My Vessel, My Life

By Michael W. Raley

I lie adrift in the Ocean of Perpetual Darkness.

Overcast clouds cover the moon.

The North Star has long since burned out.

This compass no longer gives me direction.

The waves bounce me back and forth,

As I try to hold it all down.

All I see is water,

No rescue ships,

No land,

No horizon.

This cannot and will not be my life’s voyage!

I then decide to stage a mutiny

Against the oppression, the passivity, and circumstance.

I am now the Captain.

This is my vessel,

This is my life.

I will set the course.

I will follow my map.

Load the cannons

Because I’m bringing the fight!

Embrace Today’s Second Chance

By Michael W. Raley

O how the body aches,

O how the heart breaks,

When you realize

That the dream has died.

All of the work, love, faith, and hope you planted as seeds

Has become a harvest of drought and weeds.

We shrug it off as not meant to be or not part of a plan,

Neither of which bring us comfort nor understanding.

Time will go on and somehow so will we,

Keeping our distance and remaining skeptical and leery.

The sacrifice and pain came at such a high cost

That it will take time to get over this loss.

However, some wounds will never heal

As we may become bitter about our raw deal.

Some things we will never get over, with the burden on our shoulders.

We perceive ourselves to be destined like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder,

Only to have it roll down the hill again.

Or consider Job, who sought an audience with God and an explanation,

Only to be pelted with unanswerable question after unanswerable question.

Yes, Job’s family and fortunes were restored,

But why did he have to go through all of that before?

We must hold on to the loved ones and days which remain,

In spite of the sorrow and pain.

We must embrace today’s second chance,

For as Aurelius said, we are meant to wrestle with this life and not dance.

The Throne of Our Thoughts

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul, like a great trial lawyer, goes point by point to build his theological case. Romans serves as one of the foundational books that explains the Christian faith and is also one of the primary books Christians use to share the Gospel with others (also known as the “Romans Road”). Paul’s theology in Romans is like his other Epistles in that it is practical and can be applied to everyday life. One of the important areas Paul stresses is the need for us to renew our minds and change our thoughts.

Paul uses five different Greek words to describe our minds and the pattern of our thinking. What we think has a direct effect on our lives. If we try to think in more positive terms, we will be able to adapt to the constant change that is life. However, if we continuously focus on the negative, the hurt, the rejection, we will live a life of self-defeat, fear, and anxiety. As I have stated in past posts, we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control our responses to what happens.

Our Thoughts Represent our Power and Authority

As Christians, we believe in and serve a living and powerful God. However, we must also contend with our very real enemy, Satan, our own sinful natures, and daily interactions with others. Think of your mind as a throne. A throne represents a seat of power and authority for a king or queen. If a monarch chooses not to rule with their given authority or if they abdicate their throne, they are no longer in charge. To what and to whom we choose to think about determines if we are really on the throne of our minds. In fact, the word used the most for mind in Romans is the Greek word Nous (Strong’s #3563), which means, “The intellect- the seat of the will, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.” The following verses speak of a matter of voluntary surrender, good or bad, when it comes to our minds and our wills. Thus, in order for our thoughts, wills, and lives to line up with what the Word says, it is a matter of choice.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” (Romans 1:28, KJV).

“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:23-25, KJV).

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, KJV).

Our Thoughts Shape our Spiritual Reality

Throughout Romans, Paul makes the use of contrast between the renewed spiritual life we have in Christ and the continuous war of the carnal life we live within our sinful natures (or flesh if you prefer). The Greek word Paul uses is Phroneo (Strong’s 5426), which means “to be minded in a certain way” concerning our opinions and sentiments.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:6, KJV).

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” (Romans 12:16, KJV).

Our Thoughts are Seeds

Paul switches words from Romans 8:5 to Romans 8:6, to show the contrast. Here, Paul uses the word Phronema (Strong’s 5427), which means “what one has in mind or thought.” We have to think of our thoughts as seeds. No matter what type of seed it is- all seeds need the proper amount of light, soil conditions and water to grow. Our thoughts are no different, what we allow to grow in our minds can change a beautiful garden into a dried-up wasteland.

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be…And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:6-7, 27, KJV).

