Posted in Faith

Embracing Opportunities: God In Times Of Crisis

Nothing is worse than watching someone you love die. Unfortunately, I know from first-hand experience. When that death comes at the hand of ALS, the journey is slow, humiliating, painful and horrifying, the kind of death that will haunt your dreams at night, wake you in a cold sweat.

Living through that kind of death puts all other things in perspective. What is a stay-at-home order, or a week without electricity because of a hurricane, or a long to-do list, filled with things you’d rather not do, when compared to the misery you’ve already survived?

Unfortunately, too many other people are having to live through watching someone die these days. It may be quick, but no less horrific. Worse still, many are being deprived the final moments with their loved ones because of the demands on medical facilities and the needs for social distancing.

The best time to seek God is always right now. When my mother was diagnosed with ALS, I had spent a lifetime studying the Bible, seeking God, praying to my Savior, and building a relationship. That foundation helped me cope in so many ways. I had deep wells of faith from which to draw when moments got really hard. I had the conviction, the real belief, that my mother’s final destination was a much better place.

Not everyone has this foundation when life throws a curve ball like a scary pandemic. I’ll never forget the astounded look on the palliative care doctor’s face when I told him I knew my sweet mama would next see Jesus. He seemed a little shocked and a lot like he didn’t know how to process that idea. Maybe he expected me to break down in tears, but I had had three years of watching my mother’s body fail her to shed those. Now was the time to lean on the power of the Holy Spirit in me to bring me whatever peace was possible from these really bad times.

But, you don’t have to have a lifetime of building a relationship with God to benefit from learning more about Him when crisis comes. Tomorrow, we celebrate the most important event of all time, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, proof positive that the sacrifice of Himself for the sins of all–including you and me–manifested God’s great love for us. Through the mercy of Christ’s sacrifice, we all have the opportunity to be saved, to claim the promise of an everlasting life spent in heaven with the One and Only, Omnipotent God.

Here are some practical things you can do during this COVID crisis to help bring you closer to our merciful God:

  1. Know that God is a patient God who wants all of us to come to repentance. No one has done too much bad. If you come to God with a sense of the bad you’ve done, seeking forgiveness, He will forgive you. He wants you to bend your knee and tell Him, “God, You lead my path. I will follow You.”
  2. Pray. Thank God for the good things in your day, even the little things like the sounds of the birds outside your window are praises that bring joy to the Almighty. Ask Him to forgive you for hurting other people, for saying things you knew better than to say, for cheating or stealing or worrying about things that God alone controls. Then, talk to Him about whatever touches your heart. Pray for other people’s needs as much as if not more so than you pray for your own. You can pray anytime, anywhere, but it’s also nice to have a special time and place you’ve dedicated every day to spend time alone with God. The more you study the Bible, the more you’ll realize how awesome our access to the LORD really is.
  3. Read the Bible. Don’t be afraid to open the Word of God just because it’s a really long book. Find a translation that works best for you. Ask God to reveal what you most need to know, and fight the urge to pick and choose the Bible to formulate a story that matches what you think the Word of God should say rather than what it really says. For times of trouble, try looking at the Psalms, where writers call out to God in pain and even anger besides praising Him for His blessings. Perhaps begin with the New Testament, the story of Jesus’ covenant of love with us, but don’t ignore the Old Testament because God is in the details there too. Use Bible study books to help you with your reading or follow lessons on YouTube from great teachers recommended by people you trust.
  4. Use google. Search for verses about whatever problem you currently face. Read through these verses. Write down the ones that speak to you. Memorize them for times when you will need them most, when repeating them in your head can calm the palpitations in your chest.
  5. Reach out to others. Church websites, Facebook groups, and so much more are available to help you find other people experiencing the same things you feel during these trying times. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.
  6. Seek God’s truth, not your wants. We can experience God in a multitude of ways, but God’s truth never changes. Believing in God doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. Submitting to God’s way of doing things, however, allows us to experience a kind of lightness of spirit that must surely be part of what Jesus means when He says His “burdens are light.”

