Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holy Night, Noisy Night

"So lay your head on borrowed hay, sleeping Adonai.  Light the world then light my way, sleeping Adonai."

Those lyrics from a wonderful Christmas musical written by Heather Sorenson that our church choir performed this past Sunday morning.  That particular song was meant to be sung as a lullaby.  It was that for sure, but the simple words above that drew the song to a close seemed to stick with me.  They brought to mind the image of a simple, peasant couple laying their newly born infant in a feeding trough because that's all they could find.  That just seems to hammer home (albeit very gently) the point God was making by subjecting Jesus to the full experience of his once perfect, now flawed creation.

Hardly any Christmas Eve of celebration would feel complete if you didn't sing "Silent Night".  Yet, especially for that travel-weary family, the night was anything but silent.  We can only imagine the complaining the animals offered when their little cave stable was invaded.  And, despite what some paintings and songs may have portrayed, the Baby came into the world crying as almost every baby does.  Of course, just as Mary got him settled down, a bunch of shepherds come in out of breath and rambling about having met some angels face-to-face.  

None of this even considers that drummer boy and his drum ... sorry, couldn't resist.  My point is, the night was definitely holy and most likely far from silent because that's how the world is - noisy and a bit disorganized most of the time.  Yet that was the time and place that met whatever criteria God had in mind for the "fullness" and we are forever the beneficiaries.

The Crooked Path pauses once again at the manger scene, choosing not to rush away, but rather to linger in awe and wonder at what God gave.  My Divine Brother preceded me in every way - and entered this world without any political or royal fanfare.  

In tribute of that, I leave you with the following two songs.  One ponders the question of our King subjecting himself to being a subject.  The other reaffirms the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love of my advent wreath by declaring Messiah is born and "All is Well".  Merry Christmas from the Crooked Path to your house.  May your pausing at Jesus' coming bring you much comfort and joy this year, especially in the midst of a rather troubling world.

"How Many Kings" by Downhere

"All is Well" by Carrie Underwood and Michael W. Smith

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fourth Advent Candle - Love

I'm a day later "lighting" this candle than the previous three.  But the reason for the delay is well worth it because it has everything to do with this week's theme of Love.  I was with my extended family for a very special, if not difficult time as we celebrated my brother Steve's life.  Love for family was definitely very present during the weekend and evident through the laughter and tears.

Advent season is holds a very special place in my heart.  I enjoy the progression of the weeks through the candles for Hope, Peace, Joy and now Love.  As I've pondered them, they've grown deeper for me and caused me to reflect more on the entrance of God into humanity.  I find it's a subject we've often glossed over in my past and it makes me want to pause and linger at the manger.  The memory of my own family, gathered to celebrate a life lived and lost, adds even more depth to the Love given that night so long ago.

Before love can be reflected out to anyone else, it must be received and embraced on a personal level.  It has to engage our hearts so we grasp how deep the Love represented by this fourth candle is.  And it's rooted in the kind of family bonds that just can't be broken.  Love came down as part of God's master plan to enter humanity and rescue his family.  That's what I see when I light this candle.  That's what I experienced when we gathered to remember my brother.

The Crooked Path is grounded in Love like no other.  It's rarely as easy or pleasant as we wish, but it sits on Love and leads to Love.  It gathers the Hope, Peace and Joy that sustains us and carries us to the best part ... the Love that knows no boundaries or limits.  May your Advent Wreath burn brightly as you anticipate the arrival of Love this year.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Third Advent Candle - Joy

It's a bit ironic (again) that a week filled with so much "stuff" is one marked for the rose-colored candle of Joy.  Yet, we still did end the week on a joyful note.  This marked our annual trip to work at the Operation Christmas Child distribution center doing the final packaging of shoe boxes as they head out around the glob to the arms of waiting children.  The boxes we packed will be off to the Ukraine.  We send them with the anticipation they will be received with joy.

