Forfeit The Grace

Do I really believe the Word of God to be “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path?”  Yes I do!  God’s word to me has been increasingly more meaningful and His voice, through His word, has been steady, firm and clear.  His promises and assurances fill me with more God-confidence and far less self-confidence.  More of Him, less of me.

Jonah’s life has always been an interesting read.  There’s nothing like the consequence of disobedience resulting in an unexpected journey in the belly of a whale.  It’s evident through his journey that God is serious.  And it is in this seriousness God reached out and demanded Jonah’s attention.  I know the feeling!

What is better is Jonah listened and pondered God’s direction.  He was in quite an awkward position of surrender and so he did.  And as he did, his heart too began to hear the steady, firm and clear voice of His savior.  As he listened, he learned of the greatest consequence of all.  To God, Jonah’s worship was silent.  It echoed throughout his life, but little belonged to His Lord — in fact, one might question what or who Jonah truly worshipped.  And without Jonah’s complete surrender in worship to His Lord God, the grace that could be, would be forfeited.

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  But I, with a  song of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  Salvation comes from the Lord.  Jonah 2:8-9

Lord Jesus, I know your grace is sufficient . . . for even me!  You have reminded me to trust in you even when the waters get deep and rough (Isaiah 43:1-2).  You have assured me that you hear my thoughts and words (Micah 7:7).  You have encouraged me to not allow my heart to be troubled or to be afraid — because you have given me Peace (John 14:27).  May I sing the same song as Jonah!

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

Because You Know

“Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”  Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”  She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.”  Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.   I Samuel 16-18

The story of Hannah is quite crazy in sadness, heartbrokenness, a search for answers, anguish, grief . . . surrender, expression, faithfulness, trust, obedience, worship . . . great love, honor, answers, blessings,  peace and assurance.  It’s a story of rescue!

Hannah sought the answers to the many questions in life she faced from those around her and not once did she find a solution.  Isn’t it just like any one of us to search for the answers we long to find in others — friends, family and sometimes strangers.  But never will I find true peace in the midst of brokenness unless I seek the Prince of Peace.

Hannah fell to her knees in great despair . . . the Bible describes it as anguish and grief, two things that the wrath of true crisis brings upon anyone who experiences such pain.  It further describes her in prayer, in such deep grief, words were unable to leave her lips while her mouth continued to move.  The priest thought sure she was drunk — but no, she was declaring, expressing, worshipping in prayer the depth of her own heart, the brokenness of her own spirit to the One she knew could heal.

And in this moment of honesty, she then went on her way — in peace!  How could this be?  Not only on her way did she go, but she actually ate something!  In crisis, in true heartbrokenness, the appetite is so small.  This is evidence of her in essence saying — believing — “I have shared my heart with my Lord and He knows all things — my hurt, my longing, my desires, my brokenness — whatever comes of this will clearly be of Him because He knows!”

Wow!  Because HE knows!

Lord Jesus, may I have the courage to stand from my own knees and no longer worry, no longer allow my circumstances to bring my face downcast BECAUSE YOU KNOW!

Broken Bottles

. . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning it shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2

There are so many moments throughout life that I have wanted to bottle up and keep forever to enjoy over and over.  Moments like the birth of my first son and each of his siblings thereafter.  The moment I placed my hand on my bride’s back and felt those beads draping her stunning self.  The day I received the call for my first real job!  The second I finally made it atop a 13,000 foot mountain, on foot, and peered from the top of the world!  The day I watched my middle schooler cross the finish line in first place.  The day my youngest caught his first fish.  And the list goes on.  Bottles and bottles of joy!  Oh, that we could just bottle it all up and keep it, experience it, taste and see it over and over.

In some, metaphorical way, we actually do.  With photos we revisit those moments, but the joy is somewhat diluted.  And with understanding and with time, our eyes become less fixed on those moments and diverted to other joyous moments or moments calling for far less celebration.  Either through an alternative experience or a devastation, there comes a moment when bottles we’ve stored in our wine-cellar like hearts gets broken.  What in the world do I do when a precious and very dear bottle gets broken?

The scripture tells us that the joy I store up in those bottles is not the joy I am to fix my eyes upon.  So, when a bottle I’ve stored up gets broken, it is through the joy I find in Christ that heals that brokenness and allows me to continue to experience the joy in those bottles I feel is lost.

Circumstances in the “here and now” often distract me from the joy I find in my relationship with Christ.  And I often confuse the joy, or lack thereof, with the continuation of the joy found in my bottles.  That comparison is not fair to the Truth found in the joy so ever available through Christ Himself, who lives within me!

Fixing my eyes on that joy means keeping a focus on those things set before me.  It is not meant for just a moment, but for life because of who I am!  I do this not because of the satisfaction in the moment, but for the result set before me.  It is the encounter of the One who IS joy, who endured the most undeserved suffering for me on whom I can remain focused, because of the joy in Him through eternity.

