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Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Letter 2017

We hope this letter finds you warm and well this Christmas season.  At our house we took a vote and unanimously picked 2017 as our favorite year yet.  We had many exciting changes and experiences over the last 12 months that are pleased to share.

The biggest change was that Joshua was born on Mothers’ Day.  It was a Mothers’ Day we’ll never forget, but we think we’ll just go out for dinner in 2018.  Joshua is 7-months-old this month and is growing and learning so fast.  Having a child, as many of you know, is perhaps the most challenging and rewarding things God brings us. 

In August we took an amazing vacation.  We went to Europe for 10 days with Christine’s parents, her brother and his girlfriend.  And yes, we took 3-month-old Joshua and he did great.  We stayed near Christine’s cousins in Vevey, Switzerland and also spent a few days in Dublin, Ireland.  Being in Switzerland was like waking up in a postcard every day.  It is breathtakingly beautiful with Lake Geneva and the Alps both right there.  Ireland was spectacular as well mostly because the people are so friendly and there is so much to see.  We also loved our stop in Dublin because Christine’s brother Michael proposed to his girlfriend Becca.  She said yes and Joshua is pretty proud of his uncle for securing him another world-class aunt. 

Speaking of world travels.  Matt’s sister Maggie and brother-in-law Tom traveled to Iowa from Australia in November.  It was so great to see them and for them to meet their new nephew, too.

Christine had a slight job change this year.  She went from working full-time at the Waverly Health Center to working PRN.  PRN basically means she only has to work one night a week though she can get more hours if she wants.  She loves it because it is like being a stay-at-home-mom and still a nurse at the same time.

Matt began his 8th year at KWAY radio in April.  He is still hosting the morning show and doing sports play-by-play.  On top of that he’s currently in his 13th school year working with the youth at church.

2017 also saw us gain a nephew and a niece.  It’s so thrilling to see the family growing with new kids and in-laws, though the in-law increase is ending once Michael and Becca get married.

This year was a banner year in the Ray house and we thank God for it.  We also thank Him for all of you who make our lives so much better than we deserve.  At this time we’re also reminded to thank God for sending us Christ to be Emmanuel.  Knowing that God is with us gives us the strength and courage to celebrate 2017 and look forward eagerly for what He has in store for us in 2018.

May you have a blessed Christmas season.


Merry Christmas from the Rays: Matt, Christine and Joshua.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Wordless Word

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." John 1:14a


"Mary!  He's crying again and I have no idea why."

Joseph paced the floors trying to calm his son.  Mary had already tried to feed him and he wasn't having any of it.  So, Joseph paced and bounced and paced and pounced while attempting to sing a soothing lullaby over the increasingly loud sounds of his infant's cries.

"I can't wait until you can just tell me what you need, Son."

Joseph neared his wit's end when it happened.

"BURP!"

Silence.

"Jesus, was that it?  That's what you needed, little guy?"


The Apostle John calls Jesus the Word.  The Word who was from the beginning.  The Word who not only was with God, but the Word that was and always was and is and always will be God.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made Himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
and became obedient to death...
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:5-11

The humiliation of Jesus during His entire earthly life is incredible but let's just think about His infancy.  There are so many reasons to be captured by awe and wonder when we meditate on the birth of Jesus but tonight I'm struck by the fact that He humbled Himself so far as to be wordless.

Think about it.  The person of the Trinity that is called the Word was unable to tell Mary that He was hungry.  The One who spoke galaxies into being couldn't tell Joseph that He was bothersomely gassy.  Jesus, who sustains all things by His powerful word, couldn't communicate that He needed to be changed.  This is a lowering and a humiliation of supernatural proportions.  Jesus the Christ did all this to be Emmanuel, which means God with us.

There are many miracles to ponder during Advent and Christmas and I hope you do ponder many of them, but this is one I ponder as I pace and bounce my little baby boy.  That God so loved us that He would do that for us should make us lost in awe-filled worship of Him today.




