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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I knew I could have done better. I walked off the stage, mentally chiding myself for choosing worship songs which had been played so often I could lead them in my sleep.

There’s a theory among worship leaders that if a song is more than five years old, it’s inadvisable to use it in worship sets anymore. The average copyright year of the songs we sang this particular Sunday had been 2002.

That fact alone bothered me more than it should have. I heard the enemy whisper, “You aren’t effective anymore. Stop trying. You’re failing.” I spent the rest of the service mentally fighting lies with Biblical truth, but peace still felt unobtainable.

As the service ended, a friend tapped me on the shoulder. With tears in her eyes, she explained how one of the songs—one of the oldest, in fact!—had been exactly what she needed to hear. She took it as confirmation that God was with her in her current struggles.

I heard God whisper to my heart, “It’s never about you, your leadership ideas or your theories, Child. It’s about being willing to let Me color outside the lines of your expectations in order to bring glory to Myself.

“Remember, I can use anything; even the things you consider ineffective.”

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~Written by Samantha Freds

I don’t cry easily, but there is one thing that inevitably brings me to tears: a soldier’s homecoming. The videos are everywhere this time of year. Whether it happens at a football game, a school event or the front door, military men and women reunited with their families gets me every single time.

Perhaps that’s because I know the feeling.

“Sami! Wake up, Daddy’s here!” My brother tried to shake me awake. “You better not be joking,” I groggily replied, afraid to get my hopes up. We hadn’t seen Dad for months and we were not planning to see him that weekend, either. He was stationed in Florida at the time and we were visiting Grandma in Connecticut.

Dad had served twenty-one years in the Air Force before becoming a pastor. He was still in the Air Force Reserves while pastoring a small congregation in New York. He put thousands of miles on the car traveling from New York to Massachusetts, where he was stationed, to fulfill both duties. But after September 11th he was called up to active duty. That’s what eventually sent him to Florida.

My mom, brother and I were scheduled to see Dad around Thanksgiving. Our plane tickets were purchased and the countdown had begun. Instead, that early morning in Connecticut, our family had our own soldier’s homecoming moment. There’s no video, but I don’t think any of us need one to remember it.

Dad had been deactivated early and drove through the night to see us. Although he would continue traveling from New York to Massachusetts until his reserve time was complete, we wouldn’t be separated for months at a time again. I know my mom has never been happier to cancel a trip to sunny Florida! And, thanks to an inner ear infection that hit me at the perfect time, our plane tickets were refunded. God’s blessing in disguise!

I can relate to the sacrifice of our military men and women from a child’s perspective and I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I praise God often that my dad came home.

To all the veterans and their families: Thank you for your sacrifice and service.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

It’s hard to process the thoughts that have accompanied the much-publicized comment by Dr. John MacArthur when asked what words he associates with women’s Bible study leader Beth Moore. His response was “Go home.” This response has filled me more with grief than with anger. After 50 years in leadership, this brother seems to be working in the opposite direction from Christ’s prayer that His followers would love each other and be united as the Godhead is.

Some of my concerns include:

1. I believe most confidently that God has called me to help women and girls deepen their understanding of and obedience to Christ. Why else would Titus 2:3-5 instruct that the older women should be taught to train the younger women? The clear call to show them how to love their husbands and children requires a rich understanding of doctrinal truth in order to learn to love appropriately. It makes no sense to try in any way to restrict women from immersing themselves, both brain and heart, in exploring God’s Word to increase their understanding of Him.

2. Nothing healthy is accomplished for Christ when a believer shows disdain for another believer. It may be possible that MacArthur has concluded that she is not a believer, but even in that case, he has demonstrated public contempt for another human being created in God’s image. Believers and non-believers alike are only confused and frustrated with that kind of behavior from a well-known leader.

3. MacArthur seems to assume that it would be impossible for God to ever raise up a woman like Deborah again. He apparently has concluded he knows God’s rules and can discredit the calling of anyone who doesn’t follow those rules. It’s similar to the smug attitude that led the Pharisees to reject Jesus, whom they concluded was breaking God’s laws.

4. In this era of people viewing Christians as hateful and intolerant, John MacArthur has unfortunately proved their point in a matter that belies even the beliefs of other Christians. The rest of Titus 2:3-5 talks about the importance of women’s behavior not maligning the Word of God, but I believe men, too, can cause God’s Word to be maligned.

While I don’t claim to be a Beth Moore groupie, I am very appreciative of her gracious response. She reminded all of us that her job is to do what God has called her to do. Just because another member of the body of Christ says, essentially, that our ministry is worthless does not mean God sees us that way.

My greatest wish is that those who have varying views on the role of women would not consider it their job to prevent women from following God’s call. Rather, church leaders should invest their energies in helping each woman God has called them to shepherd discover her role in God’s great plan for humanity.

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~Written by Viki Rife

If you haven’t yet seen Overcomer, I don’t want to spoil it for you. But for me personally, the most challenging part of the movie is when John Harrison stops in to visit Thomas Hill. Hill observes, “You said you would pray for me. Did you?” Harrison has to admit he didn’t.

Many years ago I made a commitment to always follow through after telling someone I would pray for them. You know what? It’s really hard to do! When your own life is swirling with unexpected issues, and when there are many people you run into who need prayer, it’s sometimes hard to find the energy and focus to follow through.

Of course you can stop and pray with them right then and there. That has a lot of value. I’m asking the Lord, however, to give me the courage and persistence to pray more for the people I encounter, and to remind me to pray when I’ve made a promise.

A Christian leader I once had the privilege to interview shared with me that his life goal was to fulfill the instructions of Colossians 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”(NIV) If all God’s people devoted themselves to pray for those around them, how might our world change? May devotion to prayer be the deepest longing of our hearts.

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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!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Curiously looking for information on the Third Temple project being discussed in Israel, I stumbled across a Jewish discussion forum. The debate involved the question of whether or not animal sacrifices would be a part of the new Temple. Many argued that animal sacrifices were cruel, bloody, disgusting, barbaric, and unthinkable; they didn’t belong in this enlightened age. Others added reminders that such sacrifices were a law of Jehovah himself given to Moses, so they were still necessary.

A participant in the discussion then made a comment that gripped my heart. He said, “I think that when the Messiah comes, as great as he’s supposed to be, he’ll have the intelligence to come up with some ingenious plan for eliminating the animal sacrifices while still satisfying Jehovah’s demands.”

Doesn’t that make your heart ache and rejoice at the same time? My heart aches because this person is so close to the truth yet does not recognize that the Messiah has already come. But I rejoice because it is such a real-to-life description of what Jesus did. He did indeed come up with an ingenious plan—to sacrifice Himself to satisfy God’s demands.

As we celebrate this holy week, may we be aware of the brilliant solution God provided that frees us from the ugliness of the eternal consequences of our sin.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

At 16 I graduated high school and got a job at a local hospital. One of my responsibilities involved making sure the radiologists had film cassettes loaded with new film.

One afternoon I got a call from a radiologist who was using the portable x-ray machine in the operating room. He needed more cassettes. I was to meet him in the scrub-room to deliver them.

When I walked into the room, my eye caught sight of the steel counter to the left. To my amazement, it contained five or six dead infants in various stages of development. I remember one had black wavy hair. My first thought was, “how could that many stillbirths occur in one day in our small town?” My teenage mind was horrified.

Just then, a nurse came out of the OR. She saw me staring over at the counter and frowned. “I don’t know why people can’t clean up after themselves,” she grumbled. She went over to the counter, grabbed a trash can, and with one quick move swept all the little bodies into it. Then she pulled out the bag and tied it shut.

I remember thinking, “How will the parents know which child is theirs when they’re ready to bury them?” My mind absolutely could not absorb the fact that the recent ruling of Roe vs. Wade had anything to do with it.

I hid the trauma deep inside and never told a soul.

But my heart was left very vulnerable when it comes to baby deaths. I grieve them with an intensity that has always seemed more than what the average person does. When my own granddaughter died in the womb the week before her due date, I was absolutely numb for two months. Something painful was stirring. It took me a while to figure out what it was. It was the memory of those beautiful dead babies.

Finally, as part of grieving my granddaughter, I allowed myself to examine the incident from so long ago and started processing the emotions that surround it. I was eventually able to share that operating room experience with my husband and a few trusted friends. They have been balm to my aching heart.

I thought I had worked through the trauma. Then last month a couple very close to me lost their baby at 25 weeks. The mother was induced, and I waited in the hallway while the baby was delivered. I saw the doctor leave the room, and a few minutes later a nurse came out carrying a tied trash bag.

The memory from that long-ago day hit like a fist to the stomach. I ran to the bathroom to throw up.

At that point I realized that my horror of living in a society that throws away its children is never going to go away. Thankfully, I soon was able to go into the room and see the baby in her father’s arms. She had not been in that bag. Her tiny body was being treated with dignity and respect by her grieving parents. And, in a strange way, I found the scene comforting. Parents should care that much about their child.

We cannot change our society, no matter what laws we pass. New York’s recent legalization of full-term abortion is only a symptom of our disease of devaluing human life. May God’s people go to our knees in prayer for our society, and may we reach out to help people see the God in whose image they’re made!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

As a child, I really disliked the old wooden pews that had a single board across the back. The board was usually too high for my short little body, meaning the board caught me right about at the neck. I had several unpleasant experiences slipping backwards through the pew.

I came to appreciate those pews, however, after I lost my hearing in one ear after an illness. I had always enjoyed sitting by my father and hearing his rich bass voice as he sang. Now I could no longer hear it when he scooted in next to me at the edge of the pew, ready to get up again to preach.

Then one day I leaned hard against that wooden pew back. At the same time, Dad hit a low note and the vibration rumbled throughout my whole body. I realized I could experience the richness of his voice in the middle of the discomfort of that pew back.

The lesson I learned has extended into my spiritual life. When I can’t hear God’s voice, when life gets uncomfortable, the solution is to press harder into Him. Sooner or later, I will feel the richness of His presence.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I understand.” It’s a two-word sentiment meant to comfort and console, but it often doesn’t. When facing heartbreaking trauma, loss, or a new medical hurdle, the last thing you want to hear is, “I understand.” Those words are always uttered in well-intentioned ways, but I’ve caught myself mentally mumbling, “How could you understand?! You have no idea what it’s like to feel pain like this!”

A while back, I asked God to help me learn how to keep my thoughts to myself when sitting with a grieving friend. Instead of looking their grief in the eye and telling them I understand, I’ve started praying, “God, I want to understand, but I don’t. Help them know you bear their pain just as deeply, and your consoling love brings healing once they’re ready for it.”

Most humans don’t grieve well. We are even worse at witnessing the grief of someone they love. But what a breathtaking assurance—we can hand them to the God Who really does understand heartbreak, loss, and trauma! We serve a God who is not afraid to grieve, because He understands it better than any of us could ever imagine.

Isn’t it awe-inspiring to know we serve an all-powerful, all-knowing God who humbles Himself enough to come alongside us in our pain? Isn’t it amazing that when we hear Him whisper to our grieving hearts, “I understand, Child,” He really does?

Oh, the glory of serving a Savior who meets us in our valleys just as easily as He celebrates us on the mountain tops!

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I wish someone would make sure the children were quiet,” she said in exasperation. “This is church, after all.” I smiled at the woman’s complaint. I, too, was raised to believe children were to be seen and not heard — especially while sitting in a pew!

Despite being raised to cringe at noise during a church service, nowadays I can’t help but chuckle at the unabashed squeals, the stage-whispered questions, or unrelenting cries of the youngest generation. They don’t really seem to care what other people think of their behavior. The Bible calls us to have childlike faith. What’s more childlike than making your presence known before Jesus whether you’re laughing, screaming, joyful, scared, confused, or impatient?

Every time I hear the squawk of a kiddo, I’m reminded of Jesus commanding the disciples to let the children come to Him (Mark 10:14). He didn’t specify the children had to be on their best behavior, or in a good mood. He just told them to come—end of story.

What would happen to our faith journeys if we came to Him as uninhibited as children do?

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