Making Straight Paths

I’ve loved walking wooded trails since I was a little girl growing up in a rare bit of undeveloped land in central New Jersey.  After my Dad had cleared land for our house and lawn he made paths through the woods that remained.  And that little wooded few acres became my favorite place to roam…So when I see paths used as metaphors in Scripture my ears perk up.  That was especially the case this week in Hebrews:

Make straight paths for your feet, the writer urges. He’s just been advising believers how to run well and how to endure their crosses and now he gives this pep talk:

“So strengthen your tired hands and weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so what is lame won’t be dislocated but healed!” Heb.12:13

What does this look like in real life?  I struggle daily with decision paralysis in the little day to day choices demanded of a life made up largely of discretionary time.  I find it a daunting privilege to be allowed to order my own days and ‘do as I please’.  Free time is both wonderful and weighty because living to please myself is not my goal. And oh the morass of introspection that can result from watching too closely to see if that’s what I’m doing at any given moment!  What should I be doing?  What would please my Creator?  What are the ‘works He has prepared for me to walk in’ since the Creation of the world? I struggle with these things.  Especially since turning the big 60.  What am I meant to pack into the remaining years of my journey and what to jettison?

What would it look like to make straight paths for myself so my weaknesses aren’t amplified but instead are healed?

Ok, so if all this is foreign territory for you and you are so busy doing the next right thing that you don’t need to stop and recalibrate your path, I will try not to absolutely envy your trailblazing savvy.  But I am halted in my tracks by this metaphor.  Could it be that I am sabotaging my own steps, taking a circuitous path by instinct when there is a better straighter way forward? Recovering Pharisee that I am, my compulsion is to know the fine print and piously ‘exceed’ it on my own terms.  Just give me the blueprint. So every day is a minefield of impossible expectations.  Living by faith through grace is an ever more tantalizing goal.

Despite my pleas “Lord show me what I should be doing with my life, with this day, with these moments…” no formulas or detailed schedules have dropped from heaven. Could it be that this too, this charting of a straight path, is a matter of faith? A matter of walking forward in trusting confidence rather than chronic self-doubt…There’s a command here, implying my responsibility to take charge and ‘make straight paths’ but there’s no formula given to reassure my doubting soul.  Can I really just move forward, goal in view, and trust that an Unseen Hand is with me on the way to guide and correct? And that should I get off track He will see that I make a course correction…

The Word gives no formula but there are plenty of parameters to steady my heart and my steps.  I’ve cobbled together three here, running in and out of a first person point of view because while I’m writing to you, I’m also writing to me! (Thanks for understanding.)


Pairing this command to ‘make straight paths for your feet’ with Proverbs’ advice: “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight”(Pr.3:6) assures me I’m not on my own to trail blaze through my days.

Look up and know that He is with you, and for that matter that His Spirit is in you to create desire, to correct, and to nudge forward… Walk in newness of life by the power of the indwelling Spirit!  As Jesus said to the sickly man on his pool-side mat waiting for a hand into the pool: Get up, Pick up your Mat, and Walk. (John 5:8)  You are bed-ridden no longer—Be on your way!
This is not the time to stand around; start walking, knowing that God goes with you to straighten the ways you’ve entrusted to Him.


A second pointer is back a few verses… “Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares you.”Heb.12:1

I see two things here. One, the weight of expectations that are mine but not necessarily God’s.  Things like… every day perfectly orchestrated, maximized, ‘productive’ and clearly contributing to my goals…and ideally doing all the things I enjoy plus all the things that I should do but don’t enjoy, plus well, you know, doing it all! Ideals are burdensome. Speaking of burdens what about all the things I feel responsible for that are out of my control. Things that require omniscience and omnipotence.  I am not God. The burden of another’s happiness, another’s godliness, a perfect resolution, or a better whatever!…These expectations are best placed in Hands that can handle them while I wait for cues (if any) about the part I’m to play. Yes, lay aside every weight. Cast your cares on Him…

But then there is this business of sins that ensnare, particular patterns I fall for every time.  I need to learn to recognize my particular vulnerabilities and to make plans to steer clear of temptation. And when it hits, to pray for eyes to see the way of escape provided.  Maybe there are times of day where heading out the door for a walk is the most spiritual thing I can do. Maybe joining in a Praise chorus.  Maybe stopping to look out the window at the clouds or to listen to The Daily Poem podcast would be just the thing, the holy thing to do.  And when subtle sins trip me up, again, it’s never too soon to confess and start fresh. Which leads me to the pointer I most need:


The verse that immediately follows ‘make straight paths’ says this:
Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of GodHeb.12:15 This gets fleshed out in the context that follows: You haven’t come to a fearful blazing fire announcing doom and gloom but to JESUS the mediator of a new covenant, into a grace secured by His own blood, into a kingdom that cannot be shaken [even by my shaky performance]. When all the ‘stuff’ of life and its goods and accomplishments falls away there remains the Kingdom of God entered by faith through grace.  Hold on to Grace, to gratitude, to Jesus! By these we may serve God acceptably with reverence and awe even though He is a consuming fire!  Ahh grace. This is the hardest to live in.  Someone has said, we find grace hard to accept because it changes us, and change is painful…Is that it?

