Grace’s Faces

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”  John 1:16

In a world filled with sin and condemnation, it is a rare sight to see grace lived out and exercised in the men and women, both young and old, and their relationships.  But, when you see it, when your eyes taste the sweetness of grace’s nectar, it somehow satisfies the soul and shakes hands with our heart like an old friend.

Grace is the “secret ingredient” that when blended with the love of Christ, takes a moment of sin and brings glory to the King of Kings.  It makes what would otherwise be condemned and redeems it because of the debt that was paid on the cross — it’s no wonder the angels sing, “Glory, Glory, Glory . . . to the Lord God Almighty!”

I saw grace yesterday face to face.  Not just once, but in the lives of three who demonstrated to me and a crowd of witnesses an example of what it means to live as Christ . . . to live out the grace of God through them.

May I continue to learn the meaning and life of grace through Christ!  Show me more Lord Jesus — imprint it upon my heart!

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”  Ephesians 1:7-8

by:  Mark Cruver

Hurt Feelings Kick My Pride

“So then, no more boasting about men!”  I Corinthians 3:21

Why in the world do I allow my feelings to get hurt so easily.  The hurt and pain are tremendous and overwhelming at best.  I’m often at sorts identifying the nature of what God thinks of or sees in my feelings.  Since I have always worn my feelings on my skin they have been easily bruised and vulnerable to become infected with bitterness if not allowed to heal.

Lately, however, I’m learning the origin and makeup of my feelings.  There’s more to it than meets the eye!  The source of my pain and hurt runs more in line with the pride of our hearts that Paul warns the people of Corinth about.

When I disregard the gospel in my life, the human ego swells within and I fill the void to satisfy it’s insatiable appetite.  I then attach my self-worth to this ego and in order for me to feel good about myself I must measure against something (someone) else and satisfy my personal pride.

Then, like a thief in the night, someone hurts my feelings — but, what they actually do is kick my pride!  Ouch!  That hurt!  I wish my reply to someone’s “number 12” to my pride’s backside would invoke a simple “ouch.”  But it doesn’t.  It stirs my soul and in this case, deflates my ego.  Why does this make me hurt?  Because the emptiness inside of man’s ego that causes discomfort is often filled by the comparing of oneself to another.  It’s what the ego does!  And outside of the gospel, the ego re-inflates itself by other means.  It’s a horrible cycle.

So, when I hurt, when I get kicked — and I will, often — it’s vital to remember the Truth of the gospel.  The gospel is responsible for transforming my self-worth — my identity!  Because of this transformation, my ego operates different now!  Not by comparing myself to others, caring about what they think of me or even me judging myself.  Instead, I lean upon the Truth of what Christ thinks of me — that’s who I am!

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”  I Peter 4:12-13

by:  Mark Cruver

Thinking of Me

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.  Psalm 139:17-18

Let’s do the math here . . . millions of people, plus how many grains of sand?  Yep, that would be all of them . . . quadrillions (that’s not even enough to number them).  Goodness!  Ok, and that would equal the number of thoughts . . . precious thoughts, about ME!  But there’s so many others out there to think about!  Why toward me?  My head hurts trying to comprehend the immensity of this.

There’s good reason my head hurts.  My comprehension of the fullness of God and His ways is beyond the limited understanding my “earth suit” is capable of grasping.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”  Isaiah 55:8

While I know I am made in His image, I also know that I am not God — He is so much more!  I’m reminded of an old song I used to sing in my childhood that said, “My God is so BIG, so STRONG and so MIGHTY, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”  Even now, as an adult, this song speaks unbelievable Truth in the nature of who God is!

