Sunday, January 31, 2010

No Trespassing!

The disciples came up and asked, "Why do you tell stories?" He replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it. I don't want Isaiah's forecast repeated all over again: 'Your ears are open but you don't hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don't see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won't have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won't have to look, so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.' But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance ... God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field." (Matthew 13:10-17 & 44, The Message)





My good friend and fellow recovering Pharisee Dan Parsons takes over this installment; I'm just the editor. Dan approached me about doing this and I readily agreed. The theme goes along well with the last entry and is a message we all need to hear repeatedly. As you consider this entry, he asks that you look up (or listen to) the lyrics to Finger Eleven's One Thing. I won't include the entire song, but the chorus starts out like this:


If I traded it all

If I gave it all away for one thing

Just for one thing

If I sorted it out

If I knew all about this one thing

Wouldn't that be something?


We love the story in a good book or movie. This is largely the reason Jesus taught in stories and parables so much during his ministry on Earth. You might also consider that the Bible, when looked at end-to-end, is mostly given in narrative form. If you close your eyes, you might imagine the "movie" that the passage from Matthew creates.


Our trespasser is running … perhaps even to save his life. He's young and maybe fleeing the results of some natural disaster. Think of the pictures and news footage you've seen from Haiti this past week after the earthquake. He turns down a dirt road and begins running through a large field of lush vegetation. The field lies on the outskirts of a small village and runs up a rocky slope near the far corner. The young man heads for the rock outcropping and some cover. He is, after all, an outsider and a trespasser in this field. The village elders might not be happy to see an intruder.


As he stops among the rocks to catch his breath and consider his next route, he sees something shiny reflecting the mid-day sun overhead. He stoops to pick up the object and it turns out to be a coin. And not just any coin, but a gold sovereign – more money than he has seen in a long time. He chances to look down and sees another one, half buried in the dirt. He digs around to find a third and then a fourth. His hear races as he considers what this could mean. He pockets the coins and risks slipping into the village to find a shovel or some other tool with which to dig and explore.


Finding a shovel, he steals back to his spot and begins to dig. Before long, his efforts uncover several bags of sovereigns … a veritable treasure of gold! He quickly formulates a plan, covers his dig, and heads for his family's house. With the four gold coins backing his story, he convinces his father, brother, and uncle to join him in returning to the village. The formulate a painstaking plan to migrate there, hire on as laborers in that very field, and scrimp and save until they can buy at least that far corner with the rock outcropping. The promise of treasure makes the sacrifice of the present worthwhile.


The scenes could continue, but we'll leave it there for now. Jesus' listeners might have imagined some similar story when the parable in Matthew was first heard. After all, who wouldn't do everything in his power to gain such a treasure for himself? But as usual, the listeners missed the most important point of the parable. The treasure of the Messiah was standing right in front of them and they couldn't even recognize Him. They just took Him for granted as a rabbi who told pleasant stories. And they ultimately treated Him just like any other trespasser.


Sadly, our track record today isn't much better. We hold the Gospel in our grasp and take it for granted. We are God's treasure for whom He gave up Jesus, and yet we struggle with petty disagreements. As we travel the Crooked Path, may we loudly proclaim the treasure of the Gospel and of the One who gave it all up for one thing … me!



  1. Are you ready to trade it all away, or do you value something else more?
  2. Like the young man in the story, will you ignore the "No Trespassing" sign to risk finding and proclaiming the greatest treasure?
  3. Are you willing to give it all up and spread the Gospel in its purest form, not just some set of rules and regulations?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lost And Found

Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:3-10, NIV)





This week, as I was leaving my early morning self-torture session one day, I overheard Patrick at the front desk say something along the lines of "Good, I'm glad you found it." It turned out that another member of the club had lost something of value and thought it might be there. It turned up at the member's house, so all was well in the end and the caller had just wanted to share the news. I mulled this over with Patrick for a while and took his prompting to turn it into a Crooked Path entry.


