Lifelines August 07, 2022

The roots of Judaism ran deep.  They could trace their heritage back for thousands of years and countless generations.  Then, it all changed.  The clues were abundant as the Son of God taught, healed, cast out demons and butted heads with the religious elite.  It was different.  He embraced the rejects and fought with the establishment.  He did not bring a welcome change.

Hostilities toward the Savior escalated quickly.  They reached a fever pitch within a few years of His public ministry, and He was executed.  It is hard to see the hand of God in such a violent reaction, but His fingerprints are all over it.  He had a plan, and the ungodly carried it out (Acts 2:23).  It was anything but expected, in spite of the prophetic message.  The covenant people missed it and misjudged Him.  They played right into the Lord’s hands.

The Lord’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8).  Those words read easily enough and flow effortlessly from our lips but really believing them is an entirely different matter.  How often have we been surprised at the events that surround us?  The bad guys seem to win far too often.  God’s strategy?  It hardly seems so, but this was something totally different.

The Law had been fulfilled and the penalty for sin was paid once and for all.  This was the ultimate sacrifice.  Grace was shoving the old legal system aside in favor of a new way.  It was brutally bloody as the lashed, thorn crowned and nail driven offering took place.  A sword put the period at the end of the horrifying sentence. Apostles stood at a distance as He gasped for breath.  Then He didn’t.  It was finished. 

It was not a human plan.  God’s way never is.  He opens and shuts.  We stumble and stammer.  His will is accomplished through those shaky efforts.  If we doubt that, look at the crew He put in charge of taking it to the far reaches of creation (Acts 1:8).  They were ill-trained for such a mission, but the Lord knew something they did not.  Just wait, supernatural help was on the way. 

The Holy Spirit was prominent from the very beginning.  It sounded like the wind, but there wasn’t so much as a gentle breeze.  The apostles seemed to be on fire and began to speak foreign languages.  Peter preached, and Jews repented by the thousands.  Baptisms washed away the murderous sins of the guilty.  His ways sure aren’t like ours.

 The cross is at the forefront of this new thing, and alongside it is an empty tomb.  That is what no one expected that weekend.  But the new week brought the brightest ray of hope imaginable.  The crucified had risen, and then we remember that He told us: My ways are not…well, you know.  They still aren’t.            

Lifelines July 31, 2022

The holy nation had made their worst mistake.  They had miscalculated in a self-destructive way.  They watched as their neighbor to the north had fallen to the Assyrians more than a century before, but they had failed to learn the lesson.  So, they stood on the brink of a horrible disaster at the hands of another outsider for the same reason.  Babylon was coming with ferocity.  The covenant community in Judea had lost their focus.

More than sixty times, Ezekiel sites the problem that plagued the Jews.  “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”  Variations of that thought are sprinkled throughout His prophecy.  It points the finger at the issue that was undermining His people.  They had forgotten.  The same God who revealed Himself at the burning bush as “I am,” still is.  He had lost none of His power nor His authority.  They simply did not acknowledge it any longer.  He would remind them.

His reminders were emphatic. He speaks of dead bodies and scattered bones.  Altars would be smashed; idols destroyed and works blotted out.  It was all part of God’s classroom for those who had chosen idolatry.  Idols were manmade, and He was the maker of man.  His wrecking ball was bringing it all into focus.  The slain would lay at their feet, then they would know that He is the Lord (Ezekiel 6:1-7).

It is a frightful picture, and Ezekiel had just begun.  The Lord had been hurt.  He watched as their eyes wandered and their hearts became increasingly adulterous.  He would deal with them through sword, famine and plague.  A tiny remnant would escape, but the guilt was widespread.  Escapees would spread the word about the living God.  The rest would suffer terribly and come to hate themselves because of their evil.  Then, they would know that He is the Lord (Ezekiel 6:8-10).    

Over and over, He drills them.  There was no escape from the fallout.  It is a graphic and disturbing description.  They would come to know who the Lord is.  Have we forgotten?  Has the church constructed an idol?  No, not a carved image but an erroneous mental one of a God who is so detached and benign that He no longer inspires reverential awe?  Just how do we picture the Lord?  Exactly who is our Lord?

We see a repetitive pattern among humans.  God commands.  People obey…for a while.  Then questions.  Doubt, disobedience and deterioration descend.  From Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel to Noah gathering up gopher wood and then gophers.  Even His people can drift from God-fearing to self-centered, a fatal mistake. 

Are we in line for similar lessons from the Lord? Certainly, our nation is disrespectful to God.  Have we allowed that to seep into the church?  If so, we must wake up.  The education is painful.  “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”  Better never to forget.            

Lifelines July 24, 2022

Jonah wanted nothing to do with those nasty people.  They were a distasteful bunch and when the Lord handed him his mission to go to Nineveh, he promptly caught the first boat in the opposite direction.  It was futile.  He could run but he couldn’t hide.  God stirred up a storm that scared even the experienced sailors, and he was tossed overboard.  It is not wise to try to sidestep a heaven-sent mission.  He’s got the whole world in His hands, you know.

He has fish, too…really, really big fish.  Swallow-a-man big, which it did.  God sent it for that very purpose, a big gulp and Jonah’s perspective was totally changed.  He had wanted to get away from the Lord but not exactly like this.  When we get what we want, we may not want what we got.  Oh yes, he remembered the Lord from there.  It was a brutal gastric wakeup call.  He prayed, and the Lord commanded the fish to vomit him up on the beach.

Lesson learned, right?  Well, sort of, he did go to Nineveh and preach.  The reaction was enough to thrill any preacher.  The land was filled with repentance and reached all the way to the king’s throne.  He joined the masses in sack cloth and ashes.  We would expect Jonah to be thrilled after all he had been through.  God had commissioned him, stirred up a storm to redirect him, raised up a super fish to swallow him and had that fish vomit him up to get him to fulfill his mission.  The response to his preaching had been incredibly positive, and he was…well…he was furious.