Friday, November 17, 2017

Joshua

Some of you may have noticed that the frequency of my posting on this blog has decreased recently.  That is due to my work schedule being hectic and a beautiful little boy named Joshua who wants as much of Mom and Dad's time as he can get.  Sorry not sorry but I'm choosing time with him over blogging most every time.

Being a dad is a great thing and a scary thing all at the same time. 

On Monday I was having a Bible study in the book of Mark with a couple of Wartburg guys and Joshua was there with us for the last few minutes.  I have had this thought for longer than I've had Joshua but one of the guys asked what being a dad is like and I expressed to the guys that the scariest thing about being a father is that I can't give my boy salvation.  I can lead the horse to the Living Water but I can't make him drink.

Think of the story of Jesus as told by Mark, especially think about Judas. 

Judas saw Jesus calm a storm twice, saw Him drive a legion of demons out of a man, saw Him heal a woman who merely touched the hem of His clothes, saw Him raise a girl from the dead, saw Him feed 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish with leftovers to spare, saw Jesus heal scores of people, saw Jesus feed 4,000 men with seven loaves of bread with leftovers to spare, saw Jesus restore sight to a blind people, heard Jesus preach and teach every day and watched Jesus live a perfect life.  Yet with all this I can say with near certainty that Judas didn't get a saving faith.  Judas saw all sorts of miracles, heard the best teaching and preaching ever and had the best loving example to follow and still didn't get salvation.

This is a sobering thought.

I could walk on water while leading Joshua to the Living Water and he still might not drink from the fount of every blessing.  I could give the blind sight and he could still not see the Way, the Truth and the Life.  I could preach and teach with all the skill in the world and he could still not believe the Word.  I could live a perfect Christian life to follow and he could still choose the path of destruction.

Do I desire to live a good life in front of my boy?  Do I crave the words to say to share the Good News with him?  Do I want a demonstration of power to act as a sign for Joshua?  Absolutely, but the greatest miracle I need isn't walking on water or raising someone from the dead; the great miracle I need is for God to open the eyes of my son's heart so that he may see the glory of Jesus Christ.

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."  2 Corinthians 4:4-6

Joshua's name means "Yahweh is salvation."  I can and will try to do my best to lead Joshua to the Living Water, to show him the light of the glory of God in Christ Jesus, but I can't do it.  So every day I pray that God makes his name true for him.  That is my bedtime prayer every day and often my prayer as I hold him.  It's a short prayer but it's the only shot my boy has.  I've prayed for many a miracle.  I've prayed for the healing of a body, for the restoration of a marriage, for guidance, for wisdom, for strength; but the greatest and longest lasting miracle I pray for is the salvation of others, especially for my boy.

"God, I pray that you make Joshua's name true for him.  Show him your inexpressible beauty and worth.  Jesus don't let him waste any years living without you as his king, savior and friend."

I pray this for my boy and I hope that you'll pray for the awesome miracle of saving faith for someone you care about today.




Monday, October 30, 2017

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Imagine for me that you walk into a dark room.  I mean, it's pitch black.

You walk into the room and grope around to get your bearings until you find a chair.  You then sit in the chair and get comfortable when you feel a small furry creature hop on your lap.  You feel the little guy for a bit and then start petting it nicely.  You stroke it from head to back over and over.  After a while you end up liking this little creature and assume it must be a cat.  The furry animal then turns its backside to you in the manner a cat does when showing respect.  You continue to pet it nicely while smiling.

Then someone turns on the light and you see it is actually a skunk sitting on your lap. 

What would you do?

I know I would get away from that skunk as quickly as I could without getting sprayed.  I would not continue to pet that skunk as much as I may have liked it when the lights were off.

In 1 John chapter 1 we are told that God is light and that we should walk in the light.  I think the story of the skunk in the dark tells us some about how to walk in the light.

"If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth." 1 John 1:6

Jesus is the light, we're told in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the truth and 1 John equates light with truth.  So, I believe that much of walking in the light is a simple as walking in the truth.  Walking in reality, not as we conceive it to be with the lights off, but as we are shown it to be with the lights turned on.

