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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 Missing NIV Verses-Mark

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This post is the second in a series comparing the King James Version (KJV) and the missing or altered verses in the New International Version (NIV). I will place the verses side-by-side and describe what has been left out and why it is so important.

Mark 6:11 (KJV) “11 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Mark 6:11 (NIV) “11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

The context of Mark 6:11 details Jesus sending out His disciples to preach the Gospel. Jesus is warning His disciples that not everyone will receive or accept the message of Christ. Jesus is reminding the disciples that God’s judgment will fall on anyone who has rejected the Gospel. Jesus is using Sodom and Gomorrah to illustrate the severity of God’s judgment for those who reject Him. The only way we can escape God’s judgment is by placing our faith in Christ.

Mark 7:15-16 (KJV) “15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. 16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

Mark 7:15 (NIV) “15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, there are many words God and the inspired writers use to emphasize their points. In Mark 7:16, Jesus says “If any man have ears to hear; let him hear,” as a way to get the audience to focus in on His words. In context, Jesus is speaking against outward, religious shows of piety- dressing a certain way, eating or not eating specific foods, saying all of the right things, following rituals and not working on the inner person. We can do and say all of the right things on the outside, but it will never change us from within our spirits. If we focus inwardly- on our hearts, our thoughts, our behaviors, then we will make the necessary changes. Jesus doesn’t want rituals, He wants us to have a dynamic spiritual life.

Mark 9:43-46 (KJV) “43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45 And if thy footoffend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. 46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

Verses 44 and 46 are quotations from Isaiah 66:24, which discusses the punishment of the wicked. The full quote in context is: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die; neither shall their fire be quenched ;and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24, KJV).

Mark 9:43, 45 (NIV) “43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell,where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.”

Once again, the NIV is downplaying the reality and severity of hell and God’s judgment.

Mark 11:24-26 (KJV) “24 Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

Mark 11:24-25 (NIV) “24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believed that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Jesus in verse 26 of the King James text is describing the end consequence of unforgiveness- that God will not forgive our trespasses if we don’t forgive others. If we live our lives with continual hate and unforgiveness, our Christian walk, our prayer life, and our effectiveness for the kingdom will be hampered. The NIV explains that we need to forgive others, but by eliminating verse 26, the why, i.e. the end consequence is omitted, which could deeply affect someone’s relationship with God.

Mark 15:27-28 (KJV) “27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. 28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.”

Mark 15:27 (NIV) “27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.”

Once again, the NIV text has eliminated a prophecy from Isaiah, this time it’s Isaiah 53:12: “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (KJV).

These Last Days present challenges for all believers and we must remain strong in our faith. We must stand for truth and be discerning for false teachings and doctrines which creep into our Bibles and pulpits. Please remain alert and vigilant. God bless.

Never Allow Love to Leave

By Michael W. Raley

Never allow love to leave your heart-

No matter who hurt you,

No matter what is happening in the world,

No matter if hatred surrounds you,

Allow yourself to love and allow others to love you.

God is love and love is our connection to God.

Love connects us as a common humanity,

Which knows no bounds and trancends

The barriers erected by society,

Which divide us and provide the tinder box

For the fires of hatred and rage.

As we begin a new day,

Let us reset our hearts

To love God, ourselves, and each other.

I Found Peace

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I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.

I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.

I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.

I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.

When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.

At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday’s Choices

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By Michael W. Raley

“If I had only known then what I know now.”

Oh how this statement keeps us tied down

To regret and our perceived failures of the past.

We go through life lamenting our choices-

Relationships, finances, and spiritual matters to name a few.

However, we fail to realize that we made our decisions

With the information we had at the time,

As hindsight was not available to us.

Even if we knew that we were making a bad choice,

It was still a lesson learned.

A hard lesson,

But we are wiser nonetheless.

As you go forward on this new day,

Realize that today is all you have

And it should not be wasted on yesterday’s choices.

Learn from it, seek forgiveness if needed,

And learn to forgive yourself

Finding Your Balance

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By Michael W. Raley

Life isn’t always fair

And there are times when equal opportunities are rare.

There are those who are born into wealth and privilege,

But since they didn’t earn it, a king’s fortune is squandered.

For those who struggle to exist, this is pure sacrilege.

There are those with obvious talent and skill who waste it,

While there are those who spent their lives wandering,

Searching in the wrong places for fulfillment and meaning.

There are those who spend their lives in a self-imposed cage,

While others seethe with self-righteous indignation and rage.

There are those who walk the well-worn path,

While others seek to blaze a trail.

There are those who will not take a risk unless they do the math,

While others will make a plan only for it to go off the rails.

