Lifelines May 16, 2021

Life didn’t start out well for Patti Wilson.  She was diagnosed in her early years with epilepsy.  Her dad was a jogger, and she really wanted to jog with him but feared a seizure.  He assured her that he knew what to do if that happened and persuaded her to run with him.  She fought through the fear, strapped on her running shoes and changed the world.

She loved it and had no complications.  She enjoyed it so much that she began setting goals.  Her first goal was getting out of her front door, but once she began running there was no stopping her.  She set her sights on running further than any woman ever had.  The record was 80 miles.  It was an ambitious goal but not too big for Patti.

As a high school freshman, she determined to run from her home in Orange County, California to San Francisco and she did.  That’s 400 miles!  Her sophomore goal: Portland, Oregon more than 1500 miles and she did it.  As a junior, she headed to St. Louis about 2000 miles.  Again, she succeeded.  Finally, as a senior she planned to run to the White House more than 3000 miles away.  It took more than four months and she accomplished that one, too, where she shook hands with the president. 

How could an epileptic accomplish so much?  We might say grit and determination, goal setting and focus.  A desire that pushed her, and an attitude that helped her.  As far as her physical condition is concerned, she said that epilepsy was simply “an inconvenience.” She refused to be held back, and ultimately raised enough money to build 19 multi-million-dollar epileptic centers across the country.  Quite an accomplishment for someone who faced such a substantial challenge from the beginning.

Hers is a remarkable story.  Is ours?  We have placed ourselves in the Lord’s hands, and there are “inconveniences” in our lives, too.  What do we do with them?  We have options.  We can view them as reasons to quit or challenges to overcome. The Israelites came to the edge of the Promised Land and refused to claim the promise because they were afraid.  Fear drove the disciples behind closed doors (John 20:19).  Patti could have allowed her concerns about having a seizure to keep her indoors, but she listened to her father and has inspired epileptics ever since. Listening to our Father will open our eyes to amazing possibilities. 

Paul experienced extraordinary ups-and-downs in his life.  Through it all, he learned that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him (Philippians 4:13).  So can we.  Imagine what great things we can do with the Lord.  The message of her upcoming virgin birth stunned young Mary, and the angel assured her, “Nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).”  It still isn’t.  It’s time to strap on our running shoes.                

Lifelines May 09, 2021

I arrived at the church building Monday morning, and there was a snake in front of the door.  I am not a snake guy so I didn’t know if it was dangerous or harmless.  After a momentary pause, I figured I could get by him easily enough.  I know that the building isn’t the church, but the symbolism is striking.  There was a snake between me and the church.

The obvious example of the danger of slithering critters is in Genesis 3.  We have heard the Adam and Eve story, even with the unbiblical finger-pointing at the apple, all of our lives.  We know it well, but do we recognize the serpents that are still lurking?  Everyone has one, maybe more than one, that present an obstacle to fully obeying the word of the Lord.  It is sometimes hard to hear over the hiss.

They are never obvious, sort of like the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They masquerade in harmlessness waiting to deliver a venomous fatal strike.  They swoop in and take the word of God away from the unsuspecting.  They fill the pulpits and television screens with feel-good messages that have no biblical content.  Viewers are emotionally charged and spiritually empty.  They might hear a verse or two but it quickly slips from their mind.  Jesus described it as a seed sown on the road (Mark 4:15).  The snakes are always hiding in the nearby grass.

They may come at us with the reaction of the world to our beliefs (Mark 4:16-17).  Godly principles are under attack from every direction, and those who stand up for them are subject to ridicule or worse.  The snakes are expert liars (After all, Satan is their father!), and they describe our ethics as hate-speech and our morality is narrow-minded.  It is easy to wilt under the pressure to conform to society, and that’s is one more victim for the snake.

They might come at us as worldly worries (Mark 4:18-19).  God expects us to work, but jobs and careers can become an obsession that squeeze Him to the margins of our lives and then out altogether.  Our occupation is an opportunity for us to put our biblical principles on display and glorify our Father, not disregard Him.  And possessions…well…it’s all temporary. The great danger is that we will not recognize the extremely poisonous snakes in our own garden.  Some Christians identify them and chop their heads off before they do extensive damage.  They listen carefully to the word of God, accept what it says and produce the fruit that follows.  “Good soil” is what Jesus called them (Mark 14:20).  They are not “snake-bit.”  They are what God has made, and then re-made, them to be.  Just be careful.  There are snakes between us and the church.

