Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Season of Lent - the Discipline to Live Deliberately

Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat.  But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.  In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life.  But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal.  If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me.  Then you'll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment's notice.  The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.  (John 12:24-26, The Message)


A few weeks ago, I was studying a book by Brennan Manning when God laid something on my heart. The message was pretty clear and, in fact, scared me just a bit. Manning was writing about dying to self and the cycle of contemplation that leads up to the Holy Week of Easter. I had already been thinking about our upcoming Sunday School cycle as I had volunteered to teach at least part of one adult class for the next quarter. And that's when God stepped in ...

I've not been raised in a liturgical tradition, but I have had more than a little exposure to it. In my early school years, the Christian school kids and Catholic school kids shared bus routes, so I had an understanding of at least the fundamental concept of Lent even though we never practiced it (or even talked much about it). But God, speaking through the book I was reading, several other thoughts expressed in this blog, and the prompting of His Spirit impressed on me that the class needed to center on the Lenten season, specifically the aspect where we die to self in order to more richly understand and reflect our Savior. I swallowed hard and informed my pastor and the superintendent of what happened - and they greeted my thoughts with affirmation. The challenge was on as there isn't really a set curriculum out there for a non-liturgical perspective on Lent. I would have to do my research, listen to the Spirit, and begin writing.

As a result, the Crooked Path finds itself on a bit of a detour for the next few weeks. I'll still be posting, but instead of the regular format, I will be providing the same reflections and thoughts as I will during the Sunday School class. I'm not sure how this will play out, but I do know one thing ... it will lead us again to the foot of the Cross and a view of the Suffering Savior. I hope it will instill in me the desire to live a more deliberate live - to place earthly things in their proper perspective - and focus on my relationship with my Lord. I'd love to have you come along with me and experience the same.

So join me on this little "side trip" and challenge yourself during this special season to reflect on Christ in a fresh way and determine in your heart to deepen your relationship with your Savior and God.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How God Works

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven't stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He's set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. (Colossians 1:9-14, The Message)


So many of the great stories, the ones that we love, have common themes. One that shows up often, especially in high-adventure tales, has a great rescuer who lays down his or her life for the rest of the group. This is a critical story turn because it usually puts the rescuer in position to not be rescued in order for the rest to survive. We see it in Narnia when Aslan offers up himself so that Edmund can go free. We see it in Middle Earth when Gandalf stands alone on the bridge and falls into shadow, allowing the rest to escape out of Moria. Yes, the great sacrifice made by the rescuer is hailed in song and verse and always loved in the context of a story. I think we're wired to love it, most likely because that's the heart of God's story for us.

In this brief introduction to his letter to the Colossians, Paul speaks of his prayer that the believers would "acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works." Then, near the end of his introduction, he tells them exactly what God has done - He has rescued them. He has pulled them out of the dark places. He has set them up (other versions say "delivered") in His kingdom. And He has removed the sins of the past, allowing them to move forward in freedom and know Him in a deeper way.

Notice that Paul doesn't tell them they can now "turn over a new leaf" because of this. God doesn't work that way. His rescue is a completely different basis on which they can live their lives in new ways, not just try to be better. Their status as residents of Earth (and ultimately Death) has been transferred into the status of sons and daughters of God, complete with a home in His Kingdom. The change is so compelling that it leaves one wanting more of it and a greater understanding of how it all fits together. No, it isn't just a "try again" ... it's a complete "do over" with no record of the past. That is exactly how God works.

So then, why do we keep trying to work it out ourselves? The work we are called to do in His Kingdom is to be done under our new positions as children, not outsiders. But somehow, we (at least I) have difficulty getting that through our thick heads and stubborn wills. But, as Paul exhorted the Colossians, we would do well to understand how God works and how that plays out in our lives. His rescue, just like the ones in the great stories, came at a dreadful price. His rescue hung His own Son out to die for us, so that we might be counted as His very own. It seems to me that questioning that cheapens the rescue considerably. Oh, and lest we forget, the rescues mentioned resulted in a resurrection. Gandalf became the White Wizard, Aslan came back to defeat the Witch, and Christ rose again with a power that conquered Death and Hell for good. Because that's exactly how God works.

