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

Talking Behind My Back

Have you ever been the subject of someone talking about you behind your back?  Worse, have you ever been the one talking about someone else behind their back?  I hardly think anyone is exempt from either of those questions.  In fact, the topics about another span the universe and unfortunately we only find out about the negative things.  Truth is, nobody really likes to find out they’ve been “talked about” behind their back.

I recently encountered a moment very similar.  But my reaction was very different than most I think.  I found out someone was talking about me behind my back and it literally took my breath away.  I never ever thought this person would say such things about me so when I found out I could do nothing but sit there in tears.  Why was I taken so off-guard, you may wonder?  Well, it wasn’t the first time.  This particular revelation was actually the sixth time it was brought to my attention.  It was getting a bit ridiculous . . . or was it?

What do you really say when you find out God is talking to others about you behind your back?  What do you really say?  I sat in awe and wept.

When, for the sixth time, some random person comes up to you and says, “God just told me to come over and introduce myself because you needed someone to pray with,” you open your ears to their words.  The prayers, the conversations, the revelation of God in those moments and the realization that God Himself was having a conversation with others about you will change your perspective!

Then I read about the blind guy, Bartimaeus.  It was brief, but it was direct . . . Jesus spoke to others about Bartimaeus in much the same way as he has spoken to others about me.  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  Jesus said this to those with him (likely his disciples).  And with that charge, they called Bartimaeus from the roadside where he sat yelling for mercy — something Jesus could have surely done Himself.  Bartimaeus was on the mind of Jesus and Jesus spoke to others to get his attention. (Mark 10:46-52)

I’m wondering now how many times I’ve missed the call from Jesus as He is trying to talk to me about someone behind their back.

Lord Jesus, I simply am awestruck at your thoughts of me.  When your thoughts of me reach me, they overwhelm me.  Thank you for calling out to your disciples for Bartimaeus.  I’m so thankful for their obedience in hearing your voice. Thank you for calling out to others for me!  And, for what it is worth, I’m glad you talk about me behind my back!

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).

 

Desert Cloud

Ever complain?  Ever sit in your seat and ask this question . . . “Really?”  I certainly have, and worse, I know it full well.  My complaint trigger is sensitive with little to make it fire off.  If you are anything like the rest of us on earth, it’s tough finding something not worth complaining over.  Yet, in the midst of this very thing God does not delight.  At least this is what I’ve gathered through an account with the Israelites and Aaron in the book of Exodus.

At the instruction of Moses, Aaron addressed the hostile crowd.  They had been complaining about their conditions, mainly provisions.  And, while there was much at stake, their conditions were not meant for daily comfort or individual gain, but for the glory of God to be magnified.  And therefore, through their grumblings, God’s glory was on display!

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.   Exodus 16:10

The glory of the Lord . . . wow!  Hovering over the dry sands of the desert, the richness of beauty and provision was on display. The glory of the Lord was before them, reminding them of the One to whom all praise is given — regardless of the condition.

Lord Jesus, may my life always point to your desert cloud.  Press upon my complaining heart a prayer of the reflection of your glory in me to answer the call of the moment to know it is less about me and all about you!

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?

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

Circle of Life

God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  I Corinthians 1:9

Years ago I was introduced to the idea of spending time with God on a daily basis.  Intentional moments carved out of my already busy schedule to focus on the God who sustains me — talk with Him, pray with Him, laugh and cry with Him.  So I pursued these moments with fervor, but the well of time quickly ran dry as life happened.  Projects, deadlines and many other things crowded the once designated time with Him.  It wasn’t long before I was no longer mentioning a quiet time with my Lord, but instead making excuses why I couldn’t afford that time.

And then I heard a dear friend and colleague speak to a group of college students.  I was one of them.  It turned my scripted idea of carving out a time with God each morning on it’s end.  He went on to invite us to explore the meaning of fellowship with our King.  As we are called into fellowship with Christ Himself, what then would that fellowship look like?  We were then encouraged to draw a circle around ourselves and regardless of where we are, invite Him into our circle.  True fellowship with the Savior!

So, no matter the place, no matter the moment, no matter the victory or crisis, no matter the emotion or experience, my circle includes the God of the universe who not only lives within, but does so in full fellowship with me!  As I exercise, He’s there to fellowship.  As I shop, He’s there to fellowship.  As I eat the blessings of this earth, He’s there to dine.  As I pay my bills, He’s there.  As I commute, He’s along for the ride.  As I worship, He rejoices in my joy of Him.  As I stress, He’s there to comfort and relieve.  As I heal, He is there to touch.  As I study, He is there to instruct.  As I doubt, He’s there to remind me of His promises.  As I question, He shows me in His Word an answer.  As I sit and wonder, He sits and loves.

When I draw a circle around me and invite the God of the universe to join me there — wherever that may be — I invite and unlock the very gift of life, love and the power of God to reside and rest within me.  It’s not a circle that excludes the fellowship of others, but the circle of life creates a light that shines and causes others to see Jesus in my circle!

Lord Jesus, may I continue to invite you into my circle — fellowship with me not just in the morning, but noon, day and night.  Now that’s a “circle of LIFE.”

by:  Mark Cruver