{re}fresh

Month: January, 2016

Step One to Breakthrough

by Mike McKinniss

Meanwhile Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God (Exo. 3:1).

There is a particular technique in devotional meditation on Scripture that encourages the reader to immerse himself in a biblical story. The idea is to read and re-read a narrative passage again and again and, in so doing, more and more deeply imagine oneself in the midst of the story.

It can be a powerful and insightful process, employing the imagination in such a way as to feel the weight of, say, Jesus’ parables, Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal, or Paul’s harrowing shipwreck. What would I think if I were there? How would I respond?

Occasionally, the reader is encouraged to put herself in the dusty sandals of certain characters in the tale, to try to see the narrative through a biblical figure’s eyes.

There are some people in the Bible with whom I imagine it might be rather easy and natural to trade places. I can often see myself in the lives of the disciples, especially pre-Pentecost; consistently missing Jesus’ point is a forté of mine. Gideon’s shoes fit me perfectly; I could ask God for signs as a stall tactic in my sleep. And I may have been cut from the same cloth as Jonah; my natural direction in life is generally opposite the way God is pointing.

Rarely, however, do I dare put myself in the position of the Greats. Paul would no doubt dismiss me as a timid mouse of a man. I quiver in Elisha’s gaze. When I stand at my tallest, David towers over me.

Yet recently, I have dared to imagine my life in the model of Moses.

Yes, Moses: the man who looms over the entire Old Testament. Moses: the prophet who called down plagues, carried God’s Law and formed a nation from a ragtag league of slaves. Moses: the man called the most humble who ever lived. I can see myself in him.

That is, I can see myself in Moses at a particular time in his life.

Although Moses began his life in peril—he was quickly hidden as a newborn because Pharaoh had demanded the life of every Hebrew boy—he was taken into the household of Pharaoh himself and raised amidst royalty. Exodus doesn’t tell us much about Moses’ upbringing, but we can imagine that he must have had the finest clothes, food and education as Pharaoh’s own adopted grandson.

Some time later, in a rather rash moment, Moses killed an Egyptian who was lashing out against a fellow Hebrew. The deed was discovered and Moses was forced to flee the country, heading toward the wilderness to the east. He married into a foreign family and took on the job of herding his father-in-law’s sheep. Moses’ prospects had sunk low.

This is the point at which I find it easy to picture myself as Moses. Though I could never claim royalty, I have been many times brought low from what I had perceived as a higher plateau. Indeed, how often does this happen to us all? We achieve certain accolades, a certain standing, but then circumstances shift and we find we are quickly at the bottom of the pile.

Scripture does not say how long Moses lived in Jethro’s household, walking his sheep over every desolate hill and dale. Some suggest it may have been as long as thirty or forty years. The Bible only says it was a long time.

It must have felt even longer for poor Moses, thinking of the height from which he’d plummeted. The attendant questions come easily to mind: God, how could you have brought me to this terrible place? Oh, to think of where I had been just a few years ago! God, when will you ever save me from this damnation to anonymity?

Many of us long for breakthrough. The circumstances differ from one to another, but we each are desperate, at various times, for the Lord to emerge in our lowly state and rescue us. For Moses, I imagine it was a longing to return to some kind of prominence. For others, it is a health issue for which they have prayed relief, recognition in the workplace for years of hidden toil, rescue from an abusive relationship. Whatever the source of our trouble, we rightly recognize the Lord as our savior.

But when might he come to save? That is so often the plaguing question.

For Moses, his breakthrough began when he noticed a peculiar thing. Walking the flock of sheep near the mountain of Horeb, the Lord caught his attention in a remarkable way. God set fire to a bush, but refused to consume it. Finally, the Lord shows up! This is what Moses had been waiting for.

But Moses must also have done an important thing. In order to receive the breakthrough God had planned for Moses and the Hebrew people, Moses had to respond: “Moses thought: I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?” (Exo. 3:3).

Moses’ breakthrough came because God suddenly appeared but Moses would have missed it had his eyes not been open. Had Moses not been on the lookout for the Lord, and had he not been ready to respond, he may have trudged on past that burning bush, never turning aside.

