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~ Written by Viki Rife

I had struggled to walk across an icy parking lot on my previous stop, so I was determined to park as close to the door as possible on this one. There was one parking space only a few cars down—all the others were at the opposite end of the strip mall. I pulled into the space, trying to leave a bit of extra room to get out because the big black car on my drivers’ side was sitting over the line into “my” space.

I had forgotten, however, how limited my movement was because of a recent neck injury. As I started to get out, the car door touched the black car. I pulled the door back and tried again, holding the door carefully. As I maneuvered my foot onto the parking lot, however, I slipped on the ice and my door hit the car again. I tried once more, and my door touched the car, but at least I was out now. I carefully looked over the side of the black car and saw no sign of damage.

Walking gingerly alongside my car, I saw someone get out of the black car and head for me. A young woman, very irate. “Why are you beating up my car?” She exclaimed. “What do you think you’re doing?”

I’d like to say that I apologetically explained myself. But that isn’t what happened. I said, “There’s no damage. And by the way, you’re parked over the line.” With that I turned and made my way to my appointment, as she yelled after me that there were other parking spaces I could have used.

By the time I reached the door, I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. I think of myself as someone who is kind, caring, and concerned about others. But all I found in my heart was bitterness and a self-serving attitude. If things don’t go my way, it takes very little to get my defenses up.

The lesson I learned? The incident was a good reminder that I’m not as pure inside as I would like to think. I still react in fleshly ways on the slightest provocation. Praise God, though, there is hope. He is still working on me!

~Written by Cassie Rayl

 If respecting Sean was hard, loving him was harder. From the day we met everything he said was mean, disrespectful, lewd, crude, and rude. He was one of those older gentlemen any decent person would follow around, if only to mutter, “I’m sorry; he shouldn’t have said that” to Sean’s latest victim. There was nothing wrong with Sean; he just didn’t like people.

The only thing he seemed to hate more than people was Jesus Christ. When most of his family came to the Lord, that somehow made his negativity worsen. We all watched the years go by thinking, “Lord, no heart is too hard, but will Sean ever see you?” In our human estimations, it definitely didn’t seem like it!

Just hours before he passed away from a fast-acting illness, the proverbial scales fell from Sean’s eyes, and he begged his family to lead him to the Lord. What victory! Sean would end his harsh life knowing full-well the saving grace and mercy of his savior, Jesus Christ. We all rejoiced him into Heaven, relieved that his fight was over.

Well, almost all of us. A young woman pulled me aside and simply asked, “How can Jesus have mercy on such a horrible man? It seems to me he’s the last person who deserves Christ’s mercy. Sean was evil!”

Although I didn’t share her sentiment, I understood it. How often have I decided Jesus’ limitless mercy was enough to cover my sins, but not the sins of those who left so many wounded? Jesus easily forgives my sins. Things like: gluttony, dishonesty, and pride. But isn’t there a different scale for the “bigger” sins which consigns the sinner in his wretchedness where he deserves to be?

The reality is, we can’t short-change the mercy of God over someone we believe has committed a greater offense. If we do that, we completely change the story of salvation and what makes Jesus different from any other false god.

We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus’ mercy isn’t fair, but it is what makes his love large enough to rescue the world.

~ Written by Viki Rife

When our church opened up again after the shutdown, a friend who was going through a rough time asked to come with me. Naturally I said “yes,” but wondered how I would juggle my usual Sunday interactions while keeping her from feeling abandoned in this strange, socially-distanced world.

Sure enough, we had just found a seat when someone asked me to help them find something. That mission accomplished, I was just heading back to sit down when someone stopped me to ask a question. Others joined the conversation and it was important enough I didn’t feel I could leave.

You know how awkward it is, though, to be left alone in a strange place with a bunch of people you don’t know. Every minute seems like an hour! You’re not sure what to do with your eyes, how to not find yourself staring at people as they pass by, etc. I was gone for over ten minutes!

There was no need to worry. What I love most about our church is that we truly act like family. Each time I glanced over to see how my friend was doing, someone had stopped to talk to her and get acquainted. Probably at least five people engaged her in conversation during that time.

