Lifelines August 9, 2020

We read the history of the apostles and marvel that they could walk away from the life that they knew to follow Jesus.  He invited, and they responded.  They left nets, boats, family and offices to join “the twelve.”  It was a dozen men who had been chosen for the most significant mission possible.  Who was this Jesus, and why did they make such a radical decision?

Let’s step back into their sandals for a moment.  Imagine being on our jobs involved in our daily routine, and the Lord taps us on the shoulder.  We recognize Him.  We aren’t newcomers to this one we call the Christ.  He tells us that He has chosen us to go with Him.  We were going to spend special time with Him, receive instructions and be sent out.  It is an eye-to-eye, face-to-face invitation.  How would that make us feel?  Special?  Scared?  Awe-struck?  The Savior of humanity wants me? 

This is the journey of a lifetime.  Our minds race.  There are billions of people in the world, and there are twelve of us.  How can this possibly work?  And the demands are high.  Leave everything that is comfortable to head off in a totally different direction.  You know, comfort zones are…well…comfy, and we all recognize how important that is.  Do we dare take such a step into the unknown?

Jesus paints a very realistic picture (Matthew 10).  The road is sure to be a bumpy one.  We are going to be like sheep among wolves.  Hostilities will come from every direction.  People from all backgrounds, the powerful and the commoners, religious and civil, family and friends will all be numbered among the aggressors.  His recruiting pitch is unconventional, but then the mission is, too.  This is no picnic: He is the bread of a very different kind of life.  Are we ready for such a move?  He looks at our face as He searches our hearts.  He knows.  Do we?  What will our answer be?  He is waiting.

Stepping out of their sandals and back into our own shoes, we won’t face such an encounter.  Jesus is not going to physically tap us on the shoulder, but He does invite us to a radically different lifestyle.  We have been beaten, battered and scarred by sin and the world that He is calling us to leave behind.  Maybe we hesitate in totally cutting ties with the fleshly ways.  They entice us.  He calls us.  It won’t be easy to resist our old habits.  People discourage us, even mock us.  To whom shall we listen?

They were twelve with their flaws and weaknesses.  As are we.  The Lord used them and will use us as well.  His invitation is to follow Him, and He will take care of the rest.  He promised to make them fishers of men.  He’ll make us what He wants us to be, too. 

Lifelines August 02, 2020

The virus seems like it will never go away.  It began as a ripple and quickly grew into a tsunami.  Now, we are in the eighth month of the year, and nothing has changed.  No vaccine and no sure cure.  Only masks, social distancing and questions…lots and lots of questions.  Weeks have stretched into months with no end in sight.  2020 will definitely go down in the history books as a very weird year.  Covid-19 is just one reason.

No one is assured of dodging this mysterious bullet.  It afflicts the young and old, male and female, all races and every country.  It is the ultimate equal opportunity enemy.  While we hide inside, turmoil is waiting outside.  Unrest has come to much of the U.S. adding to this uniquely strange year.  Statues are falling, cities are being seized, buildings are burning and elected officials are at a loss.  No one knows how or when any of this will end.  Well, no one but God.

As Jesus prepared His apostles for His impending execution, He spoke words intended to prepare them.  The world would soon escalate in its hostility toward Him.  The unseen virus that we call sin would soon unleash its full fury.  The forces were gathering at that moment and would soon show up with torches and weapons.  “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace (John 16:33).”  He began the conversation reassuring their potentially troubled hearts (John 14:1), and closed it with a message of peace.  The Lord knows just what this world has to offer and exactly what His disciples need. 

He is both accurate and encouraging.  “In the world you have tribulation…”  He does not dodge the issue nor does He paint an unrealistic picture.  They were facing a day unlike any other.  Darkness and death were coming.  The evil in His own circle would reveal itself in betrayal.  Peter’s courage would fail him.  Wickedness and weakness would rule the day, or so it would seem.  Looming over it all, as unlikely as it appeared, was the throne of God.  The ungodly carried out His plan. 

“…but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  It would surely be hard to discern the hand of God in the midst of all that would soon be happening, and it appeared to be anything but overcoming.  Sin would be met and defeated.  Forgiveness would be possible.  An empty tomb would promise hope forever. 

