{re}fresh

Month: February, 2016

The Interweaving of Our Hopes

by Mike McKinniss

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Serengeti Sunset” by Anita Ritenour used under license CC BY 2.0

There was a time when I knew, just as everyone else did, that if you cozied too close to the Lord, he was bound to send you to the very place on the planet you least wanted to be.

As a teen, this was Africa, the dark continent, so called because I was entirely blind to anything remotely approaching its beautiful reality. I knew nothing about it, except that probably everyone lived in mud huts, drank dust and shooed cobras out of their kitchens.

What’s more, it was best in those days to rid yourself of desires altogether. These would only lead to pain, since the Lord was unlikely to fulfill them anyway. How could we be so selfish?

The real question—the holy question—was what God’s will might be. Never mind what I wanted. My desires would surely be laced with a good dose of my own conceit and vainglory. But God’s will, that was the thing to strive for, even if it would send you to Africa. And like castor oil, it’s best to take it quick and get it over with. It might be good for you, but you’ll hate it going down.

Then I began to learn, slowly, just how good God is.

When I finally began to take the plunge into God’s will, I did so with the trepidations articulated above. I took risks. That is, they felt like risks at the time. Yet as the Lord led me through one difficult decision after another, yielding my will to his, I found I repeatedly came out the other side not only unscathed, but quite happy.

I was discovering, first, that when I surrendered my will to his, it took me to good places. Jesus’ words from Matthew 13:44-46 were becoming true to me:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

A bit farther down the road, the Lord started unveiling a fresh lesson. Faced with new decisions in which it felt my entire life hung in the balance, I dutifully inquired of God: “What do you want me to do?”

Now, however, I was rather shocked by the response that began to return to my spirit. However often I would ask the question, the same puzzling thought arose. “Well,” God seemed to be saying, “what do you want to do?”

I knew better, though. There was no way, I had learned early on, God could possibly be interested in my desires. He was far too holy for that, and I less holy.

And anyway, this dialog with the Lord was sounding far too much like conversations with friends on a Friday night. “What do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” “I don’t know.” And so on. It could go on forever.

Surely the Lord was not engaging me on this level.

Then the key to God’s bizarre interest in my wishes was delivered. It came in talks with my wife. They began much like the conversations with friends, searching for something to do over a weekend, but it carried a very different overtone.

I might first ask what she was interested in doing with our evening. Having no set idea, she inquired of my wishes. It might have gone back and forth a few times, and the indecision between the two of us might have fed frustration.

But there was embedded within our circular dialog a positive note. She was genuinely interested in my desires, and I in hers. She was not asking about my hopes for the evening because she had no ideas, but because she wanted to take into account my interests. I was not asking for her ideas because I had none, but because I wanted to please her.

Love made us interested in each others’ desires, such that we were eager to have them blend together. I wanted to incorporate her wishes into mine; she wanted my dreams to inform hers.

It was dawning on me, then, what the Lord doing with me. He wasn’t interested in dictating my hopes. He wasn’t interested in overruling my every thought. Rather, he wanted a conversation that took my thoughts and feelings into account. He was inviting my into the process of determining his will, intertwining his will with mine.

So now when I ask the Lord his hopes for a given situation, I am no longer surprised when he responds, “Well, what do you want?” And the conversation begins.

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Immanuel, God With us: How “With” is “With?”

by Wendy

Seal Your Mouths  by Brook Rosemary flickr.com/photos/indigotimbre/46141712

Seal Your Mouths
by Brook Rosemary
flickr.com/photos/indigotimbre/46141712

The dentist’s chair was the last place I wanted to be. A piddling annoyance for many, the dentist represented far more trauma for me. Vivid pictures swirled in my mind of childhood cavity-fillings without anesthesia, and the more recent “time-I-almost-died-in-the-hospital”: a near-fatal bacterial infection had invaded my system after a broken tooth and a six-month cleaning.

Four years later, I was still terrified.

I cringed in the chair and tried, hard, to imagine Jesus near me. Anywhere near me. Even in the same building. In that moment, no amount of “with” seemed enough, and nothing convinced me – not Scripture, not worship songs, not frantic prayer, nor even hand-holding by a concerned dental technician.

Immanuel, God “with” us, just didn’t cut it, and I sputtered in exasperation.   Exactly how “WITH” was “with?”

The drill whined, and I clenched my jaw, my fingers, and my toes. Eyes wide, my mind went into overdrive, forcing facts into the front of my brain.

“OK Jesus, where are you?” I forced a deep breath, and tried imagining somewhere Jesus might be. Not just a distant force, I reminded myself, but someONE right here in the room. Someone strong and protecting.

What if Jesus was really THERE, in the room, at the end of the long chair…

…wiggling my almost-numb toes.

What? The surprising image popped into my brain. He was wiggling my toes loosening my tension, changing my view and jostling me out of my terror. I giggled silently as the picture gradually emerged and I realized how stiff I was. I flexed my hands, my fingers, my ankles. In my mental picture, Jesus smiled as I wiggled each limb, reassuring me that this was no dangerous visit. I would not die, the pain would not defeat me, and the fear could leave.

Somehow, I couldn’t be scared and grateful at the same time. (That much is objectively true: anxiety and fear both emanate from the same part of the brain, I’m told). I breathed, and stopped chomping vice-like on my physician’s hands.

Christmas was long-gone, but Immanuel was apparently still very much “with.” He didn’t come to leave us alone, but to stay amid our darkness, our fears and instabilities, our joys and blessings, and our anger and pain. He is huggingly close, holding our hands and our hearts and overcoming all manner of evil.

Immanuel, God WITH us. It’s not just for Christmas any more.

