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Archive for the ‘Questions’ Category

~Written by Viki Rife

It was a small thing; it was a huge thing. Although my friend told me the story decades ago, it still burns in my bones.

When my friend was growing up in Cuba, his parents offered a Good News gospel-sharing club for the children in their neighborhood. One boy who often came was a troublemaker. He and his brothers disrupted the group, sassed the adults, and made life unpleasant for everyone. Finally, my friend’s parents told the boys they weren’t allowed to come onto their property.

Every week after that, the boy and his brothers would be waiting outside the fence to my friend’s family farm. As the other kids trudged down the dirt path, the banished boys would pelt them with stones and sticks. They had been a problem when they were attended but were even more of a problem when forbidden to come!

I’ve always wondered what might have happened if some of the adults involved had taken the main troublemaker, if not the others, under their wing. What if some man had offered to take the boy fishing, away from the kids he felt he could bully? What if someone had taken an interest in him and shown him there was a better way to spend his life? What if he had seen someone show him the unconditional love of Jesus?

You see, that boy’s name was Fidel Castro. If you know much about world history, you know the cruelty visited on the Cuban people by this dictator. I know friends who had to live under his regime and were able to escape, but who still bear physical and emotional scars.

Might the history of Fidel Castro have been different if someone who loved Jesus had reached out and shown that love? Because I don’t know, I am committed to reaching out to hard-to-love people with the love of Christ.

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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 Cassie Rayl

Being thrown into a pit wasn’t a part of his plan. Of all the dreams God had given Joseph, I hardly imagine his dreams of his family bowing down to him would involve his own enslavement. And yet, as we’re told in Genesis 37 and following, slavery was a key season in Joseph’s story.

Still, as Joseph sat in the pit his brothers threw him in (Gen. 37:23-24) to await being sold, his mind had to be whirling with questions. Wasn’t he the favored son? Why would God give him such favor if only to waste it in slavery? Was his father’s God even real, or had the dreams been a result of too much time in the sun? Weeks ago, Joseph had a handle on what God was doing.

Now? In the pit? Not so much.

As the story unfolds, God uses Joseph’s enslavement in immaculate and miraculous ways. Joseph’s God-given wisdom and insight eventually led him to be a trusted advisor to his master, the Egyptian Pharaoh. Through that trust, Joseph was able to advocate for his people when famine wrecked the known world.

What Joseph initially thought was the death of his future became the gateway to God’s goodness.

More than ever before, this election season has left Christians nervous and hesitant as we await the nation’s future. No matter which political party we’re referring to, truthfully, there are areas where we are all muttering, “How can this bring God glory?”

I challenge each of us to look back at the story of Joseph as our next national leaders are revealed in the coming days. There was nothing good about most of Joseph’s story. Joseph was left uncomfortable and stretched for most of his life, but he leaned heavily on God despite the unpredictability of his future.

In the end, Joseph could say with confidence, “God used it all for good.”

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

As a teenager, I hated singing harmony. I strongly disliked not being the first voice people heard in a song. Why do you listen to music, anyway? It’s certainly not for the often repetitive and unnoticed notes sung in the background! Melody is where the strength and the beauty lie, and I wanted to get the credit for making that beauty happen.

Through the years, I learned how short-sighted my musical view was. Making music isn’t about what notes are heard the loudest, or even what part is most valuable. Music is about different notes coming together and not downplaying their differences. Melody is beautiful, but without the harmony, it’s not nearly as rich and impactful as it could be.

I see a lot of similarities between how I viewed music when I was younger, and how so many of us struggle in viewing people who have different passions than our own. No matter what you’re passionate about, if Christ is at the center of that passion, you can rest assured it has an eternal impact and purpose.

If, however, God gave us all the same exact passions, his love for his people wouldn’t be as deeply defined for those around us. It’s not about which purpose is most important; nor is it about making everyone passionate about the same exact thing. Christ’s love is most beautiful when we learn to trust that our passions are put together for a reason.

Unity never means uniformity. Unity means different passions being refined for one purpose: Christ’s love reaching a dying world.

Don’t make the same mistake I made in music. Learn to rely on Jesus to make every difference you see in your neighbors a thing of beauty. Without their differences, your life wouldn’t be nearly as rich.

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

“Hey Sam, you ready for the game tonight?” she asked almost rhetorically before continuing down the hall. I watched as she and her friends popped their heads into one classroom after another informing whoever was in the room they had a game that night and asking who was going to come and watch.

Of course I was ready for the game! It was my game after all. I would be one of the players out on the court giving it everything I had. They would be on the sidelines—cheerleading.