This world is a tough place with plenty of troubles.  Viruses taunt us and haunt us.  Unrest ripples through our streets.  We are puzzled and uncertain, but the Lord is not.  He has been through it all and emerged scarred but victorious.  He left footprints, not just to the cross but beyond it through the tomb and to the right hand of God.  It is up to us to follow them. 

Lifelines July 26, 2020

It is one of the most alluring traps that the devil has, and it has caught some awfully good people along the way.  We seldom see it coming in our own lives, and that is what makes it most dangerous.  It blindsides its victims in the midst of prosperity.  Suddenly, they are successful and wealthy in material matters and utterly bankrupt spiritually.  Scripture warns us of its certain failure, but are we listening?

Uzziah was, by most standards, a success (2 Chronicles 26).  He became King of the Lord’s people in Judah at the ripe old age of sixteen and served in that capacity for fifty-two years.  God was on his side as he defeated the perpetual foe of Philistines, and his fame spread all the way to Egypt.  His military might was second to none.  He sat on the throne of authority, wielded great power and enjoyed a tremendous reputation.  Then, disaster struck.

The devil that haunts all of us in prosperity claimed another victim.  No external human enemy took Uzziah down.  The Philistines did not conquer him.  His army could stand up to them.  No, it took an insidious internal adversary to bring him down: Pride.  It infects the heart and leads outside of God’s boundaries in unfaithfulness which always brings consequences.  Being the mighty king of Judah did not immunize him against the leprosy that took him off the throne and into isolation.

God had warned the Israelites long before Uzziah’s case that pride could be their undoing.  Even prior to entering the Promised Land, He knew there was danger in the road ahead (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).  He was leading them into a place where they would enjoy great abundance, and that is a fertile environment for a distorted perspective (verse 17).  Uzziah was a living example.  His legacy of military success was sadly overshadowed by his condition at death (2 Chronicles 26:23).

Jesus invited the weary and worn to come learn from Him (Matthew 11:28-30).  We all experience it from time-to-time, that fatigue deep inside.  A night’s sleep doesn’t cure it.  A weeklong vacation is little help.  No, it is far beyond any worldly cure because it is not physical.  We need rest for the soul, which is what only He can offer.  He doesn’t encourage assertiveness or aggression but to partner with Him in gentleness and humility of heart.  It is worth noting that the invitation is to come to Him. 

“Everyone who exalts Himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).”  It is a 100% guarantee.  It is as certain as the law of gravity, no exceptions or exclusions.  Uzziah could vouch for the destructive nature of pride.  Nebuchadnezzar could, too (Daniel 4:29-37).  We live in a land of great prosperity, and pride is a persistent danger.  The word of God warns us and shows us.  Are we listening?            

Lifelines July 19, 2020

The world has been haunted by illusions ever since the serpent successfully tempted Eve in the garden.  Appearances can be deceiving and often are.  That first forbidden fruit did not deliver what was promised.  Instead of fulfillment, it brought fear.  God-likeness turned out to be a hoax.  Liberation was a lie.  Anyone who underestimates the salesmanship skills of Satan becomes deadly prey.

The deceiver made his way into a perfect environment and convinced a pair in paradise that they could do better.  Isn’t that His way?  The word of God informs us of the ways to live a blessed life, and the devil persuades people that they can improve on it.  Whether it is economics, morality or priorities; he challenges the Lord’s principles.  Much of our culture has swallowed the bait and bitten into the distortion. 

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…(Matthew 6:33).”  Jesus spoke of a Father who knows our most basic needs and will provide them, and that disciples should order their lives accordingly.  Do not pointlessly fret about physical necessities but seek the more eternal ones.  Yet, we are taught from early childhood to prioritize differently.  Satan has flipped the script, and the world has fallen right in line.  It is, after all, his domain (1 John 5:19).

The ways of the world are incredibly appealing.  They have an allure that is hard to resist.  The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life generate an itch that they fail to scratch.  They simply spread and infect other areas of our lives that will never be satisfied.  Any fleshly contentment is only temporary.  The word of God has warned us that there is but one way to a life that lasts (1 John 2:15-17).  Misplaced pursuits are guaranteed to disappoint sooner or later.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart…(Matthew 22:36-37).”  The devil, crafty fellow that he is, labels that as fanaticism.  He does not mind if we play church on Sunday: just don’t get carried away with it.  Monday through Saturday is his turf.  Be sure to keep some distance between the sacred and the secular so that religion doesn’t influence the way we live or inform our decisions.  God is okay as long as we keep Him in His place and don’t let Him out of the building.

