Lifelines September 16, 2018

Loss of a leader can be a very disorienting time.  The one to whom people look for guidance and protection was suddenly gone.  The king had died (Isaiah 6:1).  It was at just such a moment that Isaiah saw the Lord more clearly than ever before.  Human authority was removed and the ultimate authority came sharply into view.  It was indelibly etched in his mind.

That amazing presence sat enthroned, filling the temple.  Seraphim proclaimed His holiness in chorus.  The case was stated emphatically in triplicate.  There was no one to compare anywhere on earth.  He reigned, and the creation proclaimed it.  His glory permeated the entire world.  His magnificence overwhelmed Isaiah.  A glimpse of perfection magnified his imperfection.  Step closer.  Look more carefully.  Remove every flawed representation, and we will see Him as He truly is.  We will see ourselves, as well.

The world trembled.  So did Isaiah.  His self-awareness shook him down to his toes.  Step into the presence of the holy God and everything looks grimy in comparison, particularly our own hearts.  The undiluted light of divinity exposes every blemish, and they are ugly.  Face-to-face with flawlessness strips away our carefully crafted spiritual veneer.  No wonder most folks prefer to keep the Lord at a distance.  It’s more comfortable out in the shadows but much less beneficial.

The proclaiming seraphim did something that only heaven can do.  Isaiah’s self-esteem had taken a beating.  He was riddled with the ruination of sin, and there was nothing he could do.  Guilty!  He was, knew it and couldn’t fix it.  It took something out of this world to resolve his dilemma, and that is precisely what occurred.  Heaven came down and solved his sin problem.  There was no other way.  There still isn’t.

It was that clear view of the Lord that opened Isaiah’s eyes.  He saw himself in the presence of intense purity, and his impurities were glaring.  He was made acutely aware of his sins.  Have we stepped into that same probing light?  We have if we have opened up the word of God and let it have its way with us (Hebrews 4:12-13).  We will see like we never have before.  It dissects and exposes.  It examines.  It is unlike any other literature in the world and searches out every nook and cranny of our hearts.

We will find the true and living God described in those pages.  It tells us that his thoughts and ways are not like ours (Isaiah 55:8).  Jesus revealed Him to the shock of the religious leaders of His day.  He may shock us, too.  It is likely that we will discover qualities about Him (And ourselves!) that we never expected when we dive deeply into His word.  Be prepared.  It may be an Isaiah-type experience leaving us rattled but forgiven, when we see the Lord as He truly is.

Lifelines September 09, 2018

The church is a unique collection of individuals whom God has gathered together into His family.  Christians come in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities.  We come from totally different backgrounds.  Some escaped from deep in the darkness of the world.  It left telltale scars that occasionally become visible.  Others have been shaped by nonbiblical religious roots whose influence is still evident.  Still others have been surrounded by Bible based Christianity their entire lives.  In spite of the many differences; Christians comprise one big, blessed family.

The great equalizer within the Lord’s family is our mutual salvation.  That began with our realization of sin.  It is the separator.  It alienates us from our Father and divides people.  We relinquished all family rights when we chose to engage.  We lost our place at the table and became the ultimate outsider.  The progression and destruction of sin is seen within the very first family.  Sin cost them their place in paradise, and soon escalated into brother murdering brother.  It takes a toll on relationships, both vertical and horizontal.

The damage of disobedience came as no shock to heaven.  Plans were made to resolve the trauma on humanity that sin produced before it even existed.  The declared penalty was death, and God the Son was going to pay it.  His amazing grace took on flesh and stepped into the world of sin.  He confronted evil and never once failed.  An excruciating death by crucifixion followed.  An empty tomb remains.  Faith embraced that grace and our sins were forgiven.  That experience is the same for every member of the family.

We all share the same blessings (Ephesians 1:3).  They are spiritual in nature and not a one is missing.  Adoption by a loving Father headlines the list.  Add to that the redemption that came through the death of the Son, resurrection from our spiritual death caused by sin and our repaired relationship with God; and we see the extraordinary blessedness of the family.  Not to mention that the best is yet to come.

