All posts by Chris Marshall

“Do not be an accuser of my Provision” -God

accuserrHad a great opportunity last week as a part of a course I’m facilitating for Masters of Ministry students to spend a day outside at a contemplative retreat center.  We had two 3 hour blocks of time for rest, silence and solitude.  Even though I’m an extreme extrovert, I enjoy times to get away and just listen, think and pray.  I found a great spot by myself next to the water in the shade (pictured above) to do some thinking.

It seems that I had quite an agenda, instead of listening, I did a lot of talking.  I was anxious, nervous, unsettled and a bit scared.  Last week was the first week in my 25 years of ministry life and 23 years of marriage that I did not bring home a paycheck.  Severance is done and unemployment has not kicked in yet and so all provision was outside my control.  I’m wired as a leader, doer, starter and ‘make things happen’ kind of guy.  As far I as I knew, nothing was happening in the way I understood it.  So I let God know I was anxious and worried . . .

When you get away and get quiet, sometimes God says things really clearly and this is exactly what I heard:

Do Not Be An Accuser of My Provision!”

God directed to me to my iPhone app. for our coffee store that we just launched that shows our daily, weekly and monthly sales.  (Does God speak through iPhone apps??  That’s another blog idea) He said, ‘count it up’.   So I did . . . the results were that it appeared the total of our ‘random’ coffee sales for the week came to the total of my previous paycheck.  Gross mind you, not even Net, God didn’t take any taxes out.  “Chris, do not be an accuser of my provision!” Translation:  Chris, trust me.

At that point I slowed down my thinking more, started listening more and looked around me.  I started noticing things I hadn’t before:  ants carrying dinner and supplies to their home, turtles sunning on the river rocks, trees waving in the wind protecting me from the sun, a snake skin shed and left near my feet, fish bubbling at the surface of the water and birds flying overhead.  I was sitting in an entire ecosystem of provision and design.  Everyday, day in and day out, for millions of years, the Creation receives it’s provision from it’s Creator.  Who am I to be anxious?

Our culture tells us and shouts to us our entitlements.  Tells us what we deserve, what we have coming to us, what we should demand, what we should control, what we should store up, what we should  hoard so that we won’t be vulnerable.  We get to choose a mentality of abundance or scarcity.  Is the provision of God’s created world for me scarce and I should fight for resources, or is it abundant and I should trust Him at His feasting table?  Do I trust Him and His provision for me and my family?  The issue is of course trust.

You get to choose the voices you listen to and trust.  You get to choose the source of your wisdom.  The culture says the resources of our world are scarce.  The Creator says his Creation is abundant and it can be trusted.  I’m going with the original source.  No longer an accuser, I’m grateful today.  I’m learning to trust.

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.  – Mathew 6:30-34 (The Message)

‘Give Thanks Until you Become Thanks’

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“Give thanks until you become thanks” – Graham Cooke

It seems when we are at our most desperate, when our backs are really against the wall, that we get to make brave decisions about what is true and valuable, and what really isn’t.  My wife and I put our heads on our pillows tonight in the reality that we will wake in the morning for the first time in 23 years of marriage without full-time income.  This wasn’t our plan, but we’ve never put much value in our plans.  When we married, we gave vows to each other and before our God and we said some things we really meant.  That we would serve Him no matter what the circumstances and that it would be the same in our heart whether in sickness or health, in poverty as in wealth.  He’s kept his side of the bargain, and we’re keeping ours.

Our thoughts tonight are not those of despair, anger or loneliness.  No, that’s not how communion with the Creator works.  His world is abundant resources, authentic community, unlimited power, extravagant grace, unmerited mercy and abounding love.   Income or no income, we get a seat at His table and His table is lavish feast.  He’s never let us go, He’s never left us alone, His presence is the air we are to breathe.

