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.

How Do You Write About Not Writing?

How Do You Write About Not Writing?

This is a post that’s been begging to be written but I, the writer, have been stubborn and obstinate and maybe even a little nonchalant about writing it. Same as it ever was.

A simple comparison of my blogging frequency last April (15 posts) and this April (3 posts, 2 of those reblogs) demonstrates what I mean. (Actually, I was going to say the whole year, so far, but looking back, I actually had more posts in January-March this year than last – but my feeling was quite the opposite! Maybe that’s because my passion for it was burning so bright back then and not so strongly now.)

Still, the question remains: How do you write when you don’t feel like it or can’t seem to set yourself to it?

That I had a negative self-impression of my posting frequency is nothing new. Personal story #1: when I had my own home-based business (a video studio), I loved finding the jobs but not so much completing the technical side of the work. My complaint was the seeming “two-part” requirement: the finding, then the doing. Like I had to do everything twice. Lord, can’t we just go through something once and be done with it?

Of course, I think we all know that that is not how God works – and certainly not how we learn! One of my personal motivation themes, therefore, is:

Plan, now do
Commit, then complete
Faith, with action
Patient, but urgent

holy-grailI’m great at the planning and the starting of things but have a horrible record on finishing them (aka “The Follow Through”): books I’m (still) “reading”; house projects left off in the messy middle; ideas that never got off the paper (and onto the blog).

Yesterday (and today), I sat down for Quiet Time with the goal of figuring this out. I started with a google of “verses follow through”.

The top result?

Ecclesiastes 7:8
(Line 1)
CEV Something completed is better than something just begun
(Line 2)
MSG Sticking to it is better than standing out OR
ERV It is better to be gentle and patient than to be proud and impatient

There’s a lot being said to me in those lines. One of my lifetime mottos has been, “Waiting for something to happen.” That word “something” was an obvious connecting hint. “Gentle and patient vs proud and impatient:” This gave me something more to think about.

Personal story #2: I had a 17-year “career” in IT which ended with down-sizing. The company put us laid-off employees through some programs to help us find new work. One of those included a sort of brainstorming about our perfect day. Mine was after a successful run of published novels. Hmmm. This now strikes me as being good at the planning (and the dreaming), but not so good at the doing. Or having the glory without having to put in the effort. Or having my cake and eating it, too, (which could be another motto).

439Because it’s not like I stopped “writing.” I’ve continued to journal all year, scribbling in my notebook, sometimes for hours. And I more or less wrote in a format that would fit transition to blogging – I just haven’t been taking that next step of typing it up. (I even tried one post consisting of a picture of my journal page, hoping that would resolve my “two-part” angst. The responses I got indicated it was not very legible. Sigh.)

If you’ve been reading along here on Sharing God’s Story, you know that I have an addictive, obsessing personality, but that also means I’m really into “instant gratification.” I want it now – whatever it is – like a movie that jump-cuts to “several years later.” The distinction of ‘being'” lures me in, only to detour me when it comes to “just doing it.”

I want to answer that “so what do you do” question with “Oh, I’m an author.” (See my last post, a reblog of “Being A Writer Is Hard.”)

I’ve come to understand, however, that this is full-blown pride of life at work. I’ve been seeing and saying things in a way which puts me first:

I have been saved (oh, yeah, by God). Listen to me tell about it.”

instead of

God saved and redeemed  me. He can save and redeem you, too.”

This is, after all, the Sharing of God’s Story, not mine. It’s about His work as seen in my life, a small but miraculous chapter in a much bigger book.

Of course, there are a few other, very familiar negative influences: my love of comfort and the easy way (forgetting that it is, in the long run, the hard way), my fears (of change, of success – which is a whole nother topic!)

(Left: May ’15 BEF 5K; Right: April 30 Groton 5K)

So, you see, I don’t always carry on to the finish. However, I do know that “I know I can, I know I can,” and not just think “I think I can, I think I can.” Personal story #3: The past 3 years I’ve started and completed multiple 5k walks. On April 30, I walked the annual Groton 5k – and improved my 2015-post-open-heart surgery-four-months-earlier time by 30 minutes! 57 minutes to walk the 3 miles. (And, I actually jogged for a little bit of it!)