Our Hope leads to Peace which brings Joy - all of it in anticipation of this celebration of Advent.  Yet, in my family and many others, the shadows of death and sickness seem to loom large.  While none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, some close to us do seem to be slipping almost daily.  The thin strand of what passes for life in this world stretches more for some than others, and if we don't look to something greater than ourselves, we may find despair swoops in and takes over.  

But Joy doesn't have to be elusive or "for somebody else".  Joy can be found in the simplest of what life offers and, when you truly find Life in the fullest sense, Joy will well up the same way Hope and Peace do.  It's just a matter of knowing where to look and finding the One you can trust completely.  So as this third candle is lit, we remember prophets of old who looked forward with great anticipation even in the midst of difficulty and found, at the center of it all, a deep sense of Joy.

The Crooked Path always winds by the stable this time of year.  And, if we let our spirits focus there, we will find a Joy that surpasses everything else and shines brightly in our hearts, reflecting out into a dark world desperately in need of Someone.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Second Advent Candle - Peace

It seems very odd to write about the Candle of Peace given what our country has seen lately.  There are times I admit I shake my head and wonder what has happened.  And then pile all the noise on top of that - news headlines, political grandstanding and everyone grabbing their "15 minutes" as many times as they can.  It's just plain nuts and it makes me very tired.  But above and beyond all that, I can still grasp Peace because of the Hope we talked about when we lit the first candle.

Peace doesn't mean things are calm or there is no fear.  I was reminded of the famous FDR quote about "nothing to fear but fear itself" when a friend posted something about it.  Reading the whole quote, I took it to mean he was talking about panic or dread.  Peace, in that context, is the opposite of dread.  Built on Hope it says, "What you are experiencing isn't the end of all things.  There is something more - something bigger than yourself."  That, at least to me is Peace.  And I find it again this time of year as we prepare to celebrate the Advent of the Prince of Peace.

The Crooked Path will often be noisy and dangerous.  But it will always be paved with Peace if I know where to look for it and trust the Giver of Peace.  Hope and Peace ... two foundational building blocks of Advent and life.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

First Advent Candle - Hope

Hope is a wonderful thing.  Hope sees beyond what is and looks to what could be.  Hope holds the promise of something that feels distant and yet so close.  Hope is the foundation of the human heart, for it is in Hope we see our future, which springs from our past.  And it is with that same Hope I offer you this, the first Advent candle of 2015.
I wasn't raised in a liturgical setting.  In fact, you might say I was long an anti-liturgy person.  Through the years, and due to deeper exposure to the meaning of the liturgy, I've come to embrace and enjoy them to a far greater extent.  Advent is a favorite because it brings focus on what I often call the "first hinge for the door".  It's the beginning of the human side of my Divine Brother and I don't want to take it lightly.

I could write about many aspects of this season (and I've done so in the past on this blog), but I'm choosing to keep things simple this time around.  I just want to light the four candles of Advent for what they mean and breathe in the thought of Hope that descended on Earth so long ago.

May your own journey on the Crooked Path find you awash in the Hope of a newborn baby in a shabby town two millenia ago.  For that root of Hope is so very important to what lies ahead.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Re-Post (from March 2011)

And David said, "Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" And he said, "I am your servant." And the king said, "Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?" Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet." 

Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, "All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master's grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall always eat at my table." Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table, like one of the king's sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet. (2 Samuel 9:1-3 and 9-13, NASB)

He was living, from all appearances, in hiding. From an early age, he had known life on the run. He was a man out of place, a man perhaps filled with thoughts of what might have been. And those "might have been" thoughts had many variations. Not only was he the last surviving member of a royal line long since defunct, his nurse had dropped him during the first escape and both his feet were crippled as a result. If only things had been different ...