But being big, or strong and mighty, while true and awesome, does not address the reality that God thinks about me!  His thoughts about me are innumerable.  I am awestruck at the magnitude of precious thought He spends on me.  This is an expression of love, care and value that reaches beyond human reason and steps into a, perhaps the, realm of “lack of understanding.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding . . . ”  Proverbs 3:5

Amazing . . . simply amazing!  Despite my circumstances, despite my past, despite my ill-doings and doubt, despite my lack of hope or faith, despite my disobedience and rebellion, despite my worry — He thinks precious thoughts of me by an infinite number.  It’s a measure of unconditional love that crosses over the boundaries of our minds and sometimes our hearts.

“Jesus loves me, this I know . . . for the Bible tells me so!”

Thank you Lord Jesus for thinking precious thoughts of me today!

“How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts!”    Psalm 92:5

by:  Mark Cruver

Unfavorable Frustration

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive  mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16

I just hung up the phone — uggh!  I’m so frustrated!  My heart pounds hard.

My mornings are filled with burnt toast and tired children — uggh!  I’m so frustrated!  I’m snappy.

I’m going to be late — uggh!  I’m so frustrated!  I drive crazy.

My circumstances suck — uggh!  I’m so frustrated!  I give up.

Any of these sound familiar?  I wish I could say I’ve made them up, but I can actually remember these happening to me.  What would your list look like?

God doesn’t call me to be frustrated, but I have wrestled with understanding what I should look like, how I should behave and what even I should think when I’m frustrated.  You see, frustration is in itself no sin, but is a conduit to sin.

Frustration is defined as a feeling of dissatisfaction, often accompanied by anxiety or depression, resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems.

This means, in practical terms, it’s what happens when I don’t get my way or I’m not satisfied with the results.  Paul tells us that circumstances in life will stink (my paraphrase), but how we respond to those frustrating moments is really what matters!  The feelings are real, they will present themselves and well up within, but Paul further explains in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  It’s clearly a choice!  How I respond is a choice!

The good news is that God has given instruction on how NOT to handle it on my own.  I can’t speak for you, but I tend to screw things up when I try to handle them on my own.  So, when the moments arrive, and they will, when my needs are not met and I’m struggling in the lack of satisfaction, what do I do?  How do I respond?  My body clenches, my teeth clamp, my heart races and I tend to huff!  But God gives me an outline of what I SHOULD do in these moments instead.

God wants my every thought to fall in obedience to Him.  He desires for me to fly the white flag in life indicating a full surrender of everything in my life.  He expects and desires me to surrender my satisfaction, my unmet needs and my unresolved problems.  He knows all about them anyhow, He just waits for me to hand Him the reins.

Oh, so yes, that outline!  I mentioned, God gives me the ultimate outline for response.  From within my frustrations we are called to approach the throne with full confidence!  Pray with confidence when I’m frustrated?  Pray or huff?  I really want to huff . . . but taking that thought captive in obedience means to snuff the huff and practice my prayer.  And then comes the why!  Why pray?  Because in doing so, the floodgate of our hearts open to receive from the Father His mercy!  It also unlocks the code required to see the grace only He can serve that WILL help us in our unfavorable frustrations!

by:  Mark Cruver

No Darkness at Dawn

“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.  But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”  Proverbs 4:18-19

There is nothing more beautiful on a crisp pre-fall morning when the temperatures are just right, the skies are clear and nature is at peace, than the slow rise of the sun as it warms the surface of the ponds, reflects itself in the dew on the meadow and blinds me on that back country road.  There’s something special and warm about those mornings.  Agree?

Solomon knew something of what this was like apparently — through experiencing the same sun rise from the same eastern sky as I do each day, he related the growing ambiance of each day to the life of the righteous.  That is incredible imagery to know that my path, (I’m righteous because Christ said so in Romans 5:19) will be illuminated by His light evermore increasingly.

Regardless, however, of my circumstances, it doesn’t feel like the sun comes up so spectacularly every day when I’m on that path.  In fact, there are days when it feels like the sun doesn’t come up at all.

Some of the most spooky times in my life (growing up in Florida) were the days when we had what we called noon-day thunderstorms.  I’m not talking about rain showers — I’m talking about the thick, black and rolling clouds that forces you to turn on the lights because it looks like 8 p.m. outside when it’s actually time for lunch!  Weird!