Daily, practical steps toward knowing God make important differences in how you face and experience crisis. As this pandemic lingers, take advantage of every opportunity to truly know God, including knowing how even little things from Him can make a big difference.

In health,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

Make God King

Only God should be King

Two common phrases dominate throughout the book of Judges:

  1. The people did evil in the sight of the LORD
  2. Every man did what was right in his own eyes

God makes it clear that He is King over Israel. But Israel’s actions show they are far from accepting God’s leadership. Surrounded by enemies, constantly in and out of trouble with one neighbor or another, Israel salivates for a human leader under whom to rally. They want to be led to victory, not by an invisible God, but by a person they can see, hear, and touch.

Living according to what each person thinks is best leads to chaos. Two episodes at the end of the book of Judges underscore the nastiness, the utter shamefulness that ensues when we think we know better than what God says.

In the first episode, a man named Micah creates his own shrine to God, including making false idols and even importing a Levite to name as priest over his collection of religious memorabilia. When a troop of soldiers happen upon Micah’s setup, it doesn’t take much to persuade the Levite to join the soldiers instead, taking all of Micah’s religious items with him. Instead of truly understanding the God who should be worshiped, Micah and others learned the hard way that no one benefits when we believe in the power of things over the power of the living God.

In the second incident, a Levite and his concubine wind up in a village among the tribe of Benjamin. They are offered hospitality by another stranger who happens to be staying in the village, but the rest of the men there knock on the door in the wee hours of the morning demanding access to the Levite so that they might defile him. The concubine, considered property, gets offered to the men of the village instead. When the Levite finds her assaulted to death the next morning, he returns home, cuts her in twelve pieces and sends those pieces across Israel to tell the tale.

In vengeance, tribe goes against tribe, so that the tribe of Benjamin is almost completely wiped out. It seems that even people going along in life following their own definition of good and bad have their limits. But God’s limits are even more strict, and certainly more consistent, than anything man can create. Saul’s rise and fall proves how thin the line between bowing to God’s edicts and deciding what is right according to your own heart and mind.

Saul starts from a good place. When Samuel tells him he has been chosen to rule his people, Saul reminds the prophet that he comes from the smallest tribe and one of the smallest families in that tribe, so unworthy of the title of king. For a man of striking good looks, who stands a head above everyone around him, Saul’s humility seems like a good sign.

However, Saul shows a distinct habit of thinking too much from himself without following Samuel’s instructions concerning God’s guidance. First, when Samuel runs late for his meeting with Saul before a battle, Saul goes ahead and offers sacrifices himself, ignoring the fact that he is no priest and therefore not allowed to offer said sacrifices. Then, when God hands the Amalekites over into Saul’s hand for victory, instead of killing all the livestock as God instructed him to do, Saul saves the best animals to offer in sacrifice at the altar.

Each of these acts may look like simple slips, logical assumptions on Saul’s part that he justified in his own mind as honoring God when he should have squashed them instead. We might want to shake our heads at Saul, but we must remember the king grew up in a world that decided what was right in its own eyes. How easy it is in those situations to follow human logic instead of Godly instruction.

Reading Judges, I can’t help but think about how much in our society we also decide what is right in our own hearts rather than following God. How often in each day do we make decisions assuming we know what God would have to say about a matter without really specifically and prayerfully approaching Him about it before acting? Do we fall in the trap of looking to the outside world to validate what we decide in our own mind is right? How many churches have turned a blind eye to the secular immorality of couple living together? To marriages dissolved not because of infidelity but because no one wants to work on the relationship anymore? How many think it’s OK to embrace politically-correct lifestyles, even though no biblical foundation exists to credit these lifestyles as righteous?

God makes His reaction to disobedience very clear. He tells Saul that his proclivity to choose according to Saul’s heart has cost Saul the kingship. God plans on passing the kingdom on to a man “after his own heart,” David.

