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

Like Yesterday’s Ragdoll

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

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

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

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

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

John Ortberg wrote in his book Love Beyond Reason:

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

by: Mark Cruver

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

Taking Position

‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s.  . . . You will not have to fight this battle.  Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’   II Chronicles 20:15, 17

Busyness and a burdened life will drag on your walk with Christ like an anchor in the shallows.  These things remove our focus from our Savior and creates an atmosphere of worry, anxiety and wonder.  We stand in our daily battle, “not against flesh and blood,” and merely survive.  But in our survival we lose sight of the cross in all things.  Oh, no doubt that we acknowledge the presence and purpose of the cross, the presence and purpose of our Savior in fact, but we tend to discount the call to complete surrender.

There was no question from David that the God of Abraham, which is our God, was present and the essence of life to the shepherd boy.  He was, in fact, so much united with God that when faced with a battle against a giant Philistine, he never questioned the outcome.  Worry over victory, anxiety over opposition, wonder of consequences never crossed his mind.  But the confidence in the One whom he served, trusted and obeyed was the capstone of strength that gave him the ability to worship and praise in reverential fear.

Lord Jesus, my days feel busy, burdened and otherwise overwhelming.  I need to pull up anchor and rest more in your peace and trust more in you than I do with my life.  Speak to me in the areas of needed change.  I am taking my position and standing firm to see the deliverance you have for me.  Thank you Lord for never leaving my side — ever!

‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’   John 14:27

Carrying Glory

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  “Be holy, because I am holy.”  I Peter 1:13-16

My story includes countless moments when I’ve lost sight of God’s purpose in me.  I’ve set my mind to things and made choices that have altered the plan God set in motion.  Pride is not something that comes to mind when I reflect on those days.  But even so, it’s still God’s plan and He is still in control.

I’ve now heard, on two separate occasions — back to back, the story of Sampson.  I do not believe in coincidence — knowing full well, God has something for me to learn from this man.  It’s funny in that I recall a few months ago, while thinking through a number of old testament characters, that I didn’t know much about Sampson — except of his strength.  But now that has changed.

A man of great strength indeed, but more importantly, a man with God’s purpose imprinted on him from birth.  Informed by an angel from God, his mother was told of Sampson’s purpose:  to follow God in three ways, to one day freeing the people of Israel.  Sampson was to consume no alcohol — to stay pure on the inside.  Sampson was to never cut his hair — to be recognizably different, set apart.  Sampson was to never touch anything dead — to exercise obedience and self-control.

Sampson was given a great responsibility by God, like none other.  He was chosen to be the one that would free the Israelites from the Philistines.  He had a special purpose.  But he often mocked this and wasn’t willing to carry God’s glory.  All about himself, he lost sight of his purpose.  And with that, he lost his strength — he lost everything, including his own eyes.

But God, because of His unending abundance of grace and mercy, listened to Sampson’s voice in his final hours.  And God restored His strength, freeing the Israelites and fulfilling His purpose.

God wants me to carry His glory every day.  By guarding my mind and keeping my heart pure on the inside.  By becoming noticeably different to others and living a life that is set-apart.  By choosing each day whom I will serve through obedience and self-control.

Lord Jesus, I’m gonna be honest and say that carrying your glory seems like a lot to carry.  In fact, the devil wants me to think I can’t carry it at all — that it’s too much to measure up to.  But I know that your word says your yoke is easy and your burden is light!  My purpose is to be holy!  It’s a good thing it’s not tied to feeling because I’m not feeling very holy.  But your Truth is clear, I am holy because of Christ in me!  Continue to guard my mind and heart, protect me from the lies of the things I see as I continue to be who I am!  May my actions, responses and behavior reflect that of a child of the King! And may your Helper, the Holy Spirit, nudge my spirit and extend the strength I need to be obedient to you in all things.

