“…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. I Corinthians 15:57-58
They are ridiculously impressive! The cedar trees of Lebanon have a reputation of growing to unbelievable heights, stretching their branches to the heavens and to what seems beyond. In order to sustain such a plant, their roots must grow deep, reach far and hold on in such a way so as to keep it firm and steadfast. They, too, are immovable!
God speaks often of the cedars of Lebanon in His word, their far reaching branches (Psalm 80:11), tall and lofty (Isaiah 2:13), majestic in beauty (Ezekiel 31:7). They are, by far, a symbol of God’s strength, power and holiness.
He then, calls us to be like that of cedar ourselves. But not of ourselves – for that is impossible! Rather, He calls us through His victory to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding.” While these are true of the cedar, how could they also be so true of me? If one can argue the steadfastness or immovability of the cedar, the one thing that remains undeniable is the cedar always abounding in it’s majesty!
I am personally struck by the word “always.” Not once does the mighty cedar of Lebanon abound no more! It abounds . . . always . . . because of who or better, what it is! Likewise, I, too, am able to abound always because of who I am, abounding in the work of the Lord!
Lord Jesus, the prevailing winds often blow hard and topple many trees, but the strength and resilience of the cedar of Lebanon keeps it upright! May I remember the roots of my own spirit drive deep into the Rock and despite the battering of life, You, oh Lord, sustain me!
by: Mark Cruver
But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Malachi 4:2
Mornings when the sun shines bright and firm is a morning when I tend to feel refreshed by the warmth of it’s rays. It’s almost magical, but the truth of those rays, the refreshment and comfort all come from the Creator. What seemingly exists as another day, the “repeat event” that happens over and over is actually shaped into existence, designed for me, uniquely adorned and set to display the glory of the Lord!
And on those unique mornings when in the field the cattle even turn into the rays of the sun, something happens. They frolic. Frolic? They dance in the sunshine, play in the warmth of the sun and in their youth play in the spirit of who they are!
Does my heart see that sun? Does my spirit taste and see that the Lord is good and dance in the rays of His healing? I say yes, but is it not dependent on if I see that sun? What happens on an overcast day when the sun does not touch the ground? Will my heart sing? Will I frolic?
God shines with healing in His rays regardless of the circumstances that bring a dense fog to my world. Knowing this is one thing, but believing this is believing that God is exactly who He says He is. Further, it’s having faith in that which cannot be seen and knowing in that faith that His healing comes in trusting throughout life — not just when the sun shines bright! Clouds pass, but the sun shines forever!
Lord Jesus, I praise you not because of who I am, but because of who you are! You are the everlasting truth and healing in all things. You have come each morning to kiss the breath of this earth with the healing power of your righteousness. Through this I dance . . . I dance knowing my spirit is well-fed!
by: Mark Cruver
. . . 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
I meet today at the front gates of the Gospel. And as I enter, I pray . . .
This is a recent blog post from a pastor in Nashville, TN — Scotty Smith. It can also be found at this link:
A Prayer for Examining Our Lives through the Lens of the Gospel
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. (Phil. 3:12-15) For, to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21)
Dear Lord Jesus, praying through this passage moves me to praise you for freeing me from the “paralysis of analysis”—an unhealthy, navel-gazing preoccupation with me. Now, as I examine my life through the lens of the gospel, it’s your glory, not mine, that I’m most concerned about. I matter, but I’m simply not the point. It’s so refreshing to really believe that.
I don’t know how old Paul was when he was when he wrote these words—maybe in his sixties or seventies—but it’s obvious that with an increase in age came an increase in gospel astonishment. He never grew bored exploring the unsearchable riches of Jesus, and he never seemed to tire of wrestling with the kingdom implications of the gospel.
Jesus, make me more and more that kind of man. Give me this kind of maturity in the gospel. I’m thankful that it’s your grasp of me and not my grasp of you that defines this way of life. Sometimes I lift my hands in awe and gratitude for the way you love me. Sometimes I shake my fists at heaven like a pouting, demanding child. Sometimes I wring my hands in anxious unbelief, like a hapless orphan. But I live and I will die secure in your palms and written upon your heart.
I praise you that as with Paul, you’ve given me a prize to win, not a wage to earn. I never earned my way into a relationship with you, and I don’t maintain a relationship with you by my efforts either. I am secure and beloved, all because of your doing.
What do I want for the rest of my days? I cannot say it any better than Paul, Lord: I want to know you, Lord Jesus, more intimately than ever. This is the one thing I want more than anything else. And I want to experience more of the power of your resurrection, for I have no power in myself to love others as you love me. And I want to enter more fully into the fellowship of sharing in your sufferings—living out the birth pangs of new-creation life in this broken world which groans for its release from the bondage to decay—a release that is sure to come (Rom. 8:18-25). Our labors in you are not in vain, Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11).