If someone had the lights turned on and discovered that the truth was that the furry creature was not a cat but rather a skunk they would get rid of or get away from the skunk.  They would not try to convince the person who turned on the lights that the little animal was most definitely a cat and not a skunk.

Too often we live as if we preferred the way we thought things were in the dark.  We don't want to live according to what the light reveals because we liked the lifestyle in the dark room better.  We liked the comfort of what we thought was a cat and now we're shown that we have a potential stinker on our laps from which we must flee.

Too often we have a pet sin in our lives that hasn't hurt us yet but like that skunk will likely backfire on us stinking up our entire being.

Pet skunks in our lives might take the form of gossip, pornography, grudges, excessive drinking, social media inspired jealousy or other seeming harmless sins.  "Well, I see now that it's not a cat but it's never hurt me before.  In fact, I quite like it."  But sin is not a pet.  Sin is a skunk that will backfire, it is a shark dedicated to devouring us.  Sin can not and will not be tamed as a pet no matter how long you've lived with it without an attack; it is a dangerous thing that must be expelled, fled from or killed.

Walking in the light requires us to change.  Walking in the light requires that when light is shed in the darkness of our lives we rid ourselves of the evil exposed. 

But thanks be to God that He doesn't just expose sin but He also cures it.

"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin." 1 John 1:7

Walk in the light.  When the light of Jesus exposes a pet sin we must act according to the knowledge of the truth and not the ignorance of the dark room today.


Monday, October 16, 2017

The Thrill of Being Liked

I work with youth at my church and I also do play-by-play for at least 125 high school sporting events each year.  I see young people interact quite a bit.

One of the common things you see in a high school setting is something we all remember well.  The male/female interaction.  Boys and girls figuring out what it looks like to be around each other.  Now, many of these boy-girl interactions are simply friendly and plutonic.  But sometimes you can see a bit of the song and dance.

Cute boy has some sort of interaction with cute girl then she begins to glow in excitement.  Boys do the same thing but their glow is more strategically hidden.  But both have a bit of a glow when this song and dance occurs because there is a thrill in being liked.  It reminds me of the movie "Mean Girls" when Lindsay Lohan's character is just thrilled to have her crush notice her enough to ask what day it is.  A small gesture that lets us know we're noticed or perhaps even liked excites us.



To have a crush is nice to to be crushed on is something completely different.  To be crushed on by an unwanted crush may be flattering yet annoying, but to be the one crushed on by someone you reciprocate that with is thrilling.

It's not just kids that have this feeling.

I remember the feeling when I noticed my future wife noticing me.  Oh, it was intoxicating.  It was heart-pounding to know that I was liked, I mean like-liked by someone that I was attracted to emotionally and physically. 

So, I see that glow from high schoolers at a distance and I remember it in my past.  There is an amazing thrill of being liked. 

Now let's meditate on the fact that the greatest being of all time, the most beautiful of all time likes you and me.  Not just likes, but loves.

Think about that and stoke the glow of excitement.  The God of the universe loves you enough to send His Son to die for you!

"The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10

The thrill of being liked is a great feeling and you are not only liked, but you are loved by God Himself.  This should thrill us to the max.  This should send our spirits soaring more than some earthly crush ever could, even if they asked us what day it is. 

Remember who loves you with an endless love and feel that teenage-like excitement about it today.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Midnight in Oklahoma

Occasionally my Grandpa Ray would let my dad stay up until midnight.  That was, I'm sure, a big treat for my dad as a boy.  At midnight in Southern Oklahoma and many parts of the country in those days the TV shut off for the night.  Before signing off the station would play our National Anthem.

"Stand up.  Feet together.  Hand over your heart."  My Grandpa would instruct.



