Desert Cloud

Ever complain?  Ever sit in your seat and ask this question . . . “Really?”  I certainly have, and worse, I know it full well.  My complaint trigger is sensitive with little to make it fire off.  If you are anything like the rest of us on earth, it’s tough finding something not worth complaining over.  Yet, in the midst of this very thing God does not delight.  At least this is what I’ve gathered through an account with the Israelites and Aaron in the book of Exodus.

At the instruction of Moses, Aaron addressed the hostile crowd.  They had been complaining about their conditions, mainly provisions.  And, while there was much at stake, their conditions were not meant for daily comfort or individual gain, but for the glory of God to be magnified.  And therefore, through their grumblings, God’s glory was on display!

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.   Exodus 16:10

The glory of the Lord . . . wow!  Hovering over the dry sands of the desert, the richness of beauty and provision was on display. The glory of the Lord was before them, reminding them of the One to whom all praise is given — regardless of the condition.

Lord Jesus, may my life always point to your desert cloud.  Press upon my complaining heart a prayer of the reflection of your glory in me to answer the call of the moment to know it is less about me and all about you!

Direct My Thoughts

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.  Psalm 63:1

The desert is a pretty dry place!  Without water it’s even drier!  And yet, David found himself in the midst of this scorching environment with plenty of room to throw out criticism and dissatisfaction with his circumstances. It would be safe to say that he was not in the best of moments nor living in the midst of the best time of his life.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have thought about things I really didn’t want to think about.  In fact, entertaining these thoughts have consistently contributed to a separation from my Lord.  The further the separation, the drier the land in which I walk.  Often sparked by a thought, these moments slip into existence without much notice but regrettably find themselves the “author” of much no good.  As much as I feel I am all alone in these moments, I know I am not the only one that experiences this.  That’s why I am so very glad that David wrote this psalm.

Thousands of years following David, Paul writes to the people of Philippi and encourages them to think on those things found to be excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).  The Author of our mind is apparent as we learn more and more about Christ in us!  An undesirable thought may be introduced to our mind, but to whom does it belong?  Is it received?  Is it rejected?  Paul further explains the method by which to dissolve arguments — by taking every thought captive in order to make it obedient to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5).

Personally, I can’t imagine what it would be like to find myself in a literal desert, parched, hot, fatigued, hungry and more than anything . . . thirsty — with nothing to satisfy my body and it’s needs.  On the other hand, I have found myself in very similar conditions when it comes to the condition of my heart and soul.

Paul says to capture those thoughts and do something with them!  Don’t let them roam wild, but instead, make them obey Christ!  That’s serious business!  Unaccustomed to such discipline, it can seem a bit laborious.  But standing firm in Christ’s obedience satisfies the heart and soul of ALL of it’s needs.  Paul learned this application and lived it . . . AFTER listening to those thoughts himself that drove destruction.  Once he got it, he lived it and then taught others how to live in it themselves.  David called out to God, praised Him in the midst of trial, while utterly uncomfortable and seemingly hopeless.  But how he chose to think changed everything!  It was a choice!

Lord Jesus, like David, my whole being longs for you!  When I get caught up in what I think about my circumstances, remind me of who I am in you!  When I think about the lies presented to me in thought, remind me of the Truth and to whom I belong!  When I think I’m all that and deserve all this, remind me that you plus nothing equals everything!

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:33

Optional Love

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 8:5

It is so easy to take love and trivialize it to the point of making it all about self and very little about anyone else.  We throw out the word and give an expression here or there, but when life boils down, we rarely make decisions, behave, and more often than not, forget to respond out of love.  Instead it looks a great deal like self.

My love for you is optional.  At least that’s how I’ve justified it in my own mind and mainly because I have a choice to love you or not.  Some would argue that, as a Christ-follower, I am “required” to love you.  And while there may be some truth to that, it is still very much a choice. We become examples for each other on giving answers to some of life’s most challenging questions such as:  “What about when I get hurt?” or “How can I love her, look what she did?” or “That man just stabbed me in the back, forget him!”  And these examples serve as reference, defense in our own behavior to justify how we treat others.  So we choose, without much thought, to make love optional.

