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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

When you grow up flying in “Alaskan Bush planes,” you have two reactions to a village runway landing. You’ve either experienced it so many times, you’re annoyed that your nap is over when you land. Or, you’re still new at the experience and you’re on edge because you realize a village runway can feel more like a driveway!

As a missionary kid in Alaska, I was more often than not the first type of frequent flier. Turbulence in a small airplane made me feel at home and often made me fall asleep. But that wasn’t the case the first time I headed out to Kako, Alaska. The pilot, Joel, spoke over the headset, “It’s windy, if we don’t descend correctly the first time, we’ll be in trouble. I’ll circle a few times to see if there’s a pocket of calm we can trust.”

No one had to ask what “trouble” meant. At the end of the alarmingly short runway was an abrupt stop at the foot of a mountain. I didn’t need to have my pilot’s license to know that metal, aviator gas, and several humans do not collide peacefully with mountains. I didn’t finish my nap that trip. I was completely awake to see this whole experience from beginning to end!

Joel only had to circle twice before he found what he was looking for, descended, and taxied us to the end of the runway seamlessly. He seemed relaxed, but those of us who had never been to Kako were somewhat tense! He’d trained for this type of terrain, though. Those of us on the plane were never in danger because our pilot knew what to do.

Life can be much the same way. When we see the next event or experience gearing up, it’s easy to forget we aren’t in the cockpit of life—Jesus is. We may feel inadequate to handle the trouble, uncertainties or curveballs God allows, but we’re not the ones in control—He is.

The challenge isn’t whether we can accomplish the impossible; it’s whether we’re willing to keep our eyes on him despite the wind.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

With seeping sores, old clothes, and maybe even missing limbs, no one wanted to be around them. They were not merely ostracized—they were left for dead. They were not only disliked—they were feared.

Lepers. The worst curse of the day was to be called a leper. No matter your religious belief, if you contracted leprosy, you spent the rest of your life in a colony of other sufferers, begging for death, yet continuing to live. Leprosy stole everything of value from you in a moment’s notice and left you to suffer the consequences.

Luke 17 tells a story of ten such people who met Jesus—the Miracle Maker. The passage tells us the group of lepers saw Jesus “…at a distance.…” Because they expected the same treatment from Jesus as from everyone else, they only dared to yell for the Savior’s assistance, rather than approach him and ask for His touch.

Jesus, being the gracious, merciful Man He is, didn’t need to touch them. He simply spoke over them, telling each to return to the priest, because they were clean. After years and years of agonizing pain, scorn, loneliness, and fear, they immediately obeyed Jesus’ command.

Who wouldn’t have? Well, there was one. One noticed his body healing, took a U-turn, and knelt at Jesus’ feet merely to worship and thank him for the healing. Reuniting with his loved ones could wait; basking in the presence of Jesus couldn’t.

My spirit is always challenged when I read Luke 17. Do I call to Jesus because I want something from him and nothing more? Or do I call to Jesus because I know what he gives me is simply the overflow of Who he is and I’ve learned that being in his presence is enough?

Am I the leper who goes back to Jesus? Or do I run away as soon as I get what I want because I didn’t really want to know him in the first place?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

My friend and I rang for the elevator and were relieved to find no one was in it. Playing in the elevator was one of our favorite entertainments through the long weeks aboard the ship taking us to South America. Unexpectedly, my eight-year-old sister dashed around the corner and slipped in right behind us. As we turned to remonstrate with her that she wasn’t invited, a man with a little girl in his arms came running up, and we groaned inwardly even as we held the door for him as we had been trained. It wasn’t nearly as much fun when there were others in the elevator, especially adults or tattletale younger siblings.

As we descended to the next floor, suddenly the lights went out. The elevator jerked to a grinding halt. In the complete darkness, my ten-year-old brain started to fabricate an explanation. The night before I had been careful not to break any rules, but…

You see, our parents had told us we could not go into areas that weren’t reserved for our “tourist” class. However, the floor below us was showing a movie that evening, and it looked intriguing. It was about the sinking of the Titanic. My friend and I figured out that if we sat with our feet hanging through the railing at the top of the stairs on our floor, we could see just enough to watch the movie. At the time, my story-loving heart thought it was thrilling. Now I found myself associating loss of power with a doomed ship. Terror began to descend on me. What if the ship were sinking and we would go down trapped in the elevator, with no hope of getting out to try to swim to the surface?

