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!!

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!

 

Island At High-Tide

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s,
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

by: John Donne

Islands have represented many things in literature – an identity of belonging, association and connectivity. It represents a part of the whole — with communion. But it can be a lonely place.  By definition, an island, by nature is a place where one feels little comes and no one goes, surrounded by endless bodies of water.  On the other hand, we see islands as a picture of life, full of fresh fruit, new beginnings and great adventure.  And then, from my generation, the island became home to castaways after a three-hour tour!

Even so, an island is still an island — separate, withdrawn, self-sufficient and self-reliant.  When man adopts this identity, he becomes the one for whom all things are determined.  It’s an incredibly dangerous place to live and yet, so many, with great debate, live on such a place.  I know, I’ve been there!

My island, like everyone’s island, was unique.  Constructed to fit the very nature of things and designed to defend the best of presumption.  However, most of my life it never appeared as an island to most, with the exception of those close to me.   The mirage, (those things untrue) created an illusion to most that my world was connected, sensible and for all intents and purposes – perfect.  And when the mirage faded and the tides rose high I retreated, much like a funnel-web spider at the sign of danger.  Except for me, my retreat was my kingdom, my fortress, my island at high tide.  It was in this place of refuge no one could touch, no one could harm, pride reigned supreme and arrogance was the air in which I breathed.

Like any island, high-tide is expected.  With the ebb and flow of the moon, the seas rise and fall.  And life mirrors such events.  But when the weather creates unusual depths and the storms of life create catastrophes, the house once built on sand stands everything to lose.  The kingdom falls, no amount of pride sustains and the air once thick with arrogance becomes drenched with humility.

How grateful I am of God’s bedrock!  When the waters retreat, the palace of pride falls and the light of the Son shines the freshness of life — where the streams of living water run — and re-hydrates the once sapped soul with the breath of Life under the shadow of the Cross!  Amazing grace!

For the grace of God has 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 this present age, while we wait fo 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

Strength to Strength

They go from strength to strength . . .  Psalm 84:7

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.  The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.   Psalm 28:8

As I think on my day, I cannot help but think about the mountain of circumstances and events that surround it on all sides.  It’s fairly daunting and no health supplement will give the strength to cross over.  But, the truth is, tomorrow is on the other side and despite the fact the mountain is tall and steep, I know it must be climbed.images

I remember standing on the top of one of the “Ivy League Peaks” in Colorado and seeing the world from what appeared to be — the top!  Mountain after mountain, capped with snow and rock blanketed the landscape in all directions.  It was truly breathtaking.  But the more than ten hours it took for me to get to the top was no pleasant journey.  No doubt, there were pleasant moments — the scenery, the cobalt-blue lakes adorned with beaver homes, forests of aspen, the treeline and then nothing but rock.  If you’ve been there, you know what I mean!  But it took a focus, determination and a strength that was beyond my likelihood.  My focus was on the mountain before me, I knew it meant climbing to the top — and it was obvious, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

It’s like that in life too.  It’s easy to focus on all the mountains, in all directions, and wonder and worry about how to manage the challenges each of them face.  But God gives us today and on that mountain calls me to draw upon His strength to get through it — to climb it.  And if I strain in His strength, He assures me of even more strength!  I move from strength to strength.  He enables me to make it through today!

So, I choose to trust Him — my heart trusts Him!  I call on His strength today and in the end, I see the beauty of His strength in me.  It is throughout the day that I approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we [I] may receive mercy and find grace to help us [me] in our [my] time of need.  Hebrews 4:16

Thank you Lord for the strength you have given and the promise of your provision of strength over and over again.  It is through this I praise your name!

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.  Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.  Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  Psalm 105:1-4

by: Mark Cruver

Like Yesterday’s Ragdoll

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  Isaiah 64:6

Not so many years ago, my daughter had for herself a sweet little orange-striped kitty.  Had she been a boy, it would have been a real-life version of Calvin & Hobbes.  Classic adventures and discoveries every inch of her existence and countless moments of conversation and questions with answers.  It was beyond all else the most unique bond in our home.  Without “Two-Sides” (that was kitty’s name), going to sleep was impossible as was going to grandma’s or heading out on vacation.  Two-Sides went with us everywhere.

But as the days checked off the calendar and the whiskers on Two-Sides disappeared, the love my daughter had for her was still ever strong.  It was not a love of youthfulness or beauty, for Two-Sides had grown quite ragged.  Instead, the love my daughter loved Two-Sides with was a love that made Two-Sides beautiful.

It is not very different with me (and you)!  To God we are all rag dolls.  But we were not created ragged, for when God finished what He had fashioned in His own image He said with His own breath, “It is good!”  He loves me (and you) and that does not change over time!

But over time, we have all become like rag dolls, so crooked from sin and guilt that it would only feel similarly familiar to be discarded, forgotten, left to my own demise.  But no!  God changed everything because of His love for me!  Thank God my identity is not found in my raggedness, but instead in Christ who took my raggedness to the cross!

John Ortberg wrote in his book Love Beyond Reason:

“There is such a love, a love that creates value in what is loved.  There is a love that turns rag dolls into priceless treasures.  There is a love that fastens itself onto ragged little creatures, for reasons that no one could ever quite figure out, and makes them precious and valued beyond calculation.  This is a love beyond reason.  This is the love of God.  This is the love with which God loves you and me.”

by: Mark Cruver

Life Sucks, God’s There

Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.

