Saturday, December 24, 2016

Simplicity and Wonder Beyond Comprehension

Over two-thousand years have come and gone.  The world changes, yet it remains very much the same.  Man searches for something he can own and master, something he can lay claim to as his own.  Yet for all our seeking and scheming, we find ourselves poor and often slaves to what we thought would bring us satisfaction.  We invent complexity thinking it will bring about change, but it only breeds more complexity and the same frustration.

Simplicity - the kind that brings us to our knees in reverent wonder beyond what we can begin to comprehend - that's what can satisfy.  It comes to us quietly, gently - much like that Baby did so long ago.  Into a world full of struggle, war and unrest, Emmanuel becomes God with us in the most tangible way.  We struggle with it because it seems, well, too simple.  It doesn't fit our model of how things should work.  But it fits the Father's model of how he Loves us ... and that's all that matters.

Imaging young Mary, humming softly to Jesus in the dark, dank cave stall.  Carved out from the noise and bustle of Bethlehem at tax time, she sits quietly, holding and comforting a newborn.  Joseph chats with the shepherds and the tale about angels is told over and over.  But back behind some feed sacks, hung as a makeshift nursery, Mary tends to the Child.  The Promise of God come in ultimate simplicity and yet with wonder beyond comprehension.

From the heart of my Crooked Path to all who read this, I offer this musical gift.  I think it represents the simplicity Mary so readily embraced and I pray all of us will do the same.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Unscheduled Appointments

I'm remembering an unscheduled appointment that changed my life pretty dramatically.  Thirty years ago on October 25, right around 2:15, events started in motion that I still remember so vividly even now.  It started with a rather frantic phone call from someone looking to find my mother.  Very shortly after that, Mom called and said, very simply and plainly, "He's gone."  With those words, I learned my Dad had slipped beyond the boundaries of Earth and joined the ranks of Heaven.  I think about his passing every year, but this being thirty years from the day he died, it's kind of an "anniversary milestone".

And it got me thinking about appointments.  They are the result of planning, for the most part.  Some are more meticulous than others when they set and track appointments.  Some make them and then completely forget about them until they get a reminder message (or are late).  They come in all types, some that I make and some that others make for me.  But they share a common trait ... they are planned interruptions asking me to focus on something specific.

But then there are the unscheduled appointments.  The "curves" life throws at us with little or no warning.  Maybe they are pleasant surprises (the party my wife threw for me on October 24th thirty years ago certainly was) or perhaps they force us to make decisions we'd rather skip or at least put off.  The only constant, from my perspective, is that they happen ... and they happen to all of us.

That's part of life on the Crooked Path.  It isn't that old straight and narrow one from the Sunday School lesson.  It's a winding path full of rises and valleys.  It forces us to trust in our Divine Brother as guide when we can't see what is around the next bend.  It's a journey of faith and experience and it's really more enjoyable when we can't plan every step.  It's a wild adventure where our Father invites us to follow and trust, even though the unscheduled appointments break our hearts.  It isn't easy; it is messy; and it's definitely worth it - scheduled or not.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

That's Not Your Name

That's not your name!
The name and identity you see as looming over you is false. It's a lie from the enemy. That's what Communion is telling you. That's why we are commanded to do it in remembrance of what Jesus did. He gave us a true identity in himself and a new name - beloved child!

Each time we come to the Lord's Table we have the opportunity to learn again who we are and where The Story is taking us. We are anticipated in a future that calls to us across time and space. And we are invited to live now under our new identity with full anticipation of what is still to come.

We would do well to study the story from John 8 about the woman the Pharisees threw into the middle of the Master's teaching session. They called her by one name while he used a different one. They named her Caught Red Handed Adulteress. He called her Uncondemned Daughter.

When he told her what her real name was he called her to live a life in the fullness of who she was in God's Reverse Economy. He freed her to live in a way she never imagined possible. And when you combine that with all the other promises made you know she is not alone in this effort.

Yet the lie has been perpetuated for centuries ... even longer.  The very religious among us would seek to drag us back down and make us grovel and beg for the forgiveness that is already there.  They would gloss over the core concept that everyone - our enemies included - are named "God's Image Bearers".  They use the false names to divide when the call of the Master is to unite instead.  The call to live in the grace and freedom intended - the way it was planned all along.

That call extends to all of us. We're given the opportunity to refocus and re-center on what really matters ... on who we really are. That's a gift we should never take lightly or overlook. It's a chance to pause along the Crooked Path and remember the call of our Master to join him in the journey as brother and sister, knowing where it leads with great confidence.