Our Thoughts Should Bring Harmony

It is a given that we will encounter difficult people. It is easy to find an everyday occurrence where we can allow someone or a situation to make us angry. We can choose to hold onto bitterness and not forgive others. However, we are not living life in the Spirit if we follow our carnal inclinations. Instead, our thoughts toward our brothers and sisters and our fellow man, in order to bring glory to God. The word Paul uses in Romans 15:6 is Homothumadon (Strong’s #3661), which means to be “unanimous, in one accord.”

“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6, KJV).

 The Battle for our Thoughts and our Mission

With every day we are blessed enough to live, we will have a raging battle for our minds. Just because you fight of a negative thought on Monday does not necessarily mean you will not have to fight it on Tuesday or any other day. Our minds are like muscles and we must keep them strong and in shape. We can fortify our minds not only by reigning from the throne of our thoughts, but by remembering every battle we have won. In essence, we need to remind ourselves daily of the victories and God’s grace. The word used to describe this situation is Epanamimnesko (Strong’s #1878), which means “to remind again.” We must remember our mission in this life.

“Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God. That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. ” (Romans 15:15-16, KJV).

 

The Holy Spirit our Comforter

In the hours leading up to his arrest, trials, flogging, and death on the cross, Jesus shared a Passover meal with His disciples commonly referred to as “The Last Supper.” Jesus took this precious time to teach many things to His disciples. One of the topics Jesus taught – the role of the Holy Spirit- is what makes Christianity unique among world religions, where God comes to live inside of us and we can have a relationship with God. Jesus taught many things about the Holy Spirit, and we will examine the comforting aspect of the Holy Spirit.

In His discourse, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “The Comforter.” The Greek word for comforter is Paraklietos (Strong’s #3875), which means “intercessor, consoler; one summoned or called to one’s side.” Jesus introduces the Holy Spirit by stating:

“If ye love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever. Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:15-17, KJV, emphasis mine).

What comforting words that because we know God, God comes to dwell in us and is always with us. Religion gives us a checklist of things to do and maybe, just maybe, God will approve of us. For Christians, we only have to believe.

Life can be lonely. Even when we are surrounded by our families, friends, and the beauty all around us, our trials and our grief can isolate us. We become adept at putting on a front, fooling the outside world, while inside it feels like our spirits are being torn to shreds by a savage beast. The pain is real. The struggle is real. God may be silent, be He has not left you, as Jesus states:

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18, KJV, emphasis mine).

The Greek word for comfortless is the word Orphanos (Strong’s #3737), which means “fatherless or orphaned.” God does not leave us to fend for ourselves. Our Savior did not stay dead in the grave, He is alive! His Spirit is within us. The world may abandon you, but God never will.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:26-27, KJV).

When we remember God’s Word and everything we have been through, we can have peace in the worst of circumstances. Inner peace is a choice as happiness and contentment are choices. We can make these choices easier when we come to the revelation that God is by our side.

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27, KJV).

Jesus goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth:

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:7-8, 13-14, KJV).

The deeper you go into a relationship with someone, the better you get to know them. This principle applies no matter whether the relationship is romantic, familial, or friendship. You learn the person’s voice, habits, appearance, and their likes or dislikes. If someone were impersonating your spouse, child, or friend, you could spot the impostor. As Christians, we have that same opportunity with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit regarding learning the truth, knowing God’s voice and His Word. Though the temptation is always there when times get rough, to run away from God and everyone else, we can go a different route. We can refuse to listen to Satan’s lies and listen for God’s truth.  We can unload our troubles on God like we can a phone call to our best friend or a conversation with our spouse. God knows you are hurting. Let Him comfort you. You may not get an explanation in this life as to why events have unfolded the way they have, but we can be guided by Christ through the Holy Spirit. We can have peace in the midst of pain; joy in the midst of sorrow; comfort in the midst of tragedy. God bless you all.

More than a Conqueror

Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Genghis Khan. Napoleon Bonaparte. The names of these men and others echo throughout the halls of history because they conquered nations and forged empires. However, despite the aptitude of their generals, their victorious strategies, the efficiency of their armies, and the most advanced weaponry known at the time, there were two enemies these men and their armies could never defeat: sin and death. The One who dealt the decisive blow to the curses of sin and death and is coming back to conclude his march against the army of darkness: The Lord Jesus Christ.

Please keep in mind that I am not glorifying war. I believe the horrors left by war have damaged the psyches of our brave men and women who have fought and have left a Grand Canyon size wake of tragedy and destruction in the lives of all of the innocents affected since time began. I believe it will be the return of Christ and only the return of Christ that will wash out these horrific stains from the fabric of humanity.