More than that, God makes it clear that there can truly be only one REAL king in a believer’s life, and that King is GOD HIMSELF. When Samuel feels rejected because the Israelites don’t want Samuel as judge anymore, God is quick to assure the old prophet that the one being rejected is God. They don’t want me as King, God tells his faithful servant, which is too bad because I had such plans for them.

God has plans for me, for you, for the guy selling newspapers at the street corner even though the wind is bitterly cold these winter mornings. He invites us to let Him in and let Him lead.

If I don’t want to end up like Saul, thinking my logical mind and its shortcuts work somehow better than what God clearly states He wants, I can learn well from the man after God’s own heart. The lessons from David’s struggles against Saul teach us much about leaning on the understanding that God’s will is the only inevitability.

Next time, I want to share some really cool insights about David’s way of approaching stressful situations that have helped me deal with my own anxieties and stress. I hope you find them as helpful as I have in your own spiritual journey.

 

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

Lessons from Caleb

Joshua, perhaps enjoying a well-deserved respite from the violence and blood of five long years of war to claim the Promised Land, may have been surprised at the visitor who traveled to Gilgal to make a special request. Forty-five years before, Joshua spent forty days in his company, spying out a land that grew everything large and in abundance. Besides grapes that grew in bunches so big, two men were needed to carry them, men descended from legendary giants lived in cities with walls equally large and formidable.

Would Joshua even recognize Caleb? Surely both men formed a bond during their spying adventure. When the party of twelve spies returned to Israel to report to Moses on the land they were supposed to conquer, Caleb and Joshua alone stood up to proclaim their belief that God would bring Israel to victory, no matter the obstacles. When the other spies worked the Israelites into a frenzy of cowardice, Joshua and Caleb mourned, tearing their clothes, not backing down from their beliefs even when Israel threatened to stone them.

Now, 45 years later, Caleb stands in front of Joshua to ask for the chance to redeem the promise made by Moses to reward Caleb for his unwavering belief in God. As this chapter of Caleb’s story unfolds, several lessons become apparent. Here are four of them:

1. God honors ALL who honor Him

Caleb’s genealogy identifies him as being descended from Esau through Kenaz. The Kenizzites were a non-Israelite group, making Caleb just a generation removed from a non-Israelite family. Even though Israel laid claim to being the sole beneficiary of God’s favor, God proves He offers grace to anyone who shows faith in Him, a precursor to the grace that Jesus offers to all of those who believe. “Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, not one of you shall enter the land in which I swore [an oath] to settle you,” God tells Moses (Numbers 14:30).

For forty years, as long as it takes for the remainder of those who stood in judgment of Caleb and Joshua to die, Israel wanders in the desert, learning the lesson of lacking faith the hard way. Now, Caleb comes to Joshua, the only other survivor, to claim the gift his faith granted.

No matter where we’ve come from or what we’ve done, God’s grace is big enough to defeat our evilness, our otherness–as long as we believe.

2. God overcomes ALL things

When the spies come back to report to Israel, they tell them the land they have been promised is great indeed, including being great in danger. The men they would be fighting stood so large, “we were like grasshoppers in our own sight,” they claimed (Numbers 14:33).

Caleb has seen the same sights as his companions. Imagine his nights around the campfire during forty days of sleuthing around the countryside. Perhaps the arguments the men gave to Moses had been honed during many nights of arguing with Caleb and Joshua over the same topic.

Unlike most of his companions, Caleb chooses to believe in God’s ability to defeat the enemy, just as God has proven Himself in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and so far on their journey. The book of Numbers explains, “Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘Let us go up at once and take possession of it; for we will certainly conquer it'” (13:30).

No matter how big an obstacle may seem, or how impossible a goal, if God has promised, He can and will deliver. Facing trouble with an attitude of faith in God’s ability to overcome lay at the core of Caleb’s success, both at this crucial point in his story and throughout his life.

3. God’s timetable requires our patience

Caleb spent a lifetime waiting for God to bring His personal promise to fruition. For forty years, he wandered with his people, watching an unfaithful generation struggle and die. Then, he fought with the current generation for five long years to begin the overthrow of the Promised Land.

