Lifelines– January 06, 2019

He was a man who appeared to have it all (Luke 18:18-27).  He had political clout.  It is a very difficult thing to see beyond the authority that a person possesses.  It is hard to imagine a need when we can summon a subordinate to grant our every wish in the blink of an eye.  The blinding effects of power are evident on both sides of the aisle in our nation’s capital.  Even local officials can fall victim to their own limited success.  Yet, all of this man’s power did not blunt his investigation into life’s most important question. 

He had achieved success in his youth (Matthew 19:22) and it makes this encounter even more surprising.  Such concerns of eternity often do not enter a person’s thinking until death is more of a reality.  That is a concern for the elderly.  Younger years are generally reserved for career planning and romance seeking.  Jobs, families and fun take center stage.  Obviously, this man had few job concerns but was certainly subject to other distractions of a young life.  Clearly, something had stirred his awareness of an issue that stretched beyond this lifetime.

Not only did he have age and power on his side, but he also had possessions which pose an unexpected threat.  They give a faulty sense of security about which the Lord warned the Israelites on their way to the promised Land (Deuteronomy 8).  Paul instructed Timothy to teach about the dangers of prosperity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).  Money is never the problem; attitude is.  This young ruler was very rich, and that would prove to be his undoing.

He had a life that most of us could only imagine, but he had a single deficiency that would cost him the only thing that would matter.  His age would become irrelevant, as would his power and riches.  Jesus exposed that flaw because He loved him (Mark 10:21).  The Lord knew what held him back from fully following Him, and told him.  Call it tough love.  It was more than the man was willing to do.  It grieved him (Mark 10:22).  The bank account meant more to him than eternal life.  He left.    

It is an unholy trinity: the sense of invincibility that comes with youth, the intoxication of worldly power, and the distorted sense of self-confidence that worldly prosperity brings.  The man who seemed to have it all wound up with nothing because he was unwilling to totally place himself in the hands of the Lord.  His trust was misplaced.  Is ours? Youth will give way to wrinkles and sags.  Power comes and goes.  Thieves, time or nature will ultimately take our precious possessions.  All that truly matters is our relationship with the Lord.  Are we willing to trust Him unconditionally and totally?  Or are we like that rich young ruler who lacked one thing?  He swapped eternal life for just one thing.  One!  Will we?

Lifelines December 30, 2018

As we say goodbye to an old year and welcome a new one, we pause to reflect.  The Lord urges us to do that on a regular basis.  He has put mechanisms and practices in place to provide us with opportunities to do so.  A look inward is essential to growth and development.  Where did we do well?  What did we stumble over?  Where could we have done better?  What will I work on in 2019 to improve?  The old saying is that if we fail to plan, we plan to fail.  Failure is not a very wise strategy.

The Corinthian church was filled with troubles.  Division, immorality, abused and misused spiritual gifts all marred the Christians of that wicked city.  Society had tainted them.  The saints behaved worse than the sinners around them.  It was an embarrassment.  They had failed to develop beyond spiritual infancy (1 Corinthians 3:1), and their practices showed it.

Two letters to that childish church both called for self-examination.  It is within this correspondence that we have some of our most extensive teaching about the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23ff).  It was to be a weekly observance to draw their minds back to Jesus.  It still is.  As Christians, then and now, start the week by stopping.  We cease from all of the worries and work of the world to focus on our Savior.  Remember Him, and in so doing we look at ourselves as well (1 Corinthians 11:28).  Reflecting on the Lord will give us a much clearer view of ourselves.

Without that weekly reflection, we easily drift.  We forget the extraordinary sacrifice that He made to save us from the fate that awaits the world.  Forgetting has always set off a series of events that result in disaster.  The Israelites quickly forgot their liberation from Egypt and all that God did.  As unimaginable as that seems with all the miracles that they witnessed, they simply did not think about them.  The consequences were a mess (Psalm 106).  The Lord’s Supper keeps Him, and our covenantal blessings and responsibilities fresh in our minds every week.  We need that.  It brings us face-to-face with ourselves.

Scripture shines the brightest light on our inner self.  It is seldom easy or comfortable, but it will help us to see ourselves from the Lord’s perspective (Hebrews 4:12-13).  His word will probe us in our most hidden places.  The private thoughts and plans that we keep carefully tucked away will be brought out in the open for us to see.  That always brings about a critical moment.  What will we do with what they expose? What will we do to walk closer with the Lord in the coming twelve months?  His great desire is to bless us.  He announced it to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and delivered it through Jesus Christ.  What will we do with Him and His plan in 2019?  Happy New Year!

