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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

~ 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 The Christian flag has been replaced by the rainbow.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 Cassie Rayl

Joy seems to elude me more these days. If I’m blessed enough to truly feel joyful, it tends to fade depending on my circumstances. Fighting for joy never used to be a daily battle, but it’s certainly become one.

“What am I doing wrong, Jesus? What has changed? Why is joy so hard?” I prayed in desperation one day. Honestly, I was at the end of my rope, and didn’t expect an answer. Life’s stresses seemed too large, too real, and too time-consuming to truly fix my “joy problem.”

But God has a way of taking my skepticism like a holy challenge to show up when I least expect Him to do so. As I sat pondering the question I had just thrown at the Heavens, I heard the Spirit whisper to my heart, “You’re looking for the wrong thing, Child. You’re looking to be fulfilled in yourself. Look for fulfillment in Me.

“Instead of looking for how a circumstance benefits or impacts you, look for how it brings glory to Me. Learn to look at everything in your life as a way to showcase My love to the world, rather than thinking every scenario I allow is all about you.

“You will only secure joy in your heart when you realize I am the cause of your joy, and I never change. Cling to Me—rather than yourself—in all things. See what happens. Joy gets easier to hold onto that way.”

I’m still learning what this means. But I’ve come to the point of understanding that my joy comes from the Lord, which means to embody joy, I must focus on the Joy Giver above all else. The more I focus on Him, the deeper my joy becomes no matter what my life entails.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

For several years I’ve been asking God, “Where is the thrill I used to get when I read my Bible?” I used to be like a hummingbird, savoring all the rich nectar of each passage as I held myself poised in the air by the rapid beat of my wings. I rejoiced in the bright colors and rich promises as I read through God’s Word. My stomach fluttered like I was on a roller coaster.

Now, I read chapter after chapter before the tickle in my stomach happens, if it happens at all. The colors of familiar passages don’t attract me like they used to. So my question to God about losing the thrill of reading Scripture has come from a deep concern that I’m losing my first love.

God is so gracious in answering! He pointed out an eagle to me on a recent outing. “Do you see how that eagle just spreads out her wings and relaxes? She lets the wind carry her. She sees more than just a few flowers. She has the whole vista: mountains and streams and trees, all flowing together.

“When you read your Bible now, you aren’t marveling in the same way in anticipation of the rich promises I’ve made. You have experienced My answers in so many ways that instead you are hearing the Spirit gently prodding, ‘Remember when you saw Me do that?’ Part of the thrill you felt was tied to your efforts to find Me. Now your faith has developed confidence that gives you wings to soar!”

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

Whose favorite household item is a sponge? Probably no one’s. That little yellow rectangle is a reminder of all the cleaning to be done, not to mention all the dishes in the sink! We use sponges for a while, then throw them out without thinking twice. What if I told you there is a deep theological lesson in a sponge?

The purpose of a sponge is to absorb and transport water. Sounds simple enough. Soak up. Pour out. It follows, then, that a sponge full of water is only serving half its purpose. In fact, if left full between uses, the sponge starts to harbor bacteria. On the other hand, a sponge out of water for too long becomes dry, hard, and useless.

The Christian life is like that sponge. We need to absorb living water. The water of the Word gives us life. But, like the sponge, if we stay in the water we aren’t serving our purpose. We are at risk of harboring pride. We are called to share the Living Water with the dry, dirty, hurting world around us. But, if we do not return to the source of Living Water we burn out. Doing for God begins to take priority over being with God. We need to learn the balance.

I call this the “Soak up—Pour out” rule. While some seasons may require us to hold water as we survive the heat of this life, those times are exceptions to the “Soak up–Pour out” rule.

I encourage you today to set up two columns. Under the heading “Soak Up,” list the ways you absorb living water throughout the week – quiet time with the Lord, church services, Bible studies, life-giving conversations with a friend, etc. Then list the areas where you are pouring out under the second column. Things like work, taking care of family, and volunteering at church will fill up the “Pour Out” column. The result doesn’t have to be a perfect perfectly equal columns, but we should be looking for a healthy balance.

