Review People of Faith in a Changing World
By David Ramous
I love devotionals (hence why I’m writing a whole series of them). A good devotional is like ahealthy snack The author has to really understand what they want to say and then communicate the truth in a short, digestible means – one that is also powerful and true.
This book does that extremely well.
Now, this book is not a short one. It’s300+ pages with literally hundreds of devotions ranging across all of Scripture. The author writes clearly, and I felt recharges as I brought this book with me on my recent trip to Georgia.
The book contains both honesty and variety. I never got bored, and there was a nice mix of stories, poetry, deep theology and much more.
Anyone looking for a large anthology of devotions should definitely check this book out.
Thank you to David Ramos for the kind words. I have been following David’s blog and he has written a book of devotionals called Climbing with Abraham. I have ordered it and read most of it. See a review on my page ‘Book I read’. It is worth your time.
I Corinthians 13:10
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love
Squeezed between faith and charity is that little word, hope.
I have come to believe the shape of the world today is because so many people no longer have hope. People (with the exception of those who kill to obtain a place in heaven) who fall into addiction and are incited into violence because they think that’s all there is. There is no future, and they might as well as live for today’s pleasures. And then there’s the anger that grows into hate that becomes disdain for society and life. I wonder if it starts with people rebelling against feeling hopeless and helpless.
I do understand in this world of complexities, that might be just bit simple. But it holds up in a lot of instances. Many insightful people in the secular world are looking for ways to give these disenfranchised young people hope so they can find their way out of their present nothingness.
That life can be different
That I don’t have to repeat the mistakes of my parents.
That I can be a person of consequence.
That I might be lovable and loved.
That I might make a difference because of being here.
When that hope is pinned upon help from governmental agencies, education, important people I know, family, money, marriage or career, hopes can get smashed very quickly. Many people despair, thinking life cannot be different. Help can be found in all the agencies we have in place, and people’s lives have been changed by them.
But even after we have received the help we need, there still are times of strong support and times when everything seems to desert us at once. Where is our hope when the hard times return?
My hope is in the Lord.
But stronger words never spoken.
Because I have prayed and asked for guidance and wisdom, I have hope:
That I can make wise decisions
About where I put myself
The people I let influence me
The career I follow
The way I spend money
The choice of spouse I make,
How I relate to people around me.
All those things affect the way I end up living my life and the benefits I reap because God makes me into a better person. And when I fail, I find forgiveness and hope that I can start again.
God doesn’t run out of his funds of love or strength or grace or opportunities like people, careers or agencies we put our hope in run short of resources. It is the steadfastness, the all powerfulness, the love that we place our hope in.
And because God never fails, our hope never wavers.
So I Pray: God of hope, give me the wisdom to live my life in a way that reflects the hope I have placed in you. Help me be a representative of what hope can give people the courage to try. By my example, help people understand that in God’s hope there is the possibility of a different life.
As I am writing a 365 day devotional book, I come across some things that signaled a change in my way of thinking. At a time I was angry with God, I discovered I could yell at God and he would not throw me out. That was very freeing. The other thing I discovered at the same time was I could be angry at God, but at the same time realize he is my only place to go for a help. It was odd, but was wonderful. This is from several years back….but I hope it blesses you. Jo Bower
Following Jeremiah’s Tradition
At one time my heart was sad
and my spirit was bitter.
22 I didn’t have any sense. I didn’t know anything.
I acted like a wild animal toward you.
23 But I am always with you.
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You give me wise advice to guide me.
And when I die, you will take me away
into the glory of heaven.
25 I don’t have anyone in heaven but you.
I don’t want anything on earth besides you.
26 My body and my heart may grow weak.
God, you give strength to my heart.
You are everything I will ever need.
I cry to my Lord: You have shown me your hand. But not the fingers of your blessed caress. I feel the backside of your hand. And it knocked me down. The opportunity you led me to believe you sent which caused great joy in myself – and all I know as we praised your name – has collapsed. And you let it collapse.
