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.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Unscheduled Appointments

I'm remembering an unscheduled appointment that changed my life pretty dramatically.  Thirty years ago on October 25, right around 2:15, events started in motion that I still remember so vividly even now.  It started with a rather frantic phone call from someone looking to find my mother.  Very shortly after that, Mom called and said, very simply and plainly, "He's gone."  With those words, I learned my Dad had slipped beyond the boundaries of Earth and joined the ranks of Heaven.  I think about his passing every year, but this being thirty years from the day he died, it's kind of an "anniversary milestone".

And it got me thinking about appointments.  They are the result of planning, for the most part.  Some are more meticulous than others when they set and track appointments.  Some make them and then completely forget about them until they get a reminder message (or are late).  They come in all types, some that I make and some that others make for me.  But they share a common trait ... they are planned interruptions asking me to focus on something specific.

But then there are the unscheduled appointments.  The "curves" life throws at us with little or no warning.  Maybe they are pleasant surprises (the party my wife threw for me on October 24th thirty years ago certainly was) or perhaps they force us to make decisions we'd rather skip or at least put off.  The only constant, from my perspective, is that they happen ... and they happen to all of us.

That's part of life on the Crooked Path.  It isn't that old straight and narrow one from the Sunday School lesson.  It's a winding path full of rises and valleys.  It forces us to trust in our Divine Brother as guide when we can't see what is around the next bend.  It's a journey of faith and experience and it's really more enjoyable when we can't plan every step.  It's a wild adventure where our Father invites us to follow and trust, even though the unscheduled appointments break our hearts.  It isn't easy; it is messy; and it's definitely worth it - scheduled or not.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

That's Not Your Name

That's not your name!
The name and identity you see as looming over you is false. It's a lie from the enemy. That's what Communion is telling you. That's why we are commanded to do it in remembrance of what Jesus did. He gave us a true identity in himself and a new name - beloved child!

Each time we come to the Lord's Table we have the opportunity to learn again who we are and where The Story is taking us. We are anticipated in a future that calls to us across time and space. And we are invited to live now under our new identity with full anticipation of what is still to come.

We would do well to study the story from John 8 about the woman the Pharisees threw into the middle of the Master's teaching session. They called her by one name while he used a different one. They named her Caught Red Handed Adulteress. He called her Uncondemned Daughter.

When he told her what her real name was he called her to live a life in the fullness of who she was in God's Reverse Economy. He freed her to live in a way she never imagined possible. And when you combine that with all the other promises made you know she is not alone in this effort.

Yet the lie has been perpetuated for centuries ... even longer.  The very religious among us would seek to drag us back down and make us grovel and beg for the forgiveness that is already there.  They would gloss over the core concept that everyone - our enemies included - are named "God's Image Bearers".  They use the false names to divide when the call of the Master is to unite instead.  The call to live in the grace and freedom intended - the way it was planned all along.

That call extends to all of us. We're given the opportunity to refocus and re-center on what really matters ... on who we really are. That's a gift we should never take lightly or overlook. It's a chance to pause along the Crooked Path and remember the call of our Master to join him in the journey as brother and sister, knowing where it leads with great confidence.


And if you look at your travel papers, they have your new name on them. That lie of an old name is nowhere to be found! 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

God's Reverse Economy

Image result for pictures of economy

During my recent study of Bob Goff’s “Love Does”, I became familiar with a phrase he used very often – God’s Reverse Economy.  It seems to stick with me and continues to give me a different perspective on my life and what I see around me.  When I combined those thoughts with some messages my own pastor brought over the past few weeks, I was challenged to write this Crooked Path post.

In God’s Reverse Economy, it isn't about what we think are the "right" things. Important or not they are at best secondary to being with the Teacher.  We're not students as much as we are apprentices. Yet it goes beyond that. We are looking to learn how to live LIFE.  We are to be cultural insiders looking for opportunities to engage as the Body of Christ.  And, in the end, Love does what it should and must do.

The Reverse Economy isn't just what we do it becomes who we are. We assume Jesus's identity as our own and live that way.  The Eternal Godhead creates us in His Image not out of boredom or loneliness or some other misguided reason. He does it as an intentional expression of Himself in every way and then invites us to embrace Him and His passion and compassion for a Creation that walked away.

In God's Reverse Economy we willingly give up all we think is valuable to invest in what we can never "own" in any other way.  When we come to that perspective and embrace it as our own, we participate in the Redemption that cost Him everything of true value.

We are made for a purpose. There is an answer to the question of "Why am I here?" and it doesn't look like what we think it does. In fact, it is far simpler than any of that. God's nature and His Law is designed to draw us to Him in a constant manner. It is an enabling thing that gives us Jesus' perspective and Life so we avoid Death and its associated burden and dead end.  In this way, only the Reverse Economy ever produces lasting value and worth.  

This means living in a state of community, not isolation.  When we reject the true community God offers, we create our own economy that will always fail. It may even look prosperous briefly but that fades and we're left with empty hands and a bankrupt soul.  What this means for us is obedience. That's not a complicated thing, but it is hard. It willingly walks away from the false and temporal nature of our economy and submits to God's Reverse Economy. It grows in faith and trust that Father God is there at the head of the Crooked Path and our Divine Brother Jesus walks with us. And even when it looks and feels contrary to our "natural instincts" we still trust and obey. 

Again - not a complicated thing … just a hard thing for us to do.  It looks and sounds like foolishness. It is always disruptive to the presumed status quo.  That’s why it is a Reverse Economy and can be nothing else.

As I ponder all this on the Crooked Path, I’m reminded of the story we read in John 9 regarding the blind man Jesus healed.  When questioned about his past and who might have been “responsible” for him being blind, he gave a perfect answer that reflects God’s Reverse Economy.  My paraphrase of the man’s response to the Pharisees goes something like this:

“I won't speculate on any of that.
I'll stick to what I know to be the facts.
Yesterday I was blind. Today I can see.”

Know this, my friends, and take it to heart.  We are known completely and loved without condition.  No one can tattletale on us with some deep dark secret that will catch God off guard and cause him to stop loving us.  That’s the Reverse Economy and I want more of it, not some fake substitute.  This leads to LIFE and that's the only thing worth sharing with others.