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)


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.