Sunday, November 29, 2009


In addition, you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. This fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you. During that year you must not plant your fields or store away any of the crops that grow on their own, and don’t gather the grapes from your unpruned vines. It will be a jubilee year for you, and you must keep it holy. But you may eat whatever the land produces on its own. In the Year of Jubilee each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors. (Leviticus 25:8-13, NLT)

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Two things … first, I realize this post has a similar theme to the last one, but the topic is so rich it just deserves more thought. Second, I’m writing this on the Thanksgiving holiday, so I’m already feeling reflective about what God has provided. That being said, I’ve actually thought about this idea of the Year of Jubilee for quite some time. I’ve even thought about seeking out a rabbi so I could get a more traditional Jewish perspective on this most special of celebrations set down in the Law. But my ultimate goal in looking at it is to determine why, outside of the original decree in Leviticus 25, we don’t read about the Year of Jubilee in Scriptures. I have a thought on that as well. I’m not sure Israel ever got into the habit of celebrating the Jubilee.

If this is the case, it certainly explains a lot to me. When God prescribed the various feasts and celebrations, each one was a symbol of some aspect of His personality and love. They found forgiveness in the Day of Atonement. They saw his purity in the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They saw renewal in the celebration of the new year. And they experienced rest in the Sabbath year. But all of these pointed not only to God, but to that fiftieth year when they were to celebrate the Year of Jubilee. Debts (specifically those tied to land and servitude) were to be cancelled. People returned to their ancestral homes. It was more than just a Sabbath rest … it was a picture of the ultimate renewal God would provide through Messiah. Israel would not always wander, nor would they continue to be oppressed and enslaved. God would grant a permanent Jubilee some day.

As was the case in so many ways, I suspect they lost sight of the Jubilee and of the magnificent, renewing grace God gives. While living their daily lives, downtrodden and beat up, the very idea of a Jubilee must have seemed foreign. And then, of course, there was the constant wandering and rebellion. If you look at their history, it shouldn’t be a surprise if they never celebrated a Jubilee. I’m not sure they had fifty uninterrupted years of focusing on God and His Law. Too many times, they chose to proceed on their own, and the price they paid was high indeed.

Then again, I can’t say my vision is all that clear either. I get sidetracked just like Israel, and I forget what it is really all about. Sometimes, the Crooked Path gets too long, too tedious, and too painful for me. At those times, if I am not careful, Satan creeps in to steal my joy and my thoughts of the Jubilee get dulled. I start to view this world as a permanent home, and I’m not happy about the state of affairs. And I lose heart when I forget that Jesus is the incarnation of the Year of Jubilee (thank you, Michael Card).

But God hasn’t lost heart. His vision and His character are constant. He has provided Jesus as my Jubilee. He will grant me His vision and His purpose so I may rise back up and see the Hope He has provided. He will, in that final Jubilee, release all my bonds, remove (not just forgive) my debts and my mortal failings, and He will renew everything in one final act of love. Eden will be restored, and the Jubilee won’t last just a year. It will be last an eternity. The Crooked Path I walk ends at the gates of the Kingdom. On this day above all days, that is something to be thankful for. I’ll say it again … Jesus is my Jubilee!

* * * * * * * *

  1. Have you lost your vision of the Jubilee? What might it take for you to regain it and see what God is doing and what He has promised?
  2. Is your vision of the Jubilee a private one, or a public one? Can people around you see the Joy of God in all you do? What do you suppose would happen if they did?
  3. Are you thankful today? Can you honestly pray “Thank you Jesus for everything” and mean it? Are you ready to let Him be your Jubilee?

NLT – Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Not The Last Word

And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don't want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus. And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master's word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they'll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God's trumpet blast! He'll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they'll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we'll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, The Message)
* * * * * * * *
Each year, starting in late October and progressing for four weeks, we celebrate three birthdays in our house. I start things off, followed by my mother, and then my youngest daughter. The birthday flag flies for about a week (not for Mom, since she doesn’t live with us) each time and the cake (or pie, or cheesecake) doesn’t seem to last nearly long enough. As the three people involved are at three distinctly different stages in life, this four-week span provides an insight to the celebrations in equally unique ways.

