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Where is Reason?

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I’ve often wondered happened to reason, rationality, and common sense in American society?

As I write this post, the United States is experiencing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. (I have tested positive multiple times, yet remain asymptomatic). The U.S. response to the Covid-19 has been irrational and erratic at best. The politicized mainstream media (including conservative and liberal pundits) waffled between “We’re all going to die” and “This is a hoax to influence the election.” During the discussions of the pandemic, the middle ground has gone the way of the dinosaur.

People have protested state stay at home orders and people have viewed masks mandates as an attack on personal freedom. There are cities which are threatening to penalize non-mask wearers with fines and or jail time. Many major companies, including Walmart and Starbucks are now requiring customers to wear masks or they will not be allowed inside the store.

It’s human nature to defy authority. People still smoke despite the health warnings and proven links to cancer. There are people who still don’t wear seat belts; motorcycle riders refuse to wear helmets; drivers speed and underage college students will find ways to get alcohol. However, I believe the United States is going through a time of lawlessness, where the rights of the individual are being trampled on by the government and society.

There have been protests and societal upheaval coupled with a war on science, which has become politicized as well. Calm and rational voices are drowned out by mob rule. People are criticized equally for taking a side and not taking a side. The voice of the crowds on both sides aren’t listening to each other. Intellectual society has gone from John Stuart Mill’s “Marketplace of ideas” to “I only want to hear my opinion coming out of your mouth.”

What’s a rational person to do? I believe the important thing to do is to continue practicing reason,rationality, and common sense. Do not follow the crowd because you might get lost. Be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, but don’t act on emotion alone. I believe the reason for the vitriol in our political discourse is because people now argue from a place of emotion and see disagreement as a personal attack on them. During these times we must also practice emotional maturity. Try to find a solution to a problem without attacking someone else.

Along with practicing reason and emotional maturity, recognize the value of every person- even if they disagree with you. It doesn’t matter if someone is a Christian or an atheist, straight or gay, white or black, or any other way society tries to divide us- we can find common ground and respect each other. It’s still possible to agree to disagree. Don’t let petty political bickering destroy relationships with family and friends. Also, if you spew venom and hostility at someone, how do you ever expect them to see your side of the issue?

I believe the time has come to throw off the shackles of division and seek peace and healing. As the Bible states:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:12-18, NIV).

On a personal note,I have started a podcast, called Life in Progress. You can find it at https://anchor.fm/michael-raley. You can also find it on Google Podcast, Breaker, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Spotify.

Be blessed.

Days of Trouble and Pain

By Michael W. Raley

Our days are filled with trouble and pain.

What do we get in exchange for our sorrows?

More tears?

Anxiety?

Depression?

A tired and worn out body?

A weary soul?

Every accomplishment is met with a devastating setback.

All gifts, such as life, relationships, joy, peace of mind, and health

Are slowly taken away from us,

Whereas others never get the opportunity to experience the finer things of life.

Maybe there is no grand purpose.

Maybe our lot is simply to make the best of what we’re given,

No matter how little it is.

What good does it do to wait for an afterlife

When what we receive then could be better used for the here and now?

You may argue about original sin or that existence is suffering,

Yet, I long for a time, no matter how brief,

Where we can all find happiness in this life.

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If People were like Dogs

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By Michael W. Raley

If people were loyal like dogs,

The world would be a much better place.

Spouses wouldn’t leave just because times were difficult,

Nor would friendships end over petty disagreements.

There would always be a loving, non-judgmental face

To welcome you home and say you matter to me.

If people were as loving as dogs,

A kind, listening ear would see us through the dark days;

A soft cuddle or nuzzle would help mend a broken heart,

Saving us from depression and despair.

If people saw from a dog’s perspective,

There would be no division in our world,

For we would see only people who needed love.

If people were as unselfish as dogs,

We be kind to each other

And truly understand

What it means to love

Another being greater than you could ever love yourself.

Dangerous Doctrines and Pandemics

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NASB).

As I write this post on April 24, 2020, there are 2.73 million cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19), with 890,000 confirmed cases in the United States where I live. As of this moment, 192,000 worldwide have died from the virus, with 50,372 deaths in the United States. Not in my lifetime have I lived through such a pandemic. Life has ground to a halt and the world economy is on the verge of collapse. However, as with Coronavirus and other catastrophes, there are people who will seize upon the situation politically, financially, and unfortunately, spiritually.

I know that many churches and charitable organizations are struggling during these times. I know these organizations are doing the best they can to serve their respective communities and be a light in this darkness. I pray these groups get the resources they need in these times. My beef, however, is with the so-called “prosperity teachers.”

