That’s Not My Problem

The world seems to be falling apart . . . at least it would appear so.  But truly, it doesn’t look any more unrested than it did in the days of Abraham, Noah, David, Paul, and any number of moments within the gap (those days between then and now). It’s easy to focus on the uncertainty of what is to come.  Of course, as Christians, there is a sense of peace knowing the God is the victor, but our minds, our flesh has a tendency to worry about tomorrow.

I was reminded last night, as I spoke on the phone with a dear friend, of the nature and doubt of where what we don’t see, but need, will come from.  How do we know our next meal will arrive?  How do we know our bills will be paid?  Worry, worry, worry.  That seems to be the answer most of the time.

I’ve yet to see a sparrow worry though.  Perhaps the feathers disguise the worrisome look just above their beak, but something tells me they are incapable of such a state of mind.  Wouldn’t that be nice if we were unable to worry?  But God has designed us to trust!  Worry comes when we take our eyes off the Father, Jehovah Jireh (my Provider) and instead, gaze upon the needs of the world around us; especially our own.

I’m so thankful He has me in His provisional hands.  He has me in mind when I don’t understand what tomorrow will bring.  Instead, He wants me to see His provision in my today, not worry about tomorrow, and “lean not on my own understanding, but in all my ways acknowledge Him . . . ”

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”   Lamentations 3:22-24

Great is your faithfulness; mercy and love!

Holidays That Hurt

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ  the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  II Corinthians 1:3-4

I’ve been reminded quite often during this holiday season of the hurt that surrounds me.  Not my own, while also deep, but rather the hurt of friends and family . . . and strangers alike.  I used to think and believe, without compassion, the hurt of those around me were more of their business than my own.  With this attitude it is simple and easy to think about yourself more highly than one ought and arrogantly disregard the pain of others.  After all, that’s not my problem . . . right?  I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Pain and hurt during the holidays is incredibly heightened.  With every turn, almost unavoidably, the joys of the season in family, and friends and fellowship spring from every corner.  To the hurting, it’s like rubbing alcohol on an opened wound.  There may be healing in it, but it hurts like the dickens . . . more than usual.

The loss of a family member or a very dear friend conjures up an absence, a change in routine and a reflection of what once was.  The grief associated with such loss can be immense.  The heaviness of sadness and loneliness can sink what was once unsinkable.  How one stays afloat in such times is somewhat of a mystery . . . but not really.

The God of this universe has promised you comfort in the midst of loss, grief and pain.  His comfort alone is sustaining and the “mystery” is truly by the grace of God!  He is the author of all that is and He alone orchestrates the healing power of the Holy Spirit in and through you.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus my friend and everything that belongs to Him has been freely given to you!  While things are not the same in your world, Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!

Experiencing the fullness of joy in the holiday season is indeed a precious gift.  Enjoy, celebrate and give thanks for those moments . . . but do not forget nor neglect the fact, there are those who experience far less joy in this season.  Share God’s precious gift with those who may be hurting.  It may be the only gift they receive.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.     II Peter 1:3-7

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!

The Pit and Peace

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Isaiah 26:3

I pulled up to the curb and said my goodbye’s as my boys replied with “I love you, dad!”  Slinging their backpacks over their shoulders they made their way to the sidewalk and began the journey of their day in middle school . . . but not before looking back at dad one last time.  They’re gone and now the car is quiet with the faint sound of the radio in the background and the warmth of the sun beating against my chest and with it, my self is unsettled.

It’s a pretty long ride home each morning from drop-off, about 30 minutes.  And, while on a normal day I would sing with the radio, talk to God about what my life looks like right now or pray for others and myself — today was a bit different.  Quiet with an occasional honking horn here or there, it was a rather mesmerizing ride.  I could tell I was losing my footing and slipping into the pit.

I got home and opened the front door to further silence.  I was all alone now.  But this wasn’t the first day I’ve walked into a quiet house.  And nor will it be my last.  I had decided earlier that  I wasn’t going to write anything in this blog today, but instead just move on with my day.  I grabbed my computer, a cup of coffee with my bible and sat in my chair . . . and the lump in my throat grew and tears began to flow down my cheek.