I get what Graham is trying to say, ‘give thanks until you become thanks.‘  We get to choose what we attach our attention and allegiance to.  We can make attachments with our problems, our circumstances, our limitations, our short-comings, our trials, our bills etc. and wallow in the pity of what isn’t working out.  OR we can choose to not make our agreements there, and rather ‘set our minds on things above’  where the resources to change our situation are.  We can attach our attention, our attitude, our mind, our heart, our very soul to the feasting table of the Kingdom of God.  While we wait, we have amazing company at that table.  It’s our life, it’s true life.  And . . . it’s enough.

There is an enemy who used to feast on my predisposition to depression, to darkness, to isolation, to destruction . . .  but I don’t feel like making those choices anymore.  I’m giving thanks until I become thanks and I hope that really pisses him off.  He kept me in bondage to spirals of negativity for as long as I can remember and so tonight on behalf of my family and our future, I declare vengeance over the enemy’s plans.  Our focus, attention and allegiance is fixated on the One who made all, governs all and is making all things new.  Thankfulness is an act of war; vengeance is choosing these things.

I don’t know how long our situation will remain the same.  I don’t know if it will be hours, days, weeks, months or years.  I just know that when I give thanks until I become thanks that I experience peace, power, perspective and abundant joy.  Sitting at His table is an awful lot of fun no matter what circumstances I’m in.  In His Kingdom and at His table; I’m filthy rich.  That’s all we need, it’s enough.

“1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” -Colossians 3 (The Message)

A Paycheck is Not a Big Enough Idea

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What if I told you that you’ve been lied to?   That the American Dream is a myth meant to enslave you to a life of consumption that makes you dependent on systems of control and the illusion of personal choice.   That the ‘good life’ is not good at all; not for our health, our sense of peace, our experience of joy or our personal power to be a part of something greater than ourselves.  Living the ‘good life’ was what it meant to be truly American. It is this idea that has grown like a virus in the American worldview; the American dream is now a benchmark cultural assumption about how the world works.  . . . As the narrator says in Fight Club: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”  But it doesn’t work, because getting a paycheck is not a big enough idea.

The existential questions of humanity are the same at any point in time within recorded history. They are the same in any economy, in any political system and within the context of any particular culture. The questions may vary in importance, however they typically carry the thematic structure of the following: Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Where do I find meaning? Is this all there is? What happens when I die?

These questions outline the longings of our human hearts; they dictate what we organize our lives around. The answers to these profound ponderings become formative attachments psychologically, spiritually, emotionally and then deeply influence the pragmatic choices of our physical lives. We organize our lives around what we believe to be true and meaningful, the cost is really high about how we answer these critical questions.

You get a paycheck to live, but what do you want to do with your life?  How do you want it defined?  You get to choose your attention and investment, what do you want out of it?  For the love of God, don’t let the stupidity of our culture and consumer markets dictate that for you.  You get to choose, so what do you want to do?  You want to earn up enough over a lifetime, save up enough so that you can stop working for the last 30 years of your life and collect shells on the beach?  Nothing wrong with that, it’s just boring.  😉

I think you were designed to count, and count quite uniquely.  You are wired to matter.  Dallas Willard said it this way:  “As water is meant to run downhill, so you were destined to count.”  A Paycheck doesn’t make you count or matter, it just helps you live.  It’s the choices of your life that help you experience meaning, purpose and  well-designed empassioned mission.   Our consumer culture is a system of control and it doesn’t satisfy; it is designed to keep you wanting more because in the end, it’s a bankrupt set of ideals.  It’s all the wrong dreams, all the wrong goals and all the wrong living.  You were meant for more giving, not getting, and it’s at your fingertips to choose and experience.  Don’t settle for anything less.  You have one life, one chance for real living, a paycheck is not a big enough idea for you.

