Sunday, December 23, 2012

The True Seekers

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy." (Matthew 2:10, ESV)

The Christmas story only starts at the manger.  And I'm not talking about the next 30-some years either.  I'm talking about the core story - the one we celebrate in manger scenes and Advent candles and familiar carols.  If you start with the announcement to Mary and carry through to the visit from the Magi, you cover about 2 years, give or take.  And all through that time, you find men and women who diligently seek out the Messiah either because of something they were told or something they learned from their own search.  It's an amazing tribute to the "true seekers" who longed for that baby so long ago, even if he didn't quite look like they expected when they found him.

For example, right after the birth - within the first two weeks - we get the account of Mary and Joseph presenting their newborn at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Given what we know of them, they certainly didn't stand out in a crowd and there were doubtless many other young couples with babies in line with them that day.  But at least two people, two "true seekers" took notice.

Simeon had been told by God that he would see Messiah.  On seeing the couple and Jesus standing in line, his heart must have skipped a beat or two. The old man hobbled over to them, took the baby in his arms, and began to sing a rather strange song.  His words must have sounded odd as they spoke of his readiness to die now that he had held this baby.  Then again, if you've seen and held the salvation you've longed for, what else would you say?

Anna was also there that day.  She took notice of the baby, came to him, and created an anthem to Messiah.  Her song surely echoed the other as now two people - two of the true seekers - had given testimony to the birth of the promised Savior.

Then there were the Magi.  At the same time all the above was happening in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, these scholars sitting among their readings over 1,000 miles away saw something in the night sky that sent them on an epic journey.  Whether it was a planet, star, or some other "ordinary" celestial object, we have record that two years later in Jerusalem, after they talked to Herod, they saw the start again and it filled their hearts with joy.  They were truly seekers and they would find the King they sought.

Today we also find not what we expected, but rather what we so desperately need.  We find this most humble  unassuming King who has become a peasant so he can bring rescue and redemption just like he always intended.  And we can say, despite the turmoil around us ...

(click the above for the Michael W. Smith song)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bethlehem Thoughts for Advent

They were an odd bunch, that much we can gather.  
The weary  couple had come over 300 miles on foot at the whim of some far off official so they could be counted (and taxed).  The tiny town that was their destination wasn't of much account either.  Perhaps that's why there was a shortage of available lodging that night.  In a last-ditch effort, they agreed to stay in the cave stable behind the small inn.  You would think a pregnant girl would have received a little more sympathy ... but you'd be wrong on that account.  So, in the smell of that stable she went into labor and, with no doctor to attend, her husband delivered the Child.
Meanwhile, in the hills around that little village, a rag-tag group of shepherds were dozing and chatting while their flocks, settled in for the night, either slept or ate in the field around them.  Shepherds weren't known for their rank in society.  They associated with mostly other shepherds as it was pretty much a full-time job (and by that I mean 24x7) to guard and care for your livelihood.  I can only begin to imagine the terror  that struck them as the nigh sky lit up like a thousand blazing campfires.  Frankly, I'm shocked any of them could recover to the degree they would leave their sheep and run over the hill into Bethlehem as the angle suggested they do.
So, in the dead of night, in the dark, dank confines of a stable, the weary couple and the shepherds witnessed God entering the world.  The account in Luke's Gospel says it was a pretty awesome sight to behold.  The shepherds, unable to contain the pure joy ran off waking the town and everyone they could see.  Mary, overwhelmed to have been chosen, just kept silent and thought about all that had transpired over the past nine months.  Joseph finally had at least some of the answers he sought, even if he still didn't completely understand.
But our tradition also adds three more players to the Nativity pageant.  History will note that they weren't actually there that night, but I'm going to err on the side of tradition and include them.  These "magi" were very studious men.  The 300-mile trek of Mary and Joseph paled in comparison with their journey.  They saw signs in heaven, probably even before that first Bethlehem night, and gathered up their entourage to seek out the King.  Their faith and diligence is honored in the story right along with the shepherds.  They somehow knew (above all the rest of their knowledge) that history had changed.
This year, as my Advent candles burn and my simple, traditional tree sits in my house, I want more than ever to connect with that Child in a fresh way.  God chose his entry into humanity as a humble, lower-class baby arriving to an exhausted couple in a dirty little cave.  His first companions were animals and his first visitors the most common of commoners - shepherds.  Yes, wise mean sought him out and risked much to see him - but the common thread among all who made a choice that first Christmas was the helpless baby in that manger.  Wrapped in cloth, still fresh from childbirth, the Messiah began a life that would, in the end, bring Life to all of us.
Like the shepherds and the wise men, I want that Life now more than ever.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Personal Encounter with Jesus and a Waterfall

