Lifelines February 10, 2019

It was a pitiful collection of “Christians.”  They hardly displayed any of the expected characteristics.  Embarrassing immorality was tolerated, maybe even with a wink and a knowing smirk.  See, you can come here and never change a thing. To call this a church seemed to be an insult to the Lord.  They were a pretty ragged bunch.

Squabbling found a comfy home there.  Criticism and division fragmented the congregation.  Everybody was in somebody’s camp.  They imagined themselves to be spiritual giants when they were in reality infants.  Childish vision saw adults in the mirror.  Gifts were sprinkled throughout their number, but they had never grown up.  They only thought they had.  Growth is always stunted for those who believe that they have already reached maturity.

We might rub elbows with such a group for a minute, but genuine Christians would never have fellowship with them.  After all, they had sin and division right there in their midst, and that was just the beginning of the problems we would find in these babies.  They could not possibly be a real church, at least, not a faithful one.  The descriptive words of the Lord come unexpectedly.

“To the church of God which is at Corinth to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling…(1 Corinthians 1:1)”  Huh?  He claims this ragged collection of sinners as His church?  And they are sanctified?  That means “holy,” right?  They hardly appear that way.  Saints, you say?  That’s what he called them.  The Holy Spirit guided Paul to assess them very differently. 

Yes, they were riddled with problems.  The world had seeped in to stain the saints, but the Lord had not rejected them.  The rest of the letter addresses their many issues, but they were not consigned to the trash heap because of them.  Their history would make a politician blush, but our Lord is compassionate and forgiving.  Jesus died to forgive us of our sins, even the worst of them, but that isn’t the whole story.

Jesus was once confronted with a situation in which a woman had been caught in adultery, and the penalty for that was death (Where was the man?) (John 8:1-11).  That incident reveals not only the compassion and forgiveness of the Lord, but also His direct order: Stop sinning!  The same was said in different words to the Corinthians (6:9-11).  They had been cleaned up.  Don’t go back to the mud.

We all have a history of sin.  Some are bad.  Others worse.  A few are unspeakably horrible.  None are unforgiveable.  Faced with the prospects of killing the Christ, guilty Jews were told to repent and be baptized in the name of the one they had murdered (Acts 2:36-38).  Jesus offers hope for everyone, even the worst of us.                         

Lifelines February 03, 2019

All of the signals are out there, wide open and easy to see.  It is nearly impossible to miss them.  The world is in chaos.  Everybody is at odds with somebody.  Suspicions ascend as trust descends.  This group is the problem.  No, it’s that one.  Wrong! It’s the other one.  Blame is passed around for all the ailments of the world, and there are plenty.  Accusatory stones are being hurled all around the land.  It’s time to drop the rocks.

The church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23), and there is only one (Ephesians 4:4).  Harmony in the world will only be achieved when lost sinners are converted and become true disciples.  That is when healing will begin.  Overcoming a lifetime of bad attitudes, prejudices, evil thoughts and bad actions does not happen overnight, but those rocks must be dropped.  Christians cannot continue to fling them at their neighbors. 

All of the distinctions that the world draws to separate people disappear within the Lord’s church (Galatians 3:28).  Nationality makes no difference.  Christians are all children of God.  Our status in life is irrelevant.  Every true believer has eternal riches, a crown and a place in heaven.  Spiritual blessings are shared by both men and women.  Christ is all that matters.  Our relationship with Him changes every other relationship.  Are we holding on to any old worldly rocks we need to drop? 

“One nation under God.”  That is the only solution to the nonstop bickering.  The splintering of our nation bears witness to the consequences of pushing Him out of the public consciousness. Adam and Eve.  Cain and Abel.  Noah.  History is littered with the corpses of individuals and entire nations who dared to challenge the Lord.  To paraphrase the warning of God; a divided house will not survive.  Rock throwers knock holes in everybody’s walls.

The mission of the church is urgent.  We need not look beyond our own town.  There is a deep darkness that descends where God is not.  It is where we used to live.  It is not unfamiliar to us.  We’ve all been there (Ephesians 2:3).  Christians have escaped, rescued by a loving Father (Colossians 1:13), but there is still a world dominated by the darkness pointing fingers and throwing rocks. “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).”  Jesus set the standard.  He left the glory of the Father to offer peace.  He was met by the brutal hatred of the darkness.  Light was an unwelcome intrusion (John 3:20).  It still is.  Casting stones is a lot easier than stepping into the glare.  So, people retreat to the shadows and grab another one.  That’s a pity.  Grasping God’s forgiveness is impossible when we have a hand full of rocks.

Lifelines January 20, 2019

Every dawn is different.  We awaken to a new day with fresh opportunities.  Sometimes the rising of the sun is bright and clear.  At other times it is gray and dismal.  A few are splashes of the most vivid colors we could imagine.  We are stunned, mesmerized by the artistry.  A chill runs through us at the beauty.  Those are the ones we remember.  Most are entirely forgettable.  The sun never changes, only our perspective. 

Gloomy days.  They give us no glimpse of the sun.  Clouds totally block the view.  It is still there shining as brightly as ever; we just cannot see it.  The morning is shrouded in various shades of gray.  No color and no promise of change.  Scratch this day.  Blah.   

All days are not like that.  Some are bright but colorless.  We see the sun, even feel its warmth, but it leaves us unmoved.  We move without joy.  Ho-hum.  Yep, it’s there.  So what?  We expect it.  It is there every day.  Now, it would be news if it did not show up.  But it always does, right on cue.  We take it for granted.  The sun is as dependable as the morning.  They always arrive together.  Appreciate the sunrise?  Why should we?  It is the norm.

Then, there are those special days.  A partial cloud cover lingers on the horizon.  The sun slips above the horizon in a cascade of colors.  Pink, burgundy, purple, blues…the clouds provide the painter’s pallet for a once-in-a-lifetime painting.  It is beautiful beyond description, but the impression runs deeper than that.  It is visual and much more.  It reaches through our eyes into our hearts. 

Days are like that.  Some are dismal.  There is not a speck of light in the hospital room.  Death darkens every place we go.  Lost jobs are a total eclipse.  Families crumble under the weight of unfaithfulness.  Disappointment.  Discouragement.  Despair.  Hopelessness.  The cloud cover intensifies.  Silver linings are on the other side for someone else to see.  Everyone knows days like this.  The Son is still there.  It may not feel like it, but He is.

Times come when all is going fine.  No troubles and none on the horizon.  Yet, we are virtually numb.  The risen Son matters little.  Life is good.  He is warming me, blessing me, but remains far from my thoughts.  He is always there.  The clear days…pleasant…worry-free…no clouds…no needs…fertile ground for forgetting the Son.

Special days are rare.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be special. We are on a spiritual mountaintop, and those visits are always brief.  Our hearts see the indescribable beauty of the Son.  We will descend soon, back to the grit and grime of the world but this is a time in the multicolored glory of the Son.  He is always there shining, but sometimes the clouds just get in the way.

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!