Strengthen the Feeble Knees

When the human body is in perfect health, it is a divine feat of engineering. All of your body’s systems- neurological, nervous, skeletal, muscular, internal organs, among other biological wonders functioning at their peak-a perfect balance. Imagine for a moment that you have a sore foot. Your natural tendency is to compensate for the pain and discomfort. You shift your weight to the other foot, but you have possibly started a chain reaction. Before the end of the day, the pain could follow to the ankles, knees, hips, or back. The human body is also subject to age and along with it wear and tear, when our bodies no longer function as they did in their prime.

However, our existence is more than this daily aging body, as we are also soulful and spiritual beings. All three parts of our being can also be in harmony or disunity. Physical pain can cause emotional distress and emotional distress can cause us spiritual distress. Though  the kind of body we are born with, rather it be strong or sickly, is out of our control, our emotional and spiritual bodies are well within our control. That is why we need to exercise and strengthen our spiritual muscles.

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.'”(Isaiah 35:3-4, NKJV).

The writer of Hebrews quotes this verse after discussing how we are to run the race and a warning about disobedience (12:12). This verse is one of many that shows us the ideal balance of our spiritual lives- we are to strengthen ourselves (the hands and knees) by coming to God in faith, repentance, prayer, obedience, applying God’s word to our lives. We also have a responsibility to encourage those whose faith is not as strong. We must build up ourselves so that we may build up others.  If we have secured our foundation, then we are truly able to help someone secure theirs. As we have made our peace with God, let us as best as we can be at peace with everyone. I believe the entire family of God needs to sit at the table. Now more than ever, spiritual unity is needed. Let us focus on what we have in common- Christ and go from there. God bless you all.

A Night Meditation

By Michael W. Raley

 

I’ve come to the end of another long and tiring day,

Yet I still feel no closer to finding my way.

God willing I have many more miles to log,

But I must cut through this mental fog.

I must maintain a laser-like focus

Because I don’t have time for superstition, tradition, or hocus-pocus.

I must settle in and find rest

If I am to rise tomorrow and be at my best.

 

Be a Force for Love

By Michael W. Raley

Evil exists in the world.

However, that is not an excuse

For it to dwell in you.

Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated

Into following the aimless herd.

You have been gifted with logic and reason.

Therefore, open up the gifts and put them to use.

Don’t join the angry mob,

But be a force for love.

Bitterness and hate are the caustic acids

Which will eat away at even the most docile soul,

Only to leave you in the pit of despair and regret.

Your time is limited and may run out any day,

So why choose to live in constant anger and seething rage?

Be a force for love.

We are all God’s children

And we must embrace every brother and every sister

Who comes our way each and every day.

The earth will remain,

But we will soon be gone.

Keep this thought in mind

In all you say, do, and think.

Go and live in peace.

Be a force for love.

 

 

Arise

Arise

By Michael W. Raley

Arise out of the darkness,

Though it be familiar and convenient.

Fight and flee from what holds you down.

Mute the increasing clamor

And listen for that quiet inner voice.

Arise and re-focus your mind.

Filter everything as if this was your last day,

Ask yourself, “At the end, will this matter?”

Your time and energy are limited,

Make the most of them.

Arise, manage your judgments and perceptions

To find that tranquility and contentment

You so desperately desire.

Do not stumble on what is behind;

Look and walk ahead with clarity.

Arise, be the change you want to see.

Though the tide be against you, keep swimming.

Seek the love and faith that lies outside of yourself,

For it is there you will find the love, acceptance, and grace

You have denied yourself. Arise! Arise! Arise!

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.

Negative Visualization and Faith

What’s the worst that can happen?” If you ever asked this question, you have been greeted more than likely with being shushed, glares, or heard, “Don’t say that.”

As humans, we do not like to contemplate the worst-case scenario. In fact, we develop a kind of superstition about such questions as “What’s the worst that could happen?” because we have tendency to think that asking such a question is going to invite some heartache or tragedy into our lives.

Although we do not like to mention it, we do take precautions against the worst-case scenario. If we are worried someone would break into our home, we lock our doors and windows, we install a security system, or we may purchase a weapon to protect ourselves in the event of a home invasion. We also purchase homeowner’s or renter’s insurance in the event our home is burglarized or damaged by a fire or disaster. We have health insurance in the event we get sick. We have car insurance in the event our car is wrecked or stolen. We buy life insurance to make sure our family is taken care of in the event of our death.

It is only right and commendable that we take precautions to protect our families and everything we have worked for in our lives. However, what if we were able to contemplate the worst case scenario without living a life crippled by fear and anxiety?

The Stoics practiced what is called negative visualization.

