The Message Came From Marshall

My name is Marshall. So when I get a very timely, appropriate, and convicting message – a just-what-I-needed-right-when-I-needed-it, personalized-breaking-news, headline Word aimed right at me – from someone of the same name (Erin Keeley Marshall), I pay attention. Because this is how God speaks, and I’m quite sure – adamant, even – that we all experience ‘being told’ in this way, and that we quite often have encountered similar, seemingly unexplainable earfuls and eyefuls. In other words, we are each being constantly reminded that there is no such thing as coincidence.

I just want you to admit it. To confess it. To confess what it is, what it truly, honestly means: GOD Is. “I’m important, but no more important than any one else.” This is the biggest clue to finding The Truth.

One of my all-time favorite quotes:

“God has put enough into the world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible (Me: IMPOSSIBLE!) to live by sheer reason or observation alone.”
Ravi Zacharias, A Bigger Story, May 30, 2013

He explains:

“…every worldview can leave us with questions that we cannot exhaustively resolve this side of eternity. Every worldview has gaps. The question is, Does my paradigm fit reality and have enough reason behind it to explain how these gaps might actually be filled and remain consistent?

If the first foundational question human nature asks is “How” all this got here (who or what created it), and the next is “Why” (why is it here, why am I here), then the third has to be “How shall I live in response?” And this is key; it’s important because it is the first question on which I can take real action; the first time something do can potentially provide a resolution. (And I really like the double meaning of that word:
Resolution: noun, 1: a firm decision to do or not to do something. 2: the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.)

What we have here is a not a failure to communicate (name that movie) but a way to respond to this “how”. (Well, what we have here is a failure to agree on this basic principle: There is a Creator, The Creator has a purpose, and each one of us is important to its realization.)

If our response is holy (meaning ‘accepting of the Creator’s purpose’), there is comfort and surety, peace and sanity, reason and reasonableness. There is good feeling; there is something upon which we each can base every subsequent thing we do, say, think, and feel. Or we can fight against it, and find life an injustice.

The right answer to this question – which is not literally the same for everyone – is the one that helps me understand that each one of us has an equal right to be here. Not because it’s all about me, but because God in His unknowable purpose and wisdom put me here, needs me here, exactly where I am. Exactly where each of us is.

The opposite view is to suggest a hierarchy of people, and that means somebody is on the bottom, less important or necessary than others. Disposable. Unmissable. Better off …not. Have we not seen – are we not still seeing – this “anti-truth” put into action daily? When history is forgotten, it is repeated.

I think what I am trying to say is that anyone, everyone who actually takes a minute to really think about this, can’t help but come to the same conclusion: There is a Creator, whom we should yearn to know intimately. Because all answers are ultimately from Him. The Creator specifically made each one of us to fulfill a very specific need or role in His Creation. The part is completely necessary, un-voidable and unavoidable. Not at all random. But we do audition for it: we are each born, we live – choosing our beliefs and actions, and we pass on, as characters in the eternal story. Some one had to be the Judas – (and he had the freedom to choose, but he chose the lie. He denied the Truth. This is a subject for another post.)

And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.
John 17:3

For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and Divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. So that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20

The message really comes from God.

Training…

Training is ‘body’.

From our first days in infancy, we’re training in the control of our physical selves, gradually attaining mastery over these chubby and flailing arms and legs. We begin to move them where and when we want, to make the hands grasp, and the feet balance and toddle. We hear our babbling voice and shape our tongues around meaningful sounds. We get control of our bladders. We crawl, walk, run, jump, and soar.

As we develop and mature, we take on the soccer field, basketball court, or baseball diamond, or the bandstand, dance floor, and dramatic stage. It’s then we’re told about “practice”, and the need for boring repetition of small actions, scales, steps, and lines. But we shouldn’t forget the big moments: taking off the extra wheels, playing in any game, performing our best for every concert, recital, or curtain call.

Training is ‘mind’.

