My Rampart

Have you ever come across a verse that was difficult to shake?  By that I mean, unable to stop pondering, thinking or unpacking?  Indeed, these verses are the hidden jewels of the wealth of treasure throughout God’s Word, and once discovered — they radiate like diamonds on the soul.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.   Psalm 91:4

For some time now this verse has conjured up all sorts of images . . . wings, protection, safety, shelter and the list goes on.  But it was the latter part of this verse that stirred in my heart for more than a week.  His faithfulness?  Mentioned in the same breath as feathers and wings?  My shield and rampart . . . what in the world is rampart?  My only reference to this word in my everyday life was from my childhood, watching one of my favorite shows in the early 80’s called Emergency One!  It was a syndicated TV series focused on the world of two paramedics at Station 51 and their close working relationship with Rampart General Hospital. The paramedics would arrive on an emergency scene, care for the wounded and call into “Rampart” to alert them of injuries in need of immediate care.  And like the heroes they were, they whisked the injured to the hospital.  Upon arrival, “Rampart” became the place for healing, recovery, care — where peace conquered chaos, and disasters became stories of miracles.

A place of fortification — rampart serves as a place, a broad place, raised to an elevation to serve as a defense.  Now it’s starting to become more than feathers!  My God serves as a broad, expansive defense for me.  And not just Him, but through His faithfulness this shield and rampart protects.  Can anyone else see the radiant diamonds glistening in this discovery?

My God, my Rampart!

Calm, Chaos and Christ

In a conversation with one of my sons this past week it was brought to my attention how busy things have gotten for me.  He said it with the best of intentions, but it certainly made me think a bit.  In reflection, I could see his point.  Life was getting busy, bouncing from one fire to the next and with little time to rekindle.  My loaded days certainly looked different than a year ago, but at what expense?  Stressed by the daily entourage of deadlines, projects and well, worry and wonder, that “double-W” will get me every time.

And then I was reminded of a few men with which I could certainly relate.  The account of Jesus in the boat with His disciples on a stormy night brought instant peace.

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey him!”   Matthew 8:23-27

Years ago I recall standing on a small bridge on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas.  On this particular bridge one can look to the left and see the raging, deep blue almost black waters of the Atlantic Ocean and to the right you can see the calm turquoise blue green, crystal clear waters of the Caribbean.  Below your feet, under the bridge the two met, yet kept their distance.

When I read this story of the disciples in the boat with Jesus, I’m reminded of the fierce waters of the Atlantic that day and I must admit if this sort of torment “came” upon my boat, it would invoke a slight bit of fear.  But without warning, chaos appears in our lives much like the waves of the sea and it is plenty enough to sweep us off our feet.

I’m further struck by the fact that the disciples cried out to Jesus because He was sleeping during the chaos.  How many times have I thought Jesus was sleeping in my own chaos?  Shaking my fist or expressing a sarcastic “Thanks!” seemed to be the most appropriate response.  But Jesus’ response to our chaos is most profound!

Jesus takes our chaos and through our trust in Him brings peace.  In the midst of life’s most chaotic moments when Jesus seems to be no where around and silent to the mighty waves He says, “You of little faith!”

May I continue to see the peace in the presence of Jesus, throughout my chaos whose presence alone demands the raging seas of life to become calm and clear.

Because You Know

“Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”  Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”  She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.”  Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.   I Samuel 16-18

The story of Hannah is quite crazy in sadness, heartbrokenness, a search for answers, anguish, grief . . . surrender, expression, faithfulness, trust, obedience, worship . . . great love, honor, answers, blessings,  peace and assurance.  It’s a story of rescue!

Hannah sought the answers to the many questions in life she faced from those around her and not once did she find a solution.  Isn’t it just like any one of us to search for the answers we long to find in others — friends, family and sometimes strangers.  But never will I find true peace in the midst of brokenness unless I seek the Prince of Peace.

Hannah fell to her knees in great despair . . . the Bible describes it as anguish and grief, two things that the wrath of true crisis brings upon anyone who experiences such pain.  It further describes her in prayer, in such deep grief, words were unable to leave her lips while her mouth continued to move.  The priest thought sure she was drunk — but no, she was declaring, expressing, worshipping in prayer the depth of her own heart, the brokenness of her own spirit to the One she knew could heal.