Through all my prayers and hope and gratitude 0f how far you’d brought me, you still let it collapse. So be it. But it’s not just all right. I’m not skipping over this with blithe remarks about God’s will be done or it’s fine. You did it And I’m deeply angry with you. What would it have hurt? Just what did I do so wrong? Yet, hope sneaks back almost undetectable. Then it rushes to the surface. And I resist it. Hope has just led to heartbreak.
Yet I can’t help it. It has far more resiliency than ever imagined. Why can’t it stay until I’m ready to embrace it? I’m not yet deserted. God, you are still with me. It is from that indisputable fact that my hope finds its origin.
Still I hesitate. Questions remain. Was it an exercise of futility fed by my need to be someone? Did I run ahead of you? Am I to pursue the dream, and so, in what direction?
Obviously positive thinking and belief alone does not always bring reality to its knees. It has brought me to mine. So much for motivational speakers. I can’t help but feel the dream is not dead, Perhaps just postponed. But before I take it up again, you will have to bring me to full knowledge of your hope.
But strangely, I believe all these things. I’m just fearful of letting go again. Fearful of letting hope poke its head from under the covers I tossed over it.
God, on a positive note, I have been released from a total obsession that had begun to rule my life. I’m not sure what the obsession was, 0r if it was helpful or harmful. But something was pressing down on me. Was it that I was being driven to work on one activity to the exclusion of joy coming from other activities? Was it the fear of failure, of acceptance and criticism, or the fear of success? Whatever it was, I thank you for deliverance.
I was down so far only you could rescue me. Don’t let me fall back into that pit. Help me pick up, follow the opportunities you do send . . . and know what direction you direct now. Thank you for not leaving me in my time of anger.
I will again praise your name, in a different way than before, but I will praise you. You enabled my survival.
Matt 5:7 Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy (RSV)
Even without religious applications we understand two things about mercy: it is given not earned and it modifies other actions.
We present our case, explain why we did or said or thought what we did, and take any responsibility for it/them. We then ask the other to judge us with mercy, because we did not begin with malice in our hearts.
As a modifier it essentially changes negative situations into positive situations. After all, it is through mercy that I receive forgiveness instead of the punishment justice calls for. God’s mercy.
But mercy isn’t a primary motivator. It begins with love, moves to compassion, and shows up in the action of mercy. With God’s primary nature being love, compassion and mercy are natural components of his actions toward the creation he loves. Whether we are right or wrong in our assumption, we have come to expect mercy from God.
And here is the hard part for humans. Love is not our primary motivation. With humanity’s encounter with and embrace of evil, we are primarily self-centered. So how do we come to the place where we are merciful people?
First, I realize I don’t feel mercy . . . I feel compassion. Mercy is the course of action I follow in response to that feeling. Compassion is born of the love we know as agape love. Devine love. Love that does not seek profit for the giver. Love that is applied simply because it’s part of the giver.
Now where do humans, self-centered as we are, manufacture that kind of love? That’s our first response isn’t it? If I just live right I can learn to love like that. We all are capable of merciful acts, but to become a merciful person, we have to have God’s love in us.
But it’s not exactly spontaneous. We first recognize and face the fact of the wrong that has been done. We admit the deserved punishment, but feel compassion for the wrongdoer, – knowing without God we would be in the same place – God’s love fills us and we understand forgiveness instead of punishment. Now we are capable of showing mercy. And finally, we decide to show mercy. I include the last step because we understand without God’s love in us we can know mercy is called for and refuse to apply it.
It’s fairly obvious, then what we need to seek. The indwelling, to use an old-fashioned but self-explanatory term, of God’s love. To this end we seek the deepest relationship with God that is possible for each of us.
This scripture teaches we receive mercy as we give it. And now it makes sense. Mercy is not an automatic response unless we know God’s love, and because we know God’s love we experience mercy, therefore, we know love and feel the compassion that is the parent of mercy. It’s a circle.
When I break that circle I am acting as if I have not received mercy. It’s like ignoring mercy has been applied to me, and I must return to mercy’s source and ask God to show me the mercy of forgiveness for my hard heart. And the circle can begin again.
And so I pray,
God, I don’t want to show mercy simply to buy my way into heaven. I want to have impact on the world around me. Help me keep my heart and life in constant contact with you. As I experience your compassion that results in mercy towards me, show me the places in my life that call for compassion and mercy.
