{re}fresh

Month: July, 2015

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

by Wendy

DSC_7882

A quick glance through social media turned into a long squeal. My friend decided to run a half marathon. At Disney. DisneyLAND!

I posted a Facebook reply in three nanoseconds and almost booked a flight on the spot. Why?

Because Disneyland makes me yearn for the Kingdom of God, and Heaven.

Truly, I’m not nuts. Let me explain.

The first time I visited Disneyland I had just emerged from five days of fasting and tussling with God about leadership issues. I was exhausted and wondered how I’d recover.

Enter The Mouse.

I wandered, awestruck, through the park. One man and a large organization, plus a massive supply of imagination and money, created a perfect dream world. Just what my spirit needed. That off-season day there were no tears, no frowns, no trash, no mistakes, no conflict, no worries, no errors, and no hurt, pain or trauma. No mistakes taunted me; tantrums disappeared with hugs from over-sized characters. Perhaps Disney had problems that day, but they stayed off-stage. I did not have to deal with them. Not. Even. Once.

My heart instinctively needed a place where all the bad things disappeared. A place where someone was happy to be with me, and smiles radiated from every window.

My soul reveled in wonder and delight. My brain danced and somersaulted along with my eyes and ears. My imagination tumbled and spun and whirled and clapped along with my hands and my body.

Suddenly I remembered God’s Kingdom, the play, the healing, the laughter. I remembered that God prepared a place (both physical and spiritual) where the ills don’t win, and He wanted to bring that Place, that Kingdom, to invade my world. My head knew all that; I’d prayed and seen healing; I’d worshiped and felt Glory; I’d watched God change death and despair into Life and Hope. But I’d forgotten.

God used a silly Mouse to remind me about beauty and whimsy and color and excitement and joy. No, Disneyland wasn’t His Kingdom, it was a magic kingdom; it wasn’t perfect, but it reminded me of God’s perfection. And if MAN, created in God’s image, could do this with finite amounts of expertise and dollars, HOW MUCH MORE did God create a beautiful, perfect New World for us to enjoy?

For some strange reason, The Mouse rekindled my longing for Heaven, our true home, a place of wonder. No tears, no pain, no trauma… and everyone is glad to be with you. Joy embodied.

What does it take to remind you of God’s Kingdom?

Dancing With I AM

by mymorethanme

"Cute Little Girl in Pink Dances" individual from the larger series http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/4549438383/ earlier.

“Cute Little Girl in Pink Dances” individual from the larger series
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/4549438383/ earlier.

Being nearsighted necessitates I wear glasses if I wish to perceive things in the distance. Objects close up come through clear, but those far off always appear fuzzy. This holds true only in the natural. In all other aspects I suffer severe farsightedness. It takes considerable, concentrated effort for me to stay in the moment, to experience the joy of the journey, to fully see and be where I find my feet. I easily lose sight of now, anxiously anticipating what is yet, or at times, reflecting on what was.
You know what they say about having one foot in tomorrow and one in yesterday? You know what you end up doing all over today.
Why is it so easy to piddle away our days?
God is here, now. He calls Himself “I AM.” He was and is and is to come, but to experience Him intimately, to truly abide in Him, it is imperative we live in the now. This is where blood and breath proclaim life. Memories enrich lives with meaning and dreams offer divine direction, but we can’t dance detached from our feet. To live alive we must reside in our present posture.
It is also important to note too often the past is a reminder of remorse, the future a foreboding forecast. Neither is clear, each filled with fear.
My time as of late has been spent preparing for a significant move, and I have frequently found myself straddling days. I have vacillated between pensive projections and delightful daydreams, merry memories and reticent regrets. This stance has cost me valuable time. I have not been present with my boys, my husband, my God. I have looked forward to our new home, not realizing we are always home. Home is acceptance, love, and belonging. It is protection, peace, and rest. Home is the fulfillment of a longing for God and God is Immanuel, with us, our home no matter where in our journeys we sojourners find ourselves.
God is Love and Love is now. Love does not exist in reflection or projection. Yes, God is here and there and everywhere, but His Love manifests tangibly in us in real time–not the beginning or the end, but smack dab in the middle.
For goodness’s sake, don’t piddle on the middle!
My husband illustrated this beautifully last week. As we were rushing from one commitment to the next, stopping only to pick up and scarf down dinner on the run, we noticed two shabbily dressed, disheveled men passed out against a brick wall next to the parking lot of the pizza place, empty beer cans and paper bags scattered around them and their shopping cart. I’m sure John’s thoughts were ping-ponging between where we had been and where we were going, but when he walked out of that pizza joint with two pizzas, dropped one off with me at the car and continued on with the second to the gentlemen hungering for food and then some, I smiled knowing Love had won the moment and I was witnessing life really lived.
I was those drunk men, intoxicated on thought, dizzy with desire, bleary-eyed, cross-eyed, oblivious to the now. I was searching for home, not seeing it around me, with me, in me. I was passed out, blind, starving for the feast placed in front of my face, slumbering, stagnant, slipping away.
And then Love dropped by with a pizza and a prayer and, dehydrated as I was, my eyes gulped the scene–heart-filling, life-flowing. Blood pumping, breath returning, I looked down at my feet and smiled.
I was dancing.

Confusing Man’s Calling with God’s Calling

by Dawn Aldrich

Young girl praying

We received word that the youth pastor of our home church resigned. Having worked alongside him during school breaks, we knew the void he’d leave behind. So, we rolled up our sleeves and dove into youth ministry wholeheartedly during our summer vacation.