As I travel my Crooked Path, I will encounter times of doubt and fear, times that make me question what is really going on. When those time come, I need to remind myself that God's love has rescued me from it all - perhaps not a temporal rescue - but most assuredly an eternal rescue. This is something far greater than the stories that carry the same theme. This is how God works ... and I am rescued!


  1. Have you gotten a glimpse into how God works? What have you seen and how has it impacted you?
  2. How about the concept of "rescue" ... what does that mean to you? Do you wince when the story comes to that part and the rescuer seems to be defeated? Or do you understand it is part of something much bigger?
  3. Are you comfortable or uncomfortable with the whole concept of being transferred to His Kingdom? Do you somehow feel like you don't belong even if God Himself says you do?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

An Impulse Buy

But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us." But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, "Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?" They said to Joshua, "We are your servants." And Joshua said to them, "Who are you? And where do you come from?" They said to him, "From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, 'Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, "We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us."' Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey." So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. (Joshua 9:3-15, ESV)


We've all done it at one point or another. We certainly didn't mean to, but it happened. We saw it; we wanted it; we bought it. And, in more than a few cases, we were then stuck with it. There are all sorts of drivers for an impulse buy. I happen to have a perfectly good generator in my garage that has gotten a grand total of just a couple uses despite the fact that it cost me several hundred dollars and I lugged it from Michigan to North Carolina when we moved. I'd wager each one of you has your own story to tell, be it funny or perhaps a little embarrassing. But I'd also wager that none of us had the amount of buyer's remorse ultimately experienced by the Israelites because of one colossally bad impulse buy.

The local folks were running the scale from indignant to scared silly based on what they heard this God of the Israelites doing. These newcomers to their land were making inroads and destroying complete cities left and right. Some came out to fight (and lost) while some, doubtless, headed off for parts unknown. The Gibeonites got together and hatched an especially devious plan. They didn't know it at the time, but its success was predicated on the people of Israel not staying true to form - and that went double for their fearless leader, Joshua.

Imagine the scene. You are Joshua, sitting in your general-in-command tent planning the next move, when one of your trusted lieutenants comes in with a few ragged, dirty, and tired-looking men. You exchange pleasantries and they begin to tell you a tale of how they've come to be in front of you. Something inside you tells you to probe further, but they have what seems to be a plausible answer and your inner voice is quieted. You and your staff make a decision, one that you will later regret as an impulse buy. You accept their story lock, stock, and barrel and you make a treaty with them. Even if your inner voice started to speak up again, it's too late.

In retrospect, how difficult would it have been for Joshua or one of the priests to consult God? I mean, they had the two "magic" glowing stones whereby God directly weighed in on such matters. Joshua had heard God's voice before and followed it, so it isn't like it would have been a new thing to consult the Almighty. Yet, as this passage records, they bought the lie and had to live with the resulting remorse - all for the lack of enough sense and humility to do what they had been doing regularly up to that point.

Now, I'm not saying that we have to roll out a fleece or wait for some miraculous sign every time we encounter a choice. But I will say that we need to live our lives in such a manner that consulting God is a regular part of who we are and how we conduct ourselves. The travels on the Crooked Path would probably go much more easily if we would take a lesson from the story in Joshua chapter 9, or perhaps from reading about those such as Brother Lawrence. Live our lives in such a way that God is constantly recognized as present in everything we do. Taking that approach, there would be a lot less impulse buying.


