Lifelines July 22, 2018

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).”  How desperately peacemakers are needed.  We are in turbulent times.  Politicians of all persuasions are encouraging confrontation.  The temperature rises.  Anger spills from their lips and incites their followers.  Crowds gather.  Words fly.  Then fists.  Peace remains an unrealized hope and, for some, an unwanted resolution.  They enjoy the fight.

Jesus, the unique Son of God, was the ultimate peacemaker.  His was a costly mission.  It was not a simple negotiation but all-out war, and He came to settle the issue once and for all.  He was not welcomed.  Wickedness is never pleased when light intrudes on the darkness.  He eventually became both casualty and conqueror.  He stepped onto the battlefield armed with grace and truth only to be greeted with rejection and crucifixion.  No, peacemaking is not a cost-free business.

Sin disrupts our standing with God.  It turns our greatest ally into an adversary.  The war is on, and He sent His Son to end it.  The problem lies on the human side not the Divine.  Yet, He took it upon Himself to resolve it.  Our faith rectifies the dislocation between the sinner and his benevolent Creator.  Peace with God comes through “our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1),” a brief phrase packed with meaning.

“Our.”  It is both personal and inclusive.  He is not mine alone.  He is ours.  I am part of a collective group of individuals who have embraced the same Lord.  The result is a body of believers which we know as the church, the family of God. We stand united.

“Lord.” Although, we see multiple words used to describe the relationship between believers and Jesus, this one is frequent.  He is Lord.  All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18).  Having peace and being a peacemaker calls on us to surrender to that authority.  Our mission in life is no longer self-serving but Lord-serving.  He died for us: we live for Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

“Jesus.”  Mary had a son.  There was the human side of Jesus, and He knows the experience because He has been through it.  He is a merciful, faithful high priest because of His time in the flesh (Hebrews 2:17).  He successfully endured the temptations and sympathizes with our dilemma.  Divinity and humanity combined perfectly in one individual.

“Christ.” That is: He is the anointed one.  He was chosen and sent on a mission of forgiveness and reconciliation.  Peacemaking.  There is no other way to have peace with the Father.  He is the only road that leads there.  Without Him, we will forever be at war with our Creator.  It is a no-win situation without Him, just eternal alienation.

Four words that will aid us in being peace-making children of God, “Our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He was the original.  Peacemakers follow.  It’s the family way.

Lifelines July 15, 2018

In our rough and tumble world, questions about God can easily pop up.  Where is He when I am hurting?  A knife-wielding homicidal maniac charges into a birthday party for a three-year-old.  The results are bewildering.  Why anyone would want to stab children defies reason.  But then, it is not a reasonable world.  So, we scratch our heads and wonder: Where is the Lord?

The state of humans seems to be deteriorating at warp speed.  Terrorists drive cars into crowds.  Gunmen attack schools.  City streets seem more like war zones.  It should not surprise us that a culture that has expelled God from our schools produces ungodly graduates.  It has happened since the beginning of time.  The downward spiral picks up momentum until thoughts and actions are similarly anti-God.  The word of the Lord warns us (Romans 1:18-32), if we’ll just listen.  Life without God gets very ungodly.

That is where we live.  He has been pushed to the margins of society.  Principled Christians are challenged in the courts and protested in the streets.  Confrontation is common.  There is nothing new about that.  Jesus saw it first-hand.  He handed the torch to the apostles who experienced the same type of hostile rejection.  Paul was the Johnny-come-lately missionary who was beaten, jailed and ultimately executed by the enemy’s forces.  Yet, he shared a unique perspective on the brink of his death sentence.

“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…(2 Timothy 4:17).”  He did not call the Lord into question, even in the worst of circumstances.  All of his friends had deserted him. He was not doubtful of the Lord’s presence or of His certain safe delivery into eternity (2 Timothy 4:18).  The road to heaven was sure to be a torturous one, but he had confidence that the Lord would see him all the way through.  A crown of righteousness was waiting for him (2 Timothy 4:8).

Joseph felt the full brunt of the injustices that occur in this world.  The world is not fair.  It never has been and never will be.  If we expect it, we will be perpetually disappointed.  Jealousy drove his brothers to sell him.  Yet, he did okay in Egypt.  In fact, he did quite well…for a while (Genesis 39:2).  The Lord was with him.  Obviously.  Then his master’s wife had eyes for him, and his life was turned upside down.

Bogus charges took him to jail.  How’s that for unfair?  Where was God then?  Right there with him, that’s where (Genesis 39:21).  In jail on false accusations?  Yes, even then.  His imprisonment told us about the world in which he lived, not about Joseph or God or the relationship between the two.  The Lord was with him, and He is with His faithful children today, even in the hard times.  Maybe, especially then, because that’s when we need Him most.