Have I tied my identity so much to doing things ‘right’ that the thought of living by faith in Jesus’ righteousness is actually threatening? 

But if Jesus is the HERO of my story, the champion and perfecter of faith, then I can breathe deeply the air of–He has done it….It is finished… My life is hid with Christ in God… The life I live I live by faith in Him–.  His righteousness, this is what counts in the end.  And so my path is straightened, my posture too, from navel gazing to childlike awe in the One who has taken the hard path before him for the joy of reconciling others to the Father.  He is my Path, my Truth, my Life.

Search me God and know my heart.  Scrutinize my paths and know my anxious doubts.  And see if there be any hurtful habits in me and lead me in the way that lasts forever!
–Ps. 139:23,24 (LS paraphrase)

And to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of God.
–Ps.50:23 JPS Tanakh

Amen! (May it be so)




Clinging to Grace

Grace to you and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ…

With this refreshing greeting Paul writes to the Christians in Galatia and in effect, to me!  Grace and Peace are two things I often feel a little short on.  Peace with God is contingent on experiencing grace.  Grace is pure gift for the sin-weary.  But there’s this part of me that is bent on deserving it, doing my conscientious best, making the most of my time, meeting goals, over-thinking choices, avoiding blame…It’s rather exhausting and ultimately disappointing and definitely not restful.  So a greeting like ‘grace to you and peace’ is like a breath of fresh air to stop and inhale.

I come often to Galatians to be reminded of the essence of this Gospel by which I am being saved from my wrong perceptions of God and my stubborn endeavors at self-righteousness.  This time around I’m reading along with Martin Luther whose 1538 commentary shows me I’m in good company.  His commentary on Galatians was to him some of his most important writing.  Grace and peace, he says, constitute the Christian faith.  For it’s grace that takes care of the problem of sin and it’s peace that calms our consciences. God has provided for both through our Lord Jesus Christ ‘who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age.’ (Gal.1:3-4)

Speaking from personal experience Luther declares sin and conscience to be torturers that are overcome only in Christ.  He boldly reiterates the truths that brought about the Great Reformation:  ‘sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law.  The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair.  Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors.  The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt.  Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God.’ *

But he too obviously struggled with living from these truths: “In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God….[But] we find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace.”*

And so I keep circling back to the Gospel with its tantalizing freedom in Christ–a freedom from the law’s condemnation, from sin’s dominion, and from my own compulsions to achieve in order to be accepted.  And I keep meditating on truths that counteract old thought patterns: “Therefore since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Rom. 5:1

And I wait in eager expectation for life-long habits of the heart to be vanquished by the hope of the Gospel once and for all.  “For through the Spirit by faith we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness…what matters is faith working through love.” Gal.5:5,6

For “this is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith.”  I John 5:4

Have you struggled to let go of self-righteous inclinations and to embrace grace? What has helped you?  I’d love to know your thoughts.


Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace.  By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Heb.12:28,29 HCSB

*Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians–Martin Luther, 1558

The Sweet Reality of the Gospel


Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.  To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen!

“Repent”, Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation.”

But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness.–How joyful are those whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins are covered!  How joyful is the man the Lord will never charge with sin!

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…We have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ the Righteous one!

Keep your attention on Jesus Christ as risen from the dead… He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.  This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immorality to light through the gospel!

Gal.1:1; Acts 2:38-40; Rom.4:5-8; I Jn.1:9;2:1; II Tim.2:8; 1:9,10

In light of the profound reality of these verses and of this Easter season in which we celebrate their good news I’ve been feeling woefully underwhelmed.  Have I become as a fish in the wide ocean who takes for granted the water in which he lives and breathes and has his being?  Perhaps.  Or maybe I’m just needing to get my bearings again after three weeks spent with kids and grands! I have missed my quiet mornings with the Word, having had to snatch it in rushed increments instead.  But the theme of forgiveness keeps finding its way into my thoughts.  It’s at the heart of the gospel that I so much want my little grands to grow up knowing.  And I tend to carry the burden of this in an unhealthy way, feeling guilty for failing to give them Jesus in the bustle of all the Lego play and puzzle building, the  puddle-jumping walks and  cinnamon bun collaboration. How can I have neglected to share Jesus somehow?  Upon our return home I found myself journaling my dismay, words that finally became a prayer…

Give them ears to hear, minds to know the sweet light of the gospel, that though they are naughty, you forgive. Though they fail to please, there is Jesus who did everything perfectly on their account so that they may stand unashamed before their good good Father who is intimately acquainted with all their ways and always attentive to them when parents fall short, as we all ultimately do…

And it struck me!  This is the very same sweet gospel that I need to glory in myself!  This same forgiveness when I’ve done badly.  This perfection of Jesus in exchange for my failure.  This intimate love of a good good Father who’s aware of my weakness,  and has given me Jesus as my strong Saviour.