Life on the path can encounter some of those “weird” moments as well.  Like the noon-day sun which never stops shining — regardless of the circumstances — God shines His light upon us, even in the midst of dark moments as the storms roll in.

So what do I do when it feels like the light of the Son has stopped shining on my path?  What do I do when my dawn casts no shadows?  What do I do when I reach for a lamp or wish for a flashlight — something to replace the noon-day Son?

Christ reminded the people in the midst of their own doubts that the Son shines so they will never walk in darkness — even when they see no light.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

Though clouds and storms may squelch the light my eyes can see, may the darkness that surrounds me be split by the light of the Son that shines forever in my heart.  May I never be fooled into thinking the darkness is absent the Son.  May I forever be confident of the steps I take with my eyes closed and my heart wide open, knowing — trusting — believing that His light is Truth and I will never then walk in darkness because I have the light of life!

Amen!

by:  Mark Cruver

Shaken or Steadfastly Stirred?

“Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.  He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”  Psalm 112:6-7

A number of years ago, I was shaken by the news of my mom having cancer.  The first in our family, the aggressive nature of this strain made for moving quickly.  The thought of losing a dear loved one to something so out of my control for me was a lesson in trust and prayer.  My initial response was asking, sometimes even yelling at God to get answers to the growing question of “why?”  My fist was spiritually drawn and raised a number of times in the deepness and darkness this horrible incident brought upon my mom.

And now, years later — and mom cancer-free — I find myself once again facing a more personal crisis.  The cover looks the same, the story is just a bit different.  Every word is written on the pages of grace and forgiveness, penned by the Author.  And while I don’t really know the ending to this one exactly, I am confident in knowing it will be very similar.  How do I know?  Well, here is what He said about that . . .

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

It’s great knowing the ending, it helps in living through the pages of life.  But, how do I live off those pages when I come to a chapter that “rattles my cage?”  How do I keep reading?  How do I keep the book open and read on?

It’s easier said than done, but the Truth is that the words I read off my pages of life are more than just words.  What it is my eyes see cannot be trusted — but knowing who authored my story from the beginning, from cover to cover is imperative.  In whom do I trust?

David reminds us that a righteous man will never be shaken and will not fear bad news.  It’s all in how I live — where is my faith, do I believe in the Author and Finisher of my life?  Or am I trying to write each page?

This means that my life is not in my hands, but rather, in the hands of my God!  The pages are being written by Him.  Getting shaken is placing trust in myself to get through the bad news, to figure out my own way to process and “deliver” myself from the worry and fear.  But that’s not trusting — that’s acting like Adam!

So, God — when I face the pages in my life that reflect strife, present crisis, face rejection, bear fear, instead of being shaken, help me . . .  HELP me be steadfastly stirred by those moments but not shaken.  Remind me of who I am IN YOU and THROUGH YOU, and that my heart be, as it is, steadfast to withstand the storms I face each and every day!

Amen!

by:  Mark Cruver

Renewing Your Mind Isn’t All In Your Head

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Romans 12:2

With a few trips and countless miles behind me, I have had quite a bit of time to think and ponder the image of transformation, the practicality of a mindful change and how this actually translates into daily living.  It has been a very interesting and revealing quest in seeking understanding of God’s Word for me.  All-be-it, very humbling!

When transformation takes place it is understood that something (whatever that is) becomes something else.  Applying Romans 12 then, this would suggest that I, me, this person, would become something completely different at the renewing of my mind . . . I, me, this new person.  This is good of course, I long to be the man God wants me to be and to live according to His purposes.  But it seems, however, that in order for that to truly occur, my mind must think differently — my mind must think like Christ — my mind must have the mind of Christ’s.  After all, that is what having Christ live through me looks like. Right?