But God’s love for me has NEVER been optional.  The difference between the measure of God’s love for me and the optional love I give others is unmistakenably different.  Because, when I am in the depth of sin, the darkness of self-consciousness, the option of love is dry and unmerited.  And yet, at that moment, weathering the storms of life, the very action of Christ on the cross became the ultimate demonstration of the depth of His love for me — His unwavering love!

My hearts desire is to love as Christ loved!  To see others, regardless of sin, as Christ sees them.  To shed my self-contiousness and live in the brightness and fullness of Christ-consciousness that my love for others will have no options, but instead reflect what can only be a small, tiny demonstration of God’s love.  Wow — what would that look like?

Nothing Coming Between

Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.   James 4:7-8

Oswald Chambers in his famous devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, says something remarkably poignant and it reaches to the core of my being.  He says anything that disturbs my rest in Him (Christ) must be taken care of immediately; that I must never allow anything to remain that is causing a separation between Christ and myself.  I’ve never given a “truth-check” to the reality of what my sin does in terms of my relationship with Christ!  Separation?

It’s so easy to focus on the issue, the specifics and become entirely distracted from the essence of truth in the current of self.  This “rip-tide” is subtle, inviting and yet, swift and dangerous.  Anything that stands between Christ and me stands in the face of trusting Him by doing things my own way.  It is a willful act of looking into the mirror and seeing “self” instead of Christ in me!  It becomes a refocus of self-consciousness.  When I focus on me and my own circumstances, analyzing and contemplating the outcome of life’s most uncertain  moments, it translates into the absence of God’s rest, His contentment and peace.  It is replaced with self-consiousness in the form of feelings of fear, rejection, discontent, worry, pride, resentment, hurt . . . to name only a few.

The answer here is found in my “will” — through choice.  God has designed me in such a way as to decide what thoughts to entertain.  And He reminds me in His Word to take “every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:5)  How I choose to think about me and my circumstances is the difference between my “junk” coming between Christ and me and nothing coming between Christ and me.  It’s the moment when I choose to deny self-consciousness and live in the embrace of Christ-consiousness.  Through this lens I quit focusing on myself and begin focusing on Christ in me – my Strength, my Comforter, my Healer, my Deliverer, my Redeemer.

Lord, Jesus, I need you every hour!  And in each hour I desire to think on Truth!  I realize that when I choose to do things my way and not your way, I am separated from you!  Those are very unpleasant moments for me and worse to remember.  I’m asking Lord, to make me God-concious!

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.    Philippians 4:8

Cannot Contain

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?  Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?  Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?   Isaiah 40:12-13

I cannot get the familiar song from childhood out of my head . . . “My God is so BIG, so STRONG and so MIGHTY, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”  Remember those words?  You may, in fact, sing it all day now that you’ve read those words — and that’s alright!

To children, there’s not much out there that doesn’t seem big and strong and mighty — everything is actually!  Have you ever returned to a place you remember from your childhood as an adult only to find it much smaller than you recall?  My backyard was huge!  My house was even bigger!  Driving by the place now though, I can’t help but notice it really wasn’t that big at all.  As we age, as we grow bigger ourselves, stronger and more self-sufficient, that which was once MIGHTY becomes less mighty.

Oh how great is the danger in diminishing the “big-ness” or the “strength” or the “mighty-ness” of our God.  Yet, the fallacy is that we have elevated ourselves to believe we are greater than He, more able than He, more in control than He, more wise than He.  We take into our world the false belief that all things work together because we have orchestrated the events through our own efforts and that chance, good-luck and a sprinkle of coincidence somehow channel our existence and outcome.

But God, in His great love of which cannot be contained . . . in His great power of which cannot be contained . . . in His great simplicity of which cannot be contained, in His great knowledge of which cannot be contained has called His children (that’s me and you) by name.

How big, how strong, how mighty is your God?  Remember, there’s NOTHING He cannot do — still!

Island At High-Tide

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s,
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

by: John Donne

Islands have represented many things in literature – an identity of belonging, association and connectivity. It represents a part of the whole — with communion. But it can be a lonely place.  By definition, an island, by nature is a place where one feels little comes and no one goes, surrounded by endless bodies of water.  On the other hand, we see islands as a picture of life, full of fresh fruit, new beginnings and great adventure.  And then, from my generation, the island became home to castaways after a three-hour tour!

