Waiting On The Last Man With An Empty Plate

There is something that happens to a grown man when they are sitting around the dinner table, waiting on their food and it never comes — or at least it takes forever.

You know the moment, when you’re out with a group of friends or family, everyone has ordered and the food finally arrives.  Except, the waiter gingerly explains that your meal is going to take a few more minutes.

Then, you realize, you’re the last man everyone is waiting on with an empty plate.

It happened to my nephew just a few days ago.  Everyone received their meal and he was just about to do the same when his plate, filled with food, slips off the tray and crashes to the floor.

It’s a horrible feeling to have to wait while everyone else enjoys their hot meal.  But as I sat there thinking about how he and many others have felt after being told their plate of food will take a few more minutes, I couldn’t help but think about how sometimes it’s because the cook is taking the time to make his food for no one else, but him!

Life is a lot like this.  We often overlook the special attention with the details.  Whether it’s with a plate of food and we are the last one to get it or in life and we think our fix will never come, we tend to feel slighted somehow when we are the last man everyone is waiting on and our plate is empty.

We wonder why everyone else has it so good and how they could be so rich.  But we forget our own story of uniqueness.  We forget that my life holds priceless ingredients to have made it so special, it truly is one-of-a-kind.

God works like that!  I’m so glad to wait on my plate — take your time, make it great!

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

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?

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

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

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

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!

Lifter of my Life

But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.  To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.   Psalm 3:3

Satan is a great suppressor.  He thrives in throwing the grappling hook of despair in our direction with the weight of self-pity, depression and everything negative tied to the other end.  And then, once that hook is set good, he gently and quietly slips it over the edge and with it plunges our countenance.

There’s no question that Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel from the very popular Ice Age movies is a long favorite of many.  His quest for the “acorn of life” is without doubt one of great persistence and commitment.  In the most recent of the movies, Scrat finds himself on a very small island with what appears to be a skeleton of his own kind.  And just off shore, to the depths of the ocean, he discovers through clues from his boney ancestor the acorn settled on the ocean floor.  Too far to swim, too deep to dive — he must find another way.  And with a boulder as his anchor, he holds on for dear life as it sinks, with a tight grip, to the resting place of the acorn.  And what appears to be his best idea yet to get this nut, turns into him only getting pulled down into deeper waters.  The deeper he sinks, the more powerful the pressure becomes.  Poor Scrat will never learn — but he sure can teach us a few things!

When we fix ourselves to the boulder of negativity and free fall over the edge, the weight of discouragement, despair and doubt destroy our mood.  And as we allow for these thoughts to captivate our minds we are no longer behaving with the mind of Christ.  Christ is our example here.  Christ, when all things appeared certainly negative, maintained a positive attitude.  He encountered personal attacks, betrayal and abandonment from his disciples when he needed them the most.  He was strongly misunderstood, misrepresented and deserted.  He was mocked and called a liar and left alone.  He had every reason to be negative — yet, he turned to the Lifter of his life.

Lord Jesus, you turned to the One who lifts the heads of those whose lives are struck with despair and doubt.  I know when I’ve experienced this it weighs so much it drives me to the floor.  Yet, somehow, this burden is light for you!  As though your finger touches the underside of my chin, much like a father does with his own child and you lift it to gaze upon your glory!  Oh my God — the Lifter of my head, the Lifter of my life!  You not only hear my cry . . . you lift me up!

Who is this King of glory?  The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.  Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is he, this King of glory?  The Lord Almighty–he is the King of glory.  Psalm 24:8-10