Us. That’s what the world needs.
We who have learned fractious living is unproductive.
We who have learned there is a time and place to give voice to our inner critic.
We who tire of both extremes insisting they are the only proper and right choice.
We who are adopting peacemaking as life’s philosophy.
We who share grace instead of insults in life’s stress filled moments.
You. That’s what the world needs.
Your individual voice that soothes your world’s hurts.
You who rub balm instead of salt into open wounds.
You who understand just because you know gossip doesn’t mean you have to share it.
You who are aware of and mindful of other’s feelings and reactions.
You who, by example, can teach our world about balance.
Me. That’s what the world needs.
Me, who God has redeemed and refined to reflect who God is.
Me, who has dedicated talents and self to God’s expression.
Me, who can change the atmosphere in which I dwell by sharing the quiet joy of God.
Me, who can make a difference in the world when I give that which makes me unique.
Me, who the Holy Spirit empowers me so others can see God.
God’s People. That’s what the world needs.
God’s people to be present and active.
God’s people to step up and be the means of Grace for a fractured world.
God’s people to give positive input instead of dropping out and criticizing.
God’s people’s witness to build-up, and not tear down.
God’s people to face reality but re-enforce good, wherever it is found.
And so I pray:
God, I realize the world needs more than one word solutions. It’s not a simple world we live in, and we have left you out. Help me be part the positive movement leading the way back to you as our world begins to realize what we have is not working. But to do that, help me live each day in your presence and be a reflection of you in the part of the world you have put me in.
Come, you who have written off Christmas
As a useless commercial, greedy,
Networking through-giving-the-right-gift-to-the-right person,
And raking in all you can get celebration.
Come, you who weary of trying to please,
Or gain approval of the people who depend on you
And who you love with all your heart,
By providing the perfect holiday experience.
Come, you who refuse to celebrate because you believe
It’s the wrong time of the year,
Or merely the ancient believers’ redemption of an old pagan worship day
Was merely the early Christians’ effort to wrestle dominance from other belief systems.
Come, you who cannot see beyond the secular celebrations
Of Santa, elves, goodwill, and tender made for TV movies.
Who, when you have outgrown those things,
No longer find meaning in the celebration.
Come, discover the simple, uncomplicated,
Love motivated, God-initiated gift that began all this.
And as humans, we’ve turned it into madness as we, as usual,
Have gotten things backwards, and put the emphasis on the wrong things.
Come, return to the celebration
Of a loving Creator longing for a relationship with the people of his creation.
Of that same Spirit of power and might giving that most precious son
To humanity as the example of God, the Father’s, existance and scope of love.
Come to the celebration,
Not of the date, or of merely the traditions, or the giving and receiving,
Not merely the spirit of Christmastide’s goodwill,
But of the eternal love that prompted that first gift of a baby named Jesus.
So, come, put it all aside:
The studies that tells us what we’ve gotten wrong,
The disapproval of what the season has become,
And celebrate, with heart, mind, and spirit, the gift that changed the meaning of giving.
Isiah 60 and 63
Chapter sixty three verse eight: He said, ‘They are my very own people. Surely they will not betray me again.” And he became their Savior. Vs 11 Then they remembered those days of old when … they cried out “Where is the one who brought Israel through the sea…Where is the one who sent his Holy Spirit..?”
60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn! Lift up your eyes and look about you:
To me there is a picture here of a people who,
Having neglected the vital relationship with God,
Have become weary, self-absorbed, bent over with cares.
Finally they say to themselves,
“Where is that God who used to be with us?“
God hears, says these are my people.
Surely they will listen now,
And prepares a savior.
When the people straighten and look up,
God already has the savior ready to send.
For centuries Isiah’s words have been acknowledged
To be speaking of the Christ’s coming.
So again, I see the picture of my people who are bent over,
Who are now weary with self-absorption,
Troubled at the chasms that have grown up between us,
Searching for new ways to satisfy the old needs that never go away.
And when, or if, we straighten, look up, and ask
“Does it have to be this way?
Is there not a better way?”
God has already prepared the answer.
He doesn’t ask us to return to our ancestor’s way of living,
Or an antiquated philosophy –
He calls us to return to his presence.
