Lifelines May 11, 2018

“What is truth (John 18:38)?”  One of history’s most notorious characters posed that question to the Savior of the world.  It was a critical time.  It usually is when we are in the search for truth.  The forces of evil seemed to have all the momentum.  Pilate felt the squeeze of it.  Pressure mounted. Public opinion was hostile toward the Messiah.  It is an interesting question, one with never ending implications.

The word of the Lord is truth (John 17:17).  Every syllable that He ever uttered is trustworthy.  Our response to it may vary widely, but we cannot change it.  We can burn it.  Reject it.  Accept it.  Deny it.  But we cannot alter it.  The serpent tried.  He sought to undermine the validity of God’s command.  He succeeded in convincing Eve.  The word did not change, but the world did.  Our individual reality is distorted when truth is rejected.  We do not see things as they really are, and that will inevitably lead us into a death chamber.

Postmodern thinking rejects the notion that there is absolute truth.  The original liar (John 8:44) is still busy with a new way of warping minds.  Common sense outweighs Divine revelation in contemporary culture.  Feelings override intellect.  Majority opinion is favored over God’s.  The resulting chaos is as predictable as the sunrise.  The internal confusion that uncertainty generates turns into actions which fill our homes and spill into the streets.  America seeks political solutions to spiritual problems.  They fail, yielding a bumper crop of frustration.

“Professing to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:22).”  It dresses up in the fanciest academic cap and gown imaginable.  Nothing exploded and became a bunch of stars and planets.  Quite coincidentally they arranged themselves, unaided, in orbits.  From the sludge life popped into being.  With no musicians, instruments or director; a symphony began.  What a silly, antiquated notion is this God thing.  And truth?  That’s a quaint concept consigned to the uneducated.  The environment is ripe for a big bite of forbidden fruit.

Twenty centuries ago Jesus spoke of knowing the truth (John 8:31-32).  It is a knowledge that is obtainable, and it is much more than simply facts crammed into our cranium.  Yes, there is information to learn, but we must translate those facts into a lifestyle.  It takes an ongoing application of God’s principles to get to the ultimate truth.  It is more than we thought.  Much more.

“I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).”  The word of God (Truth) guides us into a knowledge of the Son of God (The living Truth).  The word (John 17:17) leads us to the Word (John 1:1). That is our only hope of being liberated from the bondage of sin (John 8:36) and seeing us safely home to our Father.  There is no other way.  Take it or leave it, but we cannot change it.

Lifelines 5/06/2018

The human mind is amazing.  It has the capacity to take us to mountain tops of joy or the deepest valleys of sadness without moving a muscle.  The blues live just around the mental corner from happiness.  Our stockpile of memories can take us around the world in an instant.  We hear songs while in absolute silence.  They have the power to lift or lower our spirits.  The thoughts that occupy our minds will go a long way in determining what kind of day we will have.

King David knew the ups and downs of life as well as anyone.  He was God’s handpicked man to rule the Lord’s holy people.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  He is the same man that lusted and leaped for the lady next door then conspired to have her husband killed.  Those thoughts saturated his brain.  He could think of little else (Psalm 51:3), and that’s about as low as anyone could go.  Through it all, he remained a man after God’s heart, but he still rode that intellectual and emotional roller coaster.  He has saved us a seat.

In the first Psalm, He explored the pathway of blessing.  The company we keep is influential in who we become.  Pick your associates carefully.  Choose your fields of contemplation with the same caution.  A mind that ponders the massive truths of God is of great profit.  The blessed person has come to recognize the infinite value of the Lord’s message and makes it a daily practice to meditate on it.  Bible study is no burden.  It is a great joy for those who choose to be blessed.

It is clear that our Creator does not want us to live a life consumed by anxiety.  Jesus cautioned His apostles against having troubled hearts as He Himself prepared to bear the punishment for the sins of the world (John 14:1).  He spoke of peace (John 14:27; 16:33) in the growing shadow of the cross.  God sent His Son to make peace (Ephesians 2:14-18).  Yet, we often live anxiety riddled days.  Why?  It’s all in our thinking.

Paul addressed the anxiety issue (Philippians 4:6-9).  He simply said not to be and gave us directions as to how we can find relief.  Talk to God.  Jesus opened those lines of communication, so let’s use them.  Spill your heart’s deepest concerns.  Hold nothing back.  He knows anyway, so, say it.  And be sure to add a large helping of thanksgiving with it.  See what that does?  It gets our thoughts on to our blessings.  Pretty clever, huh?  And he is not finished.

