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

 

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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.

This Is Not Your Father’s “Adulting”

This Is Not Your Father’s “Adulting”

This is a post about tradition, and the benefits of … if not heeding it, then at the least taking it into all account.

64034B60-A4E5-43A8-A338-8F509E98A266-5198-000005BEE76EB9DAI love acronyms. I use them all the time to help me remember stuff. I’ve heard one for the Bible: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. This is very, very true about that particular book. Trust me on this, as someone who has done life the hardest way – completely on my own and by listening to those who were in the same situation as me: just starting out (aka my friends). But there is something – quite a lot, actually – to be learned from those who have gone before (aka my elders). They got that way by picking up a thing or two. Listen to them.

Now, I’ll keep this general (iow non-faith specific) by stating that in every corner of the world mankind has collected the “wisdom of its ages” into one place, freely available to all. Unfortunately, the primary audience – those who would benefit the most – are the ones most likely to ignore. The question for every culture has always been how to convince the young to trust and adhere to this knowledge. For a long time, describing it as “sacred” was the best answer. But today we live and grow up in a post-spiritual world. The unseen has become unheard.

terrifiedFor youth is ever rebellious, thinking it knows better, wanting its own way, so sure it knows all the “whys” and “hows”. Wisdom, however, comes only with age. (There are a couple of apt sayings: ‘Youth is wasted on the young.” “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”) Youth does not seek to understand the “whys” embedded in traditions but instead steamrolls right over them.

Quite simply, life’s goal(s) have never changed. We each want to live, love, and prosper. What changes are the tools (the technology, the “hows”) available to us. Life is like a game and not like a game, at the same time. It’s not a game because it’s deadly serious. We get one chance to go through it.  We don’t get to go back to “go” and collect $200 on the way. It’s like a game because it does have “rules” and we do get a “do-over” of sorts each morning. The challenge is that when we start out, we have no idea what the rules are, and we must take that do-over together with whatever foundation we’ve already built. (What’s the best way to get out of a hole? First, stop digging.)

How is one supposed to discover life’s rules? Quite simply, from those who have been in the game for some time already. From tradition, from others, from examples good and bad. And after these sources, from one’s own experiences and growing wisdom.

img_3295We have parents and/or family, those with whom we “belong” in a direct way. We have community, our “village” of those to whom we’re not directly related but who do have good intentions and common values. (“It takes a village to raise a child.”) The church used to be that community. It’s lessening influence (and the world’s attempts to “kill” the Creator), has had a sad effect on society. (But I don’t want to get into all that right now.)

It’s also true that one can follow good ways yet still not “get it,” like the prodigal’s older brother. It’s not better to be entirely prodigal or entirely older brother, but to have a cautious little of both, and to never stop being open to understanding the theory of a thing before putting into practice. It’s better to hear the prodigal story (both sons’ parts) in the first place.

Here’s one of those “there are only two of kinds of people” declarations for you: those who start with/from blind faith (aka trust) and live to see it verified, and those who question everything only to arrive right back where they began because they’ve experienced exactly what they refused to accept. (Funny, though, I’m proud to be one of the latter. I wouldn’t be who I am without having made the journey that way. But sometimes, I wonder if I would’ve been happier believing it the first time.)

The one takeaway for today’s post: Proverbs 1:2-7. Wisdom. Respect for tradition – the way things have been done. Curiosity about why things have been done that way. Willingness to trust those who have gone before to know – maybe not always what to do but certainly what not to do.

And here are some very, very good songs that express some of these ideas.

Dear Younger Me by MercyMe (YouTube). Buy it here (from my affiliate link).

Listen by Josh Wilson. Buy 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.

“All I have to do is Act Naturally” NOT

“All I have to do is Act Naturally” NOT

“Acting Naturally” for me is, unfortunately, completely contrary to being God’s man. What to do? What to do? Well, “to do” is the key…

“Doing” for me is not – or is no longer – something that comes naturally. I like to sit, to think, to write, to watch, to rest in the sun (like our grown-old dog, Poochie – that’s him above, going for a walk). Featured Image -- 14820I’ve written before about my struggles with following up planning with doing. This morning, I’m contemplating this in a new way. (See? Just pondering…) But I’d like to think that writing this post is, in fact, completing a process. (After all, “to be” a writer is my goal – it is what I want “to be doing.”)

Certainly, I can speculate about why I tend toward inactivity. For most of 2015-2016, I was hospitalized or in physical rehabilitation from severe health conditions. kid-leashI can see, too, a family history, perhaps because my parents grew up during the depression and their parents’ way of not spending was just not doing. (I do have to point out, however, that this led to frequently getting together with extended family, which is and has been a good thing.) Then, there are those stories about me being tied to a tree or kept on one of those kid-leashes. (I shudder at the thought – what could more effectively Pavlovianly limit a person’s desire to go and do?)

The virtue that I think defines the follow-through I’m missing is diligence. So, to start this morning’s topic, I searched BibleGateway.com for it in the AMP translation. The first hit was

Proverbs 4:23
Watch over your heart with all diligence,
for from it flow the springs of life.

At first glance, this didn’t seem of help to me in becoming active. On further thought, though, this watching over my heart is an action at the root of my issue. To me, it infers not closing my eyes to God’s standard, which is not my own, which takes a big effort to follow. (My major addiction, sex, is a perfect example. Keeping to God’s standard for human sexuality continues to be a huge unnatural thing for me, but that’s another post.)

Further down the list of search returns were these verses:

IMG_3765Psalm 119:4
You have ordained your precepts,
That we should follow them
With [careful] diligence.

Proverbs 12:27
The lazy man does not catch and roast his prey,
But the precious possession of a [wise] man is diligence,
[Because he recognizes opportunities and seizes them.]

Now, these get to the heart of the matter! My preference is for the lazy river, but life and growth happen more consistently in the rapids. The noun, precept, is defined as “a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.” It derives from the Latin words prae + capere, “before” and “take,” which were combined to form praecipere, meaning “warn, instruct.” If there is anything that should alert us addicts especially, it is a “warning.” (The trouble I find is that I always want to know “why?” and then I feel obligated to put it to the test, guaranteeing my learning it the hard way.)

This is one of those “easier said than done” things, summed up nicely in Ephesians 5:15-17:

 

IMG_3763
me, about to mow for the first time in years!

Therefore see that you walk carefully [living with honor, purpose, and courage, shunning those who tolerate and enable evil], not as the unwise, but as wise [sensible, intelligent, discerning people],
Making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil.
Therefore, do not be foolish or thoughtless, but understand and firmly grasp what the will of the Lord is (ME: and not your own will). 

Walking carefully and grasping firmly are both very conscious actions. In them, we are advised to be more than normally aware, to check and recheck ourselves, to not be habitual and thoughtless, to not forget because my mind is wandering. (This may be what is meant by “staying in the moment?”)

effortThere’s a fear here: to always be choosing, deciding? Every second of every minute of every hour of every day?! Not only does it sound impossible to do, the very attempt sounds absolutely exhausting. “No rest for the weary?” What a burden it seems!

So I searched on “peace rest.” The answer that was given is the whole point to faith and belief in Christ:

Come to me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation].
Matthew 11:28

Life in this world is not easy. It was never meant to be easy or thoughtless. As a follower of Christ, I am constantly tempted by the world’s “easy way,” and, when the effort of following becomes too much, Christ is my refuge. By focusing on him and not on the weight of the world, I can “do this.”

img_3337IMG_3741
First, we walk, then we run. Then we soar on wings like eagles.

Here’s a great song that expresses my feelings today. It’s Worn by Tenth Avenue North.
Buy the digital 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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