Russ Ray

Trying to become more like Jesus

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HAPPY new year

Saturday night, my Facebook feed was filled with people who were glad that 2016 was finally over and 2017 would be a fresh new start.

I understand why people would lament some of the events that occurred in the year that was. Terror attacks, violence against and from police, celebrity deaths, and a contentious election have all played across social media.

But really, whose fault is it that the perception of 2016 is so bad?

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.—Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

This verse implies that we have an illness, a heart that lacks joy, which requires medicine or some type of cure. A heart that lacks joy is one that wallows in negativity, anger, deception and hatred. It leads to a crushed, broken, withered, dried-up spirit, lacking in any strength.

If there’s anything that’s not lacking in the world, it’s negativity, anger, deception, and hatred. What’s worse, our sin nature encourages us to wallow in it, like a pig in the mire. It feeds our fallen and sinful selves, and the more we’ve dwelled on and surrounded ourselves with outrage over the sound bite of the day, the more it demands to be satisfied with more negativity.

Maybe I’m naive, but I found 2016 to be a huge year of blessing. God taught me so much in both the highs and lows, and I’ve watched my family grow spiritually, especially my kids. But then, again, maybe that’s just me. I understand logically why people might want to be done with 2016, but I don’t sympathize.

The world is full of hate and lies, and look what it achieved in 2016. As followers of Christ, we should be beacons of God’s grace and truth to the world. I guess if there is any lesson that should be learned to carry over into the new year, it’s that people need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ now more than ever. All of us should strive to make 2017 joyous.


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Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight

In The Untouchables, the great philosopher Sean Connery makes a comment about how unwise it is to bring a knife to a gunfight.

Connery’s son Indiana Jones demonstrated this in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I may or may not be correct about the family relationships there.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.—Ephesians 6:10 (ESV)

How ludicrous would you look if you defended yourself with a Nerf gun against people with real guns? And yet, that’s what we do in our lives when we try to accomplish things in our own strength.

When I try to resist sin with my own strength, I am feeble and fail.

When I try to endure trials with my own strength, I am frail and collapse.

When I try to do what I know I should do and I’m disconnected from God, it is inevitable that I will fail. It may not be immediate (in fact, immediate failure would be welcome, because false success feeds the ego), but it is assured.

Why? Because in my own strength, I am bringing a knife to a gunfight. In my own pride, I am the swordsman showing off my skills, while the enemy takes but a moment to roll his eyes and pull the trigger.

Let’s put away the Nerf guns and draw from true power, the power of God’s strength. If we want 2017 to be a blessed and successful year, we need to be strengthened by God’s might if we want our actions to be effective.

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A signpost to Jesus

The students that I teach in college are all adult learners who have returned to school in their late 20s on up to their 60s sometimes to get their college degree. They all have a balancing act to perform as adult learners: responsibilities at work, home, and maybe even a church, and sometimes trying to even fit in time for a personal life.

I try to use my personal examples as much as possible to let them know it’s not impossible, and it can be done, by God’s grace. I finished up my 70-page Master’s thesis writing late at night while feeding a 6-month-old baby on my lap. My wife birthed two children (one of which ended up in the NICU) in the middle of her pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree.

Sometimes, though, students let me know of situations they are dealing with beyond my experience. I was grading papers this morning and an adult student felt transparent enough to share with me some struggles she is having with her teenage daughter. The daughter suffers from depression, and her father has chosen to take a hands-off approach, leaving her mother (this student) to deal with it on her own.

jesus-one-way-sign-arrow-photoWe are told as instructors at our Christian university that when students share information like this that it is an opportunity to inject Scripture into their lives. So, I looked up 1 Peter 1:5, “By God’s power we are being guarded through faith for our salvation.” I let her know that even though she may be going through a trial, God is protecting her and her daughter by faith for His ultimate glory.

In reality, this should be my attitude not just as a teacher, but as a follower of Christ. I need to be that signpost on the road that others are journeying on that points the way to Jesus.

Would you pray for the following today?

  1. Pray that God would bring into your life someone vulnerable sharing their need for Jesus.
  2. Pray that God would give you the Word that person needs to hear today that moves them closer on the path toward our Lord and Savior.

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Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

Google says one of the definitions of irony is “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.”


I got ready to write this morning and my last post was entitled, When your church doesn’t love you.

And then, this post is about how our church fired our family two weeks ago.

It’s probably too early to share details or disect what happened. If you feel led to pray for our family, pray for my wife to be healed of thoughts of self-doubt, for my kids that their Christian walk would not be harmed and that they won’t mistrust the church, and for me to just not be angry about the whole thing anymore.

Thankfully, God blessed us right away the next day, and has continued to do so every day since, and really, irony is just another way to describe how God works according to what He has planned for us and not by any human way of thinking.

  • The mighty warrior Samson killed more Philistines at his death than during his life. Judges 16:30
  • God opposes the proud but favors the humble. Proverbs 3:34 (repeated in James and 1 Peter)
  • A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding will find him out. Proverbs 28:11
  • The last will be first, and the first last. Matthew 20:16
  • When I am weak, I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10

I have no doubt that God is teaching us these things throughout this experience and is encouraging us every day to move beyond in His strength and preparing us for whatever our next ministry will be.