Some of you know that I've been part of a class going through John Eldridge's "Beautiful Outlaw".  Since first picking the book up, I've been challenged repeatedly to change the way I look at (and for) Jesus.  One of the last chapters in the book talks about encounters people have had - and some very personal ones.

I've been going through a number of struggles lately, and the thoughts in that particular chapter really began to gnaw at my mind.  I was beginning to wonder why I hadn't had "my encounter" with Jesus and why life was so difficult at the moment.  I probably was even pouting just a bit.

We've had a fairly dry Summer (as have many) and to compound that the farmer that owns the field behind us was emptying his ponds at a pretty quick clip.  This is all part of how life happens, but what it means is that the waterfall in the picture above stops running.  I know it's a little thing, but I love to see it when we drive by on our way to church or my daily commute.  For me (and my wife) there is just something about a waterfall that draws us in.

August appears to be intent on catching up on rainfall.  In fact, the few hours we were gone last Sunday brought over three inches in our rain gauge.  So last week, when I went by the Moore's Pond waterfall, I saw it running again.  And in that small wonder of nature, Jesus gave me the encounter I thought I had been missing.  It put a smile on my face and I knew He really was there  with me all the time and had never left.

The Crooked Path rarely looks the same for me as it does for you, so why should I expect the encounters with Jesus to be any different?  The very God who made all we see did so for His own pleasure and for ours.  And He renews that creation continually as part of showing us who He is and so we can encounter Jesus ... even in a small waterfall that hadn't been running for a few months.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The New Covenant

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)
In my way of thinking (at least at times it goes this way), I have a tendency to view the "old covenant" as null and void.  Well, it dawned on me earlier this month that I was mistaken.  As communion was being served, I wrote down the following thoughts about the new and old covenants based on what the verse above and what God showed me that Sunday morning.
We have a "new covenant" because the old one was impossible for us to keep.  But God doesn't hold that against us because he gave Jesus who fulfilled it perfectly for us.  That doesn't make it void - it makes it complete.  So now Jesus brings the "new covenant" to us and he brings it via his own blood.
The travel on the Crooked Path is a forward trajectory based on the new covenant.  I don't leave the old one behind, but rather move forward in victory with a Savior who took care of it and now builds his home within me.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Four Kings - Only Two Pair

I happened to be listening to the “wisdom books” a while ago, and it dawned on me that Solomon wrote much of what we have as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes with the intention of educating his son as he prepared to take the throne of Israel.  It’s a good endeavor, to be sure, and a concept we would do well to emulate.  The legacy we leave to our children and those we may teach and mentor is important.  They will stand in the gaps we do and to take the job of preparing them seriously is a good thing.  But if all it consists of is “book learning”, then I’m afraid we will miss the mark.  Perhaps that’s what happened between Solomon, widely regarded as the wisest ruler of his day and his son Rehoboam - who was the last king of the divided nation and a pretty nasty guy from all accounts I read.

Fast forward a few generations and you find another record of a “good” king.  Hezekiah is ruling Judah and the records show “he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD”.  But the king got sick and God’s prophet came to tell him that he would not recover.  Hezekiah turned over in his bed and whined about it until God sent the prophet back to tell him that he would live another fifteen years.  Apparently, this fixed allotment of time made another king lacks in his fathering, because three years later, the next king was born and when Manasseh took the throne at the tender age of twelve, the records show his fifty-five year reign to be among the most wicked on record for the tiny kingdom of Judah.

So, it dawned on me that these two stories represented four kings.  And anybody who knows anything about playing cards can tell you that four kings is a very strong hand.  But rather than representing four-of-a-kind, these four kings amount to no more than two pair.  Two pair, in all the rules I read, is on the lower end of the pecking order.  So what should have been a show of strength, really wasn’t.  What should have been a legacy of lessons bathed in wisdom and the goodness of God instead resulted in two young kings with rebellious attitudes who took a nation and drove it to division, then drove it further into captivity.  Not a pretty picture when you look at it a few thousand years later.

