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Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Two years ago, my mom bought me a lilac bush for our first home. Her gift left me—someone whose thumb is more brown than green—equally elated and terrified. I was even more scared when she told me it wouldn’t bloom for at least the first year. How in the world am I supposed to know if it died or not? I thought in a panic.

The bush was dutifully planted where I would see it every day and remember to water it. I inevitably forgot about it, anyway—just like every other “brown thumb” I know. Occasionally, I’d water the plant faithfully for a few weeks, but overall, I was just too exhausted by life to spend much time nurturing it.

Imagine my surprise when my husband announced one day from his view of our backyard, “Hey! It’s blooming! The lilac bush. It actually has flowers on it!” I had considered the bush just another lost cause, but it had survived multiple years of not-so-great care and bloomed anyway.

Sometimes, it can seem like we all have a spiritual brown thumb. We come before the Throne of Grace and mutter, “This is all I have the energy to offer, Lord.” Seeds of belief and strength have been sown, but it’s hard to keep the faith when our faith feels dormant.

If that’s your experience, take courage. Maybe you’re like my lilac bush, and God’s allowing those seeds of truth to rest hidden in your heart for a time. Just because I couldn’t see the lilac bush’s growth didn’t mean it wasn’t there. If God can make a plant bloom after years of dormancy, he can do the same beautiful transformation in our hearts as well.

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

Have you have ever seen salmon during spawning season? Thousands of salmon struggle against the current to reach their destination of calm pools where they can lay their eggs. In their pursuit of survival they end up fighting against their own kind.

This past year I have felt like a salmon. First it was masks or no masks, then it was this president or that president, and now it is vaccine or no vaccine. I always admired salmon for their strength and determination, but I never wanted to be one.

I am not alone in all the mixed feelings and thoughts swirling around from the impact of the last year. People talk about a new normal, but aren’t we all reaching for the old one? Although we may get back to our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly trips, will relationships will get back to the old normal?

I want to be human again. I want to have a simple conversation without conflicting opinions on this or that. I want to talk about what is important like how are you, and how are you managing it? Because that is the real matter at hand.

The last year has unveiled diversity of thought. I find it hard to rest easy re-emerging into friendships because we are no longer focused on common ground. I don’t want to be so shallow as to cut off relationships of those who think differently than myself. I love my people with an undying passion.

The truth is we are called to be like salmon. We are called to go against the flow of this world. We are not; however, called to fight amongst ourselves.

Lord, help us keep our eyes on you through the strong currents.

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

Her mind had to be running in a hundred different directions. She knew the cultural expectations. The woman was more than aware she had broken the Law. When the religious leaders found her committing adultery, she must have started envisioning the pain of countless stones hitting her body.

She had committed sin; her crime was known. Death by the hands of those more righteous was her penalty. And yet, this rabbi—Jesus, son of Joseph—spoke words which somehow kept the righteous ones from carrying out their punishment. Whatever he said made the ruckus stand still, but she wasn’t sure what was to happen next.

The screaming and taunting may have died down, but she had already sealed her own fate. She knew she was as good as dead. Even though there was an unusual sense of peace and introspection in the air, I imagine she kept her eyes closed—begging for time to speed by and death to come quickly.

But it never came. Instead the gentle, firm voice of Jesus spoke to a broken woman in front of a shrinking crowd. “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” He asks. When she responded that no one had, Jesus responds simply yet profoundly, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

I’ve sat in the rubble with that woman before. I know what it’s like to stand condemned. How many times have I gone before Jehovah, the Holy Judge, and ignored the grace in his eyes? Somehow, I’d forgotten that his love is deeper than my sin, and he truly can turn my life around. Sometimes, it can seem easier to swallow punishment rather than accept grace.

Yet, if we, just like the adulterous woman in John 8, look up and focus on Jesus, we quickly realize he wants to give us life! The only thing holding us back is our hesitation to trust that his mercy can truly make a difference.

What hope we’d experience if we simply trusted the Judge.

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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 Tabby McMonagle

“Oh, no!” I exclaimed out loud as I waited for my appointment. Luckily, I was in the waiting room alone.

As soon as I got home, I set out to mend the hole I’d discovered in my jeans. I lovingly took my time, careful to fix the hole without compromising the comfort of the jeans. After, I observed my work and decided I was satisfied. My favorite jeans had been spared.

A week or so later, I was at my ukulele lessons and found another hole. My heart sank. The realization of what was to come began to settle in. My jeans, although mendable, are nearing the end of their life with me. I am going to have to buy a new pair of jeans.

For a few months now I have felt this tugging on my heart. I have tried to figure it out in vain. I even went as far to tell God I didn’t understand what He was asking me to do. AllI knew was it felt uncomfortable and I didn’t want to do it. This morning in my prayer time I felt the tugging again. Then I thought of my jeans.

Sometimes what brings us comfort works for a little while, but when the time is right, God asks to give up our old rags and turn them in for His new garments. It is not that God’s clothes are uncomfortable, it is that they are new and I have to be willing to take off my old favorite clothes to receive the new gifts God has prepared for me.

Dear Lord, Sometimes I get so attached to what I know that trying new things is hard. Please help me to let go of old behaviors and ways so that You can have Your way in me.

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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 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 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 Cassie Rayl

The once-sweet child reared his head and backed as far away from me as possible. His whining quickly escalated to screams and crocodile tears as he discovered I, the very mean aunt, wasn’t going to relent about giving him medicine.

“I know you hate this, Buddy. I do, too. But you need this. You’ll feel better before you know it. Trust me. I promise.” My attempts to reason with a panicked kindergartener fell on deaf ears. I decided to hold him tight and do what every guardian or parent has done—force the nasty liquid down his throat for the split second he wasn’t screaming.

In just a few moments, his gulps of air turned into sighs, his tears stopped, and his eyelids got heavy as the medicine went to work. Rest was the only thing which would help my nephew recover from what ailed him.

I’m not much different than my nephew—even as an adult. I often envision myself in the Heavenly Throne Room screaming, panicking, and resisting a new lesson or change God has made obvious to me. My life is fine the way it is. I did not give him the go-ahead to fix things his way instead of mine.

Yet when I finally calm down, trust Him, and let Him lead me to true healing, I see the truth. The reality is, He knew what I needed and is always willing to do the hard thing, even when I’m not.

And when I think back on those seasons, though I may remember some of the pain, I remember how I can see Christ more clearly because of the changes he made.

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