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Archive for the ‘bondage’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The furnace had the potential to erase their faith instantly when you think about it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego stood up for their faith in Yahweh. Their reward for doing so was to be thrown into a furnace so hot, it melted flesh and turned bone to dust.

Were these three men anything like me, I wonder? Did they proclaim their faith, confront the threat of death by fiery inferno, and then silently pray God would deliver them before the flames truly touched their skin? Wouldn’t that be just as powerful a divine plan as making His followers actually burn?

But that’s not what happened. The men were still conscious when they were tossed into the flame. They had made their allegiance to Yahweh clear, but I wonder if, even for a split second, they felt the heat on their faces and wondered if their faith was worth the burden.

In Daniel 3:24-25, we see a glimpse of the divine reason Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego weren’t rescued. King Nebuchadnezzar—the man who had ordered the men’s deaths—had to see how his power stacked up against Yahweh’s power. He had to see the flames. He had to see the trial take place. Only after he observed those things did he come to realize that Yahweh was truly God and worthy of worship.

More often than not, our own trials—our own fiery furnace—is so the world can see God at work in an undeniable way. No matter how hot the flames get, it is so the world can say with undeniable certainty, “God was with you in that fire.”

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Out for a walk during a break at the South Focus Retreat last week, I passed an animal that had been killed on the road. I didn’t think much of it until on the way back, I saw a bald eagle land near it. The
eagle tried to pick up the roadkill, but could only get it about six inches off the ground. The eagle flew less than a foot before it sank to the ground, the meat still in its claws. As I approached, it tried time and time again to fly with its burden.

It reminded me of the conversation I’d had earlier in the week with a friend about Isaiah 40:31, which talks about how those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength and will soar with wings like
eagles.

This eagle certainly wasn’t soaring. Why not? Because it was trying to carry something much too big for it! Does that sound familiar? It sure struck me. God says we will soar with wings like eagles, but even
eagles can’t soar when weighed down like that. Our worries and cares were never meant to be carried by us. God wants us to put our hope in Him so we can truly soar.

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

Her mind had to be running in a hundred different directions. She knew the cultural expectations. The woman was more than aware she had broken the Law. When the religious leaders found her committing adultery, she must have started envisioning the pain of countless stones hitting her body.

She had committed sin; her crime was known. Death by the hands of those more righteous was her penalty. And yet, this rabbi—Jesus, son of Joseph—spoke words which somehow kept the righteous ones from carrying out their punishment. Whatever he said made the ruckus stand still, but she wasn’t sure what was to happen next.

The screaming and taunting may have died down, but she had already sealed her own fate. She knew she was as good as dead. Even though there was an unusual sense of peace and introspection in the air, I imagine she kept her eyes closed—begging for time to speed by and death to come quickly.

But it never came. Instead the gentle, firm voice of Jesus spoke to a broken woman in front of a shrinking crowd. “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” He asks. When she responded that no one had, Jesus responds simply yet profoundly, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

I’ve sat in the rubble with that woman before. I know what it’s like to stand condemned. How many times have I gone before Jehovah, the Holy Judge, and ignored the grace in his eyes? Somehow, I’d forgotten that his love is deeper than my sin, and he truly can turn my life around. Sometimes, it can seem easier to swallow punishment rather than accept grace.

Yet, if we, just like the adulterous woman in John 8, look up and focus on Jesus, we quickly realize he wants to give us life! The only thing holding us back is our hesitation to trust that his mercy can truly make a difference.

What hope we’d experience if we simply trusted the Judge.

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

 If respecting Sean was hard, loving him was harder. From the day we met everything he said was mean, disrespectful, lewd, crude, and rude. He was one of those older gentlemen any decent person would follow around, if only to mutter, “I’m sorry; he shouldn’t have said that” to Sean’s latest victim. There was nothing wrong with Sean; he just didn’t like people.

The only thing he seemed to hate more than people was Jesus Christ. When most of his family came to the Lord, that somehow made his negativity worsen. We all watched the years go by thinking, “Lord, no heart is too hard, but will Sean ever see you?” In our human estimations, it definitely didn’t seem like it!

Just hours before he passed away from a fast-acting illness, the proverbial scales fell from Sean’s eyes, and he begged his family to lead him to the Lord. What victory! Sean would end his harsh life knowing full-well the saving grace and mercy of his savior, Jesus Christ. We all rejoiced him into Heaven, relieved that his fight was over.