And in this moment of honesty, she then went on her way — in peace!  How could this be?  Not only on her way did she go, but she actually ate something!  In crisis, in true heartbrokenness, the appetite is so small.  This is evidence of her in essence saying — believing — “I have shared my heart with my Lord and He knows all things — my hurt, my longing, my desires, my brokenness — whatever comes of this will clearly be of Him because He knows!”

Wow!  Because HE knows!

Lord Jesus, may I have the courage to stand from my own knees and no longer worry, no longer allow my circumstances to bring my face downcast BECAUSE YOU KNOW!

Broken Bottles

. . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning it shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2

There are so many moments throughout life that I have wanted to bottle up and keep forever to enjoy over and over.  Moments like the birth of my first son and each of his siblings thereafter.  The moment I placed my hand on my bride’s back and felt those beads draping her stunning self.  The day I received the call for my first real job!  The second I finally made it atop a 13,000 foot mountain, on foot, and peered from the top of the world!  The day I watched my middle schooler cross the finish line in first place.  The day my youngest caught his first fish.  And the list goes on.  Bottles and bottles of joy!  Oh, that we could just bottle it all up and keep it, experience it, taste and see it over and over.

In some, metaphorical way, we actually do.  With photos we revisit those moments, but the joy is somewhat diluted.  And with understanding and with time, our eyes become less fixed on those moments and diverted to other joyous moments or moments calling for far less celebration.  Either through an alternative experience or a devastation, there comes a moment when bottles we’ve stored in our wine-cellar like hearts gets broken.  What in the world do I do when a precious and very dear bottle gets broken?

The scripture tells us that the joy I store up in those bottles is not the joy I am to fix my eyes upon.  So, when a bottle I’ve stored up gets broken, it is through the joy I find in Christ that heals that brokenness and allows me to continue to experience the joy in those bottles I feel is lost.

Circumstances in the “here and now” often distract me from the joy I find in my relationship with Christ.  And I often confuse the joy, or lack thereof, with the continuation of the joy found in my bottles.  That comparison is not fair to the Truth found in the joy so ever available through Christ Himself, who lives within me!

Fixing my eyes on that joy means keeping a focus on those things set before me.  It is not meant for just a moment, but for life because of who I am!  I do this not because of the satisfaction in the moment, but for the result set before me.  It is the encounter of the One who IS joy, who endured the most undeserved suffering for me on whom I can remain focused, because of the joy in Him through eternity.

I must focus on where I am going!  So many things are there to distract me like anxiety, depression, loneliness, separation, fatigue, unworthiness, discouragement.   But I then remember the Truth, that God has conquered all of these.  When I take life with Him in focus, I can see more clearly His love, His Truth, His hope, His patience, His joy, His peace.

So, I focus my thoughts on the character and promises of my Savior, all things change!  Life changes!  The joy in those broken bottles are experienced once again through His joy and the world looks different, through Christ in me, the Hope and Glory!

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.   I Thessalonians 2:19-20

by:  Mark Cruver

Rest In Victory

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.  The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.  The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.  The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.   Psalm 19:8-9

For trials and crisis, it can often seem as though joy has somehow become caught in the drain hole of life.  And when the essence of joy has been removed from the soul, when purpose and hope have appeared to have run for the exit, that which remains feels deflated — defeated — discarded.  But this victory is skewed!  This victory gives the impression that the “other side” claimed for itself the ownership of the battle.  And while the evil one would have us think this is true and both in our hearts and minds establish this paradigm, it is the furthest from the actual state of affairs.

My mom loves to keep things.  More specifically, she likes little phrases, old books, articles and references to scripture jotted down on a napkin or notebook paper.  It is not uncommon for me to visit and for her to hand me this old program from an event with a “saying” on it that she feels would inspire or lift you up.  She doesn’t just share the words, she’ll give you the whole thing!  So, in true form, during my recent visit home she grabs her four-inch thick genealogy binder and pulls out this half-page piece of paper.  On it is typed — not from a computer — typed from an old typewriter.  I would sincerely suspect it was from her manual typewriter I remember from my childhood that I actually used to type my triplicate carbon copied papers on for high school.  On the paper was a six or seven line prose from, well, “unknown” was at the bottom.  I searched the internet to find it’s true author and found the same short document, but instead of “unknown” at the bottom it referenced “Alan Redpath (stroke victim).”

Below I’ve shared his words because it describes perfectly of this battle of which I’ve spoken above.  It is the truth in victory!  It is the rest of victory!  Amen!