Thinking is learned, too. Initially, it’s focusing on communicating our needs, on speaking, vocabulary and grammar, and reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic. It’s finding a natural bent towards a specialized calling, something we don’t mind doing a lot of, something to make a career of. Then somehow, we reach a point where there seems to be nothing new to consider. We’ve seen it all, except maybe the newest TV series. But we shouldn’t forget the big moments: the epiphanies, the light dawning, and the passing of tests, big and little.

Training is ‘them’.

We see others. They’re bigger, but eventually, they shrink. We struggle to get them to do what we cry for, until we get the idea that we can do for ourselves. There’s some that are our size – we become friends. But then – whoa, there’s a difference we like, but we’re struggling awkwardly again to communicate. Much, much later, we realize that no, there’s no difference, because we’re all just people. We didn’t recognize the similarities; we saw only the differences, and them wasn’t us. But we shouldn’t forget the big moments: the best friends, first dates, and important days when people were all around for us.

Training is ‘work’.

Work is putting body, mind, and them together. It’s learning to respond under pressure, to follow orders, to work together, to connect all that with the “why” some things are more important than others; things like teamwork, each piece doing its part to make the whole effective. We reach “pro” and find that we’re treating each workday the same, kind of on autopilot. But we shouldn’t forget the big moments: the “job well done’s”, the promotions, and even the necessary career changes.

Training is ‘glad’.

Somewhere we heard that attitude is everything. Happiness is a choice. We think, though, that it’s other people, places and things that make joy. But too often, these externalities don’t – can’t – go the way we want, and we remember those cliches. We give them a try, and never forget when we found we can just ‘get happy’.

Training is ‘calm’.

It’s gotta be right now! Impatience. We want what we want. And we never forget when waiting doesn’t seem to bother us anymore.

Training is ‘self’. And training is ‘life’.

Training is not a four-letter word. I’ve figured out (finally) that everyday is a unique learning experience, a chance for growth,and for celebration. I try to approach each minute as if it were a “big moment”, that it may be something not to be forgotten. The analogy of sports teams treating regular season games the same as playoff games (or vice versa) fits. When I pick up the guitar and sing, it’s always like I’m praising the Lord on Sunday at church. I’ve learned to stop looking at the routine as boring repetition, memorization by rote. Monday morning is the same as Friday night is the same as Sunday’s message.

Because training is the Lord’s way.

and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:23-24 (ESV)

It Simply Can’t – Ever – Be Too Late

Eight years ago today, I hated myself. I loved (narcissistically) myself. I loved to hate myself, but hated to love myself. So God, who loves me and who loves to love me, showed me what real love is by directly intervening in my attempt to end the love-hate struggle once and for all. He did that by “ending” Christ for my struggle, once and for all. And if there is one thing, one fact, I cling to – have clung to – every day since July 25, 2008, it is what love did. What His love can do. Will do. Does. Without fail. And that gives me hope that it can never be too late.

Two words come out of this morning’s time with God: “Assured” and “Professor”. Assured, adjective, meaning ‘confident’ and ‘protected against discontinuance or change’, from Latin ad ‘to’ (expressing change) + se ‘without’ + cura ‘care’. Think of it as “changing to be without care” or becoming being-without-doubt. No doubt equals all carefree. Professor, noun, meaning ‘a person who affirms a faith or allegiance to something’, literally ‘someone who professes (declares publicly)’, from Latin pro ‘before’ + fateri ‘confess’.

The Bible, God’s Word, is my professor and the bottom-line source of my assurance; my teacher, my guide, my ‘how-to’ manual. My constant re-assurer. It can be yours, too. It says specifically to “Study me daily. Learn from me. Test what others say against me. I am directly from God, your Maker.” And its Cliff Notes (who doesn’t love Cliff Notes?) are very simple, short, and sweet: Love (really get to know) God, The Creator, and love others as I truly (am continuing to learn to know and) love myself. As God loves me. Because, when it comes down to it, as I feel about myself, I do feel about others. God is teaching me. He saved me on that day, literally, from my own self-hate, selfish love, and the resulting, life-consuming self-despair, by making it perfectly clear that I am worth everything to him. And so are you. Every one of us is priceless.