Finally, at the ripe, old age of 85, Caleb comes to Joshua to ask for the fulfillment of God’s promise. He reminds Joshua of the bond they share. Of the twelve spies who wandered into the land of milk and honey, they alone escaped God’s wrath and sentence of death (the other ten died shortly after their return to Israel). Now, Caleb proclaims the promise he’s carried so close to his heart through all the long years:

“So Moses swore [an oath to me] on that day, saying, ‘Be assured that the land on which your foot has walked will be an inheritance to you and to your children always, because you have followed the Lord my God completely.’ And now, look, the Lord has let me live, just as He said, these forty-five years since the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, look at me, I am eighty-five years old today” (Joshua 14:9-10).

The fulfillment of God’s promise to Caleb reminds us that He always follows through on His word, even if our wait for that fulfillment makes us impatient. By refusing to grow weary, we will know the great gift of faith because our God keeps His promises.

4. Faith overcomes fear

As an old man, one who has waited decades for God to come through on His promise, Caleb has every reason to be afraid now that he is so close to the finish line. The giant-like Anakim still possess the land of Hebron, the place Caleb holds in promise. No one could blame Caleb if he hesitated to claim his inheritance. After so many years of getting nothing, who could be sure that God still planned to give Caleb victory?

But Caleb is an expert at letting his faith overcome his fear. He tells Joshua:

I am still as strong today as I was the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so is my strength now, for war and for going out and coming in. So now, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke that day, for you heard on that day that the [giant-like] Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:11-12)

As Joshua tells us, Caleb’s descendants indeed receive the inheritance of Hebron “to this day,” bringing a land at such unrest for so long to peace. By letting faith rather than fears guide him, Caleb receives a gift only superseded by the gift of salvation due all those who believe in our Savior Jesus Christ.

In a book filled with larger-than-life heroes and adventures, Caleb may be a minor player, but he proves that even the smallest of us can do great things if we choose to walk by faith. We can all agree that accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation is the most important lesson of all.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

These Hard Things We Do

“God is good.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

The Spider Web Principle

The Spider Web Principle of Faith

The spider and its web have been blocking my path between the car and the carport post for several days now. It’s a tiny little spider, with a sandy-colored camouflage that is perfect for this West Texas landscape. The web spirals out in thousands of gossamer rectangles that glint then disappear in the bright sun, easily covering an area from the spider’s perspective of many, many miles.

Wanting to capture a picture of something so marvelous and mysterious, I grabbed my phone and positioned myself as close as I dared to focus on the spider and its almost-invisible threads. Under normal circumstances, I’m sure my phone’s camera would have given me a decent shot of the web, especially in the bright sunlight surrounding me. But, the West Texas wind made its daily appearance, whipping at the spider and its web. I watched through the phone screen as the web with its sheer strings bobbed back and forth with the merciless wind. Despite a continual pounding, the web gave but did not break.

With a sigh, I gave up on capturing the spider web as it moved, and went on with my day, but not before I was struck with the idea of how like a spider’s web is our faith, which believes in that which we cannot see in a world that constantly seeks to batter the thin fibers holding our beliefs together.

Perhaps the idea of how gossamer yet strong faith can be meant more to me than usual because as I started up my car, I was headed for the hospital, where I’ve been schlepping back and forth for almost two weeks now as my mother goes through yet another procedure to try to make her life bearable until ALS finally wins its grim game. I have been away from my husband and home for more than a month now, with several weeks still yet to go as we get mom home and adjusted to the new routines required now that she’s had this latest procedure.