There is nothing – no circumstance, no trouble, no testing — that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me.  If it has come that far, it has come with great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment, but as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift my eyes up to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disarm me, no trial will ever disarm me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is.  That is the rest of victory!  (unknown)(Alan Redpath (stroke victim))

by:  Mark Cruver

Are We There Yet?

It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.  Deuteronomy 1:2

Every parent can relate to that ride from home to somewhere that received the inevitable, “Are we there yet?” from the backseat.  Maybe one time would have been acceptable, but for some reason, this question echoes for hours until arrival.  Words that come to mind are patience, patience, patience.  But, because it compares greatly with running your nails across a chalkboard, the likely response is something like this . . . “We’ll get there when we get there!”

I can’t imagine how much of this Moses had to endure!  Forty years of wandering in the wilderness in pursuit of the Promised Land with millions of Israelites.  It was a journey that could have only taken eleven days.  Getting to the Promised Land took more than you or I would perhaps ever truly understand.  But one thing is for certain, it required  a focus, a direction, a compass that pointed and motivated them contrary to their circumstances.  It took a level of faith unlike anything they had ever encountered.  More importantly, it required of them a fix on God . . . and as their minds were no longer experiencing the faith of deliverance into the Promised Land they continued to wander.

Life can often find us circling this same mountain — especially in the midst of crisis, pain or hurt.  Healing and deliverance is desired quickly and all attempts are taken to make it so. But God’s time is so different.  He sees, answers and moves in ways so contrary to our understanding that we find ourselves buckled in the backseat asking over and over again . . . “Are we there yet?”  And from the front we don’t hear . . . “We’ll get there when we get there!”  Instead, we hear Daddy say, “No, we’re not quite there yet, but I can’t wait to show you what I have prepared for you!”

I just know in five minutes I’m gonna ask Him again!

Lord Jesus, I know I’m not there yet — but I can’t help but ask you over and over.  In the midst of my life I know I need to keep fixed upon you with my eyes, heart and mind on you at all times.  Maybe one day, I’ll stop asking if we’re there yet.  🙂  But for now, my faith is strengthened in knowing you are in control and that I’m resting in the knowledge of your sovereignty.  You never cease to be there all the time!

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.   Colossians 3:1-2

Walking in the Word

My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:20-23

I can name any number of people in my life whom I think needs healing — something needs fixed! How ’bout you? In fact, it’s super simple to come up with such a list and forget (or disregard) the very thing God is most interested in healing . . . me! Sure, He shares that same love with those I think about too, but it’s my heart He is after (and theirs) and I must answer to Him and Him alone.

Walking in the Word of God requires little of your feet and every bit of your mind. The power of the mind is life changing! How it is given reign dictates a very specific path and ultimate end . . . it leads to either death or life. What it is we choose to dwell upon, what we choose to think about or meditate upon drives where we walk.

How many trips have you ever taken? No, I mean vacations, adventures, discoveries? How many have you ever taken and never left the couch or your favorite chair or front porch swing? How is this possible? How can we walk on the sands of Cancun or trek the Aspen forests of Colorado or swim with a whale or enjoy that slice of double layered triple-chocolate miracle cake . . . with vanilla ice cream and never spend a dollar or leave the comfort of our own homes? Because we think it! The power of our mind is strong and the ability it has is remarkable.

Romans 8:6 says, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace …” This holds true regardless of our circumstances — not just in or about sin. In crisis, in pain and grief, in the midst of life’s most challenging moments, walking in the Word — with the mind controlled by the Spirit brings life and peace to the swirling chaos and confusion. It is the key to “health to a man’s whole body.”

So, what keeps us from putting on the mind of Christ? What keeps us from thinking with the mind of the Spirit? Well, it’s a matter of choice often led by the evil one through a deceptive measure. Making us think that whatever is in our mind is good when it is destructive takes our eyes off the Spirit’s thoughts and onto our own. It’s then no longer about the Spirit who lives in me that is most important . . . it’s that what I think is most important.

By keeping watch of my thoughts through walking in the Word I begin to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ Jesus!

Lord Jesus, my mind is a tool. Sharpen each edge by the refining of my heart with the stone of your Word. Strengthen in me my mind to meditate on you both day and night. Continue to show me ways of your Truth so that I may trust you in all things. Thank you Lord for your Spirit, for you grace and for being Truth!

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!

Rest of God

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.  Hebrews 4:1

Years ago, when I was a bit more able (and willing) to get up and set out on a great adventure, I remember the weekend I hiked over a 13,000 foot mountain in the Colorado Rockies.  This Florida boy was pretty skilled at running barefoot through sand, but trekking through rocky terrain, over logs and standing on top of the world (so it felt when I reached the top!) was considerably outside my skill set.  It took me and the others over 10 hours to make it up, over and down the other side.