To summarize, I can’t profess, declare publicly, how much the Bible and the faith it assures me of mean to me except by consistently, constantly declaring publicly what they mean to me. Again, if I have learned anything in these past eight years, it’s that it simply can’t – ever – be too late to declare these life-saving, life-changing facts to you. To Faithfully, Obediently, Assuredly Live (FOAL) in my actions and my words, for anyone who will listen.

And I am relieved to be relieved of all responsibility for how my declarations are received – their impact is God’s part. My “job”, my w-o-r-k is just to put the message out there. He handles who hears it. I have come to see the honor in being a part, albeit a very small but very necessary and important member, of this team. Despite all my bumbling and fumbling and stumbling about – in the total darkness of ignorance of Him – He has still found a use, a purpose for me. Twice over! He has delivered me from my own hurts, bad habits, and hang-ups; and then from some pretty serious health issues.

Psalm 78 (ERV)
:1 My people, listen to my teachings.
Listen to what I say.
:2 I will tell you a story.
I will tell you about the things from the past that are hard to understand.
:4 … We will all praise the Lord and tell about the amazing things He did (Me: does!)
:7 So [all generations to come] would (willall trust in God, never forgetting what He had done and always obeying His commands.

“Whether you want the job or not, whether you feel qualified or not – Dad (Me: Christian), you are the (a) theology professor in your home (and everywhere you go).
“And once you are in this position, you can’t resign. Because even your resignation will teach you something about faith. … Start by refining [y]our own spirituality.
(Rick Johnson, 10 Things Great Dads Do)

My kids are 19 and 21. I’m concerned that I haven’t done – didn’t do – enough to reach them with God’s message. So for them, I have to believe it simply can’t – ever – be too late.

Grace Flows; We Follow

We had some landscaping done recently, including newly grass-seeded areas which we have to soak several times a day. Standing there with the hose, as I watch puddles grow in the dips and furrows, and then overflow into trickling, exploring rivulets, I see an analogy of God’s grace and love. How is the course for these mini-streams determined?

Now, we know that water flows ‘downward’, drawn by gravity. Let’s say that the lowest point is God’s purpose, ultimately pre-destined, but the course these rills (our lives) take can be varied, steered, so to speak, by the pebbles and tiny piles of dirt they encounter. Maybe ‘diverted’ is a more appropriate word. After all, we could say that the runoff ‘wants’ to go straight.

We can be like that. A lot like that. We make plans – expectations of direct paths to our goals. Then life happens, our molehills and mountains, and we can either get damned up into angry reservoirs going nowhere, or we adapt and find a new way of least resistance. Around, usually. Sometimes over or through, when we’re full.

My mind ripples, and I see a lazy river and white-water rafting. The easy way and the hard way. But which is which? To travel faster, we have work that paddle in the lazy river. (That’s self-control in the mundane times.) Less effort is needed in the rapids; but quickness, timing, experience, and no small amount of hope and trust are vital to avoid the rocks. (I’d call that ‘going with the flow’ or leaning on the rudder of faith.) In either case, God’s grace and love are the current, and we follow, carried along, like it or not. Or we stubbornly row against His purpose, but not forever.

I remember making paper boats to launch in a road-side brook, and running downstream with it as it made its journey. I’ve heard about messages tucked in bottles and thrown in the sea that take years to reach distant shores. Parts of a missing airliner have washed up on a particular coast, separated by months. All things flowing according to God’s course, and arriving there in God’s timing.

Naturally, God’s blessings are often compared to moving water. “Your Love is Like A River.”  “Waterfall.” “Beneath The Waters (I Will Rise).”