This kind of accomplishment is right up there with me, the daily 6-pack drinker for 3 decades, not having even a drop of alcohol in the last 4-plus years. (Um, I mean God giving me the strength to make this kind of change, of course.)

can do all things through Him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

The Bible story I’m identifying with as I write this is Jonah’s. God spoke to Jonah, who ran the opposite way only to be “convinced” to correct his course. (The one about waiting to plant until perfect weather fits, too.)

The lesson? “Just do it!” “Git’r done!” Don’t find the time; make the time!” And, so, here I am (finally) at the end of my next post.

For whatever was written in former days243
was written for our intruction,
that through endurance
and through the encouragement
of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 ESV

I would like to thank Brian Manon and Faithful Bloggers for their Blog Planner worksheets which helped me organize the brainstorm in my journal into an easily fleshed-out outline. I think I’ll make some tweaks and incorporate this into my process for blogging.

Your turn! What do you do when you find it hard to follow through on blogging regularly?

Obstacles, Then and Now

Obstacles, Then and Now

My 1-year-old grandson is fearless. He toddles headlong towards the stairs – with no knowledge of how to go down them. Watching him, it occurs to me that we humans learn fear as part of growing up.

We learn to fear many different kinds of things. Some of these are physically painful like lions and tigers and bears, flames, and running with scissors. Some leave emotional scars like rejection, being lost and alone, not being loved. Some are are just really, really scary like failure and the unknown.

At first, we learn from first-hand experience, but then we cleverly get to seeing what others go through and can transfer ourselves into their shoes. Perhaps this is one of the marks of maturity: a sense of Rational Deductive Cautiousness.

But as with everything I do, I found the danger in the extremes. I tend to get obsessive. And, in my past, this led to the strangest fear of all: the fear – not of failure, for I was overly comfortable with that – but of success.

Is this the hardest of all fears to find? Perhaps. It certainly takes the longest time to develop. This is because it is the result of conditioning – a seeming lifetime of negativity. I arrived at a point where I expected misery and loss, and therefore kept minimal expectations.

And I even put obstacles in my own path. I self-sabotaged, self-condemned any attempt before it even began.

I discern two reasons for this happening. First, the root cause of fear of success is the idea – what I thoughtknew – that I was not worthy of succeeding. I did not deserve it. Feeling unloveable went hand in hand with that.

Another long-term effect of being afraid of any happy ending is that I just “got used to less.” Success became a strange and foreign thing, something completely different, unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable (or so I thought).

“What do you fear, my lady?”
“A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them
and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.”
LotR

The solution, which I continue to discover in my journey of healing and transformation, is
#1: accepting The Maker’s love for me. “For He so loved the world...” He created me. He knows my name, and everything about me. And this is a very good thing!

#2: Quite plainly, the evidence of my life backs this up. I remain alive – for something good. I am clearly blessed – in spite of all the material things I lack.

#3: My fear is the result of leaning on my own understanding and abilities, instead of trusting in the Lord with all my heart (Proverbs 3:5)

#4: 1 Corinthians 10:13:

…He will also provide a way out…

I’m guided to that way out by ‘landmarks’ carefully placed in my everyday routine. These are obstacles – not to my success, but the means of blocking my falling and failure. That was then. This is now.

In valor there is hope.
– Tacitus

In other words, these days I work to put obstacles in the way of relapse, to prevent old habits and patterns from returning. These are things that I would very consciously have to step around in order to do ____. Their presence gives me pause, a chance to think carefully about what I am thinking about doing. I have a moment “to test and approve what God’s will is” (Romans 12:2)

And, sometimes, these days, I am “strong and courageous… not afraid or terrified… and I know God is with me… will not fail or forsake me” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 1 Chronicles 28:20) and I can pray, repent, turn back to Him.

