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The Goodness of God

“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forebearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”

Romans 2:4, KJV.

God’s goodness can overwhelm the hardest of souls. Once we find ourselves in the grip of God’s unyielding grace, He will never let go of us. No matter our circumstances or the current state of the world, God is there to lead us home. Even if we were to stray from God, He will welcome us back as the father welcomed back the prodigal. God never leaves us or forsakes us, even if we were to turn our backs on Him. God is good all the time.

I accepted Christ in 1999 and it hasn’t been all puppies and kittens. The Christian life is not supposed to be easy, as Paul told Timothy to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” (2 Timothy 2:3, KJV). God is our greatest teacher, a teacher who repeatedly tests His students. Life at times seems to be a pop quiz we’re not prepared to take, but God has the lesson plan in place.

I’ve blogged on this site about life’s ups and downs- my faith struggles, the battles of my physical and mental health, and the dissolution of my marriage to name a few topics. I was for the longest time hardened by these experiences. I was bitter at God and the world. There were times I simply refuse to pray because I thought that God wasn’t listening. I went months when the only time I opened my Bible was in church. My faith was beginning to mutate into a ritual, simply doing something because that’s what I always did. However, deep down, I missed God.

God, the sculptor that He is, began to chisel away at the head and heart of stone. God’s grace overwhelmed me as I received a reminder of His goodness. Even with my failures, my pain, my dysfunction, and my torment, God was still there. God still loves me, as He does any wayward child. In the midst of what I call my “five year stretch,” God was still faithful to me.

After Job went through his trials, God blessed him at the end of it. However, I was too stubborn to realize how God blessed me during the course of my trials. God truly had an answer for every problem I had. I was laid off at the end of 2015, God provided jobs for me to work my way back financially. My health declined, but God placed me with wise doctors and the proper diet and medication to treat me. My marriage ended in divorce, but God has blessed me with a wonderful godly fiancée. I wandered the spiritual desert, but God lead me home.

No matter what we face, we can always count on God being there. We must admit our shortsightedness and our ignorance and allow God to work. If we want to hear from God, we have to stop talking and listen. God speaks volumes in silence. God gave us His holy word to guide us and that is where He does most of the talking. Don’t give up hope. Keep close to God. Everyone in your life may walk away from you, but God will never leave you. God is that friend who sticks closer than a brother, stick with Him. The answer to your problems is not found in the arms of someone, a needle, a bottle, or even a plate- God is the answer. We must realize that He is good and turn our hearts back to Him. God bless you.

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The Reprobate Mind

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“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27, KJV.

Absolute truth is under attack in Western culture. Truth has now become subjective, as the phrase “my truth” has entered the cultural vernacular. Also, there are many people who refuse to let the facts get in the way of their narrative or ideology. Our society has become so immorally accommodating, that many people, Christians included, are afraid to speak God’s truth for fear of offending someone. I believe the Bible is the Holy Word of God and what God declared still stands as absolute truth, the standard by which all morality must be judged.

However, we are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s standard of perfection (Romans 3:23). Yet, God in His mercy gives us all the opportunity to receive salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, who redeemed us from our sins by dying for us. Yet, there are many who like Pharoah in the story of Exodus, will harden their hearts and refuse the Gospel, God’s free gift of salvation. When people reject the Gospel, there are certain phrases you will hear:

“God would never send anybody to hell.”

“I’m a good person; I’m not Hitler or anything.”

“Judge not lest you be judged.”

Well, first, God does not send anyone to hell, but our sins separate us from God. Rejection of the Gospel leads to eternal damnation. Secondly, comparing yourself to the worst person in history or even your next door neighbor does not make you any less of a sinner. Third, I’m not judging you, I’m telling you the truth in love. There are numerous other excuses people give for not following Christ, but time doesn’t permit me to get into them.

Is it possible for a person to become so hardened in their hearts, so entrenched in their sins,that God will reject them? The answer is yes. The theological term is reprobation.

Reprobation “is derived from the Latin reprobatus, past participle of the verb reprobare, “to reprove,” and refers to the fact that God has condemned the nonelect to eternal punishment for their sins.”1

To unpack that statement, reprobation is God’s rejection of those who refuse to hear or accept the Gospel. God will give people over to their sins and eternal punishment is the penalty for our sins. The concept of people being reprobates is found in both the Old and New Testaments.

We must understand that God is patient and wants all to come to Christ, but there will be those who reject God. In the Old Testament, God would send prophets to Israel and later Judah to repent of their sins, or judgment would be coming. The judgment often came in the form of an invading nation, a plague, a famine, or a drought. When Israel and Judah repented of their sins, God’s judgment was lifted.

Jeremiah pronounced God’s judgment on Judah:

“O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us. I have set thee for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest know and try their way. They are all grievous revolters, walking with slanders: they are brass and iron; they are all corrupters. The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away. Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them.” (Jeremiah 6:26-30, KJV).

God is using a metal refining metaphor to describe Judah’s sin. When a metal such as gold or silver are refined, they are melted in a fire to remove the impurities in the metals. If the metal is not pure, it’s rejected and thrown back into the fire. The Hebrew word for reprobate is Ma’ac (Strong’s #3988), which means to reject, refuse, or despise. So, God is rejecting Judah because of their impurities (sin), which they refuse to remove from themselves. Even with the harshest of God’s punishments on Israel and Judah, God gave them time to repent of their sins. God is patient with us when He allows us to live to see a new day.

