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~ Written by Samantha Freds

Whose favorite household item is a sponge? Probably no one’s. That little yellow rectangle is a reminder of all the cleaning to be done, not to mention all the dishes in the sink! We use sponges for a while, then throw them out without thinking twice. What if I told you there is a deep theological lesson in a sponge?

The purpose of a sponge is to absorb and transport water. Sounds simple enough. Soak up. Pour out. It follows, then, that a sponge full of water is only serving half its purpose. In fact, if left full between uses, the sponge starts to harbor bacteria. On the other hand, a sponge out of water for too long becomes dry, hard, and useless.

The Christian life is like that sponge. We need to absorb living water. The water of the Word gives us life. But, like the sponge, if we stay in the water we aren’t serving our purpose. We are at risk of harboring pride. We are called to share the Living Water with the dry, dirty, hurting world around us. But, if we do not return to the source of Living Water we burn out. Doing for God begins to take priority over being with God. We need to learn the balance.

I call this the “Soak up—Pour out” rule. While some seasons may require us to hold water as we survive the heat of this life, those times are exceptions to the “Soak up–Pour out” rule.

I encourage you today to set up two columns. Under the heading “Soak Up,” list the ways you absorb living water throughout the week – quiet time with the Lord, church services, Bible studies, life-giving conversations with a friend, etc. Then list the areas where you are pouring out under the second column. Things like work, taking care of family, and volunteering at church will fill up the “Pour Out” column. The result doesn’t have to be a perfect perfectly equal columns, but we should be looking for a healthy balance.

If you are feeling dry today—go to the Source and spend some time soaking up living water!

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

What if I told you seeking purpose was a waste of time? What if it was an age-old distraction to keep you from living the life you are actually meant to live?

If we believe God is in control of our lives, and that He created us in His image, and that we are all special in His sight, why then do we seek the answer to the question of purpose? When we sit and think about all we can do, search for the ultimate thing to do or live for, we only get stuck in our heads or end up chasing endeavor after endeavor. Who ever amounted to anything by thinking their life away and not showing it to anyone?.Yes, sometimes we hit a home run, but I wonder if we would get there faster if we just began to use the gifts we have.

I have chased purpose for years. I can honestly say it has only kept me distracted, worried, and focused on it. I was not productive. I was distracted. Only when I began to live in each moment attempting to give what I had to offer, did I start to feel a sense of freedom. Freedom to minister, to write, to pray with someone on the spot instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you.” I found freedom to encourage, and to use my gifts for anyone who was in my path. I have seen more of God when I live on purpose than when I get stuck searching for it. It sounds easy, but it’s not. It is a game changer.

Here is my challenge. Save the money you would spend on a book about purpose and just wake up and live for God today. Trust that He knew what He was doing when He made you.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

We had planned to mourn our daughter’s death in private. At 26-weeks gestation, our perfectly-healthy baby girl stopped breathing, and we were told the operation to deliver her would take mere minutes, leaving us with the hearts of parents, but no child to raise. We knew we’d mourn her passing, but we planned to do it alone.

That’s what we planned, but that’s not what happened.

We ended up telling our pastoral teammates about Faithe’s death, thinking they would be the only ones to actively carry our burden. Standing in their kitchen, we wept together as our friends promised to carry us through the heartbreak to the best of their abilities. That was the last thing I consciously remember.

The next thing I knew, I woke up in a hospital an hour away from home, hooked up to an IV drip, unable to speak, barely able to move, and still very, very pregnant. As I searched the hospital room for my husband, I made eye contact with him and a handful of other church members who had taken it upon themselves to actively stand with Peter and I as we said goodbye to our daughter. It took one phone call, but my hospital room was never empty. We were never alone.

What was supposed to be an afternoon of pain was actually a five-day journey fighting for my life as I succumbed to preeclampsia and my body refused to admit Faithe had passed away. Anytime I woke up from my magnesium-induced partial paralysis, my husband was being loved on, fed, and comforted by our church family as he vigilantly watched my vitals. My Christ-family gently walked Peter and I through the implications of Faithe’s death and the possibility of my own. At night, they took turns sitting by my bedside, while the others camped out in the hospital hallways and on guest couches.

A nurse leaned over my bedside one afternoon while I was lucid and whispered through tears, “These people aren’t your family, but they obviously love you and they keep talking about Jesus. I’ve never seen a family act more like a unit than you all, and it doesn’t make sense. I thought the Church had lost its effectiveness a long time ago. It’s so hard watching you grieve, but it’s so powerful, too.”

Our grief is still tender and raw, but the death of our daughter taught us one very clear lifelong lesson: Our faith in Jesus may be made up of an individual choice to follow Him, but it is kept alive because we stick together with other believers. Our daughter’s death made us unbelievably weak—in many ways, we still are—and yet our church Body held us together even when our grief made it impossible to hold them in return.

That’s what the Church is supposed to be, and that is what we need to become.

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~Written by Tabby McMonagle

“For God’s sake, come undone,” said no one ever. But what if it is exactly what we need to do in order to see God? Personally, I have been trying to hold it together for years now. Not until this past year, when I have come completely undone, have I been able to surrender the control I thought I had.

