Sunday, June 21, 2020

Jonah and Imago Dei for 2020

So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” (Jonah 1:6, ESV)

Wait a minute ... a single verse from the story of Jonah is what we get for a concept as big as "Imago Dei"? Not the verses from Genesis about creation? Just this one? Has the Crooked Path traveler fallen and hit his head? Fair questions (if you are even thinking along those lines), but the parallels are direct and clear when you add the context today that prompted this particular post. Here's how we got to this point ...

My pastor is currently taking us on a tour through Jonah and we're in the first chapter of the story. I've studied the story many times and even taught on it. The context and original setting are fascinating as they highlight a Jewish literary genre known as the "listening circle" (credit to the late Dr. Jim Grier - I really wish I could find the tapes from decades ago). In that setting, the Jewish listener was expected to interact with the teller, hissing and booing at any person outside their circle and cheering the would-be hero that was Jonah their prophet. But the whole story flips almost instantly as most of us know and becomes a stark illustration of a man who knew better running from a God who has given him a direct task.

Fast forward to the boat in the severe storm and this rebuke from the captain. He shouts at Jonah to wake him up and essentially echoes God's original call to Jonah which asks, in more modern terms, "Who is your neighbor? Don't you have any concern for anyone but yourself?" And we all know Jonah's answer from the time God called all the way through his pouting and sulking above the city of Nineveh when God didn't rain down a nuclear holocaust on it.

Jonah repeatedly answers he only sees his neighbor as "his own people - the Jews" and anyone else is outside of that circle, they are "other". He's put himself in a very bad position when you think about his job as a prophet and the fact that God specifically asked him to rise above his own prejudice and definition of a neighbor. Consider Jesus' thoughts on this in the story of the Good Samaritan who most certainly was a cultural "other" in that day. How did that play out with a 1st century Jewish audience?

Oh how far we've come ... we view all this stuff we're seeing as "sad thing, but not my problem since it isn't impacting me specifically or directly". That's the Enemy slipping in to denigrate Imago Dei (click that link for a bit of an academic, but solid definition) in every single person around me. That's one of the biggest lies impacting us today. We've lost any sense of compassionate empathy for others ... and God weeps at that loss every bit as much as for those who have not come to realize their own heart bears his image.

The Crooked Path is not a solitary one by any means. It was never meant to be. God designed us for community with himself and with others. One of our intended callings is to reach across to the "others" we find so we can help them see Imago Dei in themselves and be a part in leading them to a life that is worthy of that image, one that looks like something other than death or a dead end. It's becoming an increasing challenge to me as I navigate today's life and headlines. Maybe you are seeing something similar.

Imago Dei in 2020 is still God's thumbprint on the human soul. That makes LIFE matter and should lead me to consider when any particular segment of lives is oppressed, I need to stand up and call that out. It's not applying some special treatment ... it's honoring Imago Dei in those who far too many play they Jonah card on and treat them as something less than they are.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The One Thing

"And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.' So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.' And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 
'For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.'" (Luke 19:5-10, ESV)

One of the best lines from the Billy Crystal movie City Slickers is where the grizzled trail boss Curly tells Crystal's character that live boils down to "one thing" and that it's up to him to find what that is for himself. It's meant to be a life lesson in the midst of a comedy and the point eventually is driven home during the movie.

When Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree, he sits down with him and, in the middle of the drama around them, lays out his own simple "one thing" - to get back the family God created. That is the clear, unequivocal reason Jesus took on human form and did what he was about to do in the next couple chapters of Luke's account.

I wrote about this several years ago using three "R's" (because that's what a preacher's kid strives to do, right?). I laid out the eternal plan for a Rescue, a Redemption, and a Restoration in that post. I was reminded of it when I heard this passage in Luke and checked the notes I had taken at some point. I've referred to "two hinges" of Jesus' birth and death as vital to "setting the door" so he could ultimately kick it wide open at the resurrection. All of this is a part of the "one thing" plan - to seek out and save what God lost.

I find the marvelous simplicity of this to be overwhelming at times. While my Crooked Path may be littered with my attempts at finding my purpose, I am, led by a Father and accompanied by a Divine Brother who never waver from their goal. They sought me out so they could bring me back. I am the living example of their One Thing.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Life On The "Dash"

"How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog — it’s here a little while, then it’s gone."
(James 4:12, NLT)

I filled in the final date on that image today. We'd been waiting for "that call" since last weekend and it finally came. 92+ years seems like a long "dash" when you consider it from a mortal perspective. She lost her husband over 33 years ago. She's watched two sons die before her. There were nine of us kids in total, 19 grand kids (plus a couple that never saw life on Earth), and the fourth generation (and beyond) gets hard to count.

Yet, in the bigger perspective of things, those years are like the morning fog James described. And now Mom is experiencing eternity, drawing fresh, full breaths in an already renewed body. She left what we think of as life this morning, and is now at the beginning of LIFE!

