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.

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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.

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Choose Life, Choose Christ

By Michael W. Raley

What if we could extend God’s grace to those around us?

What if we could embody love in a time of anger and hate?

In a time of hedonistic pleasure,

The call for a return to virtue goes almost unheeded.

People choose to live by their own truths

Instead of the universal truths of God.

There are those who call out their own virtue

Without understanding the true nature of justice, righteousness, and love,

Bringing shame and humiliation to anyone who may disagree.

Brothers and sisters, this ought not be so.

Though we may have different skin tones and languages,

We bleed the same red blood.

However, the time has come for us

To stop shedding the innocent blood,

To stop the hate, the violence, the ridicule

And the mob mentality.

For our Lord is calling us to a time with Him,

A quiet time of prayer and reflection.

Perhaps it is a time of listening to the Lord

From His holy hill, allowing Him to transform us

Into who we should be,

Not what the world wants us to be.

The Lord is calling us to a spiritual paradox-

We must separate ourselves from the darkness

While being a light in that same darkness.

Choose this day whom you will serve-

The day or the night?

The darkness or the light?

Death or life?

Virtue or sin?

Choose Christ and choose freedom.

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.

I Miss the Old Hymns

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By Michael W. Raley

I miss the old hymns

And the truth we sang

About that Old Time Religion

In the Old Country Church.

We sang about God’s Amazing Grace

And the soul cleansing Blood of the Lamb.

I miss the times In the Garden

Where our Precious Lord took our hand

And made it well with our souls.

I held onto the Rock of Ages

And found peace in the valley

Because Love lifted me.

Nothing could wash away my sins,

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.

O how I miss the days of the old hymns.

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.

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 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.