The prosperity gospel, aka “the health and wealth” gospel teaches that God will bless His followers with material wealth and physical health if they are faithful with their giving. The prosperity message is not new, as this heresy dates back to at least the 1940s and 50s, with the teachings of Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts. The playbook  is exactly the same for today’s prosperity teachers, which include Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paula White (President Trump’s spiritual adviser), Joel Osteen, Jesse DuPlantis, and Creflo Dollar to name a few.

One of the reasons the prosperity gospel is so successful is that it appeals to the greed which lies in the human spirit. Who wouldn’t want to get a fortune from making a simple donation, or “planting seed,” as the prosperity teachers say? These false teachers take Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 13:18-23) out of context. Jesus clearly states the seed represents the Word of God, but the false teachers claim seed is money, which is where they promise a thirty, sixty, or hundredfold return on your investment into their ministry. However, if you look at the net worth of these so-called teachers, it looks they are the ones prospering from those spiritually and financially vulnerable.

During this Coronavirus pandemic, Kenneth Copeland has been out front and center, blowing “the wind of God” on the virus and telling followers to keep tithing, even though they may be out of work. Here is a video which summarizes Copeland’s antics. I don’t own the rights to the video.

These kind of teachings are dangerous because they take advantage of people in their weakest mental, financial, and spiritual states. Early in my faith, I fell victim to doctrines such as these, which were reinforced by the church I was attending at the time. However, as I began to study deeper into Scripture and hear what was really being taught, I turned away from this false doctrine and I pray you do as well if you are caught up in this false doctrine.

These heretics are exactly what Scripture warns us about:

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NASB).

Brothers and sisters, it is time we expose these heretics, these clouds without rain, these false teachers for who they are. Read the Bible for yourself. Exercise discernment and throw these snake oil peddlers off to the wayside. Don’t give these people your money, instead, donate it to your local church or a food bank. Above all, let us put aside greed and seek to be a blessing to those around us in these troubled times.God bless you.

Isaiah 26:20, the Coronavirus,and That Day

As the Coronavirus (Covid 19) continues to spread around the world, many local, state, federal, and world governments have issued “stay at home” orders and have encouraged people to self-quarantine or keep their social distance. As with any crisis, many are taking the orders seriously and others continue to go out or have to go out because their job is considered essential.

Of course, the Coronavirus continues to be the main story in the media and on Social Media. It appears for a time the Coronavirus will change the way we live and interact with each other.

However, I have noticed a certain passage of Scripture continuously in my Facebook feed- Isaiah 26:20, which reads:

“Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; Hide for a little while until indignation has run its course.” (NASB).

While Isaiah 26:20 speaks to our current times and deals with the topics of self-isolation and God’s judgment, what is the larger context?

I’m a firm believer in studying the whole of Scripture to understand the deeper meanings. I’ve never been a believer in taking a single verse and turning it into a doctrine. I began to read Isaiah 26 in its entirety.

Isaiah 26 deals with trusting God in the midst of impending judgment on the wicked. In fact Isaiah 26:1 contains a crucial phrase:

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: ‘We have a strong city; He sets up walls and ramparts for security.” (NASB, emphasis mine).

According to Bible Gateway.com, the phrase “In that day” appears 114 times, scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Book of Isaiah, the phrase “In that day” appears 43 times, or in 38% of the Scriptures listed.

Isaiah was a prophet whose ministry took place from 740 BC to at least 681 BC. Like many other Old Testament prophets , Isaiah spoke of current day judgments and events far off into the future or “the last days.” The judgments were directed toward Israel, Judah, Assyria, Tyre, Egypt, and others, but they can be important to our study.

I encourage you to study these on your own, but I would like to highlight a handful of verses which seem relevant to the current situation.

Economic collapse:

“In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship.” (Isaiah 2:20, NASB).

The desolation of cities:

“And it will growl over it in that day like the roaring of the sea. If one looks to the land, behold, there is darkness and distress; Even the light is darkened by its clouds.” (Isaiah 5:30, NASB).

Judgment on world leaders:

“So it will happen in that day, that the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high, and the kings of the earth on earth, they will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon, and will be confined in prison; And after many days they will be punished.” (Isaiah 24:21-22, NASB).

Though it is easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom of judgment, especially if you are a student of the End Times, God is merciful. Even in the midst of His judgments, God gives us the chance to turn to Him in repentance through faith in Jesus Christ.  Isaiah also gives his listeners and readers the chance to turn to God.

“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel.” (Isaiah 4:2, NASB).

“Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse [Jesus], who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10, NASB).

“Then you will say on that day: ‘I will give thanks to You, O Lord; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song.” (Isaiah 12:1-2, NASB).

