Friday, April 3, 2015

What Really Matters



So much is circulating in the news of late that I thought I'd take the opportunity to attempt to bring some focus to things I've found to be truly of importance.  No coincidence that this happens to be Easter weekend ...

We have a couple of states who think that legislating more "control" will lead to "freedom".  We have multiple countries in the world trying to make the latest deal on weapons or truces or other things that even the most minor review of history tells us will either never happen or will quickly be breached.  Everybody seems to want his or her voice heard because individual "rights" trump everything else.  And the beat goes on and on and on.  And none of it really matters if you look at it from a broader perspective.

As Christians, we celebrate this season of the year as the pinnacle of our faith.  The finished work on the Cross and the subsequent "kicking Death in the teeth" that is the Resurrection are things in which we ground our very belief system.  I, for one, happen to agree.

I like to take three events in the life of Jesus and use them as an illustration.  The Manger and the Cross are what I see as hinges to the door of his human life.  We can't overlook the power of either one or the critical nature of a birth and death under the law.  They set the stage for that magnificent triumph on Resurrection Day that means what he did is permanent - no turning back ever!  And it's all wrapped in a Love and Grace that blow everything else away.

So whether or not you believe in an October or December birth, a Thursday or Friday death ... what matters is the end result of that perfect man's sacrifice.  God's Love and Grace blew Death back to Hell and we get to be the beneficiaries.  the Crooked Path understands that our troubles are nothing in perspective of what God gives us now and promises us yet to come.  As Paul wrote:

"But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love."  (1 Corinthians 13:13, The Message)


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Oh, I've Got Questions Alright




I write this post as I think of two specific friends who have had their lives touched by tragedy.  One was direct and the other slightly indirect.  But both of them definitely saw life in its rawest form very recently.  This goes out to them and to anyone else who has suffered and feels like he or she is full of questions without any answers.  Here goes ...

Why do babies die?  Why would God let a couple experience that extreme joy of life only to have it ripped away almost immediately?  I don't care how many times I've heard about it happening, the questions still come and the silence in terms of answers is deafening.  People come up with the stupidest things to say, though I'm sure they mean well.  But I have yet to hear an answer that satisfies.

And what about the other end of life?  What about the slow, painful suffering of a parent who is in steady decline for what seems like forever?  How is that ever, as Paul told the Romans, a "good thing" for any of us?  I've experienced that one close at hand (some of you know why I write this blog in the first place) and the answers still evade me while the questions pile up.

I think perhaps I'm over-thinking this and I'm quite certain I want to over-simplify it.  The raw truth is that I don't get to decide or demand answers to "life's hard questions".  In a world where God allows choice and free will, evil will play its part and death and decay (albeit temporary) still looks like it has the upper hand.  The only "answer" I can possibly accept is that it hurts God too because he designed us and all we see for so much more.  In the end, that has to be enough to get me to stand up, take a deep breath and move forward even when it hurts.

The Crooked Path will raise many questions before it winds to its final destination. Answers may or may not come and those I find may not prove satisfactory in the temporal sense.  My only real job is to trust the One who watches the path and know that he loves me intensely, even when it hurts to ask and not hear the answer I want.  I really want that to be "enough" for me ... I'm committed to that being enough.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's All On God


"Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,

all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
(Isaiah 46:3-4, NIV)

Nothing I do myself really matters when I do it trying to be the rescuer.  That role is already done and, as we discussed in the last blog, we are completely accepted.  It's all on God no matter what you may have been told.  Anyone saying you have to work for it now that God has provided the "initial work" is lying - that's not how he works now nor is it how he ever worked.

The verses above were something I saw on a decorative wall hanging earlier today.  I snapped a picture of it because it matches up so well with what God has been teaching me.  He told his precious Israelites the same thing even when they had been exiled to Babylon.  He didn't change then and he doesn't change now.  He simply asks that we accept what he offers.

