First, Works Don’t Come First

First, Works Don’t Come First

This is a post about being able. Being able to give. I think.

img_1356My time today took me all over the Bible, from Chronicles to Psalms to several New Testament books. I have a dozen verses that seemed relevant to what I was discerning – that is, what I was thinking on and hearing from that quiet voice which connects me to the Creator, Spirit, and Savior.

So, I say, “I think I know what this post will be about.”

It’s not just about giving. It’s not about wanting to give. It’s more about realizing what I have been enabled to give. IOW, what I have been given to give. And, yes, it has sadly taken me a long, long while to figure this out. (I’m still not fully convinced I have figured it out!)

Certainly, it’s not money! Lol! I have no money to throw around. I do, however, have confusion about the role finances should play in how I give what I have to give (because, well, I’ve been given it, I have not been sold it to resell like some distributor.)

IMG_0844Did I pay for what I have? Well, I’ve suffered some but despite a calamitous life, I can’t claim any credit for where I am, what I have today. (Responsibility for where I ended up at my worst moments is another matter!)

So, I’m talking about being able to give, about knowing where and what my bountiful gifts and blessings are, and proceeding from there. First and foremost, works don’t come first. I definitely have something to give, yes, but it’s nothing that was my idea or of my doing. That is to say, first I received it and then maybe I developed it a tiny bit. I made it presentable. I dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s because I was taught that much.

But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from you, and from your hand we have been given.
1 Chronicles 29:14 AMP

 

IMG_1009
Waldo Canyon Fire CO 2012

Maybe a good analogy is the fire brigade – y’know, a line of people passing buckets of water one to the next to get water to where the fire is. I’m like one of those people in the middle. I don’t have any special skills. I didn’t have anything to do with making the water or the buckets. I’m not even sure from where either came. Nor can I see the fire (although maybe I can smell the smoke.) I’m not on the front lines. But I surely do feel that motivating sense of urgency to stand and pass, stand and pass, to keep the buckets moving.

 

But I do not consider my life as something of value or dear to me, so that I may [with joy] finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify faithfully of the good news of God’s [precious, undeserved] grace [which makes us free of the guilt of sin and grants us eternal life.]
Acts 20:24 AMP

315Okay, we’re digging into this subject now. First was what Jesus has given in response to the mess we all make (our anti-good-works, if you will). That’s grace, the good news, precious and undeserved. Second, although I feel the urgency, I feel joy, too. I’ve been told – promised – that this fire’s fiery thirst will be quenched. Third, I’ve come to (mostly) accept that my place in the brigade is important but not vital. I’ve been placed in that specific spot for a reason. I’m upstream (to receive from) and downstream (to pass on to) the people I need. They represent my sphere of influence, my family, friends, and contacts.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13 AMP

That ministering I am to do has two parts. One is sharing the good news. The other is about my responsibility for worldly care. One’s more obvious (and easier to do) than the other (but it’s not always the same one! Lol!)

You know personally that these hands ministered to my own needs [working in manual labor] and to [those of] the people who were with me.
Acts 20:34 AMP

IMG_1015There is some work to do. Work that must be done. That only I can do? Perhaps, but only in a small and unique way. My story is just one chapter in God’s story, and it’s relevant to some few that He has chosen. Only He knows. Some of this work has to do with stewardship of whatever amount of material assistance He provides – my physical stuff.
But (verse :33) it’s not about having a desire for silver or gold or fancy clothes.

Let’s go back to Christ Jesus for a moment.

Who gave himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
Galatians 1:4 AMP

fire brigadeI think Jesus just might be the first and last guy in the brigade line. He’s drawing the water and making the first exchange. And He’s the one pouring the water out onto the flames. In being both, He’s giving me every example to follow, receiving the bucket from one person and delivering it to the next. There’s no need to think deeply about what or how to do this. The overall purpose for being in the line is obvious so we all can be joyfully singing as we pass the buckets. (Ya, I like the singing part.)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God…
Ephesians 5:1-2 AMP

What’s the takeaway for this post? Well, I’m down to two verses that could sum it up.
Philippians 2:5-8 talks about how Jesus gave up being divine to become in the likeness of men as a servant, becoming obedient to God’s will even to the point of death – and death on the cross at that. I certainly do not “hope” for a death like that! However, if my journey through these past nine years of recovery and sobriety struggles and the fact of my clay-jar fragility has done anything, it is to leave me ready to live and to, ultimately, leave this earth because I have been given belief that this life is not all there is.

Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasure.
Psalm 100:3 AMP

“I want to give a little hope to you.” from Tunnel by Third Day. View it on YouTube.
Download it here.

Now We Who Are Strong–

Romans 15:1
Now we who are strong–

Stop right there!

You may be familiar with the five words that start the chapter, the one whose subtitle (in the AMP translation) is “Self-Denial on Behalf of Others.” Unfortunately, I’m stuck (still) on that first part, the self-denial. How can I do anything for anyone else if I can’t do it for myself?

What about when I’m not strong? I feel this is most of the time, which I guess is understandable given these past nine years of recovery from so many things. Others have been helping me more than I’ve done for them. I think?

So, I googled, “Verses when I’m not strong,” and re-examined what I thought I knew about it. Of course, Philippians 4:13 and Isaiah 40:31 came up in the search results. These are well-known and written about a lot. The one that really spoke to me today was

“My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.” …
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

When I have lost my strength and my endurance is gone, what do I need to do? I must be reminded to remember to look toward the source of everything and more. He is my source. He is strongest and most powerful when I am weakest and unable to help even myself.

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.
Now may the God who gives endurance and who supplies encouragement grant…
Romans 15:4-5

Sometimes only a prayer can tell what I’m feeling inside. Here’s mine:

Heavenly Father, Almighty Creator God, Master Designer and Crafter of the universe – and more! I like to pretend and play at “knowing” you. I try to sound and look confident in all that I have “learned” about the world and your heaven. I want to be seen as “strong.”
And some days, I am assured, I can feel re-assured. But, really, sadly more often that not, I am merely trying to believe; trying not to doubt what you say and show to me.
(Yes, yes! I am sure that you have messages and give blessings to me.)
When I get to thinking I can and I am able, then, without question, I have forgotten again this very lesson. And naturally, I run smack into the wall of human impossibility. James 4:15: Instead, I ought to center myself and every effort on your control of the attempt and the outcome. Everything and more!
When I forget, I run and hide, hoping to escape the inevitability of your promises. Always, everything – and more – comes back to, returns to, You. This is Your story. Your rules. You have all control, all power.
I have one thing: the choice to believe, to trust, to make this prayer by the moment, and twice as often when I doubt. The choice to hope, to rest in Your good intent. Because that is the real question, isn’t it? Not, “Is there a Creator or not?” But, “Do I believe the Creator loves me, loves us, as He says He does?” When this is what I’m sure of (and not the things I do), then I can ‘release all my held back tears,’ and let You, God, carry me through whatever I face. Lord, I  believe! Help my unbelief! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Here is one of my very favorite songs, which I first heard very early in this journey God has me on. Whatever You’re Doing (Something Heavenly) by Sanctus Real (YouTube with lyrics). Buy the digital download here.

And here’s the songwriter’s story behind one of my favorite new songs, They Just Believe by Josh Wilson. Buy the download here.

If Life Is A River…

If Life Is A River…

waterfallIf life is a river, Christ is my kayak but I’m in the rapids, tipping over.

Flowing water always takes the easiest path. So do I. So do I. Sometimes this means calm, serene, quiet drifting across a gently sloping lazy landscape… so pretty. Other times raging whitewater, steep inclines, big rocks, Niagara Falls even. And slowly I turn.

I’m in one of those latter sections on my life’s stream. So much is going on, inside and out. There’s the direction through this torrent I want to go, then there’s the current – God taking me his own way. In a word, change. Life is transitioning from peaceful to … something else. I have no idea what lies on the other side of this busy, fast-paced stretch. I just know I’m really being challenged to hang on right now, and I’m already soaked.

IMG_3764Where to start? Well, I like routine. Same same. For a long time, at least two years, I’ve been able to stick to it. Morning has been journaling, reading, and coffee, or dialysis. (Actually, AM quiet time has been consistent since recovery began in 2008.) Then there was always napping, as I recovered from various surgeries in 2015. Most nights were early to bed. Very predictable.

whitewaterUnfortunately, my family’s financial ship was sinking. So recently, I began looking for some way, every way, to make extra. Work-from-home online gigs. Selling my stuff. Renegotiating the wireless and cable. Coupons.

I think there’s hope, though. I’ve started driving with Uber and Lyft in the mornings of non-dialysis days. I catch the going-to-work commuters or airport runs. I stay away from the drunken weekend nights. But this has overturned my typical day.

