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Archive for the ‘Comfortable’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

When introducing myself, I struggled giving my name first to a new acquaintance. Whether it was a peer, teacher, or a friend of my family, I couldn’t bring myself to give them my name. First, they needed to know what was wrong with me so they could decide whether they liked me or not. “Hello, I’m Jim,” was often answered with, “Hi. I have cerebral palsy.” After perceiving their shock and confusion, I’d mutter, “Oh, um, my name’s Cass. Nice to meet you.”

I wasn’t shy—far from it! Rather, my disability had garnered enough shame for me, I felt as if it was all I had to offer someone else. The memory makes me cringe now, but when I was younger, there wasn’t much which could convince me my weaknesses weren’t my identity.

Too often, I think we approach God in much the same way. He opens his arms to greet us with reconciliation and love, and instead of accepting his grace, we respond, “Yes, but remember what I’ve done wrong?” What would happen if we actually believed our hope and identity was in Jesus, and not in the memory of our mistakes?

How would it change our lives if we truly trusted God when he promises to make beauty out of our ashes?

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Where do we go when we’re a mess? The prodigal son of Luke 15 went from having a lifetime supply of resources to absolutely nothing. He was so impoverished he would have gladly eaten the slops he fed his employer’s swine. Verse 17 quotes him saying, “…I’m dying here of hunger!”

People who find themselves that desperate probably don’t have the ability to conjure up enough soap and water for a shower, much less clean up their lives . Despite the mess the son had made of both his inheritance and his personal health, he went back to his father.

This chapter is often used as a story of a compassionate father (Jehovah), who gladly receives his prodigal son when he decides to return. A slightly less-common approach to this story is to focus on the way the son returned. He came back to his father despite the fact he had nothing, was as physically gross as the pigs he ate with, and had nothing of value to offer in exchange for restoration and forgiveness.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt your Heavenly Father calling you to return to him, and your quick inventory of your life is the hopeless equivalent of pigs’ slop? It’s easy to tell ourselves we’ll come back when we have something of value, but before we know it, we give up trying because we never feel like we have enough.

May we all take our cues from the prodigal son. May we come back anyway. The truth is, God doesn’t see our worthlessness. He just sees his child, and honors the value of our return—mess and all.

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

Have you have ever seen salmon during spawning season? Thousands of salmon struggle against the current to reach their destination of calm pools where they can lay their eggs. In their pursuit of survival they end up fighting against their own kind.

This past year I have felt like a salmon. First it was masks or no masks, then it was this president or that president, and now it is vaccine or no vaccine. I always admired salmon for their strength and determination, but I never wanted to be one.

I am not alone in all the mixed feelings and thoughts swirling around from the impact of the last year. People talk about a new normal, but aren’t we all reaching for the old one? Although we may get back to our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly trips, will relationships will get back to the old normal?

I want to be human again. I want to have a simple conversation without conflicting opinions on this or that. I want to talk about what is important like how are you, and how are you managing it? Because that is the real matter at hand.

The last year has unveiled diversity of thought. I find it hard to rest easy re-emerging into friendships because we are no longer focused on common ground. I don’t want to be so shallow as to cut off relationships of those who think differently than myself. I love my people with an undying passion.

The truth is we are called to be like salmon. We are called to go against the flow of this world. We are not; however, called to fight amongst ourselves.

Lord, help us keep our eyes on you through the strong currents.

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~ 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

When our church opened up again after the shutdown, a friend who was going through a rough time asked to come with me. Naturally I said “yes,” but wondered how I would juggle my usual Sunday interactions while keeping her from feeling abandoned in this strange, socially-distanced world.

Sure enough, we had just found a seat when someone asked me to help them find something. That mission accomplished, I was just heading back to sit down when someone stopped me to ask a question. Others joined the conversation and it was important enough I didn’t feel I could leave.

You know how awkward it is, though, to be left alone in a strange place with a bunch of people you don’t know. Every minute seems like an hour! You’re not sure what to do with your eyes, how to not find yourself staring at people as they pass by, etc. I was gone for over ten minutes!

There was no need to worry. What I love most about our church is that we truly act like family. Each time I glanced over to see how my friend was doing, someone had stopped to talk to her and get acquainted. Probably at least five people engaged her in conversation during that time.

When I sat down, my friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I feel so welcome here!” As the service began, I found myself gratefully worshipping the God who brought my brothers and sisters together at our church. They saw my friend was alone and went out of their way to help. I don’t have to minister to people by myself. They didn’t act as if she was just my responsibility—they took it upon themselves.

They have my back!

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Adobe stock photo

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

When you grow up flying in “Alaskan Bush planes,” you have two reactions to a village runway landing. You’ve either experienced it so many times, you’re annoyed that your nap is over when you land. Or, you’re still new at the experience and you’re on edge because you realize a village runway can feel more like a driveway!