Obstacles to relapse will be different for everyone. Here are some examples of mine:

– we keep no alcohol in our house
– in the early days of recovery, I changed my driving routes to avoid old haunts
– computer monitoring apps/software keep me away from tempting sites
– I deleted all RPG video games
– I cleaned house of adult entertainments and toys

And, what I call OMKIP: On My Knees In Prayer.

As I’ve recently written about, nightly I get on my knees in prayer, thanking God for His blessings and mercy, and begging His protection from thoughts, visions, dreams, fantasies, and memories which would entice me away from how I offer my body as a living sacrifice, whole, holy and pleasing to Him. (Romans 12:1)

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, STAND FIRM.
Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves FULLY to the work of the Lord,
because you know that your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58

Christianity Is: Divine Paradigm Shifts

My friend, Jim, often refers to being in a Christ-based 12-step recovery program as more a journey of basic “Spiritual Formation” than of a single act of miraculous healing from broken living. I like this point of view, because I think it definitely offers something for everyone – even those who don’t have (or admit to) hurts, habits, and hangups.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Romans 3:23 NLT

For myself, the growth I’ve experienced is both: While the big picture is a life completely transformed, the day-by-day process is an on-going baby-step-by-step migration from chaos to order.

The spiritual piece is, of course, divine. The formational part is simply learning and accepting what has heretofore been unknown or stubbornly unacceptable. Together, a divine paradigm shift. Actually, it’s one awesome adjustment after another, each of which is increasingly inspiring and amazing. Who’d have thunk it?!

Let me share some examples:
One of the first changes in attitude I received was regarding “P.T.” which can stand for ‘Present Tense’, ‘Positive Thinking’, and, later in my recovery from health issues, literally ‘Physical Therapy’. It began when I committed myself to stating, “I am” instead of “I was” or “I want to.” Keeping my plans present and positive made me more able (and likely) to carry them out.

Next, an absolutely huge revelation: acceptance. First, in my acknowledgement of God, the Great “I am“, and then in finding (being given?) the ability to embrace life – my own and the world’s, exactly as it is. This is what allows me to say, “I am a grateful child of God, in recovery, healing, and transformation from ____ (what I was).”

I am what I do today, not what I did in the past.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

Grant me the ability to accept the things I can not change…
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it…
The Serenity Prayer

Only when I was able to face the whole of “what is” was I able to identify what I could change, and then gain the courage to change it.

Grant me… the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference…

Then, there was The Law. At first, I focused on what I should not do, but, as I’ve said before, “Thinking about not thinking about something is, in effect, the same as thinking about it.
Instead, I needed guidelines that directed me toward what to do.

Specifically,
Don’t Think, Don’t Look, Don’t Touch

became
All thoughts to praise
On Christ to Gaze
With hands a-raised
Heart and mind amazed (an added bonus!)

Now I was getting somewhere! I’ve heard that to be in recovery is to be in the process of letting my sinful urgings die from neglect, which doesn’t mean I won’t be tempted. I pass the test by not giving into temptation and by not dwelling on the temptation as something I must avoid. Am I dismissing the temptation? Perhaps, but I’ve begun to specifically ask for protection in my nightly prayers. (And it works!)

The most recent development is really exciting, and has made a big difference in decreasing how often I stumble and fall. Early in my journey, I looked upon my obsessive pursuit of things that physically felt good as my burden; my cross to bear. This weighed me down. I was heavily laden. But turn that around, to where that addiction is instead, a gift to offer; a sacrifice made by a living body, voluntarily given up in order to be kept whole, holy and pleasing to God.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1 NIV

It might even be that I’m regifting right back to God. He gave me the gifts of the (sometimes beneficial) effects of a wee bit of alcohol, and of sex (and more!) But instead of selfishly hoarding them for myself, I offer them to Him as my way of remaining pure.
Giving of ourselves, especially those things we cherish, to others is a sign of love, is it not?

“Accept” Is An Action Word

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change.

