Sunday, April 1, 2018

Very Important Things

A flood of "very important things" comes at us every day, every hour, every minute. Some of them are truly important, if not urgent. Some of them are masquerading as important and they just want to get our attention - or perhaps divert it - from something that actually matters. That's what I'm thinking about on this Easter Morning, 2018. Three things I heard, read and thought today converged in my heart and mind to bring me back to a center of importance.

In 1 Corinthians 15, verse 3 (ESV), Paul emphasizes the importance of this particular section of his letter by saying, "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" and then goes on to talk about the importance of the Resurrection of Jesus. I heard this today as part of an Easter message. It set me off taking notes and considering a couple other things that came across my desk and mind today.

Paul is emphasizing the idea that this concept of Christ's resurrection is absolutely central to the Gospel. Everything leads up to that singular event. It kicked down the door set on the two hinges of incarnation and crucifixion and forever changed the "rules". This concept equates Christ's death to the scriptural requirement for atonement under the Law. Yet it goes far beyond that temporal sacrifice that wouldn't last. It provides a permanent solution to the age old problem of persistent sin and death. It provides a completed substitutionary  propitiation - a replacement of my life for that of Jesus. Paul basically "doubles down" on this statement in verse 14 where he pens a contrary statement that if the resurrection didn't happen, then all of life is vain (Solomon's chasing of the wind).

John Eldridge, in his book All Things New tells us that "Jesus Christ is the forerunner for the Great Renewal, “the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18). He died, as everyone has and will. But on the third day he was raised to life, leaving his grave clothes folded neatly in the tomb. (A very touching detail, I might add, as if to say, “And that’s that,” like a man putting away his flannel pajamas now that winter is past.) Easter morning Jesus walked out of the grave radiantly alive, restored, and everyone recognized him. The “new” Jesus is not someone or something else now; he is the Jesus they loved and knew. He walks with them, had meals with them—just like before. The most striking thing about the post-resurrection activities of Jesus is that they were so remarkably ordinary." I think that rather succinctly describes the one who the late Brennan Manning referred to so often as "Easter Man".

My Crooked Path means something more than a life lived well to me because I walk it beside the Easter Man, my Divine Brother Jesus. On a bright Easter morning, that ought to put a smile on my face in a very genuine way. The Resurrection ushers in the assurance of the Great Renewal. Easter Man, the ultimate "super hero" blew the doors off Death once and for all. 

The traditional French Easter greeting, "L'amour de Dieu est folie!" rings true. That Love of God which looks like "folly" to those who choose not to believe looks like life to me. I can live with that ... I truly can.

He is Risen Indeed!!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Tale of Two Conch Shells

These two conch shells come to be courtesy of a friend. They arrived in my friends possession via some rather unusual circumstances that I'd like to share with you. The one on the left was an answer to a desperate cry. The other was a spontaneous response accompanied by what must have been a laugh. Here's the Tale of Two Conch Shells.

My friend grew up knowing God had placed a call, you might say a deep yearning, for service. When the time came, my friend answered the call and was met with some life circumstances that would have crushed many of us. During the long journey back from those rather dark times, my friend was walking along a beach reflecting on life and asked our Father to provide a conch shell as a symbol that he was listening and knew the depth of my friend's pain.

Conch shells along the Atlantic coast do show up, but they are very often chipped and broken ... much like my friend felt at the darkest times. Coming across a perfectly formed one still in tact "in the wild" is a rare thing, especially one the size of that in the picture above. Yet our Father heard this deep, groaning for a simple but very special gift and you can see the results - one perfect conch shell.

My friend's life has taken many twists and turns to this point, but the latest adventure starts with six weeks helping out others on the other side of the Atlantic from where the first shell was given. That brings us to the second shell. It was recently acquired thousands of miles away from a man who had a bag full of them. My friend selected the one on right and, in that very moment, heard the Father laugh with delight to bring things full circle.

We all have our tales of "two conch shells" and the journeys that lead us to encounter them. Too often, we are in such deep pain or so self-absorbed that we don't look for those little miracles that our Father loves to place in our paths. We miss the miracle of the ordinary which, in cases like my friends, has very extraordinary results. We miss it because we don't look for it, we don't have time for it, and we often don't believe it exists. Yet it does! The proof is in the picture above.

The Crooked Path winds through life's ups and downs in a unique way for each of us. As you travel your own version, don't forget that you have a Father who delights in you. Ask him for a "perfect conch shell" and see what he provides. He is the Giver of all good gifts like my friend's two conch shells. Then see how he takes that simple beauty and multiplies it to lift you up and so you can help point others to him.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Never Forsaken

You can probably just make them out in the center of the picture.  That bit of yellow is a tiny beak and there are three more in that nest.  They are nestled in the middle of one of our flourishing rose bushes at the back of the house.  My wife found them the other day while she was doing some pruning to clip off what the dreaded Japanese Beetles had devoured.  And, as she cut away stems, she uncovered four beaks open and arching toward the sound she made, thinking they were going to get fed.