This is what I really want. Help me to have way done with lesser things, and be much more taken up with your beauty and kingdom will. So very Amen I pray, in your most glorious and grace-full name.
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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“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:18-21
I was snorkeling off the shore of one of the Bahamian islands a number of years ago. It was a most picturesque and peaceful time. The still blue-green water of the Caribbean with a mask and snorkel — perfect! I spent a good hour or so just floating on the surface looking at the sand below in waters only four feet deep or so as it was well known for the many sand-dollars. Every now and then a needle-fish would zip under me or schools of little silver fish would flash by — really hard to describe how cool it was. But after a while, something just didn’t seem right. Ever have that feeling? It had been well over an hour, I stayed parallel with the shore so I knew I hadn’t drifted far from there, and everyone who had come with me was off doing their own thing. It was just me, God and the fishes of the sea! But I felt like someone was staring at me. That’s really an uneasy feeling when your bobbing in the ocean like a cork thinking you’re all alone! It was very unsettling — for good reason — I slowly lifted my head and what I saw straight in front of me took my breath and I managed to put my swim in full reverse. There were three — THREE — Barracuda starring directly at me, moving their mouths — filled with teeth mind you — open and close. I was done — through — out of the water — snorkeling had come to a close!
I often reduce my experiences with God down to a feeling — some kind of sense of His presence. I think you know what I mean — when your reading or singing and a chill goes up your spine. God? When someone says something you needed to hear. God? When you barely miss the biker you never saw as you pulled out of the parking lot. God? When you have this feeling. God? We certainly can’t deny the involvement of something or someone that stirs, reminds, provokes or prevents.
But how would I know if God really moved? Would it be a swift breeze to the back of my neck? Would it be the wrestling of the branches on a still morning? Would it be a red-bird that lands in front of me? Would it be a miracle over the impossible? Maybe.
Paul knew! When your heart opens to the understanding of Christ in you, all sorts of moving can be felt. It’s the little glimpses of truth, flashes of God’s fingertips on your life that spark with knowing . . . God just moved! When His glory merely twinkles in the time of this place it overwhelms our being. It’s stirring!
And Paul says to the Ephesians, when you open your heart to understanding who you are in Christ . . . you begin to KNOW the hope, the riches, the incomparable GREAT power in Christ alone!
Oh, my God! Lord, Jesus, how majestic is your name in all the earth! That I would see just a small glimpse of you moving in my life, in my world, demonstrating your great love like I have just seen is overwhelming! Thank you for extending just a glimpse for I’d dare say I am not capable of seeing the fullness of your glory!
. . . His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Habakkuk 3:3-4
But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. Psalm 3:3
Satan is a great suppressor. He thrives in throwing the grappling hook of despair in our direction with the weight of self-pity, depression and everything negative tied to the other end. And then, once that hook is set good, he gently and quietly slips it over the edge and with it plunges our countenance.
There’s no question that Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel from the very popular Ice Age movies is a long favorite of many. His quest for the “acorn of life” is without doubt one of great persistence and commitment. In the most recent of the movies, Scrat finds himself on a very small island with what appears to be a skeleton of his own kind. And just off shore, to the depths of the ocean, he discovers through clues from his boney ancestor the acorn settled on the ocean floor. Too far to swim, too deep to dive — he must find another way. And with a boulder as his anchor, he holds on for dear life as it sinks, with a tight grip, to the resting place of the acorn. And what appears to be his best idea yet to get this nut, turns into him only getting pulled down into deeper waters. The deeper he sinks, the more powerful the pressure becomes. Poor Scrat will never learn — but he sure can teach us a few things!
When we fix ourselves to the boulder of negativity and free fall over the edge, the weight of discouragement, despair and doubt destroy our mood. And as we allow for these thoughts to captivate our minds we are no longer behaving with the mind of Christ. Christ is our example here. Christ, when all things appeared certainly negative, maintained a positive attitude. He encountered personal attacks, betrayal and abandonment from his disciples when he needed them the most. He was strongly misunderstood, misrepresented and deserted. He was mocked and called a liar and left alone. He had every reason to be negative — yet, he turned to the Lifter of his life.
Lord Jesus, you turned to the One who lifts the heads of those whose lives are struck with despair and doubt. I know when I’ve experienced this it weighs so much it drives me to the floor. Yet, somehow, this burden is light for you! As though your finger touches the underside of my chin, much like a father does with his own child and you lift it to gaze upon your glory! Oh my God — the Lifter of my head, the Lifter of my life! You not only hear my cry . . . you lift me up!
Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty–he is the King of glory. Psalm 24:8-10