Characteristics of a Reprobate Mind

The New Testament, Paul’s Epistles in particular, discuss the issue and characteristics of a reprobate mind.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy,murder, debate, deceit,malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud boasters, inventors of evil things,disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death,not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” (Romans 1:28-32, KJV).

Paul writes a similar list in 2 Timothy, verses 1-9. Scripture makes it clear that someone with a reprobate mind is not someone who commits one sin, one time, but someone who is living in open rebellion to God. These people may know the seriousness of what they’re doing and the consequences, but they still go ahead and do the wicked things they do. Once someone begins to indulge a reprobate mind, their conscience can become hardened toward God’s Holy Spirt (1 Timothy 4:2).

The Greek word for reprobate, Adokimos (Strong’s 3988), means not standing the test, rejected.

Reprobates and False Teachers

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles dedicate a lot of teaching to warning believers about false teachers. 1 John 2 discusses false teachers within the church and Paul discussed false teachers among the Jews, who tried to place stumbling blocks along the path a Jews who came to Christ.

“Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him,being abominable, and disobedient, and unto everygoodwork reprobate.”(Titus 1:15-16, KJV).

We must examine ourselves

Once we are made aware of our sins, we have the choice to receive God’s mercy or reject His mercy. If we ask for God’s forgiveness and turn away from our sins, our consciences can be clear in Christ. However, if we make the choice to reject mercy, we will be out of fellowship with God, which could lead to rejection. We must make a concious effort to examine our spirits everyday. We must choose the right path and reject the wrong path, which leads only to destruction. We must do as Paul instructed the Church at Corinth:

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates.” (2 Corinthians 13:5, KJV).

As we go forward in our walk with God, may we examine our thoughts and our ways, to make sure we are in proper standing with Christ. If we have veered off track, Christ can place back onto the path. You are not so far away that God cannot save you. While we have today, let us reach out for the free gift of grace. God bless.

1Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. Edited by Walter A. Ewell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001: 1012 “Reprobation.”

The Path

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By Michael W. Raley

I thought by now the path would be made clear

And the course would be set.

Yet, I remain aimless and adrift

On a self-made ocean of obscurity.

I have progressed too slowly;

My patience has worn thin.

I have reached a point

Where I don’t see the purpose of this journey,

As my most desired dreams have not been fulfilled.

Time is of the essence;

My window of opportunity closes a little more each day.

Should I stay on the present course?

Shall I embark on the new and unfamiliar path?

Do I just need to settle on the safe path of unassuming mediocrity?

I try to move forward,

Yet I am being dragged down by the baggage of fear and regret.

I am heart sick, yet remain somewhat hopeful.

As long as I have the day,

As long as I have breath,

I cannot accept defeat.

I must rise up and walk.

Another Obstacle

By Michael W. Raley

Another obstacle lies in my path

And there’s no way around it.

There lies before me another battle

I must wage,

Yet, I don’t have the strength to fight.

For all of the fortitude and resolve I must muster,

I might as well be enduring the trials of Hercules.

I am battle hardened,

But my mental, spiritual, and physical reserves are depleted

And I don’t see reinforcements on the horizon.

I pray for a sign and await the arrival of the Deliverer.

Please, please, Savior, do not delay,

For my strength is almost gone.

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I Look Out into the World

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By Michael W. Raley

I look out into the world

And I see the rage,

The violence,

The hatred,

The deception,

The fiery rhetoric,

And my soul is overwhelmed.

I pray and I hope

For a better tomorrow,

Yet I wonder if the time for reasoning,

Accountability, and deep soul searching has past.

For the longest time,

When I looked out into the world, I felt a detachment,

Not realizing maybe I should be the one to change.

When I looked inside of me and my spirit,

I realized much work still needed to be done.

If I focused on changing myself,

The world would change as well.

I can’t change world events,

But I can change myself and my responses,

Thus, changing my perspective

When I look out into the world.

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.

Semblance of Peace

By Michael W. Raley

I wasted a lot of years being angry.

Triggered by the mere thought of an event

Or the mention of someone’s name.

The hurt, the pain, and the unanswered prayers

Twisting inside of me, like a thorn in my flesh.

I believe that I’m entitled to answers,

But I know the answers won’t change anything

As what is passed cannot be undone.

The only remedy for this long incubating illness

Is to go forward with today

And work on some semblance of peace.

 

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.

God’s Unending Grace

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By Michael W. Raley

My life’s path is littered with regret,

Where I had the best of intentions,

Yet things did not work out for the best.

I look back on those days with equal amounts of frustration and lamentation.

In the midst of this darkness, I try to hold onto the Light,

Though I can’t make any of this right.

My hope and strength are gone,

Sorrowful, seemingly unable to carry on.

The failed experiences have left me feeling jarred

And left me to play a hand of worthless cards.

In my mind I am broken and defeated,

Paralyzed with indecision,

For fear that the past will be repeated.

I once again fall back into a depression.

Then my spirit comes into a revelation

That there is hope, there is salvation.

I remember that God’s grace

Is bigger than any mistake I can make.

The past, of course, can’t be erased,

But I can go forward in grace,

If you will, a heavenly clean slate

Which gives me the opportunity to get back in the race,

Without the feelings of failure, self-loathing and hate.

As long as I have breath, it’s not too late

Thanks to God’s unending grace.