My husband (then fiance) and I drew upon our past youth group experiences, designing and implementing the summer ministry program. It all came so easily, like we were designed to do this. The youth responded so positively, that the pastor’s wife nonchalantly asked, “When are you done with school so you can become our next youth pastors?”

Those were weighty and dangerous words, but we didn’t know it back then.

Starry-eyed, we eagerly returned to college with the blessing of our pastor and his wife and changed our college majors from writing (me) and computer science (my husband) to Christian education. I distinctly recall my writing professor offering this thought: God can still use you in (youth) ministry even with a writing major. But, I dug my heels in and refused his suggestion, convinced “God’s” call to youth ministry meant being “full-in” regardless of my talents and educational investment. My husband felt the same.

Six months later, our pastor called to apologize. He’d left the church and was moving his family to the Midwest. Furthermore, with our home church in a tizzy over his move, there would be no youth ministry dream-job waiting for us when we graduated the following year. Our hearts sank with disappointment.

Only two semesters stood between us and graduation. Again, we stuck our heels in, convinced that if our pastor and his wife saw God’s calling on our lives, then surely, it must be true. That summer, busy with our internship and wedding plans, we forged ahead, praying that God would lead us to the right church.

Again, everything went smoothly, landing a youth pastor position only a few months into our newlywed senior year.

Three years into that position our life struggle began. We knew youth ministry was far from God’s calling. Loving the youth, but not the “ministry position”, we headed home—more confused and unsure of God’s calling on our lives than ever. No matter where we sought refuge and counsel we were only offered “atta boys” and offers to fill volunteer youth positions.

Desperately seeking Godly counsel, the best one pastor offered us was this: “Well, since you’ve decided to leave the ministry, don’t dwell on what’s past. Move forward and forge ahead.” Not helpful. Not helpful or thoughtful at all.

We struggled for years, unsure of what God wanted to do with our lives—wondering if we’d let Him down when we left full-time ministry. Over time, God revealed that knowing our true calling came down to this:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

In our early years we hadn’t truly sought God about our calling. We’d sought the praise, adoration and confirming words of men—our pastor, his wife, elders, our peers and family—simply men. How could we know what God was thinking without seeking Him first? Who can know the mind and thoughts of a stranger? And that’s what God was to us, a stranger. But when we sought God first through private and corporate worship, when we truly spent time in relationship with our Father—conversing and listening to Him—we could hear Him more clearly.

Remember our original majors, writing and computer science? Yeah, that’s what God called us to be…a writer and a computer engineer entrepreneur. It’s how He wired us and how He intended to use us effectively. One spins words and thoughts into coherent stories while the other thinks logically and builds intricate networks with foresight.

Does it matter that we aren’t using those things in “full-time, church ministry?” No…because if we are followers of Christ, our lives are ministry. Everything we do, every talent, every gift, every word and action should point others to Jesus, wherever we find ourselves.

Seek God first. Weigh man’s words against God’s. Then, live your life’s calling wherever you go.

Most Journeys Are Mostly Boring

by Mike McKinniss

IMG_2347When the right time comes, I the Lord will quickly do this. (Isaiah 60:22b)

I recently had the good fortune to fulfill a life-long dream to drive across the country. The trip was itself a major step in another, much longer, more personal journey—a seven-year pursuit of the love of my life. But that’s another story.

As I made my way across our nation’s flatter states, a principle of life and faith slowly emerged in my consciousness, not unlike the gradual upward climb of the Rockies on the horizon as I made the journey west. I would be driving across the Oklahoma plains or the Texas panhandle, thinking about one thing or another or nothing at all, when suddenly I would realize in amazement, that it had been hours since I’d done anything of interest—no turns, no stops for gas or relief, not even a tap of the brake.

And then, quite surprisingly, I would look around find that I had ventured into a vastly different and dramatic landscape. I had not noticed the massive painted bluffs that had been creeping upward on either side of the highway. I had not anticipated the emergence of a vast canyon, nor the remarkable vistas it revealed. As anyone who has made the trip through the American West will tell you, there are spectacular sights to see along the way. Indeed there are. But most of the trek by car is actually quite boring and uneventful.

This reminds me of the old saying about a soldier’s life in a time of war, that it is months of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. We might say the same about our journeys, spiritual or otherwise, though hopefully without the terror part.

Reflecting on the larger journey I have been taking with the Lord, this is precisely how I might have described it. Though the faith-filled trip has lasted several years, with many significant events along the way, most of the time has passed with little event. Following the word of hope and promise from the Lord, most of the time since has been spent waiting and watching.

Toward the closing of this long spiritual journey, a short passage became very important to me, and I suppose it illustrates this point in a way. Isaiah 60 is a powerful prophecy promising the beleaguered people of Israel a future time of national restoration. Although Israel would endure a long exile in consequence of their rebellion against God, there would come a time, Isaiah assured, when they would again shine as a people. When and how would this come about? The Lord says through Isaiah, “When the right time comes, I the LORD will quickly do this” (Isa. 60:22b, NET).

From my picayune perspective, things tend to move slowly with God. We live in a big world, with more going on than we could ever hope to comprehend at once. Our faith journeys, by nature, will feel slow, deliberate, as if we were sitting in a car amidst the vast American plains, with little to do but peer out at the endless flat horizon. Nothing seems to happen.

And then, suddenly, at the precisely the right time, it seems the Lord acts in one swift and decisive move. We had not seen it coming. Night had been black around us for hours on end. And the fulfillment comes as a sudden sunrise, punctuating our long uneventful wait with joyous surprise.

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