Indeed the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe–for grandkids, their parents, AND their grandparents! For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, for all of us. Thank-you God for the reality of this Good News. Bring it to life in our souls this Easter season!



Lessons from Jonah–becoming conduits of grace

Those who cling to worthless idols forsake faithful love,
but as for me,  I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving.


Jonah didn’t have anything to offer but thanksgiving at this point. He was hostage in the belly of a huge fish after his unsuccessful attempt to evade God’s call to warn his enemies of impending judgment!  But I’m not sure his heart was compelled yet by love for his enemies. He sets himself apart from those despicable idol worshippers, he who has known faithful LOVE.

Then came Jonah’s second chance.  Vomited up on dry land he received his orders: “Get up! Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach the message that I tell you.” From what we can see of it, his message was pretty straightforward: “In 40 days Ninevah will be demolished!.”  I wonder if Jonah felt a little smug at being the bearer of the tidings.  The Assyrians were after all a feared and hated aggressor in the region. It would be good to have done with them, to see them get their dues!

I’ve been there. A dozen or so years ago I was in a small fellowship group telling how I’d had my bike stolen from our back yard but how the thief hadn’t gotten very far with it since he’d been drunk and had taken a spill.  I wrapped up my small town tale with a smug:  “He got what he deserved!”  I’d have long forgotten the whole incident were it not for how Andy responded.  Soft-hearted, gracious, people-loving Jesus-follower Andy.  He didn’t chuckle with the rest of us but soberly responded that he could never think that way.  He could never delight in someone getting their just deserts, because of how much Jesus had done for him, despite what he had deserved.  We didn’t get what we deserved. Andy has a deep understanding of the grace of God for sinners.  And with gentle words he cut my self-righteous heart to the quick.  I’ve never forgotten it.  How does one who’s been forgiven a death-sentence look at another and gloat over what they have coming.

Jonah had himself just come through a near-death experience of God’s mercy inside that fish. He knew his God as ‘merciful and compassionate, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster.’  But.  He wasn’t quite ready to extend that to his enemies. And this was why he had run from his calling to preach to them.  Better to let them face fire and brimstone unawares!  But God.

And sure enough Jonah’s message was believed. Repentance was the order of the day, with sackcloth and fasting, in hopes that God might relent of His burning wrath and spare their lives.  And He did.

Jonah was angry enough to just die.  This wicked enemy kingdom had been spared judgment.  (God loves even his enemies.)

Jonah was not the first, nor will he be the last to stand in grace and point fingers at sinners worthy of death.  But his story is here in all its red-handed shame for our sakes, for my sake.  May God teach us to love as He does, even our enemies and those that despitefully use us.  May He give us eyes to see the depths of our own depravity and the heights of His redeeming love so that we might become conduits of His grace!


And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…according to the spirit now working in the disobedient.  We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires… and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses.  You are saved by grace!

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion…Col.3:12 HCSB

And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.  Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children…Eph.4:32;5:1 HCSB

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Mt.5:44-45 ESV






Fickle Me, Faithful He

We set our hope on the LORD, He is our help and shield.  Ps.33:20

Lord God Almighty,
Thou has taught me the necessity of a Mediator, a Messiah,
to be embraced in love with all my heart,
as king to rule me,
as prophet to guide me,
as priest to take away my sin and death,
and this by faith in thy beloved Son

who teaches me
not to guide myself,
not to obey myself,
not to try to rule and conquer sin,
but to cleave to the One who will do all for me.

Thou has made known to me
that to save me is Christ’s work,
but to cleave to Him by faith is my work,
and with this faith is the necessity of my daily repentance…

(from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. “Reconciliation”, p.80-81)

If you don’t stand firm in your faith then you will not stand at all. Is.7:9 CSB

But let him ask in faith without doubting, for the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways. James 1:6-8 HCSB

…but God gives grace to the humble.  Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your heart, double-minded people! James 4:6-8 HCSB

If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.  II Tim. 2:13 CSB

Faithful is He who calls you and He also will do it.  I Thess. 5:24

I waffle, I waver. He stands my steadfast hope and shield.

I commit and then re-consider, forge forward and then falter.  He stays steady by my side– unworried, unhasting.

Faltering, fearful, fickle me.  Forever Faithful Father He.

And I am grateful.

Fixing my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith,