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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The century-old upright piano was gorgeous to look at. As I sauntered through the privately-owned war museum, I was struck by the stories the instrument obviously told in its worn keys, beat up wood, and fragile seat. I wondered how many war widows had sat at the piano to play their loved one’s favorite tune when their hearts really only wanted peace to show up again.

As my imagination drew me closer to the ivory keys, I asked if I could play the piano. I expected the chords to be out of tune and painful to hear, but I thought I’d hear something. Instead, I heard nothing as I pressed each key. Some of the ivory keys were stuck in place. Others didn’t even feel like they were attached to the strings within the instrument.

It quickly became quite obvious the piano was beautiful to look at, but nothing more. Then my imaginative thoughts took a different turn as I mourned the fact that such an elegant piano could be dead on the inside. What had happened to make it lose its inner beauty?

I never want to be like that piano—curiously captivating and beautiful on the outside, but useless and silent with the praises of God in my heart. In a hundred years, I pray my heart’s song to God can still be used for His purposes and glory.

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Higher Ground

~ Written by Viki Rife

It was my first trip to Alaska, and I was deeply disappointed. We landed in heavy fog, and for the next two days I strained my eyes trying to see where I was going. I started to wonder whether the scenic views I´d heard about actually existed!

A friend had invited me to her home, and as I wound my way up what was obviously a mountain, deep insecurity set in. The fog felt heavy and threatening. I really didn´t like this place at all.

Then, in an instant, I saw sunlight ahead. In no time I was completely out of the fog. The atmosphere was bright and cheery. Birds were singing—had I really not heard them when I was in the fog? My heart started to soar. All was right with the world.

But what had changed? The beauty was there all along, but I couldn’t see it. I find that doubt has the same effect on me. God hasn’t changed, but my ability to see Him has. When that happens, why do I stay in the valley with my fears instead of climbing up to meet Him?

The experience gave new meaning to an old hymn that has gotten me through many hard times throughout my life. Think about breaking into the sunshine as you read the lyrics:

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

AdobeStock_28937150--smWhether you’re in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions or not, there’s one question that should be on our hearts as we begin 2019. What if we resolved to live as if this is the year Christ returns?

Picture this: the Almighty God has called you to serve Him. It is a great honor. You have certain responsibility for the well being of those around you. They need spiritual food. You are called to be watchful and care for their needs.

The passage below is crucial in how we approach our decisions this year. Consider carefully what God is calling you to do with those around you as you read it.

“The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

This passage reminds us that we are each responsible for the spiritual food we offer others. Just because it seems like the Master is taking a long time coming doesn’t give us the right to put our own desires first. Considering that this could be the year our Lord comes, let’s focus our priorities accordingly. Let’s resolve to make this year all about Him.

AdobeStock_11273424--SMby Viki Rife

Today is the day many of us start winding down from Christmas. The preparations, the excitement, the anticipation are in the past. Now is the time to clean up and start returning to normal.

What must Mary have been feeling after the blessed birth? Once the shepherds left, with their stories of angel choirs? Once the excitement of the arrival of the child started to calm down, and what was left were the raw questions of the realities of life: where will we sleep? How do we provide for the child? How many diaper changes and middle-of-the night nursings? Even with a perfect child, how do we get through each day?

We find ourselves wondering how long they had to live in the stable. How long until they got the news that Herod wanted to kill the child, and made the arduous journey to Egypt? Were there doubts whether they had heard the angels correctly?

Life after the birth of Jesus cannot have been all roses for Joseph and Mary. The hard work of caring for the Savior of the world was just beginning. It’s doubtful that the baby was in the habit of just waving His hand and making the hardships of life go away for His parents. He was fully human, even if He was God. He experienced the realities of a struggling family life.

As we return to our mundane lives and their challenges, let’s keep in mind that even for those who were given the privilege of parenting our Lord, most days must have seemed pretty mundane. They carried their fill of disappointments and seemingly menial tasks.

Serving God is meaningful only because of Who He is. We may never know the meaning of any particular moment. We must live each one as if it really matters. Because it does.

sheep in their stableHow many of us have wished at some time or another that we could have been in the stable that first Christmas night? One of my favorite writers penned a poem that pulls at my heart and makes me feel like a part of the Christmas story in a very humbling way. C.S. Lewis wrote:

The Nativity

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)
I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length
Give me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Savior where I looked for hay;
So may my beast-like folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baaing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!

May you rejoice this Christmas as you celebrate the One who allows even the most humble to see Him!

Christ is born

20 days old baby sleeping in a christmas nativity crib

By Viki Rife

Have you ever felt like skipping Christmas? You know, the way Tim Allen tried to do in “Christmas with the Kranks”? No decorations, no presents, no parties.

His neighbors were indignant, his minister was disapproving. In the end, when their daughter comes home unexpectedly, they “get with the program” and celebrate with their neighbors. Supposedly, they ended up not skipping Christmas after all.

Reality check. As far as I can tell, they did skip Christmas. And we can easily skip it too. Too much to do, making sure our tree is just right, the food is just right, remembering everyone to whom we owe a present—it just seems like the true meaning of Christmas gets lost. Even our family gatherings may not reflect the relationships He came to bring.

 

So in the midst of all our observing Christmas, are we missing out on time to just reflect on the gift of Christ? Do we find opportunities to let the miracle truly penetrate our soul and fill us with wonder and gratitude?

There have been times when I looked back on the last two weeks of December and realized I hadn’t taken any time to personally sit and worship the Savior whose birth we’re celebrating. It may have been mentioned in church, and we might have even gone to a Christmas Eve service, but I personally did not take any time for Christ. I had skipped Christmas.

May each of us find time this season to make sure that Christmas truly means to us what we say we believe it means.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I was six the first time my great grandfather handed me a polishing rag. He stood me in front of his silver collection and stated proudly, “You can help me make these beauties shine again.” I was responsible for a silver horse that had most assuredly seen better days, but my “Gramps” treated it with such treasured respect, I knew it had to be special.

He never told me the stories behind his collection. Born into a poor family and with only a 2nd grade education to his name, I can only imagine how priceless his three-tiered display case felt to him. As we worked together on his silver, he’d occasionally chuckle as he wiped grime off a certain piece, but the stories stayed safely in his mind.

That afternoon, sitting near one of my spiritual giants, I got a better glimpse of what it meant to first serve out of love. Even at six, I thought polishing silver was a waste of time. Yet I didn’t find myself asking hundreds of questions as to why I had to help. Gramps wanted to spend time with me, and polishing silver was important to him, so therefore, it became important to me. I didn’t need to know why. I knew Gramps and that was enough.

What would happen if I lived my life with Christ in the same way? I find myself peppering God with endless questions when He asks me to do something. I want to understand before I say yes. But too often, when that is my initial response, I miss out on sharing Jesus’ joy. What if I trusted Jesus enough to trust there was beauty in His presence, even when the task feels mundane?

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