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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 Viki Rife

Anna felt all alone. The husband who had needed her care night and day over the past decade had just passed away. Her own health had deteriorated during that time. Now she was left with no friends, no family nearby, and the huge specter of anxiety and depression hanging over her. The isolation of the Covid shutdown had her almost paralyzed.

One morning she decided to make a list of things she could do that day. She grabbed her walker and made her way to the desk, where she found a notepad in the drawer. She started to write: Take a shower. Organize meds into a labeled contained so she would know which ones she had taken. Read a Psalm as a prayer. She was surprised at the satisfaction she got from checking each item off the list.

The next day her list was a bit bolder. Reorganize her sock drawer. Dust one room of the house. Write a get-well card to someone from church. Call Betty, her old high school friend she hadn’t talked to for years, just to catch up.

Betty was delighted to hear from her. Anna was struck by how little it takes to encourage someone else. After that, Anna made a point each day of including in her list at least one item that would bless or encourage someone else.

As time went on, she then started adding some occasion to celebrate God’s goodness each day. Eventually, the day came when she was able to sort and label a box of old photos, all the time thanking God for the memories rather than feeling sorry for herself. As she finished that project, the thought hit her: “I can choose to live in joy. And I’m doing it!”

Anna’s journey from anxiety and depression to joy seemed like a miracle to all of us. But as she summarized it: “Be Thankful. Bless others.”

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Our New Year didn’t come in the way I had hoped. Although our plans hadn’t been huge, New Year’s was potentially the last holiday my husband, Peter, and I had before our son, Judah, arrives in early April. Ideas of games, movies, junk food and laughter were all I had thought about for days.

Instead, there were bowls strategically placed between the bathrooms so  I would be prepared any time my nausea hit. Peter militantly checked my blood pressure, managed my new medications, and gently understood when sleeping seemed better than looking at his face. As miserable as I was, I giggled every time Judah kicked my ribs.

Relief was on the horizon, though. My medical team had jumped into action, and as soon as my body adapted to new medications, I’d be okay. Still, I wasn’t focused on Jesus, joy, or Judah. I was adamantly focused on how God hadn’t given me what I wanted for the New Year.

At some point in my pity party, I heard the Spirit whisper to my heart, “Will you sing me a song? Will you bring in the New Year praising me anyway? You’re obviously miserable. Will you actually let me help you refocus? Or would you rather just hear yourself complain?”

The songs started out quite begrudgingly, let me tell you. Honestly, I started singing out of mere obedience. Before I knew it, though, I wasn’t focusing on my discomfort, missed plans, or even my fears over my health or the health of our son. I was just singing to the Man who first called me Beloved. My thirty-minute, possibly-off-tune worship session ended in joy simply because God had shifted my perspective from myself to Him.

I’m fairly certain we’re all realizing that the strike of midnight on January 1st didn’t make our lives a bed of roses. As Christ has continually challenged me, I extend that same challenge to you: When your heart is filled with what you don’t have and what you can’t control in this new year, praise God anyway.

Even in times of uncertainty, focusing on our First Love is always the answer to finding freedom and living in joy.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I love the potential represented by a blank piece of paper. It doesn’t take long before my mind starts whirlingand my love of words fill the page’s emptiness with strokes of black which artistically paint a picture for my audience. There’s such satisfaction as the blank spaces slowly disappear!

I still have days, though, where blank pages and deadlines collide and I don’t even come up with enough intrigue to fill a kindergartener’s primer. Writer’s block feels suffocating and endless, whether it exists for weeks or minutes. There are literary exercises you can perform to think of something, but to this day, whenever I hit writer’s block, my brain conjures up one simple, mundane and wandering sentence:

“I walked into the Throne Room, looking for the Father.”

Every time a blank page intimidates me rather than inspires me, I write that sentence and mutter, “Just show me something, Jesus. I’ve got nothing.”

Hebrews 12:2 calls Jesus “…the author and perfecter of our faith.” It always makes me smile to think of Jesus as a fellow wordsmith who takes joy in weaving a story. But, unlike myself, Jesus is never intimidated by the blank pages of a life.

Even when our life choices slow down His plot, or sin patterns fill our lives with mistakes which take years to erase, He still thrives writing on the pages of our lives. Not once does Jesus sit down, contemplate furthering the story of our individual lives and think, “I’ve got nothing on this one.”

If we truly trust Jesus as the ultimate Author, we can always trust that he can make beauty out of nothing, and gold out of our biggest mistakes.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The young boy had captured my heart, and it seemed, despite his mental differences, I had captured his. My journey of building a friendship with Zach had been simultaneously monotonous and riveting, and looking back, I can’t remember when I became “his.” Zach was safe with me, and he knew it.

Zach’s greetings were special, heartwarming, and even entertaining. Regularly, he’d smile wide, kiss my hand and adamantly ask me in Sign Language, “You’re mine? You? Me?” As long as I answered affirmatively, his day was made.

Our ritual became a highlight of my day. As Zach got older, though, he quickly realized he was not my only friend, and the ritual became almost an hourly occurrence. I did the only thing I could think to do: I answered his questions almost every time.

Decades later, I have to smile at the glimpse of Jesus’ patience and love I saw through my friendship with Zach. Sometimes, even after 25 years of following Jesus, I find myself feeling just as unsure of myself with Jesus as Zach felt with me. Even though I know I’m safe, loved, heard, and even cherished, I climb up into Jesus’ lap and whisper, “You? Me? You love me? Still?”