The evidence is all around.  The devil has done a masterful job of deception, and the fallout is clear to see.  Violence plagues our culture.  Immorality has virtually destroyed the home.  The once-unthinkable has become common place.  Sin parades through our streets.  Our nation has joined the ranks of those who do not even know how to blush (Jeremiah 6:15). Our country needs Christians who behave like Christians now more than ever.  Each of us has that opportunity and responsibility.  Only one question remains: Will we?

Lifelines July 12, 2020

The rumors were circulating, and He wanted to know what people were saying.  What is the word on the street?  Some speculated that He was the eccentric John the Baptist.  After all, that fire-and-brimstone preacher had stirred up quite a ruckus.  Then again, other folks pointed to a different prophet, maybe from long ago like Elijah or Jeremiah.  There was plenty of chatter.  There still is.  There has never been a shortage of opinions about the self-proclaimed “Son of Man.”  Most of them, both then and now, miss the mark.

Speculation had smothered revelation.  The Father had made it clear to Peter.  He got it straight from the source.  This was no one less than the Christ, the Son of the living God.  The old fisherman nailed it.  All of the signs indicated that fact.  A book full of prophecies had all pointed to the one born among the animals.  Angels announced it before He was ever born.  The shepherds knew what the scholars missed.  This was the one they had been anticipating, and preconceptions blinded their eyes. 

It is hard to imagine a more unlikely figure to figure it out.  His background was in nets, boats and fish; hardly the scholastic credentials we might expect.  He would stumble at times and waver at others.  He was confident, but that was clearly misplaced.  “I’ll never” turned into “I don’t know Him” at the challenge of a slave girl as he retreated into the darkness.  Still, he had that critical information in his head, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  That was the foundation of a new culture, not Peter’s strength but the Lord’s true identity.

That would prove to be the foundation upon which He would build His special people, the church of Christ.  It is His, bought and paid for by His extraordinarily pure and holy blood.  It is not a secondary thought or a marginal issue.  That is a human way of thinking built not on the rock but on popular opinion.  Jesus loves His church and gave His life for Her (Ephesians 5:25).  To minimize the significance of the church is to devalue the agony of the crucifixion and say it does not matter.

The day is coming in which the Son of God will present His church, not just any church, but His church holy and blameless.  She will have no flaws or blemishes because she has been thoroughly washed and cleansed by the blood of the lamb.  It will be an amazing day in which Christians will finally be home with their Father. 

Jesus looked ahead that day as He talked with the apostles about the time when He would build His very special and unique church.  There is no other.  Peter understood how special the Lord was and still stumbled.  The Son of God built His church anyway, and today we remember.                        

Lifelines July 05, 2020

There can be no doubt that God wants to bless us.  He immediately identified a deficiency in man and created woman.  He placed them in paradise, and their disobedience cost them that ideal location.  The Lord arranged to take care of that, as well.  He foresaw every disastrous decision that His beloved creation would ever make and planned a solution for them all. 

He summoned Abram from his home and family to an undesignated destination. With nothing more than a handful of promises, Abram went.  The Creator promised to make this faithful man a great nation and name, to bless him and through him all the families of the earth would be blessed.  It was an extraordinary plan that was unfolding through flawed humanity.  It is an absolute certainty that almighty God has a great desire to bless us and has been working it out ever since the beginning. 

The pilgrimage to blessings has taken the Lord’s people from flood to slavery, from unity to division, from obedience to rebellion, from lost to saved.  Yet, in and through it all, the strategy of the Lord never failed.  No human GPS could have ever anticipated the route through which He brought His people.  He designed the journey with the destination predetermined.  The Lord has total knowledge of what it is to be blessed and how to achieve it.  We can be totally confident of that, even when we are totally befuddled about what’s going on.  Rest assured; He isn’t.

The shared eternity of the Father and Son bear witness to the deep desire that God has to bless us.  It tore apart the inseparable so that the curse of sin could be erased.  God the Son stepped down from heaven to take on the burden of guilty humanity.  An insurmountable debt was owed and He paid it, although He had no part in it.  The innocent intentionally suffering for the guilty makes no earthly sense.  Wrestling with that notion brings us in touch with the grace through which we are blessed. 

