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~ Written by Viki Rife

Running late for an appointment, I approached the train tracks just as the crossing arms came down. With no cell phone available, all I could do was stare through the windshield. A lone snowflake landed in front of my eyes, lingering just long enough for me to enjoy the delicate design before blowing off into the wind.

A moment later another snowflake came down, very different in design. It was followed by another, and I sat entranced enjoying the art show.

Although God designs each snowflake to be unique, one snowflake doesn’t affect our lives very much. But as the minutes ticked by, those flakes added up. By the time the train had passed and I turned on my wipers, there was a nice buildup of snow—enough to make a small snowball.

What a beautiful picture of how God, in His wisdom, created each of us with a unique design! But only together can we provide to the world an illustration of what it means to be whiter than snow. We can be confident that with each of us being our unique selves, we can band together to accomplish whatever God has called His church to do.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

In the eight months we’d been married, prayer had never been a harder task. Words were said, expectations weren’t met, and feelings were hurt. After a long discussion, I kissed my husband on the cheek, walked away from him, and went on a walk alone. The moment the door closed behind me, I whispered desperately, “Please, Jesus. Please help me pray for my husband.”

The reality was, I knew I couldn’t pray for him in my own strength. Every prayer I’d initiated ended in self-pitied anger, complaints, and the good ole, “If you’d change him, Lord, this wouldn’t be so hard.” I wasn’t praying for my husband. I was licking my wounds.

Words eventually dried up, and I stopped in my tracks. I starting singing hymns I had learned as a child. I sang songs like Rock of Ages, Glorious Day, and Create in Me a Clean Heart. As my tears dried, I somehow went from focusing on the hurt between my husband and I, and started focusing on my Savior.

After a while, the songs faded, and I was able to pray. “Lord, I’m hurting. Make me more like Jesus anyway. What do you need to change in me so I can encourage Peter to become more like you, too?” The following season of prayer was more about restoring my brokenness at the foot of the cross, rather than fixing Peter’s humanity.

Sometimes, the greatest hurdle standing in our way of interceding for our spouses is ourselves. When those days come, there isn’t a self-help book out there that can truly fix that issue. Our only option is to run to the Father, and ask Him to change our hearts so we can love as deeply as He does.

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~ Written by Jennifer Avey

Faith is so much more than just getting out of the boat!

Matthew 14 describes the strange events surrounding an otherwise ordinary occurrence. Jesus made His disciples get into a boat and precede Him so he could have some time alone with his Father.

In the very early hours of morning, probably in dim light with mist over the water, Jesus heads toward his closest followers walking on the sea. They are terrified, thinking they see a ghost. Jesus’ familiar words assure them, “Take courage, it is I.”

Okay, they aren’t really reassured. But Peter is willing to test the waters, so to speak. He has witnessed more than a few unexplainable things in the presence of Jesus. Peter responds, “If it’s you, call me out upon the waters.”

Alright Peter, come on! The author tells us that the wind was “against” the boat. Some commentators have described these events as a common storm on the lake. But Peter’s posture doesn’t seem to fit with the usual “we’re gonna drown” stance. If this is a storm, it’s probably mild in comparison. Also (and this is mostly hearsay on my part), if you are sailing into the wind, waves are being kicked up and you end up zigzagging back and forth to make any forward progress. The wind and waves, as a matter of physics, are definitely against your forward movement.

Maybe for Peter, a seasoned fisherman, getting out of the boat wasn’t as much of an act of faith as we may think. I believe Peter, as I so often do, was demonstrating a faith in himself. Fishermen can swim. Fisherman can calculate distance and wind speed and direction. I’m convinced Peter knew just how far he could get away from the boat without much risk to himself. And he walked on the water.

But it didn’t take long for Peter’s calculations to crumble, his self-doubt to sink in (pun intended), and fear to grip him. He sees the wind and reevaluates his situation. He is in too deep. He can no longer trust himself to get back to the boat. Now he needs help. “Jesus save me!”

So often I take steps of faith that I can figure out. I can stay safe and have confidence in the outcome. But when things don’t go as planned, when the wind is contrary to my direction, I start to sink and resort to crying out to God to save me. Doesn’t really sound like faith, huh?

As we stepped into church planting, I heard many people say, “The first step out of the boat is the hardest.” But it’s not. It’s in the steps you take after seeing the wind is against you where real faith is born.

