Sunday, January 30, 2011

Unilateral Covenant

And he said, "Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?" So He said to him, "Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates — the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."
(Genesis 15:8-21, NKJV)


As a father, I have many occasions to make a one-way promise to my daughters. It's part of the unconditional love in the parent-child relationship. And, I also make some promises that come with a condition which they must fulfill in order to receive their reward. That, too, is a part of life and the kind of contract or covenant most of us are familiar with. These covenants can cover all kinds of things from the mundane to the very important.

In ancient times, when there weren't any lawyers to draw up such agreements, people used other ways to show their agreement with each other and spell out the terms that were to be fulfilled. I recall a message my father gave (oh so very long ago) where he talked about one method in particular. When you and I were about to enter into an agreement, we would slaughter some animals, lay them out in a very specific fashion with a path down the middle, and then walk back and forth with arms linked while we repeated the terms and conditions of the contract.

I remembered this message from years ago as I was listening to the passage referenced today. The practice described by my father is exactly what God is doing with Abraham - but with one very distinct twist. Once the sacrifice is properly laid out, God sets Abraham aside, puts him to sleep, and then the Almighty alone walks through the pieces, binding Himself in a unilateral covenant with Abraham and the generations to come. This is one very special agreement, and it is a shadow of another one God made long before it and fulfilled through One who would come through Abraham's lineage. The Lamb, slain before the Earth was ever created, was God's ultimate unilateral covenant with His creation.

Sure, God made many other promises that had a "performance clause" attached to them, but they all pale in comparison with His great covenant of redemption. And, perhaps, that's where so many of us bristle within ourselves. We become so accustomed to agreements that require us to do our part, that when the God of the Universe says, "I love you and have redeemed you .. I paid the price Myself and you cannot bring anything to the exchange ... it really is that simple ..." we just can't accept Him at His word. In doing this, we make a tragic mistake and end up missing out on the pure joy that comes from the relationship that requires nothing from us.

As I walk my Crooked Path, I will have many occasions when I need to do something to receive something. But I must always remember that my security in the covenant of redemption comes completely without merit ... I didn't earn it to begin with and I cannot do anything to keep on earning it ... it was and is a Gift. No, performance clauses have their place, but not where my relationship with my Heavenly Father is concerned. I just need to trust that He means what He says about this promise ... unilaterally.


  1. Does the idea of a unilateral covenant from God to you make you a bit uncomfortable? Are you struggling with doing "your part"?
  2. Do you find yourself confused at the seeming paradox of "living up to God's standards" and "free from the Law by Grace"?
  3. If you can break away from your view and see the relationship from God's perspective, how much greater would your joy be? Isn't that a much better reason to live for Him?

Sunday, January 23, 2011


There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Now this was John's testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Messiah." They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'" (John 1:6-8 & 19-23, NIV)


Picture a time when you have been traveling to a destination that was new to you. Perhaps you have just a map, perhaps a printed list of directions, or perhaps a GPS system. Or maybe you have taken a trip through a large airport you were not familiar with (especially if you had limited time to get from one end to the other). In any of these scenarios, you would be referring to any guide you are carrying to ensure you are heading the right direction, but there would be another thing you are looking for, one that confirms without a shadow of a doubt, that you are almost at your destination. You are looking for a signpost. You want to see that little scrap of wood by the road that says, "Camp Swampy, turn right in 2 miles" or the one that reads "Gate Z75". Those markers are not the destination we seek, but they are a clear indicator that we are on track and headed where we want to go.

As my pastor (of late the most rich source of material for these posts), began his message from the passage in John noted above, I already had the title for this entry in mind. If there is any word which, in my estimation, can describe that wild and unique character of John the Baptist, it would be "signpost". John thinks so much of this idea that he interrupts his re-telling of the foundation of the Earth to introduce him to us as the one who bore witness to the Light - the signpost that would point directly to Messiah. And, apparently, John was comfortable with that role and quick to discount his being anything else.

There he was, a rather odd-looking character roaming the countryside with a message that echoed the prophet Isaiah. The religious leaders sent out their information gathering team and asked him if he were the promised Messiah. Calmly and directly, he tells them, "No." They then turn to their traditions and want to know if he is the reincarnation of Elijah or one of the other prophets they believe will show up to point the way to the Messiah. It would appear they weren't ignoring the task of looking for a signpost and legitimately wanted to know if John were fulfilling some specific role from their liturgy. Again, John tells them he is not that person. Frustrated, they ask who he is ... and here John quotes Isaiah with authority and confidence and in a manner I think shows he had complete confidence in the role God had called him to. He was a voice, calling out to others, urging them to get ready for the Promise to be delivered. He was, in no uncertain terms, a signpost.

So, how then can this apply to us today? I mean, Messiah came and already did the whole birth-death-resurrection thing as planned. And we believe He did and that's why we live with hope. But, here's the thing ... we still are called to be signposts. We are called to live in such a way that the things we value, do, say and act out declare that Jesus is alive. We are called, as was John, to point to Him.