Meditate on good things.  Whatever is praise-worthy is contemplation-worthy.  Fill our minds with them and our lives with Christian practices.  God has given us an incredible tool.  Satan knows it’s amazing, too.  It is powerful in the hands of one of them.  We get to choose which one.

Lifelines April 29, 2018

In a world that seems characterized by anger and division, the church stands out like a candle in a dark room.  The Lord has gathered together in a single body His people whose primary trait is love (John 13:35).  We follow His footsteps, and they have left a challenging trail through the turmoil of our times.  They lead to the cross of self-sacrifice.

Jesus demonstrated through example what it means to love.  It is a remarkable journey that began for Him in eternity past.  He sat in equality with God (Philippians 2:6).  We, too, have what we view as our position in life, but none of us has anywhere near the status that He had.  Yet, He gave that up.  Will we?  Does something stand in our way?  Is there anything that we are unwilling to let go of to demonstrate our love?

Pride is often the culprit.  Jesus was humble, even to the obedient point of death.  On the way to that brutal sacrifice, He served.  The King of kings had every right to demand to be served, but he did not.  He washed feet (John 13:3-17).  Fed the hungry.  Dined with the sinners.  Ultimately, He gave His life to cleanse us from sin.  Such a love exceeds our mental capacities without the help of God (Ephesians 3:19-20).  Now, He says to do it as He did (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Love God.  Love your fellow-man.  Perhaps, we want it to be more complicated than that.  It isn’t.  The word of God reveals to us not only the how but also the why.  That, too, is not complicated.  We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  Motivation comes from a closer look at the baby in the manger, the footprints He left, the agonizing prayer in Gethsemane and the death that He died for us.  But that was not the end.

That tomb is empty.  The trail He blazed did not stop in a cemetery but in the presence of God, right where it began.  That is where love always starts and stops.  God the Father initiated it, God the Son embodied it and God the Spirit produces it in our lives as we follow His lead.  It is the defining quality of disciples, and the world desperately needs it.

Yes, it is likely to be met with the same welcome that Jesus received.  Self-sacrifice is rarely admired.  It seems so weak from a human perspective.  Love gives, and people take advantage.  Expect it.  It will happen.  Remember their response to the Lord as He reached out to sinners and became a condemned man.  It is a complicated road filled with heartache and disappointment.  He who led the way experienced it as well.  We must never forget where His journey ended.  He is in the Father’s presence forever.  Never lose sight of that.  Following His footprints will take us there, too.

Lifelines 04/22/2018

What has happened to our nation?  There was a time in which we proudly stood for God and country.  Now, those concepts are ridiculed and scorned.  The latest evidence is Chick-fil-A’s entry into the New York market.  They were welcomed by one area magazine with the headline, “Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City.”  Why?  The reason is eye-opening.

In the article, the author cites their pervasive Christian traditionalism as a real problem.  Huh?  You mean this sneaky business operates on Christian principles?  Now, that really is scary.  Everybody knows how subversive a chicken sandwich is, and now this.  The article also points out an even more frightening reality of this company.  Their headquarters in Atlanta has actual Bible verses on display.  Why, the nerve of such a company infiltrating the Big Apple!

The magazine has sounded a warning for all New Yorkers to be on the alert.  Why, that evil company also has the audacity to have a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet in their home office.  And imagine what a terrible influence it is on that big city to have a restaurant that closes on Sunday.  All of that rolled into one business is clearly a threat to the fabric of America.

As if that were not enough, the writer reminds his readers that the restaurant’s corporate purpose still begins with…you may want to sit down for this…“To glorify God.”  That certainly sounds threatening.  He even criticizes Chick-fil-A for the cows in their commercials.  They are clearly evangelistic.  That man obviously has a cholesterol clog somewhere near his brain.  Certainly in his soul.

His article reads like a stand-up comedian’s routine. It sounds like a joke, but it is not.  It reflects a growing sentiment within our country.  Every public display of biblical references is met with a separation-of-church-and-state challenge.  Atheists are militant and more evangelistic than evangelists.  While many Christians are watering down the message to suit the culture; opponents are standing up, speaking up and winning converts.

Their influence is assisted through the media.  Television, magazines like the one in which this article appeared and movies are powerful tools in the hands of their messengers.  Add to that the almost instantaneous around-the-world communication of social media and we see the impact of a few swaying many.  Their numbers swell.  Their voices grow louder.  Now, what was unimaginable a decade ago has become the norm as Christians grow numb.

“You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).”  The Lord has us here for a reason, and it is not to sit idly by as the evil one overruns the world.  Christians have the responsibility to be His influence on our culture.  Too often, it is the other way around.  We witness the ongoing decay all around us, and we are the only line of defense.  If we cease to be salty we are good for nothing.

