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Thursday, February 26

It's the Greatest Miracle You'll Ever See--when Christ Redeems your Shattered Dream!

       From the young age of 8 years old, I was passionately consumed with football.  I would play every chance I got, whether with a team for practice, in organized team games, or for fun in a field with friends.  I loved the sport so much that, some nights, I fell asleep with my football in my arms.  My mom would tell me how she would come in my room and take the ball out of my bed while I slept.  I even dreamed about football more than anything else, hoping and dreaming to, one day, be able to play on a college team.

When I got to college, I went through the grueling program to try out for the team and, by the grace of God, I got through all the cuts, and made a position on the team roster.  The entire process, for me, was terribly difficult - struggling to get enough air in my lungs during uphill runs, taking body blows from guys stronger than me and twice my size, and staying pin-point focused on giving 110% to getting my body into better shape - something that seemed to require much more effort for me than it did for other players.  What I didn't know at the time, and found out only in very recent years, was that I had underdeveloped lungs and asthma from the time I was born.  I'm glad now that I didn't know this back then, when my heart was stayed on fulfilling my childhood dream, even if throwing up blood and fighting to overcome oxygen deprivation would be an endless cost I would have to pay.
During the course of football season as a freshman, I endured a concussion and various injuries, none of which were uncommon for players at the college level.  Then, I got what I thought was a pulled muscle in my lower back.  Instead of getting better as I expected, it kept getting worse.  It got really bad in the end, during the last few practices and games.  The pain was excruciating and, every time it would swell, the trainer would put me in the ice barrel and have me sit there while he would shovel ice over my back.  I was constantly having to go in there.  The good news was, we finished the year with an undefeated record, won the final game 83 to 3, and were awarded the national college champion- ship title for our division.  We were elated and having a blast!  The bad news news was, after I went to the hospital and had various medical tests and x-rays, it turned out that I had been playing with a broken back.  I couldn't believe it when I saw the film from the MRI and heard the doctor say, "Keith, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but, if you suit up again to play football, there's a good chance that your next collision in the game may lead you to never walk again.  Son, your football career is over."  All of a sudden, I was confronted with a heartbreaking reality that the game I loved more than anything else in life, at the time, was no longer an option for me.  I immediately left the hospital, went back to the empty football stadium, walked onto the middle of the field, and collapsed in tears.  My hopes and dreams of playing in the next season of college were just, suddenly, gone.
I decided not to continue in college.  So, I packed up all of my things and drove back to where I lived during high school.  I remember I just felt numb after that, for a long time.

