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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Our culture has adopted the mantra, “I am enough” as a way to achieve self affirmation. However as Christ followers, we must remember there’s a difference between self affirmation and living as if we don’t need God. I am not enough—you are not enough—but Jesus is.

I’m not enough. I see this small but heavy fact in every aspect of my life; as a believer, wife, mother, friend, and leader. Even in the most mundane tasks, I often look back on my actions and think, “I didn’t do enough. I could have done that better.” It’s taken me nearly three decades—and I’m still a work in progress—to not cry every time I admit I’ve fallen short in some way.

The fact is when I fall short, I’m reminded of my need for Jesus. My need for Jesus reminds me on a daily basis that I was created for him—he was not created for me. I never want to be enough because then my life won’t be a testimony to the power of Jesus and the strength of his love and grace.

I challenge each of us to focus on Jesus when we need a little extra affirmation. To run to the Bible and the Savior’s grace before clinging to a well-spun lie. Romans 3:23 says we have all fallen short—none of us are enough. And yet within that truth is the most beautiful reality we often forget on a daily basis. Jesus is not grouped into that verse. He has never fallen short, and he never will.

We might not be enough this side of heaven, but Jesus is, and he is all ours. We need only to let him transform us.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I found myself apologizing to God the other day during my devotions. It went something like this, “I’m sorry, God, that I’m such a poor pray-er. My prayers are weak and wimpy because I just can’t seem to figure out how to pray the powerful kind that move mountains.”

His response wasn’t actually audible, but it might as well have been: “Of course you can’t pray powerful prayers. No one does. What makes prayer powerful is that it comes before Me. The smallest prayer in the hands of Almighty God unleashes a power you can’t even begin to understand.”

My thoughts went to David’s description of God’s response to his prayer in Psalm 18, specifically:

In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.

I’ve always thought David must have been a great pray-er, but that wasn’t the key to his success. The real key is that he understood to whom he was praying. May we, God’s people, pray with full awareness that no prayer is weak when prayed to such a mighty God.

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~ 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

“We won’t have enough.” I cringed as I muttered the words, my eyes begging the calculator to do the math differently. Our car had just been totaled, and as newlyweds neck-deep in school loans, the prices to repair or replace the car were equally impossible. Peter and I had a second car, but it was one car ride away from breaking down itself.

I choked on my prayers that night. I accusatorially repeated myself to God as I bemoaned what I felt were our impossible circumstances. “We don’t have enough for this, Lord. With school loans, hospital bills, rent, and groceries, the last thing we need is to buy another car. You promised you’d provide for us, but honestly? I’m not seeing it.” He’s been faithful before, he’ll be faithful this time, I mentally chided myself. You’ve gotta trust he knows what he’s doing.

The next day, friends of ours offered to loan us their vehicle while we made a decision on how to best handle our car troubles. My worries were only pacified for a few hours as I started trying to plan ahead. Thank you for this mercy, Lord, but we can’t keep this car forever. What’s going to happen when we have to give it back?

God led me to 2 Corinthians 9:8, which says, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” (NLT). We’ll always have everything we need? If that were true, why hadn’t God provided us with a car?

I realized God and I had two very different definitions of providing for our needs. I wanted Him to grant us a car of our own so that we could be more self-sufficient and comfortable. He knew we needed a car, and we were given a car to use, but we still needed to depend on him for tomorrow’s unknowns. Through that season, we learned His faithfulness doesn’t make us comfortable. God’s faithfulness makes us long for him even more. Hallelujah, even when it takes us out of our comfort zone, his faithfulness never fails!

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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

She wasn’t really my aunt, but all my childhood I called her Aunt Bertha, a common courtesy for missionaries who worked together. Her apartment was always open to my family. She especially took an interest in me. When I was young and fighting health problems, our family traveled to her city and stayed with her for treatments and my surgery. When there were complications with the surgery, she was like a second mother to me, letting my mother get some rest. I trusted her with all my heart.

