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

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Posted in Christianity

Why God Is Essential To Morality

Ecclesiastes 12:13b

We probably all think that we are truly living in an age of moral decline on a magnificent scale. Maybe we’re right. But, there are other generations who thought the same. The greatest generation fought a world war to stop a madman in his quest to wipe out an entire race. Sooner back than we would like to remember, a man could be hung in this country for the color of his skin. In some areas of the Old West, everyone carried a gun because everyone used one—and justice often came hand-in-hand with a bullet.

We humans are basically rotten. Anyone who tries to tell you that we are ultimately good in and of ourselves is lying to you. Do you wonder why God includes stories in the Old Testament of a father willing to have his daughter raped to protect his male guests from the gang of townsmen standing outside his door as Lot did, of brother killing brother as Cain killed Abel, of brother raping sister as David’s son Amnon did to his half-sister Tamar?

In a time when God made His miracles known, sent angels to interfere in human affairs, and came to the prophets in dreams to communicate with them directly, people didn’t question the existence of a Holy Creator, merely the reality of His Monotheism. Even though God appeared in a burning bush and made His presence visibly apparent on top of a mountain, the Jewish people, who had been rescued from Egypt by this same God, who had been fed and guided by this God through the desert, continued to sin against Him.

Today, we live in a world that has decided God does not exist. Popular culture makes Him the butt of jokes. Those who profess belief in Him get called crazy on national television. We have pushed Him out of our classrooms, out of our social settings, and out of our morality.

So, why are we surprised when bad things happen in this world left without a God when we humans managed to be bad even when God’s presence was awesomely visible and practically irrefutable?

Believing in God is important in part because the only way a human being can hope to be good is by looking up toward an omnipotent, loving Creator who inspires us to a better self. Christ, who came to earth as man and lived a perfect life, a life without sin or flaw, shows us how love trumps hate, how kindness offers more than meanness, how spiritual things bring more value to this life than anything material.

Man in and of himself is incapable of achieving these heights of goodness. We will not share because people should be good. We will not think of higher things if all we have is this world without a next one. I think this fact is one of the reasons socialism has never succeeded. It’s a nice idea to think that people would willingly provide for others who do not or cannot work as hard as they do, but the reality is much different, especially when the leaders of these movements are often the worst offenders.

But Jesus is not one to do what human leaders do. He does not demand any part of me that He does not deserve. In fact, He could demand much, much more. He loves me even though I make mistakes. He gave His life for my salvation even knowing all the times I was going to disappoint Him in this journey to heaven we call life.

Morality based on the limits of the human imagination, which sees as its ultimate culmination only humanity itself, is a failed morality. But walking in goodness because we respect our God/Creator and also love Him has every reason to succeed. He made us with a desire to seek Him, a desire which helps us reach higher than ourselves, to achieve what we could never achieve if we were left to our own devices, a goodness that honors a pure and holy God.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

GOD is NOT a Capitalist

Give God your best

It’s that time of year again at our church, the time when the church leaders are trying to finalize the current budget and get the congregation’s commitments for the tithe.

The tithe, that ten percent of my net worth that should be given to God, usually makes me think in terms of dollar signs. But the church, and most especially God, is not primarily concerned with me opening my wallet. Yes, in our modern world, there are the practical concerns for a church like having electricity and paying support staff, but the idea of the tithe has never been, or ever was, just about money–in so many ways.

Abraham gave a tenth of all he had to pay homage to the Lord. God told the Israelites, “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God” (Ex. 23:19). The Levitical law declared: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27:30). The Proverbs remind us to “honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (3:9).

As important as it is to offer to God the first fruits of our labors, which in our economy equates to dollars and cents, the tithe should be a time to also remind ourselves how important it is to God that we honor Him with, not a specific percentage of our worldly goods, but with the best of us, the best of all that we are. 

How often do I give God not the best of me, not the part of me that rolls out of my warm bed mostly ready to face, and maybe even conquer, the world each morning, but rather the what’s left of me, the worn, half-asleep me that has faced the world and found myself wanting? How often do I come to Him only after I have exhausted all my personal resources, as if I have control over anything at all?

