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Archive for the ‘Story’ Category

~ Written by Sharon MacMillan

Recently, I pulled out my mom’s photo album and came upon some family memorabilia. I eagerly shared my recently-discovered treasures with my two sisters. There were recitals, high school plays, charity sports events, school projects, etc. I sent up a brief ‘thank you’ to my parents for all they had poured into our lives.

There were no pictures, though, of the arguments over who would dry or wash the dishes. What about the complaining over what someone had done to the other? We had differences in personalities which strained our relationships. As we left home, those rifts became a habit for me that alienated my sisters from me and me from them.

What happened? My sisters had wanted to connect with me but in my insecurities, I had mastered the art of isolation and self protection. . It gave me a false sense of security and comfort. This pattern of sin also developed in other relationships: people I didn’t feel an affinity for at church, people in my neighborhood who seemed different from me, and people in my own family whom I said I loved, but only conditionally. It was painful to face this truth.

As I began confessing these attitudes and behaviors to my sisters, healing began. I saw a readiness in them to listen to me and love me in my vulnerability. I found a oneness with my sisters when we prayed together. . A new humility emerged, and surprisingly, God showed up and began to work in us. We celebrated answers to prayer. We were united in love with our Father.

I recognized I had distanced myself from my godly neighbor and her family because I didn’t understand our ethnic differences. I confessed my sin of isolation to her. We prayed together, feeling love for one another, free to explore a deeper relationship

This is why Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God was slain. It was to save us from our hiding, our alienation, our own boundaries of comfort that end up dividing us and hurting others. Instead, we take on the risk of knowing God, becoming one with Him and His Son.

God’s big household of faith is a currently a messy family with all our self-protections, isolations and misunderstandings. Now wouldn’t be a good time for a family photo. But Jesus prayed for us and that prayer is certain to be answered:

“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory, which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. . . And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You love Me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:24-26).

There is a future photo of God’s family album revealed in Revelation 5:9-13. Our Eternal Father is there on His Throne, popping His buttons as siblings from every tribe, tongue, people and nation on the earth bow before His Son, singing praises to the Lamb slain for the sin of the world. Everyone has eyes only for Him. How long our Father and His Son have waited for this moment! God has answered the prayer of His Son so beautifully as His children begin to look like their Brother in unity and love.

Always remember that in his great mercy, our Father lavishes his patience on us as we endure the process of becoming like Jesus. Let’s live with this picture of unity at the forefront of our minds!

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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 Samantha Freds

She could not understand what was happening. This was the place. She was sure of it. She had seen it with her own eyes just two days before. They had laid his body in that tomb and it took several men, straining against the immense weight, to roll the stone in place. Now it was gone and she didn’t dare look inside.

She ran to tell Peter and John, but she hardly had the words out of her mouth when they both sprinted past her, their eyes filled with disbelief and fear. She followed them back to the tomb. This was her second trip, though, and the heaviness of the morning’s events were weighing her down. Why was this happening? Had she not been through enough already? By the time she arrived back at the tomb, Peter and John were already gone. She was alone, out of breath and frightened.

She wept. It was all just too much to take.

Suddenly, a voice cut through the morning air. She turned to see who the voice belonged to, but her vision was blurred by her tears. She wiped her eyes and looked at his face. This time blinded by her anxiety and fear, she still did not recognize him. Until he spoke her name,“Mary.”

Then she knew. All at once her fear was gone, the weight she felt melted away and she knew who stood before her—it was her teacher, it was Jesus. He was alive!

That’s the kind of Savior we have. One whisper of our name and all the weight is lifted. Nothing cuts through anxiety and fear like the voice of Jesus. He is alive and he calls your name through the chaos of today. Like Mary, all you have to do is turn and listen.

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

I’m sure we made a peculiar sight—six adults following two small puppies around the yard. My sister-in-law had brought her new pets to meet the family. As they explored their new scenery, their wobbly little legs could hardly go fast enough to keep up with their curiosity.

All of a sudden, one of the pups made a quick dash towards the pool. Before anyone could stop her, she jumped in! (I should add that it’s winter, so the little thing landed in the frigid foot-and-a-half of water on top of the pool cover.)