Though most of us may never serve our country in the respective branches of the military, we do on a daily basis face spiritual battles. In these battles against our sin natures and Satan’s forces, we are either winning, losing, or trying to maintain against the siege. Our demons can come from within or from the pits of hell, it is all the same. The struggle takes its toll and we can become fatigued from the constant fighting. When the despair grows stronger, we can find ourselves giving into the darkness, the bottle, or the needle, but it does not have to be that way.

If you are reading this and you have made it this far into life, let me congratulate you. You are an overcomer. You have been blessed with another day to seek God and to vanquish your foe. You have strength beyond measure. Life may have knocked you down to your knees, but you are in the perfect position to pray and receive your new strategy.

Romans chapter eight is among one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I cannot but be encouraged every time I read it. In particular, we will take a look at Romans 8:28-39.

 God is working it out

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, KJV, italics mine).

Whether you are experiencing a nightmare while awake or just living day by day, keep in mind that God is working it out for your good. This does not mean that everything in life will be good, but God can turn the situation around to show His glory and make Himself known in our lives.

Your life has purpose

“For whom he did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30, KJV).

Though our lives can seem to be an unending series of obstacles, God is using these obstacles as opportunities to make us more like Christ.

 God is on your side

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, KJV).

How can we even consider fainting and fretting when the fickle opinions and perceptions others have of us when the God who created the universe is in our corner?

God gave His all

“He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, KJV).

God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins, so who are we to doubt that God will carry us through this current trial?

We are justified in Christ

“Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34, KJV).

If the people around you reject you or do not hold you in high regard, do not worry about it. You have a God who believes you are to die for and He is praying for you at this moment.

We are more than conquerors

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” (Romans 8”35-37, KJV, italics mine).

The word used for conquerors is Hupernikao (Strong’s #5245), which means “to vanquish beyond; a decisive victory.” Hupernikao is derived from the words Huper (Strong’s #5228), which means “over, above, beyond, etc.,” and Nikao (Strong’s #3528), which means “to subdue.” Keep in mind that Nikao is the same word used in 1 John when it talks about us being overcomers in Christ. So to summarize this point, our relationship with Christ and our victory in Christ has earned us a clear and easy victory. In essence, Christ has run up the score so badly on the devil that he will never catch up. There are no substitutions or adjustments the enemy can make, the game is over, we are waiting for that last trumpet to blow. Because of His love for us, Christ will continue to intercede and defeat the enemy on our behalf. We are “hyper-conquerors” in Christ because we have more than enough firepower to subdue our enemy and to occupy what Christ has given to us.

We cannot be separated from Christ

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature , shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, KJV).

Go forth and conquer in Christ, for He has given you the victory. God bless you all.

 

 

Temple of Baal coming to U.S. and Europe

I received a message earlier this week from a friend asking me if I had heard of a temple of Baal being constructed in  New York City and London. I researched several articles, the YouTube link provided by my friend and even came across an article in the New York Times concerning this issue. From what I have read, there will be reproductions of the temple’s archways placed in New York City’s Times Square and London’s Trafalgar Square on April 19, 2016.  This particular temple of Baal was located in Palmyra, Syria and was destroyed by ISIS in August 2015. Though the New York Times article discussed the reproduction of the temple arches is being done to honor the razed temple as a world heritage site. However, could something more sinister be at hand?

Who is Baal?

In order to fully understand the implications of reproducing arches to an ancient temple, we must understand for whom the temple is named. Baal was a Canaanite fertility god worshipped in the land of Canaan before the Israelites came into the Promise Land. Despite God’s many warnings not to worship the gods of the Canaanites, Israel fell into idolatry, for which they were judged and punished multiple times by God. Baal, like the other Canaanite gods and goddesses was worshipped in what the Bible calls “the high places,” which were simply altars built on top of hills and mountains.

Israel’s history of Baal worship

“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim: And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger. And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.”(Judges 2:11-13, KJV).

“And they [the nation of Israel] left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire [child sacrifice], and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.” (2 Kings 7:16-17, KJV, brackets mine).

Kings of Israel and Judah who worshipped Baal

There is an adage that says, “As a nation’s leaders go, so go its people.” In the Old Testament, as kings turned away from God, so did the people turn away from God.

