That Elusive Hope

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By Michael W. Raley

Hope- a desire or expectation for a certain outcome-

Can remain as elusive as a treasure out of reach.

Even when the hope seems reasonable,

The path is still fraught with difficulty.

This constant difficulty, in turn frustrates our hope.

A vicious circle indeed!

We pursue hope in faith, in our hard work, in fortune, and a lover’s embrace,

All of which can be taken away,

Leaving us empty once more.

Reality has a nasty habit of sucker punching us,

Whether it is the doubt, the layoff, the disease diagnosis, or the lover’s departure

Or all of them at once.

“It has to get better,” we say to ourselves.

“There must be more to life than this,” we muse during a frustrating moment.

Hope, even in the most realistic appraisal of a situation,

Still flickers in the darkness and calls out to us.

By the grace of God,

I arose from my nightly slumber

To face another day.

Therefore, there is still hope.

 

 

 

 

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The Introverted Christian

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I am an introvert and I am okay with it. I am by nature a shy, quiet, and reserved person until I become comfortable with a person, a group, or a social situation. I prefer a quiet Friday night at home or the solitude of a bookstore as opposed to some loud bar or club. However, the “extroverted world” has tried to make it out like there’s something wrong with me or the millions, possibly billions out there like me.

“You have to look out for the quiet ones.”

“Why are you so quiet?”

“You need to come out of your shell.”

“You don’t talk much.”

My introversion not only comes in conflict with everyday life, but also in the business and the fundamental evangelical church worlds. I have been a manager, I have preached sermons, I’ve volunteered to coach a church league basketball team, I went on a mission trip and fulfilled The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), but people were still standoffish and not accepting of me.

The place where I struggled the most with my introversion was the church. In my early twenties up to my mid-thirties, my now ex-wife and I attended what is known as a Charismatic church, which believes that the gifts of the New Testament (healing, speaking in tongues,casting out demons, etc.) are still in effect today. If you are unfamiliar with the Charismatic church, it’s along the lines of the Pentecostal/Assemblies of God denominations.

Worship in these “Full Gospel” type of churches can get rowdy, as people jump up and down, wave flags, run around the sanctuary, raise their hands, and so on and so forth. However, I was always very reserved in my demeanor, choosing to worship God on my own terms. I’m not a hooting and hollering person, it’s not who I am. With my old church being around 300 people, others took notice of my demeanor and I received “churchified” statements concerning my introverted nature:

“You got a spirit of fear.”

“You need to be bold.”

“Quit resisting the Spirit.”

Now that I have the advantage of looking back and perspective, I know what I should have said: “If God knew me before He created me (Jeremiah 1:5), wouldn’t He know that I was going to be this way?”Or maybe I should’ve pointed out that Jesus, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, and others in Scripture sought out God in solitude and in their own ways. If they didn’t follow the crowd in seeking God, why do I have to? Also, if God accepts you as you are, wouldn’t that include a quiet nature as well?

Please don’t misinterpret, I am not speaking out of bitterness or putting anyone down. I am simply sharing my struggle with who I am. I spent a lot of years worried that there was something wrong with me, like I would not be fully accepted by God or anyone else. I don’t want you to face that same struggle.

As of this post, I am forty-two, divorced, starting over with God in a much larger church, and I am coming to a place of accepting myself. I am who I am. I prefer to share my faith by embodying my faith; I seek to build relationships as opposed to threatening with hell fire. It took me a long, long, time, but I have finally accepted myself just as I am. It may be a contradiction in terms, but I am an introverted Christian. God bless you.

This Unexpected Second Chance

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By Michael W. Raley

I never thought I would’ve ended up here,

After all the hard work, sacrifice, tears,

The late nights, the prayers, and conquering the fears.

I gave you everything I had, even my youthful years.

I now find myself in middle age,

Getting ready to turn the page

On a chapter I didn’t plan to write,

Like an unexpected fog rolling in on a clear night.

However, I am learning to embrace this unexpected second chance,

Even if it was born of the most unpleasant circumstance.

My heart and spirit for a time were broken and frail,

I am now determined to clear my path and blaze a trail.

 

 

 

 

Learning to Live in Grace

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Faith and grace often rise up during our lowest times. My walk with Christ has enabled me to overcome and work through very dark and difficult situations, such as sickness, family issues, mental health, career and financial struggles, and the dissolution of my marriage, all of which have taken a physical, mental, and spiritual toll. I haven’t been perfect in my faith or responses, but I am learning to live in grace.

My church is doing a series called “90 Days with Jesus,” where Monday through Saturday, we read one chapter of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I am halfway through Mark, which is just action packed with miracles and powerful teachings from start to finish. What has always struck me about the gospels is how a person’s lifetime of physical or emotional suffering came to an instantaneous end when they encountered Jesus. However, if many of us were to be honest, we’ve read these stories and petition God as to why He’s never healed us or a loved one of an affliction, why He’s not listening to our prayers, we wonder where are you, God?