What do you value among your possessions that, if it you suddenly discovered it was gone, you would launch an all-out search for it? This week's entry goes back a few verses from the one last week, and looks at the first two of the three parables Jesus told that are recorded in Luke 15. The point is to ask what do you treasure most, what do you consider of extreme value?


In addition to the three examples in Luke 15, I can easily think of at least four more related stories or encounters where Jesus asked the same question. The parables of the plot of land with the buried treasure, the merchant who found the perfect pearl, and even the farmer who was ready to tear down his barns to house his bumper crop. I'm also drawn to the encounter Jesus had with the rich young ruler, where the Lord asked him to give up everything – and the man went away sighing and shaking his head because he just couldn't part with what he had accumulated. All of these point back to the question, "what do you value the most?"


So now I ask myself the same question. And that leads to a series of sub-questions (I'm feeling a bit like an attorney facing myself). What do I value so much that I'd rip my house apart looking for it should it turn up lost? Am I so focused on "things" that I can't see the obvious answers God provides to all these parables and stories? As I'm sitting here in the warmth and comfort of my house, do I not weep for the people of the world who are lost and dying? Go back to the Luke 15 passage and read all three of the joyous responses from the shepherd, the woman, and the father … "That which was lost (dead) is now found (alive)!" And in the pure joy only that type of response can muster, a great celebration breaks out.


As I travel the Crooked Path, I have a tendency to pick up things along the way and put them into my baggage. If I am not careful (and too often I am not), this makes my baggage heavy and the walk becomes difficult. And should I lose or misplace something that I deem to be valuable, I get grumpy and let everyone around me know it. My problem would seem to be that I don't have a good sense of the value as God sees it.


God wants me to pick up other people along my travel … and then bring them along. We are called to call others in a reflection of the love our Father has bestowed on us. If we can begin to fulfill that call, perhaps we can hear the party breaking out in Heaven every time someone of true "value" comes back to God. That's a far greater "found" to balance out anything material I might have "lost".



  1. A simple question: what do you value enough to search for when it is lost?
  2. Have you ever experienced the joy reflected in these stories? Do you know the extent of the worth God places on you and those around you?
  3. Do you have the tendencies of the rich young ruler? Do you find it hard to give up what you have and change your system of value?

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, January 17, 2010

Pharisees Anonymous

"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate. Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'  And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"  (Luke 15:20-32, NASB)

* * * * * * * *

Hello. My name is Mark, and I am a Pharisee. I haven’t always recognized the fact that I am a Pharisee, but that’s also part of the issue.

For those of us who grew up “in church” and hearing the stories since we were old enough to sit in front of a flannel graph board, the story of the Prodigal has got to be a favorite. It’s the story of a young man with an iron-strong will who rebels against his father and wastes his inheritance on all manner of worthless living and adventures. He crawls back home at the end, penniless and brought low. His father, ever gracious, lets him back into the family and restores him. And they almost all live happily ever after …

For many, the emphasis on this story has always been the repentant prodigal son. This was largely the case for me through the years. At some point, your interpretation may shift to the father. We’ve always know he was a picture of God, absolutely lavish in His willingness to forgive. Both of those are good perspectives to have as we all are prodigals at some point and the ultimate goal is to act like our Father above in His relentless ability to forgive and restore. I, for one, have come to the conclusion that the person of the father in the story is far more important, but that particular thought must wait for another time and another entry.

The person of the older brother is, to my way of thinking, a more accurate portrait of many of us who grew up “in church”. I came to that realization while my Tuesday morning group was studying Henry Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son. And when I say I came to the realization, I mean it fell on my like a load of building bricks dropped in great quantity from a very high altitude. My reaction was only slightly less visceral than another friend who said he’d read some of it and actually throw it down as if it were on fire. For some of us, it is just that kind of book.