When I sat down, my friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I feel so welcome here!” As the service began, I found myself gratefully worshipping the God who brought my brothers and sisters together at our church. They saw my friend was alone and went out of their way to help. I don’t have to minister to people by myself. They didn’t act as if she was just my responsibility—they took it upon themselves.

They have my back!

~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

“Oh, no!” I exclaimed out loud as I waited for my appointment. Luckily, I was in the waiting room alone.

As soon as I got home, I set out to mend the hole I’d discovered in my jeans. I lovingly took my time, careful to fix the hole without compromising the comfort of the jeans. After, I observed my work and decided I was satisfied. My favorite jeans had been spared.

A week or so later, I was at my ukulele lessons and found another hole. My heart sank. The realization of what was to come began to settle in. My jeans, although mendable, are nearing the end of their life with me. I am going to have to buy a new pair of jeans.

For a few months now I have felt this tugging on my heart. I have tried to figure it out in vain. I even went as far to tell God I didn’t understand what He was asking me to do. AllI knew was it felt uncomfortable and I didn’t want to do it. This morning in my prayer time I felt the tugging again. Then I thought of my jeans.

Sometimes what brings us comfort works for a little while, but when the time is right, God asks to give up our old rags and turn them in for His new garments. It is not that God’s clothes are uncomfortable, it is that they are new and I have to be willing to take off my old favorite clothes to receive the new gifts God has prepared for me.

Dear Lord, Sometimes I get so attached to what I know that trying new things is hard. Please help me to let go of old behaviors and ways so that You can have Your way in me.

Adobe stock photo

~ 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.

~ Written by Viki Rife

Anna felt all alone. The husband who had needed her care night and day over the past decade had just passed away. Her own health had deteriorated during that time. Now she was left with no friends, no family nearby, and the huge specter of anxiety and depression hanging over her. The isolation of the Covid shutdown had her almost paralyzed.

One morning she decided to make a list of things she could do that day. She grabbed her walker and made her way to the desk, where she found a notepad in the drawer. She started to write: Take a shower. Organize meds into a labeled contained so she would know which ones she had taken. Read a Psalm as a prayer. She was surprised at the satisfaction she got from checking each item off the list.

The next day her list was a bit bolder. Reorganize her sock drawer. Dust one room of the house. Write a get-well card to someone from church. Call Betty, her old high school friend she hadn’t talked to for years, just to catch up.

Betty was delighted to hear from her. Anna was struck by how little it takes to encourage someone else. After that, Anna made a point each day of including in her list at least one item that would bless or encourage someone else.

As time went on, she then started adding some occasion to celebrate God’s goodness each day. Eventually, the day came when she was able to sort and label a box of old photos, all the time thanking God for the memories rather than feeling sorry for herself. As she finished that project, the thought hit her: “I can choose to live in joy. And I’m doing it!”

Anna’s journey from anxiety and depression to joy seemed like a miracle to all of us. But as she summarized it: “Be Thankful. Bless others.”

~Written by Cassie Rayl

“Is that all you have to say? Aren’t you gonna fix this like you’ve fixed everything else?” My friend’s disappointment in my response to his crisis broke my heart. I really had done my best to always rescue him in the past. Once upon a time, fixing loved ones’ issues is where I secretly found my worth. I truly believed I always had their best interest at heart.

And yet, when my lifelong friend’s world crashed yet again, this time I firmly heard the Spirit whisper, “Do not steal my glory, Child.”

Tears came to the surface. I obediently gritted my teeth and repeated, “I’m sorry you’re angry. I’m sorry this doesn’t make sense. God is big enough to hear those complaints and handle your anger.” As I knew would be the case, my words did not go over well.

Our phone call ended on a sweet note, but I could tell he felt like I had ripped the already-shaking ground out from under him. But I couldn’t stop mentally repeating what the Spirit had just whispered moments before, “Don’t steal my glory.”

As is often shared among Christians, “Our ways are not God’s ways.” It’s tempting to find an easier path. It feels better to tangibly do something for a loved one in crisis, rather than stand in the wings merely praying. It’s more comfortable to try doing God’s work for him rather than stand by and watch someone suffer.