Lifelines May 02, 2021

It was the crowning achievement of God’s creation.  It was all good, but this was very good.  Humanity!  There is nothing that can compare.  Birds fly, fish swim, cattle graze, but humans were specially made in the image of their Designer.  We were created to reflect our Creator.  It is nobility at its finest.  There is a spark of divinity within each of us.

It is not easy to see.  Often it is so obliterated that it is not visible at all, but it is still there.  Sin distorts and obscures it to such a degree that we may doubt its presence, but it remains.  Beneath the layers of worldly grime and the devil’s dirt is a handcrafted likeness of God in need of restoration. 

Jesus came to open the door for that renovation.  He stepped down from His heavenly existence to show us the way.  It was a dramatic act of love rather than condemnation.  We deserved the latter.  He chose the former.  He could see beneath the damaged exterior to the original product.  Our eyes see the corrupted version with all of its obvious blemishes.  Thankfully, His vision penetrates much deeper. 

It is a collaborative effort.  God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all involved in this incredible mission.  Sin is more damaging than we could ever imagine, and the full force of Deity is engaged in restoring the image.  The plan, execution and follow-through are all part of the process that gradually replaces all of the broken parts.  He works, and we cooperate. 

Born again.  We are blessed to be able to start all over, but that old scarred person keeps wanting to resurface.  We see it throughout the word of God.  The Ephesian Christians had apparently slipped back into their old worldly ways (Ephesians 4:17-24), and there were consequences.  Their thinking was affected.  That, in turn, penetrated deeply and expressed itself in actions which again tarnished the image in which they had been created. 

The old lifestyle has got to go.  It must be dealt with dramatically and finally.  Christians have been given another opportunity, and we must not squander it.  It was too costly to neglect.  We have been united with Christ in our baptismal burial and resurrection.  That brings not only forgiveness but responsibility.  We join forces with the Lord to have that image emerge once again.  We are new.  Now, we must live like it. God made us as a representation of Himself.  He gave us minds for noble thoughts and lives for good deeds.  We mustn’t settle for less.  He made us and remade us for His purposes and to show the world what our Creator is like.  We must not misrepresent Him.  We can still be the crowning achievement of His wondrous creation.  It is our privilege.  He made us for such a time as this.         

Lifelines April 18, 2021

It might seem to be fairly insignificant.  We come together each Sunday to worship God, remember the Son and His sacrifice, to encourage one another to love and good deeds, and in the midst of that we sing.  Sometimes our minds wander through the events of last week or the coming demands on our calendars.  Life is so busy; it makes it easy to disengage and thoughtlessly sing the words.  We make sounds with our lips while our hearts are sleeping.

It’s just singing.  We might read the bulletin, write a check, make a grocery list or simply daydream.  None of those are bad things but inappropriate for the important assignment of singing.  God notices, “’THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN (Matthew 15:8-9.’”  It is a thought brought forth from Isaiah.  If Jesus addressed a problem that God through the prophet pointed out hundreds of years before, it must be significant to Him.

Singing is much more than just an attempt to be melodious.  “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…(Ephesians 5:18-19).”  The very first indication of a Spirit-filled life as described by Paul is singing which hardly makes it inconsequential.  Skill is not emphasized.  In fact, it isn’t even mentioned, but the heart is.  The Lord is listening.  Are we?

No, not to how well others produce a melody but to the words that are traveling off the page and out of our lips?  Are they coming from within or are we offering them superficially? “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also (1 Corinthians 14:15).”  Do we?  Are we soul-searching as we sing?  Do we really mean it when we sing, “All to Jesus I surrender?” 

The Lord’s people must pay close attention to His message lest we get off track.  Drifting is subtle, dangerous and awfully easy (Hebrews 2:1-4).  Singing is one of the safeguards against it.  “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16-17).”  Embodying His word, sharing it with others and filling our hearts with gratitude are all powerful measures to maintain our focus.

Singing may seem to be just punctuation between the other elements of our assembly, but that is not an eternal perspective.  Our audience is far larger than those in the room with us, and He is listening intently to our hearts.