082
I used to think life was me against the world. Back then, I had absolutely no idea how to deal with things I had no control over – nor did I even realize how little I actually could manage. I spent most of my time intentionally looking any other way, trying to see only what I wanted, and making big, dreamy plans. Problem was, I never got around to putting them in motion because my delusion convinced me everything was just fine.

My fondness for “Role Playing Games (RPG)” is a perfect example of this. These are basically alternate reality adventures in which I play the totally customizable main character, every attempt has unlimited do-overs easily handled with a mouse-click from the comfort of my favorite chair, and every virtual step contributes to a sense of great accomplishment. If you can picture that, you know there’s not a lot of real action taking place.

272So, when I finally did awaken -and it was mostly a dawning of spiritual awareness – one of the very first things I learned was this concept of “accepting”. Accepting my circumstances in a black-and-white sort of way; accepting my limitations in abilities – for example, I don’t have a great singing voice which doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make my joyful noise, but it is definitely a drawback to being a rockstar; accepting “as Jesus did, the world, this sinful world, as it is, not as I would have it.”

18 God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. 19 If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? 20 As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.
1 Corinthians 12 (NIRV)

084The challenge, of course, was the “unfairness” of being cast in what I saw as a less-than-glamorous role. The key in my attitude change was beginning to understand that the lack of importance of my part in God’s eyes is a false impression – a lie from the enemy.

I’m reminded of my Dad, a music teacher, who worked summers on local youth drama productions. When we were kids, we got bit parts – kind of by default, because we tagged along with him and my mom sewed the costumes. I remember I even had a line to say once in The King and I. It was a big deal to me and my parents, even if it wasn’t vital to the plotline or the success of the play.

315God, my heavenly Father, has cast every one of his children in the same way. I might not be a big player on any the world’s most popular stages, but, in God’s story in my life, mine is a very necessary subplot and it just might be that sharing it will have a major impact for someone.

That’s what the verse Colossians 3:23 talks about:

In all the work you are doing, work the best you can [do it heart and soul; from the soul]. Work as if you were doing it for the Lord, not for people.
EXB

I became aware of why I was and found the motivation to give it my all when I found out how God felt about me. He created me, exactly as He wanted and needed. And if my part is that important to Him, I want to accept it so fully that it exists at the very center of my being.

My life has been an incredible, exciting, interesting drama and comedy and action adventure. I really don’t know what my Father has in store for me next, but I rest in His promise that all will be good and ultimately have the happiest of endings.

“Remember Your Why”

img_0986I was watching a movie recently – I think it was on the “UP” channel (Fios 738 in these parts) – in which a character repeated several times, “Remember your why.” (Unfortunately, a google did not reveal the movie title.) But it’s a message that finally got through to me this morning.

Remember those days in the past [or early days of your faith]
when you first learned the truth [were enlightened]. You remained strong [endured; persevered] through a hard struggle with many sufferings.
Hebrews 10:32 EXB

I’ve written previously about how the end of the year holidays had disrupted my routine and knocked me out of a productive cycle. Last month (January) I felt like I was slogging through, unclear about what I had set out to do. (Or I should say, what I had been set to doing by my Lord and Savior.) Today I’m feeling rejuvenated about Sharing God’s Story in my one, little life.

When I kept things to myself [silent],
I felt weak deep inside me [my bones wasted away].
I moaned all day long.
Psalm 32:3 EXB

Here it is: I sinned in the past, grievously. (Sin is sin; it is not relative.) I tried to hide it; to cover it up. This only left me miserable and crying out. My guilt and self-condemnation got so bad that I was driven to end my suffering. That was when Jesus himself intervened and literally took my place, saving me. He brought me to a week committed at the Highlands Ranch Behavioral Health Center, where I spent all my time marveling at the miracle I had been privileged to experience. Have you ever had that feeling where you have finally realized that something you thought unbelievable is instead totally true?

img_0974
Then I confessed [made known; disclosed] my sins to you
and didn’t hide [cover up] my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my sins [transgressions] to the Lord,
and you forgave my guilt [the guilt of my sin].
:5 EXB

 
Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust.
Happy are those who are pure in heart. Matthew 5:8
(Celebrate Recovery Principle 4)

We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16 (Twelve Steps, Step 5)

Here it is: the what that happened was not the miracle. A simple kitchen timer going off is a commonplace thing. It is the when that it happened – exactly at the only perfect moment in time – that is miraculous. I don’t believe in coincidences, because there is something very, very intentional about these events happening when they do. It is God’s timing that we witness, upon which we are instructed to wait.

