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~ Written by Samantha Freds

Have you ever felt completely out of place? Maybe you were surrounded by people so different it felt like you were suddenly on another planet. Or maybe, even without being able to put your finger on why, you felt alone in a crowd.

I remember that feeling as a fourth grader, new to a small central school in New York. There was a popular show on Nickelodeon at the time called Rocket Power. Sam, the new kid in the show, got the nickname “Squid” because he was so different from the other kids. Naturally, since my name was Sam and I was the new kid in town, I was also blessed with this nickname. I was an alien in new territory.

I recall a similar feeling when I first moved to Indiana for college. I was 500 miles from home, and away from everyone I knew and felt comfortable around. Sure, I was still in the United States, but everything felt different.

In both these cases, the newness eventually wore off and a new normal was established. Unfortunately, I now have little tolerance for that out-of-place feeling. But as Christ-followers, we are called to maintain our alien identity. This world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven, living on mission here on earth. It’s time we stopped trying to blend in.

Can you name a single alien movie where the vast majority of the people see the alien as normal? Sometimes there are a handful who see past the obvious physical differences. In those rare cases, more often than not it’s a child who befriends the weirdo (childlike faith, I guess). Otherwise, the aliens are rejected or even feared for their differences.

Jesus warned his disciples in John 15:18-19: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

Why then are we so tempted to fit in? Let’s boldly accept our call to continue Jesus’s mission on this earth, willingly claiming our identity as aliens in this world even if it means we don’t fit in.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Do you think it’s okay that my Jesus isn’t White?” The question startled me, but not because I thought her question was out of line. When I asked her to tell me more, my friend fought back tears as she explained what she meant.

“I’ve been taught the Bible all my life. I have a theology degree. But the Jesus I see in all the books is White. When I think of Jesus, His skin isn’t white, He’s not afraid of dancing, and He speaks my Native language. Do you think that’s wrong?”

Her struggle to understand isn’t rare. But as I thought back through the Gospels, I saw one very strong correlation. Whomever Jesus was sitting with at the time, He found common ground. To the fisherman, He became a fisherman. To the leper, He allowed Himself to be touched so the leper felt accepted. With the Rabbi, He shared common knowledge. To the uneducated, He simply showed them love and reminded them of their worth.

Jesus is the God Who fully commits Himself to love and join together with all people and all cultures. How beautiful to be reminded that God unites us within our differences—even our different cultures—rather than despite them.

May we allow ourselves to learn from each other’s different perspectives of Jesus!

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~Written by Erin Shuler

Over the past month, I have gone through many transitions and big life changes. Between quitting my job, planning a wedding, and moving across the world to Uganda, two simple words—let go—have been following me around a lot lately. Several weeks ago, I started having anxiety attacks. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, but not to a point of being crippled by fear or sobbing uncontrollably. The attacks came out of nowhere, and I had no defense for them.

Letting go didn’t feel possible. Right before I moved, a friend suggested that I should “let go.” God was in control. I finally realized there was nothing I could do about the circumstances themselves, but I could change how I responded to them. After that, when anxiety hit, I started praying through the attacks. I came out on the other side of an attack feeling closer and more connected to God. He was using my fear and my anxiety to draw me closer to himself and all I had to do was let go.

My anxiety wasn’t gone but it wasn’t as severe. As I learn to let go, I am learning to lean on God. As I left the USA and moved to Uganda, I was once again reminded I’m not done learning the lesson of letting go. I was going to be traveling with another family to Uganda, but a few days before our departure, I got a phone call saying circumstances had changed. Because of circumstances out of our control, I would be making the trip by myself. Deep breath. Let go.

I got to the airport and my first flight was delayed, made it just in time to board the next flight and then sat for over an hour as the flight crew was dealing with baggage issues. Sigh. Let go. I made my next connecting flight just to sit on the runway for another hour and a half. Let go. When I finally arrived, I was exhausted and was without my luggage because it didn’t make the connecting flight in Amsterdam. Okay, God! I get it. I need to let go. I’m clearly not in control!

After sleeping through the night and partially through the next day, I sat on the front porch and drank in the stillness and the quiet. I decided to take time to process and do something to calm my anxious thoughts. Flipping through a coloring book, I found a page which read “Let Go” in big bold letters. As I sat coloring and listening to worship music, the same reoccurring phrase played song after song. Can you guess what it was? Let go.

So, I’m sitting here, working on letting go because my God is never going to let go of me.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I love how you work to serve the ‘least of these’ just like Jesus!” I heard that sentiment quite often working with the homeless community. There was a certain romance people envisioned when observing those of us who ran the shelter. We got to rock babies, love on parents, and see the gratitude on kids’ faces when we provided them new shoes, or a brand new toy. Who wouldn’t love doing that for a living?

What most of our observers didn’t understand was in order to bless the least of these, in many ways, we had to become like them, too. We had to learn how to look at a dumpster and see the treasures. We had to learn why an iPhone was more important than a house. We had to stop expecting them to uphold our moral compass, and had to learn what they determined was right and wrong.

Only when we had done that could we gently nudge our friends to make beneficial changes. It took a lot of work. We were constantly walking the line between compromise and sacrifice.

While working within our homeless community, I learned so much about how gentle Jesus is with those of us who may not see ourselves as the “least of these.” He was willing to become like us to reach us. Although He never sinned, He learned our ways in order to gain our trust.

How is it, then, that we often forget to do that for those we are burdened to love?

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~ 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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~ Written by Viki Rife

I drove in the driveway and a three-year-old shot out of the house like a bolt of lightning. After giving me an intense hug, he started dragging me toward the house.

“Grandma, come see our tomato plant,” he urged as he pulled at my hand. “You know what? Daddy has a new bike,” he added. After about six months of not seeing me, he had a lot to show. He barely stopped to breathe as he took me on a whirlwind tour and described all that had changed in their home since I last visited.

Finally we reached the living room. He led me to one corner, and with a proud flourish of his hand announced, “And look, we have this!”

There in a baby swing was his two-week old brother, who had decided to make his appearance in the world sooner than I was scheduled to fly out. Of all the wonders of new things a three-year-old took pride in, this was the crowning glory.

I’ve thought about that incident often as this has been a rough year of losing loved ones. I draw great comfort from imagining them exploring heaven, rejoicing constantly in discovering the greatness of God in ways that cause them to fall before Him in worship again and again. In my mind, I picture them sharing their joy with me as I arrive, and delightedly announcing, “And look, we have Jesus!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

It started when I went back to a town I had lived in during high school and decided to track down a favorite teacher. She welcomed me warmly and led me through the living room into her “sitting room.” My jaw dropped. The huge room was a floor-to-ceiling library, with a curving stair leading to a reading loft high up among the books. I think it was inspired by the library in the 1964 film “My Fair Lady.”

A reading addict like me has trouble resisting the temptation to ignore everything else and start browsing the shelves. Even as we chatted, I found my eyes wandering. What amazing opportunities were tucked along those walls! I wouldn’t even know where to start.

That memory shows me such a picture of our relationship with God. Opening His Word is like being let loose in a library full of rich treasures. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. There is so much to know about Him that we couldn’t possibly comprehend it all. We might choose to explore one aspect of Him one day, or for a month, then we check out other subjects about Him that expand our understanding of Him even more.

Yes, at times relationship with an all-knowing God can seem overwhelming. But the more we explore, the more we discover of His amazing character and how He wants to speak to our hearts.

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