Perhaps this is step one to breakthrough: Daily set expectations to see God. Moses did not know when God would appear to him, but he was ready when the Lord did reveal himself. So it may be with us. Whatever breakthrough we seek, we know the source will be our God. And though way may not know when the Lord will act, we can know that we’ll be ready to see him and respond when he does.

God Rest You Merry

by Wendy

Christmas came, we rejoiced briefly amid too-many-things-to-do, Christmas went; then January crashed in on me, unceremoniously, with its backpack of trauma, dreads and fears. The let down from Christmas was fierce and unrelenting.

I fumbled for focus, for footing. Thankfully, Christmas actually lasted twelve days in our household this year, and I had more time than usual to internalize again the well-known carols. “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” stuck around past New Year’s and I decided to linger in it awhile, reveling in its hopeful message and gracious reminders. The world might be too much with me, but God’s story held hope for something other.

“Let nothing you dismay!, the carol reminded me. Stay merry through January and beyond. Stay joy-filled, for Jesus came to destroy the works of the enemy, rescuing us not just once but every day from the world’s evil and scorn. “To save us all from Satan’s pow’r” meant Immanuel wasn’t just with us in His birth and incarnation, He STAYS with us in the moments of our days, standing between us and the worst plans of the enemy, redeeming and turning the darkness to light.

My fears didn’t want to listen. What about the inevitable conflicted discussions about theology and ministry practice? Those didn’t sound particularly appealing. What about the lack of funds, the push for teamwork, the forging ahead to create unity? What about the day in and day out drudgery? I whined that it all seemed too hard, too constant. My drop-in-the-bucket efforts were too small, too wearing, too wearying, too little, too late, and too impossible.

I groveled for a moment, but then the “O tidings of comfort and joy” part rose up. “Listen, fears,” I scolded, “no, you will not take Christmas and trash it in January. No, you will not drag me through an alone and hopeless January. No!” I told them, as I stood up on the inside, and I meant it.

The carol and the Spirit prompted me. God had sunrises after sunsets. He held hope in darkness, promises in vacuums, and encouragement in deserts. He didn’t come to leave me stranded, facing lonely Januaries after sparkling Christmases. He came to save me from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and give me new strength and hope.

“God rest ye merry,” the carol commanded me in January. Stay hopeful, stay focused. Let the Son of God defeat the enemy once again, even while you are tempted to stray into pity and depression, it told me. Let nothing you dismay, soul. Tidings of comfort and joy may stay for the whole year – don’t pack them away at Christmas!

I fingered the one tiny Christmas crèche ornament still hiding on my desk, just to remind me. Glad tidings, it said again and again, glad tidings of comfort and JOY!

Go Through to Break Through

by mymorethanme

A few weeks ago both our boys came down with strep throat. Since getting slammed with a digestive disorder seven years ago most antibiotics have not been my friend; therefore, strep has been at the top of my heebie-jeebies list. I have done all I can (within reason) to avoid antibiotics as well as sickness. Should I get sick, it could take weeks for me to bounce back, and many medications (from cold medicines to antibiotics) negatively affect my system–so much so that I would rather suffer through illness without taking anything for relief than deal with the side effects. While I have not become a full-fledged germaphobe, I readily admit I have used more than my fair share of hand sanitizer.

So how did I handle this plague that struck our home? I couldn’t run, couldn’t hide, couldn’t avoid it. My love for my boys overtook my fear so I held them, stroked their heads, kissed their faces, and prayed. And cleaned. And obsessed a bit. Then, after about a week, my husband and I reluctantly went to the doctor to get checked ourselves because we finally had to concede to the fact that we, too, had sore throats. We were given antibiotics to take–just in case. Our test results had come back negative, but seeing as we had two confirmed cases of strep in the house, we were prescribed the dreaded antibiotics prophylactically. At first we held off, thinking (hoping!) perhaps it wasn’t strep, but then Dad got worse so we each took our first pill. Turns out he did not have strep, but the flu, and I had a mild something that quickly and quietly passed, but since we’d already begun the treatment, on we marched.