The Crooked Path provides me an opportunity not only to learn from what I experience, but to pass that learning on to the next generation.  My daughters and others who I will influence have a huge task ahead of them.  This world isn’t getting any easier as the Story progresses toward its climax.  Evil doesn’t just go away on its own, and preparing myself and the next generation for the battle is a serious task.  Mere book learning just won’t cut it - it never did.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Path of Life

"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy;at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."(Psalm 16:11, ESV)
My wife uses a devotional titled "Jesus Calling". Another cyber-friend also does and posted an image of the entry for July 14 on a social network today. It kind of solidified some thinking I've been doing and prompted me to write this post. Summarizing it, the devotional says:

"Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you ...Together we will forge a pathway up to the high mountain ... Someday you dance lightfooted on the high peaks; but for now, your walk is often plodding and heavy ... Stay on the path I have selected for you.
It truly is the path of Life."

That's a powerful message to think about, especially when our journey seems to get bogged down by life's circumstances. And the impact of those circumstances is very real ... never let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Our world is a fallen, broken place - but it is our place for right now. The "trick" is to remember we do not have to endure it alone.

The Crooked Path will often take me through times and places that seem beyond dull or painful. My steps will be slow and sometimes painful to take. Still, I need to look around me for the little clues that ensure I know my Father watches out for me with each step. If I look beyond what I think I see, perhaps I can say with Job:

"And this is only the beginning, a mere whisper of his rule.
Whatever would we do if he really raised his voice!" (Job 26:14, The Message)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Beyond Wonderful!

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
For darkness is as light to you.
(Psalm 139:1-12, NIV)

I have a lot of places on my bucket list.  I have no idea whether or not I’ll get to visit them.  I’d like to see the glaciers of Alaska along its coast.  I’d like to smell the rain forest in South America.  I’d like to see the sunset over the plain while sitting on Mount Kilimanjaro.  I’d love to see New Zealand in all its wild glory.  And I’m sure most of you have similar visions of places, events, or people that run through your mind.  It’s the wonder at seeing them - experiencing them first hand that draws us.  The sheer anticipation of being a witness to the vast world God signed his name to upon creating it just makes us giddy at times.

David may have had some wonderful sights in his mind when he penned the verses of this particular Psalm.  But I believe the biggest wonder he described was the immeasurable presence of God.  There is absolutely nothing outside of His knowing.  No person, idea, event, or “surprise” can escape God.  He knows it all instantly, fully, and perfectly … and he does so without any effort at all on His own part.  He even knows what might or could happen because He exists outside of the thing we call “time” and sees that as if sitting at the center of a circle while it all arcs around Him.  Yes, God’s knowledge is all-encompassing.

But God’s knowledge isn’t just at some ethereal level that is just “out there somewhere”.  His knowledge also focuses in on me like a laser.  He knows my every routine and quirk.  He is, as David notes, “familiar with all my ways.”  There is no place or situation so dark or desperate that God has somehow lost track of me and cannot find me.  I just cannot outrun or outfly Him.  And, even in knowing me this completely, He chooses to love and pursue me.

The Crooked Path will often wind through dark places.  It may be a deep valley where the sun cannot penetrate to the path.  It might be a dense copse of trees that blot out the sky.  It could even be an open area with cloud cover so thick you can almost feel it close in around you.  But I can rest in the promise David claims - God already knows about it and He is right there with me.  To me, that though is just beyond wonderful!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Hand in His Hand

"But what do we mean when we talk of God helping us?  We man god putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak.  He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another.  When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them.  We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it."  (C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity)

I love reading C.S. Lewis in small bites.  I have a book beside my bed with excerpts from his writings done in a daily reading style.  The pages are often strung together in themes from a certain book for several days, providing more insight on a given topic over the course of up to a week.  Other than The Chronicles and Screwtape, I've not read an entire work of Lewis and, given the depth of his thoughts, that may be a good thing right now.  I fear if I read some of these books clear through that my head would explode.  His simple portrayal of the human interaction with the Almighty as in the passage above just causes me to think so much ... and it drives my thoughts to the wonder of just how much God loves me.

The very idea that God is, even right now, holding my hand and guiding me - letting me grow in my own creativity of spirit within the enormous depth and breadth of what He has provided - is an awesome thought.  So much of what I'm learning of late makes this ring especially true.  I've seen friends suffer under teaching that would make God out to be some Cosmic Taskmaster who is just waiting to smack us down at every turn.  I've known those who think this earthly realm can be made perfect right here and now in terms of money, government, and all that goes with that.  At the same time, I've looked into the face of a widow who I didn't know that just lost a husband younger than I and I've seen the same God that Lewis talks about so often.  It absolutely amazes me over and over again that we can know this God and so many miss Him or make Him out to be something of their own design.

God wraps His hand around mine for a reason.  He does so out of His Love and His desire to reflect His glory through me and what I do.  The Crooked Path is a means to an end - an end where God stands ready to greet me with arms open wide.  Until then, I can rest in His strength and know He is happy to see me learn and grow under His direction and guidance.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Still More to Come ...

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. (2 Timothy 4:2-7, NLT)

It's out there somewhere for each of us. I'm talking about the finish line. Paul seems to have clearly caught sight of his and he's encouraging Timothy to believe that his is still to come. And he's challenging his protege to think about what is still to come and take action. He's asking Timothy to be faithful with the Gospel, even though many people won't want to hear it the way Timothy is going to lay it out there. They're searching for something new - something now that will take their minds off what they see as drudgery. So Paul is telling his friend how to proceed, to understand that it isn't over yet for Timothy even though the Apostle is nearing death himself.

So how can we apply this ourselves, especially those who aren't "called to full-time, professional service"? Frankly, I'm challenged to see that old saw as an attempt to cloud the real issue at hand. Nobody is called into Christianity as a "vocation" ... we're drawn to it as an avocation! We don't serve out of some warped sense of duty and dread (at least we shouldn't). We embrace the fact that we are imperfect creatures who God loved so much that He provided Jesus to redeem us. Frankly, I'd like to capitalize the third word in the passage I cited so it reads, "Preach the Word of God" because that's one of the names used to describe Jesus. And in the context of what Timothy is challenged to do (as are we), I think it is most appropriate.

The finish line to the Crooked Path will come soon enough. It may be right around the corner for some. But I'd wager that, for most of us, there is significantly "more to come" and we need to embrace that. Much of it will be boring, some will be exciting, and some will be outright difficult. There are those who will experience far more than "their share" of the difficult times. To all, the exhortation from one who has neared the finish and sees the face of the One for whom he ran rings true ... "Work at it, spread the Gospel, expect difficulty and rejection. In the end, you will find it really wasn't anything at all compared to what God has in store when you cross your finish line."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Greenland Looks Bigger on a Flat Map

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:1-6, NLT)
Perception plays a big part in what we do and say.  If I perceive you are an open, honest person, I’m far more inclined to trust you than I am if you appear closed and aloof.  And, it has always been that way.  I don’t know if the signs were actually there, but our history books (at least the ones I had growing up) tell us that centuries ago, at the point where the Mediterranean Sea spills out into the vastness that is the Atlantic Ocean, maps showed warnings that advised, “Beyond this point, there be dragons.”

Speaking of maps, even modern ones present some challenges in terms of perception.  The island nation of Greenland (which, as you might know has little green about it), is located so far North that, when represented on a flat map, it looks almost the size of the North American continent.  I’d read that somewhere over the past month and, coupled with my previous thoughts about “I AM”, my thoughts of how we perceive things started spinning faster than most of the others.

All that drove me to Job, especially the end of his story.  I see the later chapters where God and Job are talking set up as if in a courtroom with the the wise old prosecutor pacing back and forth dealing out fact after fact that just nails the guy in the witness chair into silence.  In a way, that’s what God did and Job, having gained some valuable perspective, speaks what we read at the beginning of Chapter 42.  He has been personally humbled by the presence of “I AM” and now sees things with fresh eyes.

