Lifelines August 01, 2021

The church of Christ is an extraordinary body comprised of remarkably ordinary people.  We struggle with finances, sin, neighbors, the state of the world, demanding schedules and a thousand and one other distractions.  We are hurt, disappointed, angry, sad, lonesome and heartbroken.  Yet, in the midst of it all, we are richly blessed.  Admittedly, it is hard to reconcile all that we experience and feel with the notion that we are the objects of almighty God’s special affection.

There are times when life throws more at us than we can handle leaving us frazzled and overwhelmed.  Sickness and death do not stop.  Loved ones turn on us.  Those we thought were dependable and trustworthy are not.  Friends betray us.  Our inner circle abandons us.  People spread lies about us.  It actually sounds exactly like the experience of Jesus.  He has traveled the road we are on and understands it perfectly well.  This world is a rough and tumble place.  The Lord isn’t caught off guard by this (John 16:33).  He knows.

To expect otherwise is a mistake.  The church does not lift us out of the tribulations that are inescapable in this creation, but she does provide a support system.  We are no longer alone, solitary figures trying to fight our way through the injustices that we face.  We are part of a kingdom that is indestructible.  That is the Lord’s plan and promise.

David was as special as they come.  He was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).  He was the Lord’s handpicked king to lead His people (1 Samuel 16:12).  He wrote many of the psalms, including the beloved twenty-third, which is likely the most famous of them all.  Yet, his legacy is scarred by some of the most horrible sins.  His resume includes adultery and murder.  We will be terribly disappointed if we are looking for a collection of perfect people.  The church is comprised of anything but.

We could draw up a list of biblical heroes from Genesis to Revelation and not a one of them would be flawless.  Check the genealogy of our Savior in the first chapter of the New Testament and discover quite a few sketchy characters.  It is His somewhat-embarrassing family tree and through them God brought His Son to save us from our sins.  Spotless is not exactly the word to describe them.  He was.  They were not.

That brings us to His church; twenty-first century edition.  It can often be a ragtag looking assortment of sin-scarred folks with ugly histories.  That is a human perspective.  God sees us differently.  He looks through the blood of the lamb and sees forgiven sons and daughters.  He holds us near and dear.  We are His family.  What an astonishing portrait it is.  As scruffy and disheveled as we may appear to each other, He calls us His children.  It is quite amazing, isn’t it?        

Lifelines July 25, 2021

“Thy will be done.”  They are four simple words filled with significance.  It takes subordination of our wants and wishes to the much more expansive knowledge possessed by our Creator.  There seems to be a self-destructive nature within most, if not all, of us.  It is fed by alcohol, drugs, sex, smoking, over-eating and dozens of other harmful habits.  All of these are evidence of just how deep the need is for His will to take control.

The Son of God was not exempt from the anxiety of carrying out His Father’s plan (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46).  He faced the most traumatic event in eternity in giving His life for all the sins of all humanity for all time.  Such a burden is beyond comprehension, and He collapsed beneath the stress.  He knew the depths of the agony that He would soon endure, so He prayed fervently and tearfully.  He pleaded for a change, but it was not to be.  Had His Father turned a deaf ear? 

No, His righteousness had kept the channels of communication open (Hebrews 5:7).  God is both forgiving and just.  The penalty for sin was set, had to be paid and it rested on His perfectly sinless shoulders to do so.  His Father heard His prayer which included, “Thy will be done.”  It was a self-denying acceptance of the ultimate plan of God to rescue us from that self-destructive course that sin leads us on (Galatians 1:4).  

Paul had his famous “thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)” for which he asked God for relief.  He was tormented by the Satanic messenger and begged the Lord on multiple occasions to remove it.  The answer was repeatedly no.  In that experience the apostle was taught the sufficiency of grace.  God’s will?  Clearly. 