My wife and I have re-designed our entire life and budget.   Today is the last day of my severance pay from my full-time job.  We are now embarking into the reality of purpose and life in the hands of the God who made us, designed us and calls us to live a life of purpose and great meaning.  We are no longer defined by a paycheck, we are free to work at the callings deep on our heart for justice, community, truth, love and a dangerous call of hope.  A paycheck is not a big enough idea when there is a call to love the orphan, the widow, the lonely, the oppressed, the poor, the captives etc.  We want to live life on purpose, not for a paycheck.  Income helps us live, it doesn’t define us, our life defines us. How do you want to live?

Choose to be dangerous, choose for your life to count, choose hope. You won’t be disappointed.

קַדֵּשׁ ‘Qadash’ – Preparation is No Joke

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קַדֵּשׁ – Qadash  (Imperative masculine singular) is the Hebrew term for being ‘set apart’ or to ‘consecrate’.  As mentioned in Joshua 7:13:  

13 “So get started. Purify the people. Tell them: Get ready for tomorrow by purifying yourselves. For this is what God, the God of Israel, says: There are cursed things in the camp. You won’t be able to face your enemies until you have gotten rid of these cursed things. – Joshua 7:13 (The Message)

What do you do before you begin something really challenging?  What does preparation look like for you?  How do you get ready?  What clears your focus?  What sharpens your intentions?  What readies your steps?  What prepares your heart, mind and soul?  What trains your body?  What boosts your energy?  What secures your plans?  What increases your capacity?  etc. etc.

What we know is that preparation matters, it’s no joke.   Those that just show up without preparation are usually those that leave the race early.  They start out strong, but they invested nothing in their energy and endurance bank for the long haul.   When it comes time to pull from the bank when things get hard, they are bankrupt of energy and fall to the wayside allowing others to pass.  Typically, the difference between people who ‘dream’ and people who ‘experience their dreams’ is a matter of discipline and preparation.  Thomas Edison once said it this way:  “We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”   

Every challenge before us is opportunity, opportunity to ‘qadash’.  Opportunity to not try and fit in, but opportunity to be ‘set apart’.  For spiritual leaders, often our call from God in terms of ‘qadash’ has to do with morality and character.  We claim to represent the One who created and permeates the world with goodness and joy, is this same goodness and joy in us?  If not, then Qadash.  The world is wrecked with brokenness, evil and violence, do we have a present tense response of courage and hope?  If not, then Qadash.  Jesus’ most basic teaching was about a denial of self, how do you portray yourself to others?  Do you gather power or disperse it?  Do you have a need to be needed?  Do you need to be at the center of attention?  Do you have to be on the stage/pedestal?  Is it about you or others?  If it’s not of Him, then Qadash.

This Qadash kind of preparation is no joke, it’s of biblical proportion.  It can be a desert experience, God is not afraid to push us into exile for some good old fashioned preparation.  He is not afraid of our pain, it’s for our own good.  He wants to lead us to an inheritance set before us, but we have to be prepared for it.  Recently, God ripped me out of my comfort zone for some time in Qadash and He isn’t done yet.   I’m beginning to no longer focus on the pain of the desert but on the excitement of the next assignment.  This time of preparation has a purpose,  and it’s between me and Him to journey that bad-boy out.   I’m not going into the next challenge of my life without some new armor to put on, some new tools in toolbox, some more capacity to run a strong race.  This comes from a proper Qadash.  It’s purposeful time of preparation.  Let’s get on with it.

 

Living in the Middle

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
 I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
 the flames will not set you ablaze.” -Isaiah 43:1-2

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If you are writing a great story, you better have a great ending.  I’m not that kind of writer, but I know that if you want to keep the reader’s attention, you build tension in the narrative until you reach climax with the ending of the story and then it settles on from crescendo.  Whether it be in tragedy or triumph, all great stories have a great ending.  It’s so satisfying to reach a clear conclusion, there’s great closure when you close the book cover after a good story and exhale now you no longer are living in the tension of ‘not knowing’ how it ends.