My journey along the Crooked Path could often use some perspective - especially the kind only God can bring.  If I, like Job, can humbly accept that kind of lesson, I will begin to see those around me in a different way.  And, seeing them as God sees them, I may find myself more accepting and compassionate about what they are going through on their own path.  Perspective - I don’t think I’ll look at a flat map again the same way.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Still Thinking About "I AM"

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
And the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalm 8:2-4, ESV)

I have the great pleasure of living in a rural area where there is little man made light at night.  When it is very dark and clear, the skies light up in the most incredible way.  Frankly, we consider this "compensation" for my work requiring a commute of any distance or our church being a 40-mile round trip multiple times each week.  I think I understand a little more of what David saw when he looked into his own night sky thousands of years ago and contemplated the One who made it.  He probably started doing this as a shepherd on the hills outside of Bethlehem.  I'd bet lunch he did it when he was running from Saul.  I think a clear sky and a night of only natures' sounds can put anyone in this frame of mind.

The question being asked is one I find myself uttering quite often of late.  God has taken our family through a distinct period of learning opportunities and, it would appear, has given us a unique opportunity that we are taking.  Things surrounding this whole situation keep making me ask God, "Did you really drop this right into my lap?"  So, as I've considered again this week the weight of an "I AM" who is that personally interested and invested in me, it makes me just shake my head in awe and gratitude - kind of like the wonder I feel when I look at the sky while standing on my deck or in my yard.  The God who intentionally made that also wants a relationship with me, His creation.

As I travel the Crooked Path, I am reminded that I do not do so alone by any stretch.  The very God who spoke to Moses and said His name was "I AM" walks beside me, before me, behind me, and carries me.  I am a son of I AM ... and that is a very comforting thought.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Weight of "I AM"

You don't have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26, The Message)

If I really were of a mind to make my brain hurt in a major way, I’d go beyond trying to read large portions of C.S. Lewis or Dallas Willard in single sittings and I’d contemplate the weight of the God of the Universe saying “I AM” to me.  I can somehow put things in an historical perspective when I read how He said that name to Moses.  I can begin to grasp when Jesus utters that phrase in all its wonder when they came for Him in the garden.  But when I turn those thoughts inward and try to connect the dots as to why that same God comes to me personally and says it in a thousand different ways, I feel like I want to run to the cabinet for at least four ibuprofen tablets.  Trying to say “it boggles the mind” just doesn’t quite explain it.

And yet, that is exactly what God does.  He comes to me … Mark Moore … in an intensely personal way and gently but clearly tells me over and over who He is.  He tells me to trust Him completely.  He tells me how much He loves me … so much that He faced down Death and won my very soul.  And He promises me that I am never alone.  That’s the very essence of Jesus message to Martha during the depth of her grief at losing her brother.

The Crooked Path can be an unsettling and sometimes frightening place.  In my travel, it is very comforting to note that, as my friend Camille Lewis said (her blog is on the main page), the sparrows in her planting area are watched over by God.  If the “I AM” takes His attention to that detail with one of the smallest creatures in the world, I’m pretty sure I can trust Him to get me through this life … and into the next one.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Empty ... Forever!

And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 25:5-8, ESV)
Three words - "He has risen" - one single word of joy in Greek.  This marked the beginning of change none of them could possibly fathom and yet would embrace with gladness.  The Crooked Path, having paused in reverence at the Cross, bursts forth in the boldness of a Risen Savior through the empty tomb ... empty forever assuring that Death has no hold on us again.

Friday, April 6, 2012

When Time Stopped

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. (Matthew 27:45, NLT)
May you be willing to pause on the Crooked Path this Good Friday to consider what really happened during those three dark hours so long ago.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Flowers that Never Bloomed

Take a good look at God's work.  Who could simplify and reduce Creation's curves and angles to a plain straight line? (Ecclesiastes 7:13, The Message)

Becky and Dave will be planting a flower garden in the backyard of their home in one of the suburbs of Grand Rapids.  Nothing much of a surprise here, is there?  How many of you will plant a flower garden, pausing only briefly to debate the merits of perennial vs. annual or peonies vs. pansies.  No doubt you will focus on color and easy care (I know I would) and you’ll head off to the local big-box or garden store to make your selections from their steamy greenhouse.  Flower gardens are as American as anything else, right?  Well, yes they are, but perhaps the one at this house is different.

