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Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: You Gotta Serve Somebody

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:22-23)

Autonomy is so ingrained in the American psyche, it is practically sacred. We want to believe that we are free to make the choices in our life, free to make true whatever grand dream or scheme we might conjure. We want to know that rags to riches stories are not only possible but reality.

But autonomy is a lie.

In the song, You Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan explains it this way, “it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna Serve somebody.” The words point out an ultimate truth. No matter your pursuit, you will always be accountable to someone or something bigger than you, something that requires you to bend your will in one way or another in order to achieve your ultimate goal.

The lyrics of the song give several examples of the illusion of power. You might be someone’s heir, you might like to sleep on silk, you might be a congressman, you might like to gamble, you might like to dance. In each instance, no desire can be fulfilled without ultimately making concessions to appease the person or powers that help make your desire possible.

At the furthest extent of this truth that we serve somebody is the reality that we humans too easily fall into the trap of letting the things we desire rule over us. I am a Diet Coke addict. If you don’t see me with a Route 44 in my hand, something is seriously wrong with my day. I use the drink to help me cope with my ever-present anxiety. (And yes, I know the caffeine is only fueling it.) Too often, I am a slave to my Diet Coke needs. I have to get in the car and drive to Sonic or Whataburger when I would rather be doing other things, but I need my drink more.

What Paul writes to the Romans applies just as much to me. I would be so much more at peace if I aligned my desires with those things that are of God. When I focus on the things of this world, like fine dining or acquiring wealth or movie stars, I unwittingly give myself over to the service of the Evil One, who uses these desires to distract me from the love God longs to give.

God’s love differs from the world’s view of love. In this world, people want to think love means letting everyone do whatever feels “right” in the moment. With this view of love, a God who calls us to a standard of goodness and morality doesn’t click. But God’s love calls us to believe in something bigger than we are, so much bigger that we have no way to comprehend its vastness.

God’s love, the love Jesus offered while He was on earth, the love that healed and showed compassion and empathy to cheaters and tax collectors, requires us to submit to God’s will at the same time its grace takes away the condemnation we deserve when we sin.

Unless you actually give serving God a try in your life, it may be hard to understand how God’s love means sticking it out with a spouse when you think you’re in love with somebody else, how God really loves you even when His law, His morality means you can’t do some of the things your heart tells you you desire most. The world may try to tell you God made you that way. Perhaps He did. I can’t keep my mind from responding with anxiety to everyday situations, even though worry goes against God’s admonishment to trust in Him each day. But, I can continually strive to submit to Jesus’ way of facing challenges rather than giving in to my anxiousness.

Because I can proceed in life knowing I will not be condemned, I can trust in Jesus’ love for me to help me live a life in submission to God’s will, which is where true peace exists.

I heard someone say recently that grace, like life, isn’t fair. It’s on offer to anyone who is willing to accept its gift, no matter their past. Aren’t we grateful for this unfairness?

Serving Jesus isn’t the popular thing to do, but it sure beats anything the devil has to offer. I’m picking Jesus. Whom will you serve?

In Christ,
Ramona

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Verses I’m Glad I’ve Read: Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Ramona

 

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Exciting News and Other Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God Be The Glory.

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

In Christ,
Ramona

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This Christmas

Nativity-Scene

How amazing is it that the God who created the universe was willing to take on the form of a mortal man, suffer the indignities of being human, and even let Himself be ridiculed and hung like a common criminal–all so we might be forgiven and brought back into relationship with Him?

Think about everything you hate having to do. God took out the trash, washed the dishes, fed the donkeys, and even bathed other people’s feet. He who could call upon a legion of angels to verify His power allowed Himself to be mocked by much lesser beings. He allowed himself to be whipped, spit upon, crucified.

He who could raise the dead allowed Himself to experience the horror of a last, desperate breath. He watched His own earthly mother mourn for Him. He knew the motley crew He called disciples would trudge home after His death in an unknowing sense of defeat.

Do you love someone? Are you willing to make yourself into the lowest common denominator for that someone? Would you be ridiculed for that someone’s sake? Would you stand in front of your longest rivals and let them call you a fake, fraud, loser? Would you really?

We humans like to humanize God. Yet, even though we are made in His image, we cannot even begin to fathom how far down the scale of existence our Lord traveled to become our Savior. Fortunately, we don’t have to understand it.