And if you look at your travel papers, they have your new name on them. That lie of an old name is nowhere to be found! 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

God's Reverse Economy

Image result for pictures of economy

During my recent study of Bob Goff’s “Love Does”, I became familiar with a phrase he used very often – God’s Reverse Economy.  It seems to stick with me and continues to give me a different perspective on my life and what I see around me.  When I combined those thoughts with some messages my own pastor brought over the past few weeks, I was challenged to write this Crooked Path post.

In God’s Reverse Economy, it isn't about what we think are the "right" things. Important or not they are at best secondary to being with the Teacher.  We're not students as much as we are apprentices. Yet it goes beyond that. We are looking to learn how to live LIFE.  We are to be cultural insiders looking for opportunities to engage as the Body of Christ.  And, in the end, Love does what it should and must do.

The Reverse Economy isn't just what we do it becomes who we are. We assume Jesus's identity as our own and live that way.  The Eternal Godhead creates us in His Image not out of boredom or loneliness or some other misguided reason. He does it as an intentional expression of Himself in every way and then invites us to embrace Him and His passion and compassion for a Creation that walked away.

In God's Reverse Economy we willingly give up all we think is valuable to invest in what we can never "own" in any other way.  When we come to that perspective and embrace it as our own, we participate in the Redemption that cost Him everything of true value.

We are made for a purpose. There is an answer to the question of "Why am I here?" and it doesn't look like what we think it does. In fact, it is far simpler than any of that. God's nature and His Law is designed to draw us to Him in a constant manner. It is an enabling thing that gives us Jesus' perspective and Life so we avoid Death and its associated burden and dead end.  In this way, only the Reverse Economy ever produces lasting value and worth.  

This means living in a state of community, not isolation.  When we reject the true community God offers, we create our own economy that will always fail. It may even look prosperous briefly but that fades and we're left with empty hands and a bankrupt soul.  What this means for us is obedience. That's not a complicated thing, but it is hard. It willingly walks away from the false and temporal nature of our economy and submits to God's Reverse Economy. It grows in faith and trust that Father God is there at the head of the Crooked Path and our Divine Brother Jesus walks with us. And even when it looks and feels contrary to our "natural instincts" we still trust and obey. 

Again - not a complicated thing … just a hard thing for us to do.  It looks and sounds like foolishness. It is always disruptive to the presumed status quo.  That’s why it is a Reverse Economy and can be nothing else.

As I ponder all this on the Crooked Path, I’m reminded of the story we read in John 9 regarding the blind man Jesus healed.  When questioned about his past and who might have been “responsible” for him being blind, he gave a perfect answer that reflects God’s Reverse Economy.  My paraphrase of the man’s response to the Pharisees goes something like this:

“I won't speculate on any of that.
I'll stick to what I know to be the facts.
Yesterday I was blind. Today I can see.”

Know this, my friends, and take it to heart.  We are known completely and loved without condition.  No one can tattletale on us with some deep dark secret that will catch God off guard and cause him to stop loving us.  That’s the Reverse Economy and I want more of it, not some fake substitute.  This leads to LIFE and that's the only thing worth sharing with others.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Story First

This has been rolling around in my head for quite some time and it’s time to get it from there to this blog.  As I start, know that I’m not looking for validation on what I’m thinking and I’m certainly open to discussion (if not debate).  My intent here is to continue processing what I’ve learned as I continue my journey along this Crooked Path.

I took a challenge from my family to do something for Lent this year.  I reinstated my annual “listen through the Bible” and chose to only play that in the car during any drives during the Lenten cycle.   To date, I’m into Paul’s letters and should wrap up before very long.  What this venture has reminded me is that our Bible is Story first and foremost … and everything else after that.

I’ve heard people say it is history or a “manual for life” or a dozen other equally diverse things.  Some of them are rather absurd when you think about them.  And what they do is water down and take away from what I’ve come to believe very deeply is the point of what God has revealed and continues to give us.  It starts with a massive story arc that reaches from before time until after and focuses on the redemptive nature of God.

In thinking about the Bible as Story, I have to align everything I read with everything else contained in it.  As such, nothing will ever truly contradict or be out of synch with anything else.  It’s about context, pretext and subtext of the narrative and it all points back to the focal point of Redemption with heavy emphasis on Reconciliation.  One friend who had been to seminary described this position as meta-narrative theology and I’ve become very comfortable with that position. 

