Sunday, September 27, 2015

No Wild Flocks of Sheep

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them,
Because they were harassed and helpless,
Like sheep without a shepherd.
~ Matthew 9:36 (ESV) ~

The passage above keeps coming back to mind lately.  And it's got me to thinking about the nature of sheep vs. so many other animals out there.  While almost all of them can be found living in groups of some sort, not a lot of those are found out in the wild.

With the possible exception of Big Horn Sheep in the western US, I don't know of any examples where sheep - the kind we normally think of when the word is said - exist well if they aren't actively herded.  No, you don't hear about sheep without also hearing a couple of common terms that indicate active management or ranching.  And one of those is a shepherd.

The Rabbi has just finished his discourse on the hillside where he lays our God's master story of love and redemption, how an impossibly high standard is being fulfilled right in front of them so they all can be brought back into the family.  So as he looks out over the crowd once again, he's moved by what he sees ... humanly moved because these people - his OWN people - were constantly harassed and harried like sheep whose shepherd had gone AWOL.

Hundreds of years ago, Isaiah prophesied the following (which Jesus himself would claim as his purpose):

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.
~ Matthew 9:36 (ESV) ~

That sounds like a Shepherd to me ... perhaps the BEST Shepherd one could imagine, especially if you were a sheep who was lost and alone and frightened.

I'm reminded that I don't travel this Crooked Path alone.  I'm not a "wild sheep" skittering around and frightened at what might lie around the next corner.  My Shepherd is actively looking out for me and is intent on binding up my wounds and leading me someplace much better - someplace I was designed to live.  And by that, I mean really LIVE!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Fork in My Crooked Path - New Beginnings

It was a little over 18 years ago when we welcomed her into our world.  She came in with a bit of trouble, but then nothing truly worthwhile ever comes easily, right?  We did our best through the years ... teaching, giving guidance, giving grace, increasing her opportunity to choose.  I'm really very proud of the woman she has become.  So just a week ago now, we set her off officially on her own Crooked Path, a fork in the road for mine and my wife's.  She's a few hundred miles away exploring, learning, getting frustrated and working things out for herself.  I'm still available to guide, but things are definitely different.

This is what we're supposed to do, or so my friends tell me.  We raise them up, instilling a love for God and awakening their heart's desire for the Mystery in it all.  We pray most certainly (probably now more than ever) and we drive away with some tears (I did well until Sunday when I told her my final good bye).  It's different for each one, especially when it's the first like it is for me and a couple of my friends this year.  Yet there is a common thread, and that really comes down to the fork in the path.

It's a new beginning for all of us.  As I watched things unfold around me last weekend, I was struck by how much life and hope and dreams were on display.  It was so very different from my less-than-stellar choice some 34 years ago.  There was a freedom I could sense ... there were young adults who were hesitant yet confident.  In our case, Anderson welcomed 700 Freshman plus another 100+ transfers.  That's a lot of change (and I'm a project manager by trade - I know change).  That's a lot of forks in a whole lot of Crooked Paths.  And it was very evident that Father God was present in that place because his beloved children were starting something new.  I have to imagine he was grinning from ear to ear with all that fresh excitement.

So my Crooked Path continues, different now because of her new beginning.  Her Crooked Path - her very own - really gets started now.  I'm still the dad and she will always be my first baby girl, but this is a new beginning.  She took a fork in the path I'm not supposed to follow ... in fact I really can't follow it.  I can still see it from my own, but it's her path to travel now.  That's the way it is supposed to be.  And I think I'm OK with that ... yeah, I know I am.  We're both right where we should be.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Like Pebbles in a Pond

"Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God." (Hebrews 12:15, NLT)

I'm being challenged much lately by the book I'm using for our Sunday School class.  In Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey writes extensively about how today's church needs to face the task before us, the task of being "grace givers".  During the course of the book, he calls out three major categories into which we fall (though some of us hit more than one): Pilgrims, Activists and Artists.  Today, we started the chapter on Artists, but all three keep ringing in my mind and heart.  All three are a reflection of who God is and how he moves within us.

God is the original Pilgrim.  He travels into his creation, most specifically in the person of our Diving Brother Jesus, and invites us to journey with him.  If you've read this blog at all you know that's a theme I whole-heartedly embrace.

God is an Activist in the purest sense of the word.  He is constantly acting out of his magnificent love and invites us to act as well, most specifically reaching into the world we inhabit to touch lives both now and for eternity. 

God is most definitely an Artist.  He is creative to the core and in making us, his most beloved creation, he invites us to participate in some fashion with him.  We are bid come and work beside him, to watch what he will make out of us, with us and through us.

That all brings me to the thoughts today and my selected title.  Whatever my "calling" among these three tasks, I often feel inadequate and insufficient.  My journey feels more like I'm wandering.  I see things around me but the depth of problems and my limited abilities seem to fuel my apathy.  I don't feel very creative or talented and, when I compare what I do to others' gifts, I fall flat and so far short.  I have a hard time understanding where I fit as a "grace giver".

But I am one.  Maybe I'm just dropping pebbles in a pond, but so are others.  And those pebbles, small as they might seem, cause rings and ripples to flow outward.  They intersect with the ripples of others and, when joined together even without knowing it, we have a much larger impact.  We don't make this journey alone - we are a community and a far greater one than we ever imagine.