As I travel this Crooked Path, I would do well to follow this advice. And, in being a signpost, I need to be careful not to berate or argue with others. I should not be so obsessed with winning my point that I alienate the one reading my signpost. I need to act out of humility, offering an alternative to the death and darkness that so permeates the world around me. Like the old hymn says, I need to be a lower light, always directing to the Light of the World. The signpost of my life needs to clearly say, "Jesus is alive! Ask me if you want to find out more."


  1. If somebody were to read the signpost of your life, what would they see and to whom or what would it point?
  2. Perhaps you are looking for a signpost yourself. If you are, what do you want to see and in which direction do you need it to point?
  3. Are you willing to be comfortable in your role as one who points to the Life and Truth that is Jesus? If you take that risk, don't you think that others can benefit and find that you can point them to Him?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Planted with Purpose

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1, NLT)


In my youth, I remember having a local man till up a large portion of our yard so we could plant a garden. And, while that meant I wasn't mowing that particular part of the yard, it did lead to other chores such as planting, weeding, and harvesting. It also lead to some tomato wars - but that's a different story entirely. That garden did produce plenty, though I wonder at what cost in the end.

In both the houses we've owned, my wife and I have planted gardens. The efforts have met with very limited success and, in the most recent case, a harvest of absolutely nothing edible. Though we did what we thought we should, the corn grew up sparse and the tomatoes less than useable. About the only creatures who had any of our "bounty" were the mice who live in the field beyond our property. We had planted with a purpose, but the results certainly weren't worth the effort and we've since ceased doing it. Where the garden once didn't grow is now an overgrown brush pile. I'm sure the mice still get the benefit.

In a recent message, my pastor used Psalm 1 and particularly zeroed in on what we have as the third verse. As he spoke, I took notes and knew another entry was forthcoming. If you close your eyes and imagine the vision of this tree, I think you will see what I see and most of what I heard. That tree, planted with specific intent, is pretty special.

It is not an accidental tree by any means. I've had those kind of trees and plants on my properties. Wild-growing Chinese Elms at the Michigan house seemed to spring up anywhere and everywhere. And here, at the North Carolina house, it's wild onions so dense it smells like a hot dog cart when I mow my yard. But the Psalm 1 tree is different - it was selected, cultivated, and placed by the river in a unique position to grow and prosper. There is nothing random about it.

Notice also the specific placement of the tree. It has been located precisely where it needs to be so it will draw strength and sustenance from the nearby river. Unlike my former garden in the far corner of the yard, it is drought resistant with its roots diving deep down into the earth, drawing nutrition from the life-source of that river. As such, it is vibrant and able to bear its fruit in time for harvest - never missing a beat; always producing as it was intended to produce. Its connection to the river brings it long longevity and durability. You will find leaves on it all the time, just as the one who planted it desired when that exact spot was selected.

As I considered the tree and the river, the obvious parallel to our lives and our Savior were clear. He is our Planter and He is also our source of Living Water from Whom we draw our strength and very life. But, as I thought about it, I saw more clearly the relationship we have in Christ. Just like the tree and the river, it becomes a symbiotic relationship that draws a rich life from the Source that has an ultimate purpose. Fulfillment and "success" as a partner of God comes to us, even if the world around us does not understand it or view it as prosperous. It is an intimate, intentional joining where in God doesn't "need" us in the classic sense of the word, but He chooses to "want" us and to use us as an extension of Himself.

As my Crooked Path winds and turns, rises and falls, I am reminded that God has chosen be with great intent and personal commitment. He has planted me so that I can draw life from Christ and never be concerned about my future. He has removed me from my past and promised life and prosperity beyond what I can imagine, even if it doesn't look like it to anybody else. He asks me to trust Him to provide, and trust is what I must do. I'm not an accident - I'm an intentional work of the Creator, planted with purpose.


  1. Does your life feel random and out of control? Are you having difficulty seeing and understanding what is going on in and around you?
  2. If you look at your "roots", do you find they dig deep down and find the Lift that Christ alone can give? Or do you find them to be shallow and lacking in that way?
  3. Is your relationship with God personal and intentional? Do you believe that He has His eye and hand on you, and that you are not where you are by accident? Are you ready to give yourself over to His purpose?

Sunday, January 9, 2011


In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:26-39, NASB)


Did you have a childhood friend with whom you were "thick as thieves", the kind where when you looked for one of you, you were bound to find the other? So many of us did. The successes and failures were shared experiences that almost always strengthened that bond and forged the friendship - at least through the pre-adolescent years. Over time, and with perhaps the distance that often comes from moving away, that bond changed and finally faded away. But the childhood memories continue - you couldn't imagine life at that age without him or her by your side. And just maybe, you think back on this relationship and wish it could happen again.

Well, friends, your Divine Brother has promised such a relationship - and a much richer one at that. He has promised to be such a part of you that He can even understand what you are saying when you don't have the words to say it. He is constantly holding you up to the Father, describing you in the most loving and intimate of terms. And unlike what some will say, He is definitely not accusing you! His love for you doesn't just "overlook" your faults and flaws; it doesn't ignore them. Rather, He counts it all as in the past and forgotten.