The literary flow of what we read supports the Bible as Story as well.  So much of it is presented as dialogue in so many ways.  The writing shows reflective thought gathered over time.  John wrote his pieces of the Story decades after they happened.  Luke was presenting first-person accounts gathered over years of journeying with Jesus and Paul.  Ruth and Esther read more like novels than anything else.  Paul’s writings were entire letters, usually emphasizing one or two themes.  And when I listen to (or read) large portions of the Story, I get better perspective on where things fit and how they align with that much bigger idea of Redemption.

Once you’ve framed it as Story, you can look at the two distinctive chapters we know as Covenants.  The first one is the Covenant God made as part of the Old Testament.  In short, it set God’s “gold standard” that he knew was impossible to keep.  It was, after a fashion, a classic literary setup.  It paved the way for the second one in which Jesus did what no other created human could accomplish with the first covenant.  He fulfilled it completely and, rather than nullifying it, gave his completion to us.  God’s standards hadn’t changed – rather God new viewed us as his own beloved children because of what our Divine Older Brother had done on our behalf.  That’s a pretty awesome plot twist if you ask me!  And it’s completely consistent with the Story and the very character of God.

So especially in a year where we’ve seen so much happen  in our country and around the world, I’d caution everyone not to pull out small passages (or worse single verses) of the Bible and try to interpret news headlines or apply them to events in some particular way that suits your own point of view.  We’ve been doing that for far too long (yes, I remember 1976) and I think it’s high time to step way back and embrace the Story again.  That’s what guides us on the Crooked Path.  Remember (and thanks to Matt Hammett of Flood Church for this thought), the Bible was written for us … not to us.

And if you really want just a simple verse that’s nearly impossible to take out of context, skip the single verses from Chronicles or Jeremiah or Revelation and consider the following timeless thoughts from God through one of his trusted spokesmen …

“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)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Fireflies Make Me Smile

I've been doing more walking lately, trying to take some control over what a half century old body needs to keep functioning properly.  Some of these walks have been in the evening as sunset fades to dusk and twilight erupts around my neighborhood.  I'm in a rural part of my county with only a few, simple street lights on my road.  There are several patches of dense brush and growth that provide a home to some of God's simplest creatures.

Among the rabbits and squirrels and even bats, there are plenty of fireflies, especially in those areas with denser brush and some swampy grass.  A humid night (and we have plenty of those) brings out these glowing orbs in flight and that's what prompted me to write this post.

I'm a believer in an intentionally created world.  I'm not one tied to the whole "young Earth" mantra and I think there are a lot of complexities in the whole equation that we're just not supposed to figure out.  Some I know will argue that everything has a specific purpose; some will advocate for progressive states that transform over long periods of time.  In answer to all of them, I'll offer my little friends, the fireflies in my neighborhood.

They live for just a couple of months, don't bite me and provide hours of endless joy to children who love to catch them in jars.  The more mischievous of us may or may not have caught a couple and smashed them on our noses to get a little glow effect ourselves.  But, as I've been walking and seeing them, I've asked, "What purpose do they serve?"  My answer seems to be a mix of "none" and "everything" ... let me explain that.

Fireflies are a manifestation of God's whimsy.  They are here to make children of all ages smile.  Nothing specific of grand about that purpose, and yet it is oh so vital to our existence.  In such an act of creative craziness, my Father tells me in no uncertain terms that he loves me and that life is here for me to enjoy.  It's up to me to choose to embrace that opportunity and smile as a result.

The Crooked Path provides many opportunities to stop and take in scenes that normally go unnoticed.  My encouragement to you today is to be more intentional about finding those scenes ... and to go for a walk in the warm, humid evening so you can smile at the fireflies.  That is, after all, why they are here.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

She Had A Name

"And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour." (John 4:4-6, ESV)

This passage was a recent focus from my pastor. It's well-worn and the flannel graph of the past come easily to mind, though the colors have doubtless faded quite a bit.  But I heard the story with fresh ears and, as the message went on, the presentation and my thoughts came together in the following notes.

She had a name. She once was somebody's little girl. Her current life was the sum of her choices and circumstances. She had known love at some point but had now settled into a routine that nobody would have made their first choice or even anywhere on their top 100. Yet here she is now face to face with Life and Love because Jesus needed to take a detour right to the well she used every day.

Expecting to be ignored she finds herself in the conversation of a lifetime. She'll leave this encounter completely changed. And the result should challenge the way we plan out our lives rather than just live them and make ourselves available for the next "yes" we encounter.