In our spiritual journey from being the prodigal son to becoming the father, far too many of us spend a lifetime being the condescending, angry older brother. From the passage, we note that what he really wanted was justice on his own terms. And those terms specified his brother get punished for his reckless life of sin and he get rewarded for always doing the right thing. He had faithfully done everything on “the list” the way it was supposed to be done … weekly church attendance, Bible reading, visitation, etc. … and now it all came to a head when his father, in a selfless act of redemption, celebrated when the younger brother came crawling home. Well, no wonder he was angry at the outcome. You aren’t supposed to be rewarded for living a life like that, right?

This is exactly where “Pharisees Anonymous” should kick in. The Pharisee within me, no matter how hard I try, seems to get angry when things don’t turn out the way I think they should. My bruised sense of entitlement is hurt because it just doesn’t make sense. And yet, were I to step back and see from my Father’s point of view, the core message of this story – that one who was dead is now alive and well and in the house – would make me volunteer to go get that calf and prepare it myself.

As I travel my Crooked Path, may God continue to humble me and convict me of my Pharisee ways. He wants me to rejoice along with Him and weep when He weeps, not the other way around. The Pharisee in my must be rooted out.

* * * * * * * *

  1. Do you struggle against the Pharisee within you? Who have you admitted it to in an effort to help?

  2. Are you on the path to gaining the point of view of the Father, or are you stuck looking through the lens of the older brother?

  3. Are you willing to trade your personal anger for God’s joy, ready to transform your limited vision into a realization of His heart for forgiveness and restoration? What’s holding you back?

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.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Qualifications For Admission

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them. “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way." (Matthew 5:1-12, NLT)

* * * * * * * *
I’ve loved roller coasters for a long time. My wife and I have enjoyed many trips on some of the more thrilling coasters (at least in their day) at various times. Apparently, genetics do not always pass on this trait. Our two daughters are split on the subject. My oldest isn’t all that fond of the big thrill rides, tending more toward the tamer stuff (my wife has taken that turn as well over the years). My youngest daughter, however, still shares my love for the big hills and the “scream-till-you-nearly-pass-out” drops.

A love of such amusements comes with a price, or more accurately, a set of qualifications to ride. You’ve seen the signs at the amusement parks: “Don’t ride if you have heart trouble, are pregnant, are planning to have heart trouble or get pregnant, have a bad back, know somebody who has a bad back, or any other condition real or imagined for which you might attempt to sue us if we didn’t explicitly list it on this notice.” Oh, and all riders must be at least 48 inches tall.

That last condition is one which my youngest daughter eagerly anticipated making. She was even turned back on a roller coaster years ago, having missed the qualification by less than an inch. To say she was disappointed would be an understatement. She was completely bummed. Of all the little things to keep her off the ride, a mere inch seemed pretty small indeed.

When Jesus sat down to teach His disciples and the rest of the crowd about this magnificent God who had made provision for all to come freely to Him, He began with the list of qualifications for admission. Do you want to put yourself in the position of having a secure place in Heaven? Then you need to realize that you bring nothing to the table and are completely incapable of helping yourself. Is your soul longing for answers to the questions of a seemingly unfair life? Then develop a thirst and taste for the kind of justice only God can give and you will find more than enough to satisfy your needs. Do you find yourself being mocked and rebuked at every turn and in everything you say or do? Great! You are in a unique position to receive the kind of blessed life that only comes from personally knowing a great Savior.

In my last installment, I wrote about how simplistic God’s requirements are for us to follow. Jesus amplifies these thoughts in this section most commonly called The Beatitudes. And the amazing truth is that He has set the standard, from our perspective, astoundingly low! He paid the impossibly high standard of God’s holiness in His perfect, sinless life and substitutionary death. What is left for us is to recognize our need, accept His gift, and follow Him. His message in Matthew was that anybody could come, a completely refreshing note to a people on whom had been piled rule after rule after rule.

As I continue my daily walk along the Crooked Path, I can take comfort and encouragement in knowing that the qualifications for admission are simple. While my own ego and conceit often get in the way, if I can give them over and recognize just how “poor in spirit” I truly am, God is ready to pour out blessings untold upon me. And I can know for certain that my last step will take me into the arms of that Savior.

* * * * * * * *

  1. Do you feel blessed in the way Jesus lays out in Matthew 5? If not, are you struggling to see just how poor in spirit or unworthy you are outside of His provision of salvation?
  2. Are you having problems enduring the pain and suffering this world offers because you just can’t see an end to it? When was the last time you read this passage and really looked at your own life?
  3. Do you feel at times that God requires too much or that the Christian life is just too hard? Have you, perhaps, lost sight of the beautiful simplicity offered in God’s radical gift of Jesus?
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, January 3, 2010

Can It Be That Simple?

In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the LORD, saying to the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, "Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?" Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me: "Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Were not these the words that the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?" And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, "Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart." But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. (Zechariah 7:1-13a, ESV)

* * * * * * * *
We’ve all had those moments. We’ve struggled to comprehend or complete something, trying multiple approaches and have been frustrated at every attempt. We’re about to give up when, suddenly, the thought comes to us and the solution is revealed. We contemplate it, asking ourselves the golden question, “Can it really be that simple?” And yet, it actually is that simple. We were just too tied up with our own complexities to realize it.
It’s somewhere around 500 B.C. and a remnant has returned to what is left of Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity. The temple is either rebuilt or still in the process and the walls of Jerusalem remain a heap of rubble offering no protection whatsoever. Into this bleak and mixed time, God sends His man Zechariah, the prophet priest. He is the son and grandson of priests and knows the Law well. The people, steeped in their ritual and tradition, come with a question … should they or should they not carry out the traditional services kept for over 70 years since the destruction of Jerusalem?
The response (and indictment) is swift and clear. God is pretty much fed up with their rituals for the sake of rituals. He never intended the Law to serve as a master in and of itself. The Law was always there to point out the inadequacy of man and direct him to a Messiah. God’s commandments aren’t an obnoxious set of rules. They are summed up quite simply (as Jesus put it) by honoring and obeying God and treating your fellow man with the same dignity, love, and compassion that God does. Micah 6:8 comes readily to mind as does the passage in James about “pure religion”.
But, instead, the people harden their hearts and turn a stubborn shoulder. It cannot be that simple, they think. It has to depend more on us and how we act. And so, God’s word goes unheeded yet again, and Israel’s restoration and recognition of the Messiah will wait. They just weren’t comfortable with the simplicity of God’s command. Apparently, it offended their sense of religious sensibilities.
Before I pass judgment on them, I may want to examine my own life. All too often, if I am honest with myself, I make it out to be much more difficult than it really is. I have my checklists of “God-pleasing” things I do and I want credit for them. None of them are bad in and of themselves, but when I have drifted away from the simplicity of the Gospel, I risk so much. In a misguided attempt to fulfill some internal desire to “measure up” I ignore the basic truths from Zechariah, James, and so many other passages. God doesn’t want my self-absorbed deeds and acts. He wants me … and He wants a me that is quick to reflect His love because of my deep love for Him.
The Crooked Path will be hard at times. There will be twists and turns, ruts and rocks, steep inclines and boring flat places. Nobody ever promised it would be anything easy. But it does not have to be difficult. Instead, it can be walked in the trust and simplicity that can only come from relying on a Savior who has already done the difficult for me. My job is now to follow and reflect His love to others. It really is as simple as that.

* * * * * * * *

  1. How long is your list of “religious” stuff you need to get done? When is the last time you evaluated it to see what does or doesn’t meet the “true religion” test?
  2. Are you living out a simple life, seeking to please an awesome and complex God? Or have you made it all rather complex, and thereby reduced God to something more “manageable” from your perspective?
  3. Have you clearly heard God asking for your heart and not for your works and acts of self-righteousness? Which of the two are you planning on continuing to give 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.