Sometimes, my patience ran out with Zach, and I didn’t answer his need for affirmation. But Jesus always answers me. Often, it’s in a whisper which I have to quiet my heart in order to hear. Occasionally, Jesus’ affirmation of love comes across loud and clear.

Regardless of how, I’ve learned over the years that I’m safe with my Jesus, and I can’t imagine a life where I didn’t need Him.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

My friend planted 100 tulip bulbs in her yard last fall. She couldn’t even remember where they were all planted! They lay under snow all winter, then under the mud, until they came up and started to bloom. The entire area was awash with color! A blessed view for anyone staying home all day in quarantine.

As she described her investment, I was struck by the similarities to what I’m observing and experiencing during this pandemic. Those who have invested in spending time with God seem to be more resilient. Each truth about God that was lying under the surface has started to spring up to bring comfort and blessing. The more they planted, the more they’re reaping.

As the Charis Fellowship discusses our handling of the pandemic, we’ve talked about three stages. The first is the blizzard that causes us all to hunker down. The blizzard will be followed by winter, a time of venturing out occasionally. But then will come a new spring of opportunities. The more we invest now in our relationship with God, the stronger we will be and the more ready to bless others with truth.

Keep planting, dear friends! We never know how God will use it.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

We had no clue when we set out for the forest preserve that we would get to see bald eagles—three at the same time, to be exact. They were perched in a tree close to where we stood, easily visible. The preserve was trying to reintroduce them, and for several years we had thought from time to time we saw one fly over, but never were close enough to be sure. Now there they were, watching us with their sharp eyes.

Of course, the first thing my husband did was grab his camera and start shooting. We were thrilled at the amazing opportunity that had opened up for us. When we finally left, I was eager to view what must be sensational photos. When I pressed the button to review them, however, a square with a menu showed up over the photo, blocking everything but the edges.

“How do I get that out of here?” I asked my husband. He shrugged. “It’s been doing that for a long time. I can’t figure out what to do about it.”

It was frustrating to wait until we finished several errands and got home so we could download and get a glimpse of the photos. It gave me a resolve to get the camera situation fixed. Nothing I tried worked.

Finally, as a last resort, I sat down and read the manual. Guess what? There was an easy solution for the problem! Why didn’t I do that to begin with? My only answer is that sometimes I’m a lot like a two-year-old who insists, “Me do it!”

I’m afraid the same attitude is at work when I go through times when I can’t see God. I often try everything before I give up and pour over the Manual, His Word. But I find it’s the only way to eliminate what’s blocking His precious image. Only there will I find the answers my soul craves.

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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 Viki Rife

My friend called me in a panic. “Are you okay?” she blurted as soon as I answered. “Why didn’t you answer my text? We have to take care of this now.”

I scrolled through my texts. Sure enough, there was the message, and it really was important. But my phone had been going off all day, people had stopped in with questions, and somehow the message got lost in everything else I was hearing.

All too often, I fear, the same thing happens in my relationship with God. I can get so busy serving Him, listening to all the voices clamoring, that I can’t really hear Him.

That’s why contemplative prayer has been so important in my life. Contemplative prayer for us as Christians is not like eastern religions or New Age, requiring us to empty our minds. Instead, it involves filling our minds with God, and only with Him. It’s meditating on Him and His Word in ways that can provide a conduit for us to think in tune with His thoughts.

Scientists say that the more we think about something, the deeper certain grooves become in our brain. This then causes our thoughts to quickly follow the “rut” that developed those grooves. Negative thoughts deepen negative grooves. Positive thoughts deepen (or develop) positive grooves. According to one author, just twelve minutes of contemplative prayer a day will produce, within eight weeks, groove changes that are visible in brain scans.

While human science is just now discovering these physical evidences, our Creator has known all along what is needed to transform our thinking. We are called to fix our eyes on Jesus. If that isn’t something you are currently doing, may I challenge you for the next two months to set an alarm for twelve minutes of thinking about God and who He is. This is not a time to ask, but to receive what He wants you to know. Start with key verses that help you focus on who He is.

At the end of the two months, assess the value of this practice. You never know how your mind will be renewed!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Is it just me, or is the world more filled with anger than it used to be? I am finding out it isn’t just my perception. For example, Carey Nieuwhof in a recent blog listed ten changes that have happened in the past decade. One especially jumped out at me:

“We seem to be a lot angrier and more polarized.”

He points out that anger seems to get you noticed, and we’ve discovered that hate generates more clicks than love.

We can’t change the whole world, but what can we do to stand against this current that is so damaging to our stability and well-being? In the first place, may I suggest we evaluate the information we receive and not jump on the anger bandwagon. Let’s each take seriously the admonishment to be “slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 2:19-20, italics mine).

What would it look like to deliberately choose to examine our anger in light of God’s perspective? What if we consulted with Him about how to handle situations that fuel anger? We might be surprised at the wisdom He gives us to instead defuse attitudes that have been causing division.

While there are times we need to legitimately address and deal with wrongs, let’s make sure we have our facts. How many times have I been incensed over a Facebook post only to find, upon checking, that it’s only telling one side of the story? We must become people of integrity if we want to be a light in the darkening world. Let’s resolve to make this our decade, as believers, of allowing wisdom rather than anger to prevail.

If you want to read to read the original blog, you can find it here.

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