If you are feeling dry today—go to the Source and spend some time soaking up living water!

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

We had planned to mourn our daughter’s death in private. At 26-weeks gestation, our perfectly-healthy baby girl stopped breathing, and we were told the operation to deliver her would take mere minutes, leaving us with the hearts of parents, but no child to raise. We knew we’d mourn her passing, but we planned to do it alone.

That’s what we planned, but that’s not what happened.

We ended up telling our pastoral teammates about Faithe’s death, thinking they would be the only ones to actively carry our burden. Standing in their kitchen, we wept together as our friends promised to carry us through the heartbreak to the best of their abilities. That was the last thing I consciously remember.

The next thing I knew, I woke up in a hospital an hour away from home, hooked up to an IV drip, unable to speak, barely able to move, and still very, very pregnant. As I searched the hospital room for my husband, I made eye contact with him and a handful of other church members who had taken it upon themselves to actively stand with Peter and I as we said goodbye to our daughter. It took one phone call, but my hospital room was never empty. We were never alone.

What was supposed to be an afternoon of pain was actually a five-day journey fighting for my life as I succumbed to preeclampsia and my body refused to admit Faithe had passed away. Anytime I woke up from my magnesium-induced partial paralysis, my husband was being loved on, fed, and comforted by our church family as he vigilantly watched my vitals. My Christ-family gently walked Peter and I through the implications of Faithe’s death and the possibility of my own. At night, they took turns sitting by my bedside, while the others camped out in the hospital hallways and on guest couches.

A nurse leaned over my bedside one afternoon while I was lucid and whispered through tears, “These people aren’t your family, but they obviously love you and they keep talking about Jesus. I’ve never seen a family act more like a unit than you all, and it doesn’t make sense. I thought the Church had lost its effectiveness a long time ago. It’s so hard watching you grieve, but it’s so powerful, too.”

Our grief is still tender and raw, but the death of our daughter taught us one very clear lifelong lesson: Our faith in Jesus may be made up of an individual choice to follow Him, but it is kept alive because we stick together with other believers. Our daughter’s death made us unbelievably weak—in many ways, we still are—and yet our church Body held us together even when our grief made it impossible to hold them in return.

That’s what the Church is supposed to be, and that is what we need to become.

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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 Tabby McMonagle

“For God’s sake, come undone,” said no one ever. But what if it is exactly what we need to do in order to see God? Personally, I have been trying to hold it together for years now. Not until this past year, when I have come completely undone, have I been able to surrender the control I thought I had.

Growing up I felt like the message I heard was, “Keep it together. Be strong. You’ll figure it out. Keep trying.” All good ideas, but none of them encouraged me to rely on anyone but myself. If I could will it, I could do it.

What a different reality I face today than what I was prepared for! Things don’t always go my way. My good deeds and hard work don’t always get me what I want.

The biggest disappointment was no matter how much faith I could muster, the answers to my prayers were still in God’s hands. They depended on His approval not my persuasion or the faith I brought. In fact, I learned my faith is a gift from God; nothing I do can get me more of it.

How I want to grasp at control. I want to know what happens next. The unknown of my circumstances has me at my wits’ end. My mind, my body; all of it is undone. I told a friend I could probably walk on water, I feel so weak. The Bible says when we are weak He is strong. In the very depths of my heart, the despair I have in understanding I have no control over anything in my life, or in anyone else’s, has me to the very end of myself. I have to put God as my only hope.

When we take life, and all it has to offer, and break it down, the only thing that matters is saving souls for Christ. It has nothing to do with our moment in history but it has everything to do with God’s plans. It is then we realize that we need to come undone. So, for God’s sake, come undone. We need a new perspective. We need God’s perspective.

I am not there yet. I am still sifting through the ashes of what is left of my control issues. I don’t want to look for anything to salvage; I want only to move forward with God’s help. I want to rely on Him; not what I have to offer but what He can do with me as I am. I don’t want to hear, “For God’s sake, keep it together.” For God’s sake, I pray I come undone.

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