There are many dynamics at play when taking a hike of this kind.  In the Colorado Rockies, weather can change every 15 minutes and even though it may be mid summer, it doesn’t mean that snow couldn’t be in the forecast in an unexpected minute.  The first 3-4 hours through the Aspen forests, creek beds and elk trails were pretty high octane — relatively easy.  But as the terrain turned to more rock, steeper steps and less shelter around hours 5 and 6, my body was begging for rest.  To discard the need to take a break would allow for potentially unsettling consequences.  So, the whole team found their own spots and rested in the glory of God’s great creation to restore ourselves.

The rest of God is a place we choose to enter, but it’s not something that is placed upon us — it’s present within us.  Peace is a fruit of the Spirit and grows as a result of our abiding in Christ.  Jesus said in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”  This is the result of abiding in Him!

But peace is exercised through faith in knowing — through believing that Christ is King and the power of Christ lives in me through obedience.  Peace, while present, comes through choice.  I must choose to think on things that promote peace rather than on things that open the door for mental torment.  Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.”

The rest of God comes easy in simple times when there’s nothing to upset us.  But for those who follow Christ, the rest of God is that special and great gift during times of trouble and crisis.  It is met in the midst of abiding in worship of Him.

Lord Jesus, it feels a bit odd realizing how much latitude you’ve given me to choose your rest.  My worry, my fret, my anxiety are all a choice and fanned by the breath of the author of lies to deceive me into trusting more in me rather than you!  You have “prepared a table before me” to join you in worship and praise — to dine — to abide in.  As I face times of difficulty, moments in opposition to your peace in me, remind me of the gift you have given me to rest in you!

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.   Matthew 6:33-34

From Not For

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36

Just imagine, living a life where nothing matters.  A life where risk is paramount and failure is subject only to the level of risk.  What if life could be lived without the possibility of effect?  Where the response of others matters not?  Free to be all I want to be and soar the skies of life, moved only by the shifting winds.  Did I say free to be?

This past week I watched the 1998 movie, Rounders, starring Matt Damon who plays a man with a gambling lifestyle of big bets and bigger losses.  In the movie Damon’s character sits around the table with the toughest card shark around with the confidence of high return.  On an apparent strong hand he puts it all on the line, betting every chip of the $30,000 he brought to the table.  In a matter of a second, that confidence turned to fear while he watched his life savings zero out.

Living in true freedom takes risk!  But what truly is the price?  God has called me (us) to live a life free in Christ and yet, I remain shackled to the insecurities of my own understandings.  He says to trust in Him, but to trust in all His ways means a complete abandonment to self and releasing the grip of all I want and receiving all He wants.

What if, I’m living my life not as free as God has intended it to be?  What if, even in my limited knowledge of knowing Christ has set me free I am not nearly as free as I’d thought?  In the midst of crisis, or when things just don’t go the way I had ever hoped or planned, what about that moment gives way to the very essence of Christ in me?  Subjecting myself to the landslide of failures over and over again against the heavy terrain on the steep side of that mountain of healing gives the impression there is far more I must do before I am truly set free.  But God’s freedom does not come after the journey, but instead within the journey as I experience the very presence of Christ in me, through me!  It’s facing the biggest, most dangerous, risky moment of life, where anything and everything I’ve ever dreamed is on the line and placing it all in the arms of Jesus.  It’s not to say that the outcome will be any better and become rosy red, in fact it can all disappear, but God doesn’t want me to climb this mountain alone to find God waiting at the top.  That’s not freedom!  He wants to be in every step, every treacherous slip, every strained ounce of progress . . . that’s freedom to be!

It’s when all seems lost that our vision clouds with uncertainty, but when I am walking in intimate fellowship with Christ in all things — loss becomes gain.   For me, it’s living life from salvation, not for salvation.  It’s living life from His grace, not for grace.  It’s living life from His acceptance, not for my acceptance.  It’s living life from His love, not for love.

Dear Lord Jesus, I so often wrestle with living for others instead of from you.  There is nothing more important to me than living in full obedience to you.  Unshackle the chains of insecurity I have placed around my own mind and renew it with the confidence of Christ in the freedom of life that only comes through you!  I love you, I love you, I love you my Abba . . . Daddy, I love you!

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1