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

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.

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

Getting Used To It

“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  ‘Be holy, because I am holy.”  I Peter 1:15-16

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the last couple of years more than anything is that with grief, with loss — comes change.  And in the face of such change there is the temptation to force myself through the briar patch despite the snags and pain with all of its’ lasting wounds and scars.  At times, it feels like it would be more comfortable if I simply stopped and settled in place.  However, the problem with sitting in the briar patch are those pesky thorns starring me in the face and their scratch at every move I make.  Those painful briars tell me it’s safer and hurts less if I just sit still.  And when I do, everyone hears me say things like — “I’m over here . . . do you mind if I just talk from here?  It hurts too much to come to you!”  “That’s ok, it’s just where I am . . . just getting used to it, I hope you don’t mind.”  “I’m doing well, no I’m great, really.  I’m just going to . . . ouch! That hurt!”

But, God didn’t call me to live my life in the briar patch.  Briar patches are places to hide and sulk.  God called me to live life in the abundance of Him without exception.  He calls me to live in His holiness and run into His arms instead places that lie about their safety and comfort.  The hurtful den of that patch is a place where the healing bed of His salvation can also be found.  The mere idea of stepping out of the briars without hurt, without pain . . . with healing and the assurance of His abundant love is the essence of joy, comfort, peace and hope.

There is no peace in the heart of those in the patch, but there is healing in the heart of the one who takes refuge in Him. He has called me to be holy as He is holy — to live in the truth of who I am, regardless of my circumstances.  That is joy unspeakable.

When change comes because of grief and loss, remember there is no getting used to that!   God called me to rest in the knowledge of who I am in Christ, not in getting used to the briar patch — that’s not who I am!

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  II Corinthians 10:5

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!

 

Without Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

by:  Mark Cruver

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

Depths of Discouragement

I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.   Psalm 121:1-2

The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.  Psalm 121:7-8

In those moments when the rain refuses to stop, life begins to appear just as gloomy.  I’m not sure how people who live in the northwest find themselves in sunshine.  While the many drops of rain puddle in the yard and create ponds and sometimes rivers for days on end, I become increasingly more vulnerable to thinking less on encouraging things.  My chin and eyes, fixed on above drop and ponder — wonder — think.  The mind begins and continues to spin and in the world of wonder there is a playground of doubt that is fed by the evil one to discourage.  The cycle is a vicious spiral digging deeper into the muck of all that seems less than fortunate.  And then one dwells.

But David reminds us of the ever present hope in our Maker!  The one who sits upon the throne — rain or shine!  And in this Truth, God defeats discouragement through the hope of His promise to never leave our side — to be the Hope and the Finisher of all He created — including me!  Amen!

It’s more than just a state-of-mind.  It’s a belief, a faith in knowing the truth of His endless and unconditional love for me that changes things.  Bending in the shape of His will results in the shape of the cross!  It’s matchless and unlike anything ever known or understood.  So, despite circumstances, I stand on this promise!

Where does my strength come from?  It comes from the Lord!

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

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