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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Formation’ Category

~ 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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~ Written by Samantha Freds

Earlier this summer, the hydrangea plant in the landscaping around my house started sprouting an odd-looking stem. When I first saw it I thought, “That’s a weed, I should pull it up.” But then I started to look closer and suddenly wasn’t sure exactly what it was. The leaves, though a darker color, looked like the rest of the plant. They all had jagged edges. I lifted the leaves to trace the stems to the roots and I could not separate the stems of this thing from the flower. I thought, “Let’s just see what happens. I don’t remember what it looked like last year.” So I left it.

Before long, the weed completely took over! You could hardly see the hydrangea under the looming weed. And it took everything my husband had to wrestle it out of there. We attacked the root with a shovel and took turns twisting and pulling until finally he was able to yank it out.  When he did, we realized that the root of the weed had grown about a foot directly into the roots—the foundation—of the flower.

That is exactly what happens in our thought life when we do not take captive the thoughts that threaten us, threaten our identity, security and freedom in Christ, the reality of who we are because of Him. It’s what happens when we let thoughts run wild about other people. When we compare ourselves to them or make quick judgments about them.

It’s what happens when concerns and worries about our circumstances plant themselves so strongly in our minds they threaten to steal our joy. And it is certainly what happens when our thoughts tempt us toward all kinds of destructive habits and attitudes. Even while everything on the outside still seems to blend in, that pesky little thought is burrowing its way into our very core.

We don’t have to be held hostage by our thoughts. Instead, we can tell them the truth about who God says we are in Him!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I finally found the place I had always dreamed of—that place where I would find perfect peace. You see, when I was a child, I had to have allergy shots every week. I would throw a fit every Thursday when the time came to go to the clinic.

My mom finally sat me down and helped me see I just needed to get used to it. She advised me to imagine a beautiful place and pretend I was there instead.

I knew exactly what to focus on. A painting I loved showed a babbling stream running downhill through the rocks, surrounded by forest trees and ferns. I dreamed of walking along the little path that wound alongside the brook. I pictured myself sitting on the rock under one of the trees and reading, journaling, maybe even trying some sketching. I would be completely at peace.

It became my mental go-to place when life got hard. Going to the dentist? Picture myself in my happy place. Waiting for a tow truck for a broken-down car? Mentally spend that time in my beautiful forest.

One day while traveling we passed it—a place that looked like my perfect place. We had to stop and enjoy it!

I stepped out of the car to the rich smell of balsam fir. This was even better than I had imagined. I hurried toward the little path. The fern slapped at my legs and the going wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. Then I felt a stinging sensation, followed by another and another. The little pools among the stones formed a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes! Soon I started sneezing uncontrollably. The strong scent of the firs was too much for my sinuses. I headed back to the car. As I tried to skirt the ferns, my foot sank up to my ankle in mud.

I had fallen in love with a two-dimensional picture! I never imagined the realities of my idyllic scenario. It helped me realize how I’ve deceived myself all my life. I keep thinking the next season of life will be easier/happier/freer.  I look at others and assume their lives are easier than mine. The truth is that the life of my dreams not very realistic.

It was a wake-up call. Life just isn’t going to meet my expectations. The real thing is sometimes hard. However, I’m glad I experienced the real thing. I no longer waste my time dreaming of the day life will be perfect.

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

I don’t want to brag but I am an expert on being oblivious. It is human nature to be self consumed and society encourages it. Being oblivious feels comfortable. I was so oblivious I was oblivious to being oblivious.

For years in my oblivion, I was running the show in my Christian walk. I believed I was allowing God to be in charge. The fact was I saw God as my puppet and I held the strings. I told Him what to do and how to serve me.

One day I found an old journal. As I flipped through the pages, I watched my prayers go from humble fervent requests to micromanaged demands. I realized my daily Jesus time routine went from something I enjoyed and needed to a reason I deserved God’s love.

One day it all came together. All the little hints turned into a picture that I then recognized as myself. It was not the picture I had in my mind. I was an ugly prideful twit. I had to repent and ask God to help me.