That's a great message for so many of us who are struggling day to day - so why do we miss it so often? Is it because we somehow don't really believe that He is that intimately interested in us? Do we think that somehow we've embarrassed or offended Him to the degree where He won't speak to us anymore? Do we feel like He has abandoned us, left us alone to wallow in our own muck and mire? I'm guessing it is all of these thoughts and many more like them. But it couldn't be farther from the truth.

Paul is speaking very plainly here, and we would do well to listen. He is declaring with great emphasis and power that we are "inseparable" from God and His love. Nothing here on Earth, nothing in the Universe around us, nothing we do, and nothing anyone else does can drive a wedge between us. Sure, the relationship gets damaged from time to time, but that's all a part of the fallen nature. When we feel like we are drifting (and it is we who do the drifting), we can rest in the assurance that God hasn't lost track of us and he hasn't lost interest in us. And, drawing from that strength, we can move back into the fellowship that seeks to drain every ounce of Joy from our relationship with our Father.

As I travel my Crooked Path, the ups, downs, twists, and turns will bring me through many circumstances that will both try me and uplift me. In the midst of all of this, I need to trust that God is never separated from me. Our relationship is secure at the core and can only increase in intensity ... all the way until I see Him in person. No separation on Earth, and the promise of union forever ... inseparable!


  1. Do you feel separated right now - as if God is off at a distance and waiting for you to do something to restore the relationship?
  2. Are you struggling with your past (or even your present) based on what somebody else has told you God expects? Do you find it hard to feel like the "conqueror" Paul says you are in Christ?
  3. Can you begin to grasp the truth that God is in "hot pursuit" of you and won't break it off? Does it make you a bit uncomfortable that He is so lavish with His love? If you could shake that feeling and rest in His care, how would your outlook on living change?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Guilt Machine

They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." (John 7:53-8:11, ESV)


I have a special machine it has taken a lifetime to build. I realize, at some level, that it really should be dismantled and destroyed, yet somehow it remains because I keep tending to it. I'm sure you have a similar one in your possession. They are "guilt machines" and they are a hold-over from a system long since abandoned by our Father because of the completed work of Jesus Christ. And so, in this first entry of a new year, I want to make a resolution - I will systematically and intentionally dismantle my guilt machine, rendering it ineffective to weigh in on and critique my life anymore. If I do nothing else, I will do this and invest my efforts and my future in the Truth that I do not stand condemned before God and I will not condemn myself.

The message to the woman brought before Jesus was clear from both perspectives. Her accusers (many speculate one of them was the unnamed contributing party) have brought her out for show with their own guilt machines in full swing. They are basing their accusation on the Law and we all know the Law has no power to forgive, it can only condemn. And the Rabbi promptly ignores their rants and doodles in the dirt. You can imagine their escalating rage and animosity.

The youngest ones, no doubt, are the most vehement because they are trying to prove their worth to their more seasoned counterparts. And then, He lifts his head up and looks as if He is about to speak ... and His words cut them to the quick, from the oldest back down to those idealistic younger members. They drop their rocks, they holster their words, they hitch up their guilt machines, and they slink off defeated by the simple thought - "Nobody's perfect, gentlemen. If one of you were perfect, feel free to throw the first stone at her."

In the scene that follows, I find the strength to fight against my own guilt and know that, while I am far from perfect, I am not condemned. The woman won't even look at Him at first. All she knows is that the men who took her are gone and she is face to face with Jesus. And then, He extends His love toward her and declares her uncondemned with the encouragement to live in the freedom of forgiveness based in gratitude for what has been done.

So many have been so afraid of the freedom of being uncondemned that they insist on keeping their guilt machines in good working order. They fear that the freedom from guilt will give license to sin and then grace will somehow be abused in the process. We're told that our heart and body are temples and we need to treat them as such out of some sense of duty. But all those thoughts are just the Law, sanded down and varnished in a slightly different shade. Those who lean this way miss the very essence of the last words to the woman from this passage - "Go, and live a life that seeks to obey God not out of some sense of duty, but out of the love that responds to redemption by wanting to move closer and closer with each moment."

As we travel this Crooked Path, we work on our hearts so that the relationship can be better, so that we can drain every last drop of joy out of it and live as a community of the redeemed. We subject our bodies to improvement so that we can have the best relationship and not be hindered as much. We live in the glow of a Love that knew no bounds and offered it all. And we dismantle our guilt machines because they have no place in this relationship. God has declared us uncondemned - who then can condemn us ever again?


  1. So, which are you today? Are still wallowing in a state of condemnation, or basking in the glow of the extreme forgiveness of God who has declared you uncondemned in His own sight?
  2. How's your own guilt machine functioning? Do you find you keep the gears oiled and the works finely tuned? Can you see how much this runs counter to what God has done and declared for you?
  3. Are you willing to commit to giving it up, whether it is the New Year for you or not? Is your view of God big enough to let Him love you without the need for the guilt He has already resolved?