There’s been just as much turmoil spiritually and emotionally. My theme, James 1:8, swings on. Lord, help my unbelief. For the past year or so, I’ve been physically recovered enough to have energy but, without things to do, boredom and idleness and isolation have led to temptation. Old habits have stealthily slipped in. I question my qualifications for worship and words. And I ponder whether God or “reality” is a metaphor for the other. (This sounds complicated, but it’s really just continuing doubt caused by my own “logic.”)

What to do? What to think? Well, for starters, take my own advice. I’ve been through rough waters before – they (eventually) led me to faith. Now, I have to start over.

To navigate change, I need to accept and acknowledge God’s over-riding will on my plans. I can’t go where the river don’t flow. I need a new schedule. Rather than operating on whim, I have to prepare and get organized more than ever.

cronstruction sitePrepare your work outside;
Get everything ready for yourself in the field,
And after that build your house.
(Proverbs 24:27)

Who builds a tower without first counting the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
(Luke 14:28)

Spiritually, with my faith at a low ebb, I’m desperately repeating to myself James 4:13-15:

(Today, tomorrow we’ll go here and there, and do this and that…)
Yet you do not know [the least thing] about what may happen in your life tomorrow.
[What is secure in your life?]

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and we will do this or that.”
(AMP translation)

Proverbs 3:5-6 are helping, too:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make straight your paths.

I pray for the ability to “be still and know” (Psalm 46:10). What I need is not to be prepared for the unexpected (if that could be so, it wouldn’t be unexpected.) I need to be prepared to encounter the unexpected, resting in the knowledge and acceptance that God has my good in mind. Relearn, relearn.

img_3666Plan, now do.
Commit, then complete.
Faith, with action.
Patient, yet urgent.

The urgency is the ominousness of James 4:17 – and this is the one thing I hope you, the reader, take away from this post.

So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it
(ME: or knows what is wrong to do and still does it),
to him it is sin.

Here are a couple of songs that feel appropriate to me:

When I Don’t Know What To Do (Tommy Walker) (YouTube, with lyrics)
Please buy the digital download from my affiliate link:
When I Don’t Know What To Do

Creed (Third Day) (YouTube)
Please buy the digital download from my affiliate link:
Creed (Live in Portland, ME)

Tipping For Hope

“So, what do you do?”

imageDo you dread the question? How do you answer, when asked about what your time on earth is worth? I know what I want to say, but I also know how crazy it sounds in this modern, post-Christian world. “I live for Christ, to tell of the Good News, however I can. I blog. I worship. I teach. I Share God’s Story in my life. But, oh yeah, I gotta work this ‘job’ to pay my bills because I don’t get paid in money to do those things .”

Maybe it’s the question. “How do you earn your living,” is inquiring about one thing I do. “What are you so passionate about you do it for free (but would accept donations for),” asks something completely different.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not selling hope. I refuse to. How can I determine a price that you should pay for “the life which God has promised?” (James 1:12 GNT) “I want to give a little hope to you.” (Third Day, Tunnel) That’s why I proclaim:

Come and hear, all you who fear God. Let me tell you what he has done for me.
Psalm 66:16

…be doers of the Word.
James 1:22

I alone know the plans I have for you,
plans to bring you to prosperity and not disaster,
plans to bring about the future you hope for.
Jeremiah 29:11

I want to broadcast the evidence of my life that proves to me that God exists and that Jesus Christ is everything the Bible says he is. First, he is life-saving, he’s rescued me from multiple rock-bottoms. He’s life-changing, making new life possible. Then he’s life-giving. I have another chance through and with him. Last, but certainly not least, he’s life-filling. Saved, changed, reborn, I have new purpose and new value (and values).

And I disclose, freely, that he – my faith, my belief in him – is what keeps me alive, what keeps me going, through dialysis three times a week, through endless temptations to think and look and touch lustfully, through days when I want nothing more than to hide under the covers. And, oh yes, through times when I feel like and think seriously about quitting. But, I believe! He helps my unbelief.

Jesus will do this for anyone. Everyone. What can I tell you about him?

Is sharing a two-way street? What is new life worth to you? Would you tip for hope?

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“Let It Play” No More

Hey. (Hmmm, yes?)

I had a thought… (That’s good- kind of like breathing is good.)

Lol. I was just thinking, you know how ____ happened today, and we did ____? (Yes, that was good – the right thing to do.)

Well, it occurred to me that the old me would’ve let that play out – because there might have been something … nice for us- (You mean nice for you, Flesh.)