Becky posted a social network status this week indicating she and Dave had lost their unborn child … a little girl named Loryn.  And while this type of loss hits anyone hard, there is an extra aspect there to consider in their case.  Becky writes a blog (the link is on our main page) discussing how they deal with their blended family - life in “Stepville” as she calls it.  Both of them come from broken first marriages and are working through the battles of kids, step-kids, ex-spouses, and a myriad of other baggage that comes along with the arrangement.  That’s kind of the point of the blog and, I think, it is a topic that should receive far more attention than what I’ve seen it given.  So to lose a child that would have been uniquely a part of the two of them … the weight seems almost unbearable even from here.

When I learned that Loryn was to be a “Flower that Never Bloomed” (borrowing from the lyrics of a song I heard over 25 years ago), my heart went out to Becky and Dave.  I reached out and asked if I could write a blog post about it - not because I have any special knowledge, but because they hurt, they are my friends, and I hurt along with them.  And because I’ve seen it a few times before as well.  I’ve written multiple times about my brother Pete and his wife Louise and all that is connected with their losses of Michael and Sophie.  I thought immediately of my friends Camille and Grant Lewis and how Camille refers to her un-bloomed flowers as her “Heaven babies”.  No, I’ve never been as close as any of them, but I do have at least some perspective to serve as a point of reference.  And even from my view it is deeply painful, so I can barely imagine what Becky and Dave are feeling right now as they begin working through their grief.

It struck me, as I exchanged some messages with Becky, that this is the very essence of that Crooked Path I write about.  As Peterson puts in in The Message, “a plain straight line” isn’t how God works.  Straight lines, while useful, are boring.  But if we accept the curves and shapes and changes that bring so many joys our way, we have to be willing to accept the grief and sorrow and pain that accompany them at times.  We have to accept that God sees things in a much different way than we do - a completely different perspective.  And we have to be willing to trust that He loves us far more than we can imagine.  He will be the single thing we can count on when life isn’t “straight”.

The Crooked Path reminds me that I have a Heavenly Father waiting for me at the end, One who is encouraging me to keep my eyes on Him.  It reminds me that I have a Divine Brother who has traveled this path and now doubled back to travel it along side me.  It tells me that my part in God’s Story continues to unfold and that while I know the ending, there are many tales yet to tell and many scenes to play out.  And when flowers such as Loryn fail to bloom, I cling to Hope and keep walking even in the pain.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
(Joel 2:24-27, ESV)

I’ve been thinking often lately about that “third R” I wrote about several weeks ago - Restoration.  As we approach the season of Easter and the end of Lent, I think the word takes on a whole new meaning for me and that is probably why God has pressed it into my mind so often and so heavily of late.  The passage from Joel 2 comes readily to mind.  I think, perhaps, it is misunderstood (as is so much the old prophets wrote), because it seems less about the things that will be restored and more about the Restorer who is showing His Children His heart.  Rather than a promise of something temporal, it is a reflection of the Promise.  And the fact that the editors of the English Standard Version chose to represent Joel’s words as poetry brings this all back together for me.

We know, from historical fact, that Israel never regained their former glory.  If you look at the size of the empire under Solomon that much is blatantly obvious.  We know only a remnant went back to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas and then only for a brief time.  we know the State of Israel today is far different than any iteration it has been through since they came back out of Egypt thousands of years ago.  Yet there is this promise, right here, that speaks of restoration.  And I believe that God’s words are never hollow, so there has to be something else going on here - something far bigger than grain fields eaten by insects.

I write this post a mere two weeks ahead of the most solemn memorials Christendom knows … Good Friday.  It is, as my friend Cathy put it when I was doing my Lenten study over a year ago, especially somber because we are preparing for the death of a close friend and family member.  But though we must travel to the Cross once again this year, though many will observe the Lenten season with great reflection, we know we can look ahead to that swift sunrise on Easter.  We have assurance that our memorial, while somber, is not a celebration of the end.  God has promised a restoration and He does so with the exclamation point that is the Resurrection of Christ.  And that, friends, is what I believe God had in mind when He gave Joel this message.  He has always been and continues to be the God of Great Restoration.