We sing of His “Amazing Grace.”  Without it, we would be eternally lost with no chance of redemption and reconciliation.  That one astonishing characteristic of God makes His stockpile blessings possible.  We blew our credentials to claim worthiness at the first sin.  We can stake no claim of deserving what only the Lord can give.  No, it is a gift of His grace from beginning to end.  Just saying it has a sense of redundancy.  His gift is a gift, so powerful is His desire to bless us. 

We can be positively certain of it.  Our Creator wants to bless us, is able to bless us and has told us how to be blessed.  We have all of the information we need to have the life that only He can make possible, and it is a sure guide into a perfect eternity.

Lifelines June 28, 2020

Saturday brings us to one of our nation’s most cherished days when we celebrate our independence.  Flags will fly and grills will cook as we share a time of remembrance with family and friends.  America shed the shackles that controlled them for liberty.  Freedom is a great blessing, one that was gained through the cost of many lives.  One life, in particular, secured an even greater freedom.

We will never fully appreciate the tremendous price that the Son of God paid until we recognize the true brutality of sin.  It is casually dismissed in our culture, and that attitude can easily seep into the Lord’s church.  The gravity of it has been lost.  Morality has been downgraded to a personal choice.  Life is cheap and disposable.  The repetitive drum beat of history goes on (Judges 21:25).    

Sin enslaves (John 8:34).  The devil is so clever that he convinces us that we are doing “our own thing.”  We aren’t.  We become prisoners of war and subject to Satan’s whims (2 Timothy 2:26).  We become so entrapped in his web of deception that we can’t even recognize that we are being manipulated to do his work.  Wickedness and worldliness drive our thoughts and desires.  They grow and dominate.  Ultimately, they destroy.  The slavery is horrible.  The end is worse. 

Jesus came to set us free.  We must not miss the eternal significance of His mission.  Death loomed from the very beginning.  He was sent to die.  It is a remarkable thought.  An eternity of perfect harmony between Father and Son ripped apart by sin.  We chose to sin, and He chose to suffer.  He gave His life for the rebellious, for those who did not care, for those who rejected Him and for the few who accepted Him. 

How much does the God of heaven love His creation?  Oh, we know the verses and the story, but has it really touched our heart in a transforming way?  The comprehension of His indescribable kindness leads to a radical change in thought and lifestyle (Romans 2:4).  He gave His Son in a dramatic demonstration of His love and patiently waited for the change that is inevitable when we see it clearly.  Imagine how He must feel when people live as if it does not matter to them.                          

Jesus came to His own people, and they rejected Him.  The religious authorities fought against Him.  The lost and hurting embraced Him.  He turned the world upside down, or perhaps He turned it right-side up.  One thing is certain: He changed it.  He opened up the possibility of freedom through history’s most sacrificial life. Saturday marks another day of celebrating our nation’s independence.  It is a special time for all of us to enjoy, but Sunday surpasses it.  Every week, we come together with the simple elements of unleavened bread and grape juice to remember the greatest freedom of all.

Lifelines June 21, 2020

I have tackled the task of learning Spanish.  Up till now, my expertise has been limited to “taco,” “burrito,” and “refried beans;” but now I want to expand my skills to teach the word of God to those who speak in a language different from my own.  It has given me a whole new appreciation for the “old dogs and new tricks” adage.  Speaking in tongues would sure be handy right now.

This effort might fail, but I am giving it a shot.  They seem to be simply words, but they pack a powerful punch.  Whatever the language, they have the capacity to build up or tear down.  Christians use words in different ways.  We are surrounded by a world that is crude, at best.  Profanity flies at the drop of a hat.  Obscenities flood the internet.  People adjust their vocabulary according to the audience.  Apparently, they forget that the Lord’s ears are always open (Psalm 139:4). 

He is a God who is aware.  He is not deaf.  He heard the cries of the Israelites when they were in bondage.  He hears our prayers.  We are comforted by that thought, but He does not suddenly lose His ability to hear when we speak out in anger.  That may not by very comfortable for us.  He is listening when we launch a verbal assault or tell that shady joke.  Jesus put our conversation in its proper place (Matthew 12:35-37).  It is very serious to Him.    