Happy [blessed] is the person whose sins [transgressions] are forgiven, whose wrongs [sins] are pardoned [covered].
Happy [blessed] is the person whom the Lord does not consider guilty [imputes no guilt to].
Psalm 32: 1-2 EXB

img_0931
Here it is: the evidence of my life since that day (and, in hindsight, many moments prior to that day), is proof of God’s blessing in my life, and his forgiveness. Many times my life should have been over and myself condemned, yet I remain alive, now with a salvation purpose. And I intend to see to it, staying in thankfulness to God all the while. Nothing else is as important as sharing this testimony with the people I love, and practicing the presence of God every day.

You are my hiding place
You protect me from my troubles [distress]
And fill [surround] me with songs [loud cries] of salvation [rescue; deliverance].
:7

Yes, the Lord is my refuge – in plain sight – and He protects me from my troubles – with the peace and acceptance that faith brings. He fills me with song, which is why I will keep on (literally) singing His praises.

My name is Marshall. I  blog, give testimony, and play worship music in order to Share God’s Story.

Better Than Life

gift4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,
1 Peter 1:4 (NIV)

God surprises.

That’s it; today’s message. Human imagination simply can not dream big enough to give a picture of what God can do, of how he will choose to provide.

My situation is case in point. What he has brought my life to be is so far beyond what I expected or even hoped for as to be Better Than Life, itself. And isn’t that more exciting?

My life could have turned out exactly as I wanted in many, many ways. But, instead, God has redirected my plans to be something far more interesting, even though at times it was far less enjoyable.

It’s like the difference between watching a movie which I’ve seen a hundred times before – to the point where I know all the lines – and seeing a well-made blockbuster for the very first time. And, really, I think living through that is far more fulfilling that having every plan fall perfectly into place.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grace-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?”
Romans 8:15 MSG

What might be surprising is that the entirety of my life has been like this; I just wasn’t always so accepting of it. Memory suggests that I have been making plans since I could first think out cause and effect, but, when they failed to come true, I fought back with anger and disappointment. This attitude didn’t change any facts, it just made me unhappy. I would then retreat into an imaginary reality, where I was in control. Of course, when I woke up, real life was waiting for me, and the cycle would repeat.

The when everything changed was only at my surrender of all my ideas, specifically with my confession of all my secrets. Not coincidentally, this was the point of my biggest fear. All my life up until that time I had been in dread of what would happen if I told all. Condemnation and extreme punishment surely would come, I reasoned.

But what happened was so far from that, I simply can’t explain it with words. I think that’s probably why worship songs are so important to me. Music can go beyond thoughts and convey feelings. And miraculous is a feeling.

Because your love is better than life,
My lips will glorify you.
Psalm 63:3

For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord
Proverbs 8:35

God surprises. And I have learned from experience to trust his ways. I believe he has what’s best for me planned – even though that will include my passing from this world. None of it is a bad thing. All of it requires a hard-learned trust.

Better Than Life
Hillsong Live

Better than the riches of this world
Better than the sound of my friend’s voices
Better than the biggest dreams of my heart
And that’s just the start

Better than getting what I say I need
Better than living the life that I want to
Better than the love anyone could give
Your love is

You hold me now in Your arms
And never let me go

You, oh Lord, make the sun shine
And the moon light in the night sky
You give me breath and all Your love
I give my heart to You because

I can’t stop falling in love with You
I’ll never stop falling in love with You

Better Than Life