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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Where do we go when we’re a mess? The prodigal son of Luke 15 went from having a lifetime supply of resources to absolutely nothing. He was so impoverished he would have gladly eaten the slops he fed his employer’s swine. Verse 17 quotes him saying, “…I’m dying here of hunger!”

People who find themselves that desperate probably don’t have the ability to conjure up enough soap and water for a shower, much less clean up their lives . Despite the mess the son had made of both his inheritance and his personal health, he went back to his father.

This chapter is often used as a story of a compassionate father (Jehovah), who gladly receives his prodigal son when he decides to return. A slightly less-common approach to this story is to focus on the way the son returned. He came back to his father despite the fact he had nothing, was as physically gross as the pigs he ate with, and had nothing of value to offer in exchange for restoration and forgiveness.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt your Heavenly Father calling you to return to him, and your quick inventory of your life is the hopeless equivalent of pigs’ slop? It’s easy to tell ourselves we’ll come back when we have something of value, but before we know it, we give up trying because we never feel like we have enough.

May we all take our cues from the prodigal son. May we come back anyway. The truth is, God doesn’t see our worthlessness. He just sees his child, and honors the value of our return—mess and all.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“My friend Michael Jehrig lives there!” My sister would announce proudly every time we passed the large log cabin on the hill. Whether we were passing the home in the wee hours of the morning or in the middle of the night after a long road trip, we all heard about Michael Jehrig. To my knowledge, I’ve never met the kid. I don’t know what he looks like. After living in the same town for 15 years, I don’t think I even had the smallest desire to meet him. But if I did conjure up the need to meet him, I knew where he lived, thanks to my sister.

Announcing Michael’s residence became a common routine for our entire family. We used the home as a land marker and memory jogger. At some point, I didn’t even notice when I started announcing, “Chelsie’s friend Michael Jehrig lives there,” whether I was with family, friends, or business partners.

In much the same way, I pray talking about Jesus is as common in my rhetoric as talking about Michael Jehrig’s house was to my sister’s. I hope those around me get a kick out of hearing about Jesus with the same amount of excitement every time simply because it’s important. I know that if I ever needed to meet Michael, Chelsie could lead me right to him.

I pray I live in such a way people know I know Jesus and I’ll gladly point them to him every chance I get.

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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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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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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 Cassie Rayl

I  have thick skin when facing personal suffering, but when I have to watch others suffer, I’m easily rattled. As I recently read the latest statistics impacting our globe, I could only pray one thing. “Jesus, what is the purpose of this season?”

I sat in silence as I pondered the question, trying desperately to hear Biblical truth over the roar of global unknowns. At some point, I heard the Spirit whisper, “When you want people to see my power, what do you talk about?”

I immediately realized that, though suffering is hard to experience, it is that same suffering which opens the door for me to talk about Jesus. Throughout my life, in seasons of deep unknowns and seemingly-unending hardship, God’s faithfulness takes the main stage, despite my circumstances.

Maybe this season of nearly-global lockdown is our opportunity, as a united Body of Christ, to collectively proclaim, “He’s been faithful before, and he’ll be faithful again!”

So, how about you? In the decades to come, when talking about this season, what stories will you tell to highlight the God of love whose faithfulness superseded our season of global suffering?

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

There are few things I enjoy more this time of year than puzzles. I love piecing together a beautiful landscape or a colorful scene. I find it relaxing yet challenging. I relish the satisfaction of tracking down that one piece I have been looking for. Recently, I’ve discovered what I believe to be a near-perfect combination of favorite things: fuzzy socks, a cup of hot coffee, and a puzzle.

My love for puzzles goes back to my childhood. My mom and I used to do them together when the weather forced us to stay inside. It was my mom who taught me proper puzzle strategy. First, you must separate the edge pieces from the middle pieces. Next, you put the outside together so you have a boundary to work within. Then you lay out all the middle pieces and put the box away.

Mom always encouraged me to not look at the picture on the box because she thought that was cheating. I, on the other hand, called it using my resources!

Fortunately, Mom had a very different strategy when it came to life. She encouraged both her kids to return to God’s puzzle box as often as possible. Just like puzzle creators provide a guide, our Creator gave us a guidebook for life. And just like the picture helps direct my efforts when I get stuck working on a certain section of a puzzle, the Bible is the life-giving direction I so desperately need.

I’ve been in a bit of a valley lately – a dry season spiritually. So I write to remind myself of the beauty of the Word of God. I so desperately need it to guide my life!

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

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~ Written by Viki Rife

It’s hard to process the thoughts that have accompanied the much-publicized comment by Dr. John MacArthur when asked what words he associates with women’s Bible study leader Beth Moore. His response was “Go home.” This response has filled me more with grief than with anger. After 50 years in leadership, this brother seems to be working in the opposite direction from Christ’s prayer that His followers would love each other and be united as the Godhead is.

Some of my concerns include:

1. I believe most confidently that God has called me to help women and girls deepen their understanding of and obedience to Christ. Why else would Titus 2:3-5 instruct that the older women should be taught to train the younger women? The clear call to show them how to love their husbands and children requires a rich understanding of doctrinal truth in order to learn to love appropriately. It makes no sense to try in any way to restrict women from immersing themselves, both brain and heart, in exploring God’s Word to increase their understanding of Him.

2. Nothing healthy is accomplished for Christ when a believer shows disdain for another believer. It may be possible that MacArthur has concluded that she is not a believer, but even in that case, he has demonstrated public contempt for another human being created in God’s image. Believers and non-believers alike are only confused and frustrated with that kind of behavior from a well-known leader.

3. MacArthur seems to assume that it would be impossible for God to ever raise up a woman like Deborah again. He apparently has concluded he knows God’s rules and can discredit the calling of anyone who doesn’t follow those rules. It’s similar to the smug attitude that led the Pharisees to reject Jesus, whom they concluded was breaking God’s laws.

4. In this era of people viewing Christians as hateful and intolerant, John MacArthur has unfortunately proved their point in a matter that belies even the beliefs of other Christians. The rest of Titus 2:3-5 talks about the importance of women’s behavior not maligning the Word of God, but I believe men, too, can cause God’s Word to be maligned.

While I don’t claim to be a Beth Moore groupie, I am very appreciative of her gracious response. She reminded all of us that her job is to do what God has called her to do. Just because another member of the body of Christ says, essentially, that our ministry is worthless does not mean God sees us that way.

My greatest wish is that those who have varying views on the role of women would not consider it their job to prevent women from following God’s call. Rather, church leaders should invest their energies in helping each woman God has called them to shepherd discover her role in God’s great plan for humanity.

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