God’s grace provides us with the strength we need to face our daily difficulties. Grace and faith should be realistic-not every situation is going to end in a miracle. There will be dark times, there will be struggles, but we must remember to rely on God’s strength to carry us through those times.

The Apostle Paul faced what he called “a thorn in the flesh,” which was a constant struggle in his life. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talked about his struggle and how on three different occasions he prayed God would take it away, but God did not. Some people  would argue Paul was physically sick, others would state Paul’s thorn was the constant persecution he faced. I personally lean toward the persecutions as his thorn. Even spiritual giants such as Paul had their struggles and that should comfort us. We must remember that God is working to perfect our character and prepare us for long-term growth, even if it comes at the expense of our perceived short-term comfort, as Paul wrote:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to  torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NASB).

So as we go about our day and our lives, let us remember that during the weakest moments, God’s grace is to be our strength. We must change our mindset concerning our suffering and difficulties and look for God’s guidance and direction. As we look toward God, our faith will increase. God bless you all.

The Rising and the Wonder

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By Michael W. Raley

Dare I say that hope is rising in my spirit?

For the first time in a long time,

I am living with a sense of wonder-

Wonder of God, wonder of life, and the possibility of love.

I recognize the new opportunity,

However, I am slightly guarded, yet optimistic.

I never thought I would be here,

Especially after all of the hopeless and dark days.

Today is an opportunity for a reset

And I will embrace this moment.

 

Step Out of the Boat

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To start off the new year, my church is doing a 90 Days with Jesus Bible study, where we read one chapter of a Gospel each day Monday through Saturday. One of this week’s readings I found intriguing was Matthew 14:22-32.

Matthew 14:22-32 tells the story of Jesus walking on the water. Jesus earlier in the day had taught, healed, and miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After the events of the day, Jesus tells His disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side. After Jesus dismissed the crowd, He prayed late into the night on a mountainside.

While the disciples were in the boat, a storm came up on the lake. Just before dawn, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water toward them, but they were fearful, saying,”It’s a ghost.”(Matthew 14:26, NIV).

“But Jesus immediately said to them:”Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27, NIV).

Peter throughout the Gospels is often portrayed as the most impulsive disciple in the group, as he often speaks and acts without thinking, is not waiting for Jesus to come to him, as he says:

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”(Matthew 14:28, NIV).

“Come,” He (Jesus) said. (Matthew 14:29, NIV).

Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water. However, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and notices the storm around him, in which he begins to sink. Peter cries out for Jesus to save him, which he does, and rebukes Peter for his lack of faith. The wind dies down and the two men get into the boat, where all of the disciples worship Jesus, proclaiming Him the Son of God.

In my twenty years of being a Christian, I’ve heard this story taught numerous times. The teaching always boils down to rebuking Peter for his lack of faith in taking his eyes off of Jesus. Peter, of course did so, but what if were to look at the story from a different perspective?

The text tells us that only Peter called out to the Lord and went out on the water- not James, John, Andrew, Thomas, Bartholomew, or anybody else-only Peter got out of the boat. Yes, maybe Peter’s thought process was rash, but he was the only one who stepped out. Peter took a literal step of faith when no one else would. I would like to think over time, Peter internalized the times he fell short with Jesus and it strengthened his faith.  The Book of Acts tells us it was Peter who stood up at Pentecost and proclaimed the Gospel, to which 3,000 souls were saved. Not bad for a fishermen who couldn’t walk on water.

What I glean from this story is that no matter the obstacle around us, we must be willing to take the first steps toward change. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and face the possibility we will not get it right the first time. This lesson can be applied in any aspect of our lives. Are you wanting to get back out and date after a divorce or break-up? We must step out. Are you changing your diet and exercising to improve your health? You have to get started. Are you trying to advance or change your career? You must take the steps to put yourself in the best position to succeed.

If we seek to grow deeper in our relationship with God, Jesus is telling us “Come,” the same as He did with Peter. Jesus could have easily teleported Peter out of the boat, but He didn’t. Jesus watched Peter make the effort to come to Him. Remember this day that Jesus is in the midst of your storm, but you have to take the steps. God bless you.

The Wave of Depression

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By Michael W. Raley

The wave of depression overwhelms me,

Casting me down to the ground.

I know today’s not going to be my day.

I’ll put on the brave face

And go through the day

Like an ox plowing a field,

Except I won’t break any new ground.

This wave is not an everyday occurrence,

But it has tendency to stick around

Longer than it needs to stay.

I know deep down that I choose my response,

Yet, snapping out of it is not easy.

As I live my life day to day,

I learn the lessons of defeat

Along side the sweet savor of the victories.

The wave may be at high tide today,

But even the strongest forces of nature subside in time.