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~ Written by Viki Rife

I couldn’t believe they weren’t twins. I had seen them many times playing together when I drove by. Then they showed up at our after-school SMM. They had lived next door to each other and had played together their whole lives. Now in first grade, they were inseparable.

Then one day one of them told me sorrowfully, “I can’t play with Mary* any more.” She went on to explain that they’d had a fight and her mom told her, “Just stay away from her if that’s how she’s going to be.”

As leaders, we tried to help the girls work things out. But they were too afraid of their mothers’ wrath if they spoke to each other. I hoped it would blow over, but it never did. They wouldn’t interact in SMM, although sometimes I saw wistfulness as one looked furtively at the other. Eventually one of them stopped coming.

That was over 20 years ago. I remember thinking at the time, “I hope the rest of their generation isn’t being raised with that philosophy.”

Sadly, I think they have. All it takes is one non-PC statement and people are writing each other off. It seems like the cultural norm has become, “If your opinion is different from mine, you must be a bad person.” In our society, I am the only one who has a right to free speech. And you will be condemned if you don’t agree.

As God’s people, we are called to be ministers of reconciliation. Our world desperately needs examples of gracious people who know how to bring warring factors together in the presence of our Lord. If there’s one way we can demonstrate Jesus, it’s by knowing how to be agents of change through reconciliation.

*Name changed  

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~ Written by Cindy Shuler

“I can’t do this! I just want to quit!” This is what I told the Lord as I trudged along on the treadmill.

Early in January I had begun a journey toward better physical health. Now I had hit a wall. I hadn’t seen much progress in the past week or two. The treadmill at the hotel where we were staying was quirky and required frequent adjustments. As my frustration grew, I asked the Lord, “What’s the point?”

As if He owed me something, I reminded the Lord I was doing this for Him. He responded in His still, small voice, “You will reap a harvest if you don’t give up.”

Now, I know this is not the context in which the Apostle Paul penned these words in Galatians 6:9. But these words did lead me to reflect on the broader context of my life as I kept putting one foot in front of the other on that treadmill. The message of that passage is perseverance. It applies to all areas of life. In our instant, results-oriented society we often fail to embrace this truth.

I thought about the various things in which I was investing my time and energy. In several areas progress was slow and, at times, seemed to be moving backwards. Still, I felt this nudge to keep going—both on the treadmill and in other areas of ministry.

I finished my workout. I was tired, but grateful for the Spirit’s encouragement. And God, in His loving way, put a smile on my face when I returned home to find the barrier broken and several pounds gone.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” 

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I walked into the guest room and reached for the light switch. My finger encountered a thick powdery substance. I sighed. Here we go again!

In the past month, I have experienced the same thing over and over. I reach for a coffee cup and it feels gritty. I go to use an appliance and it’s gray instead of black.

When we started our remodeling project, I had no idea how very much drywall dust can find its way into every nook and cranny of a house. The sanding part of the project is over, but I keep finding places that need to be cleaned. How in the world did such thick dust get into rooms that were closed off?

I can’t help but compare it to how the Lord lives in us as He remodels us. Sometimes his work in us stirs up more dust, and we realize we need to go in and clean something we thought was safely closed off. It can’t be just a quick job—confess and walk away. It has to involve a thorough check of what we have been doing and how far the wrong motives have gotten. Every crevice needs to be carefully examined.

Slowly, I’m learning to appreciate the remodeling God is doing with my life. And, hopefully, I’m becoming more prepared to cooperate with Him in the job of removing the dust of sin from every corner of my life. 

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~ Written by Viki Rife 

I admit it was rather crazy. Trying to climb a mountain in the dark with only a flashlight can be unnerving. There’s no way to get the big picture of where you’re going. You take what looks like a way around a big boulder only to meet up with an enormous cactus. You have no choice but to turn around and try the other side, with no assurance that it will be any better. Sometimes you end up going sideways, for what seems like an eternity, hoping to eventually break through and get a little bit higher. The whole time you’re hoping your flashlight is enough to keep the mountain lions at bay.

The climb up the mountain from our camp was an annual tradition for our youth group. I remember the alarm going off at 3:30 and the temptation to wimp out and stay in a nice warm bed. I did not like the uncertainties of the climb. But each year I dragged myself out of bed and made the trek. Why? Because of the exhilaration of standing at the summit and watching as the first rays of the sun began to touch the mountains. Their beauty was breathtaking. We would stand until the sun touched the valley below. It truly felt like the top of the world.