The Crooked Path is not of my own design and it isn't my own to manage.  I'm a follower, I'm accepted and I'm rescued.  It really is that simple.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Accepted - 100%

It does our hearts good to hear that we've been "accepted" when we've been looking forward to or longing for something.  Case in point, my oldest daughter and her collegiate pursuit.  She applied to only one (just like her old man) and when we received the envelope announcing she would be a part of the class of 2019, there were great squeals of joy heard throughout the house and the news was quickly shared on social media.  Acceptance was a very big deal.

For the past couple of months, I've been teaching a class based on a book I dug out of my archives.  The publication date on my worn copy of Bob George's "Classic Christianity" reads 1982, and as I've worked through it, my class and I have found the message conveyed to be timeless ... even if they do have slightly updated versions (with different pages).  To say that Bob cuts through all the background noise and clutter of religion is an understatement.

These past two weeks have been especially rich, even though they've also awoken some ghosts from my past.  Bob's theme has been laser focused on how God declares us completely accepted based on the finished work of our Divine Brother Jesus.  What he explains, and in very clear terms, is that so very many of us have only been told half the truth about our Christian experience.  And, in believing only half, we have missed out on the joy God offers in such radical fullness that it's hard to explain.

As I read the book, I'm constantly reminded of the woman in John 8 who is thrown down in front of Jesus by the Pharisees.  Most of you know this story well, but what keeps coming back to me is what the Master says to her at the end.  He offers complete acceptance ("I don't condemn you either) and encourages her to embrace the life offered - live in light of the gift of freedom she's been given without reserve or hesitation.

And here's where the ghosts of the past come roaring back.  I flashback to the days when we'd sing "Just as I am" knowing that it meant, "You got in. Now work hard to keep in good standing."  I flashback to the traveling salesmen we called evangelists who, in retrospect, were selling guilt by the truckload.  I flashback to my first experience in college where the rules ruled and everything was on a merit/demerit system.  And where was the acceptance the Gospel clearly taught?  Nowhere to be found.  In it's place was fear that God always expected something more and was ready to zap me the instant I failed to live up to my end of the bargain.  No freedom - no love - no acceptance.

Friends, the God who invites us on the Crooked Path and the Jesus who walks with us have declared us accepted based on nothing we did or ever can do.  Understanding and embracing that FACT is the most freeing thing I can think of.  It's the truth God offers and it flies in the face of the lies the Evil One tries to tell us.  And it's so very real ... we are ACCEPTED - 100%.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Living Today with Eternity in Sight



O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water. 
I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory. 
Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you! 
I will praise you as long as I live,
lifting up my hands to you in prayer. 
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
I will praise you with songs of joy.
(Psalm 63:1-5, NLT)




He opened his session with a sports story.  Pretty typical for a men's retreat, but this setup was particularly well-played.  He talked about a pro golfer on Wednesday, which is the normal final practice round, hitting greens but being far away from the pin.  Somebody watching commented that he must be "off his game".  But a wiser commenter noted he was hitting every spot he wanted - and that's where the pins would be placed on Sunday for the final round.  Even on Wednesday, he was playing for Sunday.

David did the same thing when he wrote Psalm 63.  His vision was long and he found his heart yearning for what was yet to come - that which only God can provide.  Oddly enough, he was writing this Psalm in the face of all the activity and swirl of 2 Samuel 15.  David was a much older man and was back on the run.  This time, the source of his trouble was his own son Absalom.  Before I heard this message, I'd never connected those dots at all.  It makes the Psalm even more pointed and the longing and desperation for God more rich.

So as we start 2015 with our hopes, dreams and resolutions (many of which will fall away even within the first week), I am reminded of Psalm 63 and and this message I heard.  I'm reminded that we are called to live a life with eternity in mind.  We are called to deal with the subtle idolatry in our lives that sets something on the throne of our hearts other than the "ultimate thing".  And we are called to be desperate for God to the extent that everything else is just perpetually disappointing.