  1. So, how much of an impulse buyer are you in your daily life? Do you find you jump quickly to decisions and actions that you often regret later?
  2. Where do you look directly to God and where to you think He's left it in your hands to decide? How do you discern the difference (or should there be a difference)?
  3. What will it take to bring you to the point of understanding that God doesn't differentiate the way we do? Can you see yourself in a place where consulting God and hearing His heart are as natural as breathing?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Something in My Eye

On the plains of Moab by the Jordan River across from Jericho, the Lord spoke to Moses. He said, "Speak to the Israelites and tell them, 'When you cross the Jordan River and go into Canaan, force out all the people who live there. Destroy all of their carved statues and metal idols. Wreck all of their places of worship. Take over the land and settle there, because I have given this land to you to own. Throw lots to divide up the land by family groups, giving larger portions to larger family groups and smaller portions to smaller family groups. The land will be given as the lots decide; each tribe will get its own land. But if you don't force those people out of the land, they will bring you trouble. They will be like sharp hooks in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will bring trouble to the land where you live. Then I will punish you as I had planned to punish them.'" (Numbers 33:50-56, NCV)


On several occasions in my life, I've had difficulty with my eyes. I've worn corrective lenses since I was twelve (and needed them longer than that). Eventually, when I could pay my own way, I ended up in contact lenses as so many young people do. That all went along fine for years until I developed an irritation on the inside of the eyelid that forced me to toss the contacts and go back to wearing glasses. Except for when playing softball, having "something in my eye" was very uncomfortable for me.

More recently, when we moved into our North Carolina house, we thought we'd take the opportunity to be eco-friendly and place a rain barrel under one of the downspouts. I installed it easily enough, but later that evening, my eyes began to water and feel sharp pain. I flushed them out as best I could, but it took me a while to realize what was wrong. This time, the "something in my eye" was the residue from the peppers or salsa or whatever had occupied that rain barrel before I purchased and installed it. The pain in both of these cases went away, but the memory of the discomfort lives on.

Listening to the book of Numbers recently, the thought of "something in my eye" came readily to mind when I considered the passage above. Unlike the unilateral covenant discussed in a previous post, God is requiring something specific of the Israelites as they are preparing to enter the Promised Land. He is telling them, for their own good, to completely drive out the current inhabitants, tear down their pagan systems of worship, and completely possess the land as their own. They have been camping long enough, and it's time to finally settle permanently.

The warning here is pretty pointed - fail to do what God says, and you will end up with "something in your eye" that you won't be able to flush out and a thorn in your side that will devil you for your entire life. You will still live in the land, but you will know trouble the likes of which you cannot begin to imagine. Sadly, we've heard the end of the story since we had our first flannel graph lesson in Sunday School (if you have no idea what that means, go ask your parents). They found the work too hard to do completely, and they ended up with a LOT of "something in their eye" as a result.

All of this time, God would have come to their aid, flushed out their eyes, and yanked the thorns out of their sides. That is the exact kind of God we read about ... but it seems like we have a hard time experiencing Him in that degree of love and fullness. Somehow, we've duped ourselves into thinking that we've sunk a bit too far and have to correct our issues on our own before coming back to Him. Or, like the Israelites, we've attempted it all in our own strength because we've subscribed to the warped belief system that "God expects us to do the work and do it well." Nothing could be farther from the truth, at least in the Bible I read and with the God I've come to know.

Sure, He realizes we will miss the mark ... but He already made provision for that in Jesus Christ. He wants us to come in our frailty ... He absolutely LOVES it when we admit we can't do things in our own weakness. His command may seem stern (as I'm sure this one did to Israel), but He has promised us over and over that His burden is light and He will never leave us. That's the essence of the unilateral covenant in Christ.

So, as I travel my Crooked Path, I can actually take heart in knowing that anytime I get "something in my eye", I can run to my Father and He has already promised to take care of it. He still may correct me, but that is always out of love and His desire to deepen our relationship. Besides, the road will always seem clearer if my eyes don't hurt.


  1. Does God's command to Israel seem a little harsh to you? Do you have difficulty reconciling a loving God to the command he gave them to "drive them out"?
  2. Are you still feeling like God "expects" you to deal with your problems before you come back to Him? Does that way of thinking make you weary, sad, or even angry?
  3. Are you ready to accept His gracious offer to get that "something" out of your eye so that you can live a more joyful life and deepen your relationship? Do you hear His heart beating for you to draw closer?