Right?

But when we push ahead of God, we steal his glory. Spiritual growth is born in crisis, and if we take away the crisis, we cripple the other person’s ability to see Jesus for who he is.

After all, in the end, do we want people to need Jesus and know he can handle anything, or need us and watch as we fail them every time?

~ Written by Viki Rife

I thought I was done with Christmas for another year. As I drove up to my house the other day, though, I realized the Christmas decoration on the front door had been overlooked in packing up. Boldly it proclaimed, “Joy to the World.”

My first thought was, “It doesn’t belong there now.” My next one was, “Why not?”

I had been feeling like the year had gotten off to a rough start. Suddenly, the responsibility of truly bringing joy to the world hit me. The joy we expect to have at Christmas was intended to be for every day of the year. It has nothing to do with presents or family gatherings. Joy is something we can choose to have no matter what our circumstances. It is an attitude we can convey to the watching world around us as we rejoice in who our God is.

Can 2021 be a year of joy, even if nothing is going the way we hoped? Let’s resolve this year to celebrate daily the joy of personally knowing the Savior of the world. Our choice to live in joy instead of complaining, criticizing or despairing will do more to draw the world to Christ than anything else we could do.

As God’s dearly loved children, let’s focus together this year on bringing joy to the world.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Our New Year didn’t come in the way I had hoped. Although our plans hadn’t been huge, New Year’s was potentially the last holiday my husband, Peter, and I had before our son, Judah, arrives in early April. Ideas of games, movies, junk food and laughter were all I had thought about for days.

Instead, there were bowls strategically placed between the bathrooms so  I would be prepared any time my nausea hit. Peter militantly checked my blood pressure, managed my new medications, and gently understood when sleeping seemed better than looking at his face. As miserable as I was, I giggled every time Judah kicked my ribs.

Relief was on the horizon, though. My medical team had jumped into action, and as soon as my body adapted to new medications, I’d be okay. Still, I wasn’t focused on Jesus, joy, or Judah. I was adamantly focused on how God hadn’t given me what I wanted for the New Year.

At some point in my pity party, I heard the Spirit whisper to my heart, “Will you sing me a song? Will you bring in the New Year praising me anyway? You’re obviously miserable. Will you actually let me help you refocus? Or would you rather just hear yourself complain?”

The songs started out quite begrudgingly, let me tell you. Honestly, I started singing out of mere obedience. Before I knew it, though, I wasn’t focusing on my discomfort, missed plans, or even my fears over my health or the health of our son. I was just singing to the Man who first called me Beloved. My thirty-minute, possibly-off-tune worship session ended in joy simply because God had shifted my perspective from myself to Him.

I’m fairly certain we’re all realizing that the strike of midnight on January 1st didn’t make our lives a bed of roses. As Christ has continually challenged me, I extend that same challenge to you: When your heart is filled with what you don’t have and what you can’t control in this new year, praise God anyway.

Even in times of uncertainty, focusing on our First Love is always the answer to finding freedom and living in joy.

Hope For 2021

~ Written by Viki Rife

Three days before Christmas, as I prepared for my morning devotions, I sat and just cried instead. It was the third anniversary of my father’s death, and we lost my mom this year as the shadow of Covid-19 kept us from ministering to her as we would have liked.

Through my tears, I finally was able to open my Bible to the bookmark where I had left off. I read:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:6-10).

It was a timely reminder of the joy my parents are experiencing and what I hope to experience some day. However, more than comfort, it gave me resolve for the upcoming year.

For many of us, 2020 is the year we’d like to forget. The fact that 2021 is starting under the same cloud has been weighing on me. But courage says that whether we are in our body or away from it, we make it our aim to please God. That’s all I have to do: seek to please him every day, even when the media is assaulting me with threatening headlines or my body is experiencing symptoms that could be Covid. Seek to please him whatever happens in 2021.

How would the world change if we truly walked by faith, not sight, and sought to just please God? So many anxious, fearful moments would be avoided! So much anger and bitterness would be dissolved.

Please God. Just seek to please God. May that be our focus for this new year!

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