When I listened to this particular passage recently, I found I had to back up and play it again. It only spans thirteen verses, so it only played for about two and a half minutes. But the story found a spot in my mind that I just couldn't shake either that day during my drive home or in the time since. In a crystal clear reflection of the generosity of God, David asks the question, "Who can I show kindness to for the sake of me dear friend Jonathan?" The answer? A young, lame man by the name of Mephibosheth ... Jonathan's son.

The story tells of the servant (Ziba) who happened to work for Saul and Jonathan in former times. Somebody knows his history and he finds himself in front of King David. Heaven knows what might have gone through the man's mind when he was first summoned, but I've no doubt he was relieved to hear David was only after information ... and information was something Ziba had on this particular subject.

Now, turn your thoughts to Mephibosheth. We don't know much about his life, other than where he was living and how he got there. And, of course, we know that he was crippled in both his feet. By whatever means, he is brought to the very same King David as was Ziba and he is prepared to be very contrite. Then, the story takes its turn. David, a man of considerable passion and a strong love for Jonathan, tells Mephibosheth that he doesn't ever have to worry about anything for the rest of his life. He has, by royal edict, restored possessions, granted servants, and given him a seat with the princes of Israel. Mephibosheth will now and forever more take all his meals at the king's table.

How much like our gracious and loving Father this story is. God has granted me, a man of similar ailments as plagued Mephibosheth, a seat at the table of the King. And not only do I hold that honor right here and now, but I have a guarantee of a place at His table yet to come in a place that transcends all imagination. And when I get to that table, I'll find I don't have bad knees, or a weak heart, or easily-sprained ankles, or any of a dozen other physical ailments. I'll sit there (or maybe fall down) and bask in the glow of my King in a worship feast beyond all banquets I've ever known.

As I hobble down the Crooked Path, I can almost feel the infirmities lifting away. Sure, I have a place at the King's earthly table now, but I can get positively giddy just thinking about the table yet to come. My feet feel lighter and the air is somehow more refreshing than before. I have a place at the King's table ... just like Mephibosheth.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In Search of a Miracle?

It's quite possible we're seeing a miracle in my family right now. I've got a brother who has been battling a brain tumor and, when I saw him a couple of weeks ago he was very weak and stuck in a hospital bed in his own living room.  I won't go through all the details of our last conversation, but it did leave me in tears and yet resolved to accept this rather unnatural manifestation of the natural course of life.  I drove home and was convinced I had seen him for the last time.  And that still might be the case, but then again maybe it won't be.

He's doing more than just rallying.  He's able to move around on his own and he's talking about getting strong enough to come off hospice care and resume some treatment.  There is not medical explanation for this ... it pretty much has to be a miracle as the Finger of God can be the only thing pressing that tumor back and allowing him to regain mobility and function.

Granted, I have to accept this is a temporary reprieve (we all are dying, right?) but we certainly are glad to have it.  However much longer God gives us is a gift and I think my brother recognizes this more than most of us do.  And isn't that kind of give the very definition of a miracle anyway?

So, while I'm rejoicing in that gift, I get a call that causes me to fall speechless.  Earlier this week, a friend and former co-worker called to let me know the wife of a mutual friend (and former boss) had died suddenly.  No apparent reason, no warning and no miracle.  At only 57, this mother of four boys was gone.  Her husband found her when he came home from work that day.  I'm sure there was a physical explanation ... but that hardly matters in the wake of grief my friend, his boys and their extended families are dealing with now.

So all this got me thinking about miracles and about life.  While I think it's fully appropriate to ask for miracles, I think we need to also look around us for the miraculous results of other miracles that happened long ago and yet we take for granted now.  

Think about that for a moment ... think about the greatest, most miraculous wonder of all that is common to us.  The Infinite, Holy God of the Universe created us, gave us free will, knew we would choose to "turn" (check out Paul Young's new book "Eve" if you want a perspective on that word), and chose to pursue us across Heaven and Earth with the intent to win us back.  That's miraculous beyond compare and we have evidence around us that confirms it we should see every day.