I must focus on where I am going!  So many things are there to distract me like anxiety, depression, loneliness, separation, fatigue, unworthiness, discouragement.   But I then remember the Truth, that God has conquered all of these.  When I take life with Him in focus, I can see more clearly His love, His Truth, His hope, His patience, His joy, His peace.

So, I focus my thoughts on the character and promises of my Savior, all things change!  Life changes!  The joy in those broken bottles are experienced once again through His joy and the world looks different, through Christ in me, the Hope and Glory!

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.   I Thessalonians 2:19-20

by:  Mark Cruver

Fragrance of Faith

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  II Corinthians 2:14

For centuries, people have adorned themselves with fragrance to bring a sweetness to the air they breathe and a fresh and delightful aroma to their presence with others.  Not much has changed as our culture is no different.  A billion-dollar industry, perfume and cologne play an integral role in social awareness and relationship building.  Sometimes overused, it can throw a room of people in a tail-spin.  But when used in moderation, it can unite and welcome even the least known.

Yesterday I was having a conversation with a family member while getting ready to head over to a friends house.  Getting ready and going alone, I made a comment as I dashed some cologne on my wrist.  I felt it was a waste of some good cologne to use for such an occasion.  But upon reflection, I realized it was as much for me as it was for everyone else.  Today I smell nothing — good or bad (thank goodness!).  Why you may ponder?  Well, I didn’t dash the cologne.

In Christ, I possess a fragrance that need not be applied every day.  However, it is one through faith, I must choose.  I must meet each day smelling of the fragrance of His triumph!  It is a fragrance of faith and victory that gives strength and power unlike anything on earth.  But when the prince of the air deceives my heart with lies and wages war in my mind, the aroma of His triumph is stifled by the smell of garbage, if I believe it.

Consenting without a single protest is easy to do.  It comes at a great price, but often, like a fox, sneaks it’s way through.  But the battle that wages for my mind is not one that I am incapable of taking captive.  Then, and only then, can I take a step back and allow my Champion to win!  This requires a trust and belief that exercises my faith to a level that surpasses understanding at times.  It’s big, but it’s awesome!

So, with my everyday choices that come sometimes in triplicate, I stand to choose with what fragrance to meet each day.  I choose, this day, to surround myself with the cologne of Christ and become a fearless fighter and soldier.  Through this Christ can, and will fight for me and through me!  Amen!

. . . then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . .  Joshua 24:15

Are We There Yet?

It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.  Deuteronomy 1:2

Every parent can relate to that ride from home to somewhere that received the inevitable, “Are we there yet?” from the backseat.  Maybe one time would have been acceptable, but for some reason, this question echoes for hours until arrival.  Words that come to mind are patience, patience, patience.  But, because it compares greatly with running your nails across a chalkboard, the likely response is something like this . . . “We’ll get there when we get there!”

I can’t imagine how much of this Moses had to endure!  Forty years of wandering in the wilderness in pursuit of the Promised Land with millions of Israelites.  It was a journey that could have only taken eleven days.  Getting to the Promised Land took more than you or I would perhaps ever truly understand.  But one thing is for certain, it required  a focus, a direction, a compass that pointed and motivated them contrary to their circumstances.  It took a level of faith unlike anything they had ever encountered.  More importantly, it required of them a fix on God . . . and as their minds were no longer experiencing the faith of deliverance into the Promised Land they continued to wander.

Life can often find us circling this same mountain — especially in the midst of crisis, pain or hurt.  Healing and deliverance is desired quickly and all attempts are taken to make it so. But God’s time is so different.  He sees, answers and moves in ways so contrary to our understanding that we find ourselves buckled in the backseat asking over and over again . . . “Are we there yet?”  And from the front we don’t hear . . . “We’ll get there when we get there!”  Instead, we hear Daddy say, “No, we’re not quite there yet, but I can’t wait to show you what I have prepared for you!”

I just know in five minutes I’m gonna ask Him again!

Lord Jesus, I know I’m not there yet — but I can’t help but ask you over and over.  In the midst of my life I know I need to keep fixed upon you with my eyes, heart and mind on you at all times.  Maybe one day, I’ll stop asking if we’re there yet.  🙂  But for now, my faith is strengthened in knowing you are in control and that I’m resting in the knowledge of your sovereignty.  You never cease to be there all the time!

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.   Colossians 3:1-2

Press On Through The Gospel

I meet today at the front gates of the Gospel.  And as I enter, I pray . . .

This is a recent blog post from a pastor in Nashville, TN — Scotty Smith.  It can also be found at this link: 
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scottysmith/2013/04/25/a-prayer-for-examining-our-lives-through-the-lens-of-the-gospel/

A Prayer for Examining Our Lives through the Lens of the Gospel

     I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. (Phil. 3:12-15) For, to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21)

Dear Lord Jesus, praying through this passage moves me to praise you for freeing me from the “paralysis of analysis”—an unhealthy, navel-gazing preoccupation with me. Now, as I examine my life through the lens of the gospel, it’s your glory, not mine, that I’m most concerned about. I matter, but I’m simply not the point. It’s so refreshing to really believe that.

