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Archive for the ‘gifts’ Category

He opened the hatch of his truck with a grand flourish. As I walked out to greet him, I chuckled as I tried imagining what deserved such grandeur from my date on the night he was meeting my family.

He piled my arms with Christmas presents before he loaded his own arms with even more. He shrugged comically as he said around the boxes, “I think this is it, but I’ll come back and look in a bit to make sure.”

My family graciously received the Christmas presents from this perfect stranger, but Michael was quick to realize it made all of us—even me—incredibly uncomfortable. Trinkets, games, books, and candy lined a couch as everyone in my family had the same mental thought. What’s the point?

I honestly believed he was doing so much to impress my parents. When we finally had a moment alone, I discovered that wasn’t the case at all. “I assumed you never really experienced a Christmas full of presents as a kid since you were missionaries. I thought every family needed to experience being overloaded with stuff at least once. Based on your reactions, I guess I was wrong.”

Achieving simplicity for Christmas is difficult when you’ve forgotten what it means to truly long for something money can’t buy. As Christmas makes its appearance this year, I’m hearing more and more families confess, “It’s just going to be simple this year—really simple.”

It’s not wrong to lavish our loved ones with gifts and grand memories. However, maybe the simplicity of this Christmas comes at the exact moment we needed to step away from all the “extra” and just focus on Jesus. He doesn’t care about how big or small our gatherings, celebrations, or gift exchanges are.

He simply cares about whether we’re focused on what his love means for our lives, whether or not our Christmas feels “normal.”

Have a Christ-filled Christmas!

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

I witness the most in my powder room. Yes, you read that correctly! It is in that room the walls are plastered with inspirational scriptures and thought-provoking questions about life. I did it more for me, but has been noted by visitors.

One picture says: “What will you choose? Love, Hate; Rejoice, Wallow; Gentle, Harsh; Surrender, Control; Prayer, Anxious; Forgive, Resent; Teach, Condemn; Pause, Rush.”

There are many things during this Covid season which are out of my control. As these things pile up, the weight of them has me feeling out of control! What can I do? Everything is at God’s mercy. I have felt overwhelmed with my feelings, and they have been going crazy with irrational thoughts. I feel out of control—so I am. I feel all is lost—so it is.

We are powerless when it comes to many things. Yet from the beginning of time, choice is the one thing God told us we have.

I have a choice. I can’t control the virus. I can’t control people around me. I can’t control how other people feel and act. I can’t control the decisions made by my leaders. I can’t control what people say.

I can, however,  control how I respond. I can chose humility over pride. I can chose obedience over disobedience. I can chose prayer over anxiety.

I can chose to seek and trust God over my fears and insecurities. I can chose to allow others to be who they are, even if I don’t understand the side of them I am seeing. I can chose love over hate. I can chose to love my enemies rather than condemn them. I can chose to get up and read my bible and seek truth over the lies from the devil. I can chose to praise God when I am feeling empty or full. I can chose gratitude over grumbling.

I can choose grace over judgment. I have a choice! What will you choose?

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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 Cassie Rayl

With seeping sores, old clothes, and maybe even missing limbs, no one wanted to be around them. They were not merely ostracized—they were left for dead. They were not only disliked—they were feared.

Lepers. The worst curse of the day was to be called a leper. No matter your religious belief, if you contracted leprosy, you spent the rest of your life in a colony of other sufferers, begging for death, yet continuing to live. Leprosy stole everything of value from you in a moment’s notice and left you to suffer the consequences.

Luke 17 tells a story of ten such people who met Jesus—the Miracle Maker. The passage tells us the group of lepers saw Jesus “…at a distance.…” Because they expected the same treatment from Jesus as from everyone else, they only dared to yell for the Savior’s assistance, rather than approach him and ask for His touch.

Jesus, being the gracious, merciful Man He is, didn’t need to touch them. He simply spoke over them, telling each to return to the priest, because they were clean. After years and years of agonizing pain, scorn, loneliness, and fear, they immediately obeyed Jesus’ command.

Who wouldn’t have? Well, there was one. One noticed his body healing, took a U-turn, and knelt at Jesus’ feet merely to worship and thank him for the healing. Reuniting with his loved ones could wait; basking in the presence of Jesus couldn’t.

My spirit is always challenged when I read Luke 17. Do I call to Jesus because I want something from him and nothing more? Or do I call to Jesus because I know what he gives me is simply the overflow of Who he is and I’ve learned that being in his presence is enough?

