Sunday, March 31, 2013

Open and Clear - Forever!!

"The crucified Christ reminds us that despair and disillusionment are not terminal but signs of impending resurrection.  What lives beyond the cross is the liberating power of love, freeing us from the ego centerdness that says, 'All I am is what I think I am and nothing more.'"  - Brennan Manning

Nothing quite captures the essence of Easter as much as Christians saying to each other, "Christ is risen!" with the echoed reply, "He is risen indeed!"  All that despair and disillusionment Manning mentions does indeed become temporal rather than terminal.  The death we so wept and despaired over was necessary, but it was not the end.  It was only a necessary second hinge on which the Door must be hung so it could open once and for all.

The Crooked Path only paused at the Cross - it now marches boldly and confidently through the open, empty tomb and embraces a Savior who has conquered Death and left it to languish in its own misery.  Our Divine Brother did this for us, his mortal brothers and sisters, so that our Father could give us his heart all over again - because redemption has been on his mind from the start.

So rejoice, my friends!  Take heart in the message the angel spoke (recorded for us in Luke 24 as presented in The Message):

Then, out of nowhere, it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there.  The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship.  The mean said, "Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery?  He is not here, but raised up."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Two Hinges and a Door

I've often viewed the Story of Jesus' life on earth as two hinges and a door.  The hinges are his birth and death - both distinct hallmarks of his humanity.  The birth hinge is a glorious and humble event.  He came, subject to the same nine-month gestation that we all went through, and was born in the lowliest of circumstances to a peasant couple from a back-water town.  Quite the dubious beginning.

He likely apprenticed to his own father, I'm sure banging his thumb more than a couple times, and didn't seek out fame.  When he was "ready", he set out teaching as one of a continuous parade of itinerant rabbis.  Nothing of great note here, except that his followers, especially those closest to him, noticed something different.  They noticed a kind of authority lacking anywhere else they had looked.  And this was a pretty down-trodden people.  They had seen these teachers come and go and none of them even came close to what Jesus said and did.

So it really should surprise us that we see him coming into Jerusalem that day in a way that directly brought Zechariah 9:9 to the crowds' minds.  They had seen enough to believe this King had the staying power they sought to break the tyranny of Roman rule.  This was a people who hadn't been "free" in over a millenia and they were ripe for a coup.  The songs and praises rang out that Palm Sunday ... right up until the coup never happened.

That's where the second hinge of our story comes in.  After a sham trial that didn't even meet the legal standard for witnesses agreeing, the Rabbi was sentenced to death.  And the same crowds that were ready to welcome him as the king, cheered on the Roman soldiers as they administered the punishment.  There would be no coup - and the door, now set on those two hinges appeared closed for all time, just like every other human who lived.  He was born, lived a brief life, and died like a common criminal.  Case - and door - closed.

What nobody saw - and I'm thinking even his disciples were in this group - was that this was all part of a much bigger plan.  The Story of God's redemption required Jesus to go through all aspects of humanity the same way we did.  And, while his body lie in that borrowed tomb, the rescue effort was in full swing.  But that, my friends, is  story for next week.  For now, I'm encouraging you to see the door, on its two hinges, shut and dark.  Just like I didn't want to hurry past the Manger, I don't want to rush past the Cross.  The birth is necessary because it makes the death possible.

As I travel the Crooked Path this year, I want Holy Week to bring a special focus for me.  I want this last week of the Lenten season to ring home the grandeur of The Story in a way that only the darkest of climaxes can.  I want to prepare, once again, for the death of a close family member - my Divine Brother - who did so just for me.  I want to pause and grieve so that my relief next Sunday will be all that more genuine.  Pause with me and look at the door on its hinges - the door seemingly closed as seen by those who walked with Jesus over 2,000 years ago.  Don't rush through it - it will open soon enough.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Puzzle Pieces

I've always enjoyed a good jigsaw puzzle, even the thousand piece ones.  There is just something about them.  One place I worked even had them set up in the aisles.  It was a great way to take a mental break and I think that's an awesome motivator to provide your employees (not to mention the conversation that happens over the puzzles).  But, not to go all "Forrest Gump" on you - life is a lot like a puzzle.  I had this thought while at a church governance seminar yesterday, married it with my current theme about re-engaging with my story, and the rest is just the rambling of my blog post.

God sees the full picture.  That much I know for certain.  We get a glimpse of parts of it at times, but I don't believe we see the whole thing.  We do see enough from him to work on what he has given us.  And, we see enough to sort through the "pieces" that are in front of us to make some sense of them (or at least to trust God when we don't see it completely).  But we do have a task before us - we're supposed to find the right fit for the puzzle.