But how do I do it?  How do I make this transformation occur?  I know!  Read, Read and Read some more!  That will certainly transform my thinking.  Well, while reading is certainly good and especially if it’s in God’s Word, it alone is not going to transform me into something else.  There has to be more to it than that!  Oh, I know — I must do something different!  Talk different, drink different, eat different, walk different, dress different — by doing these things I will certainly change into something different.  Again, when I simply rely upon myself for transformation I will always fall short of what God is trying to do in and through me to bring me further in fellowship with Him.  Plus, reading and doing are both built around me trying to change me!  Until I understand the Truth that sets me free (John 8:32), I will always be the one in control and He wants us to fully surrender everything to Him!  Remember what Paul said about this process?  “. . . that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:6.  So we need to get out of His way and freely allow Him to do His good work!

Over the last several months I’ve been wrestling with understanding what and how to fully trust, completely depend upon, surrender, have faith and walk in peace.  I’ve asked over and over, “What does this look like?”  and “How does this feel?”  I understood the meaning of trust, surrender and faith — I even got the word peace — but why in the world was I not feeling it?  I just had to understand these concepts in order to flush them out in my life, but somewhere in my head I reached a block wall and it no longer translated clearly.

I found myself, once again at a loss for clarity.  That’s when God reached, when the time was right and perfect and cleared my fog.  All these miles in deep ponder began to uncover a Truth that only in Him, made sense.  God began to reveal His Truth in that the “renewing of my mind” was not going to take place in my head!  I know, that’s the first place I looked too!  And, not only did I look there, I camped there.  I wrestled with understanding what it meant to transform, to trust, to have faith.  I needed evidence and instructions, descriptions and expectations — I needed answers before I was going to fold my hands across my chest and fall backwards into the arms of a Stranger.

My being transformed by the renewing of my mind was not going to come from me thinking differently, understanding more clearly or walking in the paths of “righteousness.”  The renewing of my mind was going to have to start in my heart, not my head!  The most logical place to start appears to be in my head so I have spent countless hours attempting to clear and refill my mind.  While good, it too will lead to death — it must start in my heart!

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  Proverbs 14:12

by:  Mark Cruver

In Christ There is No Cowardly Lion

“The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”  Proverbs 28:1

Crisis can bring out the wildest of thoughts, don’t you think?  Somehow, someway we feel like running and running as far away from the pain or hurt.  It feels like that would solve the very existence of the massive discomfort in our hearts — but does it?  Not at all!  We grapple with the idea that sweeping the circumstances under the rug will somehow hide the reality of the crisis from our routine — but does it?  Not at all!  When we flee the seemingly unconquerable crisis, we never actually leave it behind, we only add to the pain, extend the hurt and create a further chasm between the truth and facing the truth.  When we flee the hardship and overwhelming odds we somehow manage to always trip over the “lump in the rug” from where we merely swept it for the moment.

So how do we stand firm in our crisis and face the truth?  How do we conquer the giant?  How do we keep from becoming the cowardly lion?  There’s really only one way.

The 16th century author, Thomas Brooks said it best in his book Heaven On Earth:

“Your strength to stand, and your strength to withstand all assaults — is from your communion with God.  Communion with God is that which will make you stand fast, and triumph over all enemies, difficulties, dangers, and deaths.  Communion with God will make a man as courageous and bold as a lion, yes, as a young lion which is in his hot blood, and fearless of any creature. . . . Communion is a reciprocal exchange between Christ and a gracious soul.  Communion is Jacob’s ladder, where you have Christ sweetly descending down into the soul, and the soul by divine influences sweetly ascending up to Christ.  Communion with God is a shield upon land, and an anchor at sea; it is a sword to defend you, and a staff to support you; it is balm to heal you, and a cordial to strengthen you.  High communion with Christ will yield you two heavens, a heaven upon earth, and a heaven after death.”

