Irrational Recipe

It’s pretty common knowledge, especially among chefs, that ingredients play a key role in making anything in the kitchen.  You probably just squished up your face and said to yourself something like, “Well, it doesn’t take a chef to know that – duh!”  You’d be right.  In fact, it’s also pretty common knowledge to know that baking soda, when used alone, will not make a cake, neither will an egg, or oil, or flour.  I actually hope you have never done or choose to ever do this, but  you’ll know exactly what I mean if you spoon up some baking soda in your mouth.  Don’t ask me how I know this.

My experience of expertise in this area comes at a critical time in my life where I was learning from my grandmother, the trade secrets in the kitchen.  Making homemade brownies was always a treat!  But I must add, curiosity really got the goose on this particular day.  All the ingredients on the table and ready to assemble, the one that drew my attention far more than any other was the can of Cocoa.  Taking on the ideal fragrance of chocolate and appearing in presentation identical to it’s cousin Nestle Quick, I couldn’t resist the temptation to grab the spoon at the first chance I had.  Grandma finally went around the corner, just out of site and I moved in for the kill.  It was going to be a mouthful of succulent chocolate yum — a concentrated chocolate milk on my tongue and I couldn’t wait for the thrill of this tasteful experience.  I grabbed the spoon in my unbelievable fortune, dug it deep within the tin of joy and lifted the spoon to my mouth while subtle waves of chocolate dance through my nose to my brain.  And then, like I had just unleashed a scoop of the moon into my mouth, the bitter buds on my palette ached and immediately withdrew what little moisture had gathered under my tongue.  Even at the attempt to discard it, it was like someone had just stepped on a powdery mushroom as spores of Cocoa were released into the air.  One might think it would depart your mouth as quick as it went in, but like QuickSet concrete, Cocoa turns to a paste that a simple and single glass of water does not dissolve.

I had learned a valuable lesson that day.  I am not coo-coo for Cocoa anymore for one, but I mostly learned that all things are not as they appear.  Ingredients can seem a bit irrational at times.  It just doesn’t make sense that something so nasty can taste so good in the end.  Sugar is a sweet, sweet thing — it changes everything!!!

Tonight I was reminded of this principle once again.  The more I read about it, the more I became amazed, encouraged and simply in awe of God.  In short, God tells us that He is making something very good in each of us.  He plans to use all things to conform me into the image of His Son.  And I found myself staring at the pages . . . quiet . . . still . . . contemplating this apparent journey.  And here is what I began to think:  “What?  All things?  He’s going to take them all?  Surely not all of them!!  Really??  This one?  This?  That? And THAT??”

Oh my . . . this feels like a recipe for disaster!  And satan would surely like for me to think that in every sense of the term.  But that’s not what God has said about me, nor is it how Christ lives through me.  Yeah, my sin is like a spoonful of Cocoa — smells good, tastes like powdered poop!  But my crappy life experiences mixed with a heart for Jesus baked in His redemptive love and grace is an original recipe indeed!

Thank you Jesus!

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

by Mark Cruver

Talking Behind My Back

Have you ever been the subject of someone talking about you behind your back?  Worse, have you ever been the one talking about someone else behind their back?  I hardly think anyone is exempt from either of those questions.  In fact, the topics about another span the universe and unfortunately we only find out about the negative things.  Truth is, nobody really likes to find out they’ve been “talked about” behind their back.

I recently encountered a moment very similar.  But my reaction was very different than most I think.  I found out someone was talking about me behind my back and it literally took my breath away.  I never ever thought this person would say such things about me so when I found out I could do nothing but sit there in tears.  Why was I taken so off-guard, you may wonder?  Well, it wasn’t the first time.  This particular revelation was actually the sixth time it was brought to my attention.  It was getting a bit ridiculous . . . or was it?

What do you really say when you find out God is talking to others about you behind your back?  What do you really say?  I sat in awe and wept.

When, for the sixth time, some random person comes up to you and says, “God just told me to come over and introduce myself because you needed someone to pray with,” you open your ears to their words.  The prayers, the conversations, the revelation of God in those moments and the realization that God Himself was having a conversation with others about you will change your perspective!

