Lifelines: In Training

Involvement brings growth. Great athletes do not simply sit in the stands and watch. Improvement in any endeavor demands time and participation. With precious few exceptions, we will not be very good when we begin. Whether it is dribbling a basketball or delivering a speech, a novice is usually obvious. Accomplishment comes through a little natural skill and a lot of sweat. We get better at whatever we do. The same is true of the church.

Jesus offered the perfect training program. He selected a dozen with a simple invitation, “Follow Me,” and they did. They had a front row seat for healings, resurrections, exorcisms and teaching. They saw it first hand. He was the teacher, and they were the pupils. Their assignment was to learn. He did not just tell them, He showed them. Their mission would soon be revealed. There was much more going on than just getting some information into their heads.

They did not remain in their seats for long. After observing the master for awhile, it was time to get into the action themselves (Matt. 10). Being a spectator is important, but it is not an end in itself. The bigger agenda is preparation for the assignment. He called them, and then He sent them. That is the essence of what Christianity is all about. It is not passive sitting but active doing. Jesus began to do and to teach (Acts 1:1).

The Lord put the twelve on a fairly short leash at first. Go to Jews only. No Gentiles. Steer clear of Samaritan cities. Only seek a particular portion of the people. Later, they would have the most important and widespread mission imaginable. The entire world would be their mission field, and disciples would come from all the nations. That was for later, not now. He told them where to go, what to do and gave them a sobering dose of reality: it will be rough out there.

That ragtag bunch would eventually turn the world upside down. Now it is our turn. Getting into the action is what it is all about. We have come together today to encourage each other to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). We each have skills that no one else has. We are unique, and uniquely qualified to fill an indispensable role in the body of Christ. Now let us prepare and get into the game. When we do, we will grow both individually and collectively into the Christians and the church that He intends for us to be.

Lifelines: Children

Children have always occupied a special place in the Lord’s heart. More than once, He scooped them up to make a point to the more mature. The way we treat them, we treat Him (Mark 9:36-37). It makes us wonder if we are really as wise as we might think. How easily we dismiss the least of these.

His disciples even miscalculated their value in the Lord’s eyes (Mark 10:13-16). As the people attempted to bring the children to Him for a touch, the disciples objected. They tried to send them away, but the Lord would have none of that. He did not like it one bit and said so. To hinder the children was to misunderstand the kingdom of God. To reject the kids was to disqualify themselves. The rejected found a home and a blessing in the arms of the Savior. Yes, Jesus loves the little children.

The Israelites dropped the ball when they entered the Promised Land. Maybe they were too preoccupied with fighting wars to spend much time in the classroom. Only they and God knew what went wrong, but they failed in one of their most important duties. They did not teach their children, and as a result a generation came along that was ignorant of the Lord (Judges 2:10). That began a disastrous cycle that would repeat itself throughout the history of the nation. The lesson is significant: If we do not teach our children disaster is sure to follow.

The Scriptures put a particular emphasis on educating children in the home. No one influences a child more than parents, and that fact is not lost on God. Dads particularly are told to discipline and instruct their offspring in the things that pertain to the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Long before Paul wrote it, that concept was communicated to the Jews. There is no wrong time to teach the right things (Deut. 6:7). Every place is a classroom. Lessons learned in adolescence will never be forgotten. Do not waste a minute.

Our Vacation Bible School is this week. It is the first time in years that we have had a VBS and is our opportunity to demonstrate to the Lord and to our children how important they are to us. The world has never needed it more. With all of the negative influences that bombard them, the children need what God offers. It is our prayer that we will all join hands to make the world of a child a little better and brighter. We will be looking for you Wednesday evening at 7.

Lifelines: Choices

One of the few things about which we have no choice is making choices. It has been that way from the beginning. God gave us the freedom to accept or reject Him. Eve chose poorly. Adam followed suit, and soon the world was spinning out of control. When wickedness and violence had consumed virtually every heart, Noah emerged with a different lifestyle. God noticed.

Noah was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:7), and people of faith think differently. They do not simply live in ways that are out of step with current trends, their thought process is influenced by God. Noah believed and responded to the warning that the Lord issued. It was a life and death decision which he took seriously, grabbed his tools and prepared for the ultimate torrents of judgment. The point of origin is the conviction that what God says is true.

Engage the intellect. Drench your thoughts with heavenly concepts. Actions begin as thoughts. It starts between our ears and materializes into actions. We have little trouble understanding that we should love the Lord with all of our heart. That seems natural, but loving God with all of our minds may be another story. Think of all of the impressions that you allowed into your brain during the past week. Did they enhance or impede your reception of Godly principles?

Are we cultivating a heavenly way of seeing reality? Do we include the Lord in every decision that we make? Miscalculations result from inadequate information. We are highly unlikely to come to the right conclusions if we do not take the divine perspective into account. Everyday we face tough decisions, and mistakes come when we do not understand what God says about the matter (Matt.22:29). Without His input our decision making will be shaky, at best.