Growing up I felt like the message I heard was, “Keep it together. Be strong. You’ll figure it out. Keep trying.” All good ideas, but none of them encouraged me to rely on anyone but myself. If I could will it, I could do it.

What a different reality I face today than what I was prepared for! Things don’t always go my way. My good deeds and hard work don’t always get me what I want.

The biggest disappointment was no matter how much faith I could muster, the answers to my prayers were still in God’s hands. They depended on His approval not my persuasion or the faith I brought. In fact, I learned my faith is a gift from God; nothing I do can get me more of it.

How I want to grasp at control. I want to know what happens next. The unknown of my circumstances has me at my wits’ end. My mind, my body; all of it is undone. I told a friend I could probably walk on water, I feel so weak. The Bible says when we are weak He is strong. In the very depths of my heart, the despair I have in understanding I have no control over anything in my life, or in anyone else’s, has me to the very end of myself. I have to put God as my only hope.

When we take life, and all it has to offer, and break it down, the only thing that matters is saving souls for Christ. It has nothing to do with our moment in history but it has everything to do with God’s plans. It is then we realize that we need to come undone. So, for God’s sake, come undone. We need a new perspective. We need God’s perspective.

I am not there yet. I am still sifting through the ashes of what is left of my control issues. I don’t want to look for anything to salvage; I want only to move forward with God’s help. I want to rely on Him; not what I have to offer but what He can do with me as I am. I don’t want to hear, “For God’s sake, keep it together.” For God’s sake, I pray I come undone.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Mommy, please don’t let them do this. Mommy, I’m scared. Mommy? Why?!” I was three years old, and I was undergoing even more medical testing. Because I was so young, the MRI came with tightly-wrapped gauze and a foam wall surrounding my head to ensure I didn’t move during the excruciatingly-long test. I had worked myself into a horrible migraine and anxiety attack, and I wanted the test to be over now.

In my childish perspective, I was incredibly confused why my parents just sat there—obviously upset, but still doing nothing. I was in pain. I was scared. I didn’t want to be a good, cooperative little girl anymore. Why didn’t they rescue me? What was wrong with them?

What I didn’t understand was, though the test was painful, what was behind the pain would be worth every ounce of my discomfort. The test results gave my medical team a better understanding of the issues which plagued my body. Mom and Dad knew the end goal, and they had come to a heartbreaking but necessary decision. My temporary pain was acceptable pain.

I’ve come to understand as an adult that my loving and attentive God watches my life in much the same way. We live in a fallen world where life experiences bring agonizing pain, confusion and despair. It’s easy to look at my Heavenly Father and scream, “Abba? Why?! Why are You allowing this? Can’t You see I’m nearly shattered? Aren’t you supposed to be good?”

But He knows something I don’t. He knows the end goal. He knows just what I need to become more like His Son.

In the end, I can almost hear Him whisper with tears in His eyes, “Child, this pain is temporary. Hang in there. The end result will be worth every second of your pain.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The century-old upright piano was gorgeous to look at. As I sauntered through the privately-owned war museum, I was struck by the stories the instrument obviously told in its worn keys, beat up wood, and fragile seat. I wondered how many war widows had sat at the piano to play their loved one’s favorite tune when their hearts really only wanted peace to show up again.

As my imagination drew me closer to the ivory keys, I asked if I could play the piano. I expected the chords to be out of tune and painful to hear, but I thought I’d hear something. Instead, I heard nothing as I pressed each key. Some of the ivory keys were stuck in place. Others didn’t even feel like they were attached to the strings within the instrument.

It quickly became quite obvious the piano was beautiful to look at, but nothing more. Then my imaginative thoughts took a different turn as I mourned the fact that such an elegant piano could be dead on the inside. What had happened to make it lose its inner beauty?

I never want to be like that piano—curiously captivating and beautiful on the outside, but useless and silent with the praises of God in my heart. In a hundred years, I pray my heart’s song to God can still be used for His purposes and glory.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Turn to Matthew 6:19 in your Bibles, if you have them,” the African pastor said as he opened the service. I looked down at my iPad and chuckled. In that little screen, I had access to every translation, version, or paraphrase ever written. Within a moment, I could view the Scriptures in Greek, Hebrew or English.

The pastor had questioned whether I had one Bible. Little did he know I had countless digital Bibles and had at least five hard copies at home!

Despite the momentary humor, I was struck by the contrast between my attitude toward the Word of God in comparison to my African brother’s attitude.

He knew the price of having a Bible. Many of his loved ones had never seen a Bible—let alone owned one. He understood the preciousness of it. He knew what it meant to hunger for it. I, on the other hand, have never had to experience that hunger. I’ve never felt what it was like to long so deeply for a Bible of my own and wonder if that dream would ever come true.

What if I started treating the Bible as this pastor does? What if I continuously approached the Word of God with a fresh reminder of the privilege it was to freely read God’s truth? What joy would I experience which I may have forgotten?

May I never overlook the freedom I’ve been given to access God’s Word!

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