Somewhere in the midst of these dichotomies

Lies the individual answers, the balance,

For which we seek, knowing that it won’t be easy.

All of us travel with burdens on our backs,

Fighting the night, the cold, and our fear of lack.

However, we must continue our journeys through the dark nights

To find the harmony within our spiritual lights.

 

Needless Reminders of the Past

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By Michael W. Raley

I try to move onto a hopeful future,

Only to find others continuously reminding me of the past.

Every failure, every misstep, and every mistake,

Is recalled  with ultra high definition memory.

I’ve had to battle my own thoughts and anxieties on the subject

And I don’t need to be piled on like this.

I know what happened was traumatic and sudden,

But I can’t do anything about it.

We must adapt and accept the new reality,

My current scene in the great cosmic play of life.

Those old wounds will never heal

If you keep messing with the scabs.

Let us learn to dwell in the present

Because I don’t live in the past anymore.

 

The Life Changer

 

My wife has filed the divorce papers and they are now in my possession. I signed off on the papers in front of the notary, but it doesn’t make seeing the “Filed” stamp any easier. The papers of course, have their legal jargon such as “dissolution of marriage,” “petitioner,” “respondent,” and the statement, “The marriage is broken.” I never thought that eighteen years of marriage could come down to a stack of paperwork stamped by a county employee.

I will not get into specifics, but I can say we are trying to split amicably. My wife has rented an apartment and I will get the house. We were never able to have children, so no one else has to be dragged through this. We have also divided up the physical possessions and are working on the final financial details. If the judge determines the paperwork is in order, the divorce could be final in as little as 60 days.

I have had my good days and bad days with this situation, but I have resolved to move on with my life. I know plenty of people who have been divorced and there is no shame in it, but I will not allow bitterness to consume me. People like to use the term “game changer,” however, this is a life changer.

Divorces and break-ups are long processes, as there are a lot of emotions involved. However, I am determined to do the work necessary to get through this grief. I have worked through a couple of stages, mainly disbelief and anger. My heart is broken, as this is another hard life event, as has everything else in the last three years.

I know what steps I have to take, but I have made a list of promises for myself:

-Do not become bitter.

-Do not let the anger consume you.

-No disparaging remarks concerning my wife.

-Set new goals in every aspect of life.

-Work on improving myself each day.

-Life live with a renewed purpose.

-Live this life for myself.

 

 

Monday Morning Rambles

Another week is here whether or not I’m ready for it. I’ve been very uninspired and angry while trying to get through this maze we call life. “Now what?” is the operative question floating around in my head. You ever reached a point of mental exhaustion where all the faith, philosophy, and self-help motivation isn’t going to help? I’m there.

I try to take care of myself concerning my celiac disease and my overall health, but I keep hitting walls and having setbacks. I’m emotionally spent, as my discouragement has sank me back into depression. It’s hard to find the bright side when it’s a dark and cloudy night. Everything I try is another dead end. I’m trapped like a rat on a sinking ship.

As I stated at the beginning, I’ve been angry about the way things have turned out. I know my reaction is under my control, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you have to watch yourself and the ones you love struggle through undeserved trials. Deserve- I’ve been dwelling a lot on that word. Maybe life isn’t about what you deserve, it’s just dealing with what you get and you get through it the best you can. My faith teaches me that there is a plan for my life and everything will work out, but who knows what this plan is? None of us seems to know and we just go through life attributing events to “God’s will.” I just wonder why doesn’t the Almighty make it easier for us mere mortals to figure out this plan?

Maybe I’m jaded because I have suffered loss in the spirituality department or maybe I’m more discerning and deliberate in my forties, but I’ve reached a point where I’m not falling for the vague promises of someone on the campaign trail:

“It’s a great plan. I can’t get into specifics, but it’s going to be good.”

Wouldn’t God be better served, both literally and figuratively, if He was more forthright as to what we are supposed to do? Why do I have to die to find out how it all fits together? I have to live this life now. I cannot sacrifice enjoying the present for some vague promise of what’s to come. I know some Christians would question and abhor  my skepticism, but I need facts, I need data. I am a man of reason, this must be reasonable if I am to make an informed choice. I have neither the time nor the inclination to play the spiritual equivalent of  the game “Guess Who?”

I must be intellectually honest with myself or I’m going nowhere. My faith is a struggle and I have a hard time believing. To use a human analogy: If you were in a relationship with someone- a significant other, friend, or family member, and they repeatedly allowed you to be hurt or disappointed, how would you feel about trying to start over? If you’ve read this far, thank you for allowing me to get this off of my chest.