Lifelines August 9, 2020

We read the history of the apostles and marvel that they could walk away from the life that they knew to follow Jesus.  He invited, and they responded.  They left nets, boats, family and offices to join “the twelve.”  It was a dozen men who had been chosen for the most significant mission possible.  Who was this Jesus, and why did they make such a radical decision?

Let’s step back into their sandals for a moment.  Imagine being on our jobs involved in our daily routine, and the Lord taps us on the shoulder.  We recognize Him.  We aren’t newcomers to this one we call the Christ.  He tells us that He has chosen us to go with Him.  We were going to spend special time with Him, receive instructions and be sent out.  It is an eye-to-eye, face-to-face invitation.  How would that make us feel?  Special?  Scared?  Awe-struck?  The Savior of humanity wants me? 

This is the journey of a lifetime.  Our minds race.  There are billions of people in the world, and there are twelve of us.  How can this possibly work?  And the demands are high.  Leave everything that is comfortable to head off in a totally different direction.  You know, comfort zones are…well…comfy, and we all recognize how important that is.  Do we dare take such a step into the unknown?

Jesus paints a very realistic picture (Matthew 10).  The road is sure to be a bumpy one.  We are going to be like sheep among wolves.  Hostilities will come from every direction.  People from all backgrounds, the powerful and the commoners, religious and civil, family and friends will all be numbered among the aggressors.  His recruiting pitch is unconventional, but then the mission is, too.  This is no picnic: He is the bread of a very different kind of life.  Are we ready for such a move?  He looks at our face as He searches our hearts.  He knows.  Do we?  What will our answer be?  He is waiting.

Stepping out of their sandals and back into our own shoes, we won’t face such an encounter.  Jesus is not going to physically tap us on the shoulder, but He does invite us to a radically different lifestyle.  We have been beaten, battered and scarred by sin and the world that He is calling us to leave behind.  Maybe we hesitate in totally cutting ties with the fleshly ways.  They entice us.  He calls us.  It won’t be easy to resist our old habits.  People discourage us, even mock us.  To whom shall we listen?

They were twelve with their flaws and weaknesses.  As are we.  The Lord used them and will use us as well.  His invitation is to follow Him, and He will take care of the rest.  He promised to make them fishers of men.  He’ll make us what He wants us to be, too. 

Lifelines August 02, 2020

The virus seems like it will never go away.  It began as a ripple and quickly grew into a tsunami.  Now, we are in the eighth month of the year, and nothing has changed.  No vaccine and no sure cure.  Only masks, social distancing and questions…lots and lots of questions.  Weeks have stretched into months with no end in sight.  2020 will definitely go down in the history books as a very weird year.  Covid-19 is just one reason.

No one is assured of dodging this mysterious bullet.  It afflicts the young and old, male and female, all races and every country.  It is the ultimate equal opportunity enemy.  While we hide inside, turmoil is waiting outside.  Unrest has come to much of the U.S. adding to this uniquely strange year.  Statues are falling, cities are being seized, buildings are burning and elected officials are at a loss.  No one knows how or when any of this will end.  Well, no one but God.

As Jesus prepared His apostles for His impending execution, He spoke words intended to prepare them.  The world would soon escalate in its hostility toward Him.  The unseen virus that we call sin would soon unleash its full fury.  The forces were gathering at that moment and would soon show up with torches and weapons.  “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace (John 16:33).”  He began the conversation reassuring their potentially troubled hearts (John 14:1), and closed it with a message of peace.  The Lord knows just what this world has to offer and exactly what His disciples need. 

He is both accurate and encouraging.  “In the world you have tribulation…”  He does not dodge the issue nor does He paint an unrealistic picture.  They were facing a day unlike any other.  Darkness and death were coming.  The evil in His own circle would reveal itself in betrayal.  Peter’s courage would fail him.  Wickedness and weakness would rule the day, or so it would seem.  Looming over it all, as unlikely as it appeared, was the throne of God.  The ungodly carried out His plan. 

“…but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  It would surely be hard to discern the hand of God in the midst of all that would soon be happening, and it appeared to be anything but overcoming.  Sin would be met and defeated.  Forgiveness would be possible.  An empty tomb would promise hope forever. 

This world is a tough place with plenty of troubles.  Viruses taunt us and haunt us.  Unrest ripples through our streets.  We are puzzled and uncertain, but the Lord is not.  He has been through it all and emerged scarred but victorious.  He left footprints, not just to the cross but beyond it through the tomb and to the right hand of God.  It is up to us to follow them. 

Lifelines July 26, 2020

It is one of the most alluring traps that the devil has, and it has caught some awfully good people along the way.  We seldom see it coming in our own lives, and that is what makes it most dangerous.  It blindsides its victims in the midst of prosperity.  Suddenly, they are successful and wealthy in material matters and utterly bankrupt spiritually.  Scripture warns us of its certain failure, but are we listening?

Uzziah was, by most standards, a success (2 Chronicles 26).  He became King of the Lord’s people in Judah at the ripe old age of sixteen and served in that capacity for fifty-two years.  God was on his side as he defeated the perpetual foe of Philistines, and his fame spread all the way to Egypt.  His military might was second to none.  He sat on the throne of authority, wielded great power and enjoyed a tremendous reputation.  Then, disaster struck.

The devil that haunts all of us in prosperity claimed another victim.  No external human enemy took Uzziah down.  The Philistines did not conquer him.  His army could stand up to them.  No, it took an insidious internal adversary to bring him down: Pride.  It infects the heart and leads outside of God’s boundaries in unfaithfulness which always brings consequences.  Being the mighty king of Judah did not immunize him against the leprosy that took him off the throne and into isolation.