But, we want our own "miracle" and focus on that far too often while forgetting to bask in the glory of the miraculous even if it's so very simple.  And never forget that miracles on Earth - the ones we ask for - are temporary.  The miraculous I talked about is permanent.  To me, that makes it work far more.  I think maybe my brother sees that.  I know my friend's wife, standing before the Presence, understands it.

The Crooked Path is a journey, much of which we don't anticipate or plan.  I'd encourage you to be on the lookout for the miraculous even as you ask for a miracle.  In the end, I think you'll find it more satisfying even if you view it through eyes of pain and grief.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

No Wild Flocks of Sheep

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them,
Because they were harassed and helpless,
Like sheep without a shepherd.
~ Matthew 9:36 (ESV) ~

The passage above keeps coming back to mind lately.  And it's got me to thinking about the nature of sheep vs. so many other animals out there.  While almost all of them can be found living in groups of some sort, not a lot of those are found out in the wild.

With the possible exception of Big Horn Sheep in the western US, I don't know of any examples where sheep - the kind we normally think of when the word is said - exist well if they aren't actively herded.  No, you don't hear about sheep without also hearing a couple of common terms that indicate active management or ranching.  And one of those is a shepherd.

The Rabbi has just finished his discourse on the hillside where he lays our God's master story of love and redemption, how an impossibly high standard is being fulfilled right in front of them so they all can be brought back into the family.  So as he looks out over the crowd once again, he's moved by what he sees ... humanly moved because these people - his OWN people - were constantly harassed and harried like sheep whose shepherd had gone AWOL.

Hundreds of years ago, Isaiah prophesied the following (which Jesus himself would claim as his purpose):

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.
~ Matthew 9:36 (ESV) ~

That sounds like a Shepherd to me ... perhaps the BEST Shepherd one could imagine, especially if you were a sheep who was lost and alone and frightened.

I'm reminded that I don't travel this Crooked Path alone.  I'm not a "wild sheep" skittering around and frightened at what might lie around the next corner.  My Shepherd is actively looking out for me and is intent on binding up my wounds and leading me someplace much better - someplace I was designed to live.  And by that, I mean really LIVE!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Fork in My Crooked Path - New Beginnings

It was a little over 18 years ago when we welcomed her into our world.  She came in with a bit of trouble, but then nothing truly worthwhile ever comes easily, right?  We did our best through the years ... teaching, giving guidance, giving grace, increasing her opportunity to choose.  I'm really very proud of the woman she has become.  So just a week ago now, we set her off officially on her own Crooked Path, a fork in the road for mine and my wife's.  She's a few hundred miles away exploring, learning, getting frustrated and working things out for herself.  I'm still available to guide, but things are definitely different.

This is what we're supposed to do, or so my friends tell me.  We raise them up, instilling a love for God and awakening their heart's desire for the Mystery in it all.  We pray most certainly (probably now more than ever) and we drive away with some tears (I did well until Sunday when I told her my final good bye).  It's different for each one, especially when it's the first like it is for me and a couple of my friends this year.  Yet there is a common thread, and that really comes down to the fork in the path.

It's a new beginning for all of us.  As I watched things unfold around me last weekend, I was struck by how much life and hope and dreams were on display.  It was so very different from my less-than-stellar choice some 34 years ago.  There was a freedom I could sense ... there were young adults who were hesitant yet confident.  In our case, Anderson welcomed 700 Freshman plus another 100+ transfers.  That's a lot of change (and I'm a project manager by trade - I know change).  That's a lot of forks in a whole lot of Crooked Paths.  And it was very evident that Father God was present in that place because his beloved children were starting something new.  I have to imagine he was grinning from ear to ear with all that fresh excitement.