Lifelines July 08, 2018

Set your mind on things above (Colossians 3:2).  How easily our focus drifts from the eternally significant.  Activities cram our days, and exhaustion fills our nights.  Bills hoover.  Work distracts.  We fall totally drained into bed and all-too-soon have our peaceful slumber rudely interrupted by an alarm that signals another hectic day.  So, we begin again.  Our thoughts are dominated by the things of this world.  Soon, God is squeezed into a single day.  Then a solitary hour on that one day.  Slowly it turns into an hour a month.  The drift eventually takes away one more soul.

Set your mind on things above.  King David lived in much different times and had a unique history.  He spent time with the sheep.  If anything could prepare a person to govern people, that was it.  Days and nights with dependent critters groomed Jesse’s youngest son for the throne.  He had the unusual characteristic of being a man after God’s heart.  He certainly had his spiritual ups and downs, but he had the right internal stuff.  He knew of the importance of the proper mindset.  Perhaps his own experiences had educated him on the dangers of wandering thoughts.

David wrote much about blessings. The first word of the entire book of Psalms in its original language is “blessed.”  That sets the tone for all that follows and guides us into a life of blessings.  It is immediately apparent that it involves our minds as well as our actions.  Our view of the word of the Lord is a huge factor in the process.  The blessed person recognizes the immense value of His message and spends time meditating on the incredible truths of God (Psalm 1:2).

We live in the information age, and there is very little that we could want to know that we could not find out with a few key strokes.  Google can give us instantaneous facts.  It is all right at our fingertips, except the perfect truth about God.  If the internet gets it right, and that is a big questionable “if,” it got it from the word of the Lord.  Spending time pondering those unseen realities is a component of a life of blessing.

There is plenty in this world to captivate us.  Diversions are everywhere.  Focus drifts and it takes a concerted effort to maintain it.  It is especially challenging to remain locked in on those things which we cannot see, but those are the only things which will last beyond our time in this world (2 Corinthians 4:18).  They are eternal.  Everything else, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is temporary.

Set your mind on things above.  Our attention and devotion cannot be on the passing issues of this creation.  They will lead us to think the wrong thoughts, want the wrong things and self-destruct. The mind is a great source of blessing when we use it properly.

Lifelines July 01, 2018

Sin seizes us.  It is never honest but enslaves us through deception.  If its true destructive nature were clearly revealed, we would never buy into it.  We can’t point the finger at environmental influences.  The serpent convinced Eve to take a bite while she lived in paradise.  We cannot blame God.  He is neither tempted nor tempts (James 1:13).  No, it comes from evil influences within (James 1:14), and we end up being slaves to those desires.  The devil is skillful.  He works on our heart.  When he has that, he has us.

Sin is a dynamic force.  It will rob us of freedom if we let it.  Jesus knew.  He saw the whole picture, and it was an ugly one.  Everyone who gives in becomes its servant (John 8:34). There are no exceptions.  It is a universal principle etched in stone by the one who faced death to liberate the slaves.  Sin will dominate our minds and dictate our actions unless we are set free from its control. The unavoidable outcome of such a life is death (Romans 6:16).  We are at liberty to choose which road we take.  However, the ultimate destination is beyond our control.

Paul was a special handpicked messenger of God (Acts 9:15).  His aggressive persecution of the church is legendary.  So is his amazing confrontation with Jesus on the Damascus road.  His work on behalf of the Lord lives to this day.  Words from heaven flowed through his pen.  Yet, he was not immune from sin’s dreadful influence (Romans 7:15-25).  He knew its mind-numbing dictatorship that led him to do what he never dreamed of and not doing what he intended.  Sin ran his life.  Frustration descended on his mind like early morning fog.  His self-esteem hit an all-time low.  Welcome to the world of sin.  Next stop: eternal damnation.

Only God knows the full extent of sin’s devastation.  It is incomprehensible to the human mind.  The cross is as close as we will ever come to understanding its brutality.  That is where good and evil had the ultimate encounter.  God the Son met it head on.  Sin beat His innocent back to a bloody pulp, put a crown of thorns on His head, drove nails through His hands and feet, then thrust a sword into His side.  Sin will kill the Lord in our lives, too.  When it does, Satan ascends to reign and we are left as slaves.

We are just days away from celebrating our national independence.  Many lives were given to secure it.  A war was fought and blood was spilled so that we might be liberated from foreign domination.  Two thousand years ago holy blood was shed to free us from a spiritual dictator.  We cherish the freedom that we enjoy.  It was costly, but the freedom that Jesus gives cost even more.  It is a liberty that will never end.