Even so, an island is still an island — separate, withdrawn, self-sufficient and self-reliant.  When man adopts this identity, he becomes the one for whom all things are determined.  It’s an incredibly dangerous place to live and yet, so many, with great debate, live on such a place.  I know, I’ve been there!

My island, like everyone’s island, was unique.  Constructed to fit the very nature of things and designed to defend the best of presumption.  However, most of my life it never appeared as an island to most, with the exception of those close to me.   The mirage, (those things untrue) created an illusion to most that my world was connected, sensible and for all intents and purposes – perfect.  And when the mirage faded and the tides rose high I retreated, much like a funnel-web spider at the sign of danger.  Except for me, my retreat was my kingdom, my fortress, my island at high tide.  It was in this place of refuge no one could touch, no one could harm, pride reigned supreme and arrogance was the air in which I breathed.

Like any island, high-tide is expected.  With the ebb and flow of the moon, the seas rise and fall.  And life mirrors such events.  But when the weather creates unusual depths and the storms of life create catastrophes, the house once built on sand stands everything to lose.  The kingdom falls, no amount of pride sustains and the air once thick with arrogance becomes drenched with humility.

How grateful I am of God’s bedrock!  When the waters retreat, the palace of pride falls and the light of the Son shines the freshness of life — where the streams of living water run — and re-hydrates the once sapped soul with the breath of Life under the shadow of the Cross!  Amazing grace!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait fo the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.    Titus 2:11-14

Without Wings

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.  James 4:10

There are plenty of things crafted by the Master’s hand that goes counter to all things understood.  In many ways we would consider these things “exceptions” to whatever rule they seem to break.  For instance, the Platypus, an ostrich-headegg-laying mammal — seems a bit odd, don’t you think?  Let’s consider the Bat, a flying mammal — blind none-the-less — still a bit odd.  How about a Penguin?  A bird, that swims!  Speaking of birds, what’s up with the Ostrich?  A bird that has wings, but cannot fly!  Imagine if it could though — wow!

God is the only one that can get away with this kind of “exception-al” thinking or doing!  It truly demonstrates the mastery of His design.  When we try to apply some of these same exceptions to things created by human hands, it doesn’t quite run the same “exception-al” rules.  For instance, we don’t drive boats on the road, nor can we get a hot-air balloon to lift with water!  Perhaps more so, we have yet to create or design a plane that could fly without wings.  It just doesn’t happen.

But beyond all things tangible things, God also created a relationship that is truly “exception-al.”  It is built with love at it’s core, faith as it’s fuel and hope in it’s veins.  All of which assume their own “exception-al” design.  Further, God reminds us that in order to be more like Him we must humble ourselves before Him and man. Seems “exception-al” to me!!  In essence, He says, deflate your pride and I will make you soar on the wings of eagles!  What?

He has designed us without wings — yet, He has promised to lift us high if we are to humble ourselves.  That means making life all about Him and little about me!  That means saying, “I wanna do life Your way, not my way!”

Thank you Lord Jesus for doing an “exception-al” work in me!  You designed me to love the unlovable, to worship the God of the universe, to soar without wings, to taste and see!  Continue to show your immeasurable love to me each day as I learn more about dropping my pride to the curb!

by:  Mark Cruver

Yesterday Looms Tomorrow

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You re a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.  All such boasting is evil.  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.  James 4:13-17

Sometimes days are predictive.  At other times the days ahead can be as mysterious and anxious as a haunted house.  It’s amazing how deep our minds can dig into the plans we have for ourselves in looking toward tomorrow.  Unfortunately, our culture, perhaps our bent, is to gather from yesterday and build a structure of our own tomorrow.  While there is a place to look back to learn from history, it is a dangerous practice in trusting the Lord and living for Him each day.

In the book of Genesis, Lot’s family was granted a pardon by God to flee the city of Sodom.  But as they did, they were to not look back.  They were to remain focused on where they were going, not where they had been.  And as God rained down fire upon Sodom, Lot’s wife could not help herself and turned back to look.  It was a costly mistake as she turned to a pillar of salt.