So my Crooked Path continues, different now because of her new beginning.  Her Crooked Path - her very own - really gets started now.  I'm still the dad and she will always be my first baby girl, but this is a new beginning.  She took a fork in the path I'm not supposed to follow ... in fact I really can't follow it.  I can still see it from my own, but it's her path to travel now.  That's the way it is supposed to be.  And I think I'm OK with that ... yeah, I know I am.  We're both right where we should be.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Like Pebbles in a Pond

"Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God." (Hebrews 12:15, NLT)

I'm being challenged much lately by the book I'm using for our Sunday School class.  In Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey writes extensively about how today's church needs to face the task before us, the task of being "grace givers".  During the course of the book, he calls out three major categories into which we fall (though some of us hit more than one): Pilgrims, Activists and Artists.  Today, we started the chapter on Artists, but all three keep ringing in my mind and heart.  All three are a reflection of who God is and how he moves within us.

God is the original Pilgrim.  He travels into his creation, most specifically in the person of our Diving Brother Jesus, and invites us to journey with him.  If you've read this blog at all you know that's a theme I whole-heartedly embrace.

God is an Activist in the purest sense of the word.  He is constantly acting out of his magnificent love and invites us to act as well, most specifically reaching into the world we inhabit to touch lives both now and for eternity. 

God is most definitely an Artist.  He is creative to the core and in making us, his most beloved creation, he invites us to participate in some fashion with him.  We are bid come and work beside him, to watch what he will make out of us, with us and through us.

That all brings me to the thoughts today and my selected title.  Whatever my "calling" among these three tasks, I often feel inadequate and insufficient.  My journey feels more like I'm wandering.  I see things around me but the depth of problems and my limited abilities seem to fuel my apathy.  I don't feel very creative or talented and, when I compare what I do to others' gifts, I fall flat and so far short.  I have a hard time understanding where I fit as a "grace giver".

But I am one.  Maybe I'm just dropping pebbles in a pond, but so are others.  And those pebbles, small as they might seem, cause rings and ripples to flow outward.  They intersect with the ripples of others and, when joined together even without knowing it, we have a much larger impact.  We don't make this journey alone - we are a community and a far greater one than we ever imagine.

I am a Pilgrim on this Crooked Path.  As I journey, I am called to be an Activist - to act out where I see a need and meet the most basic of human needs when I can.  I am a partner with the Creator Artist and, at minimum, am invited to paint with him on the canvas of my own life.  The ripples of the pebbles I drop will reach outward.  My job, is to keep dropping them in my own pond.  That's how all of us give God's grace to others, so don't miss your opportunities when they come.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Simplest Recipe for Life

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously - take God seriously. (Micah 6:8, The Message)

I've been thinking about this verse for some time now.  The book we're working through in a class I'm teaching keeps reminding me of it.  And then incidents like the one in Charleston happen and it weighs heavy on my heart.  The search for answers and reasons, the outcry for justice, the eternal question of "why" seem to scream from every headline.  Maybe it's my stage in life, but I increasingly see people try to complicate what God has said is pretty simple.  The trouble is, that it's often a hard recipe to follow.

I try to steer clear of quoting individual verses and trying to base something bigger on an excerpt, but I think Micah 6:8 is special in that way.  God is telling his people - while they are hurting and mostly disbanded - how to really live.  And I think these three principles apply to us today.  They cover our own heart, the world around us and our relationship with the Creator.

First, we are to set our hearts to a simple and just way of operating.  "If it is to be, it begins with me" or so I've heard it said.  So I must take ownership of who I am and how I live in this world.  It's a call to justice, but not in some flashy, crusader type of way.  It's simply the way we need to be so the world around us can see our Redeemer shining through.

Next, we need to act out of who we are - or rather who we are becoming.  As a rescued person, I need to see the intrinsic worth in every other person that God sees.  If we could do that, maybe life would be a little more precious and we would take steps to ensure others are safe and cared for.  I think it's in the forgetting of this simple, basic tenet that we find the root of crimes like Charleston.  Mercy isn't an option, and it has to flow from our compassion for people that reflects God's heart.