In doing so, we turn from the negative and begin the journey to wholeness.
This time of year most of our moods lighten in the festivity.
Some of us hide behind preparing the season for everyone else,
Hoping for a different outcome that will be more satisfying this year,
While others truly find momentary fulfilment in the preparation.
We all hope to carry the spirit with us into the next year –
But too often when the season is over, the joy goes with it.
So why don’t try something new ?
God is waiting for that first realization he has already sent the answer.
Ask, “Didn’t there used to be a different way?”
Let God remind us there is joy in believing he is with us.
Let God remind us he wants to live in us and help carry the load.
Let God remind us when we turn around to look for him,
He is already standing there, his face toward us.
Let God remind us of the name of Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.
He has already sent a savior,
But we call it Christmas.
Acts 17:26-28 NIRV
From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live. God did this so that people would seek him. Then perhaps they would reach out for him and find him. They would find him even though he is not far from any of us. ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’
- So again I prayed, desperately seeking God’s presence. And in today’s language that is the accepted language and thought pattern. It implies digging through, creating a path, tossing out distractions, and extreme, concentrated effort. So, I approach God that way – as if it is a painful, birth process.
In Acts 17, Paul lists what all God does just to get us to seek him. Somewhere in my reading I came across this idea:
Maybe seeking is not just my responsibility alone
What if I have taken on a responsibility
That is not totally mine to work out?
What if seeking is not such hard work?
What if seeking God is as easy as turning my face (attention) towards him?
And perhaps the desperate seeking could end when I realize God is seeking me with the same concern I am seeking him. Perhaps I don’t need to seek out the perfect meeting place, find the perfect attitude or create the perfect atmosphere.
Perhaps grace is not so much sought as much as it is applied.
Perhaps it’s not so much about desperately searching for God’s will
As it is learning to understand our gifts,
See the opening doors, and recognize opportunities presented
As invitations to fulfill God’s will.
Perhaps living a Christian life is about accepting Christ first,
Then spending our lives learning to see God at work.
Perhaps I do not grow because I do not see where God’s work needs my gifts.
So today I stopped working at seeking and turned my face towards God. And found God looking me straight in the eyes.
“Ah.” He gestured toward the waiting table laden with bread and drink.
“You’re here. Have a seat.
“What’s on your mind?
“Would you like a drink of living water?”
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
I’m frustrated when I try to get beyond the ‘we’re all the same in God’s sight” cop out, and the word-service given to the philosophical acknowledgement of Galatians chapter three verse twenty-seven’s resounding ALL.
I’m afraid we still think in terms of God approving and disapproving of everything, and we assume we need to think in those terms. But are we sure we have to hold opinions on everything, and approve or disapprove of every thought, person and belief?
God’s ALL is not about approval and disapproval, it’s about the worth of people. And when we (Humans, not God) want to make ourselves look better, we first make our detractors look unworthy.
People have been degrading others since the first person accepted slavery as an institution, since politics became a profession, since success or society’s approval, or wealth became the measurement of a person’s worth. And it has seeped into the church and Christian’s attitudes between denominations and believers.
Competition seeps in and we resort to proving ourselves worthy and the ‘other’ not. We tear down effectiveness; analyze to death with emphasis on the negative; and apply what is no longer acceptable in today’s society to yesterday’s actions. We try to prove worthy or unworthiness through approval or disapproval.
But God’s ALL is not about approval. ALL who believe are worthy; ALL have the same value, and ALL can become believers and be redeemed.
And as such, ALL enjoy God’s love. With our actions we judge who God will find acceptable. We make lists of what we agree and disagree with, approve and disapprove of and forget God’s disapproval does not negate worthiness; it reflects actions. God approves or disapproves of actions instead of worthiness.
But when it comes down to politics – church or otherwise – , denominational or personal survival, or establishing reputations in life or business, God’s love goes out the window. We draw lines and we fall back into the trap of approving/disapproving and attacking worthiness.
And so I pray:
God, help us let You redeem our scornful natures.
Help us find the place to stand when we have disagreements of belief and ideas
Without degrading our opposition,
Without assuming our disapproval cancels Your (God’s) ALL..