Saturday, April 30, 2016

She Had A Name

"And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour." (John 4:4-6, ESV)

This passage was a recent focus from my pastor. It's well-worn and the flannel graph of the past come easily to mind, though the colors have doubtless faded quite a bit.  But I heard the story with fresh ears and, as the message went on, the presentation and my thoughts came together in the following notes.

She had a name. She once was somebody's little girl. Her current life was the sum of her choices and circumstances. She had known love at some point but had now settled into a routine that nobody would have made their first choice or even anywhere on their top 100. Yet here she is now face to face with Life and Love because Jesus needed to take a detour right to the well she used every day.

Expecting to be ignored she finds herself in the conversation of a lifetime. She'll leave this encounter completely changed. And the result should challenge the way we plan out our lives rather than just live them and make ourselves available for the next "yes" we encounter.

Think about that last sentence for a moment. Are you looking out in anticipation for the "yeses" that you will encounter? Are you willing to stop your business long enough to engage somebody else - somebody who has a name and a story and is valued by Father God? Have you embraced your own forgiveness to such a degree that you can easily offer that Living Water to a world parched and dry who looks so desperately for anything that numbs the ache for just 5 minutes?

The Crooked Path is rarely predictable. Trying to make it so isn't really our purpose. We need to be ready and willing to engage those we come across because we have something they need so very much ... even if they don't realize it.  And every single one of them has a name.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Simply Noel for Spring

Those three smiling faces are my grand nephews and my new grand niece.  Actually, she's not "new" as we've been anticipating her arrival for nearly 3-1/2 years now.  They are out and about on their first family errand, but that's just the current chapter in this story.  I won't write a novel about it, but I will tell you how Liam, Noel and Mikey ended up in this picture ... because it's a story worth telling and it reflects the heart of our Father so very much.

My niece and her husband have a heart for orphans.  In fact, some 4 years ago, they started down the path of adopting a brother and sister from Congo.  We were all very excited to welcome Timothy and Annalise into our extended family.  That hope wasn't just deferred - it turned to deep sorrow as both of those children died from a variety of things those of us in the first world don't think about much at all.  Lisa and Ken were devastated, but their hearts still longed to love another Congolese orphan.  What they didn't count on was God's timing and then a rather long wait.

Noel was born to young parents and the mother didn't survive.  The father, after consulting with his village elders, chose to give his little girl a chance at a different, perhaps better life.  Lisa and Ken (still somewhat in shock from the loss of the first two children) were approached and agreed to adopt Noel.  All went well and the family took up some hope again that she would be with her forever family right around Christmas 2012.  Then the unthinkable happened ...

The Congolese government basically shut off the "adoption faucets".  Time continued to pass with Lisa and Ken supporting their little girl anyway they could, but nothing seemed to budge.  While none of us forgot Noel (certainly not Lisa), we didn't talk much about her for whatever reason.  For my part, I figured she'd be raised over there and continue her connection to our family until she was old enough to make her own decisions.  Then a simple Facebook message ignited a bonfire within the family.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Lisa and Ken heard that some 150 children were given exit papers from Congo.  Hope was rekindled brightly and, over the course of some calls and other communication, they learned that Noel was on that list.  When Lisa first shared the news on a family group thread, I read it and cried.  Could it be our long deferred hope was to be fulfilled?  Well, the picture above speaks all of it ... one big happy family ready for their new adventure.

As I write this post, tomorrow is the first day of Spring.  It's a day to celebrate new life ... but it's also the beginning of Holy Week and the time when our Lenten thoughts will lead us back to the Cross.  Yet that Hope - the one that journeys with us on the Crooked Path - never is truly deferred and never darkens.  In just a week, we celebrate Easter and, as the late Brennan Manning called him, the glory of the Easter Man rising up and shutting out death and despair.  Quite the time for Noel to join our extended family ... and a wonderful reminder of what Hope means and what Love does.

Welcome home, Noel!  It's a big, goofy family, but you are loved so very much.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


"So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.  Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness." (1 Peter 2:1-3, NLT)

Peterson's version says to "clean house".  It's a charge to understand where our focus is to be ... where our basic craving can find fulfillment.  It isn't, like I'd heard for decades, the formula for "baby Christians" to start with.  No, it's the design of God for dependence on him alone. I really heard that for the first time today.  And, much like what I had been taught, it is a start ... but it's the entrance into what God will do, not what I can become when and if I "mature".

This passage the way I heard it today talks about the singular focus of an infant on its only known source of life and sustenance.  That baby doesn't have to be taught that Mom provides everything ... it knows that instinctively and the crying out, or "craving", doesn't recognize any time boundaries or other impediments to fulfillment.  That is exactly how God wants us to crave him ... with the laser-like focus of an infant who is hungry.  

So, friends, this isn't about jettisoning the milk an moving on to steak.  It's about returning to our first love and craving for who God is and what he desires for us ... a complete and abundant life that spills out through us into a world that is also craving.  We get to help God do the work of fulfilling their core desire by pointing them to the ONLY source of life.

The Crooked Path will provide many opportunities to intersect with others, but unless we understand our craving and connect to God as the source, we'll fall flat.  Or as Paul tells us to start the Love Chapter to the Corinthians, 

"If I could speak all the languages of earth
 and of angels, but didn’t love others,
I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

Where do you look to fulfill your craving?  It's something worth thinking about.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holy Night, Noisy Night

"So lay your head on borrowed hay, sleeping Adonai.  Light the world then light my way, sleeping Adonai."