Lifelines June 24, 2018

We live in times of high anxiety.  We fret over family, finances, the future and any number of hypothetical issues.  The “What if’s” of tomorrow cast a long, dark shadow on today.  So, we toss and turn.  Stress has become one of America’s leading health issues.  It affects our physical and mental condition.  Doctor bills skyrocket while quality of life crashes.  Never have so many had so much and failed to find contentment.  Money can buy virtually everything except peace of mind.

Our Creator knows about the human tendency to worry.  Jesus addressed it in His first recorded sermon (Matthew 6:25-34).  It is always important to remember who His audience is, and in this case it is disciples (Matthew 5:1-2).  So, it is those who are seeking to learn from Him and follow His teaching.  His message?  Do not be anxious, even about the most basic necessities.  Easier said than done, right?  The solution isn’t a medicine chest full of antacids and sedatives.

His advice was to take a look at nature.  Watch the birds.  You don’t see them wringing their wings about where the next meal will come from.  They simply flit around gathering what God supplies for them to eat.  And what about the flowers?  Solomon dressed gloriously but not better than one of those in full bloom.  See that?  Trust the One who takes care of them.  After all, disciples are His children.  Faith is the answer to stress (Matthew 6:30).

Peter could never envision himself failing the Lord.  It might happen to others but not him.  He was so certain of it that he argued with Jesus when He suggested that failure was in the fisherman’s immediate future (John 13:37-38).  Even in the face of impending danger and Peter’s certain denial, the Lord offered words of reassurance, “Don’t let your heart be troubled… (John 14:1-3)” Nothing produces anxiety quite like the public exposure of unrecognized personal weakness.  The Lord knew.  Troubled hearts make for sleepless nights.

Once again the solution is found in believing in God and His Son.  Trust in the preparations that have been made to secure the future for the faithful.  Our Savior endured the agony of death on a cross and emerged victoriously from the grave so that we might have a place in heaven with Him.  Our human failures deflate us deep down inside.  The Lord is fully aware of the discouragement that can eat away at us and offered a remedy: Faith.

Our view of Scripture totally changes when we trust its source.  Again, faith is the key.  Faith that it is the word of an all-knowing, all-loving Creator who does not want us living anxiety riddled lives.  In fact, He commands His children NOT to be anxious.  When we trust Him, we listen with attentive, obedient ears to Philippians 4:4-9.  Then our hearts will be in His faithful hands.

Lifelines June 17, 2018

What is life all about?  It is a question begging for an answer.  Throughout the ages, philosophers have offered up their thoughts.  Theologians have tossed in their two cents worth.  Contemporary culture has added their twist.  The voices grow louder, and the confusion multiplies.  There are innumerable theories, but is there really anyone who has drawn a trustworthy conclusion?

Solomon faced a monumental task, one for which he felt ill-equipped.  He had been designated to rule over the kingdom.  It was not your run-of-the-mill throne that he was to occupy but one that would direct the affairs of God’s chosen people.  Understandably, when the Lord asked what he wanted, he jumped at the opportunity (2 Chronicles 1:7ff).  Wisdom and knowledge were at the top of his list.  The job was overwhelming.  He needed supernatural help.  He got that and then some.

Solomon had lots of options.  We all do.  It is hard to imagine what our answer might be if the Lord asked us what we really want.  Money?  Fame?  Revenge against those who had wronged us?  What would we want?  The Lord obviously approved of his request, because He granted him wisdom plus fame and fortune.  His story spread far and wide, and the curious came calling.  Even royalty heard about him, investigated and found that the truth far exceeded the rumors (2 Kings 9:1ff).  His wisdom and wealth impressed even the rich and famous.  There was no equal.

So, is that what it’s all about?  Wisdom?  Knowledge?  Playthings and trinkets?  Solomon, the man who had it all, explored every bit of it.  He had power.  He headed up the kingdom of God’s special people.  He had wisdom beyond human limits, and it had been given by the Lord.  He tried all the trappings that money can buy and found them lacking.  He had a collection of houses, gardens, orchards, animals, even humans to entertain him in every imaginable way.  His conclusion?  They’re all worthless, like grabbing a handful of air.

They were all so unsatisfying that he wrote about it.  We can save ourselves a whole lot of frustration and time by reading Ecclesiastes.  He did not leave a single stone unturned in his pursuits and found them all meaningless except…and there is that one exception.  He did discover what gives life genuine meaning, but it was not before he had exhausted virtually every other possibility.  It should be obvious but apparently isn’t.  People are still stuffing their lives with all of the same type vanities and coming away disillusioned and empty.  Solomon learned it and shared it.  We’ll know, too, if we read all the way to the 2 closing verses of the book.