Finally, I'm increasingly convinced that we don't need some complex theological system.  Oh, the deep treasures and riches of God's Story and his nature are wonderful to explore and embrace, but if listen to God's charge through Micah, it starts with humility.  Humility isn't complicated at all - but it is very hard for most of us.  I love the way Peterson renders it and charges us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Three simple steps to the recipe for life along the Crooked Path: 1) Live justly as one with a redeemed heart, 2) Love and practice mercy - and do it actively and 3) Be humble and look to God for direction.  Answers may not always come, but the peace we get from this simple life is beyond belief.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Words are Important

Words are very important.  Words embody meanings we intend and are the substance of our languages.  Words can also be very deceptive if you use them that way.  In fact, there are often two words that seem to mean the same thing, but have very different connotations in the end.  I've heard one of those words recently where, as I interpret it, the intended audience is meant to have understood the other.  Yet, I can't get by what I see as the misuse of a word to couch the true meaning.  The word in question is "regret" which I view as a very different thing from "remorse".

Regret and remorse are not the same at all.  Regret is based on circumstances or events that force one to take an action.  Remorse is a heart-felt, deep emotion that understands pain and leads to true forgiveness.  Regret is cheap and remorse costs a great deal.  I send regrets to an invitation when I either am unable to attend or just don't want to go.  The military sends regrets to the families of men and women killed in action, but they'd prefer not to have to do that at all.  The circumstances are the only thing that brings on the regret.

So why am I rambling about this?  Because I view words as very important.  People need to be very careful about what they say because it provides a view into who they are.  If I express genuine remorse over something I've failed to do or done wrong, I enter into an attempt to restore a breach in trust.  And I do so recognizing that it might never be fully restored for whatever reason.  Regret, essentially, says I'm sorry I got caught and then usually attempts to dismiss it or provide some thinly-veiled excuse.  Not the same thing at all.

My journey on the Crooked Path will never be a perfect one.  But it is undertaken because God has redeemed me.  He sees beyond my regret and invites me to embrace his unbelievable Grace in a way that shows remorse.  In doing so, I model his restorative nature to others who need to know God, not just some formula for "getting out of trouble".  It's an important distinction ... at east I think it is.  You might want to think about it yourself.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Focus on Family

That's not my family, though I do believe the four generations living could probably rival the numbers.  No, it's just a random picture I found to illustrate a point I recently learned.  I now realize I've been coming to it gradually, but it has cemented in my mind.

In his book "Vanishing Grace", Phillip Yancey takes us through a process of revealing who God is and what he intends or asks of us as his children.  We're studying the book in the adult Sunday School class I lead and a current chapter provided a new twist on an old idea ... the central theme of our Bible.  Yancey put it pretty plainly:

God gets his family back.

The words washed over me and those in our class.  Do they not embody the very essence of the Gospel we claim to embrace?  The story God weaves has him starting in a burst of creative energy, watching his family rebel and leave, enacting an eternal plan of rescue and redemption, and finally ends with the biggest family reunion bash in the universe.  God gets his family back!

If we could lay aside our petty arguments and combative opinions, we could see that God is looking to rescue and redeem all those on who he has placed his "thumbprint".  If we can only view everyone - and I do mean EVERYONE - as having an eternal soul with intrinsic worth to our Heavenly Father, perhaps we would more joyfully set aside whatever it is we are doing and instead go about the business of being salt and light, or as Yancey puts it, dispensers of Grace.

The Crooked Path is a journey to reach our Home ... the place where family comes together.  It's part of God's story to us and about us.  My prayer is that I try to live that out just a little more fully than before.

Friday, April 3, 2015

What Really Matters

So much is circulating in the news of late that I thought I'd take the opportunity to attempt to bring some focus to things I've found to be truly of importance.  No coincidence that this happens to be Easter weekend ...