Then I read about the blind guy, Bartimaeus.  It was brief, but it was direct . . . Jesus spoke to others about Bartimaeus in much the same way as he has spoken to others about me.  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  Jesus said this to those with him (likely his disciples).  And with that charge, they called Bartimaeus from the roadside where he sat yelling for mercy — something Jesus could have surely done Himself.  Bartimaeus was on the mind of Jesus and Jesus spoke to others to get his attention. (Mark 10:46-52)

I’m wondering now how many times I’ve missed the call from Jesus as He is trying to talk to me about someone behind their back.

Lord Jesus, I simply am awestruck at your thoughts of me.  When your thoughts of me reach me, they overwhelm me.  Thank you for calling out to your disciples for Bartimaeus.  I’m so thankful for their obedience in hearing your voice. Thank you for calling out to others for me!  And, for what it is worth, I’m glad you talk about me behind my back!

by Mark Cruver

Wife With No Name

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

Today I had the most excellent conversation with some new friends at my local Starbucks.  It was one of those conversations that begin knowing full well God orchestrated.  Those are indeed, the best kind!  During the course of the conversation, my new friend asked me a question.  She said, “Who is your favorite woman in the Bible?”  What an interesting question.  I sat and pondered as she explained, “I’m going to be speaking at my church on a woman of my choice from the Bible and I just don’t know who.”  I replied, “My favorite woman in the Bible is the wife with no name.”  Confused and a bit bewildered, my new friend sought to learn more.  “It’s Noah’s wife,” I said.

You see, there’s not much written — in fact hardly a word — on Noah’s wife.  She’s a quiet character in the story of Noah, but plays the leading supporting role.  The mere story itself suggests many things I believe to be true about Noah’s wife that serves to be a lesson for all of us.

The story of Noah begins, if a story can actually begin when one is 500 years old, with God finding favor with him and his family because he was found righteous.  God found favor in the hearts of Noah’s family, destroyed everyone else upon the earth.  Not once do we read of Noah’s wife complaining, belittling or questioning Noah.

Instead, we find the wife with no name in complete obedience to her Father in heaven as she follows with honor her entrusted husband.

May we learn from Noah’s wife the power in obedience to our God . . . even in the midst of unbelievable circumstances, unfathomable storms and undeniable messes . . . only to find, in His great plan, the promise of all things new!

 

When God Appears

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.  “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them; “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Petter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said.    Matthew 14:25-29

I’ve thought about this passage for quite some time.  I was enamored by the acts of Christ in separating himself from the distractions of life to find a quiet place to pray — and not just for a minute, but for hours!  Knowing Christ approached the throne for those He loved along with fellowship with His Father was for me a cause for pause.  But the next course of events were absolutely stunning.

From a distance, Christ’s vantage point, the boat and disciples could barely be seen.  Matthew tells us they were “already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves . . .”  Then, the impossible unfolded.

Knowing full well they were no longer near the shore, Christ appeared to the disciples.  As unexpected as this must have been, it was not unlike the Lord to teach through His actions and less so through His words.

When God appears in the midst of life events difficult to explain because it simply does not make sense, it is undoubtedly exactly when God finds a teachable heart.  I’ve often heard that if you can’t explain it, God’s in it!  This was so true of the moment Christ stood before them on the water in the middle of the lake.

It’s reassuring knowing God shows up to my events and teaches me simply by His presence of the Truth of His promises, the abundance of His love and the depth of His hope.

Thank you Lord Jesus for your willingness to seek the Father on my behalf and then pursue me, find me and call to me — right where I am.  Good, bad or indifferent, it doesn’t matter the circumstance, what you think of me never changes, your call to me never ceases, your love for me runs deeper than my mind can imagine.  I just cannot explain what it’s like when you appear!

For the grace of God ha 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 the is present age, while we wait for 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

Rescuer Realized

Habakkuk the prophet saw it all and shares with us a portion of what was likely a lengthy conversation between him and God.   The account is shared in none other than the Old Testament book of Habakkuk.  It’s short — only three short chapters — but it is rich in the transforming understanding of who God is and the fullness of His glory!