Ahab           

“And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.” (1 Kings 16:31-33, KJV).

Ahaziah

    “Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned two years over Israel. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. For he served Baal, and worshipped him and provoked to anger the Lord God of Israel, according to all that his father had done.” ( 1Kings 22:51-53, KJV).

Manasseh

“And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father destroyed; and he reared up the altars of Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab, king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.” (2 Kings 21:2-3, KJV).

God’s Instruments of Judgment against Baal Worship

*Gideon destroyed his father’s altar to Baal (Judges 6:25-32).

*Elijah confronted and slayed the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19-40).

*Jehu destroyed all Baal worship in Israel, but did not follow God (2 Kings 10:18-31).

*Jehoiada the priest led the people to destroy the house of Baal (2 Kings 11:18).

*Josiah removed the high places, smashed altars and ordered the priest of Baal to be slain (2 Kings 23:4-6).

*722 BC- The Assyrians invaded Samaria and Israel ceased to be a nation (2 Kings 17:18; Jeremiah 23:13).

*586 BC- The Babylonians conquer Jerusalem and begin the process of the seventy year exile (Jeremiah 23:25-27; Jeremiah 32:29-35).

The Bible makes it explicitly clear that we are to worship God and that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. If we worship any other entity or idol, we are engaging in idolatry. For any nation to erect even a replica of any temple or building where child sacrifice took place is the epitome of apostasy. New York and London, to put it bluntly are building monuments to Satan in the most prominent places in their respective cities. I have placed the links to the original New York Times article and the YouTube video below. Please study the Scriptures for yourselves and pray that God will move upon the hearts of the nation’s leaders and people. Pray that people’s eyes will be opened to the truth. Satan is a deceiver, a liar, and the father of lies who wants to lead astray as many people as he can in these last days.  God bless you all.

YouTube VideoThe New York Times article

 

Seeking Refuge in the Midst of a Crisis

When faced with multiple crises at once, where do you seek refuge?  Do you seek God? Do you call up a family member or friend? Do you go for a walk or run? Do you try to pretend the problems do not exist? Do you or have you tried “self-medicating” with food, drugs, or alcohol? Your answer will determine where your faith lies. There is nothing wrong with talking to someone about a problem nor is it wrong to go exercise to relieve the stress. However, if our faith is in our abilities and we go alone in our own strength, the problems will weigh us down and we will be unable to face the situation, which can lead to isolation and bring on addiction, depression, or something worse.

Jehoshaphat was one of the righteous kings of Judah in the Old Testament and he faced a crisis where the very survival of Judah was at stake.

The Crisis: “After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to wage war against Jehoshaphat. Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side pf the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar’ (that is En Gedi).” (2 Chronicles 20:1-2, NIV).

Jehoshaphat’s Response: “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, the came from every town in Judah to seek Him.” (2 Chronicles 20:3-4, NIV).

The Bible goes on to record Jehoshaphat’s prayer (2 Chronicles 5:5-13), where he acknowledged his and his nation’s complete dependence on God. Jehoshaphat was facing three armies that were coming at him and they were roughly thirty-five miles away from Jerusalem and he sought God with prayer and fasting.

The Revelation: A word of revelation came to a man named Jahaziel: “He said, ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” (2 Chronicles 20:15-17, NIV).

The Bible goes on to record that Jehoshaphat and all of Judah worshipped the Lord for the revelation. The next day Jehoshaphat appointed singers to go out before the army. The praise and worship of the singers brought confusion to camps of the enemies and the Moabites, Ammonites, and the Meunites began attacking each other and took out themselves. Judah did not have to fight as God had promised. The Bible states it took Judah three days to take the plunder from the enemy camps. When they returned to Jerusalem, they once again worshipped the Lord and the fear of the Lord came upon Judah’s enemies and Jehoshaphat’s reign was one of peace.

When we make God our refuge, we will find the shelter from the storms of life. When we seek God wholeheartedly, He will reassure us and show us a plan to conduct spiritual warfare against the tactics of the enemy. We serve a living God whom we can turn to in the midst of our trials and tribulations. We can take comfort in His Word. God is with us and will be with us. Though God’s revelation may not come quickly, we can find rest and a peace that passes all understanding during trials and tribulations.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:1-3, 7, NIV).

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9, NIV).

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will says of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1-2, NIV).