Know what happened?

Nothing. I suffered no side effects. I was surrounded by strep and the flu and I barely had a sniffle. I faced and fought panic and Love won. Where I broke down, God broke through.

Now fear has no hold on me.

We are all given the gift of choice. We can allow fear to hold us captive–to dictate our decisions, feelings and reactions. We can ruminate on what-ifs and worst case scenarios (poor uses of imagination) until we are bound and gagged, incapable of moving, living or breathing. We can turn tail and cower in defeat, curl up in a ball, and pull the covers up over our heads while settling into a stagnant slumber. Or we can wake up and live–alive. We can follow, believe, trust, rely and depend on the One who with loving strength and supreme authority earnestly entreats us to, “Fear not.” The power of fear is in the fear, not in the projected outcome we, while dripping sweat, strive to avoid. As it turns out, I did not get the sickness I feared, or suffer the consequences I anticipated by taking the medication I was prescribed. However, even if I had, I would have been given the grace not only to endure the circumstance, but also to be strengthened and empowered by it. There is a tragedy greater than the outcomes projected in fear that most often never come to pass, and that is the time, peace, love, and life sacrificed on the illusory altar of self-preservation, safety and security.

How do we break out of fear’s death grip? We must go through to break through. There is no other way. Turning our backs on fear leaves us vulnerable to being shot between the shoulder blades. We face our fears with faith and triumph, knowing life was never meant to be safe; it was meant to be lived. Knowing we are not victims; we are victors. Knowing we cannot win this battle on our own. Perfect Love drives out all fear. It is in this Love we stand as overcomers, warriors, winners, as more than conquerors.

We belong to our Father. The battle is His and He’s already won. Outcomes are irrelevant in His arms–where our coming apart comes together and our falling pieces fall into place. Where we are held, healed and made whole. Where our breakdowns become our breakthroughs, where all things work together for good, where Love never fails and we are always safe.

The only place we are safe.

The only place we are free.

Play Ball!

by Rob Dunne

“He will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12b.

After a brief hiatus from America’s favorite pastime, my parents asked me if I wanted to play senior league baseball. Truly, I had missed the distinct cracking sound of bat making contact with ball, the smell of freshly oiled mitts and the sight of chalky white lines dividing fair ball from out of bounds. Fond memories elicited an excited yes.

Unlike times past, I was required to try out for a team. Following a grueling afternoon of batting and fielding, I received a phone call. As fortune would have it, I was selected to play on the Phillies, the previous year’s champions. Would the team be good enough to repeat? One could only hope.

As the dog days of summer stretched in to fall, I found my excitement dwindling. Game after game, I rode the pine in the all too familiar dugout. On the rare occasion that I did get the nod to play, the pressure to perform was so great that I choked. Instead of an encouraging “nice try” the coach shouted the Lord’s name in vain followed immediately thereafter by my name.

At season’s end, there was a banquet. The Phillies were once again crowned champions. Each member of the team received a trophy. It was a hollow victory for me; I contributed little to nothing in obtaining it.

Recently, I was worshiping the Lord and He showed me a picture of a baseball. The stitching came undone and the core was exposed. What are you showing me Lord? “My son, you are on My team. Not only that, you get to play in the game!” Memories of my time on the Phillies flooded my mind. Those old feelings of rejection and inadequacy rapidly melted away.

In the kingdom of God, there is no rejection. We are accepted in the beloved. Regardless of our skills, talents and abilities, Papa encourages us to get in the game. He experiences great joy watching us give our best effort. Even when we fall short of the mark, He always responds with love. Failure is never a possibility as long as we try. Rather than a worthless trophy that will eventually rust or break, we will receive a crown that will never fade away.

Father, thank you for inviting us to play on your team. I thank you that there are no tryouts in your kingdom. With you, there is no fear of failure. We get to play in the game knowing that your response will always be one of pride, joy and love. You are and always will be a good, good Father.

 

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