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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

At first glance, things weren’t going well. The once booming church’s numbers had dwindled drastically. The offering plate struggled to provide funds to keep the church’s doors open—though they still were. The elephant in the room was no longer being ignored.

Things had changed. Those changes had come at a great price. But redemption wasn’t lacking when you spoke to the people who remained in the pews. Bitterness which had lined the halls for decades had finally been brought to light and resolved. Unbiblical teaching had been eradicated from the pulpit. Relationship with each other and their Savior was now more important to the remaining congregants than their religious traditions.

They were seeing God more clearly than they had in many years.

Sometimes, change hurts. Every time, no matter how good the changes are, starting anew is scary. However, letting the fear of pain stand in the way of taking the plunge and starting new would be a tragedy. Starting over and being given a new opportunity doesn’t always make sense; nor does it always feel good. The joy of a fresh start is we have a chance to depend on the Jesus who promises to never leave us nor forsake us.

May your New Year be laced with the adventure of depending on our faithful God!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Wonder. I’ve heard that word throughout my entire life in reference to Christmas. I remember as a child seeing commercials showing delighted kids receiving just what they wanted, or being surprised with a superbly decorated tree, and the announcer saying something like, “give them the wonder of Christmas.”

Wonder is a very good word to use in reference to Christmas. But our world has stopped far short of the real wonder of Christmas. And we can miss it, too, as we rush around to make sure everything is just as perfect as what we see on TV or Pinterest.

The true wonder of Christmas is that no matter what my circumstances, I am deeply and truly loved. It is a wonder that the God of the Universe would look at me and say, “I want much more for you than what you deserve.” It is a wonder that God is so wise that He sent His Son as a baby, someone who had to endure everything we do from the start.

Just as we fit trimming our tree and shopping for presents into our schedule, let’s carve some time this season to sit and ponder the wonder of “Christ with us.” And let’s put as much thought and energy into sharing that wonder with the children in our lives as we do in giving them the world’s image of the wonder of Christmas.

Give It A Chance

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

In the last two years, my sight has slowly returned. A brain surgery left the peripheral vision in my right eye almost 75 percent blind. However, with each eye appointment, test results show more and more improvement in my blind eye.
At my last appointment, my doctor shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly as he showed me the test results. “Brain surgeries are a testy thing. We’re told to wait ten years before giving a final diagnosis so your brain can heal. I guess we just needed to wait a little while longer for you. Your blind spot is completely normal, Ma’am.”
I should have been happier about the news. So many things would be easier with both my eyes fully functioning. But if my eyes were testing “normal,” why was I still walking around as if I was working with an enormous blind spot? When I sat back from the test, I still couldn’t see anything in my peripheral vision.
When I explained my confusion to the doctor, I could tell he was fighting back laughter. “You’re not blind anymore, Ma’am. But now you have to tell your eyes that. They’ve gotten so used to being blind, they don’t know how to work normally. It’ll take time. But it’s there, I promise. Let your brain believe in what it’s seeing.”
Sometimes I think I do the same thing with trusting Jesus with my redemption. My spirit knows it is free from sin, but sometimes my spirit can’t see itself as free because it lived in captivity for so long. Just like with my optometrist, my spirit has to be reminded of the obvious.
I’m not blind anymore.

~ Written by Viki Rife

Many families love to review anecdotes when they get together over the holidays. One of my personal favorites is about our oldest grandchild, Natalie. She was such a “little mommy” that our daughter had to forbid her from taking care of her little brother so that he could learn to do things for himself.

Shortly after our other daughter’s second son was born, she planned a visit to her sister. When Natalie was told, she did not seem excited as her mom had expected.

“Three little boys?” she asked doubtfully. “That’s a lot of work for me.”

We might laugh at how preposterous it is for a five-year-old to think so much responsibility is on her shoulders. But I can’t help but wonder if God is amused when we look at a situation and think, “That’s a lot of work for me.” Let’s give him credit for being the responsible Father he truly is.

~ Written by Viki Rife

It sounded like a really good idea. My husband was working late in Valparaiso, an hour and a half west of us. Knowing he would get home late and be too tired to remember, he decided to set his phone alarm for the next morning before he left the office.

Guess what? The alarm did not go off at the time he needed it to. Even though the alarm was clearly set for 7 a.m., it went off at 8 a.m. our time, which was 7 in Valparaiso.

It made me wonder how many of God’s wake-up calls I miss because I set my goals in “earth time” instead of my home time, heaven. Do I really live in God’s zone, or in this world’s? I have to remember constantly which zone I belong in.

Felt-Board Jesus

~ Written by Maria Houston

I serve a different Jesus now than the one I knew before. Gone is the fabric character I placed on a felt background as a child. I imagined him gently speaking to the children gathered around his feet. He was safe and undemanding, without any risk involved.

That Jesus did not ask much of me, but I expected much of him. He was to ensure the job I wanted, the husband I dreamed of, the family I desired, and the life I deserved. I knew he would fulfill all my requests, because he loved me.

But as my faith adventure went on, the road became difficult. I encountered mountains that were hard to climb and valleys that were impossible to navigate. I clung to my felt-board Jesus, but he was of no help. He was not answering my prayers. He was silent. The mountain was not removed; I was struggling to climb it. As with a gust of wind, my felt-board Jesus was ripped from my hands. I watched him go up into the air. I stood there motionless. My Jesus was gone. The stories I heard as a child must be untrue. I was all alone.

Instead a new Jesus appeared. I could not hold Him, see Him, or touch Him, but I could feel Him standing there. I asked Him to explain why He allowed this mountain to remain. Couldn’t He just make it go away? If He would just listen to me! I had a better idea. He could make an easy path—one that was straight and flat without any hardship. I sensed Him motioning me to follow Him.

As we climbed the mountain together I realized He was in charge. He had places He wanted to show me, places that might involve pain, but also bring about more joy than I knew before. The more time we spent together the more I started to think like Him. I even started praying for things we needed for our adventure together.

It has taken time to get used to this new Jesus. But as I look at scripture I see that this Jesus is not actually new, but was the one who always existed. This is the Jesus who has changed lives for centuries. My felt-board Jesus could never have done that.

Kiss the Knees

~ Written by Viki Rife

She sat on the floor with her dollies. Carefully she picked up each one and lovingly gave it a bottle. Then she methodically lined them up and began changing diapers, carefully wiping each baby with tissues she had stuffed into an empty box of baby wipes.

After three days I had stopped trying to coax her to sit on my lap. It isn’t easy for a timid two-year-old to get to know a grandma she only sees once a year. I contented myself with sitting nearby and working on a crochet project. Of course, she had no idea that the yarn was turning into a gift for her.

Suddenly, she jumped up, ran over, and kissed my knee, which was the only part of me low enough for her to reach. Before I could respond, she had scampered back to her dolls.

She was showing love for me in the only ways her shy heart could handle. The impromptu demonstration of affection touched me deeply. I still longed to hold her in my arms, but realized this was all she could handle at the moment. And it was enough.

I often picture myself approaching God as a child. All I can handle is kissing His knee. Thankfully, He’s a good Father who delights in my attempts to demonstrate my affection. I sometimes picture Him smiling to Himself as he works to weave the thread of my life into something that will delight me.

Because He understands me, He accepts my feeble love as enough.

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