Why should it surprise me that God wants the very best of me when He gave me the very best of Himself? Not only did Christ come to earth as man in order to die for my sins, He left behind the Holy Spirit to function inside of me as a believer in the One and Only. Shouldn’t God expect me to begin and end not only my day, but my each breath, with thoughts of praise, with thankfulness for His power in my life, a power I am supposed to be acknowledging instead of trying to take on the world all by myself?

Giving God the first parts of me, the best parts of me, means praying often, especially when I least feel like it, humbling myself to admit that my problems are truly God’s problems, that I cannot worry myself out of any situation but that God can see me through all the things bound to happen to me in a fallen world.

When I was very young and admittedly not too bright, I took my favorite teddy bear, the one smooshed from being held by me through many a long night, and laid him on a makeshift slab bench in our back yard. My uncle, a young man, was dying from cancer not even a year after my grandfather had died. In the shade of our fruitless mulberry tree, I prayed that God would take my teddy bear and make my uncle better.

Since I didn’t have access to matches, I guess I expected my teddy bear to be struck by lightening or simply disappear. In my childish mind, giving up one of my favorite things seemed like a decent trade. But nothing happened, and a few months later, my uncle died anyway.

I didn’t understand then that Jesus had already made the ultimate sacrifice for the only thing that truly mattered, my eternal soul, my uncle’s eternal soul. As A. E. Houseman proclaims, “life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose.” It’s taken me almost four decades to truly understand how important it is that I offer myself to God, not objects, but my whole self no longer tied to the objects on this earth, in order to be close to Him, in order to walk a more Christ-like walk.

Sometimes, I think it’s easier to give God money than concentrate on the things He really wants, like our lives free from sin, our humbleness, our gratitude.  But giving to God means being our best selves in light of our need for our Holy Father. I thank Him for His patience with us. I love Him because He forgives me when I often stumble. And I give Him money from my wallet because my firstfruits include all of me, even the dollars in my bank account.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Here, Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Know the Word of God and Heed It

Why are we surprised when armchair theology leads us to believe that all decent people somehow wind up in a good place when they die? We’ve raised several generations now of children who have been taught that to participate, even if that participation means wearing the jersey and watching the birds fly overhead in the outfield all season, means being awarded. In an effort to make all children feel good about themselves, we’ve managed to decimate all standards, leaving open to a loosey-goosey interpretation the ideal of perfection.

When did it become wrong to declare that something is slipshod, especially when it comes to human behavior? Do we really think that God would suddenly change His mind about thousands of years of teaching on morality and virtue, He who valued His standards of virtue so much that He was willing to die on a cross, laid bare and humiliated, in order to provide a means for imperfect humans to be in relationship with perfection?

Getting trophies all the time just because you breathe air must make it difficult to realize there are places and times when you actually have to work on being your best self in order to thrive. When the authority figures in your life have always lauded you, no matter how little effort you put into something, it must be even more difficult to visualize a Creator God who might actually see boundaries and strict guidelines as for your greater good, rather than just being angry and mean.

In a world that is grossly unfair, how hard it must be to enter adult life after being buffered against the pitfalls of reality with false accolades to realize that you actually don’t always get what you want, to learn the hard lessons of knowing the difference between needing and wanting. Because you have rarely been called to account for your actions, or lack thereof, you most likely fail to see that the problem resides in your own attitudes. You either turn from God because He seems like a cruel taskmaster that doesn’t line up with your reality of authority figures who are always willing to say good job even when you know something was not your best effort, or you re-create God into an image of yourself, a guy who, if he does exist, surely understands your struggles and cuts you the slack you crave.

But, because God is very real and so very much more than any of us can imagine, we are wise to heed His definitions of what is right and good, to follow His road map to an afterlife spent in His presence instead of wallowing in the misery of hell. In Luke 16, Christ tells the story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus which illustrates the importance of heeding God’s Word rather than making up your own, feel-good theology.