As humans, we prefer answers to our questions.  If you are an A-type personality human like me, you really really like answers and conclusions to get on with the rest of life and start planning and strategizing.  But life is more complex than that isn’t it?  Sometimes you have no idea how the story is going to end, but you aren’t a passive 3rd party reader, you are the main character in the narrative.  It’s YOUR story that you don’t know the end to, or even how the next chapter will begin.  You hope for the best, you long for goodness, you wait expectantly . . . but it’s not someone else’s fears and anxieties; it’s yours.

When you are living in the middle, you get to choose your orientation:

  • Do you want to be oriented in the previous chapters?  -You know well the shores you left, you knew how that world worked?  The tastes, the smells, the ground etc. are all still recently familiar to you and there is a comfort in that.  Do you want to live in this chapter flipping back to previous chapters and finding your identity there?  You can choose to walk backwards into the unknown future.
  • Do you want to be oriented in ending only?  -You have strong invested interest in how this story ends.  You know there will be a finish line, you know the adventure will end in a conclusive reality, you can only count success as crossing that line and realizing the end goal.  You can choose to walk forward and just dog it out until the results are in, calling the results the ‘end game’ you are shooting for.
  • Do you want to be present and live in the tension of the middle? – The middle is just hard sometimes.  It’s hard to sit and be present in the unknown.  Starting a story is easy, knowing the end of a story is even easier (you reading last chapter first kind of people!), living in the tension of the middle is the hard part.   Allowing the tension and anxiety to build and actually liking it for the character-building opportunity that it is can be a challenge.  The middle chapters can be the best part sometimes.  One of my leadership mantras is #TTP, ‘trust the process‘.  Believe that the process is just as good as the beginning and the end, it is in the middle where the main character grows in fortitude and personhood.  Learning, living and growing up happens in the process.

I’m choosing to show up in the tension of the middle.  I don’t exactly know what the shores are like for me and my family ahead, I do not know the end of this story.  But I do know that the God who made me, who named me, paid a price for me and He has good in mind.  He’s not afraid to throw me in a refining process of ‘growing up’ and He’s patient to trust His own process.

I trust the process because I trust the One who is authoring the process.  #TTP  He is THE author, I’m not here to write my own story.  As I’m living day to day, moment by moment and showing up in the tension of the middle, I can tell you one thing . . . it’s a real page turner!

4 Things I Love About ‘Pokemon Go’

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Yeah . . . I went there, I’m adding to the buzz ad nausea of this latest global craze but instead of being my normal judgy mcjudgerson on what is popular, this one I’m kind of endorsing??    Instead of yelling at the kids to GET OFF MY LAWN!!  Let me try and be a bit open minded here.  RELAX!  Let me explain.

Disclaimer:  I’ve never watched Pokemon, never collected a single card, my kids never did. I downloaded the app. for about 12 hours and then deleted it.  I caught one squirtle in my backyard but my 14 hr. old had no interest in it so I deleted it.  I’m now again unhip, irrelevant and uncool, but that’s a comfortable space for me.

Here’s 4 things I do love about the Pokemon Go phenomenon:

  1. Kids, teens and young adults are outside walking around –   Sure, they are staring deep into their phones and perhaps not being completely aware of their surroundings, BUT they are not sitting inside on couches eating chips and soaking in unnatural lighting.  They are outside soaking up Vitamin D and Serotonin, maybe they won’t need as many anti-depressant or ADD drugs.  Just being outside and moving does wonders for our physiological make-up, it sure does for me.
  2. Families are doing something fun together – Yeah, my 14 yr. old son had zero interest going hunting with me but that seems to be a rare instance.  I’m seeing in my community and all around Facebook, parents and kids doing something fun together.  Our cultural stories recently have been so dark and violent, we needed something for families to do together.  You know the age-old saying:  The Family that hunts ‘Charizard’ together, stays together.
  3. Millenials are solving problems – I’ve been guilty of being one of the old curmudgeon (Gen X’er) accusing the millenial generation of being entitled and not contributing their fair share to our culture’s woes.  But, as an educator, I’m a huge fan of ‘play’ as a means of engaging our minds and bodies in problem solving.  We are not robots, the industrial world of the utilitarian drone is not our reality.  Our world is complex and diverse, we need creative problem solving to do something about it.  Something as simple as Pokemon Go has an entire generation using ‘play’ towards problem-solving.  I am all for it.  Working together, networking, sharing resources, solving problems; these are the bedrock skills for world-changers.  Once those brain neurons are firing off, who knows what else they could find to tackle next.  Confidence and a sense of accomplishment creates great personal momentum.  We all need the Millenials to be a ‘kick a$$’ generation, I’m holding out hope yet.
  4. It’s Clean and Innocent – This is a relative argument and surely there are some on my readership far more conservative than me and will accuse it all of being the spawn of Satan, but in my relatively acute opinion, it’s clean and innocent play. Let’s be real, the other options at the fingertips of the same generation is 1st person shooter games, gory role playing games and internet pornography.  Squirtles, Weedles and Jigglypuffs harken back to a more innocent time in American culture, we could use a little of it for our kids to grow up in.

So I’m sorry for getting on board with it all.  Though I’m not actively hunting, I’m cheering on those of you who are from the sidelines.  Happy Hunting my friends, may the Pikachu of your dreams be just around the next corner!

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Moses is Dead . . . the Transition Bridge

 

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“1 After the death of Moses the servant of God, God spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Get going . . . ‘ “(Joshua 1:1)

Some transitions in life are just really clear.  Historically for the people of Israel, when one of their great patriarchs Moses dies, it is a clear and distinct line in the sand that things are going to change.  It can’t be like it ‘used to be‘ because Moses is not in the land of the living and there is no evidence of a zombie apocalypse.  Moses is dead, he isn’t coming back.  His reign as a trusted leader is over, it’s not business as usual.  He’s not going to make Israel great again, so now what?  It’s unsettling, it’s confusing, it’s a time for many questions and can throw you right into a land of chaos and anxiety.  How will it turn out?  How will this end?  Where does this bridge take us?  What is the land like over there?  Is it like the old way of life?  Is it safe?  Is it good?  Do I want to go there?  What can I trust?

Time of great transition can be very, very unsettling.  I know because my family and I are in one.  I’m here to testify to the great unsettling.  I do find comfort in the fact that we aren’t the first ones to do a great life transition, it’s been done before and even studied as a psycho-emotional phenomenon.  In 1991, William Bridges, wrote a book called ‘Managing Transitions’ in which he lays out the 3 stages humans go through in great times of transition.  His focus is not on the external ‘change‘ that happens to you, but on the internal free choice to slowly and deliberately move through ‘transition‘.  We can’t always control change (i.e. Moses is dead) but we can control what choices we make to transition internally.   Focus is on transition, not change.

Bridges 3 step transition model is as follows:

  1. Ending, Losing and Letting Go – this is the human emotion area of fear, denial, anxiety, anger, sadness, frustration, loss etc.  Until acceptance happens, we stay here.
  2. The Neutral Zone – the slow process of detachment with the old.  Resentment towards change, low productivity, low morale, skepticism and anxiety about new roles.  This can be opportunity for seeing things completely differently with new lenses altogether.
  3. The New Beginning – this is where acceptance leads to new and bright energy.  Excitement over new roles, openness to new learnings and a renewed commitment to the group.  When you get here . . . take time to mark the transition and celebrate!!!

Just because there is a marked process, it doesn’t mean to hurry up and get it over with.  The process is it’s own learning, trust the process.  Don’t look to get it over with, soak up the juices for the learnings that are in there, it’s part of the marrow of life.  Take your time, take care of your emotional self, you are worth a healthy transition.  Are you in great transition like me?  Let’s cross the bridge slowly and deliberately . . . on the other end is a New Beginning and I’m believing it’s good.

“If you want to live life free
Take your time go slowly
If you want your dream to be
Take your time, go slowly”Little Church’ (Donovan Leitch)