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~ Written by Samantha Freds

Have you ever awakened during the night while traveling wondering where you were? For a quick moment you forgot you were staying in a hotel or someone’s guest room and panicked, heart racing, while your eyes adjusted to unfamiliar surroundings.

Maybe you’ve looked around lately and had the same reaction. The news headlines are horrifying. The movies are provocative or violent or both. The music is vulgar. The Christian flag has been replaced by the rainbow. Where am I? How did we get here?

It seems like every arena of life has experienced this drift away from God: government, education, the family and yes, even the church. Our money still says, “In God We Trust.” But it sure doesn’t feel like our nation even knows who God is anymore. And it is easy to burn with righteous anger over what has been lost. We used to pray in school. Families used to share meals at the dinner table. Sundays used to be about fellowship with God, the community and family. Where are you, God?

Daniel found himself in a similar situation in 600 BC. He and his people were taken into exile by the powerful Babylonian empire under King Nebuchadnezzar. They were suddenly in a foreign place with foreign people, pagan gods and secular worldviews. It must have felt like God had abandoned Daniel and his people.

Here is how Daniel handled the situation. First, he prayed. He fervently and faithfully prayed to the one true God. Second, he looked for opportunities to be set apart for God’s purposes without being defiant and disrespectful. Daniel was recognized for his excellence even in serving the pagan king he found himself subject to. Lastly, Daniel waited. He knew his God was still in control, and he waited on Him.

That is the hope we have today in our context. God is still in control. Even if it feels like He is letting our nation and our world fall apart, He is still in control. His ultimate plan will not be thwarted by any earthly authority or agenda. Praise God!

~ Written by Viki Rife

“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” my friend told me. She had recently turned 50 and was struggling a bit with what that milestone means. One day, she found a co-worker in tears. When my friend asked what was wrong, the co-worker blurted out, “I’m turning 25 next week. Half my life will be over!” My friend added with a slight grin, “I’m thinking maybe I should just give up and go climb in my grave.”

Our society fights the idea of aging. How much do we spend each year trying to get rid of wrinkles, hide gray hairs, and fend off any evidence of the passing years? Where does this fear of personal aging (and of other people knowing it) come from?

As God’s people, we’re called to have a different perspective from that of the world. Our time stay on this earth is for a reason, but is our purpose about seeking the Fountain of Youth? Absolutely not! Instead, we should be focusing on using our time to invest in God’s kingdom.

A friend celebrated her birthday on Facebook this way: “Thank you for the birthday wishes. I’m so grateful that I’ve completed another year on earth and am that much closer to my heavenly home.”

That’s how I want to live!

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Joy seems to elude me more these days. If I’m blessed enough to truly feel joyful, it tends to fade depending on my circumstances. Fighting for joy never used to be a daily battle, but it’s certainly become one.

“What am I doing wrong, Jesus? What has changed? Why is joy so hard?” I prayed in desperation one day. Honestly, I was at the end of my rope, and didn’t expect an answer. Life’s stresses seemed too large, too real, and too time-consuming to truly fix my “joy problem.”

But God has a way of taking my skepticism like a holy challenge to show up when I least expect Him to do so. As I sat pondering the question I had just thrown at the Heavens, I heard the Spirit whisper to my heart, “You’re looking for the wrong thing, Child. You’re looking to be fulfilled in yourself. Look for fulfillment in Me.

“Instead of looking for how a circumstance benefits or impacts you, look for how it brings glory to Me. Learn to look at everything in your life as a way to showcase My love to the world, rather than thinking every scenario I allow is all about you.

“You will only secure joy in your heart when you realize I am the cause of your joy, and I never change. Cling to Me—rather than yourself—in all things. See what happens. Joy gets easier to hold onto that way.”

I’m still learning what this means. But I’ve come to the point of understanding that my joy comes from the Lord, which means to embody joy, I must focus on the Joy Giver above all else. The more I focus on Him, the deeper my joy becomes no matter what my life entails.

Raw Truth

~Written by Samantha Freds

I wanted to write about how we, as Christians, should have eyes like our Heavenly Father to see the world around us. It seemed fitting right after Father’s Day, but the words were not coming. I quickly realized why. I have been struggling with discontentment lately, and I doubt I’m alone. I needed to be real and raw this week.

Contentment. I don’t even like the word. It seems so nondescript. It’s not happy or sad, excited or melancholy. It’s not one extreme or another. Contentment is about being satisfied wherever you are. But, what if I don’t like where I am? How do I find contentment if my circumstances were supposed to be different by now?

Does God really expect us to be content if we are underpaid and under-appreciated at our jobs? Or if we are still waiting for marriage or for children while all our friends are enjoying both? How can we possibly be content after the latest diagnosis?

I think God does want us to be content in all circumstances, but I’m not pulling any punches. I started by saying I’m struggling with areas of discontentment, so I don’t pretend to have the answer. I am distinctly aware that even if I received all the things I thought I deserved or wanted, it would not be long before I was back to feeling discontent. That seems to be the nature of this life between two gardens.