We bring a unique perspective to this as well, kind of like the family who keeps the puzzle in a room, assigns general sections to family members, but lets anybody work on any area where they find a matching piece.  Just walking away from our own "focus" and seeing something else sometimes lets your mind see a different perspective.  In doing that, we exercise our God-given creativity in filling out the puzzle all within his master creative plan.  We are given the chance to trust his vision and participate in it.  In doing so, we help those around us who are "stuck" or who seem bent on "forcing" a piece in to stop, reflect, and regain perspective of God's vision.  Together, we join forces and make something beautiful as part of God's Great Story.  And doing it together brings the joy only found in community.

The Crooked Path was never meant for complete, continual solitude.  Sure, we may toil in loneliness for a season, but we aren't alone.  We have others who are working through the same challenges and we all have the "Master Puzzle Visionary" who we can trust.  As we travel, we pick up our pieces, try to find the spot for some of them, scratch our heads at times, and maybe even trade with fellow travelers.  But we know, deep within us, that we can trust God.  He sees the whole picture in its finished state and finds it beautiful.  He sees us as beautiful.  That's a comforting thought on a cloudy day.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

If Only ...

Dreaming is a good thing. Our hearts and minds were made by a Creator who has embedded curiosity and creativity in us.  We were born to forge ahead, to take risks, to explore ... but if that's all we ever do on this Crooked Path, then we will find ourselves hollow, jaded, and left at the mercy of "if only ..." thinking.

There are no wasted days in our lives.  Everything, no matter how grand, bland, ridiculous, or despicable is accounted for by One who knows and loves us.  For a wonderful example, we need turn no further than the story of Joseph (unpacked in this MP3 by Donald Miller in quite a fresh way) to see that God will work all things toward an ultimate good purpose.  He will redeem it all, and he will do it because he loves us.

So let me repeat myself; there are no wasted days in our lives.  And when we try to do just that by focusing on the "if only" we ignore the opportunity set before us.  We trade it (or try to) for some imaginary "greater and better" future that focuses on what I can do or become and ignores what God is doing in and around me right now. We squander one of God's greatest resources - ourselves - in a feeble effort to do our own thing our own way.  And again, our dreams and creativity are important to God - but they are not above him.

God invites me and you to walk with him.  He invites us into his work right now, wherever we may be along the Crooked Path, so that his glory can be revealed.  He gives us the opportunity to create what he wants and reflect him.  But to do so, we've got to give up our "if only" and false sense of self-identity.  I'm thinking Lent is the perfect time to do just that.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Father Brother Partner Friend

It dawned on me this week that God presents himself to me in different ways during different stages along my Crooked Path journey.  He does this to all of us and the Word he gave us points it out over and over again.  I could write for days on all the ways we experience God, but my thoughts for this post have settled on four: God as Father, Brother, Partner and Friend.  Here goes nothing ...

God as Father is the easy one.  Most of us have been taught this concept from the time we could be handed crayons and sit at a Sunday School table.  The Father is the one up ahead on the path.  He is the one who is our leader and guide.  He calls to us, beckoning from somewhere down the way and urges us to follow where he goes.  He may be far enough ahead that we don't see him, but we know he is there and we want to believe he is true to his word.

God as my Brother is, essentially, an offshoot of him being my Father.  If I believe in the Trinity, I call Jesus the Son of God.  My Bible tells me that I am also a son of God so, by direct relationship, I have a Divine Older Brother who quite literally loved me and the Father enough to die for me.  My Brother has walked the same Path as I walk and comes to me directly offering encouragement.  He has a unique connection to our Father and shares his heart with me as we journey.

Matthew also recorded Jesus saying he would be our Partner.  This comes with the exhortation to "take my yoke" which is a partnership if ever I've seen one.  Draft horses who will work as a team are often raised together from foals so they can develop an innate sense of each other and be more effective partners.  Sharing the load with Jesus as my Partner is an awesome way to travel the Path and it reminds me that I am never alone.

On the night before he died, Jesus told his closest men that he wasn't going to call them servants anymore.  Instead, he was renaming them as his Friends.  Now, having the Father, Brother, and Partner are great ... but having God call me his Friend?  WOW!!  That is an incredible opportunity.  Friends know each other better than anyone else.  Friends laugh and run and play together.  Friends are comfortable just hanging out because they know in their hearts that the relationship they have is worth more than anything else.

This Lenten season, my story reminds me that God is my Father, Brother, Partner and Friend.  If that isn't a great way to dive into The Story, I don't know what is.