He fussed and fumed.  He just knew it.  The Lord is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness; none of which did Jonah wish for the worthless people of Nineveh.  He wanted them destroyed and they weren’t.  He pouted like a brat and expressed his preference for death over seeing these lousy people forgiven.

He plopped down outside the city and the Lord appointed a plant to give him shade and then a worm to kill the plant.  It was salt in the wound, and Jonah wanted to die more than ever. Life without shade watching those wicked people doing what was right was more than he could take.  The repentance.  The heat.  The sun.  It was just too much.  He was angry with God’s ways.  The runaway evangelist grumbled in the face of success.

It is reminiscent of the prodigal son’s older brother (Luke 15:11-32).  Grace is hard to handle sometime.  We love it for ourselves and question it for others.  How could God forgive people like them?  We have our own list of Ninevites, people who are hopelessly irredeemable and worthless in our eyes.  That is our worldly perspective, not the Lord’s.  He sees and feels compassion.  For God so loved the world…yes, even them. 

Lifelines July 17, 2022

It is a display of the glory of the Lord that we would never expect.  It involved a special relationship of love between Jesus, two sisters and a brother.  That is certainly a formula for a beautiful image of that glory, but the unfolding story paints anything but a predictable picture.

The brother was ill, and the sisters sent word.  Surely, the Son of God would leap to the rescue, right?  Wrong.  He delayed his journey for two days.  There was a purpose for it all, and an immediate response was not part of the strategy.  Death was.  It did not make sense to the sisters.  The mutual love they had for one another did not seem to be in view with such a delay.  Disillusionment fills their words when He finally does show up. Two sisters. Same comment. “If you had been here…(John 11:21 & :32)”

Disappointment seems the opposite of God’s glory.  We have human views from a limited perspective.  The Lord’s thoughts are much higher than that.  He sees all of history from creation to termination, beginning to end.  The glory that inhabited the physical body of Jesus and shone around the shepherds at the Savior’s birth announcement is the same glory that would emerge from this sickness and death.  Martha and Mary could not see it in their moment of grief.  Their brother was dead.

Disease and death can raise questions about God’s glory.  Clouds of doubt rise when we watch a loved one suffer through a terrible terminal disease.  Does Jesus know?  Does He not care?  The last heartbeat can magnify the issue.  Where is He?  Glory becomes very blurry when we are looking through tears.  It looks a great deal like failure.  Unless, we know the rest of the story.

“Jesus wept.” It is a brief but powerful look into the heart of our Savior.  He knew the plan and its purpose.  This was not the end.  There was more to come, an event so amazing that no one but Him could have anticipated it.  Yet, His emotions were stirred.  He cried.  His friends were hurting, and He shared their pain even knowing what was coming.  Glory was just around the corner, but this was here and now.  His tears flowed. 

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies…(John 11:25),” was His message to Martha.  Did she believe?  It is hard to cling to our faith in times like this.  Nothing will challenge our belief system quite like the serious illness and death of a loved one.  Glory is coming?  Through this?

Delays, disease and dying are part of our experience.  Resurrection will be, too.  We want immediate resolution.  It seldom happens.  We like happy endings.  They will come but not today.  Today’s tomb is tomorrow’s glory, and we will see it…if we believe (John 11:40).     

Lifelines July 10, 2022

It’s a story as old as mankind.  A smooth-talking sin-salesman convinces us that the word of God is not reliable.  “Did He really say that?”  Doubt creeps into our minds, and cracks develop in our faith.  Duped indulgers hide, or so they think.  They deceive themselves into believing that no one sees when they drop out of sight.  Suddenly, their regular seat in the assembly is empty.  People may not notice at first, but the Lord does.    

The devil can outwit the wisest of us.  His slight of hand will lead us away from God’s truth and into his lies creating distance from the One who loves us the most.  It is dangerous territory with well-hidden pitfalls.  The word of the Lord is a safeguard from the hazards that await us in that darkness, and the evil one knows that.  So, he sows seeds of skepticism: It is such an antiquated book and we are modern people.

“Where are you?”  It was God’s question for the first couple (Genesis 3:9).  Certainly, He knew where they were (Jeremiah 23:23-24).  He sees everything including those engaging in a game of spiritual hide-and-seek, but did they realize where they were?  It is a penetrating question to this day.  Where are you?

God’s view is from a different perspective.  He is in heaven and sees everyone (Psalm 33:13).  His eyes survey Ukraine as well as the Kremlin.  He looks from America to Australia.  Nothing and no one are out of His sight.  His ways of dealing with situations may be a mystery to us, but He sees it all.  He knows where we are.  Do we?

We fret about the affairs of the war.  Putin appears to be a maniac.  The world’s food supply is threatened.  High level eyebrows are raised in bewilderment.  Where is God, and why doesn’t He stop this?  Those are the unanswered questions, but there is one absolute certainty: He has His eye on things there, too (Psalm 66:7).  He knows where Vladimir is.

It is not a geographical question.  Indeed, the Lord knows geography.  He created it and is fully aware of our home address, but this is a question more profound than towns and countries.  It isn’t about a post office box but a human heart (Psalm 44:21).  It is where we bury our darkest secrets so no one can see them.  Hurts and sorrows hide there.  Dreams die there.  God sees everything that is there, including our deepest devotions.  He knows where we are.  We should look, too. 

“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).”  Someday, almighty God will deal with each of us.  The rich and powerful as well as the poor and powerless will meet the Lord.  Then, we will all know where we are.