It does not come in the accumulation of possessions.  Exploiting people isn’t it.  A fulfilled life comes from a proper view of God and respect for His word, and that’s within grasp for everyone.

Lifelines June 03, 2018

Circumstances!  We give them credit or blame for almost everything.  We fail and immediately look for a scapegoat.  There is nothing new about that.  Take a look at Adam and Eve, and we see that strategy at work from the beginning of time.  Success?  Must have been a perfect situation, right?  God sees things differently, and Paul learned to look at the world through His eyes.

He prayed joyfully while in confinement (Philippians 1).  That takes a different perspective.  His chains could have robbed him of all joy, but he refused to let them.  Instead, he focused on the Christians in Philippi.  They had chosen to embrace the gospel from the very beginning.  That truth was totally unaffected by his conditions, and he rejoiced.  He was also confident that the Lord was at work within them and would continue until His return.

There is no love like that of the true Christian community.  The grace of God ties a knot tighter than any genetics ever could.  Paul had a deep affection for that branch of his spiritual family that no hardship could diminish.  The flame within his heart far exceeded the chill of his surroundings.  His distance was purely geographic.

He was convinced that his situation in no way hindered the spread of the gospel.  In fact, it opened up new doors of opportunity.  The guards knew why he was there, and that served a positive purpose.  The gospel could march into new territory.  There were soldiers who would never have heard it any other way.  The script may have been a bit unusual, but it did offer a field for planting the seed.  So, he sowed.

His circumstances even served to inspire his brothers.  They were emboldened by their enhanced trust in God and spoke with greater courage.  In this, the apostle found reason to rejoice even though some did not have the purest of motives.  Some preached to stress him; others to love him  He celebrated in either case because the word of the Lord was proclaimed, and that was all that mattered to him.

The Holy Spirit guided Paul’s pen to tell the Roman Saints that God would always bring about a positive outcome for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).  That was addressed to the individual Christians, but the principle is the same.  He used ungodly hands to carry out His plan through His Son (Acts 2:23-24).  A grave is as hopeless as it can get, until God steps in.

It was an amazing view from that prison cell.  He found reason to be thankful for his beloved brothers and sisters.  He had great confidence in the Lord who worked within those Christians that He would continue to perfect them until time was no more.  And he saw benefit in those undesirable circumstances.  Even from there, he could say, “Rejoice in the Lord; Again I will say rejoice (Philippians 4:4).”

Lifelines May 27, 2018

It was the day that royalty united with a commoner in the wedding for the ages.  All eyes watched.  It seemed as if the attention of heaven was focused on the bride and groom.  She came from ordinary stock.  His pedigree was considerably more impressive.  He was regal.  It was the ultimate mixed marriage.  The two had grown up an ocean apart.  Now, they would become one.

Marriage is of God’s design.  He looked at the solitary man in the garden and acknowledged that it was not good for him to be alone.  It is hard to imagine life as the only person on earth, even if home was a paradise.  Our Creator knew that was not ideal so He made a partner, a helper.  They were not to be in competition but collaboration.  Each had a role in the plan of the Lord.  It is at the very foundation of His humanity.  One man.  One woman.  One union to maximize both.  The royal couple spanned the huge gulf of cultural differences to unite in marriage.

It is a unique union.  The promise is to exclusivity.  Forsaking all others.  No one else has the right to intrude on this intimate relationship.  And neither of them has permission to have wandering eyes.  King David was a good man, but His roving glance led to generations of troubles.  Eve started it with a longing look at forbidden fruit.  It never ends well.  Faithfulness is the cornerstone of marriage.  He to her and her to him.  Forsaking ALL others.

Each supports the other.  Sin has gashed every human.  Husbands and wives are no different.  The effects sometimes run very deep and leave lasting scars.  Weaknesses bring a vulnerability.  We need each other.  The objective of the good marriage is to be holy, and that is no easy goal.  It takes teamwork with each contributing to the task.  When a spouse withdraws that assistance, the partnership is weakened.  Both promised to support each other in the marriage of the ages.  It will remain a strong union as long as both remain committed to their vows.

There is a third party involved in marriage who is often overlooked.  “What God has joined together…(Matthew 19:6)”  Humans make vows, but it is a heavenly hand that turns the two into one.  He has done something that is not visible but is more real than that which is.  Both have left their earthly parents to step into a new relationship, one designed and defined by God.  The royal and the regular have been divinely united.

The husband left His home in search of a bride.  Jesus Christ gave up heaven and proposed marriage on a cross in the most stunning of ceremonies.  There has never been a more unlikely union.  Royalty became a commoner so that the commoner could become royalty.  The two became one forever, united by God.

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.