As a missionary kid in Alaska, I was more often than not the first type of frequent flier. Turbulence in a small airplane made me feel at home and often made me fall asleep. But that wasn’t the case the first time I headed out to Kako, Alaska. The pilot, Joel, spoke over the headset, “It’s windy, if we don’t descend correctly the first time, we’ll be in trouble. I’ll circle a few times to see if there’s a pocket of calm we can trust.”

No one had to ask what “trouble” meant. At the end of the alarmingly short runway was an abrupt stop at the foot of a mountain. I didn’t need to have my pilot’s license to know that metal, aviator gas, and several humans do not collide peacefully with mountains. I didn’t finish my nap that trip. I was completely awake to see this whole experience from beginning to end!

Joel only had to circle twice before he found what he was looking for, descended, and taxied us to the end of the runway seamlessly. He seemed relaxed, but those of us who had never been to Kako were somewhat tense! He’d trained for this type of terrain, though. Those of us on the plane were never in danger because our pilot knew what to do.

Life can be much the same way. When we see the next event or experience gearing up, it’s easy to forget we aren’t in the cockpit of life—Jesus is. We may feel inadequate to handle the trouble, uncertainties or curveballs God allows, but we’re not the ones in control—He is.

The challenge isn’t whether we can accomplish the impossible; it’s whether we’re willing to keep our eyes on him despite the wind.

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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

Our yard has two bluebird houses; at least, that’s what they are supposed to be.

I’m pretty sure no one can see an Eastern Bluebird without falling in love with these small, colorful birds. When I first moved to Indiana, they had all but disappeared from our area. Thanks to the efforts of concerned citizens and the Department of Natural Resources, we learned that providing the right kind of housing could make it possible for them to return.

So we have two houses with all the specifications. There’s one problem: sparrows also like the same kind of facilities, and they are much more aggressive than the happy little bluebirds.

Sparrows took over the first house this spring. We set up another, armed with the information that a certain kind of halogenic streamer placed near the birdhouse would deter the sparrows but not the bluebirds. It worked! A cheery little bluebird couple started making its home in the second house.

Then one day I came home to find sparrows trying to get into the second house. A piece of farm equipment had come by and apparently torn the streamer off and carried it away. We never found it.

I rushed around trying to find a substitute as the bluebirds watched from the safety of a high branch of the nearby apple tree. Finally, I was able to find another streamer and attach it. The sparrows stopped trying to get in.

But it was too late. The bluebirds had given up. All summer that second house stood empty, with a half-finished nest bearing witness to the bluebirds’ defeat.

I keep asking myself: Why didn’t they try again? Why didn’t they stick around a bit longer to see the sparrows back off? And the one that makes me the saddest: Did they give up because they saw me by their house? Did they choose not to trust me?

It’s convicting because I’ve done something similar with God most of my life. I give up too soon. I assume the bullies in the world will always get their way. And when God steps into the picture, I assume he’s a threat instead of a Helper.

Those two bluebird houses are a stark reminder of what happens when I don’t trust my God. What a crucial lesson!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

When the toilet paper shortage hit earlier this year, it brought back the long-forgotten memory of an experience I had while part of a missions team in college. The country we were in was experiencing great political turmoil, accompanied with economic scarcity. Our team was staying in an unused Bible institute dorm and fending for ourselves.

There was no supermarket, only the meat market, produce stand, drugstore, general merchandise store, etc. The lines were long at each.
We decided to divide and conquer. Each would go to a different place to purchase what we needed for the next few days. I was assigned to get toilet paper and coffee.

The line was clear down the sidewalk. I stood in a windy drizzle for about an hour before I was finally able to enter the comparative warmth of the small store. When my turn came to be waited on, I learned there was no coffee available, and the sale of toilet paper was limited to one per customer. It wasn’t a double roll, either. It was the sorriest, thinnest, roughest toilet paper ever!

You can imagine how carefully our team of six stewarded that priceless roll. We prayed for a miracle comparable to the little boy’s loaves and fishes that fed 5,000. And amazingly, it was enough!

I’ve thought about the experience often this year. Abundance and scarcity are words that are defined based more on our expectations than on some mathematical equation. What one person sees as scarcity (one package with eight rolls of TP) would have seemed like abundance to our team.

I’ve been convicted as I’ve realized I sometimes treat God as if he weren’t giving me enough. I have a mentality of scarcity because I expect much more than what he knows I need right now. I want to stockpile, not just physical resources, but spiritual and emotional ones as well. I want to be able to see for myself that I will have everything I might need.

A part of the Jewish Passover is singing Dayenu. This song of gratitude recounts the ways God led them out of Egypt and settled them in the Promised Land. Its words point out that even if he had only done one of his gracious acts, it would have been enough. That’s the spirit we need to live with: acknowledging that God doesn’t owe us anything and whatever he does do for us is enough. With that mentality, we can truly acknowledge that no matter what happens, he is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

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