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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.

Review- American Gospel: Christ Alone

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I was scrolling through the “Recently Added” section of Netflix when I came across the 2018 documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone. Directed and written by Brandon Kimber, American Gospel provides an in-depth look at the heretical teaching known as the Prosperity Gospel.

I have to say that Kimber’s research and passion for the project comes across in the documentary. The first thirty or so minutes of American Gospel relies on interviews with theologians, pastors, authors, apologists, and church historians to lay a firm foundation for the presentation of the true Gospel. The case presented is solid doctrine and a great reminder for all Christians to study the Word of God for themselves.

Once the foundation is set, American Gospel presents an examination the false doctrine of the prosperity message and its prominent teachers such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Todd White, Bill Johnson, and Joel Osteen to name a few. The documentary traces the roots of the prosperity message back to Kenneth Hagin, who in fact plagiarized from the works of E.W. Kenyon. As a lawyer would systematically breakdown an argument in court, strong biblical teaching and the experts refute the doctrine and merits of the prosperity message until it is revealed to be the heresy and deception that it is.

American Gospel is not simply an academic or theological debate, but also provides personal stories from people whose lives were affected negatively by the prosperity teachers. One of these people is Costi Hinn, the nephew of Benny Hinn who has renounced the false teachings and is now warning believers about the prosperity message. I related with the heartbreaking stories of the everyday people who fell in with this dangerous message. As a young believer, I lacked discernment and was part of a word-faith type of church for a number of years, which taught that God always heals, God wants to bless, and placed the onus on our works and not the finished work of Christ.

No matter if you are a new believer or one who has been in church for decades, I highly encourage you to watch American Gospel: Christ Alone. I rate it five stars out of five stars. The documentary is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Hold The Line

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By Michael W. Raley

The armies of darkness and despair have waged war in my life

For what seems an eternity.

I have paid a heavy price and suffered tremendous loss.

Yet, I remain steadfast in the midst of this battle.

“Hold the line!”

By the grace of God, I have come too far to waive the white flag.

Now is the time to regroup and to strengthen what remains,

For victory is imminent, so judgment will be executed on the darkness and despair.

As long as I have breath, I have hope.

“Hold the line!”

My spirit and my resolve are battle-hardened,

My strategy is coming together,

As I plan to launch an offensive

That will scatter the enemy and break their spirits.

“Hold the line!”

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Refiner’s Fire

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By Michael W. Raley

There is a time to grieve

And that time is over for me.

It’s time to put away the hurts, the slights,

The tears, the pain, and those many restless nights.

I will no longer be beset

By my thoughts of shame and regret,

For this season is my spring, where all is made new,

Born again like the morning dew.

I have suffered long and I am tired,

However, I have survived the Refiner’s fire.

My pain, grief, and loss

Has been removed like dross,

Out of the fire and into the mold,

What comes next will be a sight to behold.