Well, almost all of us. A young woman pulled me aside and simply asked, “How can Jesus have mercy on such a horrible man? It seems to me he’s the last person who deserves Christ’s mercy. Sean was evil!”

Although I didn’t share her sentiment, I understood it. How often have I decided Jesus’ limitless mercy was enough to cover my sins, but not the sins of those who left so many wounded? Jesus easily forgives my sins. Things like: gluttony, dishonesty, and pride. But isn’t there a different scale for the “bigger” sins which consigns the sinner in his wretchedness where he deserves to be?

The reality is, we can’t short-change the mercy of God over someone we believe has committed a greater offense. If we do that, we completely change the story of salvation and what makes Jesus different from any other false god.

We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus’ mercy isn’t fair, but it is what makes his love large enough to rescue the world.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Anna felt all alone. The husband who had needed her care night and day over the past decade had just passed away. Her own health had deteriorated during that time. Now she was left with no friends, no family nearby, and the huge specter of anxiety and depression hanging over her. The isolation of the Covid shutdown had her almost paralyzed.

One morning she decided to make a list of things she could do that day. She grabbed her walker and made her way to the desk, where she found a notepad in the drawer. She started to write: Take a shower. Organize meds into a labeled contained so she would know which ones she had taken. Read a Psalm as a prayer. She was surprised at the satisfaction she got from checking each item off the list.

The next day her list was a bit bolder. Reorganize her sock drawer. Dust one room of the house. Write a get-well card to someone from church. Call Betty, her old high school friend she hadn’t talked to for years, just to catch up.

Betty was delighted to hear from her. Anna was struck by how little it takes to encourage someone else. After that, Anna made a point each day of including in her list at least one item that would bless or encourage someone else.

As time went on, she then started adding some occasion to celebrate God’s goodness each day. Eventually, the day came when she was able to sort and label a box of old photos, all the time thanking God for the memories rather than feeling sorry for herself. As she finished that project, the thought hit her: “I can choose to live in joy. And I’m doing it!”

Anna’s journey from anxiety and depression to joy seemed like a miracle to all of us. But as she summarized it: “Be Thankful. Bless others.”

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

“Is that all you have to say? Aren’t you gonna fix this like you’ve fixed everything else?” My friend’s disappointment in my response to his crisis broke my heart. I really had done my best to always rescue him in the past. Once upon a time, fixing loved ones’ issues is where I secretly found my worth. I truly believed I always had their best interest at heart.

And yet, when my lifelong friend’s world crashed yet again, this time I firmly heard the Spirit whisper, “Do not steal my glory, Child.”

Tears came to the surface. I obediently gritted my teeth and repeated, “I’m sorry you’re angry. I’m sorry this doesn’t make sense. God is big enough to hear those complaints and handle your anger.” As I knew would be the case, my words did not go over well.

Our phone call ended on a sweet note, but I could tell he felt like I had ripped the already-shaking ground out from under him. But I couldn’t stop mentally repeating what the Spirit had just whispered moments before, “Don’t steal my glory.”

As is often shared among Christians, “Our ways are not God’s ways.” It’s tempting to find an easier path. It feels better to tangibly do something for a loved one in crisis, rather than stand in the wings merely praying. It’s more comfortable to try doing God’s work for him rather than stand by and watch someone suffer.

Right?

But when we push ahead of God, we steal his glory. Spiritual growth is born in crisis, and if we take away the crisis, we cripple the other person’s ability to see Jesus for who he is.

After all, in the end, do we want people to need Jesus and know he can handle anything, or need us and watch as we fail them every time?

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Our New Year didn’t come in the way I had hoped. Although our plans hadn’t been huge, New Year’s was potentially the last holiday my husband, Peter, and I had before our son, Judah, arrives in early April. Ideas of games, movies, junk food and laughter were all I had thought about for days.

Instead, there were bowls strategically placed between the bathrooms so  I would be prepared any time my nausea hit. Peter militantly checked my blood pressure, managed my new medications, and gently understood when sleeping seemed better than looking at his face. As miserable as I was, I giggled every time Judah kicked my ribs.

Relief was on the horizon, though. My medical team had jumped into action, and as soon as my body adapted to new medications, I’d be okay. Still, I wasn’t focused on Jesus, joy, or Judah. I was adamantly focused on how God hadn’t given me what I wanted for the New Year.