My life often reminds me of that climb. I don’t have the big picture of how to get where I’m going. I encounter obstacles that seem insurmountable. Sometimes it feels like I’m not making any progress at all. And I live with the uneasy feeling that something is about to attack.

But someday I’ll reach the summit. When I see the Son, the hardship of the journey will seem insignificant. I’ll be so glad I chose to take this adventure toward knowing God! 

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~ Written by Cindy Bushen

I’ve been told that I’m lacking in the laughter factor; that I take life to seriously. When my daughter suggested that I knit vests for their six chickens for Christmas, I thought, “Ok, that’s funny.” I imagined my son-in-law, who finds humor in the smallest of things, would be delighted with this Christmas gift. He was.

As the evening was winding down at our Christmas gathering, with just a couple friends and family remaining, Mike brought in a chicken to model a vest. The chicken appeared to be quite pleased with her new attire as she strutted around the family room. But true to a chicken’s nature, in just a few minutes there was a mess on the floor to clean up. My daughter headed upstairs to gather some paper towels to take care of the task. Mike disrobed the chicken and perched her on his arm to return her to the coop. Just as he reached the stairs, he stopped to comment to a guest. My daughter was coming down the stairs. Her eyes widened as she proclaimed, “Mike, this chicken is going to lay an egg! Seriously, it’s laying an egg!” Her eyes were three times wider than normal. We all participated in deep hysterical laughter that occurs when the totally unexpected happens.

Psalm 37:4 is a favorite passage of mine. The verse reads, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your hear.” While it may be a stretch to apply it to my chicken story, I believe that God orchestrates turns of events into unexpected humor for our delight.

This passage states that the desires of my heart will be given if I delight in the Lord, but I am certain that God delights even more when observing us enjoy (even to the hysterical point) the opportunities for laughter He creates. Only a close daily walk with the Lord will keep our hearts light and ready to observe what has been placed in our path for the purpose of delighting us. Today, slow your pace, observe the commonplace with an eye for the unexpected. God has a delightful experience just waiting for you.

   

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~ Written by Cassie Harris 

“You give people the ability to offend you. You don’t have to do that.” 

My friend’s words stuck with me throughout my career working in the homeless community. My culture told me I had a right to be offended by a lot of lifestyles, addictions, and belief systems I saw. Even more so, it seemed as if my culture was telling me that when I became offended, no one would blame me if I stopped reaching out to my offender again. 

There’s a problem with that approach, though. Walking away (and never returning) because I was offended by something said or done short-changed my ability to show Christ’s love to a hurting world. So, I had to learn how to cling to my identity in Christ in such a way that when I came up against a disagreement, I could walk away unscathed.  

In today’s day and age, we as Christians need to stop only hanging with the acceptable crowds, the less offensive crowds. With how marginalized Christianity is becoming, if we hide in our comfort zones, our spheres of influence will only become smaller and less powerful. 

Look at Jesus. He stuck to His convictions while surrounded by people who did terrifyingly offensive things. Not once did He not love those He disagreed with. What if we did the same thing? 

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~ Written by Viki Rife 

Riding the subway can be nerve racking for someone as claustrophobic as I am. I really don’t like being underground. One hot summer day, my worst nightmare came true. The subway, crammed full of weary, sweaty people heading home from work, stopped with a tremendous jolt. Those of us who were standing fell like dominoes. I glanced out the window at the tunnel walls, so close I could touch them.  

That familiar feeling of panic began to clutch at my throat. A voice came over the intercom, explaining that a train ahead of us had broken down, and we needed to wait until the tracks were cleared.  

A woman near me began to cry. “We’ll be stranded here for hours,” she said. “We’ll probably have to try to walk out between the train and the tunnel wall.” A cold, clammy sweat crept over me. I was pretty sure I was going to pass out.  
A man near her spoke up, “Oh, they have contingency plans for such things. It shouldn’t be too long.”

At that moment I had a choice. Who would I believe? Who was right? I chose to hang on to the hope the man had expressed. As long as I thought that way, I was fine. But whenever my mind started to go toward what the woman had said, the claustrophobia would kick in and I felt myself panicking.  

Hope is a powerful concept. Jesus calls us to listen to His hope when the world around us is threatening to throw us into a panic. Hope is what gets us through our worst nightmares. 

Hope is what Jesus came to give us. 

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