Heaven in the presence of the Lord is our ultimate destination.  Every true child of God shares that future, where there will be no pain nor sorrow.  No more smashed fingers or broken hearts.  Sickness will cease.  Death will no longer linger on the horizon.  Sin is not there, only forgiven sinners.

People cannot see a visible likeness when they look at Christians.  We do not look alike, but there is a family resemblance.  There has been from the beginning.  God created us in His image.  It is not physical but much deeper than that.  It is a spiritual connection with our Father that was terribly damaged by sin.  Children of God have been born again with a new identity.  Now, the sanctifying work of the Lord is restoring us.  We begin to share His nature.  We are His children.  We are family.

 

Lifelines September 2, 2018

Prosperity is not generally viewed as a hindrance in our spiritual journey, but it often is.  After years of living day-to-day with much uncertainty, the Lord’s people were soon to enter the Promised Land.   The decades had rolled by as they wandered and wondered.  Unpacking the moving boxes must have been appealing.  Success was coming soon and bringing unexpected threats to their relationship with God (Deuteronomy 8).

It was prime real estate, productive and beautiful.  Mining and farming guaranteed full stomachs and comfy homes.  Prosperity was just ahead, and that is good, right?  After all, they had been in the Lord’s school of humility and struggle for forty years.  The long and winding road from slavery to success was intended to educate them on what really matters.  That’s easy to miss.  Material needs are essential.  That’s why they’re called “needs.”  But there is something more critical to truly living.  God’s classroom drove that point home in one dramatically long semester.

Do not forget the One who delivered you (Deut. 8:11).  A snazzy neighborhood tends to distort our thinking.  Filled pantries blunt our sense of dependence.  Pride shoves praise into the back room.  All of those years in slavery are forgotten, as are the memories of that incredible deliverance by supernatural hands.  His guidance, protection and provision through the dangers and hardships of the desert become mere footnotes in history.  As does He; a secondary consideration at best.  Prosperity is a very dangerous neighborhood, and they were about to move in.

A few rare individuals are able to successfully negotiate the potential pitfalls associated with the challenging world of high finance.  Jesus called attention to that uncomfortable reality in terms of camels and needle’s eyes (Mark 10:17-27).  Humans do not need money to enter the kingdom of Heaven.  They need a Messiah; nothing more, nothing less.  It means total dependence on the only One capable of ushering them into true life.  Riches make it harder, not easier.

All sorts of evil arise through the inappropriate attitude toward money (1 Timothy 6:9-10).  Our passion for it is misplaced, and that leads to tricks and traps to get it and keep it.  That is the opening scene of a life whose final act is a departure from the faith and all the blessings that come through it.  It is an investment whose dividend is eternal bankruptcy.

Business, money and its management are inescapable parts of life which are not disconnected from our spiritual pilgrimage but are often neglected.  Failure to include the Lord in those plans is addressed bluntly in His word (James 4:13-17).  Considering Him, seeking His guidance and realizing that we totally depend on Him keeps us properly balanced and focused.  Next Sunday and Monday, we receive a needed assist with our seminar on being debt free.  Bringing every aspect of our lives, including finances, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ is what it truly means to be a Christian.

Lifelines August 26, 2018

It seems much too simple to be significant.  A small piece of what appears to be an ordinary cracker and a tiny sip of grape juice surely could not carry a great deal of meaning, could they?  Let’s time travel for a moment back to the slavery days of the Israelites in Egypt.  We will find our roots there.

The Jews are our forefathers.  Their history is ours.  They had endured four centuries of slavery when God prompted Moses through the burning bush to get them out of there.  The tenth in a series of plagues left the Egyptians in mourning as dead children littered the land.  It is a horrifying sight to consider.  The Lord is not one to be crossed.  The Israelites had been spared, passed over because of the blood of an unblemished lamb.  Obedience preserved life.  A spiritual picture is being painted.