This was a frequent scene in the halls of my high school and it used to drive me crazy. I just wanted to yell, “It’s not your game!” I see such a response for the ugliness it is now, but I didn’t get it back then.

I’ve come to realize the gift in cheerleading. I never went around telling people about the home girl’s basketball game that night at 7 o’clock. I couldn’t be concerned about who would be at the game. I needed to focus on playing well.

But when the fourth quarter came around and we needed an extra helping of encouragement to finish strong, the cheerleaders were there. They faithfully kept the crowd they had rounded up shouting from the sidelines. Unfortunately for our team, most of the time victory was out of reach by then, but it mattered—we still had people cheering us on!

There is incredible power in encouragement. The cheerleaders at my high school knew it, and they were invested enough to consider the game their own.

Who can you be a cheerleader for today?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

The past few weeks have been hard as we’ve watched racial tensions escalate around our country. There are no words to express the range of emotions we are all experiencing. It seems like everyone has ideas about how the situation should be handled.

As we deal with our grief over this broken world, we cannot afford to let our differences of opinion divide us. We need to recognize together that there is only one solution for the injustices we see. Better laws won’t fix the situation. Politicians can’t fix it. Education can’t fix it. Nothing on earth can keep human beings from hating one another. Nothing except the love of Jesus.

I’ve been deeply convicted that before pointing a finger, I need to examine the extent to which I’m going out of my way to show the love of Jesus. Does my “holiness” really lead to God’s righteousness? Through the prophet Isaiah God explained to his people the purpose of the special days of fasting to honor him: “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

The next few verses give hope: “Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry, and he will say ‘Here I am’” (Isaiah 58:8-9a).

As daughters of the King, let’s agree to actively seek ways to worship God with our actions. May they know we are followers of Christ by our love for each other and the world during this difficult time.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I think it was the biscuits that were the final straw. I had been rushing around trying to get dinner ready so we could head off in our different directions for evening meetings. I was running late, and I knew the young woman I was mentoring had only a short time to spend with me. It had been hard enough to find one hour to meet.

It had been a hard day, and I was working myself up to a stroke. Then I smelled the biscuits burning. At that moment a verse I had read earlier in my devotions came to me in my Father’s gentle voice: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I need to ask myself throughout the day: “Can I cook this meal for His glory?” “Can I drive to my appointment sensibly for His glory?” “Can I be patient with my neighbor for His glory?” “Can I get up for His glory and go to bed for His glory?”

Of course, the context of this verse is talking about idolatry and abuses of communion. But at that moment, I realized that my efforts, frustrating as they seemed to me, were something that needed to be done, and I could fall apart, or I could do it joyfully for God’s glory.

How I handle the most frustrating times in my life are my greatest opportunity to demonstrate the glory of my Lord. It’s how I handle things like burnt biscuits that shows me whether I truly care about honoring Him.

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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 Viki Rife

“Mommy will go to the hospital and be there for several nights, then come home with our new baby,” I told my two-year-old daughter enthusiastically. She had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of “her baby,” but it was the first time I had explained to her that I had to go away for a while. My goal was to break the hard parts of the experience into small sections for her to digest.

“Will I go with you?” she asked. I explained that she would be at Grandma’s for a while, and then Daddy would pick her up and bring her home.

A look of horror swept over her face. “But what will I eat?” she asked plaintively.

I had to laugh. Cooking was not a part of my husband’s skill set. But I have to admit, there was a side of me that thought: I’m her mother. Doesn’t she even trust me to take care of her? Have I ever left her to figure out how to get her needs met? Doesn’t she realize that isn’t her job?

She looked so forlorn, I had to stop and take her seriously. I explained that Daddy could fix her cereal and toast, and that he could make hot dogs, too. She still looked rather doubtful.

I was reminded of that incident recently when my mind was in a turmoil over a rough situation. I had become so obsessed with solving the problem (which actually had no solution I could control) that the foundation of my world was shaking. At one point of desperation, I sensed God asking me: “Who told you that you’re responsible for fixing this? I certainly didn’t.”

The memory of my daughter’s distressed face flashed through my mind. “I’m doing the same thing to God,” I thought. Then I remembered the rest of the story.

When the time came for me to go to the hospital, we dropped our daughter off at my parents’ house. We allowed Grandma to break the news to her that she would be able to spend the night, as we had planned to do all along. Our daughter was overjoyed. “Grandma knows what I like to eat,” she reassured me as we left. My solution to her problem was much more satisfying than she could have imagined.

Now when I start feeling like it’s my responsibility to solve problems that are out of my control, I try to remind myself, “God has it figured out. Maybe I’ll end up at His version of Grandma’s house!”

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