My Heavenly Father began to readjust my thinking in my times of prayer. Slowly but surely, He held up the mirror. I could only see a little piece at a time.

I’d like to say I did this willingly and all went well and quickly. It did not. I was ashamed of what I saw and who I had become. I wept bitterly, and had a long pity party.

In attempts to fix myself, I allowed lies from the devil to comfort me. I began to believe I’d never be enough for God. I stopped writing. I even stopped praying. I was mad and hurt, but I still made feeble attempts to seek HIm.

One night I woke up and heard the words “God doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.” I realized that was the lie I had been clinging to.

I repented. I asked God to help me be a servant like Him. I surrendered myself up to His work and asked Him to transform me. I couldn’t do it myself.

With God’s help I am stepping out of being oblivious to become more self-aware for God’s glory. Won’t you join me and ask God to continue His good work in you?

Humble us, Lord, that we may receive Your grace.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I found my old Bible in my parents’ closet this summer. Finding this obviously-forgotten treasure immediately brought back a torrent of emotions as my fingers traced the embossed leather, and the Bible’s pages flipped to passages I’d dog-eared 10 or 15 years ago.

I’ve had the heart of a writer long before anyone had ever seen my name in print, and this Bible was proof of that. Most of the pages’ margins were completely filled with questions, elaborations, and prayers corresponding with a passage.

It was like stepping into a timeless memory reacquainting myself with my youthful spiritual growth. My faith had been tested early on due to life-threatening medical issues, but I was captivated by the obvious innocence of my deep faith. In the margins of one page I wrote, “May you always be enough.”

Over the years, I had forgotten about this Bible. I had forgotten my passion for learning God’s word. I had forgotten so many things, but God never forgot that prayer. Through the highs, lows, gains and losses in my life, he knew he’d bring me back to that simple prayer.

Even when I didn’t think God was enough, he stayed faithful. Even when I thought I’d lost everything, he remained. I prayed such a simple prayer out of innocent desperation, and he used it to give my life purpose.

He’s always enough, even if we don’t understand how deeply we need him.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

My walls are filled with my husband’s paintings. I love watching my guests walk around my home, taking note of his pieces. Every canvas is gorgeous, and each one depicts a little piece of Peter’s character, style, and personality. Showcasing his art for our friends is almost as fun as hearing him talk about it.

I can’t help but ponder what Peter’s audience doesn’t see, though. They don’t see the frustrating paint-free evenings grumbling over a split paintbrush. They don’t see my confusion over his wisdom in walking away from a piece for awhile. As he waits till his heart is passionate enough to make the end result a masterpiece he’s proud of, I worry he’s given up on his passion.

No, they don’t see all that. They only see the beautifully painted scenes. Although all our friends show genuine appreciation for Peter’s talent, I often wonder if their appreciation would deepen if they saw the struggle behind the beauty. It’s the struggle behind the finished art piece which gives it value, after all.

Watching Peter’s artistic process makes me admire the Master Artist himself even more. While he creates an art piece—my life—he’s more than aware of the trials which give his creation value. Each hardship I’ve experienced endears me to the Artist because I know He’s more committed to seeing the end product than I am. He’s willing to push through until everyone sees the value he’s created.

The Artist, unlike my husband, however, never walks away from his creations. He never loses his passion for finishing his masterpiece. After all, each of our lives is a canvas he loves perfecting. The Master Artist won’t give up until our lives showcase to the watching world the immaculate love of the Artist himself.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

The chatty young cashier and I joked about the kinds of things people have been stockpiling and having to wear masks. Then as she handed me my receipt she said seriously, with fear behind her eyes, “Some people say these are signs the world is about to end.” She watched me, apparently waiting for a response from me. Just then the bagger asked a question, and she turned to take care of the matter. I had missed my chance.

