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

Is It Just Me?

I shouldn’t be feeling this way!  These things shouldn’t be happening to me!  Life stinks!  I want one thing, but do another!  I love, but am not loved!  I fight, but do not win!  I work hard, but get no where!  I look up, but it’s cloudy!  Is it just me?

The answer to this, and many of the pending questions in life is found as I live not as I want, but as Christ lives through me.  Even as I’ve written this I’m reminded of how much I’m still learning.  Trusting Christ as my life is an act of obedience with every step.

It’s trusting the Truth in Christ and recognizing the lies from satan that bring misery and bondage.  It’s making it all about me and my circumstances instead of Him and His control of my circumstances.  For when I live through His Truth, He receives the glory.

How many times have you opened a gift and tossed the packaging away only to learn there was more!  Well, there is MORE!  How often I forget that along with the gift of salvation came Christ as life!  It’s rarely noticed until something happens greater than we (I) can bear, but the measure of this extends throughout my very existence — second of every minute.

Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great.  You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.  Psalm 18:35-36

When life gets heavy, so heavy in fact it feels all-consuming, the answer to the pending question is yes, it is just me!  God has commanded me to give it to Him to carry.  His shoulders are broad and strong and not just for the moment — instead He expects me to heave my burden onto Him.  Why?  Because He can handle it – will handle it – promises to handle it – with ease.  Remember, His yoke and burden are light (Matthew 11:30)!

So, why do I feel like it’s just me all the time?  Well, it’s likely because it’s the devil’s idea.  A bunch of lies! Because of who I am, to whom I belong and through whom I live, it is not normal for me to carry my own weight.  When I choose to carry my own burdens, I am choosing to live life outside of Christ — independence from the One who lives in me!  And this, my friend, is sin (Romans 14:23).

 

The Fingerprint of God

photoLast week I had the honor of helping a dear friend with some fallen trees on his land.  For you and me, we would take a chainsaw to a fallen tree and cut it into logs or split it into firewood — but not this guy.  He takes the trunk of the tree and runs it through his mill to make planks.  Recycling the fallen.

My dad made his living taking such pieces of wood, old and new, and transforming them into true works of art.  Since childhood, fresh cut wood causes me to reflect on many great moments of sanding, drilling, cutting, glueing and ultimately experiencing my dad’s handiwork.  His work was breathtaking.

And so, last week, while cutting these logs into planks . . . I noticed something I had never noticed before.  I’ve always admired the grain of wood.  The patterns that swirl around knots that number it’s years, it’s simply beautiful.  But this time I realized this looks like a fingerprint.

The truth of what I was looking at, what I was admiring, had actually been touched by the hand of God.  It was His fingerprint! With no two alike, God touched not just this tree, but every living thing . . . including me with His hand.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2:10

My God, may I never overlook your handiwork in me!  May I never discard the fact that your fingerprint is within me because you have fearfully and wonderfully created me.  I am your workmanship!!

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

Direct My Thoughts

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.  Psalm 63:1

The desert is a pretty dry place!  Without water it’s even drier!  And yet, David found himself in the midst of this scorching environment with plenty of room to throw out criticism and dissatisfaction with his circumstances. It would be safe to say that he was not in the best of moments nor living in the midst of the best time of his life.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have thought about things I really didn’t want to think about.  In fact, entertaining these thoughts have consistently contributed to a separation from my Lord.  The further the separation, the drier the land in which I walk.  Often sparked by a thought, these moments slip into existence without much notice but regrettably find themselves the “author” of much no good.  As much as I feel I am all alone in these moments, I know I am not the only one that experiences this.  That’s why I am so very glad that David wrote this psalm.

Thousands of years following David, Paul writes to the people of Philippi and encourages them to think on those things found to be excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).  The Author of our mind is apparent as we learn more and more about Christ in us!  An undesirable thought may be introduced to our mind, but to whom does it belong?  Is it received?  Is it rejected?  Paul further explains the method by which to dissolve arguments — by taking every thought captive in order to make it obedient to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5).

Personally, I can’t imagine what it would be like to find myself in a literal desert, parched, hot, fatigued, hungry and more than anything . . . thirsty — with nothing to satisfy my body and it’s needs.  On the other hand, I have found myself in very similar conditions when it comes to the condition of my heart and soul.

Paul says to capture those thoughts and do something with them!  Don’t let them roam wild, but instead, make them obey Christ!  That’s serious business!  Unaccustomed to such discipline, it can seem a bit laborious.  But standing firm in Christ’s obedience satisfies the heart and soul of ALL of it’s needs.  Paul learned this application and lived it . . . AFTER listening to those thoughts himself that drove destruction.  Once he got it, he lived it and then taught others how to live in it themselves.  David called out to God, praised Him in the midst of trial, while utterly uncomfortable and seemingly hopeless.  But how he chose to think changed everything!  It was a choice!