But I am not the only one whose faith has been tested in these last weeks, not by a long shot. In my immediate world, I know people who have likewise faced the challenges that test our endurance to believe. One young woman is a new mama, juggling her first-born and a father who is facing major medical issues that require a transplant operation of mammoth proportions. Just this week, she unexpectedly lost her sister-in-law and good friend out of the blue, a young woman with a husband and three kids of her own.  Two other couples are living with held breaths, both praying at-risk pregnancies make it to fruition this time. Another family is just coping with a mother who had unexpected complications from a procedure that has landed her in a nursing home while one of her older sons suddenly suffered from a stroke in the past few days. In yet another family, the once vibrant mother who ran five miles every morning now has trouble coping with each day as she succumbs to early-onset Alzheimer’s. This last week, she broke her hip and wakes up trying to walk every day because she has no short-term memory.

Faith allows me to accept many things that my finite, human brain could never otherwise explain. I know that God doesn’t want any of these bad things to happen to us. Do you doubt it? So many examples of God’s mercy exist in the Bible, I wonder at those who do. I wonder at myself when, in my darkest, most human moments, I have the same doubt.

Consider the story of Jonah and the whale. Jonah is reluctant to go to Nineveh, in part because he knows how truly wicked the people there are. Once God forcibly gets Jonah to the city, the prophet is dumbfounded when the people listen to him and repent. When God spares Nineveh, Jonah goes off to pout. “I knew you would find a way to show these heathens mercy,” he whined. “Why did you put me through all of this fuss and bother if you knew you were going to be forgiving like always anyway?”

Throughout the story of our relationship with God, we humans have pushed Him away and away and yet never seem surprised that He shows up when we finally call to Him. The Bible tells us that God is slow to anger and wants everyone to come to know Him and believe, and most of the time our actions seem to reflect a firm belief that God will be infinitely patient with us. We put off getting our acts together, testing God’s love for us, pushing Him away so that we also put off receiving all the wonderful gifts of faith.

The power of faith truly lived is every bit as strong as that gossamer spider’s web. It saves us from worry. It keeps us in the presence of our almighty God. It hugs us in the deepest places of hurt and opens our darkest parts to the light. There is a reason why Jesus tells us the faith of a mustard seed, such a tiny, tiny particle, is enough to move a mountain.

But how do we live our faith when all these bad things in an evil world keep piling on top of us? I have to admit, my Bible study and prayer time have dwindled these past weeks between going to the hospital and doing a thousand other things around my parents’ house helping with my mother’s special needs. Have I remembered every time I’ve felt lonely or afraid to cry out to Jesus? Of course not. But I keep working at it. I know this much, the study and praying and learning about Jesus that I have done during the less chaotic times of my life are the foundation by which I cope with the challenges of today.

I know my Redeemer lives. I know I can call to Him any and every time I feel the need, and He will be there. I have woven my own spider web, I suppose, through a lifetime of trying to know Him through His Word, through time alone with Him and through my interactions with other believers.

If faith is like a spider web, it is woven through a lifetime of loving and living God. You don’t have to worry about the yesterdays you’ve wasted. With God, each morning is another day, full of promise, ripe for forgiveness. The path to your perfect, or imperfect, web begins with a first step. God isn’t going anywhere. Are you?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Never Too Busy For Us

Jesus is my Superhero

Spring is a whirlwind of activity in my other life, the one where I go to health food industry conventions and visit manufacturing facilities. I get back from one trip just in time to head out for another one.  As March fades into May, my house increasingly reflects the chaos of my mind and body. Dishes pile up in the sink, cat toys lay strewn where they’ve been batted by furry paws, my carpets bear the marks of heavy living without their regular vacuuming.

My travels take an equal toll on my body. My diet, always a challenge, flies out the window in the midst of the stress and upset routine of travel. My sugar intake skyrockets. I give in with increasing consistency to my comfort foods: chicken fried steak coated in creamy gravy, baked potatoes swimming in butter and sour cream, Tex-Mex enchiladas, and tortilla chips, and salsa. My usual, six-day workouts dwindle to catch-as-catch-can.

My mind struggles to function with my travel schedule and my poor habits. Stress, my forever friend, comes for a sleepover and sticks around like three-day-old fish. I find it hard to relax or to calm my mind, so that my thoughts run over and over, making it difficult for me to fall asleep or rest.

