My Rampart

Have you ever come across a verse that was difficult to shake?  By that I mean, unable to stop pondering, thinking or unpacking?  Indeed, these verses are the hidden jewels of the wealth of treasure throughout God’s Word, and once discovered — they radiate like diamonds on the soul.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.   Psalm 91:4

For some time now this verse has conjured up all sorts of images . . . wings, protection, safety, shelter and the list goes on.  But it was the latter part of this verse that stirred in my heart for more than a week.  His faithfulness?  Mentioned in the same breath as feathers and wings?  My shield and rampart . . . what in the world is rampart?  My only reference to this word in my everyday life was from my childhood, watching one of my favorite shows in the early 80’s called Emergency One!  It was a syndicated TV series focused on the world of two paramedics at Station 51 and their close working relationship with Rampart General Hospital. The paramedics would arrive on an emergency scene, care for the wounded and call into “Rampart” to alert them of injuries in need of immediate care.  And like the heroes they were, they whisked the injured to the hospital.  Upon arrival, “Rampart” became the place for healing, recovery, care — where peace conquered chaos, and disasters became stories of miracles.

A place of fortification — rampart serves as a place, a broad place, raised to an elevation to serve as a defense.  Now it’s starting to become more than feathers!  My God serves as a broad, expansive defense for me.  And not just Him, but through His faithfulness this shield and rampart protects.  Can anyone else see the radiant diamonds glistening in this discovery?

My God, my Rampart!

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!!

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.

Clean Undies

But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.  Philippians 3:20-21

Julie:  Are you wearing clean underwear?

Mark:  What?  Really?

Julie:  Are you?

Mark:  Just trying to pull my life together.

Julie:  I know.  Some days my only source of sanity comes in knowing that I have clean undies on.  I guess it’s the only thing I can control.  Everything else I shove off to Jesus.  I might appear looney tunes because I literally talk to him out loud as if he is there.  And not in  “mushy prayerful” conversation.  More like, “I can’t deal with this crap so you’re just gonna have to take it and figure it out yourself.  Let me know when I should pay attention to it because I’m done.”

Mark:  That’s where I am.

Julie:  Clean undies?

Mark:  They are clean . . . for now!

Julie:  Okay then!

This is an actual conversation I had recently with a dear friend and thankfully, not forgotten.  It was an incredible reminder of my need to let go and let God.  It is terribly easy for me to sulk, think, craft, construct, excuse and attempt to control my circumstances and ultimately, my life.

Julie’s point was well taken. Clean undies are my job, God certainly has a sense of humor.  He left that decision to me!  Luckily I have the smarts enough to make it so.  But little have I ever realized the implication of assuming control of my life.  God wants nothing more than to “work all things together for His good.”

Control is a crazy thing — something we want desperately.  Because when we have it we feel safe, secure, ordered, in charge, peaceful, organized, mindful — but these are all false senses.  It is only through Christ, who is all, gives all and controls all.  It requires a true surrender and demands a level of trust that comes only through the grace and love found on the cross.  It begins in the mind, captures the heart and together, through Christ, brings everything under His control.

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

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

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

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