We have a couple of states who think that legislating more "control" will lead to "freedom".  We have multiple countries in the world trying to make the latest deal on weapons or truces or other things that even the most minor review of history tells us will either never happen or will quickly be breached.  Everybody seems to want his or her voice heard because individual "rights" trump everything else.  And the beat goes on and on and on.  And none of it really matters if you look at it from a broader perspective.

As Christians, we celebrate this season of the year as the pinnacle of our faith.  The finished work on the Cross and the subsequent "kicking Death in the teeth" that is the Resurrection are things in which we ground our very belief system.  I, for one, happen to agree.

I like to take three events in the life of Jesus and use them as an illustration.  The Manger and the Cross are what I see as hinges to the door of his human life.  We can't overlook the power of either one or the critical nature of a birth and death under the law.  They set the stage for that magnificent triumph on Resurrection Day that means what he did is permanent - no turning back ever!  And it's all wrapped in a Love and Grace that blow everything else away.

So whether or not you believe in an October or December birth, a Thursday or Friday death ... what matters is the end result of that perfect man's sacrifice.  God's Love and Grace blew Death back to Hell and we get to be the beneficiaries.  the Crooked Path understands that our troubles are nothing in perspective of what God gives us now and promises us yet to come.  As Paul wrote:

"But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love."  (1 Corinthians 13:13, The Message)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Oh, I've Got Questions Alright

I write this post as I think of two specific friends who have had their lives touched by tragedy.  One was direct and the other slightly indirect.  But both of them definitely saw life in its rawest form very recently.  This goes out to them and to anyone else who has suffered and feels like he or she is full of questions without any answers.  Here goes ...

Why do babies die?  Why would God let a couple experience that extreme joy of life only to have it ripped away almost immediately?  I don't care how many times I've heard about it happening, the questions still come and the silence in terms of answers is deafening.  People come up with the stupidest things to say, though I'm sure they mean well.  But I have yet to hear an answer that satisfies.

And what about the other end of life?  What about the slow, painful suffering of a parent who is in steady decline for what seems like forever?  How is that ever, as Paul told the Romans, a "good thing" for any of us?  I've experienced that one close at hand (some of you know why I write this blog in the first place) and the answers still evade me while the questions pile up.

I think perhaps I'm over-thinking this and I'm quite certain I want to over-simplify it.  The raw truth is that I don't get to decide or demand answers to "life's hard questions".  In a world where God allows choice and free will, evil will play its part and death and decay (albeit temporary) still looks like it has the upper hand.  The only "answer" I can possibly accept is that it hurts God too because he designed us and all we see for so much more.  In the end, that has to be enough to get me to stand up, take a deep breath and move forward even when it hurts.

The Crooked Path will raise many questions before it winds to its final destination. Answers may or may not come and those I find may not prove satisfactory in the temporal sense.  My only real job is to trust the One who watches the path and know that he loves me intensely, even when it hurts to ask and not hear the answer I want.  I really want that to be "enough" for me ... I'm committed to that being enough.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's All On God

"Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,

all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
(Isaiah 46:3-4, NIV)

Nothing I do myself really matters when I do it trying to be the rescuer.  That role is already done and, as we discussed in the last blog, we are completely accepted.  It's all on God no matter what you may have been told.  Anyone saying you have to work for it now that God has provided the "initial work" is lying - that's not how he works now nor is it how he ever worked.

The verses above were something I saw on a decorative wall hanging earlier today.  I snapped a picture of it because it matches up so well with what God has been teaching me.  He told his precious Israelites the same thing even when they had been exiled to Babylon.  He didn't change then and he doesn't change now.  He simply asks that we accept what he offers.

The Crooked Path is not of my own design and it isn't my own to manage.  I'm a follower, I'm accepted and I'm rescued.  It really is that simple.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Accepted - 100%

It does our hearts good to hear that we've been "accepted" when we've been looking forward to or longing for something.  Case in point, my oldest daughter and her collegiate pursuit.  She applied to only one (just like her old man) and when we received the envelope announcing she would be a part of the class of 2019, there were great squeals of joy heard throughout the house and the news was quickly shared on social media.  Acceptance was a very big deal.