I've been out to check on them a few times.  I have no idea what kind of bird they are.  I saw the mother bird as she flitted away and perched on a nearby fence.  I had seen her before and thought she was a Killdeer ... but they lay their eggs on the ground.  It may have curtailed the pruning on that bush (Sharon put back some of the clippings to give them a little cover), but it also made me think about a principal that I often take for granted.

Had the trimming gone a little further, there could have easily been contact with the nest or even the baby birds.  Even though there were gloves involved, that contact could have altered the situation to the point where the mother, dutiful as she might be, would forsake the nest and I, at some point, would have to remove it all with the lifeless forms still there in their pin feathers.  Happily, that isn't the case as the mother has been spotted numerous times and we'll now leave it alone (except for a few more pictures and careful observation).  That's the way nature works ... birds will forsake a nest regardless of the work they put into it and the fact that the baby birds are their own offspring.  Contact leads to contamination and that results in abandonment.

God, on the other hand, has given us a promise to never leave us or forsake us.  And he makes this promise unilaterally without any regard for whatever might come in contact with us and attempt to "contaminate" our lives.  His Fatherhood and Love know no boundaries in their pursuit of us.  Our nest will never be abandoned ... we have his word on that.  So when I consider the birds in my yard (who will only be there for a couple weeks) and how they might have been orphaned and met an untimely end, I can also consider that God is completely faithful to his promise and I will never meet the same fate.  I will never be forsaken.

The Crooked Path is unpredictable as it winds through life.  I often have no idea what I will come in contact with or what will come in contact with me.  But I don't ever need to worry that my Father will leave me to my own devices.  He has promised to be right there, even in the darkest point of the journey.  He has promised I will never be forsaken.  Never.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Justice and Punishment

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  (John 8:10-11, ESV)

I had a somewhat odd thought the other day (not uncommon if you know me at all).  I was thinking of an old Sunday School song and it struck me how theologically incorrect I now find it to be.  The words are simple and harmless enough and, perhaps, you feel like I'm reading too much into it.  But I distinctly hear something in the tone of "Oh Be Careful Little ..." where the refrain tells us about God looking down to say it is in love, but in reality it's a warning that he is looking down and ready to zap us with punishment if our little hands (or feet or ears or whatever) don't straighten up and fly right.  That, my friends, is a message of punishment - the same root word as punitive.  And it couldn't be farther from the truth about God's Justice through Christ.

In my recent studies from Tim Keller's "Encounters with Jesus", I've been reading the chapter he titled "Two Advocates".  The whole book has been a great read, but something in this chapter stuck out even more.  We're fairly used to calling the Holy Spirit an Advocate, but Jesus tells his disciples he is sending another Advocate.  This means that Jesus is the First Advocate and has a distinctly different role for us as he fulfills that duty.

Advocate is a legal term telling us we have clear and authoritative representation.  Our Advocate (the First one, Jesus) sits beside the Father and represents us and our case.  As he does this, he isn't begging for Mercy at all - rather he is claiming Justice.  He can rightly do that because the Law has been fulfilled (Keller points out that the Law is now actually on our side of the scales rather than against us).  As such, we cannot be found guilty and no punishment can be exacted, for that would mean our crimes were paid for twice.  Justice was fulfilled completely and is no longer in question.

That's why I love the passage I noted earlier.  The woman is given Mercy because Justice will be fulfilled by the very one who stands in front of her.  No further punishment will be required - EVER!  And, as a result, he exhorts her to live a life worthy of that gift and know her future is secure.

The Crooked Path is full of twists and turns, rises and ruts, monotony and surprises.  But it is also paved with Justice done once for all time ... and the very thought of punishment ought never to enter my mind as I travel.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cue Sunrise and Resurrection

Rise again, yes, you will rise again,
My dust, after brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He, who called you, grant you.

To bloom again, you were sown!
The Lord of the Harvest goes
And gathers like sheaves,
Us, who died.

O believe, my heart, believe:
Nothing will be lost to you!
Yours, yes, yours is what you longed for,
Yours what you loved,
What you fought for!

Gustav Mahler (Symphony 2 – Resurrection)

I ran across a blog post by someone I’d never met, nor had I read his work.  The link came to me via a friend and, after reading what John Pletcher wrote in reaction to seeing “Beauty and the Beast” I was prompted to write about our Great Hope.  Given we are past the mid-point in Lent, I thought it was appropriate.  I won’t be able to link this out on my own social networks until after Easter, but I wanted to write while the thoughts were still fresh in my mind.  Thank you, John, for the e-mail exchange and encouragement.