Finally, brothers [Glory Carriers], 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.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:8-9

False Motives

But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.   Philippians 1:18

Boy, am I guilty tonight!  Guilty for never having seen this before!  I have read the book of Philippians what must be a thousand times (o.k. maybe not a thousand, but more than any other book in the Bible for sure).  And tonight before going to bed, I began my 1,001st journey through this book.  I couldn’t wait to share what popped off the pages.

Setting the stage, here’s Paul in prison.  Uncertain of what is to come, wrestling in his heart and mind of the value of continuing to live on this earth versus the gain obtained by dieing and being with Jesus.  I must admit — a worthy consideration.  But, as have I, Paul had decided that much joy was to be brought to the people through his ministry and for that reason he rejoiced in living.

Noble as it may be, his words in describing the spread of God’s word due to his being in chains invoked a sense of frustration to many.  But Paul did not seem overly concerned by the preaching taking place by others out of “envy and rivalry” — clearly with false motives.  When I came to this verse I suddenly paused.  Backed up a few verses and tried it again.  As I came up on these verses a second, and even a third time, I slowed down like I had just bogged my truck into deep mud.  It didn’t translate in my mind quite right and I wasn’t going to allow it to just run off my back.

How could Paul not be concerned with the spread of the Gospel by those who were preaching with selfish ambitions?  Knowing that the heart of man who spoke these words was filled with envy and rivalry . . . how was that ok?  And as I layed here and thought and allowed the Spirit to shed some light on me a few things came to mind . . .

God is God isn’t He?  God used Paul, God used David, God used Cain, God used Judas, God used Peter, God used the harlot, God used the leper, God used the dead, God used the broken, God used the lame, God used the blind, God used a Jew who slopped with pigs, God used a murderer on the cross next to Him . . . God is using YOU and God is using ME to be an ambassador of the Gospel . . . and it’s ok!

Listen, I never do anything out of envy, rivalry and never have false motives, right?  No way Hosea! (Sorry if your name is Hosea, there’s no connection!)

But that’s just it!  Even in our weakness He IS STRONG!!!

My God, forgive me for my false motives, envy and the list from here is perhaps far too long.  In my weakness Lord BE my strength!  I know that your Gospel can be carried by the most disgusting and least of any you should choose and it will still be the same Gospel given by the clean shaven!  You are the same today, yesterday and forever and your name is above every name!!

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.   II Corinthians 12:9

Unlikely Love (pt. 2)

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.  The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.      Isaiah 35:1-2

While Satan may be considered the most unlikely to show love, Jesus was, perhaps the most unnoticed, therefore unlikely, to be Love.

Imagine, the God of the universe arriving on the scene as Son of Man.  This is perhaps the most unexpected, undeniable and unnoticed expression of love ever known.  The God, who was, and is, and is to come came as all of us come to this world — through birth.  Thankfully, we don’t remember much of this experience personally, but as adults we become increasingly more aware of what it entails.  While it brings joyfulness, it involves much pain and discomfort.  Wouldn’t it had been easier if God had come as a man?  Stepping from among the forest in the heat of the midday sun to feed the hungry and quench the thirst of the parched?  Where’s the love in that?

Instead, Christ came as a baby in the most lowly of places — a manger.  Here’s God, the Son of God becoming the Son of Man.  Here’s God, the Creator of all things — sun, moon and stars in part — confined to the needs of a baby, in all humanity.

Christ the Son needed God the Father, and through His bones, through His emotions, through His feelings, through His hunger and thirst, through His grieving, through His sadness, through His sorrow, through His joy, all the glory and love of God lived.

Then, in the biggest exchange of life of all time, as though His birth and life were not enough, His love is demonstrated in His death and resurrection.  A true moment of selflessness and compassion for all mankind, so all could have fellowship with Him and be with Him in paradise.

Heaven on earth, a rather unlikely place to find it.  But Christ by way of His birth, His life, His death and resurrection allows me to live heaven on earth.  Not because of anything I have done, but rather because of everything He has done.  In me IS Christ and through Him I live so that His glory can be.

Unnoticed, unexpected . . . very unlikely, pure LOVE!

