Monday, October 24, 2011

And the Path Goes On

Do you see what this means - all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running - and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God - he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews12:1-3, The Message)


I started the first collection of thoughts I titled "The Crooked Path" over two years ago. Since that time, I've written thoughts that have connected with my past, my present, and even some looking toward the future. It started out as a kind of memorial to my late brother Mike who chose the verse about this them from Ecclesiastes 7 during his battle with cancer. All this has given me pause to think many times in the eleven years since we said our final goodbye to him.

But, as I write this, there are other milestones I encounter. It happens to be my forty-eighth birthday today. And, while that means well wishes, gifts, cards, and such, it also marks the coming of another milestone ... tomorrow (October 25, 2011) marks twenty-five years since we sent Dad on ahead. As I consider the weight of those years - so distant and yet still so heavy - I am also reminded that the Crooked Path still has miles for me to travel.

So, how does one go about remembering the past but not letting it weigh you down? What really does lie ahead? The writer in Hebrews had a few thoughts along these lines. In that letter, after the wonderful section about the heritage of faith that has gone before us, he comes to what we know as chapter twelve and opens it with the thoughts above. In those verses, I find two themes on which to set my heart.

First, I am to lay aside anything that holds me back. All the trappings of this present world, the sin and fault that always seems to try and hold me back, anything that would keep me from what is ahead. And, second, I need to refocus on Jesus and take to the Crooked Path they way He traveled it.

There is no problem I cannot bring to Him. I will find not one square inch of my path where He has not gone before me. He is the seasoned Guide who knows how to make it through. He is my Divine Older Brother, encouraging and lifting me every step - at every turn. I do not travel alone, regardless of how isolated I may feel at times. Plus, I can walk with Him in the courage and strength of those who have gone before me, knowing I am not the first to take this journey and I will not be the last. They line my path and call out from the finish in an echo of God's message to me.

Yet in another, mysterious way, Jesus is also at the end of the Crooked Path. He always has been, ever since the day the Father received Him back into His presence and seated Jesus at His side. It is a place of honor I can think of when the way gets especially weary. I can close my eyes and think about my Lord and Savior waiting at the end of my journey as well.

Oddly enough, the thoughts that speak to me most clearly are those exchanged by a wizard and a Hobbit. The exchange, which happens as the gate is about to be broken down, goes as follows:

Pippin: I didn't think it would end this way.

Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?

Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Pippin: Well, that isn't so bad.

Gandalf: No. No, it isn't.

So, when the "grey rain-curtain" that shrouds my Crooked Path finally rolls back, I can be assured of what I will see. I will see my Dad, Mike, and many others who have gone before me. I believe they will know I am coming, just like the Hebrews passage says. But most of all, I will see Jesus and I'll know this part of my journey is complete. And, as the young Hobbit said, that won't be so bad at all. The journey is temporary, you see, but it leads to a permanent home. That is a very encouraging thought for the journey.


  1. Is the journey getting difficult for you? Can you trust the words from Hebrews that you can find encouragement, the kind only faith can bring?
  2. Can you feel your Divine Brother both beside you and ahead of you, helping and also waiting?
  3. When you can't hold on by yourself, can you trust God to do it for you?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Defeated with Goodness

So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:34-43, ESV)


The news feeds on social media sites can be both a blessing and a curse. More than once, I've ended up blocking a story or a person just because the content isn't what I want to see. Most of the time, it's just something to ignore and move on. Once in a while, I get one that causes me to click and go deeper. And not just to add some inane comment either ... there is just something that draws me there. That is exactly what happened earlier this week. Here it is several days later, and I just can't stop thinking about it.

I've noted before that I like Donald Miller's writing. At least three of his books have served to help prod me along in a change of thought and sustain that line of thinking as well. I've been challenged to think about how much bigger God is than I may have been lead to believe. I've been drawn to my own story as a part of His Great Story and encouraged as I seek to raise my daughters and help them find their best part in what God has in store. But this simple feed on my Facebook account really set me to thinking. And it really wasn't the feed or even the blog post it pointed to. It was a simple phrase within that post where Miller said:

"Christ, defeat me with your goodness."