For the past couple of months, I've been teaching a class based on a book I dug out of my archives.  The publication date on my worn copy of Bob George's "Classic Christianity" reads 1982, and as I've worked through it, my class and I have found the message conveyed to be timeless ... even if they do have slightly updated versions (with different pages).  To say that Bob cuts through all the background noise and clutter of religion is an understatement.

These past two weeks have been especially rich, even though they've also awoken some ghosts from my past.  Bob's theme has been laser focused on how God declares us completely accepted based on the finished work of our Divine Brother Jesus.  What he explains, and in very clear terms, is that so very many of us have only been told half the truth about our Christian experience.  And, in believing only half, we have missed out on the joy God offers in such radical fullness that it's hard to explain.

As I read the book, I'm constantly reminded of the woman in John 8 who is thrown down in front of Jesus by the Pharisees.  Most of you know this story well, but what keeps coming back to me is what the Master says to her at the end.  He offers complete acceptance ("I don't condemn you either) and encourages her to embrace the life offered - live in light of the gift of freedom she's been given without reserve or hesitation.

And here's where the ghosts of the past come roaring back.  I flashback to the days when we'd sing "Just as I am" knowing that it meant, "You got in. Now work hard to keep in good standing."  I flashback to the traveling salesmen we called evangelists who, in retrospect, were selling guilt by the truckload.  I flashback to my first experience in college where the rules ruled and everything was on a merit/demerit system.  And where was the acceptance the Gospel clearly taught?  Nowhere to be found.  In it's place was fear that God always expected something more and was ready to zap me the instant I failed to live up to my end of the bargain.  No freedom - no love - no acceptance.

Friends, the God who invites us on the Crooked Path and the Jesus who walks with us have declared us accepted based on nothing we did or ever can do.  Understanding and embracing that FACT is the most freeing thing I can think of.  It's the truth God offers and it flies in the face of the lies the Evil One tries to tell us.  And it's so very real ... we are ACCEPTED - 100%.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Living Today with Eternity in Sight

O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water. 
I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory. 
Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you! 
I will praise you as long as I live,
lifting up my hands to you in prayer. 
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
I will praise you with songs of joy.
(Psalm 63:1-5, NLT)

He opened his session with a sports story.  Pretty typical for a men's retreat, but this setup was particularly well-played.  He talked about a pro golfer on Wednesday, which is the normal final practice round, hitting greens but being far away from the pin.  Somebody watching commented that he must be "off his game".  But a wiser commenter noted he was hitting every spot he wanted - and that's where the pins would be placed on Sunday for the final round.  Even on Wednesday, he was playing for Sunday.

David did the same thing when he wrote Psalm 63.  His vision was long and he found his heart yearning for what was yet to come - that which only God can provide.  Oddly enough, he was writing this Psalm in the face of all the activity and swirl of 2 Samuel 15.  David was a much older man and was back on the run.  This time, the source of his trouble was his own son Absalom.  Before I heard this message, I'd never connected those dots at all.  It makes the Psalm even more pointed and the longing and desperation for God more rich.

So as we start 2015 with our hopes, dreams and resolutions (many of which will fall away even within the first week), I am reminded of Psalm 63 and and this message I heard.  I'm reminded that we are called to live a life with eternity in mind.  We are called to deal with the subtle idolatry in our lives that sets something on the throne of our hearts other than the "ultimate thing".  And we are called to be desperate for God to the extent that everything else is just perpetually disappointing.

I was reminded just today that the Father stands at the end of the Crooked Path beckoning us home while our Divine brother walks beside us, arm-in-arm, encouraging us and giving us strength for the journey.  He urges us to live today with Eternity in sight, for that is where our soul is designed to truly live and flourish.