I’ve always wondered if the man who was with us had also seen the movie. He began to yell something in Japanese, desperately shouting up the shaft of the pitch-dark elevator. His little girl started crying, and my sister dug her fingernails into my arm. I started confessing my sins to God as quickly as I could, bargaining with him to get me out of the predicament.

It was at that moment I ran into one of the great moral dilemmas of my life: Had I disobeyed by watching the movie? I knew my parents had to approve movies I watched in the movie room on our deck, but did it apply to a different deck? I hadn’t physically gone down there, so I had remained obedient, right? Suddenly, my conscience overrode my perspective on myself as a non rule-breaker. I might not have broken the letter of the law, but I realized I had broken the spirit of the law.

In the 45 minutes it took for the ship’s mechanics to rescue us, I experienced a huge change in my heart. I began to realize that just staying within the boundaries isn’t enough. I have to examine my motives and consider the reasons why the rules are made. That understanding has shaped my perspective on what the Old Testament law was about. People found ways to get around the rules. We have an advantage in that God has written his laws on our hearts and minds.

Praise God, we don’t follow rules, but His Spirit.

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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 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

Have you ever awakened during the night while traveling wondering where you were? For a quick moment you forgot you were staying in a hotel or someone’s guest room and panicked, heart racing, while your eyes adjusted to unfamiliar surroundings.

Maybe you’ve looked around lately and had the same reaction. The news headlines are horrifying. The movies are provocative or violent or both. The music is vulgar. The Christian flag has been replaced by the rainbow. Where am I? How did we get here?

It seems like every arena of life has experienced this drift away from God: government, education, the family and yes, even the church. Our money still says, “In God We Trust.” But it sure doesn’t feel like our nation even knows who God is anymore. And it is easy to burn with righteous anger over what has been lost. We used to pray in school. Families used to share meals at the dinner table. Sundays used to be about fellowship with God, the community and family. Where are you, God?

Daniel found himself in a similar situation in 600 BC. He and his people were taken into exile by the powerful Babylonian empire under King Nebuchadnezzar. They were suddenly in a foreign place with foreign people, pagan gods and secular worldviews. It must have felt like God had abandoned Daniel and his people.

Here is how Daniel handled the situation. First, he prayed. He fervently and faithfully prayed to the one true God. Second, he looked for opportunities to be set apart for God’s purposes without being defiant and disrespectful. Daniel was recognized for his excellence even in serving the pagan king he found himself subject to. Lastly, Daniel waited. He knew his God was still in control, and he waited on Him.

That is the hope we have today in our context. God is still in control. Even if it feels like He is letting our nation and our world fall apart, He is still in control. His ultimate plan will not be thwarted by any earthly authority or agenda. Praise God!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

For several years I’ve been asking God, “Where is the thrill I used to get when I read my Bible?” I used to be like a hummingbird, savoring all the rich nectar of each passage as I held myself poised in the air by the rapid beat of my wings. I rejoiced in the bright colors and rich promises as I read through God’s Word. My stomach fluttered like I was on a roller coaster.

Now, I read chapter after chapter before the tickle in my stomach happens, if it happens at all. The colors of familiar passages don’t attract me like they used to. So my question to God about losing the thrill of reading Scripture has come from a deep concern that I’m losing my first love.

God is so gracious in answering! He pointed out an eagle to me on a recent outing. “Do you see how that eagle just spreads out her wings and relaxes? She lets the wind carry her. She sees more than just a few flowers. She has the whole vista: mountains and streams and trees, all flowing together.

“When you read your Bible now, you aren’t marveling in the same way in anticipation of the rich promises I’ve made. You have experienced My answers in so many ways that instead you are hearing the Spirit gently prodding, ‘Remember when you saw Me do that?’ Part of the thrill you felt was tied to your efforts to find Me. Now your faith has developed confidence that gives you wings to soar!”

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I love how you work to serve the ‘least of these’ just like Jesus!” I heard that sentiment quite often working with the homeless community. There was a certain romance people envisioned when observing those of us who ran the shelter. We got to rock babies, love on parents, and see the gratitude on kids’ faces when we provided them new shoes, or a brand new toy. Who wouldn’t love doing that for a living?

