Sunday, October 26, 2014

Who Misses Whom?

28 years since the call.  And there have been other calls in the past three decades as well.  Some were expected (if that really describes it) and a few caught me completely by surprise.  All of them created a hole of some sort ... an empty spot that you really never fill.  Oh, the images in my mind take on a "softer" quality over time, but at the core they remain as mileposts of loss.  But lately, I've begun to wonder if they miss us as well ...


I think the answer, though it may be tough for many to hear (I include myself in this "many") is, "No.  They don't miss us."  Now, don't hear what I'm not saying.  I'm not saying they have no knowledge of us.  I'm merely pointing out that as they stand before the Presence, little else is of tangible consequence.  They have moved beyond what C.S. Lewis called the Shadowlands ... why would they even think to look back with any sort of regret or longing?

No, friends, it is we who are left who do the missing.  And if anybody tries to tell you he or she does not miss a loved one, even one known to be in the Presence, that person is in denial or flat-out lying.  I've got friends with living parents who are suffering from diminished capacities who know the "real person" is still there and they still grieve for what they see.  It's just part of being human and still living on this side of what is yet to come.

When Jesus' good friend Lazarus died, our Brother wept.  He did so out of human grief and also because Mary and Martha were grieving.  He explained the nature of Life and Resurrection (take out the indefinite article "the" in his response from John 11:25 and you'll see what I mean) in terms they couldn't deny yet failed to grasp.  And it's because they missed their brother, not because of any lack of faith.  Frankly, it's Lazarus who got the raw deal - he had to die a second time.

The Crooked Path is a mortal walk, but there is a sunrise over the last hill we can anticipate.  We grieve now and miss those who have left.  28 years later, I still miss Dad and would give most anything for even an hour's chat.  But he doesn't miss me - he's in the Presence and that's far too overwhelming and glorious.  I just take heart to know I'll see him again.  I know he still loves me even now and would be proud of the man I am becoming.  For now, that's enough to get me through another year.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Simple Kindness and a Smile

I had the opportunity to put a smile on somebody's face this week and I took it gladly.  It really doesn't matter what I did, but I can tell you it was unexpected by the recipient and it did cost me something.  But it also put things in perspective for me, and perspective combined with serving kindness to somebody is a very good thing.

As we made the decision to take the action, my wife reminded me we had seen something far more selfless on one of our favorite TV shows.  One of the contestants gave his earned advantage to another to the tune of $20K.  Now, I'll probably never be in that position, but the way it came about had the effect of restoring a little faith in humanity.

Now, ultimately, our humanity is what does us in.  But in the midst of all that, we have a Savior who shows us far more than a simple kindness.  He gave up his all to show us an everlasting kindness that offers true and permanent change.  In embracing what he gives, we have the opportunity to reflect that gift out into a world that needs our Redeemer desperately.

As I walk my Crooked Path, may I often take time to show simple kindness - and also the faith that I reflect in those acts - to many who I encounter.  That is, after all, something we are called to do ... and the smiles we get in return are worth it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Empty Hands

We offer nothing - keep that in mind at all times.


The thought came to me this week after some conversations with people and a bit of ruminating on the subject.  My past definitely plays a big part in this, so it can get a little complex and perhaps even convoluted at times.  But if I strip away all the noise and back-chatter, I'm left with who I am and what I bring ... and the answer to that is nothing.

What I'm talking about is my relationship with God through Jesus.  It starts with nothing - an absolute soul-wrenching emptiness that can nearly drive a person mad.  Yes, there is that image of the Creator at the core, but I do everything I can at that point to snuff it out of existence.  And yet I can't, because I have no power over it - I am nothing.  It's at that point where the regeneration, the prevenient grace comes in and kindles that image flame.  Like a dreamer awakened from a tormented sleep, I reach out with these completely empty hands and accept the grace freely offered.  That "transaction" starts a process of relationship.

Now I'm in this relationship - however I came to it really doesn't matter - and I still bring ... nothing.  This gives entry to the biggest, most joyless lie in all of Christianity.  Somehow, our own desire (dare I say need) to bring something to the relationship causes us to formulate a bunch of rules, regulations, lists and other impossible standards that we spend more of our relationship time looking for more "transactions" that will bring us some kind of spiritual gain.  And I'm not intimating that holiness or obedience are bad things.  I'm just saying that they are always secondary - a natural offshoot if you will - of the relationship and done in a responsive way.  They don't put stuff in our hands ... those hands remain empty.