“But if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him.  He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.  He provides rain for the earth; he sends water on the countryside.  The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.  He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.  He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away. . . . Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”   Job 5:7-13,17

One of my favorite characters in The Peanuts Gang comic is little Pig Pen.  For obvious reasons, the poor little boy needs a bath!  Every where he goes a cloud of dust follows him and hovers over all he does.  Rarely do you hear a complaint from any of his friends, they just know . . . that’s Pig Pen.

I’d like to think I resonate with another of those famous characters however.  Maybe I feel more like Linus with his security blanket or Charlie Brown for his lack of self-confidence.  Perhaps Snoopy for his perseverance would serve as a better likeness.  And then of course, there are times I relate best with their teacher . . . mumbling something not worth listening to.  But in reality, more often than not, I relate with Pig Pen.  Not for the smell, but for that crazy dark cloud that seems to follow me everywhere I go at times.  Maybe you can relate.

That dark cloud often gets translated into a phrase we most commonly refer . . . Life Sucks!  When everything goes against us, fighting life becomes exhausting and gaining ground is something foreign.  When it happens enough, too much for our liking, there seems to be an overarching theme that sets into our minds.  It’s a tone we do not like, but nonetheless, listen to.  It says to us, almost unnoticed, that God must not be present since life sucks so badly.  In fact, it is drilled into our belief that if life sucks, then God must or even can’t be present.  The two are mutually exclusive.

Oh, how our hearts are so tender and deceived so easily.  The TRUTH is that even in the midst of life that sucks, God is there!  His heart is ever so aware of our burdens and stands ready to fellowship in our suffering.  The fall of man made life suck and since then sucky things happen each and every day!  But even then, God promised us He would never leave us nor forsake us.  It truly defines what it means to have peace amidst the stress.  All that sucks in our life, sucks to God as well and He desires nothing more than our hearts in middle of life’s valleys and celebrations.

Thank you, Lord Jesus for never giving up on me and most of all, never leaving me.  Thank you for joining me each morning for coffee and riding around town from place to place.  Thank you for sitting at the table with me and my family and resting each evening by my side.  Thank you Lord for hearing my complaints and disgruntlement.  Thank you for smiling and laughing when my heart sings in moments of joy.  Thank you for being there, even when life sucks!

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”   Deuteronomy 31:8

by:  Mark Cruver

Yesterday Looms Tomorrow

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You re a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.  All such boasting is evil.  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.  James 4:13-17

Sometimes days are predictive.  At other times the days ahead can be as mysterious and anxious as a haunted house.  It’s amazing how deep our minds can dig into the plans we have for ourselves in looking toward tomorrow.  Unfortunately, our culture, perhaps our bent, is to gather from yesterday and build a structure of our own tomorrow.  While there is a place to look back to learn from history, it is a dangerous practice in trusting the Lord and living for Him each day.

In the book of Genesis, Lot’s family was granted a pardon by God to flee the city of Sodom.  But as they did, they were to not look back.  They were to remain focused on where they were going, not where they had been.  And as God rained down fire upon Sodom, Lot’s wife could not help herself and turned back to look.  It was a costly mistake as she turned to a pillar of salt.

Granted, people aren’t turning to pillars of salt for looking back on yesterday, but there is a lesson (many lessons actually) here, demonstrating obedience, a pursuit of God’s will, a focus to things to come, the plans He has for me!

And it may be true that my yesterday looms today, but God has gone before me and built my tomorrow!  It is today that I live in yesterday’s tomorrow God made just for me!  And today, well, He is shaping my tomorrow and whispers in my ear — “Just wait and see what I have planned for you!”

May I not boast of my tomorrow and blame yesterday for it!  Instead, may I lift my eyes to the Heavens, in front of me and rejoice in knowing that today was yesterday’s stage for my tomorrow!

The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.  Psalm 118:24

by:  Mark Cruver

Hold To It

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

It’s not easy staying the course. I think my ideal is life should be smooth sailing, but as a dear one says often, “God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.” The turbulence in life can deter my attention, missing the actual moment God has created especially for me!

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the life of Moses lately. There’s really too many lessons with that man! But in my circumstances, there is much to gain by peeking into the life he lived. Chosen by God, Moses was given the task to lead the people of Israel from captivity (slavery) to the Promised Land (freedom). This being a place he’d never seen and trusted the words of God that what He said was true. Leading a million or more people through the desert had to have been the most challenging thing he had ever faced. This I know, because the Bible speaks of the whining, complaining, arrogant, disobedient, entitled people he was leading. And perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad had they made it there in the 11 or so days it should have taken, but instead, it took 40 years. In fact, Moses himself would never step foot on this land.

I mention Moses because in some ways, I feel like he must have felt. Tired, discouraged and faced with more questions than answers. Yet the lesson I can learn from Moses is much as Christ spoke about to the Jews from the book of John. It’s much easier to veer from the truth and slip into what I feel may be better . . . my way, not God’s way. But Jesus tells us, “hold true to my teaching . . .” Press on, stay the course, keep your chin up, trust, believe and know whom you have believed and am persuaded that He is able.

So, hold to it! Paul said in I Corinthians that it was “by the gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word” for it is in that “which you have taken your stand.”

Lord Jesus, pressing forward in the face of gale-force winds is draining. I feel somewhat discouraged, but I know that my hope is not in the journey. My hope comes from you alone! I am choosing to live in II Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”