamentations 3:22-24

In Christ,
Ramona

 

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Exciting News and Other Adventures

I didn’t want to place this post directly in my Verses series, even though I promise to offer a favorite verse or two in the course of this post, because I want to let you know that I’ve published a new novel!

A Love of Her Own is a story that began as my project for 2017’s National Novel Writing Month. I valiantly, or vainly, posted a first draft segment of the novel I was writing during that November’s challenge to share with you, my blog post readers.

2017 was part of the three-year stretch where life got serious and overwhelmingly challenging. As I wrote on that first draft, my mother battled ALS, and my family worked together to make her comfortable and try to enjoy each other as much as we could, treasuring small moments and counting as victories everyday things most of us take for granted. More than once, I wondered aloud why I had so stupidly committed to writing a novel in the midst of the chaos that was my life. I was juggling work, spending time at my family home nine hours away from my husband, and taking business trips out of town to boot.

Once I finished the initial project, the novel sat in the ether as my world continued to spiral. Eventually, I returned to the first draft to begin editing it, wincing at the lazy language and inadequate development that marked my first attempts at this story. After three additional edits, this novel is finally something I’m proud to offer as a finished piece of work for your assessment. You can find out more about the story here.

But, I promised a verse or two, verses I am glad that I’ve read, especially when it comes to continuing to pursue this dream I have of writing, even when I have to make time for this dream outside of a life already full of obligations. My earnest prayer is that I write because this is the gift God has given me to share with others and NOT because I seek my own glory:

There are different kinds of gifts, Paul tells the Corinthians, but the same Spirit distributes them.There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

Sometimes, though, I get discouraged. I certainly don’t break any land-speed records selling novels. I don’t have thousands of followers or glowing reviews. Maybe God has a different gift in mind for me to be utilizing for His glory. Then again, maybe God’s idea of utilizing my writing is a different picture than the one I envision:

It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:7).  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

Most days, I work hard to trust that, if I do my part, God will use my efforts in the way that He sees fit:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10-11).

In the end, if I help even one person with the words God gives me to write, isn’t that really worth all my effort? And besides, as hard as writing truly is, I enjoy finding the right word and not its second cousin. I love telling a good story that hopefully makes people think without telling them what to think.

I hope you too find joy in practicing the talents God has given you to help bring glory to our awesome Savior. If we never lose sight of the source of those talents, we should stay on track with using those talents for the purpose for which they were intended.

To God Be The Glory.

Thank you for taking the time to read these words of mine, whether you like my blog posts or my novels. I hope you find them useful in your own walk with Jesus.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Verses I am Glad I have Read

Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: Know His Peace

“In this world, you will have trouble” Jesus tells us, “but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Never underestimate the value in this life of knowing where you will be spending the next one. Jesus provides us the ultimate basis for peace by promising us that His priceless gift to us is our salvation. “For God so loved the world, ” John assures us, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

My favorite verse to pair with this promise of our salvation is another promise, the assurance that no matter how much I screw up in this life, I cannot lose the love Jesus has for me:

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-15)

The Holy Spirit, dwelling in me, is my compass, my direct connection to my most holy God. Knowing that I am assured a place in heaven because of the sacrifice Jesus made for me, I can go through this life working to become what Christ hopes for me to be when I arrive at my heavenly destination. “Therefore,” Paul assures the Romans, “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).

But even this promise of final peace doesn’t guarantee that I feel peaceful all the time as I struggle to survive in a fallen world that is definitely full of trouble. Fortunately, the Bible contains many lessons about maintaining peace in the face of hardship upon which we believers can draw in order to maintain our promised calm when we believe in our loving God.

Peace comes when we keep God first in our minds and hearts. “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble,” the Psalms promise (119:165). Isaiah tells us, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (26:3). Jesus explains, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Striving to do good in full knowing that God has your back is one of the best feelings in the world, freeing you from the burden of having to cross every t and dot every i and allowing you to love always and in all ways, just as Jesus gave us the example of doing. Whenever the world seems against us, we can feel peace knowing that we are walking with God in our minds and hearts as long as we strive to always put God first:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)

Anxiety is a natural part of my every day world. I have to fight against it daily, in part because my brain is physically wired to worry, just like my thyroid is dysfunctional. But just because I have a disease that predisposes me to worry doesn’t mean I can’t find peace in God.

I believe God’s promise that I should cast all my anxiety on Him because He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).  I trust in Jesus’ assertion, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). I try to follow the advice:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

My life has been filled with plenty of reasons to lose peace in the last few years, but my struggles have actually helped me get better at finding it. When I just say the name, Jesus, I feel His presence. I know He is loving me and following through on His promise to always see me through:

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.  Isaiah 54:10

Peace is important for another reason. It is the basis of hope. Paul writes, “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).

Not only do we have hope for eternity, our peace in God gives us hope to make it through the challenges of this life.

What verses bring you peace?

In Christ,
Ramona

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

 

 

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