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?   Habakkuk 1:2

Habakkuk wrestled with recognizing the presence of God in the midst of difficult times.  He continues to question God in His allowance of wrongdoing and injustice, His tolerance of evil and conflict.  Habakkuk has forgotten for whom God exists!  He forgets that God is writing a story, but the detour in that great story must include the existence of unfortunate and sad circumstances because of the presence of sin.  And this often gives the false appearance of God’s absence.

God then, in chapter two, reminds Habakkuk of His great plan, His grand purpose and His holy splendor!  And Habakkuk’s eyes open to seeing, believing and trusting in the promises of God.  He finally realizes the message of rescue God has for His people.

You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.   Habakkuk 3:13a

I cannot imagine the moment Habakkuk realized this truth!  His countenance changed, his life changed!  How he trusted in God changed and the depth of understanding of the love God has for him and His people was immeasurable.  Because, when all was lost, when nothing else was left, Habakkuk praised the One who enables!  It’s another great example of God’s whisper throughout time of His inevitable rescue!

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.   Habakkuk 3:17-19

Lord Jesus, remind me of your grand plan for me!  Continue to teach me of the joy I have in you because I belong to you!  I do rejoice . . . may I always rejoice . . . even when I have nothing, because with you I have everything!

 

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?

Something Beautiful

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Jeremiah 18:1-4

If I were most honest, this morning I woke up not feeling the most beautiful.  Clearly, when I wake up, there is nothing beautiful about that look, but I’m not referring to the beauty on the outside . . . I felt not so beautiful on the inside.  I felt broken.  And in my brokenness, the pieces of my life seemed scattered.  Like a favorite vase on the shelf that had fallen and shattered to the floor, I saw my life in a million pieces and the impossible task of cleaning it up and even more, the impossible ability to put it all back together.

It’s important to know that there was nothing that occurred to cause me to wake in this state except the fact that I know the evil one is in the business of deceiving me in what I think about me, what others think about me and in what and whom I trust.

But in my brokenness, I collect the pieces . . . big, small, tiny and seemingly insignificant and pile them at the foot of His cross!  Why would I even want to do this?  There is a very good reason why!  Because my God is the Potter!  He is my (and your) Restorer!  He makes ALL things NEW!  He takes my brokenness and makes something beautiful.  When you understand the grace that is ever so sufficient for even me, you will see Him.  You will see this beauty, not without the seams from healing, the scars from the process, the marring.  But praise Him — He didn’t stop there!  He kept shaping, kept molding, kept forming — and He continues to make beauty!

Lord Jesus, you have made all things well!  Today you have shown me the sufficiency of your grace for me in all things.  Remind me of my brokenness every day!  May I never live a moment without recognizing the position of your hands upon the sides of my life as it spins on the wheel.  You’ve never let go, you’ve never stopped, you’ve never tossed the clay and started over!  Thank you for the beauty of ashes that only comes from the refining fire of your Spirit!

by Mark Cruver

Apple Of Your Eye

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings . . .   Psalm 17:8

I’ve spent some time thinking about what it means to be the apple of someone’s eye.  Having an apple in one’s eye is a little bizarre and interesting at best.  But we’ve used that phrase to describe the worth someone has to us as an individual, placing them in very high regard.  So when David writes in prayer to God, “keep me as the apple of your eye” it affirms the immense worth and value to him by God.

David understood who he was and there was no question he understood the truth about what God thought of him.  Likewise, God thinks the same about us all!  We are accustomed to say — in fact, I am guilty of praying this just yesterday — how grateful I am that you (God) love me so much in spite of all of my junk.  My junk equates me with my raggedness but it is important to understand, know and believe — especially never to confuse — that my raggedness does not make me worthless!  It does not define me!

It’s been explained that seeing the image of myself in the eye of the another person requires a closeness most find uncomfortable.  But when I apply this imagery to my relationship with God, it means that I can see myself reflected in the gaze of my Father!  I am the apple of God’s eye!

