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Psalm 118: This is the Day

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If you have lived for any length of time, troubles will find you. You don’t have to search out trouble because trouble will find you. Trouble can come in many forms- a health crisis, relationship tension, job stress, financial pressure- sometimes all at once. Life can make you feel like a modern day Job. However, Psalm 118 gives us a biblical GPS on how to navigate difficult times: thanksgiving and praise.

“Give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: because His mercy endureth forever.” (Psalm 118:1, KJV).

The psalmist then encourages Israel, the priesthood, and those who revere the Lord to say God’s mercy endures forever (verses 2-4).

The psalmist recounts his salvation: “I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” (Psalm 118:5-6, KJV).

God through Jesus Christ saved us from an eternal hell. We were in the distress of our sins, yet God rescued us. If the God who created the universe saved you, forgave you, and gave you eternal salvation, what is there really to fear in this life? If God is on our side, who can stand against us? (Romans 8:31).

Although having a support system of a spouse, family, and friends is of vital importance, people will disappoint us because all of us are fallible. Our confidence should never be fully invested in a person to help us, but in the Lord.

“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” (Psalm 118:8-9, KJV).

Verses ten through thirteen detail the wars the writer is facing, but he declares his trust and faith in God.

“The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation. The voice of the rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly. The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.”(Psalm 118: 14-16, KJV).

Did you notice the phrase “the right hand of the Lord” appeared three times in that passage? In the ancient world, the right hand of a king or ruler was considered a place of power and authority. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “right hand man,” that is where that phrase originated. No matter the situations we face, all believers are at God’s right hand, as He has given us authority and strength to face and overcome the obstacles we face in life.

“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17, KJV).

Finally, we must remember that every day were given is a blessing from God. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to praise God. You may still be in a mess, but God is on your side. God is fighting for you. We must take the time to praise God in the midst of our trials.

“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24, KJV).

So as you go about your day today, praise God. Praise God for your salvation, the air in your lungs, His goodness, His promises, His Word, and everything else you can think of this day. God bless.

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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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Last Days Violence

“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.”-Genesis 6:11, KJV.

“But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” – Matthew 24:37, KJV.

The nationwide spike in violent crime sickens my spirit. The morning headlines are filled with murder, shootings, riots, gang violence, and people brazen enough to loot stores in broad daylight. Major cities all across this country- New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Indianapolis, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and many others have become the Wild West, something akin to Dodge City or Tombstone. Criminals are immortalized as saints while the police are defunded and demonized. Spineless prosecutors fail to prosecute criminals, who only get out of jail to commit more crime, sometimes violent acts. And don’t get me started on the opportunistic politicians who spew their toxic venom of division and hatred.

We are living in the Upside Down, with a bit of the Twilight Zone thrown in for good measure. I believe these are the last of the Last Days. Our time parallels the time before the Flood. God is love and God is merciful, but there is also an end to God’s patience. When God pronounced judgment upon Israel and Judah in the Old Testament, it was never an immediate judgment, as God gave the nations time to repent. However, when Israel and Judah refused to repent and continued in their wicked ways, God had to punish them. As our world drifts further from God, we are getting closer to judgment.

“Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”- Isaiah 5:20, KJV.

Violence entered the world the minute Cain took a rock and murdered his brother, Abel. The means and weapons have changed, but the darkness of the human heart has remained the same. Abel’s blood called out to God and today’s bloodshed calls out to God. Our world has become so desensitized to violence, we often read the headlines and don’t give it a second thought. Have we grown so cold to the human condition? Have we allowed righteousness to be snuffed out like a candle? Have we strayed so far from God and His word that evil has filled in the gap? I believe we have and Jesus stated so in Matthew 24:

“And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax (grow) cold.” -Matthew 24:10-12, KJV (parenthesis mine).

Jesus’ statement certainly describes our time, but we must not be hopeless. Our Savior and God loves us too much to leave us as orphans who have no comfort (John 14:18). In the midst of His Matthew 24 discourse, Jesus gives us a promise:

“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”- Matthew 24:13, KJV.

Brothers and sisters, we must not allow this darkness to overtake our societies or our spirits. We must endure the hardship as soldiers of Christ. We must speak the truth to power; we must shine the light in the darkness. We must say enough is enough to the fearmongering of our elected leaders. During the Covid-19 pandemic, tyrannical local and state governments shut down in-person church services, as churches were not deemed an “essential business.” I don’t recall much push back from the American churches. Think about it: you could have walked into a grocery store, a liquor store, a marijuana dispensary, or taken part in a riot, but you couldn’t go to church in person. I believe this was a sinister plot on part of the global elites and the world governments they run to remove all hope by destroying institutions billions of people hold dear over a virus with a high survival rate.

This attack on our civil liberties must not stand. A wicked and godless government will no longer dictate when and where I can worship my God. Our true liberties were bought and paid for by Jesus Christ. As an American, I also believe in every amendment to our Constitution. We must wake up from our spiritual slumber, out of our zombie-like states, as the times are serious and we need steadfast Christians.

“Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” -Ephesians 5:14, KJV.

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Morning Reflection: Psalm 103:10-12

“He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:10-12, KJV.

As the saying goes: The Internet is forever. No one, it seems, is too far from the reach of cancel culture and trolls. Anything that you ever posted, blogged, posted, tweeted, or uploaded is out there for the world to see. Even if you were a teenager or a young child at the time, your Social Media posts can follow you around well into adulthood. People have lost jobs, celebrities have lost fans and fame, and lives can be shattered in an instant.

However, the person or organization digging through the trash of the past fails to offer grace or understanding. “You tweeted this ten years ago!” “You told this insensitive joke.” “In high school you made a remark about these kind of people.” Cancelled. Cancelled. Cancelled.

Have these trolls and fault finders take the time to think that maybe someone has changed their stance on a topic? Maybe their behavior and beliefs have changed in the last decade? Doubtful. Does this snooping around give the fault finders pause to reflect on their actions? Doubly doubtful from what is out there today.

Praise God that He doesn’t throw our past in our face. When we accept God’s amazing grace and accept Christ, our sins are washed away in the blood of Christ. God will never dox you. God has shown you mercy. God has offered you peace and forgiveness. The world may try to dig up who you were, but God never will. As God’s child, you will never be cancelled.

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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.

The Spread of Fear

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. Travel has been restricted, public gatherings, including church services have been cancelled, major sporting events and leagues have been cancelled/suspended. Countries and major cities have gone on lock down, which have led to colleges, universities, and  schools being shut down. Not to mention that world economic markets are in a nosedive.

Of course this is not the first outbreak of a virus- as there have been outbreaks of the Swine flu, Bird flu, Ebola, the Zika virus along with the seasonal flu. Why has this outbreak of Coronavirus caused the world to go into such a panic?

I believe the Coronavirus is a serious threat- especially to the most vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with other chronic illnesses. However, I do not believe I have seen this level of panic and fear being spread at the same time. I remember the panic of Y2K and the heightened anxiety of 9/11, but life went on in a matter of time.

The news media, of course, will hype up any story to increase their ratings and revenue, so these stories create anxiety. Social Media and the hyper-political culture we live in also contributes to the growing fear and panic. “Self-quarantine” has now become part of our lexicon. How long will this be “the new normal?” Time will tell.

The best advice for anyone dealing with the possibility of getting Coronavirus is simply to exercise common sense. Protect yourself- wash your hands, be mindful of your surroundings, maintain a clean work area or home, don’t delay medical treatment if you’re sick. Above all, don’t fall victim to fear and please don’t panic.

I cannot stress the importance of not giving into fear. Please do not hoard groceries and other necessities. Please think of those less fortunate, who cannot stockpile, and may not be able to purchase what they need if hoarding is taking place. Even in the midst of this unprecedented and overwhelming crisis, please do not fall victim to fear. If you are a Christian, we can still take comfort in God’s words.

The Coronavirus outbreak may be out of our control, but we can control our response to it.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV).

 

 

 

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.”

 

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.

 

Only Me

By Michael W. Raley

I live in community,

Yet I feel so lonely.

I can connect to people around the globe,

But I end each day alone.

I work to keep my thoughts and emotions steady;

Deep down I’m still not ready

To face the challenge of a new day.

I give myself the encouragement talk,

Only to fail following through on walking the walk.

The realization that I am truly alone

Makes my heart sink like a stone

Into an aimless sea-

No lighthouse, no flares, no ships, only me.

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.