The instant I read that phrase, lights and alarms went off in the back of my head. Since that point, I've spent time processing the simplicity of the words and the depth it takes to seriously make that kind of a request. My mind has raced in multiple directions, perhaps even trying to minimize or escape the very essence of the words.

I have written so many things over the course of the two-plus years since I started to lay out my thoughts about this Crooked Path. I've shared my journey, my passion, my pain. At times I have railed against those who would seem to make God so very small and angry. I've held out encouragement because I have been encouraged. And I have always said that God is an intensely personal God who pursues us with a passion the likes of which we cannot find elsewhere. But Donald Miller's simple words, uttered in his mind at a communion service and shared on his blog, have given me cause to think about it all over again.

Yes, I still believe that God is pursuing us as individuals. But, perhaps, in my quest for Him to be so personal, I've done much the same thing as I've accused others of doing with Him - making Him out to be less than He truly is. This phrase, these simple six words, bring me back to a place where I must understand and embrace that I bring nothing to the exchange that is worth anything. I come, bereft of worth and a wanting creature, to face the Creator in the person of Jesus and ask Him to knock down all that I work so hard to stand up on my own. I ask, as Miller does, to be defeated by His goodness.

That goodness - the heart and soul of the Gospel - picks me up and carries me along the Crooked Path. Only when I try to stand alone or step away from it do I find myself vulnerable to that which stands in opposition. No, it may not always look or feel "good" as I would define it, but when it comes from the very Son of God, I can trust that it is good. May that be enough for me, for you, for all of us. And may we truly pray with a renewed heart, "Christ, defeat me with your goodness."


  1. What are you seeking today? Or, perhaps a better question, what are you hiding from?
  2. Have you started doing things that attempt to shape or mold God into the image you want to see rather than see Him as He really is?
  3. Are you at the place where you want to ask, deep in your heart, for Christ to "defeat you with His goodness"? Can you trust His goodness to really be that good?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A City of Refuge

Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'Designate the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there, and they shall become your refuge from the avenger of blood. He shall flee to one of these cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city to them and give him a place, so that he may dwell among them. Now if the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand. He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the manslayer shall return to his own city and to his own house, to the city from which he fled.'" So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. Beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plain from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan from the tribe of Manasseh. These were the appointed cities for all the sons of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them, that whoever kills any person unintentionally may flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stands before the congregation. (Joshua 20, NASB)


It was an accident ... I swear before all that is holy ... it was an accident. But even as the last breath of life ebbed from my friend, I knew I had to run. Accident or no, his hot-headed brother would come for me. He never liked me in the first place, despite the fact that we were from the same tribe. And now he had the excuse he had longed for to do me in. Weighing all this very quickly, I dropped my axe right there in the grove and ran. As I ran, I breathed a prayer of thanks to the God who had provided a nearby City of Refuge - the place that would be my home for many years to come.

It had started like any other day. My friend and I had been sent off by our fathers to continue clearing trees from the grove so we could expand our community farm. We weren't alone, either. Other young men were there doing exactly what we were assigned to do. It was a way of life for us and I was happy to be working side-by-side with my friend. But, accidents happen and this particular one was tragic indeed.

How the tree shifted and fell I may never know, but it did. And, as it fell in what seemed to be a pause in time, I could not reach my friend. The tree crushed him and he died. Others around could clearly see that something terrible had happened ... and that included my friend's brother. So, as I said before, I find myself running. I have no time to stop and grieve, for to stop is to die at the hands of the one who pursues me. Oh God! How could this have happened to me?

You can imagine a story such as this playing out in ancient times. The scared young man, out of breath and out of options, arrives at the gate of one of the six cities of refuge. He quickly tells his story and is taken in by the Levites who live there. God has provided a safe haven for him so that justice can be served, in this case meaning a second life isn't wasted in some rash judgment. There will be a death, a substitutionary one.