The poor man, Lazarus, hovels just outside the gate of the rich man, living a life of half-starved misery, so miserable, in fact, that his only medical attention comes from the dogs who lick at his oozing sores. The rich man, enjoying his great wealth, his friends, his lavish lifestyle, does nothing to comfort the poor man just outside his gates. When they die, Lazarus is brought into the bosom of his ancestor Abraham to enjoy all the peace and luxury he was denied during his earthly life. The rich man, on the other hand, wallows in misery in hell, looking up to heaven to see Lazarus, whom he recognizes, living the life the rich man now longs for.

When the rich man complains, he’s reminded of the luxuries he experienced in his earthly life, but more importantly, he is reminded of the words of Moses and the prophets that the rich man never heeded. When the rich man begs to have a ghost return to the living to warn his brothers against their fate if they do not change their ways, God assures the rich man that the words of Moses and the prophets should be enough for his brothers, just as it should have sufficed for the rich man.

 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,” Jesus tells us, “and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (John 6:44-45). God speaks to us through His Word, which, contrary to popular belief, does not teach that all good people go to heaven. “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you,” James admonishes (1:21).  That Word teaches that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory, but that the blood of Christ can redeem us.

Christianity is not a license to do bad things. It is the freedom to know that when we stumble, God is ready, willing and able to forgive us instead of condemning us. But Christian freedom does not include living as if sin doesn’t matter. Get rid of moral filth and evil, the Word says. Be humble.

These lessons are so in contrast to our trophy-loving world. I pray that Christians young and old embrace the Word of God, applying its lessons of love and peace, fellowship and humility, so that none of us, like the rich man, enjoy the pleasures of this life without looking toward the treasures we should be storing in the heavens.

God is good, and in His goodness and greatness He alone understands why we must have boundaries to our behaviors, why being a pretty decent fellow isn’t enough to escape the eternal damnation of a non-existent relationship with our loving Creator. Only by accepting Christ as your Savior, by taking on His much lighter yoke of a life lived no longer as a slave to the sinful nature, will any of us hope to see Abraham on the other side of those pearly gates.

I want to be Lazarus, even if it means great suffering in this life. I want to know that when I finally face God, I have the hope of hearing those words which are the greatest trophy of all, WELL DONE.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Resolve to be . . . Industrious

Resolve to serve God this year

A powerful executive, in charge of billions in assets, notices a disturbing trend as he audits his managers’ recent business performances. He pauses over a particularly disturbing case that brings him pause. This manager, so full of promise when he began right out of college with his MBA and magma cum laude degree, has been spending more time using the corporate country club membership and expense account than in creating new business to help the corporation grow. Further inspection reveals that the manager is also guilty of not even following through on making sure his customers are up-to-date in the accounts receivable department. Books that should be well in the black are in the red.

Steeling himself for an unpleasant confrontation, the top executive calls his business manager into the office one Monday morning to ask him the tough questions. Because the business manager has obviously been sleeping on the job, the executive informs him that his days with the company are most definitely numbered. Desperate to save himself from a bleak employment outlook, the business manager does some fast thinking. If he can grease the right palms, make the right customers happy, just maybe he’ll find a new job even without a recommendation from his current employer. Calling in some of his most deeply-in-debt clients, the business manager cuts some strategic deals. He has his clients write checks for fractions of what they actually owe, forgiving the remainder of their debts on the spot.

By the end of the week, the executive chuckles over the report that lands on his desk. Seems his business manager has more savvy than he’d previously given the man credit for. Rather than firing the business manager, the executive calls him into the office and reminds him that ingenuity and a make-it-happen attitude lie at the heart of good business. The wayward business manager becomes the role model for industry.

What does such a story have to do with Christianity? Why would a parable about cheating your way out of a tight spot fall from the lips of a perfect, truth-telling Savior?

When I have read the parable of the dishonest steward in Luke 16, I have to admit to scratching my head. But as with many of Jesus’ lessons, things are not always as they appear on the surface. What Jesus is really saying when he tells the story of a fast-thinking steward who gets praised for doing what is essentially wrong has nothing to do with the treasures that concern the steward in the first place, those uncertain, earthly riches that none of us will take with us on our ultimate journey to heaven.