Recognizing his own weakness opened Paul’s eyes to his need for the grace and power of God.  Reliance on himself was a shaky foundation upon which to build his ministry.  Dependence on the Lord was essential.  It is for us, too.  It is much easier to spot the weakness of others than it is to identify our own.  Self-reflection is uncomfortable yet necessary.

Isaiah saw the glory of God up close and personal (Isaiah 6:1-7).  It knocked him to his knees as he realized his own unworthiness and those of the people around him.  It was an unnerving encounter to catch a glimpse of the holy God.  Stepping closer clarifies our vision of just how incomparably magnificent and pure our Lord is.  We need Him and His cleansing.

The Son of God, as perfect and sinless as He was, prayed the prayer.  Paul accepted the education that came through his “thorn in the flesh,” and learned the lesson of grace.  Isaiah saw his own unworthiness.  “Thy will be done.”  It takes humility plus a willingness to relinquish control.  Neither is easy.  Both are life-changing.              

Lifelines July 18, 2021

There once was a time in which it was a high compliment to describe a person as “God-fearing.”  Whatever happened to those days?  To stand in awe of the Lord is an attitude held by very few anymore, and it is evident in our culture.  It reflects a total dismissal of the Almighty Creator before whom we will all stand in judgment.   Eternal destinations will be revealed that day.

Respect for God has waned rapidly in recent years to the point that many now doubt His very existence.  Despite the wonders of His creation bearing witness of Him, skeptics seem to be winning the day.  They see the sun, moon, stars, planets, and all of the wondrous creatures and conclude that it was all the product of a big bang.  Humans are nothing more than the winners in a survival of the fittest.  Such a process either marginalizes an all-powerful God or eliminates Him altogether.         

That is the world in which we live.  Has it seeped into the church?  Do we still stand totally awe-struck before God?  Or have we watered down our concept of Him?  As we break bread and share the juice of communion, do we fully comprehend the significance of that moment?  The Son of God’s battered body hanging on a cross, giving His all for us.  Blood from His back, brow, hands and feet draining the life from Him.  So horrible is sin and so great is His love. 

We come before a God of infinite love and perfect justice who is both compassionate and capable of wrath.  Whatever happened to the fear of the Lord, that attitude that recognizes our dependence on Him for every breath we take and accountable to Him for how we treat Him?  Scripture reveals attributes that grab our attention.  There is no other source that provides insight into His nature.

Rome had its share of those who knew God but did not want to be bothered with Him (Romans 1:21-32).  It began a downward spiral that we see mirrored in our own time.  Theology will inevitably leave its mark on society, and the minimizing or removal of God from our thinking leads to sin and that results in self-destruction.  The same is inescapably true of His church.

A distorted view of the great “I am” may be more common than a total rejection of Him.  His word exposes us to unexpected attributes, and we may choose to focus on some to the neglect of others.  From Genesis to Revelation, we have the facts about this unseen God that He wants us to know.  Disregarding any of them leaves us with an incomplete picture. The God of creation wants us to know Him, and that demands an investigation of His own revelation about Himself.  It’s a wonder, isn’t it?  He exposed His heart to us.  Now, it’s our turn

Lifelines July 11, 2021

We look back on the dozen men that Jesus selected to be apostles with high expectations.  After all, they would spend several years on the road with the Lord, be entrusted with the most important information in all the world and sent on a global mission.  Only the cream of the crop would be suited for such a task, right?  Not exactly.  They were not supermen but ordinary men with calloused hands, questionable characters and shady histories.  In other words, people just like us.

They were hardly a collection of bluebloods.  They were comprised of commoners; a few fishermen, at least one tax collector and several unknowns.  These men were hand-picked by Jesus Himself after a night of prayer (Luke 6:12).  He had stirred the synagogue into a frenzy with a marvelous act of healing which, rather than being met with joy, infuriated the establishment (Luke 6:6-11).  That sequence of conflict and prayer set the table for selecting the men to carry on the work after He was no longer on earth.