I don’t know how old Paul was when he was when he wrote these words—maybe in his sixties or seventies—but it’s obvious that with an increase in age came an increase in gospel astonishment. He never grew bored exploring the unsearchable riches of Jesus, and he never seemed to tire of wrestling with the kingdom implications of the gospel.

Jesus, make me more and more that kind of man. Give me this kind of maturity in the gospel. I’m thankful that it’s your grasp of me and not my grasp of you that defines this way of life. Sometimes I lift my hands in awe and gratitude for the way you love me. Sometimes I shake my fists at heaven like a pouting, demanding child. Sometimes I wring my hands in anxious unbelief, like a hapless orphan. But I live and I will die secure in your palms and written upon your heart.

I praise you that as with Paul, you’ve given me a prize to win, not a wage to earn. I never earned my way into a relationship with you, and I don’t maintain a relationship with you by my efforts either. I am secure and beloved, all because of your doing.

What do I want for the rest of my days? I cannot say it any better than Paul, Lord: I want to know you, Lord Jesus, more intimately than ever. This is the one thing I want more than anything else. And I want to experience more of the power of your resurrection, for I have no power in myself to love others as you love me. And  I want to enter more fully into the fellowship of sharing in your sufferings—living out the birth pangs of new-creation life in this broken world which groans for its release from the bondage to decay—a release that is sure to come (Rom. 8:18-25). Our labors in you are not in vain, Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11).

This is what I really want. Help me to have way done with lesser things, and be much more taken up with your beauty and kingdom will. So very Amen I pray, in your most glorious and grace-full name.

Getting Wronged By Rights

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”   Luke 15:31-32

Pride is a wonderful thing, don’t you think?  Not the kind of pride that comes through accomplishments or belief in another, but the kind that is filled with self-righteous arrogance and the lack of understanding who God is and the fact that you’re not Him.  No, not so wonderful . . . it inflates the flesh!

Do you think Adam or Eve dealt with pride?  We don’t read much in the way of life after the fall but for little snippets that shed a little light upon the groans of a broken world.   I would suspect that there was some pride during the time when Adam and Eve were banished from the garden.  The emotions, the attitudes, the lack of fellowship with God had to have been filled with moments of absolute grief and loss.  The only place they had ever known was the Garden of Eden and despite all that was made for their pleasure, none was truly theirs anymore.  Suddenly, the first family was without the amenities of sin-free existence.

I can only imagine a few conversations about how they couldn’t be treated like this . . . or how they shouldn’t be treated like this.  How too, I suspect, they both questioned why they were designed, created and given life.  After all, the serpent convinced them that they knew better than God — that their plan far outweighed God’s plan.  They were wronged by rights.

The sense of entitlement that both Adam and Eve likely felt is not unlike the rights we feel we have when something we think belongs to us is taken away.  Much like Adam and Eve, when we take our eyes off the Designer and focus on the measure of me and what I am going to gain, we immediately lose sight of the promises that come through the union of Grace and Truth.

One of my favorite authors, Bill Gillham, writes about it so well in his book Lifetime Guarantee.

Stop fighting it, brother.  Give up all your “rights”–all talents, all abilities, all gifts, all the things you’ve clung to to get your need met for self-acceptance.  You’ll love the results!  You will find “life” through allowing Him to express Himself through your talents, your abilities, your fights, and your personality to a hurting world to do His will.  That’s the way Jesus walked.  He let the Father do it through Him.  (p. 201)

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that I don’t have to think that what I feel is rightfully mine is being squandered.  But instead, I can know that what I have is everything because you live within me!

Safe in the Shadow

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.   Psalm 63:6-7

David was chosen by God, appointed by the prophet Samuel to be King.  As a shepherd, he trusted the helping hand of God to be his strength and refuge.  He protected his flock from the wild beast, killed lions with his bare hands and with a single stone brought down the most feared Philistine.  And yet, despite his faith in God, he made some terribly poor decisions.  Falling into temptation with a beautiful woman, wife of a soldier off at war whom later he would have killed.  With child, they marry and because of his sin, God takes this child.  Yet, in obedience, David and Bathsheba bear another, a son, the wisest, King Solomon.

Despite his sin — David was a man after God’s own heart!
Oh God, hear my cries today as I sit on my bed and remember you.
In the stillness of the morning I reflect on your beauty in all you touch.
From the depths of the ocean to the furthest star of which you’ve named.
In my sin, much has been taken from me, and I mourn the loss.
Through the night I dream of the death of what I called my life — and dream of you.
I pray forward, through my obedience, that you allow the birth of new life.
For now I rest in the shadow of your wings, near your breast or as you soar.
I sing, like the bird who sings after the storm.  She does because it swells from within.
Not because she’s hungry, not because she’s lonely, not because she’s grieving . . .
but because she knows she’s safe in the shadow of your wing and she sings praise!

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.  Proverbs 18:10