The Crooked Path takes so many turns that, at times, it becomes dizzying to me.  The very happenings of life itself can be overwhelming and I will feel great loss again and again.  But the promise - the assurance - of Restoration should be a center of Great Hope for me.  My Father keeps telling me, “I have it all in hand … there will be Restoration of all you consider to be lost.  I signed that Promise with the Blood of My Son.”

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Bitter Story Redeemed

So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the LORD enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son.  Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the LORD, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel.  May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”  Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own.  The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.  (Ruth 4:13-17, NLT)

I’ll admit that I’m becoming increasingly fascinated with story.  And the aspect I seem to be focusing on is the redemption of what Donald Miller terms “negative turns” in stories.  All our life stories have them.  They play a crucial role in how we develop and how we view our own lives.  They play an even more crucial role in the development of how we see God in perspective to our story’s part in His Bigger Story.  So, this week’s offering comes from the negative turns that make up the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth.

The story is so familiar.  Family experiences famine, moves out of town, boys meet girls, boys marry girls, and all the men die before any children/grandchildren are born which leaves the women in the story alone and more than a little frustrated.  Skipping ahead past the part where one daughter-in-law leaves and one stays, we find two widows returning to Bethlehem without much to live on.  Talk about your major negative turns.  It is so negative, in fact, that Naomi tells everybody not to call her by her given name but to call her “bitter” instead.  She reckons that since God has dealt in this fashion with her and she will wear that name.  

Oddly enough, she doesn’t act like the classic “bitter person” so many associate with the word.  Far from it as she digs in, teaches the “ropes” to her fellow widow and daughter-in-law Ruth, and doesn’t seem to sulk about what has gone on.  Certainly the negative turn in her life has had its impact, but it hasn’t derailed her.  She coaches Ruth on how to exist, relying on the generosity of others during harvest, and the two find out that Ruth has been working on the edges of a field of a not-too-distant cousin of the family.  Fast forward again past the symbolic ritual that shows honor and integrity by all parties involved, the shrewd dealings of Boaz with a certain legal transaction, and a marriage.  The couple is presented with a son and we are introduced to King David’s grandfather.

At the end of our pageant, we find the women of the neighborhood (who apparently didn’t bother calling Naomi “bitter”) rejoicing with the new grandmother.  Her negative turns, those that left her without a husband and sons, have been redeemed by God in spectacular form.  As the curtain falls and the credits roll, we see her sitting in her rocking chair, happily bouncing baby Obed on her lap.  Her joy has been restored and, I’d wager, her faith in God’s ability to do just that never wavered.

The Crooked Path will present me with many opportunities to trust Him with my story.  He has promised to redeem even the most negative turn I might experience, though He will do it in a way that glorifies Him and that I may not completely understand.  Acknowledging the negative turn happened is a given, but I hope I can approach it all like Naomi did - with complete honesty and perseverance to know that God still has me in His mind.  Redemption is in sight if I take the long view and I don’t need to live in a bitter state.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Plans for Me

“I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out — plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”  (Jeremiah 29:11, The Message)

It’s another of those verses that is quoted so often with people laying so much at its feet.  Actual churches and ministries and belief sets have been founded on this very verse.  People have used it pretty much forever to describe their view of God’s Will and Plan … and I believe they have done so in error.  Many of them have taken this verse (considerably out of context, no less) and claimed that God has a specific “blueprint” for the life and work of each person.  And, whether that use of this “promise” has lead to those leaning toward a God who promises prosperity or one where it is incumbent on us to figure out the exact plan, it all makes for a very frustrated Christian living in a broken world.

Sure there are times when God specifically says, “Do this, then this, then this.”  He did that in many of the stories we’ve loved since childhood.  But, and here is the big difference, that isn’t the normative way we see Him working in people’s lives.  Instead, we see a Master Designer who joins with us, stands at the canvas that is our life, and encourages us to pick up a brush and create along side Him.  We become an extension and expression of His own creativity and, in doing so, play out our part in His Story as we live our own stories.

These ideas don’t set well with the “blueprint” crowd.  They begin to ask about God “causing” things that happen to and around us.  Or they attribute not being “blessed” as a result of something a person did or didn’t do.  They want so badly to have a God who is obligated to act in a specific way, that they have convinced themselves it happens this way.  They either use it to abstain from a God who “does bad things” or to “work harder to please God” or any number of actions and thoughts designed to push the “right button”.  In doing this, they miss the generosity of God’s heart and His invitation for us to be the unique person they were created to be.