Right, I keep forgetting… (I know! But you have changed, that’s for sure.)

Although The Book says I’ll ever be the same… (Technically… but that was when Mind followed your lead. Wiser… heads prevail now.)

Yes, I understand that … now. I still say I was just ignorant before… (You were and are easily tempted to chase whatever feels good, Flesh. It’s kind of the way you were made- running from danger does keep you alive, as you know. It was when Mind… didn’t ‘mind’ the shop, so to speak, that you both got into trouble.)

Such trouble! Lol! I’m so glad that I can laugh about those days now- (Laugh only a little, I hope. Some… evil things were done when you got going under the influence.)

I know. I know. And I am truly, deeply sorry I was the cause of such things… I can never forget. Sometimes, I can feel Mind getting really down on us again… starts telling me things would be better off- (Without being accusatory, Flesh, that is your depressive chemical imbalance speaking, but I see what you’re saying. Yes, your slate is clean- spiritually. You simply must not forget that earthly consequences are not at all the same thing. I can’t save you from those.)

… (You still awake?)

Ya, I was just thinking… it’s the ‘team’ of us that gets us by in this world. Y’know each doing what we’re supposed to do; what we’re each good at… (Lol! One might say yours is not the thinking! Ha! That’s a good one! Mind does the thinking and deciding, and you do the moving and heavy lifting. Except when there’s bears- then you have the authority to get us out of here!)

Lol! And those stinging bugs! ‘We hates them, Precious!’ (Ah, great movie! Good redemptive story! It’s on again tomorrow, maybe we could-) My turn to interrupt! We’ve got responsibilities to take care of, you know! But… if we get everything done, maybe there’ll be enough time to relax for a bit.

(As long as you stop relaxing when the time is up…)

Yes. Yes, I get it now:

“Let it play” (No more!)

(Now, put the phone away and go to sleep. It’s 1:30 in the morning!)

I’m thirsty. I think I’ll get a glass of water. (You just did.)

If You “Build” It…

img_1737
circa 2013

I had a blogging idea as I was waking this morning. It started with the old saying, “If you build it, they will come.” (I don’t really know how old this is – I remember it from Field of Dreams, which IMDB tells me is 1989. 28 years is a while ago – for me. Someone happened to remind me of it a few days ago.)

Anyway, I was thinking that each piece I write is like a brick, crafted from the mud and straw of my memories and experiences, carefully placed to form a house for me and mine to live in. Of course, I want it to be a beautiful structure to look at as you pass by, with serene landscaping and clever lighting, a fresh coat of paint – even on the window trim, and a late-model car in the wind-swept driveway. I want it to show how witty I am; how goodly and righteously and prosperously I deal with grammar and living.

But that’s not my real estate, is it? (I suspect it might not be for most of us.) My life has a very much lived-in look and feel. It’s that slightly dilapidated three-bedroom ranch with too many trees dropping their leaves and broke-off branches all over the lot, with the porch light that never goes off – even on the bright, sunny days, and some kids’ rain-stained toys, long-neglected, laying about in the side yard.

Because the bricks I build with are quite transparent, aren’t they? The materials I use in my construction are solid and real enough to me, but they are actually made only from my aged thoughts and worn-out dreams. There’s ‘nothing’ to see, yet everything to view; a house of glass. There’s no fiction here, except for the denial with which I outsmart myself.

I suppose the beneficial part of being clear is that I’m constantly reminded of my Dale Carnegie: to never criticize, complain, or condemn; to try and say your name enough to remember it, and to always smile – at you and, I hope, with you.

If you know that “How-To” book, I want to tell you about this other, much older one, and it’s my mission to urge you to simply read it for yourself. Now, if you have visited me before here at my see-through dwelling, you do know which book I mean, don’t you?

Years’ Review and Promise

I’ve just wrapped up about 2 hours of journaling and prayer, carefully considering this past year and glancing very quickly forward to the next. I won’t set specific goals, but rather, I now restate and recommit to the priorities that have elevated themselves in my attention and awareness these past eight years of my walk with Christ:

God

Health

Relationships

Objects

(GHRO)

I think my time this morning is summed up by the CEV version of The verse of today (Christmas day), Isaiah 9:6:

A child has been born FOR us. We have been given a son who will be our ruler. His names will be Wonderful Advisor and Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. 

(Personal peace, I think that is.)

My thanks to you for riding along with me on this journey – I hope you will continue onward, with as much anticipation for what’s next (“good” or “bad”) as I feel!

With love,

Marshall