But, starting just the day after my birthday, we also remember four other milestones of a significantly more somber nature. They also involve four members of our extended family who have left us. Among them are my father, one of my brothers, a brother-in-law, and an infant nephew. All of these losses were hard, though we had some time to prepare for three of them. My father left us abruptly after multiple heart attacks over a six-week span. My brother Mike battled cancer for almost five years before succumbing to its grip. My brother-in-law Darryl spent a year wrestling with cancer as well.
And then there is Michael. Michael was named for my brother Mike who had already been waging his war for some time. My brother Pete and his wife were overjoyed with the prospect of their second child, and we all shared in that joy. Then, one afternoon in November, my pager (no cell phone at that point) went off with the code my wife used for “urgent” matters. I don’t recall what I was expecting to hear, but it certainly was not the news she presented. Michael, just two days from a planned C-section, had left us. As all of us seem to freeze in time when we die, he would forever be an infant.
The quickly arranged trip to Albany followed. I met up with Mike in the Philadelphia airport and we entered my younger brother’s shattered world. We laid Michael to rest on top of my father in a small village cemetery in southern New York State. The grief was as thick and deep as I could possibly imagine it … and so much more for my brother and his wife. But even here, in the darkest of steps on the Crooked Path, God speaks through the Apostle Paul, “You must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word.”
As I talked about this passage with Pete just this week, eleven years later, I can still hear the grief in his voice. He reminds me that this is an often misquoted passage, where some misguided Christian will stop at the comma in the phrase noted. So many of them want you to “get over it” or “not to grieve like the others” or something similar. And they do mean well, but they probably don’t get it. As Christians, we aren’t told to avoid the grief or to shorten the process. We’re told to do our grieving with a great deal of hope. We have to know and believe that the God who conquered the grave in Jesus will present us with our loved ones again. Death, as Paul wrote, is not the final word in any case. It is only a temporary setback.
There is one more event that comes around every year, one that grew great significance in the wake of Michael’s death. You see, Peter and his wife lost a baby girl, Sophie, a few years later. Sophie, like her brother, never took a breath in this world. As part of their grieving process, and in response to the challenge of a pastor to get either “better or bitter,” the lives of these two children are celebrated in one of the greatest outreaches of our time. This year alone, over 160 shoeboxes filled with the love of Christ join Operation Christmas Child, springing from the hearts of an extended grieving family and make the bold statement “Death is not the final word.” God has the last word for all of us, and that word is Jesus. My brother Pete’s steps on the Crooked Path get little lighter seeing all those boxes go out.
* * * * * * * *
  1. Are you in the process of grieving the loss of a loved one, or do you find yourself fighting against it because somebody said you should have gotten past it by now?
  2. Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to minister to somebody else who is deep in grief. Do you have a solid, Biblical approach for coming along side them and sharing in their pain? What would you do if you had that opportunity?
  3. As the pastor at baby Michael’s service charged us all, when tragedy strikes are you going to get better, or are you going to get bitter?
The Message – Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Ultimate Fresh Start

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:1-7, NIV)
* * * * * * * *
How many of our games as children involved a “do over”? Things didn’t turn out the way we wanted or intended, so we called “do over” and reset things to try again. Even as an adult, my weekly golf game was sprinkled rather liberally with Mulligans. In so many ways, each of us seeks out and, often achieves, a fresh start to some aspect of our lives. If you really need evidence of this, check out somebody’s resume or the traffic at a new car lot.
Our Christian faith is, for the most part, based on the principle of a “do over”. We accept Christ’s finished work based on the grace God give us and we are reborn. Jesus called this out specifically to Nicodemus in John 3, causing the Pharisee more than a little confusion. I sense that somehow Nicodemus knew he needed a “do over” but the way Jesus portrayed it was hard for him to comprehend. But the fresh start was definitely at the core.
And how many more examples do we find in Scriptures? The woman taken in adultery ends her encounter with Jesus hearing the phrase “Go and sin no more.” Jesus tells the rich young ruler to start again by giving everything away. Even in the Old Testament, God speaks to Abraham about making a fresh start in a new land and then changes his name.
If we look at this all the way John Eldridge portrays it in Epic (yes, I know I went there just a couple entries ago), perhaps our hearts are turned to that final act … the one yet to come. I’ve lost loved ones in this life, as I’m sure many of you have. They’ve gone on to a great renewal in Heaven, but the final act of renewal portrayed in today’s passage is quite different. It is God’s final act of making everything new again. A new earth, a new Heaven, and a new sense of just how awesome He is (and has always been).
C.S. Lewis may have painted the best picture of this in his last Chronicle of Narnia. When Aslan explains to the children that the wreck in the train station was real, that they have died from the perspective of the “shadow lands”, he exhorts them to follow him with the call “Farther up and further in!” This is the final call of Jesus as He makes the final renewal and fresh start for all eternity. It is the very essence of the passage in Revelation where everything is created again new and fresh. It is the final “do over”.
So today, as we travel the Crooked Path, may we look for the renewal from God as He gives us the opportunity to mirror His final fresh start. Our lives are far from easy most of the time, and it can be difficult to overcome our perspective and adjust our attitude. But focusing on Him and remembering the change He has brought, the changes He is bringing, and the changes He has yet to make, perhaps our steps can be a little lighter and our songs a little brighter. As the note I fastened to the wall of my office says:
Remember Who …
Consider Why …
Start Fresh Today!
* * * * * * * *
  1. When did you last feel like you had a fresh start? What were you starting over from?
  2. Do you have a favorite “do over” from a Scripture passage? What one and what makes you especially fond of it?
  3. Do you find yourself longing for the final fresh start? In doing so, are you overlooking the daily opportunity God provides you for renewal? What is keeping you from starting fresh today?
NIV - Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Beyond Thirsty

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1-8, ESV)

* * * * * * * *
Perhaps it’s just the odd way my mind works, but the image I recall is from the very first episode of the show Northern Exposure. The young doctor Joel Fleishman has woken up to his new reality. He is, effectively, marooned in a remote Alaskan village. He runs the distance into town (without stopping), bursts into the general store, and promptly consumes most of an entire gallon of bottled water. His thirst is enormous (and his quenching it rather amusing).
Two times in the Psalms, David uses language that engages that picture, but I’m not so sure our English translations adequately capture the scene. In Psalm 42 (verses 1 and 2), he writes “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” To me, the picture here and in Psalm 63 is of a stag being shot at and pursued doggedly by the hunter. He has darted through the brush and brambles at top speed, shells whizzing by him. He finally breaks through to the small clearing beside the clear, spring-fed stream in the middle of the forest. There, his sides heaving as he catches his breath, he lowers his great antlered head and drinks deeply of the sweet, cool water.
That is how I interpret these passages. God wants us to be absolutely desperate for Him. We need to strip away all passion and want for anything else so we can genuinely feel that need and that need alone. The trouble is, most of us are content just feeling a bit thirsty and going to church (or reading our daily reading, reciting a prayer, etc.) and just dowsing our superficial thirst. We never allow ourselves the opportunity to develop that deep, life-defining thirst that God longs to quench. We haven’t raced through the deep woods and rejoiced to find the brook just when we thought we couldn’t take even one more step. No, we’re just strolling down the hallway of life and looking for a quick sip at God’s cosmic water fountain.
The result, rather than our thirst being satisfied, is that our taste for the fresh, cool waters God provides is dulled. We not only fail to long for it the way the Psalmist describes, we don’t even know what it tastes like. Instead, we’ve substituted some rituals and rites and outward affectations for something that was designed to fill the deep crevices of our souls. And, in turn, we don’t find the rest and refreshment because we never go looking for it. Oh, we’ll sing the songs on Sunday that talk about it such as “This is the air I breathe …” but we don’t grasp the depth they hold for us or the strength they can bring.
When we come to the place we are “beyond thirsty”, He alone will give us the Water of Life to refresh our souls. Once we’ve tasted deeply of that Water and taste Him, we understand the true nature of the deep thirst and how it can be constantly abated … sip by sip and drink by drink of God’s gracious provision. And now as we travel the Crooked Path, we will reach out for Him in earnest, rather than just in passing. We will be satisfied beyond our wildest understanding.
* * * * * * * *
  1. Can you recall a time when you have been desperately thirsty for something – anything? What drove you to that thirst?
  2. How is your level of thirst for God? Can you say with the song writer that He is the very air you breathe?
  3. Have you become complacently satisfied with a passing sip at the drinking fountain rather than seeking out the deep, clear waters of God’s provision? If so, what will it take to drive you back to Him?