I know enough to know that I don’t have all the answers.  I’ve been on this Crooked Path long enough to understand that things don’t happen in a “predictable” way as often as I might like them to.  But I have a firm hope that the God who loves me as an individual is inviting me to embrace Him and live out my best story as part of His.  And that idea is enough of a “plan” for me.

P.S. If you'd like to go a little deeper, download this message audio (MP3) from Matt Hammett at Flood Church in San Diego on this topic. It's well worth the listen.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Terror by Night

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
(Psalm 91:4-6, NIV)

A friend posted a question on a social network thread that asked, “What are your demons and what images do they bring to mind?”  It was a good question that spurred quite the conversation.  Many answered with their particular “demons” first and then some followed later with word pictures that helped express their thoughts.  Near the end of the thread, I told the story of the image in my mind based on my brother’s loss of his son Michael just before he was to be born.  It’s a mixed image of despair, a broken world, and a hope for the future.  And it is very vivid indeed even some thirteen years later.  All this got me thinking that a blog post was in order, so, here we are.

How do we express the images of the things that grip our souls, both good and bad?  How do we process those fears, those demons that would try to claw at us, pull us down, and tell us we aren’t worth the effort?  Where can we turn when our common case of “terminal humanity” rears its ugly head and tries to tell us lies about our self-worth?  With these questions (and many others) swirling about my head, God brought to my mind this passage by the Psalmist.  And that little phrase of encouragement - “You will not fear the terror of the night” - seemed to jump out at me.

Our fears of inadequacy, our self-doubt, and the destructive self-talk that so often comes over us do not have to define who we are.  As a member of the Community of the Redeemed, this little promise God makes that is recorded in the 91st Psalm is there for us as well.  We have been granted shelter in God’s arms and He will protect us from the “terror of night” and all the other dark things that haunt us.  We may not have them completely eliminated from our minds, but we do have a place of retreat that promises protection.

The Crooked Path passes through some pretty shadowy places.  When it does, and that dark terror tries to grip me, I can rest assured that my Father is watching and will welcome me into His resting place so that I can deal with the terror and defeat it - all because He has already defeated the source of the terror for me.  That’s a pretty comforting thought.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Somebody Different

It’s that time of year again when Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are playing on my drive to and from work (and other times when I choose to “torture” my girls if we take my vehicle).  I’ve been thinking again about the way God set down the Law, the plans He gave for the Tabernacle, and all that was associated with that time of transition for the Children of Israel.  And two words seem to keep coming up over and over … set apart.

It dawns on my that God wanted the Israelites to be somebody different, somebody special.  They were coming from slavery in Egypt and had been promised a land that could be theirs for the taking (provided they agreed to the whole Theocracy model - but that’s a different topic entirely).  And, as part of it all, God laid out some pretty strict standards for them for their diets, health, governance, and worship.  All of it, at least as I read it, was designed to differentiate them from the current inhabitants of Canaan and their pagan practices.  God called them His people and He wanted them to “look and act” the part.  It wasn’t so they would just appear like a bunch of nomadic oddballs, though.  It was all part of His master design to continue His story of Redemption that shows His Power in its ultimate form.

So, how does this really apply to us several thousand years later?  We’re not living under those laws and regulations (thank God for that!)  We are a people who have seen the completion of that Redemption, right?  Well, that’s all true.  Yet Christ, setting the example, lived as Somebody radically different.  He fulfilled all the Law so we don’t have to (that’s the legal/transactional part of the Redemption) and He laid the framework for us to live as a people distinct and unique because of that Redemption.  He initiated the process of Restoration and invited us into Relationship with Him.  And, if we truly hang around Him enough, we’re going to become somebody different ourselves.

The Crooked Path is crooked for a reason.  It is different for all of us who travel it.  But the One who ordains it lays out a common call to each of us … God asks us to live, think, act, and become different because of what He has done.  He gives us Jesus as The Example and sets us all up for what He has in store ahead.  I’m thinking that’s the kind of “different” I can embrace.