Brothers and Sisters, we are certainly living in unprecedented times. There probably been a virus spread this quickly since the influenza epidemic of 1918. We must live cautiously, but do not give into fear. Take care of yourselves and your families. If at all possible, try to help those who are hurting from the fallout of this illness. Show the love of Christ and kindness to those you encounter. God bless.

The Spread of Fear

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. Travel has been restricted, public gatherings, including church services have been cancelled, major sporting events and leagues have been cancelled/suspended. Countries and major cities have gone on lock down, which have led to colleges, universities, and  schools being shut down. Not to mention that world economic markets are in a nosedive.

Of course this is not the first outbreak of a virus- as there have been outbreaks of the Swine flu, Bird flu, Ebola, the Zika virus along with the seasonal flu. Why has this outbreak of Coronavirus caused the world to go into such a panic?

I believe the Coronavirus is a serious threat- especially to the most vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with other chronic illnesses. However, I do not believe I have seen this level of panic and fear being spread at the same time. I remember the panic of Y2K and the heightened anxiety of 9/11, but life went on in a matter of time.

The news media, of course, will hype up any story to increase their ratings and revenue, so these stories create anxiety. Social Media and the hyper-political culture we live in also contributes to the growing fear and panic. “Self-quarantine” has now become part of our lexicon. How long will this be “the new normal?” Time will tell.

The best advice for anyone dealing with the possibility of getting Coronavirus is simply to exercise common sense. Protect yourself- wash your hands, be mindful of your surroundings, maintain a clean work area or home, don’t delay medical treatment if you’re sick. Above all, don’t fall victim to fear and please don’t panic.

I cannot stress the importance of not giving into fear. Please do not hoard groceries and other necessities. Please think of those less fortunate, who cannot stockpile, and may not be able to purchase what they need if hoarding is taking place. Even in the midst of this unprecedented and overwhelming crisis, please do not fall victim to fear. If you are a Christian, we can still take comfort in God’s words.

The Coronavirus outbreak may be out of our control, but we can control our response to it.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV).

 

 

 

Help My Unbelief

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Mark 9:17-27 tells the story of a desperate father who longs for his sick son to be healed.

“…Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” (Mark 9:17-18, NASB).

After Jesus laments the generations unbelief, He calls for the child to be brought to Him. The child immediately goes into a convulsion. Jesus asks the father how long this has been happening and the father replies:

“From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:21-9:22, NASB, emphasis mine).

I sympathize with the father here. When I was a small child, I suffered with seizures. I don’t remember having one, but I’ve heard stories from my parents and other family members. I was never diagnosed with epilepsy or any disorder, but I took medication until I was ten years old. When I read the father’s words, I can hear the helplessness he must have felt when his son had these attacks. My parents must have felt the same way when I had a seizure. (For the record, I’ve not had another seizure for over thirty years).

Jesus then puts the emphasis on the father’s faith: “‘If you can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23, NASB).

“Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.'”

Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the child, which causes more convulsions before the child is healed and freed from the demonic spirit.

We often look at this story as one of Jesus’ miracles, which it is or we only walk away with the “All things are possible verse.” However, as I re-read these verses this week, I really empathized with the father. I have been in those desperate situations, whether it be health, financial, marital or loved ones dealing with a sickness, only to have my faith tested. When the pain goes on for a long time with no answers in sight, the doubt creeps into our spirits. We question what we know, we question God, and we question the point of having faith.

Mark’s text doesn’t say how old the child was, but he dealt with this spirit for a long time. I know the father had to be emotionally and spiritually drained from the ordeal. I’ve been wearied through many battles myself and I’m sure you have as well. I believe the worst thing we can say to someone is “you just need more faith.” I believe this statement is damaging to one’s spirit and reflects our ignorance of someone’s situation. We don’t know someone’s level of faith. We truly don’t know what someone has gone through up to that point. The best thing for us to do is to love and accept someone right where they are. God bless.

 

 

Embrace and Adapt to the Circumstances

“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”1 -Epictetus

I don’t deserve this. I try to do everything right. I show up and do my job. I’m a dedicated spouse and an even more dedicated parent. Why am I suffering? Why is God silent? Why is He allowing this to happen?

Does that train of thought sound familiar? I have gone through that script so many times, I should’ve been nominated for a major acting award.

(Before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer: No one, under any circumstances deserves to be abused, mistreated, harassed, or tormented by anyone else. If you find yourself in that situation, please seek help).

Deserve. A word which signifies an entitlement or something that is owed to us. We often think of deserve as a reward for doing the right thing, for not acting like everyone else around us. Deserve means we should be spared from a life of pain and suffering. However, all of us, deep inside know that is not the case.