      After going through that season of depression, realizing how easily our entire identity can unexpectedly be stripped from us when we become wrapped up in one specific profession, I accepted the fact that I needed to let go of my shattered dream and refocus.  It was then that I realized how important it is to have a "back-up profession" just in case of a situation like I now found myself in.  For me, I was a drummer, and playing rock-n-roll music was the one thing I loved, next to football.  So I got together with some buddies I had played with in bands during high school, and I threw all of my passion into building on my music career... my second love.
As the result of my playing in local clubs, parties, etc. with a few DC-area rock bands over that next year, I began to develop a driving passion to do whatever it would take for me to progress to the next level in music, and earn a place in a full-time "touring" rock band.  I didn't know it at the time, but my music career, along with all that I had already been through, is what God would eventually use as the platform for my ministry.
After winning a spot with a full-time secular rock band, it didn't take me but a few years of being on the road until, I became disillusioned by that dead-end way of life.  One night, when I finally had a "gut full" of the rock-n-roll lifestyle and everything that went with it, I went to my hotel room instead of going to where the rest of the band members were partying, next door.  That was the night that I fell on my face before God, and I prayed and asked Jesus Christ into my heart to be the Lord and Savior of my life.  I had prayed for salvation as a boy, when I was eight years old, but this time I was praying to commit my whole life, and everything in me, to Christ that night.  Then, I prayed for a second request that I just K-N-E-W was so big that it would be impossible, even for God, to fulfill.  I asked to be the drummer of a "British Christian Rock band."  Ever since I was a kid, more than any other music, I loved rock-n-roll music that popular British Rock musicians and bands where known for!  I wanted to represent Christ in my music and, although I never heard of any "Christian Rock" band before, let alone "British Christian Rock" band, my dream gig would be to join a group just like that.
As a result of my "impossible" prayer request, I experienced a series of miracles that led me to the first-ever British Christian Rock group to come to America, "The Alwyn Wall Band" from London, England.  God did it!  He answered my impossible prayer request... and p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y.
Playing music and praising God on the road with Alwyn and the rest of the guys was a tremendous privilege and joy; we became like family, a band of Brothers in Christ, and always on the go.  Over the next year and a half of our touring the country, I began to have a strong desire to put down some roots.  We were meeting one tight-knit church group after another, joining them just long enough to play a concert or two, then we were hitting the road again to go to the next city and state.  I began to have the desire to belong to a Christian community and church family I could call my own.
What God was about to do next would redeem all of my constant moving from city to city, my playing music for all kinds of crowds (many who would never grace the building of a church), and my living in hotel rooms in locations where I had no ties.  He was preparing me to, soon, move from city to city to help Pastors establish new churches.  It all would soon come together like a well-made plan, despite me and as only God can.
Long story short, the passports, that Alwyn and the others had, were just months from expiring, meaning they would have to return to England or apply for American citizenship.  They would have no choice but to plan for their return home.  At that same proximity of time, I received a request to perform a founding role in a new church plant, that would lead to another new church plant, then another, and a fourth one, all of which would mean moving to four different cities within an 11-year period.
Each time I accepted an invitation, I gave up jobs, friends, physicians, vehicle mechanics, and many other things that I had to work very hard to establish each time at each location.  Every move, I would wonder if this one would be my last.
In 1991, all the moves, meetings, developing new friends and community support, and giving everything I had to help build the new churches began to weigh heavily on me.  I was growing more fatigued each day and, if you have ever suffered from fatigue, you know that it can evolve rapidly into debilitating depression if you aren't careful.  It takes a whole lot, sometime, to keep it in check and under control.
As a result of the intensity of what I was going through, I remember so clearly being overcome with it all, and laying in the floor, calling out to God for clarity.
It was then that I heard Him whisper to me saying, "Open your Bible to the maps that are in the back of the book."  When I did that, He whispered to me, "Now go to the map that says 'Paul's journey of evangelism'."  When I saw the map marking all of the places where Paul had gone to, for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, I began to weep.  I was immediately overcome with God's peace!  For the first time, I was made aware -by God Himself- that my life's path was laid out just as He had directed, even through those times when I wondered.  God had been leading me, all the way, on a journey of evangelism - just as He had done with Paul 2000 years ago.
Just about a month after God provided me with His revelation about my life journey, He led me here to Hampton Roads, Virginia where He would bless me with something I had never been able to enjoy before - laying down "roots."  Finally, I had a home, a place where I would build long-term friendship circles, meet new folks who came to town to visit my community, find great contractors, mechanics, doctors, and all of the rest of what it takes to make a place "home."
Just weeks after I began to settle into my new "home", I attended a prayer meeting with a new pastor friend, and several other Christian brothers I was getting to know.  We had been in prayer for about half an hour when my pastor friend raised up, looked over at me, and said that God had just given him a vision that he was supposed to share with me in the meeting, right then.  Of course, when someone says something like that to you, especially someone who you have recently met and have barely gotten to know, you tend to get a little uneasy.  However, knowing that I had not shared anything of my past travels, participation in church plants, or anything else of my history with him, and discerning that he was a wonderful and trustworthy man of God, I agreed that it was okay to share it.  The vision God gave him is one I think about often, and it went like this...
My pastor friend said that he was hovering above a hot, arid, windy desert.  When he looked straight down on the desert below him, he saw a fellow with a shovel digging a ditch about six feet wide and five feet deep.  He said it was amazing to watch as the man was diligently digging one shovel-full of sand after another, tossing each one up onto the sides of the ditch.  He went on to say that he watched this for quite a while before he saw a 3-foot-deep wall of water filling in the ditch behind the man, and following him at a distance of about 10 feet behind him as he dug.  He continued by saying how he began to notice the banks on both sides of the ditch gradually soaking up the water as it filled in behind the man digging.
The pastor said that, all of a sudden, he was being raised up even higher into the air, allowing him to have an even better "bird's-eye view" of the desert.  As soon as he looked down from this new height, he said that the ditch he had been watching the man dig went on continuously for miles and miles, curving and turning in a way that it didn't have any orderly fashion, or resemblance of form or definitive direction.  It was just "snaking" all across the desert, nonstop.  He said he also noticed that there were very few straight sections the man dug along the way but it was curved, all over the place.
What he said next was glorious!  He asked me, "Do you remember the water that was filling in behind the man as he dug?"  I said, "Yes."  He said, "Well, as the banks of the ditch became saturated with the gently, but constantly, flowing water it was soaking up, those banks began to yield countless plants, beautiful fruit trees, colorful bushes, and super-healthy vegetation of all kinds - all of them containing nourishment and healing that people needed as they lived there.  Most of the plants that I saw growing, with my own eyes, were varieties of plant life that were not familiar to me as anything I recognized or had ever seen anywhere on earth before.  They were growing and spreading all around.  All the while, every single plant was being fed by the pure water that filled the ditch as the man dug."