Lifelines April 15, 2018

The Bible brings us face-to-face with reality.  There are stars and planets, birds, animals and fish.  Where did they come from?  How did they get here?  Questions begin to fill our minds that we cannot begin to answer.  The scholars tell us of evolution, of a big bang.  Really?  Where did the stuff that “banged” come from.  Where was it and who put it there?  Atheists say there is no God, and we are still left to wonder: So, where did it all come from?  And those are the simple questions.

Answers do not come, not if we exclude an all-powerful Creator.  Explaining the origins of such a massive creation without considering that someone had to make it is impossible.  Modern thinking scurries from one theory to another to explain it.  They give it their best effort but fail in the final analysis.  The extraordinary complexity simply could not just happen, the result of a random sequence of coincidences.  That is when we run into God, the ultimate reality.

No rational person would look at an ink pen, as simple as it is, and believe that no one made it.  How then could we come to the conclusion that there was no master mind nor a designer behind the human body?  Of course, recognizing the existence of a Creator brings us to another great reality: We were made on purpose.  Humans are not an accident of nature but the handcrafted product of a purposeful God.  That gives us a reason to be here.  It also makes us responsible.

The word of God put the world in a functional form and filled it with His creatures.  Humans were different.  They were a specially handcrafted part of the creation, made to reflect the essence of their Creator.  They were positioned above the rest.  The Lord gave him a special place, a perfect partner, a choice and a warning.  Reality.  We face decisions which have consequences.

Satan wasted no time in dealing out deception and death.  He is another undeniable reality.  His cleverly packaged lies succeeded then, and they will now.  We see our nation being torn apart at the seams and wonder why.  The answer could be found lingering under the wrong tree in the garden.  He is still peddling fruit that blinds human eyes and destroys human souls.  He is wicked, and he prowls the earth looking for one more victim.

The tug-o-war goes on, conflicts between good and evil.  God did not hide it.  We see the broad spectrum of humanity in His word.  There is no whitewashing of the main characters.  Weakness is not covered over with a veneer of bogus perfection.  Heroes are real, because the world is, and they live in it.  Satan is real, too, and sometimes he wins a round.  Maybe even claims some casualties.  But the ultimate reality is God, and real victory will eventually be His.

Lifelines April 1, 2018

He was a little guy, and there was such a crowd between him and the Lord that he just couldn’t see (Luke 19:1-10).  He only wanted a glimpse, and even that proved impossible.  People do that.  They’ll get in the way of our look at Jesus.  They obscure our view.  His physical stature hindered him.  More likely, it will not be a matter of feet and inches but of focus.  Later.  Tomorrow.  Next week.  We will, promise, just not right now.  Too many people in the way.

He was a man of means.  He had been an insider, a top level manager in the bureaucracy of exploitation.  That meant money in his pocket, and he had plenty but that did nothing to solve this issue.  His big pile of money did not help one bit when it came to seeing Jesus.  Our relationship with Him is not a cash transaction.  He may have had an important position and a big bank account, but he did not have Jesus.  Something drove him.  Dissatisfaction?  Maybe.

He figured a way around that hurdle.  He climbed a tree.  He was determined to look for himself.  Who knows what he had heard or what motivated him, but something did.  He was dead set on laying his eyes on the one they called Jesus.  Forget pride.  Never mind a tiny bit of embarrassment.  He had to do something.  It was a bit unconventional, but it worked.  His life was about to change for all eternity.  The Lord does notice those who are struggling to see Him.

Jesus sees in trees.  He looked up and invited the little rich man to come down.  Hurry up.  We’re going to your house.  It is hard to imagine the thoughts that must have run through his mind as he flew out of that tree.  He hit the ground to the sound of self-righteous indignation.  Jesus was keeping company with a sinner like that?  Critics seemed always to be nipping at the heels of the Son of God.  And they thought the man in the tree was small.  They were the truly little ones.

He may have been short in stature but he was large on repentance.  He was ready to distribute half his fortune to the needy and make restitution at the rate of four-to-one for all of his questionable taxing practices.  It is amazing what a clear look at Jesus will do to a person.  Salvation came home with him that day and everything was different, especially him.

Salvation seized him.  It grabbed hold of his possessions and his pocketbook.  They were suddenly insignificant.  What Jesus brought him was all that mattered.  The Son of Man came searching for the lost.  Don’t we feel that way sometime?  Totally bewildered and lost in the crowd?  Cheer up and climb up.  He came looking for people just like us.