Most importantly, if I do not work at staying close to God, my spiritual house can become as untidy as my physical and mental houses. This year, my usual steadfast habit of Bible reading and study each morning has given way to last-minute catch-up items, oversleeping, and generally running out of time to do it. I have no valid excuse for this failure. God should always come first. But, I am supremely human, thankful for mercy, and wholly dependent on grace, and my inadequacy only underscores my abject need for God.

I remember one night this Spring lying in bed and realizing something powerful. No matter how bad things have gotten in my life, I’ve always made it through the bad times because God is there with me. Why, then, do I waste so much time being afraid about what might happen or is even likely to happen? As I embraced the idea that I can always call on Jesus and He will never be too busy to hear me, I felt such a sense of empowerment and peace.

But epiphanies that happen in the middle of the night can quickly fade in the harsh light of day, especially when you don’t make concerted efforts to build on your relationship with God and nurture your faith. Too often this Spring, my anxiety has won out over my faith. Instead of focusing on Jesus, I’ve focused on deadlines and bills, on health issues and work routines.

How grateful I am that God, the Creator of all things, is never too busy for me, even when I fall into the bad habits that make me “too busy” for Him. How do I know this? Jesus tells us: “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).  Paul assures Timothy, “This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). No matter that we use His name in vain, that we mock Him in word and deed, that we ignore Him on a daily basis, God is always waiting patiently for us to believe.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Jesus asks us (Matthew 6:27). When I truly embrace the truth that God is always with me, that when I call out to Him, He allows me to feel His presence, I understand the truth of that question. Jesus is like the ultimate superhero in my pocket. What do I have to fear?

As Summer fast approaches, I am glad to put paid to another busy Spring. I will spend this Summer getting back into my regular reading of the Word. I will make God an active participant in my daily life by seeking Him often, not just when I feel desperate or totally alone, but when I am happy as well as sad, when things are going well along with when they seem to be falling apart.

Sometimes a busy life is just busy. But making God the center of your life, that’s the kind of powerful stuff that leads to prosperous living no matter how busy or inactive you may be.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

For Such A Time As This

For such a time as this

I love the story of Esther and Mordecai. Every time I read it, I learn something new that I can apply to my life. This week, the lesson that stood out most for me was Mordecai’s argument with his niece, then the queen, as he convinced her to risk her life for the sake of the greater good.

Esther’s life was never easy. She was an orphaned Jewish girl, living far from her people’s homeland, along with all the other exiles. Her uncle, Mordecai, takes her in to raise her. She grows up learning the lessons about boundaries and injustice that plague all defeated nationalities.

Imagine her surprise when she is asked to come to the palace to compete for the position of queen! Even this “blessing” is not as wonderful as it seems.  Because her people are foreigners in the land of their conquerors, she doesn’t tell anyone who doesn’t already know that she is a Jew. Instead of having free access to the outside world and childhood friends around her, Esther must get used to a household staff led by eunuchs as she is shielded during her preparation for the big day, her one and only chance to make a good impression on King Xerxes.

Sure, Esther gets special beauty treatments, has servants, and eats a special diet while she’s in the palace. But, she’s taken from the only home she has ever known, objectified for almost an entire year without even meeting the king, and must perpetually worry about what will happen whether or not the king chooses her. After all, the queen Esther might be replacing was cut off by the king just because she didn’t feel like going to dance in front of a group of drunk royalty at the snap of the king’s inebriated fingers.

At the point in Esther’s story when Mordecai uses his lesson-giving argument, she is finally queen, but the Jewish people are in even more serious trouble than the usual. The Persian king has allowed one of his minions to declare a day for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai wants his niece to go to the king unannounced and beg for a reprieve from the death sentence.

Esther hesitates. Nobody in the palace knows that she is even a Jew. She hasn’t been called to the king in a month as it is, so could the king even be interested in seeing her? And, here’s the kicker: if she walks into the room where the king is unbidden and he doesn’t reach out his scepter to her, Esther faces an immediate penalty of death.