Lifelines December 23, 2018

The cross is brutal.  The intensity of nails being driven through the hands and feet of any individual presents an incomprehensibly ugly scene.  Especially when that one is the Son of God.  Our twenty-first century sensibilities cannot take it. So, we tend to turn our heads.  We cannot bear to look.  The blood flowed.  We do not like that.  We flinch. We recoil.  We avoid it.  Or, at least try to.  We cannot. It is at the very center of our faith.

We are scandalized at the notion of such a barbaric act.  How could anyone possibly participate in it?  A lengthy string of instigators was involved; jealous religious leaders, a stirred-up mob and a spineless government official.  The atmosphere was electric.  They all joined forces in the oddest coalition of conspirators imaginable.  No one could have ever guessed who was behind it all.    

Ridicule and cruelty ruled the day, or so it seemed.  An innocent man was subjected to the most inhumane treatment conceivable.  From the spit in His face to the crown of thorns on His head, He was totally humiliated.  His prophetic role was mocked and His back was whipped to a bloody pulp.  Then they crucified Him, a joke of a Savior in their mind.  He could not even save Himself.  The Messianic wannabe had been dealt with once and for all.  Even His once-loyal associates abandoned Him, and the master-mind of it all got His way. 

It stretches our minds beyond their boundaries to think that this was the plan of God.  The cross brings into clear focus how horrible sin is in His eyes.  We have been conditioned to think of it in modern terms not His.  The world presents it as attractive and desirable.  From the beginning The Lord has described it in much more graphic ways that always end in death for the participant.  It is truly a matter of life and death, and the cross makes that clear. 

It took the most radical act in history to solve our most devastating problem, and that presents the other dimension of the cross; the immensity of the love of God.  Humanity was in trouble.  The dilemma was universal, and the consequences were eternal.  It had a stranglehold on His once-perfect creation.  In a move that defies comprehension, a baby was born.  He was the perfect missionary sent to bring healing to a broken world. 

As the world turns a brief eye at this time of year toward the birth of the Savior, let us never forget His purpose.  Lights are pretty and presents are fun, but Jesus came to save us.  He was born on a path to the cross.  His steps took Him from the wrong side of the tracks to the heart of religion.  His journey eventually led to that brutal showdown.  Sin and love collided that day on a cross.  Love won.      

Lifelines December 09, 2018

It was not a friendly audience that confronted Jesus, and their motives were not particularly pure.  They pressed Him on the issue of authority (Matthew 21:23-27).  Who gave Him the right to do what He was doing?  Their hope of cornering Him failed.  It always did, but they never stopped trying.  Threaten the power structure, and it meets with stiff opposition.  Yielding to a superior is not something that humans tend to do willingly.

He met their interrogation with a question.  Their concerns revolved not around truth but trouble.  What answer would cause the least of it?  They finally concluded with a shrug of the shoulders and left with their question unanswered.  We might find the reason for much of today’s religious confusion in that ancient encounter.  Indeed, it may explain much of our cultural erosion.

Jesus in a post-resurrection appearance declared that all authority had been placed in His hands (Matthew 28:18).  There is no need to look elsewhere.  It is a settled matter.  Decisions become much easier when we recognize that fact.  We will then come to His word for direction not debate.  Jesus came to set sinners free from sin and its consequences, and He has provided the information that is necessary to liberate us (John 8:31-32).

Only the Lord can break those bonds.  Those who imagine that they are free to do as they please cannot see their chains.  They are manipulated by impulses within and societal pressures without.  The evil one corrupts their thoughts and actions.  They are captives on death row (Ephesians 2:1-3).  How sad it is that the slaves do not recognize the emancipation that is possible when they yield to the ultimate authority.

The Son of God demonstrated His dominion over every aspect of creation during His time on earth.  His teaching brought a different air than those before Him.  He calmed storms, transformed water, dictated to demons, healed the sick and raised the dead.  He did not simply claim the authority; He proved it.  It was such a conclusive demonstration that none of His followers challenged Him when He announced it.  After all, when someone who was dead just a couple of days before speaks to you, who could argue.  Resurrection showed that even death is no match for His authority.

The wide world of religion has hundreds of sub-groups.  Their teachings vary, and some have their own book of beliefs.  Many have strayed far from the teachings of the authoritative one.  His high standards do not match with their low desires.  So, they face that same old question: By what authority are you doing these things?  People may shrug as the inquisitors of Jesus did as they seek the least objectionable route.  Popular opinion is a poor authority.  It will probably be less controversial but will always be ineffectual in dealing with the sin problem.  The lost will remain lost…forever.