Lifelines 3/18/2018

These are remarkable times in which the unthinkable of a decade ago has become common.  It has existed all along but remained hidden under a cloak of secrecy.  The recent revelations that emerged out of Hollywood provide daily headlines of the smut that found a home in the entertainment industry.  The clues were there but ignored.  Young gymnasts, children really, suffered under the “care” of a doctor.  Little boys were “coached” in football by a man of perversion.  Authorities looked the other way while tiny lives were ruined before they started.  Strange times, indeed.

How did we ever reach such a state?  A student of cultural change observed that we once loved people and used things, but now we love things and use people.  That is certainly true in some of the cases that have recently drawn the spotlight.  Values have been turned upside down, but that is nothing new.  Human judgment has been out of balance ever since the first bite of the forbidden fruit.

There has been an ebb and flow to Satan’s attacks throughout history.  Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.  It picks up intensity from time-to-time, but whenever we think it’s the worst that it’s ever been we should remember the wickedness that consumed humanity in the days of Noah.  Yes, evil is on the prowl now, but it always has been.  Whenever it gets a stranglehold on culture as a whole, the consequences are grave.  God takes a hands-off approach.  When people insist that they want to go their own way the Lord will let them (Romans 1:18-32).  The outcome is always ugly.

The symptoms are shocking, and society is totally confused.  Anatomical males insist that they are women trapped in the wrong body.  Up is said to be down and wrong is hailed as right.  Sin is celebrated.  Same sex marriage is debated and legalized in many states.  All of those are just clues of a much deeper problem.  It is a God problem.  He has been rejected, and our nation is reflecting the outcome of such a decision.  He has let us go our own way, and the results are inevitably a mess.

The prodigal son could vouch for that.  He decided that he didn’t want to be bothered with his father (Luke 15:11-32).  He got exactly what he wanted.  In fact, his father helped him do precisely what he wanted to do.  There is no indication that his father begged him in any way not to leave.  Life in the far country was far less than he thought it would be.  Leaving our Father behind will always lead to a pigpen.  Thankfully, the same road that took us away will also take us home.  He is forgiving when we finally come to our senses.  He is always waiting with a celebratory banquet when we come home.

Lifelines March 11, 2018

What comes to mind when we hear the word church?  Probably, we think of a building with pews and classrooms.  Yet, the word of God presents a very different picture.  Jesus told His disciples that He would build His church (Matthew 16:18).  Obviously, He was not suggesting that he would soon put His carpentry skills to work and construct a building.  The church of the New Testament has indeed fallen into disrepair, but that has nothing to do with the conditions of a structure.

Most congregations that gather on Sunday morning bear little resemblance to the biblical model.  Their reason for assembling is unclear.  Focus might be placed on music.  Drums pound out the rhythm as guitars and pianos offer up the melody.  Somewhere buried beneath the noise are the words.  The message becomes secondary to the entertainment value.  Is that really what the Lord has in mind?

For others, the spotlight falls on the collection plate.  No one ever forgets to take up the money.  After all, maintaining a comfortable building takes a lot of bucks.  All those musical instruments aren’t free.  The staff has to be paid.  Overhead is high, and there is no other source of income except an occasional bake sale.  It doesn’t take long for the emphasis on money to consume the work.  1 Timothy 6:10 gets lost in the hustle of the wallet ministry.

Of course, the preacher steps out in his impressive suit or robe.  He is the star of some shows.  He shares his thoughts about how God wants us all to be rich.  He digs deep to find an appropriate verse or two as supporting evidence.  He speaks well.  Crowds gather.  They are convinced.  He rarely mentions holiness, discipleship or self-denial.  Those things do not attract an audience.  Health and wealth do, and he is an expert.  Just look.  He is both healthy and wealthy.  Afterwards, he retreats to his million dollar mansion in his chauffeur driven limo.

“I will build My church.”  Really, is this it?  Exciting music that leaves them emotionally charged but spiritually empty?  Nonstop pressure to give more and more?  A slick salesman luring starving souls with promises of prosperity?  Is all of this what the Lord intended for His church?  It does belong to Him.  It came at an astronomically high price (Acts 20:28).  As He hung on the cross, was He thinking, “I hope they have a good band?”

Joining Paul on the missionary road offers an idea of what mattered in the beginning (Acts 20:7).  Disciples gathered on the first day of the week for a specific reason.   He would write about that (1 Corinthians 11:23ff), and His source of information was impeccable.  The center piece of their assembly was the Lord’s Supper.  Remembering a crucified Savior occupied their thoughts and touched their hearts.  He made all the difference.  What could possibly mean more?

