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?

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

Without Wings

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.  James 4:10

There are plenty of things crafted by the Master’s hand that goes counter to all things understood.  In many ways we would consider these things “exceptions” to whatever rule they seem to break.  For instance, the Platypus, an ostrich-headegg-laying mammal — seems a bit odd, don’t you think?  Let’s consider the Bat, a flying mammal — blind none-the-less — still a bit odd.  How about a Penguin?  A bird, that swims!  Speaking of birds, what’s up with the Ostrich?  A bird that has wings, but cannot fly!  Imagine if it could though — wow!

God is the only one that can get away with this kind of “exception-al” thinking or doing!  It truly demonstrates the mastery of His design.  When we try to apply some of these same exceptions to things created by human hands, it doesn’t quite run the same “exception-al” rules.  For instance, we don’t drive boats on the road, nor can we get a hot-air balloon to lift with water!  Perhaps more so, we have yet to create or design a plane that could fly without wings.  It just doesn’t happen.

But beyond all things tangible things, God also created a relationship that is truly “exception-al.”  It is built with love at it’s core, faith as it’s fuel and hope in it’s veins.  All of which assume their own “exception-al” design.  Further, God reminds us that in order to be more like Him we must humble ourselves before Him and man. Seems “exception-al” to me!!  In essence, He says, deflate your pride and I will make you soar on the wings of eagles!  What?

He has designed us without wings — yet, He has promised to lift us high if we are to humble ourselves.  That means making life all about Him and little about me!  That means saying, “I wanna do life Your way, not my way!”

Thank you Lord Jesus for doing an “exception-al” work in me!  You designed me to love the unlovable, to worship the God of the universe, to soar without wings, to taste and see!  Continue to show your immeasurable love to me each day as I learn more about dropping my pride to the curb!

by:  Mark Cruver

Always Abounding

“…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.      I Corinthians 15:57-58

Lebanon CedarThey are ridiculously impressive!  The cedar trees of Lebanon have a reputation of growing to unbelievable heights, stretching their branches to the heavens and to what seems beyond.  In order to sustain such a plant, their roots must grow deep, reach far and hold on in such a way so as to keep it firm and steadfast.  They, too, are immovable!

God speaks often of the cedars of Lebanon in His word, their far reaching branches (Psalm 80:11), tall and lofty (Isaiah 2:13), majestic in beauty (Ezekiel 31:7).  They are, by far, a symbol of God’s strength, power and holiness.

He then, calls us to be like that of cedar ourselves.  But not of ourselves – for that is impossible!  Rather, He calls us through His victory to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding.”  While these are true of the cedar, how could they also be so true of me?  If one can argue the steadfastness or immovability of the cedar, the one thing that remains undeniable is the cedar always abounding in it’s majesty!

I am personally struck by the word “always.”  Not once does the mighty cedar of Lebanon abound no more!  It abounds . . . always . . . because of who or better, what it is!  Likewise, I, too, am able to abound always because of who I am, abounding in the work of the Lord!

Lord Jesus, the prevailing winds often blow hard and topple many trees, but the strength and resilience of the cedar of Lebanon keeps it upright!  May I remember the roots of my own spirit drive deep into the Rock and despite the battering of life, You, oh Lord, sustain me!

by:  Mark Cruver

Circle of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

by:  Mark Cruver

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

Apple Of Your Eye

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings . . .   Psalm 17:8

I’ve spent some time thinking about what it means to be the apple of someone’s eye.  Having an apple in one’s eye is a little bizarre and interesting at best.  But we’ve used that phrase to describe the worth someone has to us as an individual, placing them in very high regard.  So when David writes in prayer to God, “keep me as the apple of your eye” it affirms the immense worth and value to him by God.

David understood who he was and there was no question he understood the truth about what God thought of him.  Likewise, God thinks the same about us all!  We are accustomed to say — in fact, I am guilty of praying this just yesterday — how grateful I am that you (God) love me so much in spite of all of my junk.  My junk equates me with my raggedness but it is important to understand, know and believe — especially never to confuse — that my raggedness does not make me worthless!  It does not define me!

It’s been explained that seeing the image of myself in the eye of the another person requires a closeness most find uncomfortable.  But when I apply this imagery to my relationship with God, it means that I can see myself reflected in the gaze of my Father!  I am the apple of God’s eye!

God sees me with absolute clarity!  From deep within, He sees and knows my junk — yours too!  But this is not ALL He sees!  Often it is all WE see of ourselves or all WE see of others.  But God sees deeply and broadly — from the inside out.  He sees potential, intent, ability — what will be, what has been and knows intricately what or who we will one day become.

As I continue to walk in His footsteps, walk in His Spirit, He calls to the surface from within, the goodness, greatness and beauty of Himself that only He can see in me so that one day it will become visible to all.

Lord Jesus, it is difficult standing so close to you that I can see my own reflection in the pupil of your eye.  It makes me shiver at some level.  But I know that you gaze upon me with immense worthiness and love.  It is undeniably rich!  May I live each day remembering that I am the apple of your eye and that though you know my junk, you know more who one day I will become!  The work you started, may you continue to make complete!

by: Mark Cruver

inspired by: John Ortberg’s Love Beyond Reason

Heart That Thirsts

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?   Psalm 42:1-2

It wasn’t but a couple of summers ago that water in our neck-of-the-woods was at a premium.  The hot days came early in the year and seemed to stick around for most of the season.  I could have sworn the earth swung a little closer to the sun that year!  It was difficult on many.  The grass and wildlife suffered, the homeless and elderly were especially vulnerable and life, in general, was spent more so indoors than out.  It was parched!  Water restrictions were placed on just about everything as the local reservoirs reached an all-time dangerous low.  Would it ever rain again?  Those who could . . . and dared, watered their lawns to save their investment.  But no amount of water seemed to revive the crispy lawns . . . nothing like a good rain does for certain!

This year is a bit different.  Actually, it’s over 20 inches above different!!  Things that never turned green are twice as tall, more full and I think, when no one looks, the trees and plants actually spit out the excess water!  Lawns are being mowed every few days just to keep up with the growth.  The liquid “manna” from heaven brings rich nourishment to the land!

The earth cries out much like my own heart cries out.  When I choose to do life separate from Christ, the land in which my heart is rooted becomes brown and dry.  It longs for nourishment and searches for sources that offer something to satisfy.  These false sources of satisfaction come at a great price.  My heart will not grow, will not flourish, will not blossom — it’s fruit will not be that of grace, but will hunt to be filled.  David warns us with how the heart works . . . “guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  But with every other source, the thirst for what truly satisfies becomes stronger. And when satisfied with things other than Christ Jesus, that which flows from the heart represents a barren soul.

But when the heart finds and drinks from the fountain of Christ, the well that never dries, it flows with much fruit . . . the fruit of grace!

Thank you Lord Jesus for the quenching of my soul through the streams of living water that flows from you and you alone!  May I graze upon your grace and drink from your brook — all day long!

by:  Mark Cruver

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