Instead, Jesus is wanting us to think, in part, about the effort, creativity and outside-the-box thinking people do who are primarily concerned with storing up treasures on this earth and to consider how much more we could do if we applied the same kind of effort to the gathering of treasure which really matters—the kind that gets stored up for us in heaven.

Imagine how much of a difference your experience of Christ and your ability to share His kingdom you would make if you put similar industry into building treasures in heaven as do those who, like the steward of the parable, strive to build up stores of human wealth. If we concentrate on earthly riches, Jesus tells us, we cannot serve Him. How often, however, do we fail to concentrate on the true goal of our journey toward heaven as we are trying to survive the day-to-day scrabble in this earthly existence?

This parable does not call for us to lie, cheat and steal. These are actions driven by a desire that is fueled by the evil things, by the desire for possessions that only mean something if your main goal in life is to be better than or rule over others. Being industrious for heavenly treasure requires an entirely different mindset. It means we work within the mores of the law of love. It means we choose right instead of wrong. But just because our industry requires us to stay inside the lines, it does not preclude applying our whole selves toward the success of our journey. We can think outside the box and still follow the commandments. We can sweat our way toward a positive outcome and still be in relationship with a loving God.

Some might rightfully argue that if we are not sweating in our efforts to forward the goals of heavenly treasure, then we are not in a relationship with Jesus in the first place. We either choose to serve God in this life or we choose to serve the man-made things that at times are no better than the idols of the Old Testament.  “You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus says in this parable.

As we define resolutions for a new year, let us do so with a kind of gusto as if our very livelihood depends upon the outcome, for the outcome of our souls certainly is tied to the choices we make in a world dominated by earthly things. What if we, like the dishonest steward, have been unfaithful with the spiritual treasures Jesus so freely gives to those who believe? How can we improve our pursuits of heavenly treasures in 2018? How can we gather souls for Christ to make up for the deficit of our previous apathy?

In 2018, no matter what your resolutions may be, consider the lessons from the dishonest steward. Your choices make clear whether you are standing on the side of the angels and eternal treasures or if you are clinging to the earthly things that ground you in the desires of a mankind that denies the deity of our powerful God. Resolve to make choices for God this year. Serve Him boldly, creatively, and courageously. We do not earn our salvation, but we most certainly prove to God the degree of our thankfulness depending upon the ways we pursue His vision for Christianity as it should be lived in a fallen world.

 

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Jesus IS LORD

Jesus IS LORD

What makes Christmas so special? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the presents and Santa Claus. It’s not even peace and good will.

Christmas is the celebration of a miraculous birth, not only because Mary, a virgin, gave birth to a baby, but also because that baby was God made man.

Except for Christians, most of the world sees Jesus as either a fable or a great, spiritual teacher, equal (or lesser) in rank to other great, spiritual teachers such as Mohammed, Buddha and Gandhi. But these viewpoints of Jesus could not be further from the truth, or any less detrimental.

God is perfect. From before time began, He was the same as He is today, the same He will be tomorrow and beyond.

Mankind, on the other hand, is a rotten mess of mistakes, bad deeds, and inconsistencies. Not one of us has ever lived without committing sin. Most of us don’t even make it through one day without doing something that is an offense to a perfect God.

At the time Jesus was born as a baby in a manger, the only way for those who had sinned to mend the broken relationship between themselves and their Holy God Creator was to offer the sacrifice of blood. Because that blood was a temporary remedy to an always problem, the sacrifices offered only restitution, not absolution.

When Jesus came to earth, He lived out His life without sin, a feat no human can accomplish. Because Jesus was God taking the form of man, He alone was able to live a blameless life. Christ’s blameless life, offered on the cross, served as the one sacrifice that could pay for all sins and offer to believers the assurance of not being condemned.