At some point in my pity party, I heard the Spirit whisper to my heart, “Will you sing me a song? Will you bring in the New Year praising me anyway? You’re obviously miserable. Will you actually let me help you refocus? Or would you rather just hear yourself complain?”

The songs started out quite begrudgingly, let me tell you. Honestly, I started singing out of mere obedience. Before I knew it, though, I wasn’t focusing on my discomfort, missed plans, or even my fears over my health or the health of our son. I was just singing to the Man who first called me Beloved. My thirty-minute, possibly-off-tune worship session ended in joy simply because God had shifted my perspective from myself to Him.

I’m fairly certain we’re all realizing that the strike of midnight on January 1st didn’t make our lives a bed of roses. As Christ has continually challenged me, I extend that same challenge to you: When your heart is filled with what you don’t have and what you can’t control in this new year, praise God anyway.

Even in times of uncertainty, focusing on our First Love is always the answer to finding freedom and living in joy.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Maybe it’s because Christmas is coming, but lately I’ve found myself checking our credit score more often. It’s almost a compulsion. What if I accidentally forgot to make some payment? What if our credit score drops?

The funny part is that it really doesn’t matter. In the first place, we’re not planning on using our credit card for any Christmas shopping we can’t pay back at the end of the month. In the second place, I hear that a credit score only makes a difference if you’re trying to borrow money, which we have no plans to do.

So why do I have to keep checking that score? Basically, because I have a competitive spirit. It’s so intense, I even have to compete against myself! Is my number better than it was last month? I just have to check!

It’s not just credit scores which compel me to use math to one-up myself. It’s the number of steps I take a day. It’s how many leftovers are in serving-sized containers in our freezer in case we get Covid and are quarantined with no strength to cook.

Maybe that competitive attitude is what makes me wish Jesus would just give me a neat number by my name, telling me how pleased He is with me this month. Then I could know whether I need to try harder or if maybe I can go easy on myself.

Of course, that sounds extreme, but I wonder how many of us have that mentality deep in our hearts. As long as I can keep my credit score with Jesus in the right number range, I’m okay. He doesn’t oblige us, though. He keeps us on our toes by choosing to relate to us in deep ways that math could never measure.

I’m so grateful this season that he’s not just our scorekeeper—He is God With Us!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I used to think people who talk to their plants were a bit strange. Not any more.

I caught myself talking to my geraniums a few days ago. They’re having a hard time. All summer they thrive and bloom on the deck, enjoying the sun and fresh air. In the winter I bring them into my improvised greenhouse in the garage. They have a grow light, controlled temperature (although colder than they’re used to), and I still water them. But each year, they start looking dejected after the move indoors.

So I felt sorry for them, and as I cut off dead leaves and blooms, I found myself whispering: “I know you weren’t made for this. You were meant for much more. Just hang on through this season, and in due time you’ll be out in the sun where you can truly thrive.”

Then it hit me: God must look at me the same way. I wasn’t made for this world. It is so artificial compared with what He intended when He created us! I picture him watching me struggle along through life in less than ideal circumstances, and I hear him whisper: “Just hang on through this season. When you come home to Me you will truly thrive.”

Of all the things I’m thankful for today, this is the greatest: I can hang on during this season of life on earth because I know greater things are coming. Deeply grateful that I have a future and a hope.

For our God, death is the fulfillment of what He created us for. He will help us hold on until we can bloom in all His glory.

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~Written by Viki Rife

It was just another gray morning in the Midwest, not helped by the prospect of an early morning doctor’s appointment. It had been a rough night, mulling over a number of challenges, disappointments and “what ifs.” As we drove past the lake, the rising sun broke through the clouds and aimed straight for the opposite bank. Suddenly, it felt like the world was transformed. The colors of the trees left us breathless. The whole world now seemed alive and vibrant. It only lasted five minutes, but it was worth stopping and savoring the moment.

Sometimes I forget that my God is light and can see colors and nuances I can’t. Sometimes I feel like I’m trudging along in a gray, dreary world. Then, when I stop creating my own clouds and let His perspective enter my thinking, His light helps me see what is really there, in all its glory.

I keep this picture handy to remind me that what I see isn’t the full story. All it takes to change my view is to open the way for God’s light.

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