And, yes, I firmly believe she has seen Dad for the first time in three decades. I'd say there's pretty clear indication of that type of reunion. While we may like to project what that looked like, embracing my brothers Mike and Steve in their whole state, I also wrote about that another time and don't believe she really has any thought for what she left behind. They are all just a little awed to be in the Presence together. It's what we hope for, isn't it?

I was out on errands today twice and saw two reminders of the cyclical nature of things. The first, before Mom died, was the wheat fields. They are starting to turn. They've got tracks in them from that tall, skinny-wheeled tractor. It won't be long until the combines sweep through followed by the rectangle balers.

The second was round hay bales. There's just something about them that makes me smile. And they appear almost as if by magic, marking each cutting cycle of the local hay. I even saw one crew offloading them from a trailer, but many more sit in the field where just a few days ago the hay lay cut and flattened on the ground. Such is the cycle of things where I live. I actually got to see them made in the field behind us one year - very fun to watch.

Mom left her Crooked Path life on the dash when she stamped May 16, 2020 on the right side of it. I'm sure it now seems like a fleeting memory given what she's experiencing. For my siblings, my family, and I - we continue on our own dashes. And they are Crooked, though they may look straight at first. That's how God intends life to happen. And today, he took another permanent resident to their final Home. I'm sad, but I'm okay with that. And it's giving me pause to think about life again - a fleeting life "on the dash" that is a gift given for me to use.

I love you, Mom. Glad you are finally Home.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Able and Willing

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. 
(Jude vv. 24-25, ESV)

I heard this verse a week ago as the focal text of the weekly message. As I read along, a couple of thoughts came to me and I wanted to capture them as part of a blog post.

First, the text says "able" and that's all well and good. But there is an underlying and implied "willing" that is also essential. That's why I threw together the graphic I used to introduce this post. You see, if God is only "able" but isn't "willing", that puts him in the category of a tyrant or despot ... or perhaps a puppet master. Frankly, that runs contrary to everything we've read and learned about him.

Similarly, being "willing" but not "able" puts us in the hands of a merely wishful God who really wants to do something for and with us, but he's just not up to the task. He'd do it if he could, but he's not able to.

So that wonderful, somewhat mystical combination of "able and willing" really strikes at the heart of the matter. That's the type of God I want to choose to put my trust and hope in. And make no mistake, it is still a choice.

The other word that caught my attention is "blameless". That's a very powerful word. In choosing to accept and embrace what God is able and willing to do, I am now presented, as the NLT renders it, "without a single fault". The connotation here is the same as a completely flawless diamond - no blemish intern or external, perfect in color, cut, and quality. That's the promise - the very essence - of Jesus' finished work in the New Covenant.

The Crooked Path is filled with twists and turns, trials and tribulations. But when I focus on what God is able and willing to do for me, I know the temporary challenges can be endured because there is something far better in store for me. That's the kind of hope and assurance I need during these current difficult times and every day.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Plan B?

Actually, it's a bit of an intentionally "trick" question. What prompted it is thinking about the situation we're all facing (same storm/different boats) and something I saw talking about that old topic - God's Sovereignty. So no out-of-context verse on this one today (nope, not even about "plans" from Jeremiah). Just my thoughts that I've gathered through the years.

First, let's get one thing straight. I still believe God sees and knows all. I realize some who knew me in the past (like 40+ years ago) may think I've gone off the deep end where my belief system is concerned. That's not for a big, public discussion but I'd be happy to entertain some individual chats about it (Zoom away!)

This is about what I used to hear (and subscribed to) about "perfect will vs. permissive will". Essentially, that's a Plan A with a Plan B contingency. As I now understand it, that's a fictional invention of people who try to explain away problems and challenges they just can't comprehend. But to me, that's the point - some of them are incomprehensible to begin with. And I'm fine with that.

It comes down to my belief that God is God and I'm not privy to everything he knows, does, or sees. Rather than a continuum of time, I view it as a circle with God in the center, present at every point in what we experience as "time" and cognizant of it all. From that position - and that's where he's always been - he enacts his Great Story that begins with his first gift to us of Free Will. Our choices, while they impact our lives, don't change him, his perspective, or his Great Story of Redemption. He doesn't force us, or demand from us. Instead, he's there in the midst of our choices and the resulting consequences.

I see our current situation from the same perspective. Yes, we're in the midst of a terrible battle against a disease. People are dying and more will. People will have financial and emotional challenges. Many will play the "if only we had ..." game and drive themselves to frustration. But while, in general, "hope is not a strategy" I can say with a calm assurance that Hope is still present because I base it in the one who is at the center. And he's not a weak God waiting on our choice so he can alter his plan. There is no "Plan B". In the great mystery that is God, it was always Plan A - the Great Story of Redemption.