We just have to believe.

Christmas is about the most amazing birth that will ever happen in our world, when He who has the power to move mountains, took on the shell of a being incapable of lifting a pebble.

But if we fail to recognize His glory, even the rocks will cry out.

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Favorite Verses

This post says so much about the beauty and vitality of God’s Word, that I just had to share it. I hope you enjoy these thoughts and are as moved by the Spirit as I was. Thanks, Cassandra, for letting the Holy Spirit work so amazingly through you.

Casandra Martin

I took an informal poll among my Facebook friends. I asked them to share their favorite Bible verse with me. Verses poured in, and my smile grew. It is such an encouragement to read a verse and picture the face of my friend. These verses are the ones that have deeply shaped their hearts, providing courage and comfort as they make life’s journey.

The Bible is a gift. It contains the voice of God speaking to us from His heart. In its words, we find direction, grace, peace, healing, teaching, prodding, warning, comfort, encouragement, and a constant invitation. His Word holds precious promises, tantalizing glimpses of heaven, and an intimate portrait of God’s heart. It warns us about the heartbreaking consequences of sin, and spotlights Jesus on the cross as the answer to our deepest need.

As we walk through the next several weeks, I want to share some of…

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Mesquite Bend: Cora

Somebody’s Secrets

Cora Louise Smith owns/
an entire street at the North end/
of town, each lawn manicured/
to Cora’s refined perfection.
Like her beehive hair,/
the purplish grey of later days,/
Cora’s style belongs to another era,/
when boys still counted holding hands an honor,/
and girls defined their virtue as a gift.
Cora’s virtue lies six feet under,/
in the ground where her sweetheart sleeps,/
ten years gone and counting. He spent/
forty years keeping the peace/
in sleepy Mesquite Bend,/
but he still worked 24 hour days/
a month of Sundays, runaways /
and underage beer drinkers/
his true specialties. 
These days, Cora bakes fluffy biscuits/
Tuesdays, putting on her best/
Sunday dress to visit/
the station where she once took/
lunches packed with love notes /
tucked between the ham and cheese sandwiches. No one/
in modern-day Mesquite Bend knows/
what Cora gave away to marry,/
the family who turned its gold-plated back/
on her beloved lawman,/
Cora’s only tie to her rightful inheritance/
the dowry her maiden great aunt secretly/
bestowed on the only relative/
who ever had the guts to tell her no.
Posted in Christian Living, Living, Uncategorized

The Only Thing You Really Have

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Running an errand yesterday, I hustled through the grocery store, right past an employee carefully putting out the displays for, you guessed it, Valentine’s Day!

OK, I was in a hurry. I was in a rush to get back to work, which was piled up since I had taken a week during Christmas to go visit my family. So, my point is that I wasn’t exactly taking the time to stop and smell the roses, as they say (and pardon the pun), which probably means I have no right to complain, but since that hasn’t stopped me before…..

Come on! Those were the words that went through my head, followed quickly by, you’ve got to be kidding me? In other words, can’t I just have January to take a breather from the next thing I’m supposed to be prepared for?

And my next thought after that little tirade was that, in reality, all I ever really have is the moment I am currently in, and yet I spend so much time worrying about or preparing for something that is going to happen or may happen tomorrow or the day after that, I fail to soak in all the blessings and glory, sights and scents, all the nuances of the now that are what make a day worth living.

The Bible is very clear on this moment-by-moment approach to living:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself,Jesus said. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

The Preacher writes, “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20). The Message puts these same verses this way:

After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.

Be sure you don’t mistake living in the now for a “live and let live” philosophy. “Be very careful, then, how you live,” Ephesians tells us, “not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity. . .” (5:15-16). And those opportunities are not to embrace the treasures of the earth but the treasures in heaven: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” Colossians 4 admonishes. And Christ made clear that loving God first and treating your neighbor as you yourself would want to be treated sums up the whole of all God’s commands.

When it comes right down to it, the past has already come and gone, with only the ability to repent of what wrong was done in it and move forward earnestly trying to do better. Tomorrow only comes by the grace of the One who made us all. But today, TODAY, is the gift of the moment that we have the opportunity to make the most of with all surety.

So, sorry Valentine’s Day, but I’m going to keep myself busy with today this January. As the Psalmist proclaimed:

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 ESV)