God had warned the Israelites long before Uzziah’s case that pride could be their undoing.  Even prior to entering the Promised Land, He knew there was danger in the road ahead (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).  He was leading them into a place where they would enjoy great abundance, and that is a fertile environment for a distorted perspective (verse 17).  Uzziah was a living example.  His legacy of military success was sadly overshadowed by his condition at death (2 Chronicles 26:23).

Jesus invited the weary and worn to come learn from Him (Matthew 11:28-30).  We all experience it from time-to-time, that fatigue deep inside.  A night’s sleep doesn’t cure it.  A weeklong vacation is little help.  No, it is far beyond any worldly cure because it is not physical.  We need rest for the soul, which is what only He can offer.  He doesn’t encourage assertiveness or aggression but to partner with Him in gentleness and humility of heart.  It is worth noting that the invitation is to come to Him. 

“Everyone who exalts Himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).”  It is a 100% guarantee.  It is as certain as the law of gravity, no exceptions or exclusions.  Uzziah could vouch for the destructive nature of pride.  Nebuchadnezzar could, too (Daniel 4:29-37).  We live in a land of great prosperity, and pride is a persistent danger.  The word of God warns us and shows us.  Are we listening?            

Lifelines July 19, 2020

The world has been haunted by illusions ever since the serpent successfully tempted Eve in the garden.  Appearances can be deceiving and often are.  That first forbidden fruit did not deliver what was promised.  Instead of fulfillment, it brought fear.  God-likeness turned out to be a hoax.  Liberation was a lie.  Anyone who underestimates the salesmanship skills of Satan becomes deadly prey.

The deceiver made his way into a perfect environment and convinced a pair in paradise that they could do better.  Isn’t that His way?  The word of God informs us of the ways to live a blessed life, and the devil persuades people that they can improve on it.  Whether it is economics, morality or priorities; he challenges the Lord’s principles.  Much of our culture has swallowed the bait and bitten into the distortion. 

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…(Matthew 6:33).”  Jesus spoke of a Father who knows our most basic needs and will provide them, and that disciples should order their lives accordingly.  Do not pointlessly fret about physical necessities but seek the more eternal ones.  Yet, we are taught from early childhood to prioritize differently.  Satan has flipped the script, and the world has fallen right in line.  It is, after all, his domain (1 John 5:19).

The ways of the world are incredibly appealing.  They have an allure that is hard to resist.  The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life generate an itch that they fail to scratch.  They simply spread and infect other areas of our lives that will never be satisfied.  Any fleshly contentment is only temporary.  The word of God has warned us that there is but one way to a life that lasts (1 John 2:15-17).  Misplaced pursuits are guaranteed to disappoint sooner or later.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart…(Matthew 22:36-37).”  The devil, crafty fellow that he is, labels that as fanaticism.  He does not mind if we play church on Sunday: just don’t get carried away with it.  Monday through Saturday is his turf.  Be sure to keep some distance between the sacred and the secular so that religion doesn’t influence the way we live or inform our decisions.  God is okay as long as we keep Him in His place and don’t let Him out of the building.

The evidence is all around.  The devil has done a masterful job of deception, and the fallout is clear to see.  Violence plagues our culture.  Immorality has virtually destroyed the home.  The once-unthinkable has become common place.  Sin parades through our streets.  Our nation has joined the ranks of those who do not even know how to blush (Jeremiah 6:15). Our country needs Christians who behave like Christians now more than ever.  Each of us has that opportunity and responsibility.  Only one question remains: Will we?

Lifelines July 12, 2020

The rumors were circulating, and He wanted to know what people were saying.  What is the word on the street?  Some speculated that He was the eccentric John the Baptist.  After all, that fire-and-brimstone preacher had stirred up quite a ruckus.  Then again, other folks pointed to a different prophet, maybe from long ago like Elijah or Jeremiah.  There was plenty of chatter.  There still is.  There has never been a shortage of opinions about the self-proclaimed “Son of Man.”  Most of them, both then and now, miss the mark.

Speculation had smothered revelation.  The Father had made it clear to Peter.  He got it straight from the source.  This was no one less than the Christ, the Son of the living God.  The old fisherman nailed it.  All of the signs indicated that fact.  A book full of prophecies had all pointed to the one born among the animals.  Angels announced it before He was ever born.  The shepherds knew what the scholars missed.  This was the one they had been anticipating, and preconceptions blinded their eyes. 

It is hard to imagine a more unlikely figure to figure it out.  His background was in nets, boats and fish; hardly the scholastic credentials we might expect.  He would stumble at times and waver at others.  He was confident, but that was clearly misplaced.  “I’ll never” turned into “I don’t know Him” at the challenge of a slave girl as he retreated into the darkness.  Still, he had that critical information in his head, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  That was the foundation of a new culture, not Peter’s strength but the Lord’s true identity.

That would prove to be the foundation upon which He would build His special people, the church of Christ.  It is His, bought and paid for by His extraordinarily pure and holy blood.  It is not a secondary thought or a marginal issue.  That is a human way of thinking built not on the rock but on popular opinion.  Jesus loves His church and gave His life for Her (Ephesians 5:25).  To minimize the significance of the church is to devalue the agony of the crucifixion and say it does not matter.

The day is coming in which the Son of God will present His church, not just any church, but His church holy and blameless.  She will have no flaws or blemishes because she has been thoroughly washed and cleansed by the blood of the lamb.  It will be an amazing day in which Christians will finally be home with their Father. 

Jesus looked ahead that day as He talked with the apostles about the time when He would build His very special and unique church.  There is no other.  Peter understood how special the Lord was and still stumbled.  The Son of God built His church anyway, and today we remember.