We must rid ourselves every unrighteous thought that we have (Isaiah 55:7). They are incompatible with those which the Creator of our minds wants us to have and will keep us from reaching our highest mental potential. Our ways go wrong and our journeys are perverted when we cling to them. We are called to renovate our whole way of thinking. The Bible has a word for that: Repent. Refusal to do so is certain self-destruction (Luke 13:3).

Lifelines: …isms

The world is a ball of confusion about religion. Take your pick from atheism, pantheism, deism, polytheism, monotheism; there is an “ism” to suit every taste. Deciphering the difference and deciding which is correct are our most important challenges. Nothing will affect us more. That single conclusion will impact every subsequent decision for the rest of our lives, and then comes death and judgment. It is a weighty matter.

Even within the broad category of “Christianity,” there is a multitude of options. We are encouraged to join the church of our choice, and many people do. They search out the group that most closely believes as they do with minimal adjustment required. Or they look for a particular style of worship. Their preferences become the standard. What they like is what they seek. Their religion is one of self-centered worldliness dressed in a robe. It is God-honoring in its appearance, at least to human eyes it is. However, all is not as it appears.

“These people honor Me with their lips…(Matthew 15:8).” Jesus said it, and He was not the first. The Lord communicated that very idea hundreds of years before through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13). Their words certainly sounded good, but the people were wasting their time (Matt. 15:9). When detached hearts elevate human traditions to an undeserved authoritative position all of the meaning of worship is removed. There is but one authority, and the Lord’s church submits to it.

When the suffering was done, Jesus met with His disciples. The enemy had been conquered. Death was defeated. All of the power that it possessed could not hold Him, and the empty tomb proved it. The Lord emerged victorious proclaiming His exclusive authority (Matt. 28:18). He has it all. Now it is up to us to realize it and act accordingly, which is a huge responsibility.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of His authoritative word. It is a revelation of His mind that has been placed in our hands. Now we must get those ideas into our minds and lives. What an extraordinary blessing it is to be exposed to His thoughts. We have access to His innermost desires for humanity. In the past the Lord’s people have squandered that blessing. May we never be guilty of the same sin. It turned their worship into a meaningless exercise and their lives into misguided journeys. At least they were from God’s perspective, and His is the only one that counts.

Lifelines: Enablers

Enablers have invaded the church. They are cloaked in robes of compassion in the midst of the saints. That harmless appearance conceals problems that can evade even their notice. They may not even know who they are, but Satan certainly does and uses them to his advantage. Take caution lest you fall under their influence.

Enablers are not new to our generation. In fact, they have plagued humanity since the beginning of time. Plagued may be the wrong word since they are seldom unpleasant. They may be our best friend or spouse with good motives but lousy results. Satan played the role in the garden. He sounded like he had Eve’s best interest at heart and provided all of the tools for her to reach a terrible conclusion. That is what enablers do. It may not be their intent, but the outcome is the same. They make sin easy.

Peter almost took the bait and became an enabler. He tried. The Lord offered up a realistic view of what lay in the future for Him, and it was not pleasant (Matt. 16:21-23). Peter had a good heart but the wrong idea. If he would have had his way, he would have talked Jesus out of the suffering and enabled Him to side-step the plan of God. Self-denial, cross-bearing and Christ-following is a challenging journey, but there is no other route. Enablers tell us that there is an easier way. Their concern may be admirable, but their advice is wrong…dead wrong.

“Surely a loving God would not….” Fill in the blank. Usually, it has to do with the consequences of sin. That was Satan’s strategy (Genesis 3:4) from the start and still is; only now he uses a human voice. Theirs is a theology of disobedience without consequences. Paul warned of it (Ephesians 5:6). Our self-indulgent society leaves little room for the stern side of God. They ignore the flood, forget Sodom and Gomorrah and learn little from Old Testament history. Enablers seldom see beyond John 3:16.

Enablers feed our weaknesses. They provide us with excuses not to try harder, do better and be stronger. Peter would have steered Jesus away from the pain. Satan offered Eve a cost-free way to disobey and build her self-esteem at the same time. The Lord resisted, and Eve did not. Which one will be our role-model?

Lifelines: Singing

Singing is one of the integral parts of our assembly. It is obvious to visitors of the church of Christ that our approach to it is different. Ours is purely vocal. There is neither instrument nor choir. Every person is an equal participant in the song service. Some are highly skilled, and others are not. Talent on display is not the purpose, and music critics are not our concern. Pleasing God is.

We tend to listen rather superficially to the talent of a singer, but God hears something different. The quality of the heart is what catches His ear. He is not shallow like we are, and the melody that originates from within is more important than sounds from without. Hitting the high notes does not impress Him much. Engaging our minds and spirits does (1 Corinthians 14:15). Like every aspect of worship, it demands our full attention.