Why am I here, God?  Why?  Why do I feel this way?  I asked Him question after question — He promised me peace and I feel like I’m in the pit!  My world is upside down, my heart is racing and I feel like a basket-case.  It certainly doesn’t appear very peaceful in my life right now as my hands tremble and my thoughts are so mixed.

And then, I ran across the words of Isaiah 26.  It was though He said to me, “Mark . . . What are you setting your mind on?  What is your heart and mind dwelling on?”

Oh how I’ve thought His peace to be unconditional, but this is not His promise.  He wants me to not only remain in Him, but to set my mind to Him.  It is then He gives peace.  I weep with His presence.

How can I be so hard-headed and stubborn?  I always felt like peace came in the absence of troubles, but God says no to that.  He offers peace in the midst of troubles, in the midst of pain and hurt, in the midst of grief — and through His peace is healing!  Why?  Because our minds are set on Him — trusting and leaning with our full weight on Him alone.

Lord Jesus, I know . . . I know — trust you!  But, man, that’s so hard to do sometimes!!!  That’s me being honest!  When I stare at the dot in front of me and focus through my flesh on circumstances around me and neglect to witness your hand in the big picture of what you are doing in and through me, I experience the pit instead of your peace.  Create in me a discipline in my mind to be more steadfast in you!

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.  Isaiah 26:4

Rejection And Sorrows . . . He Understands

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Isaiah 53:3

I’d like to think it was a silent night on the night of our Savior’s birth, but I believe Bethlehem was far from quiet that night.  When people travel from all over the world for the Olympics, is the Village quiet?  When thousands descend upon a stadium for a game, are the roads, hallways or arenas quiet?  During the days of Mardis Gras, are the streets of New Orleans silent?  The answer to each of these is a resounding, “No!”  It was the busiest night in Bethlehem.  The census was underway and people had traveled from miles around.  So many had flooded the streets, overnight accommodations were slim to none.  Everyone was busy, so busy they missed the arrival of God himself in their own backyard.

Unnoticed by many, Christ was born to be noticed only by a few.  Those who listened, those who trusted, those who believed in something bigger and more hopeful than themselves — they came, bringing gifts, proclaiming the arrival of the King, welcoming the One they had been waiting in the courts to arrive.  A subtle entrance, a grand reception — but only by a few . . . the rest would reject Him, hurt Him, fill Him with sorrow.

It’s difficult to believe He understands the pain of rejection.  It’s not easy trusting the human sorrow He experienced to know the deepness of my own sorrow.  The truth is however, He does understand.  He understands and promises to heal the brokenhearted.  But, like those in Bethlehem that night, I all too often forget to listen, forget to notice, forget to see, forget “to taste and see that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!”

Lord Jesus, rejection sucks — that’s me being brutally honest!  You have promised to be my Comforter, my Healer, and NEVER reject me!  Your love for me is not conditional and never weakens!  You are seated upon the throne and I am seated with you!  I know you understand every ache in my heart!  Continue to refine me — burn off that which is unrighteous as I strive to be holy as You are holy! I’m so glad you understand!!!!

 

Self-Inflicted Cain

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  Psalm 51:11-12

I recall the pain and still experience the occasional grief.  It hurts terribly and in those moments, when all seems lost and hopeless I cry out, “God . . . don’t leave me!”  It’s a state in which your heart yearns for comfort, embrace . . . forgiveness and grace.   And, before my spirit rests in tune with my soul and body on the presence of God living within me, I blame . . . I judge . . . I condemn . . . I self-inflict Cain upon me.

Cain, as you recall (especially if you read the story in Genesis 4 yesterday), was confronted by God on his anger toward Abel.  God spoke clearly to Cain regarding the presence of sin, it’s sneaky, “ready-to-strike” position and the fact that he (and we) must master or conquer it!  This is a simple reminder that God, my only strength, enables me to conquer the grip of sin!

But Cain chose for sin to master him.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree did it?  In fact, that orchard is still producing fruit and it continues to drop not so far from that same tree!  The seed of sin was welcomed in and it grew to death — Abel’s death.