ESV - Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

In Search of a Motive

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.. (Genesis 3:1-6, NASB)

* * * * * * * *
Everything we do, everything we perceive, everything we see is based on a motive. Some motives are plain to see (I buy groceries so I have food to prepare of meals and sustain life). Some actions appear to hide something deeper, perhaps an ulterior motive that could not be achieved directly. Some motives appear just to be blatantly self-serving. But, rest assured, there are motives behind it all … with one notable exception.

God, in human terms, has no motive. Instead, He is the source of everything and all is designed to flow back and reflect His glory and grace. He is not seeking to satisfy some goal or need as we know goals and needs. He has no needs, but is completely self-sufficient within the perfection that is (and always has) existed within the relationship of the Trinity. The source of most of our problems is when we begin to question (or in other words “assign”) motives to God and His actions.

The great tempter Satan did this to Adam and Eve in the garden. He slithered into Eden, sidled up to Eve (with Adam likely standing right there, dumb as a Spring lamb) and began to question what would possibly motivate God to place so many ridiculous restrictions on what the couple could eat or do. In presenting his argument, Satan planted the seeds of doubt about the true heart of God. He portrayed the Almighty as scared and intrepid, fearing that His creations would unwind His mystery and become gods themselves.

And we all know the outcome. The couple bought the lie and soon found out what really happened to God’s heart … they broke it. But God, even a broken hearted God, still reached out across time and space and revealed the source of His infinite love. This wasn’t some reaction either. He knew all along what would happen and He planned all along to glorify Himself by sending Jesus. As John Eldridge would say, the epic God is writing started long before we can imagine. And God is the only constant in the story.

So how does this apply to us in the 21st century? We know all these stories. We’ve heard them since we could first see a flannel graph board. I won’t pretend to speak for you, but from my perspective, I do continue to fall back on the question “What else does God expect of me?” I’m still uncomfortable with the God, portrayed as the ridiculously generous landlord, will reward all equally regardless of our works. I struggle to grasp the idea that I can trust His heart completely to be free of ulterior motives. I beat myself up because of some repeated sin or habit or (even worse) continue to compare myself to others based on what I do or don’t do. I’m no different than Adam and Eve, tricked once again to questioning the goodness of God and His motive.

In his book Lion and Lamb, Brennan Manning quotes James Burtschaell, noting “(God) does not detect what is congenial, appealing, attractive, and respond to it with His favor. In fact, He does not respond at all. The Father of Jesus is a source. He acts; He does not react. He initiates love. He is love without motive.” I think that pretty much sums it up … He acts and my reaction needs to be in line with His glory through His mercy and grace displayed through Jesus. May I carry that thought with me as I walk the Crooked Path today.

* * * * * * * *
  1. How often do you struggle and search for God’s motive for doing this or that in and around you?
  2. Are you comfortable or uncomfortable waiting in His presence, seeking to understand what part He has for you in His epic reflecting His glory? What brings you either out of your comfort zone or into God’s?
  3. Are you waiting to find out what else God expects from you, anticipating that He has some ulterior motive He will spring on you when you least expect it? Are you willing to let go and trust His heart?

NASB - Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.