The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy serves as a transitional piece of literature. On one hand, Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell to the Israelites while on the other hand, Deuteronomy sees the Israelites’ final preparation to enter the Promise Land.
Moses, because of a disobedient act (Numbers 20:8), was unable to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land. Moses was preparing to die and addressed the Israelites three times in Deuteronomy- 1:1-4:43, 4:44-28:68, and 29:1-30:20. I’ll be discussing elements from the first farewell address, specifically, Deuteronomy chapter four. While yes, the Israelites are the intended audience, and by extension, the Jewish people, I believe there are principles in this passage which also apply to modern day Christians.
Moses reminds them of their uniqueness as God’s people
“See I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear all about these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to Him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, NIV).
Christianity is also unique among the world’s faiths. In other religions, the focus is solely on trying to do good deeds and hoping that your good deeds will outweigh the bad deeds. Maybe the other religions find themselves tripped up with rituals and man’s traditions. In essence, you have to work for your god’s approval. However, in Christianity, God provided a way for us to come to Him, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge our sins and accept Christ and we enter into a relationship with God; it’s really that simple. Just as Israel’s obedience to God’s laws made them unique among the nations, so too should our devotion to Christ make Christians stand out from the world around us.
We must always remember and share God’s teachings
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9, NIV).
We must keep ourselves from idols
During biblical times, an idol was something worshipped as a god. These idols, of course were manmade and were shaped as people, animals, gods, etc. Idolatry is forbidden in both the Old and New Testaments. The reason idolatry is forbidden is we are not worshipping the One True God. We are worshipping an idol of a bird as opposed to the Creator of said bird. Idol worship still occurs today, although in different forms as biblical times. Have you ever though about the things you put before your relationship with God? Money, your electronic devices, the pursuit of fame, sports, material possessions are all examples of objects we can turn into an idol. We must be careful to put God first in our lives.
“Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that He made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24, NIV).
God is open to receive us when we stray
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel and later Judah, would stray from God and worship the gods of other nations. God would bring judgment on His people, they would repent, God would forgive, and the cycle would start over in time. Israel was the embodiment of the Prodigal Son parable as Jesus spoke of in Luke 15. There have been times in my twenty plus years of being a Christian that I have wondered from God’s ways. However, our God is a forgiving God who has welcomed me and countless others into the fold. God warned the Israelites of the consequences for their continued disobedience, but He also said He would be there when they came to their senses.
“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey Him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which He confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31, NIV).
Obedience to God is acknowledging Him and His Word
If we stay in right relationship with God and obey His teachings, we will experience more joy and less frustration in this life. Putting things together is always easier when we read the instructions.
“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep His decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.” (Deuteronomy 4:39-40, NIV).
As we go about our days, even in the midst of turbulent times, let us remember the Word and commands of the Lord. God’s truth is still truth, even if the world tries to define its own truth. Be blessed.
I’ve often wondered happened to reason, rationality, and common sense in American society?
As I write this post, the United States is experiencing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. (I have tested positive multiple times, yet remain asymptomatic). The U.S. response to the Covid-19 has been irrational and erratic at best. The politicized mainstream media (including conservative and liberal pundits) waffled between “We’re all going to die” and “This is a hoax to influence the election.” During the discussions of the pandemic, the middle ground has gone the way of the dinosaur.
People have protested state stay at home orders and people have viewed masks mandates as an attack on personal freedom. There are cities which are threatening to penalize non-mask wearers with fines and or jail time. Many major companies, including Walmart and Starbucks are now requiring customers to wear masks or they will not be allowed inside the store.
It’s human nature to defy authority. People still smoke despite the health warnings and proven links to cancer. There are people who still don’t wear seat belts; motorcycle riders refuse to wear helmets; drivers speed and underage college students will find ways to get alcohol. However, I believe the United States is going through a time of lawlessness, where the rights of the individual are being trampled on by the government and society.
There have been protests and societal upheaval coupled with a war on science, which has become politicized as well. Calm and rational voices are drowned out by mob rule. People are criticized equally for taking a side and not taking a side. The voice of the crowds on both sides aren’t listening to each other. Intellectual society has gone from John Stuart Mill’s “Marketplace of ideas” to “I only want to hear my opinion coming out of your mouth.”
What’s a rational person to do? I believe the important thing to do is to continue practicing reason,rationality, and common sense. Do not follow the crowd because you might get lost. Be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, but don’t act on emotion alone. I believe the reason for the vitriol in our political discourse is because people now argue from a place of emotion and see disagreement as a personal attack on them. During these times we must also practice emotional maturity. Try to find a solution to a problem without attacking someone else.
Along with practicing reason and emotional maturity, recognize the value of every person- even if they disagree with you. It doesn’t matter if someone is a Christian or an atheist, straight or gay, white or black, or any other way society tries to divide us- we can find common ground and respect each other. It’s still possible to agree to disagree. Don’t let petty political bickering destroy relationships with family and friends. Also, if you spew venom and hostility at someone, how do you ever expect them to see your side of the issue?
I believe the time has come to throw off the shackles of division and seek peace and healing. As the Bible states:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:12-18, NIV).
On a personal note,I have started a podcast, called Life in Progress. You can find it at https://anchor.fm/michael-raley. You can also find it on Google Podcast, Breaker, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Spotify.
“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.
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.
I was reading 1 John recently when the word “abide” caught my attention. Abide is a word we don’t use much anymore. The word abide started me down a biblical concordance rabbit hole.