It’s how we respond that I’m thinking about today. Faith is trusting that the water is taking us to where we are meant to go, no matter the intensity of the current. At times, we will need to row, row, row. Other times, we just need to cling to the sides of the raft, trusting our guides, or be a part of the crew working the paddles in unison, to ride the flood safely. In both cases, we’re following the river’s course, and our actions are either simply slowing our progress or making the trip ultimately easier (and more enjoyable, peaceful even).

“Following [Jesus] is not trying to figure out which door to open. Nor is it trying to batter down the entrance, only to find Jesus is not behind that door.
“His new path for us may include unexpected or unwelcome events. But as His plan unfolds, and we follow Him in obedience, we’ll understand at least one of His reasons: greater glory for Jesus.”
(Rebecca Barlow Jordan, Mornings With Jesus)

So, brothers and sisters, be careful that none of you has the evil thoughts that cause so much doubt that you stop following the living God. But encourage each other every day, while you still have something called “today”. Help each other so that none of you will be fooled by sin and become too hard to change. We have the honor of sharing in all that Christ has, if we continue until the end to have the sure faith we had in the beginning.
(Hebrews 3:12-14)

 

Letting Intention Slide

So we must be more careful to follow what we were taught… so that we will not be pulled away from the true way.
Hebrew 2:1

I take the exact same route to dialysis and back home three times a week – so often, in fact, that my Ford Fiesta knows the way. No, I don’t have a self-driving vehicle (yet), but it can sure seem that way. During the ride, my mind goes to another place, while my body is on autopilot. Sometimes, I “come to” and am not sure for a frightening second where I am, because I haven’t been paying attention, I don’t immediately recognize the stretch of road, and I absolutely can’t remember the turns and stops and lights I’ve passed.

This verse speaks to me of this experience, but it’s my whole pattern of living that can frequently become like that routine trip. Intentionality – my living in the now – slips away; it’s not so much pulled away. It just wanders off when I don’t purposefully focus. I repeatedly work hard to establish a good daily routine, but as soon as I “settle in” to it, complacency follows and the slide begins. Somehow, I cease to be fully aware of every moment.

Today, God spoke to me of this “habitualizing” in my devotionals and in Hebrews 2, which was ‘coincidentally’ next up in my trek through the New Testament. Except, I don’t believe in coincidence.

“[Jesus] knows that left to my own self-centered ways, I will destroy myself. It is just what we humans do.”
(S.F. Aughtmon, Mornings with Jesus)

“The pursuit of normal is like chasing the wind. The moment you are sure you have settled into the fleeting comfort that comes with normalcy, a… ‘new normal’ [is revealed].”
(S. Rodriguez, Be Light, excerpt in Men of Integrity)

The key message came next:

“People of the light must resist the ‘normal’ and aspire to the extra-ordinary, the transformational.”
(Rodriguez)

Be more careful to follow“. Not patterns. Habits. Routines. Same old, same old. How do I stay in the moment? How do I keep conscious of every minute of living? “Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time?”

God – the one who made all things and for whose glory all things exist – wanted many people to be his children and share his glory. So he did what he needed to. He made perfect the one who leads those people to salvation. He made Jesus a perfect savior though his suffering.
Hebrew 2:10

It seems I’ll be working on this. Beginning right now, as I make my way out to the car for that routine drive.