He was fully aware of the men that He chose and the challenges that they would meet.  He was not caught off-guard when Judas turned out to be a traitor (John 6:64) nor when Peter wilted as the pressure mounted (John 13:36-38).  He was completely conscious of what He was sending these all-too-human men into (John 17:13-18).  So, the Lord of the universe in human flesh prayed.  He communed with His Father all night.  Then He chose.

They watched as He took on the frailties of humanity.  The throngs came to listen. The sick, suffering and demon-possessed crowded Him seeking healing (Luke 6:17-19).  Apostolic eyes were opened to the enormity of the world’s needs.  He turned conventional wisdom on its head.  Blessings and woes were painted with a very different brush (Luke 6:20-:26).  He demanded a radical new approach to enemies and exploiters with the motivating factor being the imitation of the Father’s love and mercy.  This, indeed, was very different.

He chose them to spend time with Him and that He could send them out (Mark 6:14).  It seems like a pretty risky venture to commission such ordinary men with such an extraordinary task, especially with the knowledge He had of them and the opposition they would face.  Nevertheless, that was His strategy.  How did it go?  They were beaten, imprisoned, hated and executed.  Losses usually outnumbered victories.  Generally, they anonymously went about their task with no written history to tell their stories.  In other words, they were people just like us.

The good news is that their work lives on in the Lord’s church.  So will ours.  Our influence will echo for generations.  Lives we touch will touch others.  It is a remarkable prospect.  Jesus took a dozen ordinary men, gave them an assignment and the world has never been the same.  Imagine what He can do with us.                          

Lifelines July 04, 2021

Grab the burgers and hot dogs; It’s Independence Day.  Grills are fired up all across the country as we enjoy our yearly celebration of freedom.  Today, our thoughts revolve around the blessing of liberty and those who fought to gain and maintain it.  It is a time of remembrance in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  It falls on Sunday this year, and that marks a much more significant liberation.

Sin enslaves with invisible shackles.  We cannot see it, but its influence is clear.  In a country that enjoys extraordinary material blessings, it is easy to overlook the devastation that comes from sin.  Big houses are coupled with empty souls.  Bible believers see it clearly and mourn the moral decline that has a strangle-hold on much of our society.  Unfortunately, there is a widespread embrace of the immorality and the imaginary freedom that it offers.  It is fraudulent and has been since the Garden of Eden.  Slavery in solid gold chains is slavery none-the-less.

Spiritual captivity is the worst.  It distorts vision and hardens the heart.  Reasoning suffers and souls are destroyed.  Sin dictates actions, and the slaves can’t even recognize it.  Jesus came to set us free from that.  When the Lord presented the means by which they could be liberated, the Jews were stunned and indignant.  They failed to recognize their own history, their current conditions or their need for the Son of God (John 8:31-36).  Much of the world continues under the same delusion.  Satan is a very clever slave master.

The devil dangled before the Lord the satisfaction for His physical needs.  He challenged Him with the spiritually spectacular.  He tempted Him with power and prestige.  His scheme utilized a distortion of the word of God (Matthew 4:1-11).  All of those efforts failed, but we gain insight into his methodology.  He will exploit our weaknesses, purposes and even our faith to bring us into captivity.  Deceiving us into underestimating Him might be his greatest delusion.    

The first day of each week we come together to remember our liberation from such a crafty creature.  Sin is no longer master over us, thanks to the blood of our Savior which offered everyone a way to break the bonds.  So, we are reminded through the simple elements of the Lord’s Supper.  We tend to lose focus and the chains begin to gather around us again.  The evil one is still lurking just outside our door everyday (Genesis 4:7).  Some things never change. 

Freedom is never free, regardless of whether it is physical or spiritual.  We feel deep gratitude for those who fought and died to free our nation.  How much more should we feel an enormous sense of appreciation for the Son of God who sacrificed everything to set us free?  It is a day of remembrance: We have been liberated.  Happy July 4th!