The Greek word for abide is Meno (Strong’s 3306), which means “to stay in a given place, state, relation, or expectancy.” Meno is also used for the word dwell. Upon further study, I came upon some interesting tidbits about the word abide:
Abide is used 31 times throughout The Gospel of John, 1 John, and 2 John and only 18 times throughout the rest of the New Testament.
The same word for dwell is used 11 times throughout John’s writings, but only once in the rest of the New Testament.
Bonus fact: For you King James readers, Meno is also translated as “continue” 5 times in John’s writings and 6 times in the New Testament.
Now that we have established the meaning and usage of the word abide, what is its context? John’s writings use abide to indicate a continuous relationship with Christ. Thus, we are staying in a given place with Christ, similar to staying in a marriage or friendship. For the believer and the non-believer alike, what does abiding in Christ entail? This is not a comprehensive list, but I would encourage you to study this on your own as well.
The Holy Spirit comes to abide in us when we receive Christ
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever-the Spirit of truth…” (John 14:15-17a, NKJV).
*See also 1 John 2:27.
We will have joy and we will perfect our love for others
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you , that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:9-12, NKJV).
We will be fruitful in our walk with God
“Abide in Me,and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine,neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”(John 15:4-5, NKJV).
We will not live in spiritual darkness
“I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46, NKJV).
“He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:9-10, NKJV).
We will be able to separate truth from error
“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 36, NKJV).
As with any relationship, whether it’s spiritual, romantic, or friendship, the more time you spent with someone, the better you get to know them. The more you get to know them, the more you will be able to separate the real person from an impostor. This same principle applies to our relationship with Christ. The more time we spent with Jesus, whether its through prayer, fasting, or personal study, the more we come to know the authentic Jesus. In this day and time, we need more discernment than ever. God bless.
The house has been sold. This house represents seventeen-and-a-half years of memories, but it is now symbolic of a broken home. My ex-wife and I built this house together and that is why staying here was taking a toll on my mental health.
After speaking with family and a few close friends, I decided the best thing to do would be to put the house on the market. The real estate market is hot in my area and my house sold in three days. While cause for celebration, the quick sell accelerated my timeline for finding a new place.
I am happy to be moving and beginning this new journey of my life. I’ll be moving into an apartment for the next year so I can figure out the next steps. I have no problem in living in a smaller space or downsizing my stuff because I’ve learned not to measure my value or success by the things I own.
I never thought I would be starting over at this stage of my life, but here I am. If you think about it, each day gives us a chance to start afresh. While the thought of the additional packing and cleaning wears me out, I am balanced with the expectation of a clean slate. Yes, selling the house does not change the personal circumstances- the divorce, the toll on my mental health, or what the future holds, but this is for the best. I had to do what was best for me.
All of us go through periods of suffering. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, an illness, a crisis of faith, all of which can crush our spirits and cover our lives in darkness. It’s not only these unpleasant times that will come to define us, it’s also how we respond when these times come. Thomas Moore’s book, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. The book title inspired by the 16th Century Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross’ poem “Dark Night of the Soul.”
At the very beginning, Moore informs us that getting through a dark night of the soul is not for those looking for a quick fix:
“If your main interest in life is health, you may quickly try to overcome the darkness. But if you are looking for meaning, character, and personal substance, you may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you.”1
Moore adds that we can sense a time of growth and preparation during difficult times:
“Sometimes in your darkness you may sense that something is incubating in you or that you are being prepared for life. You are going somewhere, even though there are no external signs of progress.”2
Moore brilliantly draws upon the struggles of patients in his years of therapy practice and how they navigated through their dark nights. Moore also weaves in the tale of Jonah from the Bible, tales from mythology, and the real life struggles of writers Oscar Wilde, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, and others, who found meaning in the midst of their suffering.
Moore’s theme throughout the book is to guide us in how to properly frame our dark nights, embrace them, and seek to growth from the darkness.
“Think of a dark night as part of organic living. To avoid it would be like choosing only artificial food that never spoils. As a natural person, you are going to feel a wide range of emotions and go through many different kinds of experiences. Over the course of your lifetime, parts of you will grow and blossom, some will rot. To be sad, grieving, struggling, lost, or hopeless is part of natural human life. By riding the wave of your dark night, you are more yourself, moving toward who you are meant to be.”3
Moore touches upon the dark nights that can occur in life, relationships, spirituality, creativity, health, and aging, often using non-clinical methods, to help the reader understand how to get through the dark times. One way to navigate the dark nights, according to Moore, is to develop a philosophy of life, which he defines as:
“A philosophy of life is a bundle of wisdom you have gathered from your reading and experience. It is not a rigid ideology that allows no development and complexity. It’s a living thing, a developing idea about life that belongs to you alone.”4
I know on a personal level that whenever I find myself going through a period of suffering, I question the purpose of said suffering. I contemplate the purpose of my existence and my lot in life. However, Moore puts it succinctly, while drawing upon a them of Stoic philosophy:
“Where you fit in the scheme of things is not your choice. Your job is to deal honestly and generously with the fate given to you. It may be a brief life of sickness. You may be the most ordinary of people. On the other hand, you may be called sometime in your life to make an extraordinary act. Your task is to be prepared for the invitation offered, the chance to define yourself by an important choice.”5
I find Dark Nights of the Soul to be an excellent read and I recommend it to anyone facing a difficult time in your life.
1Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals.New York: Gotham Books (2004): xiii.