Granted, people aren’t turning to pillars of salt for looking back on yesterday, but there is a lesson (many lessons actually) here, demonstrating obedience, a pursuit of God’s will, a focus to things to come, the plans He has for me!

And it may be true that my yesterday looms today, but God has gone before me and built my tomorrow!  It is today that I live in yesterday’s tomorrow God made just for me!  And today, well, He is shaping my tomorrow and whispers in my ear — “Just wait and see what I have planned for you!”

May I not boast of my tomorrow and blame yesterday for it!  Instead, may I lift my eyes to the Heavens, in front of me and rejoice in knowing that today was yesterday’s stage for my tomorrow!

The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.  Psalm 118:24

by:  Mark Cruver

I Believe I Know

My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.  Psalm 131:1-2

What a most perfect place to be . . . the stillness of my soul in the bosom of God — Author and Finisher — Grace and Truth.  It is the essence of peace and contentment, where nothing can substitute satisfied longings and needs of the soul.  But then again, if only I believed enough to trust in depth the truth of His grace on me.  How this must sadden His heart.

Yeah, we’ve all seen it a time or two.  The little child who finished his last Cheerio and wants more!  The puppy that hasn’t quite had enough belly rubbing!  Or, the teenager who got a car for his birthday, but it wasn’t the one he wanted.  We can be so needy can’t we?  Never satisfied . . . never content.  Yet, Christ has called us to “rest” in Him.

There are so many things I think I need, things I must do now or changes I need to make in order for other things to happen.  Are they really that urgent?  I believe I know exactly what I need and I forget to ask, look or consider that you are actually still very much in control of my life and all that it entails.  The outcome of all I do is prescribed through you!  You are still, very much, on the throne and you love me and want only the best for me.  Why must I consider to put me first?

Lord Jesus, I long in my heart every moment of drawing closer to resting in your Spirit and living in content of all you give.  I want nothing more than to no longer beg in my heart or whimper from my spirit for those things I believe I know I need.  Instead, I choose to trust in you in all things for you are good!

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.  Psalm 34:8

Getting Wronged By Rights

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”   Luke 15:31-32

Pride is a wonderful thing, don’t you think?  Not the kind of pride that comes through accomplishments or belief in another, but the kind that is filled with self-righteous arrogance and the lack of understanding who God is and the fact that you’re not Him.  No, not so wonderful . . . it inflates the flesh!

Do you think Adam or Eve dealt with pride?  We don’t read much in the way of life after the fall but for little snippets that shed a little light upon the groans of a broken world.   I would suspect that there was some pride during the time when Adam and Eve were banished from the garden.  The emotions, the attitudes, the lack of fellowship with God had to have been filled with moments of absolute grief and loss.  The only place they had ever known was the Garden of Eden and despite all that was made for their pleasure, none was truly theirs anymore.  Suddenly, the first family was without the amenities of sin-free existence.

I can only imagine a few conversations about how they couldn’t be treated like this . . . or how they shouldn’t be treated like this.  How too, I suspect, they both questioned why they were designed, created and given life.  After all, the serpent convinced them that they knew better than God — that their plan far outweighed God’s plan.  They were wronged by rights.

The sense of entitlement that both Adam and Eve likely felt is not unlike the rights we feel we have when something we think belongs to us is taken away.  Much like Adam and Eve, when we take our eyes off the Designer and focus on the measure of me and what I am going to gain, we immediately lose sight of the promises that come through the union of Grace and Truth.

One of my favorite authors, Bill Gillham, writes about it so well in his book Lifetime Guarantee.

Stop fighting it, brother.  Give up all your “rights”–all talents, all abilities, all gifts, all the things you’ve clung to to get your need met for self-acceptance.  You’ll love the results!  You will find “life” through allowing Him to express Himself through your talents, your abilities, your fights, and your personality to a hurting world to do His will.  That’s the way Jesus walked.  He let the Father do it through Him.  (p. 201)

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that I don’t have to think that what I feel is rightfully mine is being squandered.  But instead, I can know that what I have is everything because you live within me!