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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The news didn’t bring me joy. I was more than angry—I was incensed! A man was being nationally applauded for a good deed in his community. However, I knew he was more evil than good, more manipulative than gracious, and more selfish than considerate.

 First good deed in sixty years, I bet! I muttered under my breath as I read the article. The guy didn’t know me from Eve, but I had briefly connected with one of his victims, and that was—in my mind—all I needed to justify my (short-sighted) fury.

 As I added fiery accusations to the mental fight I was picking with the guy, I heard the Spirit whisper, “But child, what if he’s found Me?”

 The simplicity of the question stopped me in my tracks. Jesus came to set sinners free…even the sinners who we never thought would want freedom in the first place. No sin is too great, no lifestyle too deplorable to receive His grace.

 Christmas is the season we spend more time than normal meditating on the coming of our Savior. Oh, what a celebration! But Christ’s coming is equally that of the Great Reconciler, and though it’s something I celebrate, it’s also a great challenge to my soul.

 Has Christ’s coming truly changed my heart? Have I made room in the Throne Room for everyone Christ loves, or merely those I like?

 Am I doing my part to to keep Christ’s love in Christmas?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I realized the Pilgrims were kindred spirits the year I turned nine. Up until then, I hadn’t thought much about people who landed in the United States, half a world away from where my family lived, and celebrated a season of thankfulness. Because Thanksgiving wasn’t a holiday in the country where my parents were missionaries, the fourth Thursday of November was just another school day a few weeks before the start of summer vacation.

That year, my parents decided to put on a Thanksgiving dinner to share our culture with some of the people they were working with. Mom was seven months pregnant with her fourth child, and I suspect she was craving stuffing and pumpkin pie. Dad talked to some friends who said they knew a butcher who might have turkeys, so the day before the celebration we all piled into the car to drive across the city to check it out.

We three kids waited in the hot car for what seemed like an hour before Mom and Dad came out of the butcher shop empty-handed. That shop didn’t have turkeys, but they referred us to someone in another part of the city who might have some. That shop ended up referring us to another, and so it went.

Four hours later, we still had no turkey. It was starting to get dark. We were all hot, tired, and irritable. The tension in the car was palpable. Frustrated, I said, “I bet the Pilgrims didn’t have this much trouble getting a turkey for Thanksgiving!”

My parents laughed and my younger siblings wanted to know what Pilgrims were. As Mom and Dad explained, with me jumping in to share what little I knew, the mood in the car became thoughtful, almost reverent. We talked about what it meant to leave family and friends and struggle in a new land. We talked about gratitude and why it was important.

I think it was my little sister who said, “Can we pray that God will give us a turkey?” Somehow it suddenly seemed important to celebrate such a crucial holiday. We prayed as we drove to the last-hope butcher. Sure enough, they had a (very scrawny) turkey.

The next day, we sat down to a feast reminiscent of the pictures I’d seen in magazines. All was great until we bit into the turkey. It was one tough bird! Before we could complain, Mom said brightly, “I bet the turkey the Pilgrims ate was tough, too.” We laughed, and I decided I could really identify with those Pilgrim children.

Tough turkey and all, we had a lot to be thankful for.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I’ve read the words hundreds of times. But yesterday, I saw 1 Corinthians 2:8 for the first time:

“…the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…”

Every five-year-old who grew up in a Gospel-teaching church knows Christ was crucified because of the ignorance and sin of humanity. But what would the outcome have been if they had understood the mystery of God’s wisdom?

Obviously, the Son of God would not have died. But, if He hadn’t been crucified, would we ever receive the gift of redemption, and the glory of eternal life? No, we wouldn’t.

Sometimes, I run into the Throne Room and scream, “I’m too blind, too broken, and too immature to understand what You’re doing, Jehovah! This isn’t working. Use someone else. Use someone who isn’t as off-the-mark as I am, okay? I’m messing You up.”

But then, in the gentleness I’ve only ever experienced at the hands of my God, He whispers to my heart, “You are not sinful enough to dethrone My glory, Child. Humanity was too blind to see the wisdom of my Son, yet I used even that darkest night of His crucifixion to bring about the gift of life.”

I serve the God whose power is never erased because of sin or death. Oh, what a Savior!

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~ Written by Lorena Oplinger

My brother Kevin is 15. He looks like a typical healthy teenager. When Kevin was four, however, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.

Kevin was a healthy baby boy. He was born without any complications. However, during the early stages of his physical and mental development, something inside his brain began to change. In preschool his teachers started noticing some distinctive behaviors and attitudes in him. Kevin was having a hard time understanding and following their instructions. His learning and communication abilities decreased gradually to the point he could no longer keep up with his classmates.