Have you recently stepped out of the boat and onto the water? Recognize that every step is His provision. Are the winds against you in ministry, relationships, work…? Do not fear, take courage (vs27). Jesus commands the winds (vs32). Do you find yourself sinking further and further beneath the water? Cry out to Jesus and thank him for every moment that refines and cultivates true faith.

Peter would later encourage Christ’s followers with these words “…though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I got to the book of Ecclesiastes in my daily Bible reading during a time of grief. Life kind of felt pointless! Maybe I should skip this book and come back when I was less depressed.

I had just lost my father, a man who filled our family life with laughter, who truly enjoyed his God and people. I remembered a time he was intensely studying the book of Ecclesiastes and shared with me each time I visited how much it was encouraging him.

But I was curious about why he found so much value in a book I tend to avoid, so I dove in despite my hesitations. It ended up being a gift from God. In the midst of my pain, the words “joy,” “enjoy,” and “rejoice” jumped off the pages.

Yes, so much in life is futile. We try so hard to find meaning. But we look for it in all the wrong things. It takes us a long time to realize how worthless they are.

But a life invested in seeking God, in doing the work He has given us to do, is a whole different matter. We find joy when we accept that He is the One ordaining our days. We can enjoy the challenges we face because we know our efforts for God are not futile. We can “laugh at the days ahead” when we know who controls them.

In the midst of all the things in life that are futile, we can rejoice that our days are not in vain when we are walking with the Lord of the Universe.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I’d never ridden a horse. I’m fairly certain I was clueless in regards to chariots. But that didn’t matter. Memorizing a Bible verse about chariots and horses was exciting and mysterious. I loved declaring my trust in the Lord my God alone as I quoted Psalm 20.

For an innocent kid, it was an easy declaration. As life grew more intense and lonely, as everyone’s life does, declaring my trust in Christ got harder. Did I trust Him when my family seemed as if it was falling apart? Did I trust Him when health problems stole my childish abandon at an early age? Did I actually trust Him more than any other resource my life provided? Could I?

I had my moments of doubt. Honestly, I had my seasons of doubt that Christ was enough. Why should He be enough, when the comfort of money and modern medicine were easily accessible? However, as I look back on nearly 30 years of life, I’m refreshed by a very tangible truth.

The things I could depend on in addition to, or instead of, Christ, will always fail at some point. Though there have been moments where God hasn’t done exactly what I wanted Him to do, He does, in fact, keep His promise.

He always answers me when I call out to Him. My life has tested His faithfulness, and His faithfulness has never been found wanting.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I wish someone would make sure the children were quiet,” she said in exasperation. “This is church, after all.” I smiled at the woman’s complaint. I, too, was raised to believe children were to be seen and not heard — especially while sitting in a pew!

Despite being raised to cringe at noise during a church service, nowadays I can’t help but chuckle at the unabashed squeals, the stage-whispered questions, or unrelenting cries of the youngest generation. They don’t really seem to care what other people think of their behavior. The Bible calls us to have childlike faith. What’s more childlike than making your presence known before Jesus whether you’re laughing, screaming, joyful, scared, confused, or impatient?

Every time I hear the squawk of a kiddo, I’m reminded of Jesus commanding the disciples to let the children come to Him (Mark 10:14). He didn’t specify the children had to be on their best behavior, or in a good mood. He just told them to come—end of story.

What would happen to our faith journeys if we came to Him as uninhibited as children do?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

A few weeks ago, when I wrote a blog about keeping wonder in Christmas, I had no idea that a new kind of wonder awaited our family this season. The morning of December 22, my father slipped away from us into his Father’s waiting arms.

Christmas will never be the same for us. Yes, we grieve, and most likely there will be some grieving each year at this time. There is a big hole in our hearts. But overriding the pain is a confidence that the baby in a manger came to defeat death.

The hole is not forever. Our dear daddy—pastor, missionary, school administrator, chaplain, husband, father, grandfather, and all-around lover of God—was a work of grace. He is now experiencing the wonder of Heaven. And even in the pain, we are experiencing the wonder of peace that passes understanding.

Our family is entering a new season of life as the new year begins. You might be, too. May we all spend this new year focusing on the wonder of God’s amazing grace at work within us. Have a wonder-full year!

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