I am a Pilgrim on this Crooked Path.  As I journey, I am called to be an Activist - to act out where I see a need and meet the most basic of human needs when I can.  I am a partner with the Creator Artist and, at minimum, am invited to paint with him on the canvas of my own life.  The ripples of the pebbles I drop will reach outward.  My job, is to keep dropping them in my own pond.  That's how all of us give God's grace to others, so don't miss your opportunities when they come.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Simplest Recipe for Life

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously - take God seriously. (Micah 6:8, The Message)

I've been thinking about this verse for some time now.  The book we're working through in a class I'm teaching keeps reminding me of it.  And then incidents like the one in Charleston happen and it weighs heavy on my heart.  The search for answers and reasons, the outcry for justice, the eternal question of "why" seem to scream from every headline.  Maybe it's my stage in life, but I increasingly see people try to complicate what God has said is pretty simple.  The trouble is, that it's often a hard recipe to follow.

I try to steer clear of quoting individual verses and trying to base something bigger on an excerpt, but I think Micah 6:8 is special in that way.  God is telling his people - while they are hurting and mostly disbanded - how to really live.  And I think these three principles apply to us today.  They cover our own heart, the world around us and our relationship with the Creator.

First, we are to set our hearts to a simple and just way of operating.  "If it is to be, it begins with me" or so I've heard it said.  So I must take ownership of who I am and how I live in this world.  It's a call to justice, but not in some flashy, crusader type of way.  It's simply the way we need to be so the world around us can see our Redeemer shining through.

Next, we need to act out of who we are - or rather who we are becoming.  As a rescued person, I need to see the intrinsic worth in every other person that God sees.  If we could do that, maybe life would be a little more precious and we would take steps to ensure others are safe and cared for.  I think it's in the forgetting of this simple, basic tenet that we find the root of crimes like Charleston.  Mercy isn't an option, and it has to flow from our compassion for people that reflects God's heart.

Finally, I'm increasingly convinced that we don't need some complex theological system.  Oh, the deep treasures and riches of God's Story and his nature are wonderful to explore and embrace, but if listen to God's charge through Micah, it starts with humility.  Humility isn't complicated at all - but it is very hard for most of us.  I love the way Peterson renders it and charges us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Three simple steps to the recipe for life along the Crooked Path: 1) Live justly as one with a redeemed heart, 2) Love and practice mercy - and do it actively and 3) Be humble and look to God for direction.  Answers may not always come, but the peace we get from this simple life is beyond belief.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Words are Important

Words are very important.  Words embody meanings we intend and are the substance of our languages.  Words can also be very deceptive if you use them that way.  In fact, there are often two words that seem to mean the same thing, but have very different connotations in the end.  I've heard one of those words recently where, as I interpret it, the intended audience is meant to have understood the other.  Yet, I can't get by what I see as the misuse of a word to couch the true meaning.  The word in question is "regret" which I view as a very different thing from "remorse".

Regret and remorse are not the same at all.  Regret is based on circumstances or events that force one to take an action.  Remorse is a heart-felt, deep emotion that understands pain and leads to true forgiveness.  Regret is cheap and remorse costs a great deal.  I send regrets to an invitation when I either am unable to attend or just don't want to go.  The military sends regrets to the families of men and women killed in action, but they'd prefer not to have to do that at all.  The circumstances are the only thing that brings on the regret.

So why am I rambling about this?  Because I view words as very important.  People need to be very careful about what they say because it provides a view into who they are.  If I express genuine remorse over something I've failed to do or done wrong, I enter into an attempt to restore a breach in trust.  And I do so recognizing that it might never be fully restored for whatever reason.  Regret, essentially, says I'm sorry I got caught and then usually attempts to dismiss it or provide some thinly-veiled excuse.  Not the same thing at all.

My journey on the Crooked Path will never be a perfect one.  But it is undertaken because God has redeemed me.  He sees beyond my regret and invites me to embrace his unbelievable Grace in a way that shows remorse.  In doing so, I model his restorative nature to others who need to know God, not just some formula for "getting out of trouble".  It's an important distinction ... at east I think it is.  You might want to think about it yourself.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Focus on Family

That's not my family, though I do believe the four generations living could probably rival the numbers.  No, it's just a random picture I found to illustrate a point I recently learned.  I now realize I've been coming to it gradually, but it has cemented in my mind.

In his book "Vanishing Grace", Phillip Yancey takes us through a process of revealing who God is and what he intends or asks of us as his children.  We're studying the book in the adult Sunday School class I lead and a current chapter provided a new twist on an old idea ... the central theme of our Bible.  Yancey put it pretty plainly:

God gets his family back.

The words washed over me and those in our class.  Do they not embody the very essence of the Gospel we claim to embrace?  The story God weaves has him starting in a burst of creative energy, watching his family rebel and leave, enacting an eternal plan of rescue and redemption, and finally ends with the biggest family reunion bash in the universe.  God gets his family back!

If we could lay aside our petty arguments and combative opinions, we could see that God is looking to rescue and redeem all those on who he has placed his "thumbprint".  If we can only view everyone - and I do mean EVERYONE - as having an eternal soul with intrinsic worth to our Heavenly Father, perhaps we would more joyfully set aside whatever it is we are doing and instead go about the business of being salt and light, or as Yancey puts it, dispensers of Grace.

The Crooked Path is a journey to reach our Home ... the place where family comes together.  It's part of God's story to us and about us.  My prayer is that I try to live that out just a little more fully than before.

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)