Lord Jesus, like David, my whole being longs for you!  When I get caught up in what I think about my circumstances, remind me of who I am in you!  When I think about the lies presented to me in thought, remind me of the Truth and to whom I belong!  When I think I’m all that and deserve all this, remind me that you plus nothing equals everything!

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:33

Optional Love

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 8:5

It is so easy to take love and trivialize it to the point of making it all about self and very little about anyone else.  We throw out the word and give an expression here or there, but when life boils down, we rarely make decisions, behave, and more often than not, forget to respond out of love.  Instead it looks a great deal like self.

My love for you is optional.  At least that’s how I’ve justified it in my own mind and mainly because I have a choice to love you or not.  Some would argue that, as a Christ-follower, I am “required” to love you.  And while there may be some truth to that, it is still very much a choice. We become examples for each other on giving answers to some of life’s most challenging questions such as:  “What about when I get hurt?” or “How can I love her, look what she did?” or “That man just stabbed me in the back, forget him!”  And these examples serve as reference, defense in our own behavior to justify how we treat others.  So we choose, without much thought, to make love optional.

But God’s love for me has NEVER been optional.  The difference between the measure of God’s love for me and the optional love I give others is unmistakenably different.  Because, when I am in the depth of sin, the darkness of self-consciousness, the option of love is dry and unmerited.  And yet, at that moment, weathering the storms of life, the very action of Christ on the cross became the ultimate demonstration of the depth of His love for me — His unwavering love!

My hearts desire is to love as Christ loved!  To see others, regardless of sin, as Christ sees them.  To shed my self-contiousness and live in the brightness and fullness of Christ-consciousness that my love for others will have no options, but instead reflect what can only be a small, tiny demonstration of God’s love.  Wow — what would that look like?

Nothing Coming Between

Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.   James 4:7-8

Oswald Chambers in his famous devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, says something remarkably poignant and it reaches to the core of my being.  He says anything that disturbs my rest in Him (Christ) must be taken care of immediately; that I must never allow anything to remain that is causing a separation between Christ and myself.  I’ve never given a “truth-check” to the reality of what my sin does in terms of my relationship with Christ!  Separation?

It’s so easy to focus on the issue, the specifics and become entirely distracted from the essence of truth in the current of self.  This “rip-tide” is subtle, inviting and yet, swift and dangerous.  Anything that stands between Christ and me stands in the face of trusting Him by doing things my own way.  It is a willful act of looking into the mirror and seeing “self” instead of Christ in me!  It becomes a refocus of self-consciousness.  When I focus on me and my own circumstances, analyzing and contemplating the outcome of life’s most uncertain  moments, it translates into the absence of God’s rest, His contentment and peace.  It is replaced with self-consiousness in the form of feelings of fear, rejection, discontent, worry, pride, resentment, hurt . . . to name only a few.

The answer here is found in my “will” — through choice.  God has designed me in such a way as to decide what thoughts to entertain.  And He reminds me in His Word to take “every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:5)  How I choose to think about me and my circumstances is the difference between my “junk” coming between Christ and me and nothing coming between Christ and me.  It’s the moment when I choose to deny self-consciousness and live in the embrace of Christ-consiousness.  Through this lens I quit focusing on myself and begin focusing on Christ in me – my Strength, my Comforter, my Healer, my Deliverer, my Redeemer.

Lord, Jesus, I need you every hour!  And in each hour I desire to think on Truth!  I realize that when I choose to do things my way and not your way, I am separated from you!  Those are very unpleasant moments for me and worse to remember.  I’m asking Lord, to make me God-concious!

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.    Philippians 4:8

Always Abounding

“…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

Lebanon CedarThey 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

Extraordinarily Ordinary

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.   Ephesians 4:22-24

Children say the most amazing things sometimes.  So much so, a number of years ago Bill Cosby actually hosted a show called, Children Say The Darndest Things.  Sometimes they are like little parrots, repeating those things they overheard their parents say to each other or what they learned on the playground.  These moments can be particularly surprising and in some cases, unsettling.  But how often do children remind us to do what’s right?  They have a nature about them that tends to hold tight to the compass of life by reminding us of our True North.  Today that happened!

In a group setting with hundreds of children, the adult in front spoke to the crowd and asked the following question:  “What did God teach you throughout your summer?”  Little hands stretched to the ceiling to share their moments of truth and revelation.  All were superb, but one student caught my undivided attention.

With a firm voice of confidence rarely witnessed, he says, “I learned how extraordinary we are even though we are ordinary because God makes us extraordinary.”   I leaned back in my chair and pondered the Truth of his insightful summer.  This was not something he picked up on the playground, this was coming straight from the Truth of God’s Word!  We may be ordinary, but we are in fact, extraordinarily ordinary — because God makes us that way!

Lord Jesus, thank you for the Truth  of your righteousness and holiness that resides in those who call you King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  A message often delivered through the honest mouths of children!  May I pause to listen to your voice!

by: Mark Cruver

Righteousness Rises

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