I don’t take lightly the reasons for my own discontentment, and I certainly don’t mean to say “just get over it.” Here is the verse I keep coming back to: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). And the very next verse promises that the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will be ours.

Later in the same chapter, Paul says he has learned the secret to being content in all circumstances: God. No, seriously. It’s not a Sunday school answer and I’m not a simpleton. Discontentment is real, but the only way out of it is to give thanks to God for everything we do have.

~ Written by Viki Rife

In the aftermath of a recent storm, my husband and I were walking a familiar trail, now littered with fallen branches and uprooted trees. According to the news, the damage had not been caused by a tornado, but by what is called a straight-line wind.

What struck me, though, was that some trees in the center of a stand were broken when those surrounding them weren’t. Even more puzzling was some trees looked like their trunks had been twisted. They had fallen in a different direction from the one expected by the way the wind hit. How could a straight-line wind cause such unpredictable results?

The answer, of course, is that in the end, whether—or how—a tree falls is not about the wind. It’s all about the integrity of the tree. Any weakness in the structure of the tree can cause it to twist and break. The flaws that developed in the tree as it was growing are literally its downfall.

As I look at the generations coming behind us, my heart longs for us to understand our role in helping them grow strong. More than opportunities, education and social justice, what they really need is to have integrity of heart. They need to know how to stand firm against the winds of change. It’s so easy for us as parents to try to orchestrate our children’s external circumstances to make sure they are comfortable. The result is that we fail to help them develop the strength to withstand the winds that will surely come into their lives. May we wait on the Lord’s instructions on how to help them develop according to His purposes.

“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you” (Psalm 25:21).

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I almost never got what I wanted when I was a little girl. Birthdays, Christmases, random special occasions—they all brought gifts (some of them were fantastic!), but they were rarely what I really wanted. The gifts were well thought out, but I remember thinking more than once, “My siblings got what they wanted, why didn’t I?”

It wasn’t until adulthood that I brought it up with my mom and I understood why. Apparently, I had never told her I wanted a Suzy Homemaker Oven, a specific instrument or special trinket. I remember believing as a child that if I needed a toy, my parents would just know. Otherwise, I didn’t need to be so selfish as to ask them outright to give me what I wanted.

“Why didn’t you just ask?” My mom asked when I told her the truth. I didn’t ask because I was afraid I’d disappoint her. At times, she knew exactly what I wanted, ended up getting it for me, but would have enjoyed hearing what I thought about the gift first.

Although the memory makes me chuckle now, I can’t help but see a correlation between myself as a kid and myself as an adult in front of the Father. His patience is never-ending with me. Often, though, when anxiety, fear, or misunderstanding keeps me silent from truly telling Him what I want, I can hear Him whisper, “Child, why don’t you just ask? Can we talk about it?”

He doesn’t always give me what I want. He doesn’t give me exactly what I want when I want it. But I’m learning it’s okay to climb up on His lap and just ask Him because I trust Him. Whatever the outcome, those conversations increase my intimacy with the Father. Simply because I asked.

~ Written by Samantha Freds

I recently started watching a two-year-old and four-year-old while on summer break from classes. I was quickly reminded of the innocence and imagination which characterize that tender age. Kids love to pretend they are superheroes, princesses, sports stars, or in the case of this adorable two-year-old, excavator operators!

Eventually, we grow out of that overwhelming imagination, but we often don’t stop pretending. Adults play dress up too. We wear masks to hide what is really going on beneath the surface. Especially as it relates to our struggles with sin.

It is human nature to hide. It was Adam and Eve’s reaction in the garden, and Jonah’s response on the boat. The pattern continues today. We are conditioned in today’s church to keep up appearances. Dress up a little and smile on Sundays. But that is not the model we were given. In Jesus’ day it was His audible voice that peeled off the masks of those around Him. Aren’t you glad there isn’t someone walking around revealing your secret sins and struggles, hidden agendas, insecurities or convictions anymore?

But, Jesus left a voice that does just that. Today it is up to us to listen to the Spirit’s prompting. Be assured that there is always a reason when He asks us to be raw and real with those around us. God doesn’t command us to hold up a whiteboard as we go about our day revealing our struggles and sins to everyone. He does, however, call us to respond in transparency and truth when we are prompted. And we can’t do that if we have conditioned ourselves to hide behind a mask.

Slowly but surely, the mask forms over the years. And before long you don’t even take it off when you’re home alone. It’s easier not to face what’s underneath.

You are not perfect. I am not perfect! The Bible reassures us that anyone who wants to judge us will do so in the presence of God, the ultimate and eternal judge. His is the only judgment that matters.

Take off the mask. Only then can you be used by God. Only then can you truly reflect the image of Christ. The real you, struggles and all, is the one the world needs to see.

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