You own this!  You already own the courage of Joshua — captain of the Lord’s army!  You already have the strength of Samson.  You already own the boldness and bravery of David.  You can conquer Satan like Job.  You already have direct fellowship and union with the Father like Adam.  You own this because you know Him!  It is through their communion with God that gave them the ability — living God through themselves — gave them the courage and gave Him the glory!

But when their communion with God was distracted and neglected, not a single one of these men stood firm.  God wants our communion!  In Christ you are no cowardly lion . . . you hold in your hands the keys to heaven on earth, the armor of God and the power of His resurrection!

Be fearless in Christ and in bold communion always!

May God, through His fellowship . . . His communion, live through me today in fullness and boldness!  It’s who I am!

by:  Mark Cruver

Comment on What To Preach To Yourself Everyday by Recommended Articles For September | Gospel Glory

Behaving better is never an indication of Spiritual growth, but instead, believing better in the One who lives inside you will change your behavior. It will come from the love born out of living through Him.

by:  Mark Cruver

Seeing is not Believing

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  I Corinthians 13:12

My days are surrounded by what I see.  That’s profound, huh?  My drive to work this morning was blessed by the view of God’s design in this morning’s sunrise.  Strokes of pink stretching in all directions across the eastern sky.  Fields of tall grass going to seed danced in unison to the morning breeze as the new sun accented their bronze tips.  The joy of time spent with my boys, talking about God’s attributes.  The mile-long river of red lights before me while I sit in traffic.  If I didn’t know any better – it all seems pretty real to me.  But what is real?  There’s no doubt those things are real, but God suggests that what I see in myself and others may not be as real as they appear.

If what He says is true (and I believe it to be so), then what we see cannot be what we always believe.  “We live by faith, not by sight.”  II Corinthians 5:7

Here’s what I do know . . . I know that God is Supreme, always and forever!  I know that I am not Him!  I also know that He created us to have fellowship with Him, regardless of our circumstances.  I know too, that our ability to understand Him completely is limited by the inability of our flesh (bodies).  Even so, I know that within me lives God Supreme through His Spirit and that because of Him abiding in me, Christ then lives through me!  Therefore, I am a NEW creation and that this is who I am — my life is Christ.

This means that my mind is of Christ, my heart belongs to Christ, my eyes see through Christ, my hands touch and feel through Christ’s hands, my feet walk in the footsteps of Christ.  It’s John 15:5!

But do I believe it?  I can’t see it, so is it real?  John 15:5 goes on to say that evidence of knowing and believing this truth will be evident in the fruit of my life.  “. . . and you will bear much fruit!”  This is because we behave through our belief!

God reveals the truth of who He is to us in three different ways . . . through His creation, through His written Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ!

It’s like finding a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies on the table when you get home.  You can smell them and your mouth starts to water.  There’s no doubt they are real and your body is already enjoying them and your mind is trying to convince your will to tell your hand to grab one!  But you resist.  Why?  Because quite honestly, you have no idea where they came from.  But from the sweet aroma, you know for a fact they did a great job!  Wait, there’s a note next to the plate that says, “Dear son, I made you a plate of cookies today because I love you.  I hope you enjoy them . . . Love, Mom.”  Ahhhh, how sweet!  Mom made you cookies . . . but did she?  How do you know?  Well, they look like the cookies she makes, smells like the cookies she makes, she left me a note that says she made them — you conclude it must be true!  Then, the doorbell rings.  You rush to the door and see that it’s Mom coming by for a visit.  The first thing she asks is if you found the plate of cookies she left for you.   And you say, “It was you!  Thank you so much, I can’t wait to eat them.  Would you like to have one with me?”

You see, God created all things as proof of who He is!  He left us a “note” as further evidence of the truth through His Word.  And just to confirm the author and finisher of all things, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to fulfill His Truth.

Seeing is not believing, but knowing the Truth that sets you free is something you can believe in!  Then, through faith, because you believe, you behave Christ through you — The HOPE of GLORY!

by:  Mark Cruver