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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

An Odd Place for Poetry

"Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see —
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross." (Colossians 1:15-20, NLT)



It was pointed out that this passage in the letter to Colossi was likely written as poetry.  Looking at my NTL column, that translation definitely renders it that way.  Paul, an unlikely poet from my perspective, is exhorting the church in that city about the wonder and majesty of Jesus Christ.  Rather than just laying out doctrine or instruction, he is waxing poetic about who Christ was, who he is, and who he will be.

Look at the beauty of the language ... "through him God reconciled everything to himself."  And then the idea that Jesus was the vehicle for peace through his selfless act of dying for us.  That's the end state of the whole Gospel.  It starts with a rescue, moves to a redemption, and ends with a reconciliation.  It's so simple, yet missed by so many who seem to want their efforts to play a part in that reconciliation.  Such a pity as all the "heavy lifting" (all the lifting entirely, actually) has been done.

The Crooked Path is one of reconciliation.  I see that daily as I stumble and yet press on.  My Divine Brother - the Prince of Peace - walks beside me as we journey together toward the Father who has reconciled EVERYTHING to himself.  Amen!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Puzzle to be Mastered?

The following came through my e-mail box this week ... and I'll admit it made me more than a little miffed.  I'll explain that in a moment, but first the quote:

“All of our doctrines ultimately come from Genesis. A denial of Genesis is an issue of authority: taking man’s word and undermining the very Word of God. If you accept millions of years of history, then you are saying that there was death before sin—clearly contradicting God’s Word, when the Bible states that the creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Now if Genesis is myth, then the gospel is also myth, as the first time the gospel is preached is in Genesis 3:15. Not only that, but the foundation of the gospel is in Genesis, where we read about the origin of sin, death, and our need for a Savior.  If we are not all descendants of Adam, then where did we come from, and what does it mean that Jesus is the “last Adam”? Also, it is clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 11 that woman was made from man—just as Genesis 2 details. (Also Jesus refers to man and woman being “one flesh” in Matthew 19.)Jesus and the Bible writers quoted the account of Noah in the New Testament. So if Genesis is myth, then Jesus is a liar and passages like Hebrews 11 can’t be trusted.”  -  Ken Ham

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about wanting more wonder and less dogma.  Since that time I've re-listened to an entire series of messages from Flood Church laying out points of error accepted for so long in so many Christian writings and teachings.  One of the messages talked about the Bible not being a manual for life or containing all the answers.  He talked about the "gas balloon theory" where you try to self-prove things that really don't fit.  I was reminded about my journey and how I've broken free (mostly) of the need to figure things all out, especially where God is concerned.  And then the quote above wanders by.

For the record, I believe the Bible is God's Word - I've said that many times.  It's a representation to us of the redemption story God is telling.  It's living and it speaks to us as the Spirit moves.  It was breathed out by God to men and, in that original action, was completely inspired.  It retains that quality today, not because of translations and research, but because God still speaks through it in very tangible ways.

Also for the record, I don't believe Genesis has to be taken in a dogmatic way where dates and actions are concerned.  Oh, I still believe in an intelligent design and an Almighty Designer at the heart of it.  But as God described it to Moses, I don't think he had to dictate it in a history book fashion to make it real.  Yes, I believe in a literal Adam and Eve, but that's really not the point.  And I think Ken Ham (and others) spend their energy trying to figure out "the code" and fit things into neat little puzzles.  I'm willing to skip that and still trust the integrity of the God who is telling the story.

Friends, the Gospel started far earlier than what we read in Genesis as the beginning of humanity and time.  It existed eternally within the Godhead because he has always had the desire to create, grant free will and then redeem his creation when it exercised that free will to it's own demise.  My doctrines don't come from Genesis - they come from the Living Word.  They are rooted in an act of selfless love that was initiated before anything resembling time existed.

The God I know - and by extension the Bible he provides - is not a puzzle to be worked.  There aren't some secret series of clues we're supposed to thread together so we figure it out and gain some special knowledge.  In fact, that very concept smacks of cultishness.  It emphasized dogma - most of which is man made - over the mystery.  

So while Genesis isn't myth the way the classic Greek tales are, it most certainly is mythical.  The Crooked Path is one to be traveled, not straightened.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Little Less Dogma - A Lot More Wonder

Have we lost our capacity to wonder?
If we have, what can we do to reclaim it?

I think that in our quest for knowledge, we've squeezed out quite a bit of the wonder God intended to have us embrace.  It's not that knowledge is a bad thing, mind you.  Learning and growing are an essential part of the whole Christian maturity process.  But I'm still left thinking that we've let the wonder dim and replaced it with a lot of knowledge that rings far too hollow ... far to pedestrian for the God we claim to pursue.

So what if so much of our dogma is just for the sake of itself?  What if it so many of the things we hold so dear aren't essentials after all?  What would happen if we began to lay that aside and turned our focus to the wonder that is the Gospel instead?

I was chatting this morning with my pastor along these lines.  He and happen to think a lot alike in these areas.  I take comfort in that because I've seen the man he is and what it took to get him there.  I also know my own struggles over the years and the journey my own Crooked Path has taken.  And it make me want to wonder more and spout less dogma.

How about you?  Are you ready to wonder again?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Praying for Blessings in a Different Way

"'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops, what if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights
are what it takes to know You're near? What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?"


I think Laura Story is on to something in her song "Blessings" with those lyrics I note above.  Feel free to listen to her sing this beautiful song here.

I heard this on the radio on our drive to church this morning.  It set me thinking about some of the errant ways I've thought in the past - much of it learned in churches and camps and evangelistic meetings.  Those those teaching it may never admit to a works theology, yet their "cause and effect" teaching is no less anti-Biblical than the people in the encounter who asked Jesus "Who sinned and caused this man's blindness?"  It's sad to me now, and it causes me to wonder why so many - especially those who should know better - cling to this way of thought.  In doing this, they make God smaller (at least to them) and they minimize the relationship he wishes to have.

As I pulled into the parking lot, still thinking these thoughts, my friend Tom and his wife were leaving the first service and headed to their car.  Tom's about my age, but he's certainly not living life the way he had it planned. As I called out a greeting to them, Tom directed Karen to where the voice originated.  She smiled - still a glowing smile despite her advanced stage of a neurological disorder.  Tom gently held her arm, supporting her as they shuffled to the car.

My humanity asks, "Where's the blessing in that downpour, God?  And while were on the subject, when am I going to get a permanent job with benefits again and exit this 3-year journey in the desert?"  I think my studies of C.S. Lewis and John Eldridge should speak just a little louder to me when those questions strike.

Simply put, God doesn't owe me a direct answer ... none of us get that privilege.  And it isn't because I've done something wrong or haven't lived up to some perfect standard.  It's because he is God and I'm not.  It's because the call is for me to trust him because he is always good.

Yes ... good ... even when Tom helps his wife to the car, my current job situation continues (or changes) and he headlines scream disaster.  I need to adjust my view of blessings and listen to this song a few more times.  Maybe it will sink in and I'll pray for blessings in an entirely different way.  The path is, after all, a crooked one.