Empty hands, my friends, are a good thing.  If we look at two Gospel stories (the woman coming into Simon's home and the woman taken in adultery) we find two people terribly aware of their empty hands.  And in holding out their hands, they hear words of love such as "forgiven the greatest loves the most" and "neither to I condemn you - go and leave your life of sin".  Those are some powerful gifts from the Master - and they leave those women with full hearts and empty hands.  These weren't some emotional call from a preacher to walk an aisle.  They were people who, when presented with that kindling flame from God, knew they were loved beyond all love they had known before.

As I walk my Crooked Path, may I glory in my empty hands.  They are a clear indication that I have a Redeemer who requires nothing tangible of me to keep the relationship pure, giving me the freedom to respond with all I have because of his unending love.  He emptied himself so that I could have his fullness - not my own. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

First Place





"Dear Children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts."  (1 John 5:21, NLT)

It's a lesson we've heard since the first Sunday School class we attended.  God wants to have first place in our hearts.  Nothing else is more important.  We've sung songs about it, seen flannelgraph (just shows how old I am), and memorized verses like this one.  But somehow, somewhere things changed ...

As I find myself staring at my 2nd half-century, I want to ask the question again.  What, other than God, am I letting have the top spot in my heart; what really is my focus?  I think the truest answer comes with some introspection and that rarely comes easily.  So if I'm going to write about it, perhaps I need to dig just a little deeper.

Sure the multiple translations that render this verse as something about watching out for idols are good.  They are certainly faithful to the original intent, but I think the Beloved Apostle, sitting in exile on Patmos, had something a little more personal in mind.  Once again, I find that richness in the way Eugene Peterson frames the final words of 1 John in his transliteration The Message:

And we know that the Son of God came so we could recognize and understand the truth of God - what a gift! - and we are living in the Truth itself, in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This Jesus is both True God and Real Life. Dear children, be on guard against all clever facsimiles. (1 John 5:20-21)

That's what John was warning the early church about ... "clever facsimiles".  And that's what I need to look out for as well when I examine my own heart and life.  I'd never overtly put something else in first place - but I might subtly do that.  It might even look like "serving God" when it really is filling my own ego.  And it happens when I forget the awesome nature and love that redeemed me in the first place.

So as my Crooked Path winds through my 2nd decade, I want to keep the my Father in my sight and my Divine Brother closer than ever.  And I want to do it in such a way that it leaves no doubt who holds first place in my heart.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Out of the Desert

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”  (John 14:15-17, NLT)

It's been a little over 3-1/2 years since I walked into the desert.  I remember the day pretty clearly.  The scheduled meeting ended up including my manager and an HR representative. It concluded with me heading home midday with a "package of paperwork" and a bag full of worries.  Late 40's, mortgage and bills, four mouths to feed, clothe and house ... and unemployed.

Back then, I wrote about teaching a class on Lent and the Christian disciplines.  My wife observed (and rightly so) that I had been required to give up my job for Lent.  Looking back, it was a step into the desert - first the desert of unemployment and then the desert of recurring contract-only employment.

In the desert, the temptation is there to whine and complain and blame.  Just look at the story of the Israelites and their decades of wandering.  The desert actually became a kind if dysfunctional home for them.  They didn't know any better and they flat-out refused to turn to the God who was protecting and providing every day.  Their desert experience could have taught them so much, yet they spurned the lessons and history records the result.

I'd like to think my desert experience has been more productive, that I've learned some lessons.  For one, I've learned to trust more.  We never went without food or shelter during these past 3+ years.  God provided and we even began to "fill in some holes" that had been dug over time.  I started my own company that I use today to provide training and consulting.  We even managed to take a long-overdue vacation which turned out to be the best we've had as family (and the last one in our RV).

So now, as I sit here on the eve of "permanent employment with benefits" once again, I'm thinking about what I've learned and what I still have to learn.  Sure I'm walking out of this particular desert, but the lessons are far from over.  Just as an example, when I opened up BibleGateway, the verse of the day read:

"But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means." (1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT)

Isn't that just like God to show me who he is and that I still have things to learn.  The Crooked Path went through the desert him to teach me.  The journey and the learning continue even as I walk back out of the desert tomorrow morning.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

To Run and Dance Again

To say it's been an interesting week is probably an understatement.  I've been challenged on multiple fronts to think differently about the world around me.  Some of these challenges are recurring, some are new.  One encounter in particular is something I've been waiting for a while (though not nearly as long as those most directly involved).  It's that thing - that encounter - that I've chose to write about.  And I chose it because it reminds me of my own life and because it is at the center of what I believe.