Negative visualization does not mean that we live as a “Gloomy Gus” or “Debbie Downer,” finding the negative in everything, but it teaches us to have peace of mind in the midst of challenging circumstances. Thus, negative visualization can mentally prepare us and lessen the impact of the worst case scenario. This in turn will increase the joy in our lives as we embrace our loved ones and this present moment even more.

According to William B. Irvine, “Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it. This in turn means that by practicing negative visualization, we can not only increase our chances of experiencing joy but increase the chance that the joy we experience will be durable, that it will survive changes in our circumstances.”[1]

Someone right now may be raising the objection, “Aren’t we as Christians supposed to have faith that God will protect us?” Yes, we are supposed to have faith, but our faith does not prevent us from experiencing hardships in this life.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b, NIV).

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3, NIV).

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Thus, by practicing negative visualization, we can still have faith and joy in the midst of circumstances.

Going back to the example of protecting our homes. Let us imagine someone breaks-in to your house and steals your new TV. Naturally, we would be upset about our TV being stolen, but we can take stock of what’s around us. If we were to step back, we could be thankful that we were not physically harmed, our family is safe, our pets are safe, the house is still standing, and the insurance will replace the TV. We have reason to praise God although our TV was stolen.

We can examine terrible situations and still find a reason to rejoice. I have discussed in several posts about my battles with anemia and celiac disease. I was very ill and could have had a fatal heart attack due to the strain the anemia placed on my body. While going through the anemia was difficult, the doctors found out that I have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Patients with celiac disease also experience anemia. I had to make sudden dietary changes, but it worked out for the best because I am no longer anemic. I have my energy back and was blessed with a second chance at life.

I came close to death, but I did not die. I know that one day I will die, but I do not let that stop me from living life. In fact, going through this trial with my health has given the opportunity to be more mindful of the life that is all around me. My faith has been deepened through my experiences because I know that God has allowed me to endure and to overcome these obstacles. If I were to contemplate what would come next, I know I would be able to handle that as well. Maybe you have already experienced a worst-case scenario- whatever that is. You are still standing. You are still here. You have lived through that experience, even though it may be the lowest point of your life. You have the training and strength to get through the next trial. We must not take anyone or anything for granted. Let us be grateful for the present moment. God bless you all.

[1] William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009:83.

Embracing Our Experiences

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” – Eleanor Roosevelt[1]

Experience is rarely gained in a comfortable temperature-controlled environment. A simulation can give a soldier an idea of what to expect during combat, but it is the actual battlefield where the soldier applies his or her training. It is the same with our lives- our trials are opportunities to apply the wisdom we have learned.

 “The only source of knowledge is experience.” -Albert Einstein[2]

Another Christmas season has come and gone and the focus turns to 2017. I know for myself and the people I know and love, 2016 has been a traumatic year- full of pain, grief, loss, sorrow, despair, depression, and heartache. Sometimes in war there are no victors, only survivors. The dark storm clouds gathered around you, but by the grace of God you have made it this far. You will find your way back.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius[3]

In matters of faith and philosophy, it is our experience that truly shapes us. How we apply our spiritual and philosophical wisdom is influenced more by our trials and tribulations than any sermon, book, or essay. Our experiences serve as a mirror reflection of not only who we are, but of the world around us. There are people out there who are hurting just like we are and they are looking for something authentic. If we are to share our faith and experience with someone, it is okay to admit you do not have the answers. The last thing people want to hear is common tropes, clichés, and talking points.

Our experiences give us that unique personal testimony about how we walked through our personal hell and back. Our life is a culmination of all of our experiences- good and bad. We cannot change what happened. We must also face the possibility of not getting answers as to why something did or did not happen. Life gives us no choice but to soldier on, not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones. We must embrace all of this life we live and the experiences which shape us into who we are.

Experience is an opportunity for us to examine what we believe and why we believe it. Our belief system must be able to stand up to our scrutiny. It is okay to question the nature of God, the Bible, life, death, and faith. Our beliefs serve as a foundation for our lives and we must examine the foundation for cracks. If there is a weakness, we can fix the damage or rebuild the foundation, which will require deep digging and a lot of labor. The reward of confidence comes after we have done the hard, soul-searching work.

“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NKJV).

 

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who ask you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV).

I pray that the Lord will comfort each of your hearts in this coming year. I pray that 2017 will be a year of joy and rejoicing for each of you. God bless you.

 

 

[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/eleanorroo121157.html Accessed 26 December 2016.

[2] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins148778.html Accessed 26 December 2016.

[3] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/confucius131984.html Accessed 26 December 2016.

