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.

If Life Is A River… I’m In The Rapids

If Life Is A River… I’m In The Rapids

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)

“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.