The next thing the pastor told me was how he saw people, looking like they were dying of thirst and malnutrition, begin to come from out of nowhere and start running to the banks of the ditch.  Their faces began to have expressions of joy, peace, and happiness.  "The scene was absolutely beautiful beyond words," he said.  The desert began filling up with the nourishing fruit and vegetable plants, and lots of healthy vegetation, and trees that gave shade to allow everyone who came to get out of the hot, scorching sun.
As all of this was happening, the pastor said he watched everyone as they got to the trees and water, and was struck by how they began laughing, skipping, and praising God!  Then, he said, "I felt myself beginning to descend from the heights where I had been.  As I was floating further from the sky, going gently toward the ground, I was also drawing closer to where the man was as he was digging.  His back was all I could see as he was digging, facing away from me.  When I got about ten feet from the man's back, all at once, he stood up and turned around.  That's when I saw that, Keith... IT WAS YOU!"

      The reason we are sharing this message, is in hopes that, something we have gone through, or are going through now, will encourage you to continue to persevere and "press Toward The Mark."  There's no coincidence that we've named this ministry Toward The Mark, Inc., based on the Scripture passage in Philippians 3.  This life on earth is a race, not a wedding dress room.  Keep running!  We want to emphasize to you, today, to KEEP ON GOING!  There's nothing worth you giving up.  Keep fighting!  Stay on the battlefield and in the fight!  Philippians 3:13-14, Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

We would like to close with these words from Paul, from 2 Timothy 4:5-8, But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.  For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
Thank you for staying connected with us, and following our blog every month throughout the year!  We appreciate you and pray you enjoy a wonderfully blessed week!  IN Christ Jesus,

Read and Re-read Blog:  It's the GREATEST MIRACLE You'll Ever See

To Show GOD BIG in a World that Sees Him small…  sums up the reason Keith stepped out in faith to focus on reaching the lost and strengthening believers everywhere, through Toward The Mark, Inc.  Keith and Brenda's prayer is that you will be encouraged and edified by the Secrets from God's Word that Keith recounts in our written and recorded products.  The complete collection of original podcasts, music, blogs, books, CDs, and other resources of Toward The Mark, Inc. are made possible by the prayer and financial contributions of the TTM Support Family.  We'd like to welcome you onboard TODAY!

We INVITE YOU to...  take advantage of our other Scripture-based tools to help as “We Press Toward the Mark…” of becoming "one" with our Heavenly Father:

Keith Shealy's "Between The Lines" Podcast on Libsyn

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