So, realizing that Jesus was at once man and God is vital to understanding His role on this earth. We don’t celebrate Christmas because we want an excuse to give and get presents wrapped with pretty bows. We celebrate Christmas because our God loved us enough to come to earth as the lowliest of beings, suffering through this life just as we must suffer, but living His life perfectly as we never can hope to live, and all in order to offer us the gift of salvation.

God’s grace, offered through our belief in Christ’s living, dying in sacrifice, and rising in redemption for all, is the greatest gift the world has ever known. No other spiritual teacher can match it. Period.

When you say Merry Christmas! this holiday season, know the real reason why we should all be merry and why Christ is in Christmas in the first place.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Gotta Serve Somebody

Gonna have to serve somebody

If there is one truth to which we should commit our whole selves, it is this: no matter how free we think we are, the very choices we make underscore our actual servitude, either to our Holy God or to the sinful nature that is the natural state of man, and woman, in a fallen world.

In his 1979 album, Slow Train Coming, Bob Dylan included a single that reflects on this truth, entitled, “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Dylan writes,

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance.
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage.
You may be a business man or some high-degree thief,
They may call you doctor or they may call you chief.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are,
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna serve somebody.

The apostle Paul acknowledges the truth of this concept in his letter to the Romans. After explaining about the burden a sinful life places on the individual, he exhorts the benefits of choosing instead to serve Christ.  “You have been set free from sin,” he writes, “and have become slaves to righteousness” (6:18). Before righteousness, the possibility of which came to us when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we were slaves to evil, which only made us more and more wicked. When we embrace being a slave to righteousness by accepting Christ as our Savior, we are made more holy, which leads to eternal life instead of death/damnation.

“What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?” Paul questions, referring to the sinful lifestyle that marks any life that does not choose to walk with Christ. “Those things,” he tells us, “result in death!” (6:21) Paul continues,

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)

When Jesus promises us that His yoke is light, He is in part pointing toward this difference between serving “the new way of the Spirit,” as Paul describes it, “and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:16). Allowing one’s self to be ruled by the Spirit is choosing to serve our Holy, Forgiving God. His are the mercies that endure forever. Actions based on faith in Him make us a slave who does not feel the burden of his/her servitude, but instead experiences the lightness of spirit that exudes love and helps one sleep peacefully at night.

Our sinful nature, the body that is subject to death, is always ready to catch us in a moment of weakness, to be the sin living in us that causes us to stumble. Only as we repeatedly choose to be ruled by the Spirit of Truth in us do we join in Jesus’ triumph over death into a life spent with the easy yoke of a loving Lord.

Before Christ, all believers could expect was atonement for sin. They sacrificed on a regular basis to be washed clean of sin and even had ceremonies where they atoned for sins committed of which they were not even aware. At any given moment, even the most righteous of believers could be carrying around sins for which atonement had not yet been achieved.

When Christ died on the cross for the sins of all, the ultimate sacrifice, He achieved for us not only atonement but actual forgiveness for our sin. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul proclaims (Romans 8:1). We will be judged for our choices in this life, but those who have accepted Christ as Savior will never be condemned for those choices. 

It saddens me that Christians sometimes give the mistaken impression that we think the gift of Christ is exclusive to us, when what Christ offers is open to everyone who breathes. In the early days of the church, Peter tells his fellow Jews, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). Christ’s love extends to all comers, from the lowliest, most despised sinners to the most exalted people in the world. What He requires is a heart that loves Him in return, that understands the great benefit of choosing to serve the Lord and His righteousness instead of the evil one who plies his duplicitous trade in this fallen wasteland we call our mortal world.

You gotta serve somebody. Those serve best who choose, as Joshua of old, to serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15) The way of the Spirit is truly the lightened burden that casts off the crushing weight of a life bound by sin.

Each morning is a new day to choose to serve the Spirit. Will you join me in making a conscious choice each sunrise to serve a Christ Who loves you so much, He swallowed the wrath for your sin even though He had never sinned Himself? He is the only Master worth serving, the only One to whom service causes us to rise rather than stumble.

In Christ,
Ramona