Cain, fully aware of the sin in his life began to experience the essence of pain, grief, shame and guilt we all experience because of sin in our own life.  And Cain, like David many years later, casts judgement upon himself.  Thinking he knows God well enough to predict the Creator’s behavior, he tells God what to do.  I’ve never done that . . . HA!

“Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear.  Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”  Genesis 4:13-14

God’s reply?  “Not so!”

What???  Not so?  Cain was wrong!  He miscalculated the love of God . . . God’s grace and forgiveness!

  • Where Cain felt punished, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt burdened, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt kicked out, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt abandoned, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt unloved, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt unwanted, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt unworthy, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt restless, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt homeless, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt friendless, God said, “No way!”
  • Where Cain felt hated, God said, “No way!”

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  II Corinthians 12:9

Down For The Count

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  I Corinthians 8:37

Becoming a man who lives his life defeated auctions the birthright of ownership for himself over being owned.  It’s the difference between allowing the perspective I have of my life to determine my direction and living, not in defeat, but victory.  Those things look so different.  The trouble is while walking the streets of life we often follow the most attractive down the alleys of destruction only there to find ourselves sulking under the trash of our past.  Is that really what it’s all about?

Mohammad Ali took a few hits for his time.  Agreed?  Unfortunately, we can witness the ill effects of the battles he fought only to face his greatest yet in life.  No doubt there were moments when he got knocked so hard that many, himself included, thought he may be down for the count.  Getting up from defeat takes strength and humility beyond measure.  Either in a boxing ring or the ring of life it is still the same.  The famous and memorable character Adrian, in the Rocky movies, was famous for his no compromise attitude as Rocky lay on the mat bloodied and bruised.  Adrian yells over and over, “Get up!  Get up! Get up!”

I know I have felt slapped to the mat, defeated, bruised and bloodied and I have waited for someone to come, clean my wounds, help me up and tell me it’s all going to be just fine.  And while there’s definitely a need for this kind of love for one another (Love your neighbor as yourself . . . Romans 13:9), it is temporal and unpredictable.  This kind of dependence on man reminds us how lonesome the ring can be at times.  There’s no one yelling, “Get up!”

This is defeat at it’s finest.  And the Savior I serve ate defeat for breakfast – lunch – and dinner!  Last I checked, I serve a RISEN Savior who conquered death and the grave!  And when life slaps me to the mat bruised and bloodied, hopeless and helpless, my Savior is there and He says, “Get up! Get up! Get up!  Since I live in you — you ARE victorious!  Get up!”  We are never down for the count!

Thank you Lord for the victory we have in You!  We are more than conquerors and can get back up when we get knocked down because You already won!

“But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!  Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  I Corinthians 15:57-58

Screaming For A Savior

“Three times I pleaded with the lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'”  II Corinthians 12:8-9

In speaking about the need for a savior our minds immediately bend towards the life changing and spiritual exchange of salvation.  But this is not the reference of my thoughts today.  Paul, in his discourse to the Corinthians discusses what he refers to as a “thorn in the flesh.”  While many scholars are not certain as to what exactly this was, one thing is true — it drove him nuts!  His plea was not for a spiritual exchange, this event already took place in Paul’s life.  He was looking to be rescued from whatever followed him day and night in torment.

I know if I were to sit down and begin writing a list of things that bug the dickens out of me, it wouldn’t be long before I’d need a new sheet of paper.  But, as the list grows, one or two of them would dominate the page and rise to the top of the list in how severe they impacted my life.  Apparently, it did the same for Paul.

Kids are funny and do some of the darn’dest things sometimes.  Their worlds are so limited and small.  Oh, this is a great thing, both for them and any adult in their midst.  I envy their small, simple lives.  But, anything that disrupts the harmony of their world:  a missing “binky”, not the right food, too much sweet tea before bedtime, not enough sleep, a skunk under the house, someone else playing with “their” toy, getting dressed in the morning . . . and the list goes on, sends them into a fit of overly expressive opinion.  They’ve got a plan of how life should be and when it’s not like that then the world knows!

As adults, I find my relationship with God isn’t too far off from the same thing.  But instead of being overly opinionated about what might be considered “small things,” I’m extremely vocal and demanding over the circumstances in my life that measure extremely critical according to my scale.  What is it with that?