I was reminded just today that the Father stands at the end of the Crooked Path beckoning us home while our Divine brother walks beside us, arm-in-arm, encouraging us and giving us strength for the journey.  He urges us to live today with Eternity in sight, for that is where our soul is designed to truly live and flourish.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reflections

A little reflection can be a good thing for anyone.  It helps us remember where we've been and what we've done.  It can be a pleasant thing that conjures up happy thoughts of times we've shared with friends or family.  It can be an instructive thing as we recall incidents where perhaps we didn't put forth our best self.  All of it, the good, bad and other becomes part of our story.  And it is our stories that both define us and provide us with vision as we travel on.

My year has been dull by most standards, though those closest to me might say differently.  I've watched my daughters grow and change, especially the one who is making plans to head off to college next Fall.  Both of them give me great cause for joy as I see the beautiful, intelligent young women they are becoming.  That's a good reflection.

My work is satisfying and I moved from a transient to more permanent state later in the year.  This provides us with a little more stability but still allows me to pursue my passion for corporate learning engagements.  I've become a valued resource both to my employer and the people who contract for my training services.  Both are fulfilling.

My wife and I are fast approaching three decades together.  That's quite a journey in and of itself.  We know each other better after all these years and there is comfort in the consistency of our relationship.  The progression of the girls toward young adulthood just amplifies that.

I'm thankful for friends we've connected with, especially those we sat down with across the table for a meal.  Some we hadn't seen in years, yet those same years melted away like a light frost in the sunrise.  I like those kinds of friendships because actual time and distance isn't really a factor that impacts the richness of the relationship.

I'm no prophet - and I don't pretend to know what the Crooked Path holds in 2015.  But I do know the One who walks beside me and I trust him implicitly to be there just as he has been all along.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Noisy Entrance of Hope

"Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.  The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen.  It turned out exactly like they'd been told!"  (Luke 2:19-20, The Message)

I love the old Christmas songs.  They tell such a wonderful story.  They bring joy to the lips of young and old.  And so many of the favorites are just dead wrong.  The picture they paint about Advent, while melodic, isn't the way it happened.  Take, for example, "Silent Night" ...

Bethlehem probably hadn't seen that much activity in a long time.  It certainly wasn't a mecca for travel or a tourist destination.  Other than being the historical home of the beloved King David, it was that sleepy, dull town we've been told.  And then Rome ordered a census.  The rush was on to get back to wherever home was and check in - and pay up.

You can imagine that room prices doubled or tripled.  Plus, since Bethlehem wasn't really set up for this many people, rooms were scarce to say the least.  So when this lower-class couple with an "illegitimate" child show up, it's just one more guest that cant be accommodated. Amid the noise and bustle of this overcrowded town, a young and very pregnant girl is just another unlucky customer.

Then something happened we really don't quite understand.  The innkeeper, for whatever reason, turns the couple to his cave stable.  It's dark, dank and smells ... well ... like a stable, but it's someplace and that's what Mary and Joseph need.  In the middle of the noise and smell of this place, she goes into labor and delivers her child into a noisy, crowded and probably cranky world (they were all there to pay taxes remember).

The shepherds scene adds to the frantic nature of it all.  They come bursting in with some off-the-wall story about an angelic choir suspended in the air.  Whatever creature was sleeping in that stable is probably wide awake now.  And while our favorite songs have Jesus quietly sleeping, I'd say his human infant side was probably over stimulated to the point of crying.  Then there was that boy with the drum ...

So Hope enters our world with the mission to be human, fulfill the law and do what we couldn't do for ourselves.  The story is set to unfold as it has been planned since the beginning of time, and we have the chance this Advent to remember this entrance once again.  It wasn't silent in any way, but it certainly was holy beyond compare.

Merry Christmas and may the Love, Joy, Peace and Hope of Advent fill your hearts and homes.