The poem above represents the sum total of choral lyrics for Mahler’s 2nd Symphony.  I had the privilege of participating once and the memory has stuck with me.  I won’t comment or cast any suspicions on Mahler’s intent, but I will say his words and the timing during the symphony provide a truly dynamic experience.  You see, the choir sits silent on stage for about the first 100 minutes (no intermission for the piece).  Then, in very low tones, and usually in German, the lyrics resonate the with the sheer anticipation of a resurrection.  As I read John Pletcher’s piece, recalled the Mahler and reflected on the book I’m teaching from (Keller’s “Encounters with Jesus”), the hope of resurrection swelled within me.

It truly is a “tale as old as time” … in fact, The Story pre-dates time.  It’s an eternal theme that culminates in resurrection and a complete restoration (at least, that’s how I read the end of Revelation).  We are invited to be swept up in the words of the Rabbi who tells Martha and Mary, “I AM the Resurrection”.  This is what he demonstrates to Mary Magdalene when he gently speaks her name, inviting her to believe that he has indeed resurrected.  And it’s all juxtaposed against the crucial angst he felt as he, quite literally, begged the Father to find another way.

Yet, and if the Lenten season reminds us of nothing else it should remind us of this, he completed what we could not do for ourselves.  He resurrected so that we can have a part in the resurrection ourselves.  We can’t earn it or finagle it in any way.  We bring zero – we’re completely dead.  He breathes Life into us so we can sing, as we travel the Crooked Path, “Rise again, yes, rise again!”  That’s where the path is leading for all those who will but travel it willingly.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Life Matters

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly.  But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:10-11, NLT)

I’ve been writing this particular post in my head for quite some time and decided I should finally assemble and post it.  The final thoughts started to come together about a month ago when I listened to a message that referenced Jonah’s story.  It’s one that has kind of fascinated me, especially once I got past the flannelgraph version.  

The scene is on a hill overlooking Nineveh.  Jonah has finally done what he’s been asked to do, yet his heart obviously wasn’t in the job.  Or, more accurately, he didn’t have God’s heart for people or the value of life.  He’s mad that God didn’t go nuclear on the city and God confronts him regarding the value of the lives of those people – and the value of life.  Jonah, you see, is quite the bigot and thinks that only the privileged and chosen should be redeemed.  Everyone else can, quite literally, go to hell in a handbasket.

So, amidst the continuous barrage of “fill-in-the-blank lives matter” I started thinking about the whole concept.  I think at the heart of the problem is a human condition that, much like Jonah, fails to recognize that life (not just lives) matters.  Everything else is an extension of that and so, when I don’t value the life in someone else – regardless of their color or creed or whatever – I fail to see life the way God looks at it.  If I really believe he is the Creator and that all human life bears his Image, it ought to make me act and react differently to others.  It ought to help me curb my anger and indifference and realize that, much like those lives in Nineveh, there are people out there who don’t know up from down, left from right or evil from good.  And the LIFE in those people bears the Image of the Almighty.

The Crooked Path is a journey and I will have the opportunity to influence and lift up many people.  Some of them will be the most disenfranchised and dejected people I’ve ever met, and to them I need to pay extra special attention.  It may be that God has placed me there because of the great value he sees in their life and has given me the grand opportunity to help them see their Creator, perhaps for the first time.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Simplicity and Wonder Beyond Comprehension

Over two-thousand years have come and gone.  The world changes, yet it remains very much the same.  Man searches for something he can own and master, something he can lay claim to as his own.  Yet for all our seeking and scheming, we find ourselves poor and often slaves to what we thought would bring us satisfaction.  We invent complexity thinking it will bring about change, but it only breeds more complexity and the same frustration.

Simplicity - the kind that brings us to our knees in reverent wonder beyond what we can begin to comprehend - that's what can satisfy.  It comes to us quietly, gently - much like that Baby did so long ago.  Into a world full of struggle, war and unrest, Emmanuel becomes God with us in the most tangible way.  We struggle with it because it seems, well, too simple.  It doesn't fit our model of how things should work.  But it fits the Father's model of how he Loves us ... and that's all that matters.

Imaging young Mary, humming softly to Jesus in the dark, dank cave stall.  Carved out from the noise and bustle of Bethlehem at tax time, she sits quietly, holding and comforting a newborn.  Joseph chats with the shepherds and the tale about angels is told over and over.  But back behind some feed sacks, hung as a makeshift nursery, Mary tends to the Child.  The Promise of God come in ultimate simplicity and yet with wonder beyond comprehension.

From the heart of my Crooked Path to all who read this, I offer this musical gift.  I think it represents the simplicity Mary so readily embraced and I pray all of us will do the same.