Lifelines– March 4, 2018

Scripture introduces us to the living God.  He is neither detached nor disinterested but rather vibrant and active.  Idols cannot compare with Him.  They are a useless product of human innovation that do nothing.  He sees, hears, cares, loves and acts.  He is angry or pleased.  He is grieved.  Humans are handcrafted by God, and we matter to Him.  We touch Him at an emotional level.

The Lord is aware and reacts to disobedience.  He has expectations of His crowning creative achievement.  We have accountability.  When we refuse to take Him at His word, consequences follow.  Paradise is lost.  We were made to be a reflection of Him, and sin tarnishes that image to a point where it is no longer recognizable.  The living God knows and responds in anger to the devil’s damaging effects.

The cancerous spread of sin is a death sentence for all it touches.  Unchecked, it will destroy the world.  So, He deals with it.  Expulsion from the garden.  A world cleansing flood.  Fire and brimstone on a wicked couple of communities.  Purification of the covenant community at the hands of ungodly military forces.  It draws for us a dramatic technicolored picture of a God who is both aware and involved.  This is, after all, His world.

Never has His concern for the affairs of mankind been more apparent than it was when He sent His Son.  Love beyond explanation motivated the One who created us to seek to save us.  He entered into a world in desperate need.  We cannot sidestep the cold hard facts of sin and its penalty.  The outcome will always be death, and He is the living God.  He does not want dead people.

Jesus came to bring a life of abundance.  In so doing, he exposed the realities of sin.  His contemporaries did not care for the explanation.  His own people rejected Him.  The Son of God came to the people of God, and they greeted Him with hostility, just a small sampling of what sin does.  It deceives, distorts and destroys.  The living God cares very deeply for His creation and the damage that is done by the enemy’s forces.  He gave His Son to rescue us.

Jesus walked among the people.  He was not aloof.  He never retreated to a gated community to keep the commoners away.  He became one of them.  He ate and talked with them.  He explained the kingdom in everyday language.  He spoke theology in understandable words.  He was a reflection of the living God who loved them without limits.  And then He died.

The cross was the ultimate expression of the living God.  Sin is a horror.  It drove nails through God the Son.  The living God planned it and carried it out because of His great love for us, but the grave could not hold Him.  Death will never be the last word with the living God.

Lifelines February 23, 2018

Who could have ever guessed?  There was nothing remarkable about the appearance of that Bethlehem baby.  The family knew that there was something very special about this child, but could they possibly grasp the full implications?  A glance at the family tree offered hints.  Could this be?  Is He the One?  But He looked just like any other newborn.  Shouldn’t there be something different about the Messiah?

The growing-up years were relatively uneventful.  There was that one trip to Jerusalem when He was twelve that drew attention to His unique identity as He spoke of being about His Father’s business (Luke 2:41-52).  Other than that, He simply grew up.  The years are mostly a mystery until His entry into the public arena.  He was about thirty then, and He turned the world upside down.

He immediately challenged conventional thinking about God and His kingdom as He followed in the footsteps of the baptizing one.  John paved the way with a scalding message of repentance.  His preaching held nothing back.  He was about as politically-incorrect as he could be.  The self-esteem of his listeners was not high on his list of concerns.  He blasted away in preparation for the Savior.

The religious establishment had gotten it all wrong.  They were meticulous observers of ritual.  They looked righteous as they ignored the bigger issues.  They talked a good game, but demoted the word of God in favor of tradition.  They strained out gnats and choked down camels.  The major issues went undone as they tossed their tithes in the collection plate.  Change was coming and Jesus Christ was the agent.  Who would have recognized that as they looked at the infant in Bethlehem?  He seemed so..ordinary.

Meanwhile, the Lord wandered the streets in search of the sinful.  They are an unsavory bunch, and it was distasteful to the self-righteous.  Why does He associate with such people?  Tax collectors and sinners came to listen.  Pharisees and scribes came to grumble (Luke 15:1).  The outsiders came in and the insiders went out.  Tensions mounted.  Hostilities grew.  Flashback to Bethlehem, and it is hard to imagine that a tiny baby in a manger was going to shake up the world in such a dramatic fashion.

He was the very picture of innocence.  Babies always are, but they grow up.  Somewhere along the way they begin to stray.  He never did.  He maintained his newborn purity from birth to death.  No temptation overpowered Him.  Peer pressure did not push Him over the edge.  Nothing knocked Him off course in His mission.  He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

No, it would not have been apparent at His birth   A kid in a diaper is not the way we envision a savior.  Nor do we think of someone who was born for the specific purpose of dying.  He was, and that gives us eternal hope.