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Dealing with the Spirit of Heaviness

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We all from time to time get weighed down by the demands of life. You try to balance your spiritual, familial, relational, and professional obligations while seemingly standing on one leg and juggling, life can get a bit stressful. I get it.

Or maybe if your personal life is fine, you find yourself stressed out by the world around you- a global pandemic, lawlessness and violence in the streets, a looming economic downturn, and escalating tensions in the war between Russia and Ukraine that could result in a global conflict. How much more gasoline can we pour on this out of control fire?

I know in times past, I’ve had a tendency to withdraw inwardly when faced with an overwhelming situation or situations. I’ve shut down while going through the motions of life. At times it felt like I lost power and was running on a back-up generator to keep the essential operations going. Ignoring a problem will never solve said problem nor will retreating into drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or anything else. Even though the problems we face may be scary and complicated, we must face them nonetheless.

We are not alone when facing our problems. For Christians, we can rely on the strength of Christ and the Holy Spirit. There are also family, friends, and wise counsel we can seek when it’s too much.

The Bible has a word for when we are weighed down by the stresses of life- heaviness. To be more specific, God’s Word has eleven words for heaviness.

Perhaps the most well known of the heaviness passages is Isaiah 61:3:

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”(KJV).

The Hebrew word for heaviness in Isaiah 61:3 means feebleness or obscurity. In other words, the passage indicates that someone lacks the spiritual, physical, or mental strength to overcome a problem or that someone may not see hope in the darkness, their view is obscured. Luke 4:18-19 tell us that Jesus read the verses above Isaiah 61:3 when He taught in the synagogue in Nazareth.

What are some other symptoms of the spirit of heaviness?

-A spiritual heaviness may bring about physical sickness (Psalm 69:20),

-Heaviness may bring on depression or grief (Psalm 119.28, Proverbs 10:1, 14:13).

-A spirit of heaviness also brings along anxiety (Proverbs 12:25).

-Heaviness may brought on by trials or persecution (1 Peter 1:6).

-However, not all heaviness is bad because there should be times that we come to God and confess our sins, fast, and pray about the burdens we have for the lost and other people. (Ezra 9:5, Romans 9:1-2, James 4:8-10).

In order for us to properly deal with the spirit of heaviness, we must be in right relationship with God. If worshipping and reading the Bible seem like chores during heavy seasons, that is when we must lean in all the more to God. We must also starve ourselves of the lies of the world and feast on God’s truth. We must turn away from the negativity and all worldly things which seek to bring us down. We must withstand the devil’s attacks with the Word of God. Put on your armor and prepare for battle.

“Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:3-4, KJV).

God bless you all.

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Of Tyrants, Tyranny, and Freedom in Christ

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Tyranny is one the most destructive forces ever unleashed on the world. Throughout history, Tyrants such as Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, and Vladimir Putin to name a few have sought to murder, oppress, and destroy the lives, spirits, and minds of anyone who oppose their ideologies. These sick and twisted regimes believed they had the right to rule over a free people.

In the 20th Century alone, it has been estimated that 100 million people died at the hands of tyrannical dictators and regimes. At the time I’m posting this, the war between Russia and Ukraine is raging into another week. War crimes have been committed by the Russian army, as thousands of civilians- men, women, and children have been murdered. I watched in horror the clip of a Russian tank running over a car full of Ukrainian people. The Ukrainians in the car posed no threat to the tank- the car was just traveling in the opposite direction of the tank. The car was flattened within seconds; Lives were taken for no reason.

Praise God for the resolve and fight of the Ukrainian people, who are doing their best to fight back against a better equipped army. By some accounts I have read, that worthless pile of garbage Putin has become frustrated with how long the invasion is taking, as he miscalculated the resolve of the Ukrainian people to stand up against their invaders. Freedom is a God-given right to all of humanity, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NIV).

In the midst of the Russia-Ukraine war, the possibility of a second Cold War is brewing between the United States and Russia, something I remember well growing up during the Reagan Administration. If the madman Putin gets backed into a corner, the threat of nuclear war looms large over humanity. A full scale nuclear war would reap destruction upon the world greater than all of history’s wars combined.

However, we must remember that God is in charge, as the Psalmist wrote, “…But it is God who judges: He brings one down, He exalts another.” (Psalm 75:7, NIV).

We must also remember that Jesus warned us of such events: “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:5-8, KJV).

During these times, we must keep a clear mind and remember to pray. Continue to stand strong in the faith and keep your eyes on Christ. God bless you all.

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Vipers

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By Michael W. Raley

A brood of vipers have taken over the world.

The vipers lie in wait for their next victim,

Ready to inject their deadly venom.

However, these vipers don’t slither around on their bellies:

They walk among us.

Ready to attack at the slightest offense,

One viper’s venomous bite is enough to send you into toxic shock,

But more and more of the vipers will seize the opportunity

To strike and bring you down.

These vipers are never satisfied,

As they are constantly on the hunt for their next victim.

Vipers, like all snakes, cannot be reasoned with

As they are snakes by nature.

It would be best to avoid the viper’s den

And keep yourself out of harm’s way.

However, if you encounter the vipers,

Remove them from your life

And arm yourself with the antivenom

Of peace of mind.

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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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Mark 4: The Parables and the Storm

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Jesus often taught in parables, short, simple stories that illustrated deeper spiritual truths. Jesus’ parables dealt with topics familiar to His audience- seeds, pearls, wayward children, money, among others. The parables of Jesus still hold deep meaning 2,000 years later. Jesus’ parable of the sower as told in Mark chapter four is used to teach us about the mindset of the disciples.

Mark chapter four takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has chosen His twelve disciples. The crowds were also starting to follow Jesus at this point.

“And He began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto Him a great multitude, so that He entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.” (Mark 4:1, KJV).

Beginning in verse three, Jesus tells the parable of the sower (this parable is also found in Matthew 13:1-5 and Luke 8:4-10). I’ll summarize the parable to discuss one aspect and how it related to the disciples. Jesus taught a sower went out to sow seed and the seed landed by the wayside, stony ground, among thorns, and good ground. The seed by the wayside was eaten by birds, the seed on the stony ground quickly sprang up, but died out just as quickly, the thorns choked out the seed, and the seed on the good ground brought a harvest. However, Jesus did not explain the deeper meaning of the parable to the crowd, simply saying, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9, KJV).

Jesus was alone with the disciples and they asked Him what the parable of the sower meant. Jesus explained that the sower sowing the word of God (the seed) and the types of ground represented how different people respond to the hearing of the God’s word. Jesus took the time to teach other parables to the disciples.

Let’s take a look at the seed that fell on the stony ground.

“And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time; afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.” (Mark 4:16-18, KJV).

Later that same day, Jesus told the disciples to journey to the other side of the sea. While on their journey, a storm came up on the water. We know at least four disciples- Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen by trade and possibly experienced storms on the water, but they did not respond like experienced fishermen. The disciples were acting like the seed sown on the stony ground, as they began to be fearful and lose hope.

The disciples found Jesus asleep during the storm, but they woke Him up.

“Master carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38, KJV).

Just like the seed on the stony ground, the disciples were going through affliction (the storm) and became offended at Jesus. “How can you sleep at a time like this. We’re going to die! Do you even care?” Keep in mind, even in the early days of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples had witnessed miracles and heard the same teachings as the crowds, but the word had yet to fall onto that good soil, where these men would take the Gospel and take Jesus’ teachings far and wide.

Even when we don’t heed God’s words as we should, God is still merciful to us. God loves us and helps us in the midst of the worst of storms.

“And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39,KJV).

Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith, but I believe that this storm was a turning point for the disciples. I believe that some of that seed had found its way from the stony ground onto the good soil, where it reaped a harvest that is still being reaped this very day.

As each of us face our own storms in life, allow God’s word to become deeply rooted in your spirit; so that we may be like Christ, having peaceful rest during the storm. God bless you.

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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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The Angel Among the Myrtle Trees

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The Old Testament book of Zechariah contains perhaps the most Messianic prophecies among the Minor Prophets (minor in terms of amount written, not importance). The first eight chapters of Zechariah contain visions concerning such topics as the restoration of post-exile Israel, the restoration of the priesthood, and the coming of the Messiah, to name a few. I will attempt to study Zechariah’s vision found in Zechariah 1:8-17.

If we were to place a date on Zechariah’s ministry, he received his call during the reign of Darius (Zechariah 1:1), around November 520 B.C. The first of Zechariah’s eight visions came three months later (Zechariah 1:7).

“I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.” (Zechariah 1:8, KJV).

The color red throughout the Bible represents blood, as in bloodshed, whether through war or Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The Book of Revelation portrays Christ on a white horse, symbolozing purity and victory. Thus, the man on the red horse is a preincarnate Christ, who will conquer sin and the nations, and ultimately bring peace to Israel, as our text later explains.

The myrtle trees are also significant, as the myrtle tree is an evergreen/bush, which gives off a fragrant aroma. The fact that the myrtle trees are in a bottom (valley or hollow), symbolizes beauty and restoration coming out of a low, valley experience (Israel’s seventy year exile to Babylon).

Zechariah then asked for clarification of his vision: “Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will show thee what these be. And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.” (Zechariah 1:9-10, KJV).

This group of men are angels sent by God to patrol the earth. The angel of the Lord who stood among the myrtle trees was the commanding officer so to speak, and gave their report.

“And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.” (Zechariah 1:11, KJV).

The world, or the world’s system is at rest, while Israel seeks to restore their nation to its previous state. The angel of the Lord intercedes for Israel: “Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?”(Zechariah 1:12, KJV).

The term “Lord of hosts” is a military term and always refers to God. The threescore and ten years is 70 years (a score is 20 years), or the length of the Exile. If you look at how the other angels spoke with the angel who stood among the myrtle trees and how that same angel interceded for God’s people, we can state that the angel is the preincarnate Christ, who is praying to God the Father on behalf of His people. (See also Romans 8:34).

“And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.”(Zechariah 1:13, KJV).

Next, the preincarnate Christ gives Zechariah a prophetic message for the people:

“So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.” (Zechariah 1:14-15, KJV).

God used the nations to execute judgment on Israel’s unrepentant sin, but now God will punish the nations, who are at ease and peace in their sins. This I believe is comprable to the world system of today and how the world has grown at ease with sin and wickedness, yet the Lord’s judgment is coming.

God promises the restoration of Jerusalem, the temple, and prosperity: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; My cities though prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 1:16-17, KJV).

No matter the valleys or exiles we face in our own lives, we can take comfort in God’s Word. God will restore us when we repent of our sins. When we turn to the Lord, he will replace the stench of death and sin, with beauty and the fragrant aroma of our salvation.

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But God

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But. A three letter word that means, “Ignore everything I just said.”

“You’re a great guy and all, but I think of you more as a friend.”

“Your resume and qualifications are impressive, but we have decided to go in a different direction.”

“Dinner was great, but it could have used more seasoning.”

We don’t like to hear “but,” because we know rejection or a backhanded compliment is soon to follow. However, there are times when hearing but can be a good thing. The world will judge you by your past, appearance, mistakes, and anything else their crooked, pointy fingers can find, but when we place our faith in Christ, God accepts us as we are. “But God” is a beautiful phrase found in Scripture.

“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah”

(Psalm 49:15, KJV).

“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”

(Psalm 73:26,KJV).

“But God raised him [Jesus] from the dead.” (Acts 13:30, KJV).

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, KJV).

“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart thatform of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17, KJV).

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is commonto man: but Godis faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, KJV).

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5, KJV).

As you go about your days, be blessed and may the Lord keep you.

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The Past has Passed Away

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By Michael W. Raley

The past has passed away

And the Lord blesses us with a new day.

The past, whether it’s been five minutes, months or years,

Is not coming back no matter the dwelling thoughts or shed tears.

While we have the gift of God’s grace,

Let us repent and run a new race.

The past is dead and gone

And life will go on,

With or without us.

All we can do is place our trust

In the One who holds us in His hands,

The One who has numbered our hairs and the grains of sand.

My friend do not fritter away the gift of today

Wondering and speculating about the events of yesterday.