My absolute favorite lesson in this story is Mordecai’s argument to Esther that she should take the chance for her people because how does she not know that God made her queen for “such a time as this.” But, this week when I was reading the story again, another aspect of Mordecai’s argument with Esther at this critical moment stood out for me.

Mordecai assures Esther that God will save the Jews one way or another, with or without her. Didn’t Esther want to be a part of God’s plan? He tells her:

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Mordecai’s unwavering assurance that God’s will always will be done reminds me of all the times I don’t give God enough credit as I go through each day. Because I know that bad things happen in a fallen world, I sometimes get into the mindset of forgetting that God still has His hand on everything, often by helping to create something good out of the bad that is happening all around us.

How inspiring is it to understand that God will love, will provide whether we are an instrument of that provision or not? It gives us not only encouragement but actual courage to know that God is not limited by our human capacity or even the necessary parameters of a fallen world. I need that courage, especially when living my faith means doing things that are way outside my comfort zone, like interacting in large groups or going to places I’m unfamiliar with in order to be of service to someone.

What happens next in Esther’s story is also an important reminder. Before going before the king and risking her life, Esther fasts for three days and asks that the rest of her people join her in the fast. She wants to be sure that she is honoring God, following His will, and walking in assurance that He is with her. We must be sure we are walking in God’s will if we want to be able to lean into the assurance of His help in our endeavors.

We Christians long to do the will of God always and in all ways. Remembering that He accomplishes His will whether we serve as an instrument of His design or not is sometimes vital to stepping forward in faith. No one who loves God wants to fail Him. Esther’s faith in God saves not only the Jews, but also teaches us that walking in faith helps us to fulfill the times like this that God places us on this earth for in the first place.

 

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 Faith

Knowing His Invisible Kingdom

Know God, Know Peace

“Heaven is not here, it’s there,” Elizabeth Elliot writes. Jesus put it this way: “Store up for yourself treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).

We Christians know this truth, and yet we often have just as much trouble with a divided heart as any other human. We concentrate too much effort on thinking about the clothes we wear, the electronics we own, the kind of house we call home and too little time focusing on how great God is, how able He is to provide for each and every true need, just as He has promised.

Elliot continues,

“If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next. God is forever luring us up and away from this one, wooing us to Himself and His still invisible Kingdom, where we will certainly find what we so keenly long for.”

In recent years, I am discovering that what I make complicated, God simplifies. I keenly long for peace, and yet I have spent a lifetime trying to accomplish things as if peace can be earned rather than accepted. If I could do enough, then I would feel better. If I was feeling nervous or off, then I obviously hadn’t been doing enough.

But God’s love for us isn’t based on a formula. He offers the gift of His grace, and when we truly accept it, we will know peace.

I know that intellectually, but only recently have I begun to understand the spiritual truth of God’s gift of grace. I have discovered that truth by following His instruction to keep my mind always on Him. That means I spend a lot more time thinking about the things around me I am thankful for. If I feel afraid, I have a conversation with the One who actually knows my future and has already planned for it. The more I put myself in conversation with God, the more I think about His Word, the more I am beginning to see the world from God’s view instead of my own.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding,” the Proverbs tell us (3:5). Take every thought and make it captive to Christ, Paul exhorts believers, and “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2). A mind focused on God puts on the armor of God, and a mind shielded by the armor of God is a mind truly at peace—no matter what the world throws its way.

My focus has shifted gradually. At first, thinking about God, especially when I would rather be pouting or brooding, seemed awkward or artificial. But very quickly, I discovered that talking to God about things I was grateful for and asking about things I felt unsure about, even little things like sweet dreams, started to become more and more like second nature.

The really exciting thing about keeping my mind on God is that I know I am just beginning in this practice. I am sure there are times ahead when I will forget, get caught up in the things of this world even though I know better. But there are also plenty of opportunities for me to get better and better at putting God first. The rewards of balance and peace that putting God first brings are truly a glimpse of the invisible Kingdom for which we keenly long.

In Christ,
Ramona