Am I the leper who goes back to Jesus? Or do I run away as soon as I get what I want because I didn’t really want to know him in the first place?

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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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~ Written by Viki Rife

As I picked up my computer bag to pack up at the end of the week, the temptation to just not bother began to take over. The whole week seemed to have been spent on nothing but tiny details, troubleshooting, and unexpected setbacks. It felt like nothing at all had been accomplished.

I’m putting in so much effort and just spinning my wheels, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t even waste my time trying. Nothing I do really has any significance in the long-term.

My computer cord caught a small clear-plastic ball and knocked it off my desk. As I picked it up, I realized I hadn’t really paid attention to it for a long time. It was something I had bought twenty years ago. It had inspired me then. The ball is full of sand, with two halves: One has a perforation that says, “Perseverance moves mountains….” “The other half has holes and reads:” …one grain of sand at a time.” It doesn’t take long to see the sand sift through and form mountains every time I turn it over.

It hit me that twenty years ago, when I bought the desk ornament, I had been feeling the same way. It felt like I was getting nowhere. But now I can look back and see what God has done in those twenty years. Impossible dreams have become reality. Many things that didn’t turn out my way actually turned out better.

All I have to do is give my little grains of sand to God. He’s the one who moves mountains, and each grain does matter.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

The past few weeks have been hard as we’ve watched racial tensions escalate around our country. There are no words to express the range of emotions we are all experiencing. It seems like everyone has ideas about how the situation should be handled.

As we deal with our grief over this broken world, we cannot afford to let our differences of opinion divide us. We need to recognize together that there is only one solution for the injustices we see. Better laws won’t fix the situation. Politicians can’t fix it. Education can’t fix it. Nothing on earth can keep human beings from hating one another. Nothing except the love of Jesus.

I’ve been deeply convicted that before pointing a finger, I need to examine the extent to which I’m going out of my way to show the love of Jesus. Does my “holiness” really lead to God’s righteousness? Through the prophet Isaiah God explained to his people the purpose of the special days of fasting to honor him: “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

The next few verses give hope: “Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry, and he will say ‘Here I am’” (Isaiah 58:8-9a).

As daughters of the King, let’s agree to actively seek ways to worship God with our actions. May they know we are followers of Christ by our love for each other and the world during this difficult time.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

A group of us recently spent time lamenting the things we had lost throughout the quarantine. Jobs we no longer held. Weddings or funerals we couldn’t attend. Trips we couldn’t take. Loved ones we couldn’t hug. I noticed something beautiful develop as we grieved each loss together.

No one chided the men for tearing up. No one told the kids their grief over a closed playground wasn’t important. No one gave immediate solutions to the losses mentioned. We just let each other talk through the things we had to release. Collectively, we sat in companionable acceptance of each grief.

Too often, we try to mask grief by quickly replacing it with things we can celebrate. It’s no secret celebration is easier to stomach than grief. But as I watched my friends come together and support each other, I glimpsed the unity of the Body of Christ come to life.

The pandemic has taken things from all of us, but it has also given us a deeper understanding of what it means to live in unity. As the Lord strengthens our bond with one another in the Body of Christ, may we be a beacon of hope to those who believe grief is something they need to bear alone.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

We had no clue when we set out for the forest preserve that we would get to see bald eagles—three at the same time, to be exact. They were perched in a tree close to where we stood, easily visible. The preserve was trying to reintroduce them, and for several years we had thought from time to time we saw one fly over, but never were close enough to be sure. Now there they were, watching us with their sharp eyes.

Of course, the first thing my husband did was grab his camera and start shooting. We were thrilled at the amazing opportunity that had opened up for us. When we finally left, I was eager to view what must be sensational photos. When I pressed the button to review them, however, a square with a menu showed up over the photo, blocking everything but the edges.

“How do I get that out of here?” I asked my husband. He shrugged. “It’s been doing that for a long time. I can’t figure out what to do about it.”

It was frustrating to wait until we finished several errands and got home so we could download and get a glimpse of the photos. It gave me a resolve to get the camera situation fixed. Nothing I tried worked.

Finally, as a last resort, I sat down and read the manual. Guess what? There was an easy solution for the problem! Why didn’t I do that to begin with? My only answer is that sometimes I’m a lot like a two-year-old who insists, “Me do it!”

I’m afraid the same attitude is at work when I go through times when I can’t see God. I often try everything before I give up and pour over the Manual, His Word. But I find it’s the only way to eliminate what’s blocking His precious image. Only there will I find the answers my soul craves.

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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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