A Prayer of Readiness

Heavenly Father, Perfect Creator, You determined and set in motion Nature’s laws, but You transcend them. You define science; science can not define You. We very finite beings either deny this Truth, or we grow to gratefully accept You and whatever You give us, and we come to praise You in all Your Being. In learning this lesson, we become able to put aside the greatest of fears – that of the unknown, of thoughts of the worst that could happen in anything we attempt, and we simply begin to trust You. We trust that You are in charge of all outcomes, even that final one, which, at long last (or maybe sooner), will return us to You. This returning is the ultimate unknown, and so it is our biggest fear. Sadly, in our apprehension of “what happens when”, we over-focus on staying safe, and seek only to avoid and postpone this inevitable event. We try to be “ready”, thinking we can keep death in the far future by preparing and hoarding worldly goods in constantly shrinking barns. We push away – not always politely – any person, place, thing, or calling which might expose us – by what it asks of us – to this mysterious, shrouded, possibly painful end. Instead, should we not anticipate? Death is just an ending to this phase of existence, this time of practice for the next part of life. Once gone from this earthly classroom, we will either live on, literally with You, our Maker, as promised, or we will live on only in the dreamy (or nightmarish) memories of the people still waiting. Either way, our status with them will be based solely upon their direct experience of us, which reflects You, rejects You, or leaves them uniformed as to our true character and motives. Only one of those sounds pleasing.

So I will not, do not fear my passing. At times, I wonder about it, often with impatience, for I believe I have seen much, if not all, of what this version of reality has to offer. But I turn back, because I know there is always more “home work” I can do, studying Your gift of peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and I do my best to pass each test as I encounter it. You give many opportunities for me to change my grade. Father, hear my prayer, that improvement is the lesson.

Faith Is The Easiest Way

Faith is the easiest way. I have another birth date anniversary coming up. My collective experience of these years (and there are more of them than I feel, fortunately), is that faith is the easiest way to be.

Ultimately, there is only what is. What was is gone and unchangeable – except in my perception of it, which can only be ‘good’, ‘bad’, or ‘unimportant’. But to dwell on what was is mostly useless and unproductive. I can try to learn from the past – to remember to use a memory in some future cause/effect process of choosing. Some things are easier not to forget than others.

What will be is a trap, a day dream that I far too easily get lost in. So many possibilities – nothing but, actually. Anything could happen, and my ‘what if’ mind flits and flirts moth-like in and out of the porch light of hope and the surrounding darkness of dread. No, there is only what is. This moment. What’s happening right now. The way the world, and my experience of it, are right now. It’s pure real.

The only thing that matters is how I face up to what is. I read an excellent account of dealing with real in a recent Guideposts issue. A soldier lost both legs and his left hand. What is. How shall he go from here?  His mom spoke into his is, very frankly, “You know you have basically two options here, right?” (Bryan Anderson)

Likewise, I have only two ways of being, each minute. I can long for what was, what could have been, should have been, for what I wanted but didn’t get. I can get stuck in that aforementioned dream of what might be, OR with that vision as a simple guiding star, I can take an action, a step, that moves me toward it. And faith is the fuel that powers the motion.

Faith is the wind. The analogy of a ship on the ocean best paints the picture of life. I have a destination. I see the misty horizon, before and behind. I plot my course, according to the orders and guidance of Him who sent me, and I wait for the wind to fill my sails. I won’t travel a straight line. I don’t know from what direction the wind will blow. I can only adjust the canvas.

The wind is faith. Faith is the determined realization that whoever/whatever is in control in this seemingly out-of-control, uncontrollable experience is looking out for me in the long run. If I can truly believe that – and it’s not always easy – then I can handle and harness the wind, no matter how strong it blows or how becalmed it leaves my vessel.

I say ‘handle and harness the wind’, but what I mean is that I just take it for what it is. It’s my source of energy. I don’t want to waste a second bemoaning where it comes from, or how much ‘easier’ it would make the journey if it were blowing in from somewhere else.

Faith is the easiest way to plan. As soon as a moment goes by, it’s what was. As a moment is happening, it is. The trick of planning is not to fixate on a particular, upcoming what is, which is a pipe dream because I have no power/control over it, but rather to commit to being and becoming prepared for whatever it turns out to be, and to take complete acceptance of it when it arrives. This preparation is the action that I take in this ‘is’ moment. ‘Is’ is ‘now’. Which way do I tack the ship to stay on target?

Faith, in a phrase, is letting go and letting God.