Those lyrics from a wonderful Christmas musical written by Heather Sorenson that our church choir performed this past Sunday morning.  That particular song was meant to be sung as a lullaby.  It was that for sure, but the simple words above that drew the song to a close seemed to stick with me.  They brought to mind the image of a simple, peasant couple laying their newly born infant in a feeding trough because that's all they could find.  That just seems to hammer home (albeit very gently) the point God was making by subjecting Jesus to the full experience of his once perfect, now flawed creation.

Hardly any Christmas Eve of celebration would feel complete if you didn't sing "Silent Night".  Yet, especially for that travel-weary family, the night was anything but silent.  We can only imagine the complaining the animals offered when their little cave stable was invaded.  And, despite what some paintings and songs may have portrayed, the Baby came into the world crying as almost every baby does.  Of course, just as Mary got him settled down, a bunch of shepherds come in out of breath and rambling about having met some angels face-to-face.  

None of this even considers that drummer boy and his drum ... sorry, couldn't resist.  My point is, the night was definitely holy and most likely far from silent because that's how the world is - noisy and a bit disorganized most of the time.  Yet that was the time and place that met whatever criteria God had in mind for the "fullness" and we are forever the beneficiaries.

The Crooked Path pauses once again at the manger scene, choosing not to rush away, but rather to linger in awe and wonder at what God gave.  My Divine Brother preceded me in every way - and entered this world without any political or royal fanfare.  

In tribute of that, I leave you with the following two songs.  One ponders the question of our King subjecting himself to being a subject.  The other reaffirms the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love of my advent wreath by declaring Messiah is born and "All is Well".  Merry Christmas from the Crooked Path to your house.  May your pausing at Jesus' coming bring you much comfort and joy this year, especially in the midst of a rather troubling world.

"How Many Kings" by Downhere

"All is Well" by Carrie Underwood and Michael W. Smith

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fourth Advent Candle - Love

I'm a day later "lighting" this candle than the previous three.  But the reason for the delay is well worth it because it has everything to do with this week's theme of Love.  I was with my extended family for a very special, if not difficult time as we celebrated my brother Steve's life.  Love for family was definitely very present during the weekend and evident through the laughter and tears.

Advent season is holds a very special place in my heart.  I enjoy the progression of the weeks through the candles for Hope, Peace, Joy and now Love.  As I've pondered them, they've grown deeper for me and caused me to reflect more on the entrance of God into humanity.  I find it's a subject we've often glossed over in my past and it makes me want to pause and linger at the manger.  The memory of my own family, gathered to celebrate a life lived and lost, adds even more depth to the Love given that night so long ago.

Before love can be reflected out to anyone else, it must be received and embraced on a personal level.  It has to engage our hearts so we grasp how deep the Love represented by this fourth candle is.  And it's rooted in the kind of family bonds that just can't be broken.  Love came down as part of God's master plan to enter humanity and rescue his family.  That's what I see when I light this candle.  That's what I experienced when we gathered to remember my brother.

The Crooked Path is grounded in Love like no other.  It's rarely as easy or pleasant as we wish, but it sits on Love and leads to Love.  It gathers the Hope, Peace and Joy that sustains us and carries us to the best part ... the Love that knows no boundaries or limits.  May your Advent Wreath burn brightly as you anticipate the arrival of Love this year.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Third Advent Candle - Joy

It's a bit ironic (again) that a week filled with so much "stuff" is one marked for the rose-colored candle of Joy.  Yet, we still did end the week on a joyful note.  This marked our annual trip to work at the Operation Christmas Child distribution center doing the final packaging of shoe boxes as they head out around the glob to the arms of waiting children.  The boxes we packed will be off to the Ukraine.  We send them with the anticipation they will be received with joy.

Our Hope leads to Peace which brings Joy - all of it in anticipation of this celebration of Advent.  Yet, in my family and many others, the shadows of death and sickness seem to loom large.  While none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, some close to us do seem to be slipping almost daily.  The thin strand of what passes for life in this world stretches more for some than others, and if we don't look to something greater than ourselves, we may find despair swoops in and takes over.  

But Joy doesn't have to be elusive or "for somebody else".  Joy can be found in the simplest of what life offers and, when you truly find Life in the fullest sense, Joy will well up the same way Hope and Peace do.  It's just a matter of knowing where to look and finding the One you can trust completely.  So as this third candle is lit, we remember prophets of old who looked forward with great anticipation even in the midst of difficulty and found, at the center of it all, a deep sense of Joy.

The Crooked Path always winds by the stable this time of year.  And, if we let our spirits focus there, we will find a Joy that surpasses everything else and shines brightly in our hearts, reflecting out into a dark world desperately in need of Someone.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Second Advent Candle - Peace

It seems very odd to write about the Candle of Peace given what our country has seen lately.  There are times I admit I shake my head and wonder what has happened.  And then pile all the noise on top of that - news headlines, political grandstanding and everyone grabbing their "15 minutes" as many times as they can.  It's just plain nuts and it makes me very tired.  But above and beyond all that, I can still grasp Peace because of the Hope we talked about when we lit the first candle.

Peace doesn't mean things are calm or there is no fear.  I was reminded of the famous FDR quote about "nothing to fear but fear itself" when a friend posted something about it.  Reading the whole quote, I took it to mean he was talking about panic or dread.  Peace, in that context, is the opposite of dread.  Built on Hope it says, "What you are experiencing isn't the end of all things.  There is something more - something bigger than yourself."  That, at least to me is Peace.  And I find it again this time of year as we prepare to celebrate the Advent of the Prince of Peace.

The Crooked Path will often be noisy and dangerous.  But it will always be paved with Peace if I know where to look for it and trust the Giver of Peace.  Hope and Peace ... two foundational building blocks of Advent and life.