Thank you Lord Jesus for making it possible to abide in you all day and every day of my life.  I’m sad to think of how much I have placed you in a box and on a shelf in my life, may it no longer be.  Regardless of the pains in life I experience of which you are all too familiar, may I always know and believe that in your abiding love there is joy unspeakable and full glory!

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.   I John 4:7-10

Unlikely Love (pt. 1)

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  I Corinthians 11:14

The masquerade ball . . . a dance of mystery mixed with curiosity and intrigue.  The chance to be and to meet someone through dazzling masks and suave expressions of love.  It so easily entices the senses and persuades the mind to the pursuit.  Yet, beneath the distraction lies a heart that appears to be love.

Paul, too, was concerned about this dance of deception.  His cry to the Corinthians in his letter was because of the false teachings of Jesus by others.  He reminded them of his intent to introduce them, as a bride of purity to Christ.  But, through listening to the voices of others preaching falsely about Christ, Paul calls a spade a spade by outing the deception of Satan through their being “led astray from [their] sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

How easily we become entangled in the web of deception.  When Satan’s minions, his servants, masquerade themselves as servants of righteousness we fall for the most unlikely love.  The masquerade that so deceives our mind, deceives our hearts.  It’s not love at all!

Since the dawn of time, Satan has had a vengeance against the One who banished him from the heavens.  His mission is to destroy Christ and all He represents.  His battle is not against man, I am but no trouble to him.  Unless, however, Christ, who is my life, reigns in and through me!  That changes things!

This battle that rages though, is not to be fought by me — I’ll never win — but Christ, who lives in me fights on my behalf!  It’s allowing Christ to be Christ in me, through me — Christ my life!

And, yet, Christ who IS love, is quite the unlikely love when he arrived on scene as a baby to the dance of life . . . unnoticed.

Lord Jesus, I know that Satan is the great deceiver!  I know too, that you have every battle I face.  When I stray, and I will, remind me of your light, the True light.  Reveal in my mind and my heart the most unlikely love Satan portrays for me through his lies and remind me of the Love you ARE!

The Abnormal Norm

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.  Proverbs 14:12

This morning I experienced a strong feeling of sadness.  While driving and thinking on the circumstance I couldn’t help but think also of the immense sadness God the Father must experience as He observes the abnormality of the world.

This place, once created and reserved for pure love, absolute peace, utter joy and full fellowship with the Father has, like silver exposed to the air, tarnished with sin.  Life has been set into motion and decay has become the norm.  Right?  After all, death is imminent.  For me, it’s all I’ve known and because I’ve refused to see the forest for the trees, I’ve accepted abnormal for today’s norm.  The entire gauge of what should be was reset and my heart, over time, drifted so far from the Father I replaced in my mind abnormal for normal.

But God’s intent was never for us to live as dysfunctional children within a dysfunctional world.  His plan all along was pure fellowship with Him in the healthiest of gardens where God walked among the ferns.  And that blasted snake ruined everything!  But just when he thought he got the upper-hand and continued to destroy all that God created, God did something so abnormal no one even noticed!  He came to earth!

God Himself in full perfection-sinless, became abnormal — abnormally abnormal.  And on that tender, sad, yet victorious day, Jesus said it was finished.  Jesus became The abnormal norm.  The consequences of sin continue to play out in the lives of those who choose to follow anything contrary to Christ, but Jesus paid the price and created a new place to dwell, in full fellowship by becoming my life!  And while the world measures abnormal against its standards, God measures my normal by Who lives in and through me!

Lord Jesus, today I’m sad for many reasons, but in the midst of this I am filled with joy that comes from knowing that the lies of the world are not what you use to measure what is normal!  May my life reflect a normal that the world sees as abnormal because the world does not know you like I know you!  Let those who do not understand why I serve you the way I serve you see in me a full measure of you.  I know that Anything + Me = a Mess!  And I know that Everything – You = Nothing . . . which means,  You + Nothing = EVERYTHING!

God saw all that he had made and it was very good.  Genesis 1:31