As a proud American and a veteran my Grandpa Ray taught his children to be patriotic and to respect his country's National Anthem and flag.  Dad passed that on to me.  I attend hundreds of sporting events a year and I stand with hand over heart during the anthem each time.  I remember one time in Tripoli, Iowa when the CD player that was supposed to play the anthem wouldn't work I broke out in song to lead the crowd in singing the Star Spangled Banner because it needed to happen before the game.

I say all this not to brag but so you know that I do have a love for this country, a profound thankfulness for the fact that God decided to have me born in the United States of America, a enduring gratitude for those who help make this nation what it is.

But can love for a good thing get in the way of loving God and people well?

"Another time He went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath.  Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, 'Stand up in front of everyone.'

Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?' But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.'  He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus."  Mark 3:1-6

Respecting and honoring the Sabbath was a good thing.  Dads taught this to their boys and their boys taught it to their children.  In fact, God had commanded it.  However, Jesus showed in this story that God desires mercy  and justice over religious activity.

I can almost hear the Pharisees in the story shouting, "What you are doing may be good but you're doing it the wrong way!  Couldn't you heal this man another time?  Couldn't you wait for a more respectful moment to be merciful?"

The Pharisees loved the Sabbath more than the Lord of the Sabbath!

This whole kneeling during the National Anthem thing feels similar to me.  I respect what the flag stands for and what the anthem represents, but do I  love God's ways more?  Do I desire to be merciful more than ceremonially respectful?

I'd prefer a different method of protest, I truly would, but many of us have turned a deaf ear to our brothers and sisters for too long.  Their cries for justice have been raised many times before but we didn't notice until one of our golden calves was threatened.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

Our black brothers and sisters are shouting for justice, they are crying out for mercy.  Can we at least give them the mercy of a listening ear?  Can we put ourselves in their shoes, not wear our shoes in their circumstance, but truly lend an empathetic ear?

Truly listening won't disrespect our nation or its troops just like Jesus healing on the Sabbath didn't disrespect the Sabbath.

Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God today.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Should I Comment?

Often on Facebook, Twitter or whatever social media you use you'll come across something and want to comment.  I'm not talking about comments like, "Good for you!" "Congrats" or "Praying for you."  I'm talking about those posts that lure you into a comment war.  The post you scroll by and feel that your voice must be heard in it.

Then it happens.

A comment war.

We've all been there.  We've all gotten into a comment war.  We've all thought, "I'll say this one thing and then I'm out" only to be caught in a seemingly infinite thread involving you and people you didn't even know before you're done.

So, does the Bible have anything to say about this?  I believe it does and I believe the book of Proverbs has the most to say.  Most of these proverbs can be boiled down to "when it doubt just shut up and keep scrolling."  That doesn't mean that there is never a time to enter a discussion, but it does mean that most of the time it's a bad idea... trust me, I've stupidly gotten into these messes.

"When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise." Proverbs 10:19

"A fool shows his annoyance at once,
but a prudent man overlooks an insult." Proverbs 12:16

"Reckless words pierce like a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18

"A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself,
but the heart of fools bursts out folly." Proverbs 12:23

"A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1

"A fool finds no pleasure in understanding
but delights in airing his opinions." Proverbs 18:2

"He who answers before listening
that is his folly and his shame." Proverbs 18:13

"The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit." Proverbs 18:21

"He who guards his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself from calamity." Proverbs 21:23

There are times to comment, but the writers of the book of Proverbs say that there are more times to hold your tongue.  Facebook and Twitter and the like are great forums for many things.  However, in depth discussions on deep or touchy subjects are not these medias' best uses.  There are very few people that you will persuade via a Facebook comment but you will stir up dissension with many.  Proverbs 6:16-19 says God detests seven things and one of those is "a man who stirs up dissension among brothers."

So, when in doubt shut up and keep scrolling.

I know it's tough.  I know some discussions seem irresistible, but be wise and watch your digital tongue.  You may still contribute to the conversation perhaps but I'd argue from Scripture and from experience that more bad than good comes from entering the fray of internet anger.

Before you comment online think about whether that's a wise choice today.