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

Advertisements
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

 

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

How Do You Cope? : Turn Your Mind to Jesus

A mind focused on Jesus learns to cope

God is awesome. He deserves our love and our praise. If we are wise, He also deserves the courtesy of our fear. Do you doubt it?

Sitting in the comfort of a home this week that kept the unending rain at bay, I thought about the mightiness of our LORD, how the strength of terrible weather, which I think goes part and parcel with a fallen world, reflects the awesome power of our Creator.

But God’s greater strength showed itself through His people, who reached out from all over Houston and this country to help those who have lost everything, washed away like so much refuse as the rain continued to pour.

Long after the news cameras tire of stories about boat rescues and flooded highways, people in Houston and across the Texas coast will be doing the most important work of all, which is learning to cope with the challenges that will continue for months and even years to come. God will show His strength in helping people cope, too.

Coping is a skill I’ve been honing the last several years. My grandmother, father-in-law and brother-in-law have all died, the latter within days of each other. My mother is battling ALS. Had I not learned to cope, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

Christ is the avenue to our best coping skills. When your mind begins to wander into worries you can do nothing about, think on Him. Draw your mind to Christ by thanking Him for the things around you, for the blessings you are most grateful for. Before you know it, He will bring your mind to a place of peace that pushes away the worry. He may give you the next step to take. He may send you to a scripture that expresses just how you feel. He may simply help you to just be still.

Time with the Trinity is more important than anything. Spending time in God’s word is the only way to learn just who He is. If you know your Bible, you know if the messages you feel are truly in alignment with that word or just the murmurs of your own heart’s desires. When you truly bend your will to God, you learn to accept the times when what you want is not what God says you need.

In Houston, there is a religious venue for every 1,000 people. This is a big city with a big heart for God. I like to think this belief plays a large role in our reactions to natural disasters. In these last few days, images of neighbor helping neighbor reflect the kind of things that happen when we take the love Christ has for us and pay it forward.

A mind set on the things of this world is subject to worry and angst. A mind set on our awesome God is destined to calm and peace. I know which mindset best serves me in times of ease and conflict. I hope you also prize your time with God so that no matter how the rains and winds blow, your mind is at heavenly peace.

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

Posted in Faith

How God Lifted Me


There are no better lessons in grace than those in-the-valley moments in this life that all humans must face at one point or another. In those shadowed, veiled times, we might be tempted to turn away from a God we didn’t have such a great understanding of in the first place. Or, we might turn to Him for miracles that He sometimes grants and often provides in some out-of-nowhere way it may take years of living to figure out. We might just wallow, giving ourselves heaping mouthfuls of mud to go along with the bitter tastes in our mouths.

The first lesson to learn in the valley is that you are not alone. Even if you are having a rather one-sided argument with God at the moment, blocking out his ever-presence in your life, you don’t have to seek too far away in the valley to see the tell-tale signs of fellow sufferers. Being human, you’re likely to gravitate toward those who have chosen your same approach to hardship so that you might commiserate together.

I’ve been in the valley for the last several years. My husband’s family and my own have faced challenges with terminal illness of those we hold closest to us. My father-in-law and brother-in-law each lost his battle with cancer within weeks of each other during the holidays the year before last. My mother was diagnosed with ALS, and my parents daily struggle with the challenges of coping with this dreaded, dreadful disease.

So, as much as anybody out there, I think I have the right to ask the unanswerable questions, like why God lets bad things happen to good people, or why nature itself has to be as evil as any serial killer you can find on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

But, these really weren’t questions I had to find answers for as this long journey in the shadows continues for me because God has granted me so many spiritual mentors and fruitful lessons from my Bible studies. I know that God cares for all of us. I know that this life with all its troubles is not what He had originally planned when He plopped Adam and Eve in a garden paradise. I survive because I have faith that God will work to the good even the most horrific things that happen in this life for those, like me, who strive to walk by faith in our belief.

My spiritual mentors have been many. I have friends who hold God close to their hearts. They have introduced me to great Bible teachers like Ravi Zacharias, Andy Stanley, and Randy Harris, men who do a good job of putting Biblical concepts into modern-day language. These are men who value the love of Jesus and who know that grace is something we all need in equal measure. Instead of judging other people, these mentors have taught me to seek the good in others in order to spread Jesus’ most precious gift of forgiveness through grace.

As a writer, I admire what apologists such as Philip Yancey and Sarah Young and novelists like Charles Martin and Francine Rivers can do when they put pen to paper and allow God’s gift to flow through them.  I have learned that it’s okay to ask questions about and of God, that staying in a mode of thankfulness draws me closer to God, that the strength of our relationships on earth can reflect the strength of our interactions with our Savior, that the kind of love that truly puts the other first will never fail.

My days have been dark and will be darker still, but I will continue to walk by faith. These are no longer bumper-sticker words to me, but the result of persevering. I study my Bible, I pray continually, I share my belief with others, I am open to learning from God and fellow believers. Some days, many days, I have to choose that today is a good day for a good day.  I have had to learn to cut myself some breaks. I have learned that helping others even when my own world is crumbling helps me feel better.  I lean on the understanding that this life is about becoming something for the next life. God, my potter, is molding the clay that is me into a masterpiece for His kingdom.