I never saw my parents so heartbroken. It was painful for my mom to absorb the news and accept my brother’s medical condition would prevent him from reaching his full potential. It is hard for many moms, including mine, to embrace the challenges of raising kids with disabilities.

There are times when we just can’t explain or understand why things happen the way they do. But regardless, God’s grace is so abundant! He has shown us his grace by giving my parents the peace, patience, and persistence to endure this challenge for the past 11 years.

Kevin struggles with anxiety, stress, mood changes, and some other behavioral issues produced by social environments. He is also experiencing the physical and emotional changes caused by puberty. He is a very smart boy and is becoming more self-aware of his medical condition. A couple of days ago, he told my parents that he is asking God to make him normal because he wants to be like the other boys. He doesn’t want to deal with mental or psychological issues any more. My parents are surprised to see that Kevin is now communicating his feelings, desires, and thoughts; something he never did before.

My parents are strong believers, and for them this is a huge sign of hope from God. My mom even said, “I know that God is working in Kevin’s life. He is answering my prayers!”

My family has realized both the blessing and challenge of raising a child with disabilities. Through this, they have learned God has a plan and purpose for all of us. Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture and understand why things happen the way we least expect. Perhaps we only need to recognize that God is sending us undercover blessings.

“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, NIV).

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Out of all twelve disciples, I’m the most like Peter, I think.

In John 6, Jesus asks his followers, “Are you going to leave me, too?” Peter pipes up with an interesting mix of conviction and frustration replying, “Where else would we go? You have the words of life.” My heart lurches in empathy at Peter’s attitude. To leave Christ means leaving life itself, but would I have ever guessed how difficult pursuing Life himself would be?

Probably not.

Again in Mark 10, Jesus tells the disciples a parable of a rich man; explaining that no one can come to Christ on their own. Peter again, somewhat argumentatively, protests, “We’ve left everything for you!” Translation: “What, Master? What else can we leave to be worthy of gaining Heaven? We’ve left family, jobs, expectations, security, all of it.

“What. Else. Do. You. Want?”

It’s easy to focus on where I fall short as a follower of Jesus. I wish I trusted him, loved him, and hoped in him more fully. But despite my attempts, I find myself weeping like Peter does after he denies Jesus, muttering, “Jesus? Why do you love me? Why do you want me?”

But it’s then I realize I’m putting the focus on the wrong Person in these snapshots of my life. I’m not the main character; Christ is. It’s not about my lack of faith; it’s about His faithfulness. It’s not about my lack of trust; it’s about his insurmountable love which accepts me where I am.

I may be the most like Peter, but Peter and I know the same Jesus. And that’s what matters.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Sis? A little help, please?” My brother puffed out behind his stack of books while he attempted to open the door to the stairwell. His grunts made it obvious he wanted me to treat his predicament with urgency. Usually, I would’ve jumped at the chance to get an atta-girl from my eldest sibling, but not right that second.

“Ty, can’t you see I’m reading my Bible?! Ask someone else.” I remember looking back at my Bible absolutely peeved Ty had dared take me away from its sacred pages. I knew Ty needed me, but wasn’t my time with Jesus supposed to take priority over all else? Couldn’t Ty appreciate my attempts at becoming a more pious saint?

Although the memory still makes me cringe, it now makes me chuckle at my childish perspective on what it meant to spend time with Jesus.

Over 15 years later, I constantly find myself revisiting my “Devotions corner” and huffing out a quick, “Sorry, Jesus. Where were we?” Seemingly on a daily basis, just when I’m sitting down to spend time in the Word or my prayer journal, my husband needs help with a project, my phone rings with an urgent need, or I need to get the cookies out of the oven for Sunday’s fellowship time before I can focus in the Throne Room.

It’s easy to feel guilty about those moments; especially if you grew up in the “Quiet Time” culture where your 15 minutes in the Psalms came first. But if we treat our time with the Lord as a checklist, we forget the heart of God—the ultimate Servant.

What would it take to see our acts of service, the times we sacrifice our moments of peace for a need in front of us, as a way to spread the love of Jesus by our actions? What if more times than not, Jesus is nodding at the person asking for our focus and saying, “It’s okay. I’ll teach you my heart while you serve them”?

How much more sincerely would people see the Body of Christ if we saw our mundane service as worship to the invisible Audience of One?

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

She had been caught in the act. She was dragged from the situation, the shameful, adulterous situation, and put in front of the crowd. The law was clear; her punishment would be death by stoning. Quite frankly, she deserved it. She was a cheater! But, Jesus was there that day.

In fact, this little incident was really about Him anyway. Jesus was there and He gave her mercy when she deserved death. Then He gave the crowd something else. He gave them truth. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Quietly, one by one, they all left knowing the truth of their own sin.

To the crowd He gave truth and to the adulterer He gave mercy. Why? The crowd was made up of teachers of the law, the Pharisees, and those who had been listening to Jesus preach. They knew better. Jesus made this same move all throughout His ministry. He gave truth to those who knew better and mercy to those who didn’t.

But we want it the other way around. We want to yell truth at the people who live lives of sin and depravity and we want the mercy all to ourselves. But there is no truth for the world without Jesus. The people of the world have no reason to be formed by the truth until they have been transformed by Jesus. Here’s the key to that passage in John 8: Jesus told the woman, “go and sin no more.” He didn’t condone her sin, but he led with mercy.

He always leads with mercy. And we have to lead with Jesus.

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

I used to like the game of limbo. In junior high gym class (long before I knew what back pain was) I enjoyed the challenge of bending backward just enough to get my whole body under the bar without touching it.

I enjoyed the music and the cheers of the onlookers as slowly but surely I passed from one side to the other. I especially liked that one moment of staring up at the bar from my awkward bent position right before I stood up on the other side.

Recently, I’ve realized I don’t like limbo anymore. (And not just because I can’t bend when I was younger.) The game has become a metaphor for my life. Except I always feel like I am in that last moment of transition from one side of the bar to the other – awkwardly bent, staring up at the unknown, unable to fully see what lies on the other side.

It started in high school as I looked forward to the transition to college. Then it was the transition from college to “real” adulthood. Then I looked forward to married life. The pattern continued with job changes or moves; you name it. Now I’m back in school wondering what it will be like on the other side of my degree.

The transitions just keep coming. I’m starting to realize they always will!

Everything is transitory. We are always transitioning from one phase of life to another. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep playing limbo! Too much of our lives is spent looking forward to—or worrying about—the future. And as a result, we may be missing the here and now God has given us.

So I’m stepping out of the limbo line. I’m not going to take my next turn. What about you?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” my friend told me. She had recently turned 50 and was struggling a bit with what that milestone means. One day, she found a co-worker in tears. When my friend asked what was wrong, the co-worker blurted out, “I’m turning 25 next week. Half my life will be over!” My friend added with a slight grin, “I’m thinking maybe I should just give up and go climb in my grave.”

Our society fights the idea of aging. How much do we spend each year trying to get rid of wrinkles, hide gray hairs, and fend off any evidence of the passing years? Where does this fear of personal aging (and of other people knowing it) come from?

As God’s people, we’re called to have a different perspective from that of the world. Our time stay on this earth is for a reason, but is our purpose about seeking the Fountain of Youth? Absolutely not! Instead, we should be focusing on using our time to invest in God’s kingdom.

A friend celebrated her birthday on Facebook this way: “Thank you for the birthday wishes. I’m so grateful that I’ve completed another year on earth and am that much closer to my heavenly home.”

That’s how I want to live!

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Joy seems to elude me more these days. If I’m blessed enough to truly feel joyful, it tends to fade depending on my circumstances. Fighting for joy never used to be a daily battle, but it’s certainly become one.

“What am I doing wrong, Jesus? What has changed? Why is joy so hard?” I prayed in desperation one day. Honestly, I was at the end of my rope, and didn’t expect an answer. Life’s stresses seemed too large, too real, and too time-consuming to truly fix my “joy problem.”

But God has a way of taking my skepticism like a holy challenge to show up when I least expect Him to do so. As I sat pondering the question I had just thrown at the Heavens, I heard the Spirit whisper to my heart, “You’re looking for the wrong thing, Child. You’re looking to be fulfilled in yourself. Look for fulfillment in Me.

“Instead of looking for how a circumstance benefits or impacts you, look for how it brings glory to Me. Learn to look at everything in your life as a way to showcase My love to the world, rather than thinking every scenario I allow is all about you.

“You will only secure joy in your heart when you realize I am the cause of your joy, and I never change. Cling to Me—rather than yourself—in all things. See what happens. Joy gets easier to hold onto that way.”

I’m still learning what this means. But I’ve come to the point of understanding that my joy comes from the Lord, which means to embody joy, I must focus on the Joy Giver above all else. The more I focus on Him, the deeper my joy becomes no matter what my life entails.

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