The Passover celebration commemorated the deliverance of the Israelites from both death and slavery.  The Lord had spared the lives of the first born and would lead them through the Red Sea to freedom.  Centuries later, another lamb would appear.  He would offer a different kind of life and deliverance.  Until His arrival, sinless life and sacrificial death; the Jews would remember their escape with this observance.  The Passover was filled with meaning.  The new memorial has even more.

It was the time of the Passover when Jesus gathered His disciples (Mark 14:12-25).  They were together to share the meal that took their minds back to those powerful images.  He confronted them with the coming betrayal and denials.  It was all necessarily painful.  The blood of the Passover lamb had to be shed.  Life and deliverance can be achieved no other way.  Remembering is critical.  The escape was secured through sacrifice.

Christ is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).  It is against the backdrop of the Jewish Passover that we recognize the importance of this visually unimpressive reminder.  “Do this in remembrance of Me (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).”  The source for that directive is impeccable, the Lord Himself.  It is a time of reflecting on the body and blood of the Lord, and the salvation which He secured through the excruciating death of crucifixion.   It is a time to immerse ourselves in the extraordinary love of God.  To remember HIM.

Each week merits a moment of reorientation.  Better yet, it demands it.  Christians come together the first thing every week to replenish our thirsty souls, encourage one another and set our course.  The world has had our heads for the last six days.  If we are not careful it will have our hearts, too.  It will draw our devotion to that which is temporary, and we will lose sight of the eternal.  So, we come together to break bread (Acts 20:7) and reflect.  He died for me.  He’s coming again.  Until He does, we remember.  The blood-bought covenant deserves nothing less.

Lifelines August 19, 2018

Jesus gathered His small group of apostles together and talked with them on the eve of His crucifixion (John 14-16).  The events of the coming hours would rattle the world.  His men surely underestimated the gravity of that conversation.  He would be dead in a matter of hours.  That would be temporary.  His resurrected life would not be, but their comprehension was limited.  Death is so final, or so we think.

The empty tomb.  It distinguishes Christianity from every other belief system in the world.  It is the reason for our hope (1 Peter 1:3).  We place ourselves in the shoes of the women who made the initial discovery (Matthew 28:1-10).  Greeted by the odd sight of a huge stone that had been mysteriously rolled away from the grave.  An earthquake, perhaps?  A shiny angel and shaking guards were the welcoming committee.  “He is not here.”  What?

The ladies were a bundle of mixed-up emotions.  They had been given words of comfort and a mission.  Tell the guys that He’s alive.  It would prove to be a hard sell (Mark 16:9-13).  Jesus had told them along the way that this is the way that it had to happen, but understanding came slowly.  This bit of information was hard to swallow.  The dead man lives?  It was news that would create ripples around the world, especially among the religious establishment.

It was the centerpiece of Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  It sent shock waves through the hearts of thousands as they responded with repentance and baptism in the name of the resurrected one.  It was a powerful message.  It still is.  Salvation hangs in the balance of believing it (Romans 10:9-10).  It is fundamental to our faith and a belief that is nonnegotiable.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ had been called into question in Corinth (1 Corinthians 15).  There were rumbles that it had never happened.  You want witnesses?  How about hundreds?  Even a post-ascension appearance to the opposition.  It is evidence that is inarguable.  No empty tomb means invalid faith and meaningless preaching.  The Bible becomes a deceptive myth.  Jesus was wrong at best, a liar at worst.  All the apostles joined Him in the greatest conspiracy of all-time if He is not risen.

What else could account for the remarkable transformation of Peter and Paul?  The former had wilted under the pressure on the night of his denial.  Yet, he was the bold proclaimer in the early chapters of church history.  Paul stood in antagonistic opposition to the church.  He was hostile and, at times, violent.  What turned him around to become a major contributor to the word of God?

It is a life-changing fact of which Christians become a participant in baptism (Romans 6:1-7).  The tomb is empty, and we join Him in that resurrected life when we are buried and raised with Him.