I am comforted by the idea that some day, when my perseverance is complete, the angels will dance.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

With God, Simple Things Can Mean A Lot

God makes even simple things into something magnificent, according to His purpose

I am very good at making things more complicated than they have to be. Pick almost any area in life, and I have figured out a way to look at the issue that gives it many more twists and turns than really exist.

Take salvation, for example. All I have to do is believe in Christ and His purpose and profess that belief, and yet I make that simple act of faith into something much more complicated. I tell myself I have more responsibility in this act of living my faith than God ever said I had.

For example, I think that it is somehow up to me to make other people believe about God and the Bible the way that I do. I get frustrated when people disagree with me, even angry when I think they are saying something wrong about the word of God according to the way that I understand that word.

God has led me to a focus shift this week, one that should help me quit taking on responsibilities that are not my own. Through my Bible reading and conversations with other believers, I have been reminded that God is the One who holds the responsibility for what others ultimately believe. He alone is Judge.

I must not apply my usual habit of shoulds in life to my plan for living my faith. A to-do list is not what being a Christian is about. Instead, we are asked to live through love.

In the Old Testament, we learn an important lesson about the simplicity of our salvation when we truly hand over the responsibility for that salvation to our Holy God. Naaman, the commander of King Aram’s army, goes to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. When Elisha tells him all he has to do is go dip himself in the Jordan seven times, instead of being thankful such a simple task is all that is required, Naaman gets frustrated. He doesn’t understand how the solution could be so simple. Why wouldn’t a body of water in his home country be even more likely to heal him, if that is all it would take, Naaman wonders?

In fact, Naaman feels affronted that Elisha’s solution does not require more of him, as if his station deserves to be recognized by the level of responsibility required for healing. Naaman would have wandered through the rest of his proud life, full of responsibility and covered in his skin disease, if not for his servants, who asked the obvious but profound question:

“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you ‘ wash and be cleansed?'” (2 Kings 5:13)

Luckily for him, Naaman realizes the truth to this statement and proceeds to follow Elisha’s instructions from God. In the end, Naaman walks out of the Jordan with skin as whole as if he had just been born. More importantly, he learns the profound truth that in even the smallest of ways, God can do great things.

As I was settling into the truth of these verses during the week, I was offered another important lesson when it comes to how God works in our lives, which is the comfort that comes when we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good things in this world that is full of evil.

In this season of my life, I have as much reason as anyone to see the world in general and the act of living in particular as a losing struggle against forces that are gunning for my ultimate destruction. Beginning in 2014, in the span of some fourteen months, my grandmother died, my husband’s father and oldest brother lost their battles with cancer within a few weeks of each other, and my dear mama was diagnosed with ALS.

If I didn’t believe that the only way God can offer us the free will to choose Him is to allow for both evil and good to exist in this life, then I would have given up on the idea of a loving God a long time ago. But, in acknowledging the truth of the need for evil to exist in a fallen world, I realize that I have somehow lost the even stronger truth that God controls everything, even, somehow, the process of letting us tumble into His always waiting, open hands.

God’s control negates my need to be responsible for outcomes. Notice, I did not say actions. Free will means I am inherently responsible for everything I say and do. But, when what I say and do is in alignment with the life of Christ and His teachings, I can trust the outcome will be according to the will of God, even when things look farthest from that conclusion. His Holy Spirit can so easily bring to fruition whatever seeds my Christ-like words and actions may plant. But, I have to live like I believe that, even in simple ways, mostly in simple ways.

What a powerful realization this working of the Holy Spirit in our lives is for those who believe. When we forget about His power or try to usurp it by manipulating situations toward our own desired outcomes, we do a disservice to our faith. We also overlook the little, simple things that God can make truly great, like the mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree.

God is always able

 

Just like Naaman, I am guilty of wanting something more difficult than the simple truths of God’s promises. He wants me to know that He has things under control in accordance to His Master Plan, a plan my human mind is incapable of fully understanding. When I contain myself by worrying about only my actions and words instead of putting myself in the role of judge over others, I give myself the light burden and peace that Christ promised as the gift of believing in Him. I grasp God’s simple solution to life’s complex problems.

In Sunday school, we reached the point in Romans where Paul asks why we think we have the right to judge those who serve God. We are not their masters, after all. But for those who allow God to be master, the promise is clear:

To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)

The Lord is able to bring about our success in walking by faith. Not long after Naaman discovered that God’s truths can be powerful even in simplicity, the prophet Elisha faces a dangerous situation that further underscores God’s ability. When the King of Aram sends an army to harm the prophet, God provides His own, conquering army to protect the servant of our heavenly King:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:13-17)

When I profess my faith, when I show love in the face of hate, when I turn the other cheek, God is able. He is surrounding me with His angels, looking out for my ultimate good. If I live each day knowing this truth, I will simplify my walk with Christ. I will be free to love other people in full knowledge that the paths of their lives and their ultimate judgment are in God’s hands, not my own.

Christianity is simple. We humans are the ones who tend to complicate things, forgetting despite all His promises, that God is able.