When we moved to her city several years later, I would stay at her house when my parents had to travel so I wouldn’t miss school. We’d ride our bikes (she never drove a car) to market and to care for her ministry responsibilities. The conversations during those bike rides were deep and inspired me in ministry.

Aunt Bertha had a problem, though. Her rheumatoid arthritis was progressing, and she was finally told she needed to leave the mission field. She returned to the US, moving in with her brother and family.

I was fifteen when my family had a chance to visit her. She lay engulfed in a hospital-type bed that seemed to fill the room. My heart was broken, and in my teenage awkwardness I couldn’t really converse with her. My parents were puzzled by my lack of engagement.

The problem was, at that moment I became very angry with God. Here was this precious woman who had done so much for His kingdom, lying helpless! Is this how He rewarded His faithful ones?

In the decades that followed, I couldn’t think of her without feelings of pain and anger. God just didn’t make sense. I served him, but there was an underlying root of distrust.

One day I attended a women’s retreat where the speaker was a missionary to the same country. She shared that before she ever left for the mission field, she had the opportunity to meet a former missionary who was in her last days on earth. She shared that the veteran missionary told her that her disability was the most beautiful thing that had ever happened to her. “The past ten years have been the best of my life!” she told the new recruit. “I have gotten to know God in a way I could never have imagined. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world!”

At that moment, my bitterness melted away. God had taken care of Aunt Bertha in ways my physical eyes could not see. Since then, I’ve watched His faithful ones suffer and seen similar responses. We can see their suffering, but until we experience it ourselves, I don’t think we can ever know how God cares for His own.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Out for a walk during a break at the South Focus Retreat last week, I passed an animal that had been killed on the road. I didn’t think much of it until on the way back, I saw a bald eagle land near it. The
eagle tried to pick up the roadkill, but could only get it about six inches off the ground. The eagle flew less than a foot before it sank to the ground, the meat still in its claws. As I approached, it tried time and time again to fly with its burden.

It reminded me of the conversation I’d had earlier in the week with a friend about Isaiah 40:31, which talks about how those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength and will soar with wings like
eagles.

This eagle certainly wasn’t soaring. Why not? Because it was trying to carry something much too big for it! Does that sound familiar? It sure struck me. God says we will soar with wings like eagles, but even
eagles can’t soar when weighed down like that. Our worries and cares were never meant to be carried by us. God wants us to put our hope in Him so we can truly soar.

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

 If respecting Sean was hard, loving him was harder. From the day we met everything he said was mean, disrespectful, lewd, crude, and rude. He was one of those older gentlemen any decent person would follow around, if only to mutter, “I’m sorry; he shouldn’t have said that” to Sean’s latest victim. There was nothing wrong with Sean; he just didn’t like people.

The only thing he seemed to hate more than people was Jesus Christ. When most of his family came to the Lord, that somehow made his negativity worsen. We all watched the years go by thinking, “Lord, no heart is too hard, but will Sean ever see you?” In our human estimations, it definitely didn’t seem like it!

Just hours before he passed away from a fast-acting illness, the proverbial scales fell from Sean’s eyes, and he begged his family to lead him to the Lord. What victory! Sean would end his harsh life knowing full-well the saving grace and mercy of his savior, Jesus Christ. We all rejoiced him into Heaven, relieved that his fight was over.

Well, almost all of us. A young woman pulled me aside and simply asked, “How can Jesus have mercy on such a horrible man? It seems to me he’s the last person who deserves Christ’s mercy. Sean was evil!”

Although I didn’t share her sentiment, I understood it. How often have I decided Jesus’ limitless mercy was enough to cover my sins, but not the sins of those who left so many wounded? Jesus easily forgives my sins. Things like: gluttony, dishonesty, and pride. But isn’t there a different scale for the “bigger” sins which consigns the sinner in his wretchedness where he deserves to be?

The reality is, we can’t short-change the mercy of God over someone we believe has committed a greater offense. If we do that, we completely change the story of salvation and what makes Jesus different from any other false god.

We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus’ mercy isn’t fair, but it is what makes his love large enough to rescue the world.

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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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