Life is unfair. Legal or social justice does not always prevail. A husband or wife can decide they want out after decades of marriage. You can be fired or laid off from that job for which you earned while climbing the corporate ladder. A retirement fund or savings account can be wiped out with one swift downturn in the market or a major illness. You may have reached middle aged or older only to find yourself starting over. Life is unfair.

To paraphrase the above Epictetus quote: It’s not about what we deserve, it’s about what we get. We must manage our expectations of love, marriage, career, health, and everything else we deal with in this life.

I never thought my health and career would take a turn for the worse at thirty-eight. I never conceived that I would be divorced three years later. I didn’t expect to start over in a one bedroom apartment. Life will take you places you don’t want to go. Life will drag you kicking and screaming if it must. However, it’s not all bad and you are tougher than you think you are.

I agree with Epictetus that we must temper our expectations as we go through life. I’m not saying to prepare for catastrophic failure, but we must train ourselves to adapt to changing circumstances. Jesus said that in this world, we will have tribulation, but we can take solace in knowing He has overcome the world. The Buddha said existence is suffering. Yoda said that we must let go of everything we fear to lose. Basically, bad times are going to come, we must find peace and contentment in the worst of circumstances. To use a sports analogy, if our game plan is not working, we must be able to make adjustments on the fly. Embrace where you are and God bless you.

1Epictetus The Art of Living: A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 7.

The Holidays and Mental Health

2019 has flown by and Thanksgiving is approaching quickly. In the United States, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. While it’s easy to get caught up in shopping, gift giving, holiday parties,and decorations, the holidays may not be festive for everyone.

For those who struggle mental illness and/or grief, the holidays can be a stressful time.

When I was married, Christmas was difficult for me because of the infertility my ex-wife and I experienced. Though I love my nieces, nephews, and little cousins, it grew increasingly difficult to watch them open presents year after year while there were no children at our home Christmas morning.

The holidays can also serve of reminders of grief and loss. Maybe you lost a loved one around the holidays as you remember past family gatherings. I personally have lost three grandparents around the holidays. Going to the homes of my grandparents was always what made the holidays special, as the entire family would gather together. However, loved ones pass away and family dynamics can change due to divorce or other circumstances, leaving us with grief and loss.

The 2018 holidays were tough for me. My Grandma passed away the day after Thanksgiving. My Grandma’s funeral was on Tuesday and I received notification on Friday the same week that my divorce was finalized- a holiday double whammy.

In the coming weeks, I hope to share tips for dealing with mental health during the holidays. I just wanted to bring awareness that the holidays aren’t fun for everyone. Before you accuse your spouse, family member, friend, or co-worker of being a “Scrooge” or a “Grinch,” be mindful the holidays may be a difficult time of year for them.

Also, another aspect of holiday stress for some is the costs of gift giving. If someone bought you a gift that wasn’t as extravagant or costly as what you gave them, don’t belittle them, show appreciation. Maybe that gift is all they could afford. Maybe your gift giver didn’t have as good of a year as you. I personally dislike the commercial and financial aspects of the holidays as it becomes more about comparing checkbooks than celebrating the precious few moments we have to share together in this life.

I know this is a Christian blog, but I believe the words of the Dalai Lama ring true:  “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

 

The Lawless Times

“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”

Matthew 24:12, NASB

It is so easy to turn a deaf ear and form a cynical heart towards community decay. Newscasts are filled with stories of people being shot, crime, rape, child abuse, political bickering, and an overall disregard for established law and order. If the incidents take place blocks or miles from our comfortable existence, we can become insulated and isolated in our thinking about our community’s pain.

Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) discusses what the times will be like before His return- wars, natural disasters, persecution of believers, false prophets, and rebellion to name a few signs. (Jesus also speaks of these events  in Mark 13 and Luke 21).

God knows our limitations as people and He knows how overwhelming bad news and events can weigh on our minds. Just the major events in our own lives- the death of a loved one, addiction, divorce, job loss, and financial problems can trigger anxiety and depression, causing us misery upon misery.

As overwhelming these events seem in Matthew 24:12, that people’s love for each other and God will grow cold, Jesus us offers us hope.

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13, NASB).

Verse thirteen is not dealing with eternal salvation, it is dealing with a sense of protection or deliverance in the midst of suffering.

Now that we have a reason to hope, Jesus gives us an assignment.

“The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then, the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NASB).

We live in lawless times, but there is a way not to become overwhelmed and unloving regarding people and their suffering. We must reconnect with the love of God by repentance, prayer, study, and being community with other believers. As we grow in our love for God, our love for people will be a natural offspring and a platform for sharing the gospel with them. God bless you.