God sees me with absolute clarity!  From deep within, He sees and knows my junk — yours too!  But this is not ALL He sees!  Often it is all WE see of ourselves or all WE see of others.  But God sees deeply and broadly — from the inside out.  He sees potential, intent, ability — what will be, what has been and knows intricately what or who we will one day become.

As I continue to walk in His footsteps, walk in His Spirit, He calls to the surface from within, the goodness, greatness and beauty of Himself that only He can see in me so that one day it will become visible to all.

Lord Jesus, it is difficult standing so close to you that I can see my own reflection in the pupil of your eye.  It makes me shiver at some level.  But I know that you gaze upon me with immense worthiness and love.  It is undeniably rich!  May I live each day remembering that I am the apple of your eye and that though you know my junk, you know more who one day I will become!  The work you started, may you continue to make complete!

by: Mark Cruver

inspired by: John Ortberg’s Love Beyond Reason

Like Yesterday’s Ragdoll

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  Isaiah 64:6

Not so many years ago, my daughter had for herself a sweet little orange-striped kitty.  Had she been a boy, it would have been a real-life version of Calvin & Hobbes.  Classic adventures and discoveries every inch of her existence and countless moments of conversation and questions with answers.  It was beyond all else the most unique bond in our home.  Without “Two-Sides” (that was kitty’s name), going to sleep was impossible as was going to grandma’s or heading out on vacation.  Two-Sides went with us everywhere.

But as the days checked off the calendar and the whiskers on Two-Sides disappeared, the love my daughter had for her was still ever strong.  It was not a love of youthfulness or beauty, for Two-Sides had grown quite ragged.  Instead, the love my daughter loved Two-Sides with was a love that made Two-Sides beautiful.

It is not very different with me (and you)!  To God we are all rag dolls.  But we were not created ragged, for when God finished what He had fashioned in His own image He said with His own breath, “It is good!”  He loves me (and you) and that does not change over time!

But over time, we have all become like rag dolls, so crooked from sin and guilt that it would only feel similarly familiar to be discarded, forgotten, left to my own demise.  But no!  God changed everything because of His love for me!  Thank God my identity is not found in my raggedness, but instead in Christ who took my raggedness to the cross!

John Ortberg wrote in his book Love Beyond Reason:

“There is such a love, a love that creates value in what is loved.  There is a love that turns rag dolls into priceless treasures.  There is a love that fastens itself onto ragged little creatures, for reasons that no one could ever quite figure out, and makes them precious and valued beyond calculation.  This is a love beyond reason.  This is the love of God.  This is the love with which God loves you and me.”

by: Mark Cruver

Conforming Isn’t Pretty

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.   Romans 8:29-30

Ever feel like your needs are minimized?  For me, the one thing that is real beyond doubt is my pain, my hurt, my grief — they are important to me because they are real.  And they are important to me because they are even more important to God.  He never minimizes the degree of my stress, or hurt to justify my circumstances, nor does he compare my needs with those of someone else — He has met me in the midst of wherever I find myself, in my hurt, in my confusion, in my pain.  But I wonder too, are my needs a far stretch for God’s grace to reach?  Oh, absolutely — His grace covers — His grace is more than enough for me.

But the trouble comes when the abundance of His grace meets my idea of my needs.  This creates a rather interesting dialogue.  So I pray to God to release me from this pain.  He replies . . . “Mark, it may not seem good to you and I know it hurts, but this pain is creating in you a new compassion.”  I then pray that God would change my circumstances.  He replies . . . “Mark, you are indeed in quite a pinch, but remember who is still on the Throne, trust me, I know the plans I have for you!”  So then I ask why it is I feel so condemned by others to which He replies . . . “Mark, man condemns, but I have set you free!  Remember, I chose you, I pursued you, I ransomed you and my glory fills you every day!”

Lord Jesus, I realize you are at work within me.  You are working diligently to conform me further to your image and it isn’t very pretty!  I don’t always understand your ways, but I trust them!  Your ways stretch beyond my sight.  Thank you for sharing with me the end of this story . . . to be like you!

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

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