The Competition within Ourselves 

Competitiveness is ingrained in our DNA. There are people who dedicate themselves to being the best in raising a family, their profession, their sport; Businesses compete for shelf space and market share within a global economic framework. However, in the pursuit of excellence and drive to be number one, how far are you willing to go? At what cost are you willing to claim victory?

“Really, what profit is there for you to gain the whole world and lose yourself in the process?” (Mark 8:36, The Voice).

What if I told you that your competitor is not your friend, family member, colleague, or rival team? What if you are not in competition with the company across the street or across the globe? You are your biggest competitor. You have to live with the results of the process. Long after the cheering has stopped and the dust has settled on the trophy, you will still have to look at yourself in the mirror. As Christians and as everyday people, we must take inventory and assess if we are putting forth the effort to be better than we were yesterday. I am not emphasizing a religious works mindset, but can we walk away from the day knowing we put in our best effort?

If we want to improve ourselves, we must focus on what is within our control. We must focus on the business we need to do. We cannot waste precious time in worrying about what other people are doing or what they will think of us. Unfortunately, we will never have ideal circumstances in the competition of life, but we must compete with what we have. All of us have to run our race well.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV).

The Apostle Paul used the analogy of competing in a race in describing our Christian walk. Paul also explains how we should run the race and our objective.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NKJV).

Our resolve to run our race must begin in our spirit. It is vitally important for an athlete to be in peak physical shape, but the athlete must also be mentally strong. We must lean on the guidance of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and applying God’s word to our lives in order to renew our minds.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.” (Ephesians 3:16, NKJV).

“Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” (Colossians 1:11, NKJV).

It is of monumental importance that we stay the course in this life. We must do our best despite the circumstances. We must be willing to examine ourselves and truthfully claim that we stuck it out. When we come to the end of our lives, can we say we finished the course as Paul did (2 Timothy 4:7)?

Athletes compete for rings and trophies, we must compete with ourselves to receive our prizes, which are the crowns we will lay at Jesus’ feet:

The results, which are our joy and crown- Philippians 4:1.

The crown of rejoicing- 1 Thessalonians 2:19.

The crown of righteousness- 2 Timothy 4:8.

The crown of life- James 1:12, Revelation 2:10.

The crown of glory- 1 Peter 5:4.

The prize of the high calling of God- Philippians 3:14.

All of us have a limited amount of time to live on this earth, so let us dedicate the rest of that time to strive and be the best people we can be. Let us stand as strong pillars in the midst of the crumbling façade that is the modern world. God bless you all.

 

Book Review- As a Man Thinketh

In an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

Originally published in 1902, James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh is one of the classic works when it comes to the importance of managing our thoughts and perceptions concerning our current situations and how our thoughts shape our circumstances, health, character, and our hopes and aspirations.

Allen’s inspiration for the book title is Proverbs 23:7, which states “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (KJV). Allen’s premise is also congruent to the adage attributed to Marcus Aurelius and Shakespeare, “All thinking makes it so.” Allen’s premise also agrees with Jesus’ statement of “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34). I will share nuggets of wisdom found within Allen’s writing.

Thought and Character

“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”[1]

 “A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of favor or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with Godlike thoughts. An ignoble and bestial character, by the same process, is the result of the continued harboring of groveling thoughts.”[2]

 “…Man is the master of thought, the molder of character, and the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.”[3]

Thought and Circumstance

“Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself.”[4]

“The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.”[5]

“Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.”[6]

Thought and Health

“Clean thoughts make clean habits.”[7]

“If you would perfect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind.”[8]

Thought and Purpose

“A man should conceive of a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it. He should make this purpose the centralizing point of his thoughts.”[9]

“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.”[10]

Thought and Achievement

“All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts…His suffering and his happiness are evolved from within. As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”[11]

Thought and Vision

“Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.”[12]

“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good…Self-control is strength; Right Thought is mastery; Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, ‘Peace, be still!’”[13]

I have read As a Man Thinketh multiple times throughout the years and I can say that every time I read it, I gain deeper and deeper insights. No matter your stage of life, no matter your situation, take control by how you are thinking about the situation, and correct the course. Gaining control of our thoughts will be a daily battle, so do not give up; do not surrender. God bless you all.

[1] James Allen, As a Man Thinketh. New York: Barnes and Noble (2007 edition): 3.

[2] Ibid, 4.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 11.

[5] Ibid, 12.

[6] Ibid, 12.

[7] Ibid, 28.

[8] Ibid 28.

[9] Ibid, 33.

[10] Ibis, 36.

[11] Ibid, 39.

[12] Ibid, 48.

[13] Ibid, 56-57.

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.