There is much more going on when we sing than meets the ear. It involves not only our hearts and lips but also the Lord. It is the first evidence mentioned by Paul in being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18-19). It is not just a pleasant way to punctuate the other elements of our worship. There is a transforming quality about it that those with wandering minds will never experience. It is our way of inviting God to put His imprint on us, and the evidence is unmistakable. It is called fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), and singing nurtures the heart that produces it.

It is also one of the ways that Scripture authorizes us to teach and admonish each other (Col. 3:16). All things are to be done in the name of the Lord (Col. 3:17), and this is one that has His approval. Emphasis shifts from melody to message when we remember that it is part of the educational process. Doctrine is critically important, and the songs that we sing influence us in immeasurable ways. Those words make impressions on the minds of others. Sing them thoughtfully and carefully.

To underestimate the significance of singing is a tragic error. There are consequences of participating in the song service that cannot be achieved any other way. It involves not only the singer, but also the Lord, the Spirit and our fellow Christians. Surely, that is why the Lord arranged it so that everyone could take part, whether we are a soprano or a bass, or do not know the difference between the two. Off key is not a problem. Closed mouths are. God gave us the voices that we have. We must use them.

Lifelines: Cast Your Cares Upon Him

We have been praying for increased opportunities to spread the gospel during our summer of evangelism. We are emphasizing the spread of the word of God, particularly in our own backyard. We frequently look to foreign mission fields and fail to do the job at home. We want to avoid that mistake. Wherever we are is our mission field, whether it’s Apoera, Suriname in South America or here in Rocky Mount. We must keep our eyes open for the chances the Lord gives us but in our concern for those outside, let’s not neglect those at 2551 Benvenue.

Their Sunday best hides a heart of hurt. Smiles on the outside conceal tears on the inside. They have engaged in the hand-to-hand combat of temptation and lost. The fall is a hard one, and the pain is virtually unbearable. A joke and a laugh cover the invisible tears. A close walk with the Lord seems out of their reach. It is not, but they resist. Adam and Eve tried to hide (Genesis 3:8). So do they.

The good news of hope is proclaimed but falls on deaf ears. It has happen before (Exodus 6:9). Moses took a marvelous message of deliverance to the slaves in Egypt, but they could not listen. Discouragement has a deadening effect, and they are prime examples. The invitation to cast all of our anxieties on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7) is greeted with a blank stare. They hear the words but miss the meaning and shuffle back to their dens of despair. He wants to lift their burdens. They refuse the offer.

The Son of God came to relieve the pain and suffering that sin inflicts. It is not just an eternal problem, it is an immediate one. Christians do not just gaze wistfully into heavenly bliss. Biblical principles help us cope with the here-and-now. The good news that we proclaim has both immediate and ultimate implications. The load gets heavy when we feel that there is no help.

The muddled masses touched the Lord’s heart (Matt. 9:36). He knew that they required what He supplied. We tend to steer clear of sin-sick people, but they are the ones who need us and Him the most (Matt. 9:12). We will find them on other continents, down the street and right by us on the pew. Today someone’s load is heavy, and they are desperate. Let’s not overlook them, wherever they are.

Lifelines: Freedom

Freedom is precious. Many lives have been sacrificed throughout our history to gain and maintain our liberty, and Saturday we will remember. It is a great blessing to live in such a land where we can gather on Sunday to worship the true and living God without concerns for our safety. May the Lord continue to bless us with that opportunity as He extends to mankind the offer for the greatest freedom possible.

What a tremendous price He paid to set us free. Sin entangled the human race like a spider’s web. It clings to us, strangles the life out of us, and drags us into sinful arenas that obliterate the image in which we were created. It takes a careful search to discern even hints of divinity in the lifestyles of humanity these days. Freeing ourselves from such an entanglement is beyond our means. Fortunately the One who started it all has made arrangements. It was a bloody mess, but He did it.

Jesus took the full brunt of what we deserved to liberate us from Satan’s stranglehold. Our Father put it all on His Son. Our shoulders were not nearly broad enough to bear the load, so the Savior bore it for us. We choose to sin, and He chose to suffer. The high cost of freedom can be seen through the brutality of the cross. Without that sacrifice we would be forever enslaved by sin.

His life and death were all about deliverance. He came looking for the wayward (Luke 19:10). His heart ached for the confused, the helpless and the hopeless (Matt. 9:36). He wept over the ignorant (Luke 19:41). His blood was poured out to forgive (Matt. 26:28). He desperately wants to set us free yet meets resistance. The road is not easy. Liberation mandates submission. Most are reluctant, so they remain bound. His death begs for a response that most are unwilling to make.

On Saturday our country will celebrate its liberty, but today we commemorate a much more significant freedom. We have been liberated from sin and its consequences. We are blessed to be able to participate in the memory of that every week. May we never take it for granted. The cost of delivering us from that evil dictator was much too high for us ever to forget.