The young man will live among the Levites in the city of refuge until the High Priest dies. Perhaps this was meant as a way to appease the family who lost their own son. Surely, we see a picture of our gracious God and His provision for our refuge in the death of Christ. We see this again and again as David writes Psalms about the theme of God being his only refuge. And we see an example of what we can be to those around us who need it. We have come to God for our own refuge and, as a result, we can be a people of refuge for everyone we encounter, pointing them to Life!

The Crooked Path offers no promises other than its final destination and the assurance that I do not walk it alone. My Refuge is not only a destination, it is a very present help and encouragement. Just like the Israelite cities of refuge, God in Christ provides it without bias or barrier. We need only to accept that provision and enter the gates. They are always open and we can live there because it is a better place and our new home. At the center we will find our High Priest who will never die again ... that makes this Refuge permanent rather than temporary. I don't have to fear or feel insecure again.


  1. Are you running today, trying to find someplace to rest from somebody or something that is pursuing you?
  2. Can you trust the God who provides this refuge to keep you safe? Are you struggling to make your own refuge instead?
  3. What would it be like if you could find true rest from fear, even if things around you didn't change all that much? What is keeping you from coming in the "gate" and finding just that?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

More Than a Lunch Date

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner." Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:1-10, NKJV)


Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. Sound familiar to you? In my Sunday School past, that was pretty much the theme of the story Luke related in his Gospel account. A short, despised tax collector in Jericho had a desire to see the Rabbi as He passed through town. There were many people pressing in and, because he couldn't get through the crowd and was too short to see over the top, Zacchaeus found a tree beside the road where Jesus would pass so he could at least catch a glimpse of Him. That really was all it seemed he wanted at the time - just a quick look in passing to satisfy his curiosity. What he got goes far beyond this version.

As I was reading recently, I came upon a description of the Eastern practice of meal sharing, the one that would have been the prevalent standard in Jesus' day. While we may think relatively little about having lunch or dinner with somebody, such was not the case when this story unfolded. And we're not talking about offering to take somebody to our favorite restaurant and picking up the check either. This meal shared between Jesus and Zacchaeus was an intimate, extended social engagement.

Brennan Manning (in Reflections for Ragamuffins) notes that "in the East, to share a meal with someone is a guarantee of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness; the shared table is a shared life." Now, I don't know about you, but that's not something I heard in Sunday School when this story came up. Looking at it through this lens, the heart of the story is the very same as we've seen in so many others. Jesus singles out an individual, presents Himself as only He can, and a life is changed.

Jesus had already been criticized by the religious establishment for his fellowship with the common riff-raff. Knowing what we know of Zacchaeus' reputation in the town, one can only imagine nobody in Jericho looked kindly on Him inviting Himself to the despised tax collector's house. But should we find any of this surprising? Not if we really understand the heart, message, and mission of the Messiah. He knew full well the character of the man he was following down the street. He knew the back-handed deals, the lies, and the cheating. He even knew that Zacchaeus was hiding up in the leaves above the "parade route", hoping only for a glimpse of the Rabbi. And with the compassion that only Jesus can display, He did exactly what we should expect Him to do - He reached out in love and forgiveness. He shared a meal in the man's home, demonstrating that God will go to any length to win back the heart that walked away. No, this was no ordinary lunch date at all.

My travels on the Crooked Path began with an individual encounter with the Savior. Just like He did with Zacchaeus, Jesus sought me out, called me down, and told me that He must come to my house and sit down at the table with me. He offered forgiveness like no one else can provide, and He backed it up by taking on the punishment and shame that were my birthright. He offered me the security of a Shared Life both now and forever. No matter what I come across, He is with me ... and it isn't just some lunch date.


  1. What are you looking for today - a casual lunch date, or a shared meal leading to a shared life?
  2. Put yourself in the position of the townspeople Zacchaeus had cheated. What kind of a Rabbi would willingly sit down and offer peace and safety to such a scoundrel?
  3. Are you keeping Jesus at a distance, offering just to "meet Him for coffee" instead of inviting Him in like He asks? If you are, what's stopping you from trusting Him enough to do what even Zacchaeus did so willingly?