The man in the chair is Kevin.  I've only known him a few short years, and not deeply at that.  The hitchhiker is is his nephew.  You can tell almost instantly that Kevin has physical challenges.  Yet those troubles and the chair that provides his mobility don't define him.  They may have limited him to a great degree, but define him?  Not a chance!  Kevin would have defined himself as beloved son of God along with being a friend, a man, a very competitive game player, and a loved family member.

You're noticing all the "past tense" use, right?  Well what is past tense for Kevin right now are his infirmities and that chair of his.  Kevin passed through Earth's gates and into the Presence last week.  And he did it a way that so defines him ... visiting family in another city and quietly, in his sleep.  Absent from that limited body, present with a limitless God.

So what should the passing of anybody's life say to us?  Is the death process, even for Christians, just full of platitudes and shallow comfort?  Sure we mourn, but we have to do it differently.  And when we celebrate a life, we need to celebrate the person who trusted in Jesus and is now experiencing LIFE live and in person.  

And, like the song I've chosen to share below, we celebrate our own "next time" still to come.  The Crooked Path has a destination.  Kevin is there, and I'm pretty sure he's dancing right now.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Trust Again - You're Kidding, Right?

To give away her heart before
Had been her first mistake
She knows she shouldn't doubt Him now
But there's just too much at stake

And still He keeps on calling

But she pretends she doesn't hear
He longs to touch and heal her
But she never lets Him near

She's one of the walking wounded
She's been searching for so long
Deep inside, she's hoping
All the fear she feels is wrong

Maybe He can give her 
All the love she's been denied
Maybe it will be alright
If she lets Him come inside

Don Francisco - "Walking Wounded"


I still remember when that song first came out.  Seems it wasn't that long afterward, that my late brother Mike's first wife took her own life at only 32 years old.  Even through my grief and confusion, I somehow understood that Dorothy was "one of the walking wounded" like Don said ... and that's why she did what she did.  Looking back now nearly 30 years, that explanation still rings true.

But today's post isn't about that particular wound.  That one is pretty obvious to anybody who doesn't choose to completely ignore it.  No, I'm thinking of a brief conversation with a friend who has been burned by religion.  It's a familiar theme these days - I've seen it in my own circle far too often.  And it's creating a great divide among us where there was supposed to be unity.  At the heart of it all, is the old trust issue.

For so many of us, trust has been abused and breached so many times, that we just feel like giving up.  The very thought of church brings on such deep-seated internal pain that we've set it aside or skipped it entirely.  Now, while I think there is a vital part to be played by community of believers, I don't think we need to just "do church" to fill that.  But I'm getting ahead of myself here ...

What does it mean for us to trust again when it seems our heart has been so abused?  John Eldridge would go so far as to say we've been told a lie about our heart being evil and worthless.  I tend to think he's right.  God tells us he redeemed  our hearts - he chose to move Heaven and Earth to make that happen.  Yet we have an Enemy who is bent on crushing our hope and keeping us focused on the fractures and broken trust.  It is a very real battle indeed; it's no wonder so many of us are "walking wounded".

Now, the very place that we wounded are supposed to turn for healing and support has also gone very wrong in so many ways.  Sure there are some congregations that embrace love and grace to a great extent.  Yet so very many have turned from being houses of healing to courts of judgement.  They expect everyone to become "just like them" and embrace what they see as "real Christianity".  Instead of being open, they shut themselves off and either create captives of a new kind or drive away the wounded who so desperately need to see Jesus' love in it's fullness.  In the end, that's just very sad considering the wonderful alternative.

The Crooked Path requires us to lift up our broken hearts to God who has offered us his love and protection.  He asks us to trust again, even though we are fearful of doing so.  he asks us to put one foot in front of the other and find community in him and in fellow travelers - other walking wounded - who are ready to embrace him even when the established churches have strayed from their mission.  Fellowship and acceptance are there, we just have to trust God to bring them across our path so we can walk together toward him.  

And remember, we're not alone.  Our Divine Older Brother experienced heartbreak we can't even imagine.  He's promised to walk right beside us as we try to trust again.