Think about that last sentence for a moment. Are you looking out in anticipation for the "yeses" that you will encounter? Are you willing to stop your business long enough to engage somebody else - somebody who has a name and a story and is valued by Father God? Have you embraced your own forgiveness to such a degree that you can easily offer that Living Water to a world parched and dry who looks so desperately for anything that numbs the ache for just 5 minutes?

The Crooked Path is rarely predictable. Trying to make it so isn't really our purpose. We need to be ready and willing to engage those we come across because we have something they need so very much ... even if they don't realize it.  And every single one of them has a name.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Simply Noel for Spring

Those three smiling faces are my grand nephews and my new grand niece.  Actually, she's not "new" as we've been anticipating her arrival for nearly 3-1/2 years now.  They are out and about on their first family errand, but that's just the current chapter in this story.  I won't write a novel about it, but I will tell you how Liam, Noel and Mikey ended up in this picture ... because it's a story worth telling and it reflects the heart of our Father so very much.

My niece and her husband have a heart for orphans.  In fact, some 4 years ago, they started down the path of adopting a brother and sister from Congo.  We were all very excited to welcome Timothy and Annalise into our extended family.  That hope wasn't just deferred - it turned to deep sorrow as both of those children died from a variety of things those of us in the first world don't think about much at all.  Lisa and Ken were devastated, but their hearts still longed to love another Congolese orphan.  What they didn't count on was God's timing and then a rather long wait.

Noel was born to young parents and the mother didn't survive.  The father, after consulting with his village elders, chose to give his little girl a chance at a different, perhaps better life.  Lisa and Ken (still somewhat in shock from the loss of the first two children) were approached and agreed to adopt Noel.  All went well and the family took up some hope again that she would be with her forever family right around Christmas 2012.  Then the unthinkable happened ...

The Congolese government basically shut off the "adoption faucets".  Time continued to pass with Lisa and Ken supporting their little girl anyway they could, but nothing seemed to budge.  While none of us forgot Noel (certainly not Lisa), we didn't talk much about her for whatever reason.  For my part, I figured she'd be raised over there and continue her connection to our family until she was old enough to make her own decisions.  Then a simple Facebook message ignited a bonfire within the family.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Lisa and Ken heard that some 150 children were given exit papers from Congo.  Hope was rekindled brightly and, over the course of some calls and other communication, they learned that Noel was on that list.  When Lisa first shared the news on a family group thread, I read it and cried.  Could it be our long deferred hope was to be fulfilled?  Well, the picture above speaks all of it ... one big happy family ready for their new adventure.

As I write this post, tomorrow is the first day of Spring.  It's a day to celebrate new life ... but it's also the beginning of Holy Week and the time when our Lenten thoughts will lead us back to the Cross.  Yet that Hope - the one that journeys with us on the Crooked Path - never is truly deferred and never darkens.  In just a week, we celebrate Easter and, as the late Brennan Manning called him, the glory of the Easter Man rising up and shutting out death and despair.  Quite the time for Noel to join our extended family ... and a wonderful reminder of what Hope means and what Love does.

Welcome home, Noel!  It's a big, goofy family, but you are loved so very much.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


"So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.  Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness." (1 Peter 2:1-3, NLT)

Peterson's version says to "clean house".  It's a charge to understand where our focus is to be ... where our basic craving can find fulfillment.  It isn't, like I'd heard for decades, the formula for "baby Christians" to start with.  No, it's the design of God for dependence on him alone. I really heard that for the first time today.  And, much like what I had been taught, it is a start ... but it's the entrance into what God will do, not what I can become when and if I "mature".

This passage the way I heard it today talks about the singular focus of an infant on its only known source of life and sustenance.  That baby doesn't have to be taught that Mom provides everything ... it knows that instinctively and the crying out, or "craving", doesn't recognize any time boundaries or other impediments to fulfillment.  That is exactly how God wants us to crave him ... with the laser-like focus of an infant who is hungry.  

So, friends, this isn't about jettisoning the milk an moving on to steak.  It's about returning to our first love and craving for who God is and what he desires for us ... a complete and abundant life that spills out through us into a world that is also craving.  We get to help God do the work of fulfilling their core desire by pointing them to the ONLY source of life.

The Crooked Path will provide many opportunities to intersect with others, but unless we understand our craving and connect to God as the source, we'll fall flat.  Or as Paul tells us to start the Love Chapter to the Corinthians, 

"If I could speak all the languages of earth
 and of angels, but didn’t love others,
I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

Where do you look to fulfill your craving?  It's something worth thinking about.