May you find some comfort in the Hope that God's Sovereignty isn't some manipulative or weak attribute. No, it's strong, it's mysterious beyond our imagination, and it is the foundation of Hope in a difficult time I think of as the Crooked Path.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Water But No Ocean

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

(Revelation 21:1, 22:1-2, NLT)

If you've ever watched the end of the movie "The Book of Eli" you'll doubtless remember the part where Denzel Washington's main character dictates the words of the Bible as his last mortal act. The overall backdrop of an an apocalyptic world has been used many times and the lack of water (or nothing but water) plays a role very often. As Eli begins with the Genesis story of Beginnings, the words are familiar to many of us. Water plays a primary role and is a source of Life as God calls it forth.

Basic science today would tell us that water - especially our oceans - play a major role in sustaining life as we know it. The oceans provide food, cleansing, and all manner of function in our world. We rarely think about it, but given they cover somewhere near seventy-five percent of the surface, they are a constant major presence. We've seen the impact of oil spills, red tides, and a myriad of other changes and felt that impact. Hurricanes are born in the oceans and, when they leave that source of energy, they rather quickly spin out. It's simple and it has basis in our Great Story as well ... Oceans play a major part in Life.

But the story of the End and New Beginning brings out a powerful statement. What John saw states there is no ocean in the New Order of things. It's gone, just as what we now know as Heaven and Earth are gone. And when the latter two are born New, the Ocean isn't a part of it. The way I read it, the reason is simple ... God directly provides and sustains Life in a new way. The described River of Life flows from him as the source. Frankly, that's a rather simple idea that kind of blows my mind in context. It may or may not be water, but it is teeming with Life.

And one more thing. That Life feeds the growth of entire groves of Life Trees with a very special purpose - they provide healing medicine for the nations. Think about that, especially in this very difficult time we are facing. Life flowing in the midst of everything growing and sustaining more life that brings permanent healing.

We are definitely in some wild turns of the Crooked Path. Some of us are bearing up well, some are struggling mightily. But there is an end, albeit resulting in a different "normal" than what we've known. And beyond that? There is a promise of Life ... a truly different and sustaining Life that provides constant, renewed healing and joy. May that Hope sustain you in the dark hours you face.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Very Important Things

A flood of "very important things" comes at us every day, every hour, every minute. Some of them are truly important, if not urgent. Some of them are masquerading as important and they just want to get our attention - or perhaps divert it - from something that actually matters. That's what I'm thinking about on this Easter Morning, 2018. Three things I heard, read and thought today converged in my heart and mind to bring me back to a center of importance.

In 1 Corinthians 15, verse 3 (ESV), Paul emphasizes the importance of this particular section of his letter by saying, "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" and then goes on to talk about the importance of the Resurrection of Jesus. I heard this today as part of an Easter message. It set me off taking notes and considering a couple other things that came across my desk and mind today.

Paul is emphasizing the idea that this concept of Christ's resurrection is absolutely central to the Gospel. Everything leads up to that singular event. It kicked down the door set on the two hinges of incarnation and crucifixion and forever changed the "rules". This concept equates Christ's death to the scriptural requirement for atonement under the Law. Yet it goes far beyond that temporal sacrifice that wouldn't last. It provides a permanent solution to the age old problem of persistent sin and death. It provides a completed substitutionary  propitiation - a replacement of my life for that of Jesus. Paul basically "doubles down" on this statement in verse 14 where he pens a contrary statement that if the resurrection didn't happen, then all of life is vain (Solomon's chasing of the wind).

John Eldridge, in his book All Things New tells us that "Jesus Christ is the forerunner for the Great Renewal, “the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18). He died, as everyone has and will. But on the third day he was raised to life, leaving his grave clothes folded neatly in the tomb. (A very touching detail, I might add, as if to say, “And that’s that,” like a man putting away his flannel pajamas now that winter is past.) Easter morning Jesus walked out of the grave radiantly alive, restored, and everyone recognized him. The “new” Jesus is not someone or something else now; he is the Jesus they loved and knew. He walks with them, had meals with them—just like before. The most striking thing about the post-resurrection activities of Jesus is that they were so remarkably ordinary." I think that rather succinctly describes the one who the late Brennan Manning referred to so often as "Easter Man".

My Crooked Path means something more than a life lived well to me because I walk it beside the Easter Man, my Divine Brother Jesus. On a bright Easter morning, that ought to put a smile on my face in a very genuine way. The Resurrection ushers in the assurance of the Great Renewal. Easter Man, the ultimate "super hero" blew the doors off Death once and for all. 

The traditional French Easter greeting, "L'amour de Dieu est folie!" rings true. That Love of God which looks like "folly" to those who choose not to believe looks like life to me. I can live with that ... I truly can.

He is Risen Indeed!!