What most of our observers didn’t understand was in order to bless the least of these, in many ways, we had to become like them, too. We had to learn how to look at a dumpster and see the treasures. We had to learn why an iPhone was more important than a house. We had to stop expecting them to uphold our moral compass, and had to learn what they determined was right and wrong.

Only when we had done that could we gently nudge our friends to make beneficial changes. It took a lot of work. We were constantly walking the line between compromise and sacrifice.

While working within our homeless community, I learned so much about how gentle Jesus is with those of us who may not see ourselves as the “least of these.” He was willing to become like us to reach us. Although He never sinned, He learned our ways in order to gain our trust.

How is it, then, that we often forget to do that for those we are burdened to love?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

At 16 I graduated high school and got a job at a local hospital. One of my responsibilities involved making sure the radiologists had film cassettes loaded with new film.

One afternoon I got a call from a radiologist who was using the portable x-ray machine in the operating room. He needed more cassettes. I was to meet him in the scrub-room to deliver them.

When I walked into the room, my eye caught sight of the steel counter to the left. To my amazement, it contained five or six dead infants in various stages of development. I remember one had black wavy hair. My first thought was, “how could that many stillbirths occur in one day in our small town?” My teenage mind was horrified.

Just then, a nurse came out of the OR. She saw me staring over at the counter and frowned. “I don’t know why people can’t clean up after themselves,” she grumbled. She went over to the counter, grabbed a trash can, and with one quick move swept all the little bodies into it. Then she pulled out the bag and tied it shut.

I remember thinking, “How will the parents know which child is theirs when they’re ready to bury them?” My mind absolutely could not absorb the fact that the recent ruling of Roe vs. Wade had anything to do with it.

I hid the trauma deep inside and never told a soul.

But my heart was left very vulnerable when it comes to baby deaths. I grieve them with an intensity that has always seemed more than what the average person does. When my own granddaughter died in the womb the week before her due date, I was absolutely numb for two months. Something painful was stirring. It took me a while to figure out what it was. It was the memory of those beautiful dead babies.

Finally, as part of grieving my granddaughter, I allowed myself to examine the incident from so long ago and started processing the emotions that surround it. I was eventually able to share that operating room experience with my husband and a few trusted friends. They have been balm to my aching heart.

I thought I had worked through the trauma. Then last month a couple very close to me lost their baby at 25 weeks. The mother was induced, and I waited in the hallway while the baby was delivered. I saw the doctor leave the room, and a few minutes later a nurse came out carrying a tied trash bag.

The memory from that long-ago day hit like a fist to the stomach. I ran to the bathroom to throw up.

At that point I realized that my horror of living in a society that throws away its children is never going to go away. Thankfully, I soon was able to go into the room and see the baby in her father’s arms. She had not been in that bag. Her tiny body was being treated with dignity and respect by her grieving parents. And, in a strange way, I found the scene comforting. Parents should care that much about their child.

We cannot change our society, no matter what laws we pass. New York’s recent legalization of full-term abortion is only a symptom of our disease of devaluing human life. May God’s people go to our knees in prayer for our society, and may we reach out to help people see the God in whose image they’re made!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

It was my first trip to Alaska, and I was deeply disappointed. We landed in heavy fog, and for the next two days I strained my eyes trying to see where I was going. I started to wonder whether the scenic views I´d heard about actually existed!

A friend had invited me to her home, and as I wound my way up what was obviously a mountain, deep insecurity set in. The fog felt heavy and threatening. I really didn´t like this place at all.

Then, in an instant, I saw sunlight ahead. In no time I was completely out of the fog. The atmosphere was bright and cheery. Birds were singing—had I really not heard them when I was in the fog? My heart started to soar. All was right with the world.

But what had changed? The beauty was there all along, but I couldn’t see it. I find that doubt has the same effect on me. God hasn’t changed, but my ability to see Him has. When that happens, why do I stay in the valley with my fears instead of climbing up to meet Him?

The experience gave new meaning to an old hymn that has gotten me through many hard times throughout my life. Think about breaking into the sunshine as you read the lyrics:

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

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