I’m all the while asking and asking again, pleading none-the-less, for God to deliver, change the course, answer a prayer, make a wrong – right, do this, do that, on and on and on.  It never occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, in the midst of pain, sorrow, hurt, crisis and grief that God may be saying, “Even though this stuff stinks, I hurt too, I feel the pain too, it makes me sad too, I understand your desperation, I know your loss too!  Even though your life is spinning, all I want you to do is wrap your arms around me, hold on tight and in this time when you are weak — through me, you WILL BE strong!”

Paul pleaded three times for God to deliver him — rescue him — save him from his thorn.  And while God could have done this — remember He is God — He did not.  Instead, God reminded Paul that His grace was sufficient for Him in this very difficult — distracting time.  That even in the midst of his circumstances, God would use him through his weakness, in His strength, and there find rest.

Lord Jesus, may I find rest in your strength!  As much as I would love for you to remove me from my personal pain and grief, I know that in it, you are strong!  May I boast only in my weaknesses, my difficulties, my crisis!

“Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  II Corinthians 12:9b

by:  Mark Cruver

Glorious Ruin

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and teh Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  Job 1:21

Glorious RuinSuffering is imminent.  Pain exists.  Grief is around the corner — it’s just a matter of time.  I have experienced very little loss in my life.  Grief and pain rallied themselves around me at the loss of a pet or the slam of a hammer on my thumb.  True pain, the kind that comes from loss — utter grief, the kind that comes from death, has now circled my wagon and pitched a tent.  I can’t explain the immensity, the emotion, the sense of hopelessness, the depth of loss.

But in it, in the middle of the worst of life there is glory to be found.  This glory is only there because of one thing — the cross!  My crisis is a glorious ruin!  The pain is real, the grief is real, so too is the cross!  The author, Tullian Tchividjian says, “Indeed our efforts to contain, move past, or silence it, that ol’ rugged cross stands tall, resolutely announcing that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ . . . Instead of diminishing our pain, then, these words proclaim the corresponding and overwhelming gratuity of our Redeemer.”

This book will not change your crisis, but it will change how you walk through your crisis!  It will set you free!

Learn more about the author and the book here!

by:  Mark Cruver

Remember When?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”  Psalm 42:6

When life comes to a point of feeling barren and dry, without hope or purpose . . . what then?  It’s easy to settle into a pit of despair and encounter the anvil of blame and self-condemnation.  Satan piles it on when our minds begin to entertain such thoughts.  No different than when he visited Eve in the garden or stood beside Jesus at the edge of the cliff, he throws a bone that looks to be covered in Grade A meat, when in fact it’s hollow, dry and splintered.

David experienced a number of moments in his life when despair seemed to be the theme.  But, without a doubt, it is apparent David was able to somehow pierce the darkness of his unfortunate circumstances and rise above them.  The key?  Well, David remembered!  He remembered the moments in his life when God delivered, embraced and sustained him.  (Psalm 63)

So often in life, in a day when multiple things go right, I only remember the one thing that went wrong.  How unfortunate that my mind cannot remember when.  I fail to reflect on the moment when God answered my prayer, when God provided a meal, when God pardoned me, when God got my attention, when God spoke through me, when God whispered, when God moved a mountain, when God gave me strength, when God held me . . . when God . . .

David reflects on moments when he saw him in the sanctuary (v. 2) and with his lips, praises Him!  He remembers Him when he sat on his bed (v. 6) and with his voice, praises Him!  He knows His right hand upholds him (v. 8) and with his lips, all will praise Him!

May I simply remember when God was there . . . yesterday . . . today . . . and forever!

“What the Lord expects from us at such seasons is not to abandon ourselves to unreasoning sorrow, but trustingly to look sorrow in the face, to scan its features, to search for the help and hope, which, as surely as God is our Father, must be there. In such trials there can be no comfort for us so long as we stand outside weeping. If only we will take the courage to fix our gaze deliberately upon the stern countenance of grief, and enter unafraid into the darkest recesses of our trouble, we shall find the terror gone, because the Lord has been there before us, and, coming out again, has left the place transfigured, making of it by the grace of his resurrection a house of life, the very gate of heaven.”
– Geerhardus Vos

by:  Mark Cruver