Forgiveness: sometimes it’s like running a marathon

by Dawn Aldrich

Finish line at Disneyland's Star Wars Half Marathon

Finish line at Disneyland’s Star Wars Half Marathon

Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:14 (MSG)

My husband just ran his first half marathon and I couldn’t be more proud. As he crossed the finish line and limped his way through the medals line, he said he almost blubbered like a baby—not from physical pain, but because he accomplished a significant milestone.

If forgiveness were a race, I’d be a plodder. In fact, when it came to forgiving my dad, it took me thirty-five years to even get off the couch and start training! It’s a common story, Dad walks out on the family, leaving behind wounded hearts, but the pain an absent father causes hurts just the same.

For years I prayed, “God, please bring my daddy home. Put my family back together the way it was, please.” However, when he did return to remarry my mother, just before I turned seventeen, life became unexpectedly awkward. Filled with mistrust, I’d built thick, protective walls around my heart so no one—especially my dad—could hurt me again. Although my lips uttered, “I forgive you,” I didn’t forgive my father heart deep.

Fast forward 28 years. I attended a woman’s retreat where the speaker taught on the names of God. Based on the name Abba (Father), she asked us to list all the positive lessons our earthly father had taught us. “Yeah, right!” I scoffed. “What positive lessons could my father have taught me, God? He walked out on me, remember?”

God and I wrestled until dawn when I finally limped toward the chapel, journal in hand. I blasted God for daring to open that closed chapter in my life. Finally, God asked, “Are you done yet?” And God did an amazing thing. He showed me all the positive lessons I learned from my earthly father—because of how God created him and despite his sin. Most importantly, God reminded me that He freely forgave my father, so who was I to withhold forgiveness from him?

I’d love to say I ran home and forgave my father, but I didn’t. I wrestled with God for seven months until I finally surrendered. As I freely released forgiveness, heaven’s gates opened and God’s fullest love and blessing spilled over me.

Forgiveness can be a difficult and painful ordeal. For some, offering forgiveness may be like running a marathon—it may take years of healing and processing before we’re ready. But, whether we forgive quickly or not, the important thing is that we do forgive one another—heart deep and with love.

Is there a person you find difficult to forgive? Won’t you ask Jesus to help you see that person through His eyes and, with His help, make steps toward forgiving that person? Forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget the sins against us, but that we release the hold their sin has against us.

Abba, help us to freely forgive those who’ve wounded us. We surrender our unforgiving hearts and pray for courage to release the hold their sin has had on us and to set them free from our unforgiveness.

What Women (and Men) Want

by mymorethanme

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

This verse is not saying that if I love God He, then He will give me everything I want; rather, I’ve come to learn it means that if I love God, then He will be everything I want.

I used to be a “promise” chaser–chasing after blessings of health, wealth and happiness. I believed that was what God, as a good Father, wanted for me.

Sometimes what I think I want is not really what I want, and what I think is good is not really good.

I have been praying for the healing of my digestive system for seven years. I began getting sick at the beginning of 2009. About nine months later we moved out of state, did not have health insurance, and my condition continually worsened. When we moved back home a few years later I saw a specialist, and after my first colonoscopy was told he had removed a monstrous polyp which, had I waited fifteen years until the recommended age for a colonoscopy (who signs up for one of those before they need to?!) would have developed into cancer. Had I been miraculously healed as I wanted to be, as I believed the Lord wanted me to be, that big ol’ polyp would have sat there and grown and could have killed me.

Last summer our family moved after being led by the Lord to this specific town, during this specific year. My husband and I had our hearts set on one particular little house. The day of the inspection everything (quite dramatically) fell apart. We were heartbroken. Begrudgingly, I began looking at other options. I came across a house that had been on the market for months, but we had overlooked because it had been out of our price range. The price had just been reduced. Emotionally spent we tried to resist getting too excited, but our hopes kept rising. This house was everything we wanted but thought we’d never be able to find or afford. It was immaculately clean, built in 1900 but impeccably maintained, with the most beautiful hard wood floors and features. It is cozy-small, but bigger than the first house, and not requiring the long list of work the first house would need. Long story short, we bought this house and every day and night we thank the Lord for it.

I can easily see the cause for delay in my healing. One healing was held off for a greater healing. We were pretty wowed by God’s hand in this. However, it has now been three more years and I’m still not healed. Should I be frustrated, bitter, angry, confused?

I can easily see the hand of God in the first house falling through and suddenly finding the hidden-just-for-us little gem we are now living in. Again, we were wowed by God in this. If we had remained frustrated, bitter, angry, and confused about the first house, we never would have looked for or found the second house.

In a way it would have been good for me to be healed back in ’09. I would have felt better, been able to enjoy my favorite foods, not be in pain, not be hungry. But years later I would have been much sicker, in much more pain, and much worse off.

It might have been good to get the first house. We would have been happy to have gotten what we wanted. But months later, after spending God knows how much time and money cleaning and fixing it up, and trying to fit the four of us in such small quarters, we wouldn’t have seen it as so good.

God is good and knows what is good. What we think is good–immediate health, wealth and happiness–isn’t always good. We need to lay down our finite mind’s definition of good and allow God, in His true, whole and holy goodness, to be our good, good Father. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours and He is always working things out for our best–whether we see it or not. Whether we see what is ultimately His desire for us this side of Heaven or not.

Our reward is not in what is given, but in who is giving. In the Giver we have all we need, all we want, in all ways, at all times. Love, joy, peace, comfort, provision–these promises are unencumbered by circumstance and time; they are always and eternal. They are His; they are Him–and He has promised to never leave us or forsake us.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

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