The question has haunted me, though. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to expect the end of the world without the framework the Bible gives us. It just so happened that I had been reading in Luke about the final week of Jesus. As I read Chapter 21, I was struck by the contrast between the way the cashier seems to view “the end” and how God calls us to respond.

Jesus talks about people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world (vs. 26). For his followers, however, he offers these words of encouragement:

“And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified” (vs. 9).

“This will be your opportunity to witness” (vs. 13).

“By your endurance you will gain your lives” (vs. 19).

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (vs. 28).

What a different perspective he calls his own to have! He then adds this caution: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life [I wonder if that includes toilet paper], and that day will come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).

Is the world about to end? We don’t know the day or hour, but we have some pretty clear instructions on how to respond! Praise God, we have nothing to fear if we keep his perspective. Let’s use our opportunities to share the hope we have.

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

Disrupted plans and uncertain futures, broken routines and unwelcome interruptions, hourly updates with no end in sight… these are a few of my not so favorite things!

It’s a cute scene. The one where Julie Andrew’s character comforts the children with a song about her favorite things. All of a sudden the storm raging outside doesn’t seem so scary.

But we have something far better to cling to in times of uncertainty and fear.

The Bible tells us that God is our ever-present help in trouble. He is greater than the one reeking havoc in the world and He will never leave us!

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” Lamentations 3:22-23.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life” Psalm 138:7.

God’s Word is full of truth we can cling to, and He desires to fill us with peace beyond our understanding. Maybe this is just the interruption we need to pause the hustle and rest in Him.
May we be women of peace and quiet confidence in the One who is always in control.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I understand Thomas the doubting disciple all too well.

Thomas was the only disciple not present when Jesus appeared after His resurrection. As Thomas’ fellow disciples tried their hardest to convince him their Savior lived, Thomas stuck to his unbelief. He saw with his own eyes the death of his Lord. He heard the mourners. He saw the look of grief in the eyes of Jesus’ mother.

In a moment of passion, Thomas firmly exclaims to his friends, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Where others see shameful doubt, I see precious honesty. Thomas wanted to believe, but what he understood of the world wouldn’t allow him to do so. And in a moment of grief and vulnerability he laid out very plainly what he needed before he could believe.

A few verses later, we witness Jesus meeting Thomas in his doubt, looking deeply into his eyes and saying, “Put your finger in the nail scars, and your hand on My side. Now will you believe?” (Paraphrased)

All too often, we focus on the fact that Thomas should have believed without seeing. But what about focusing on the mercy of the all-powerful God who did not quench the questions which stood between Thomas and complete belief?

This Resurrection season, let God meet you in your doubt. He has the answers. Your doubt doesn’t shock Him. He has what it will take for you to believe.

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

I’ve been thinking of Jonah. His experience, described in the book that carries his name, is brief and pointed. He receives instructions from God but chooses to run away and disobey Him. God intervenes and sends a storm. Eventually Jonah is thrown overboard. He is on the brink of death when God intervenes again and saves his life by sending a large fish to swallow him. Jonah remains in the fish for three days and three nights.

It would appear that this near-death experience, coupled with the quiet dark of the three day stay in the fish, was transformative for Jonah. While in the belly of the fish Jonah cries out to God. So the next time God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah obeys. If we stop reading there. it’s a beautiful story of second chances!

Unfortunately, there is more to the story. Jonah doesn’t celebrate when the people of Nineveh turning from their evil ways. He does not understand the Lord’s compassion and completely misses the parallels in his own story to that of the people of Nineveh.

Jonah’s experiences on the boat, in the stormy seas and in belly of the fish were transformative for one area of his life–his willingness to obey God. But the story ends with an obvious need for further transformation. This is why I relate to his story. I wish I could say that the transformative experiences in my life were long-lasting and all-encompassing. But that simply is not the case.

Still, I am encouraged by this truth: he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Even when it seems like I am learning the same lessons over and over, I can be confident that God hasn’t given up on me! He is patient with my shortcomings and gentle with my rough spots. His plans are unhindered by my imperfections and his love for me is unconditional!

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