Within seconds, my father-in-law swooped in and grabbed the puppy out of the water. She was unharmed, but frightened and shivering. Mere moments later, though, the little thing was running around again as if nothing had happened.

I can’t count how many times my Heavenly Father has swooped in and saved me from danger like that. Not to mention the countless times He undoubtedly spared me from hardship I didn’t even know was lurking in the shadows.

But, I forget the danger just as quickly as that little puppy did at the pool.

If I’m honest, I constantly struggle to really trust God with my whole life. I’m convinced that part of this struggle is due to my puppy memory. When I forget all the things God has done, how he has provided and what he has saved me from, I jeopardize my trust in Him. What better season than Lent to practice remembrance! Instead of skipping right to the joy of Easter morning, we can spend the next six weeks pausing to remember the trustworthiness of God.

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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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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I asked God to keep you alive as proof that He exists.”

The young man’s words were filled with emotion as he told me of his recent spiritual battle. Praying for my survival while undergoing multiple brain surgeries seemed like high enough stakes to bet on. His mental game had been simple.

Childhood friend dies: Christianity was pointless. She lives: He’d try surrender out; see if he liked it.

Hearing Cody’s declaration as a 16-year-old myself was a weight no shoulders should ever carry. Regardless, I heard my Master whisper, “You prayed for release from this life around the same time he prayed for proof that I exist. His search for me is thin, but your life gave him a reason to at least look for Me. Your pain isn’t pointless. You’ve no idea what I’m planning on doing with you both!”

Nearly two decades later, God brings me back to that moment on a consistent basis. At the time, I had been so angry at my Jesus for apparently not hearing my prayer for Heaven. However, I had no idea He was using my seemingly unanswered prayer, and my journey through it, to glorify Himself in the life of someone who needed Him to do big things.

Surrender isn’t always beautiful. But it is, in fact, always for the same purpose: To let the world know our God is real, and He is faithful to make Himself known to those who call on Him.

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

Christianity is uncomfortable. If there’s anything I’ve learned this past year with a vengeance it would be just that. I haven’t stuck around Jesus and his standards to be comfortable. If ease was truly what I sought in 2019, I’ve followed the wrong God.

I used to share such thoughts with confidence and be surrounded by knowledgeable nods and knowing smiles. This past year, more than ever before, I found myself around people who acted disgusted that I had stayed with Christ. After all, in their minds, I could blame this Jesus for everything our family had been through, so why stay?

During one conversation where a friend asked me why I still believed following Christ was a good idea, all I could say through the tears was, “Because He’s everything, and I trust Him.”

Our culture is slowly becoming less and less “Jesus friendly.” If we as the Body of Christ can’t cement in our hearts why we trust Him, and if we can’t purpose in our minds just how much we are willing to give Christ no matter our circumstances, standing strong will only become harder.

In 2020, let’s strive to stand with purpose in allegiance to the only One Who is always enough. The world needs the light of Christ more than ever.

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~ Written by Lorena Oplinger

Many purchases have been made based on emotional reasons.” This is what I’ve learned as a retail sales associate. The way we choose to spend our money reflects not only who we are but also what we lack.

In a recent sermon, my pastor explained that our lack of self-control in buying things is more than a behavior. “Shopaholics buy things in order to fill the emptiness in their hearts,” he stated. The pleasure we feel when we buy certain items, eat certain food, or do certain activities is created by our brain, a powerful machine that it releases its own dopamine. This chemical substance makes us feel better and happier.

People are desperate to be accepted, included, and welcomed. Everybody wants to feel part of something, but when someone experiences rejection, exclusion, and/or discrimination, he or she will always find other ways to compensate for the gap produced in his or her heart.

Purchasing something of value gives us a false sense of identity. We have become a Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas society. We don’t mind paying twice the value for brand items if they represent a high social status.

My job requires me to provide the best service experience to those who come to me, but my call as a Christian is to share the Good News of Christ in an emotionally empty world.

I would love for them to know that happiness is free.

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~ 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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