Words.  We string them together to form sentences that communicate ideas, thoughts that originate deep within us.  We should never take that lightly.  God doesn’t.  He has much to say about how we speak, especially those who have been adopted into His family.  An integral aspect of Christian character is honesty.  As Paul instructed the Ephesians to put on the new man, His first lesson was about truthful speech (Eph. 4:25).  It is not an “oh-by-the-way” but leads the list.  The devil hatches a brood of liars (John 8:44).  God’s children are not like that.  Dishonesty is never a family trait.

Most everyone we meet is bearing some kind of private burden.  The last thing they need is for us to drag them further down with discouraging words.  We speak words of grace.  They comfort and encourage.  Our audience may only be one struggling soul (Don’t forget God is listening, too!), and they may be totally unworthy of kind words but isn’t that what grace is all about; receiving what is undeserved? 

Rather than joining the chorus of the ungrateful, we should express thanksgiving.  It is the perfect substitute for the coarseness that is so common (Ephesians 5:4).  The word of God reminds us that we should always be thankful (Eph. 5:20).  Imagine how life would be if everyone spoke only gracious words of encouragement and gratitude.  They won’t, but we can and should in every language.  We must.  Muchas gracias.     

Lifelines June 14, 2020

Has the church lost her way?  Has the world influenced her more than the word?  We live in a most challenging time, and the need for disciples to shine has never been needed more.  The decay of sin summons us to be salty.  The beatitudes make it evident that fulfilling our function as salt and light demands us to be different, directed by a greater principle than our human reaction.  

The Lord has called us to a higher road.  It is uncomfortable, nonconformist and puts us out of step with the majority.  Love is not even a consideration when darkness grips the heart expressing itself in behavior.  There is no love of God or neighbor in that place.  Disciples are different.  Loving God is the top priority, and that prompts love for neighbor.  Our Creator made it clear that we cannot do one without the other (1 John 4:20).  It truly is the road less traveled, and there is never congested traffic.

“For God so loved the world…” Virtually everyone knows that famous verse, or do we?  God’s love is beyond our understanding.  We try to imagine how He could care so much for anyone, much less everyone, to take such an extraordinary step as to give His Son.  He wants every person to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), and provided the way for that to be accomplished.  The church is comprised of all who share the blessings of His abundant grace.  We also share the scars of a sinful past.

What we see all around us exposes what we also once were.  It is a mirror of our own past.  We may not share in the specifics, but we have all been subject to the whims of foolishness (Titus 3:3).  Reminders are scattered throughout the New Testament of who we were and how the mercy of God saved us.  His grace should lead us to be gracious.  His love is a model for us.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children…(Ephesians 5:1).”  It is a sobering and humbling reality when we realize that we have not been saved because we are irresistibly lovable.  No, it was an act of grace and mercy because God loves us.  Now, our charge is to pass it on following the example of His Son, “…and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (Ephesians 5:2).”  We have been adopted into the family of God, and the ultimate expression of that is the family resemblance. God is love.  His Son demonstrated that love in service and sacrifice.  The fruit of the Spirit is love.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).”  Now, more than ever, we must shine.  The darkness desperately needs it.

Lifelines June 7, 2020

All of the ugliness that this world has to offer has been on display in the last couple of weeks.  Millions of good people have watched in disbelief as innocent people suffered at the hands of the ungodly.  It has invaded every segment of society.  Pick a group and they have had both victimizers and victims.  It is a sad time.

Evil does not have a color scheme, nor does it discriminate by occupation.  It is in every neighborhood and job place.  It is not confined to the young or old, rich or poor, black or white.  It simply is and has been since Adam and Eve.  Murder was only a generation away.  Brother killed brother and the war between good and evil has raged ever since.  This is not new.  It is as old as mankind.

Not respecting but rejecting God sets off a chain reaction with inevitable consequences.  Death is the inescapable end.  The wages of sin are consistent.  Removing an almighty and impartial Judge from our thinking leads down a destructive road along which people leave much heartache and sorrow (Romans 3:9-18).  Blessed with wisdom from above, Solomon observed that all of life revolves around a proper attitude toward the Lord and His commands (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).  These have eternal implications and immediate impact.

The warning of Peter (1 Peter 5:8) takes on deeper meaning as we watch the devil stalk through our country turning one human against another.  It is easy to get swept up in the moment and lose our focus.  Christians are children of the living God and have been lifted out of the domain of darkness and put into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13-14).  Forgiveness is there, both to be received and given.  We rejoice at the former and grimace at the latter. 

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34),” the words of a perfectly innocent man.  He had been slapped and spit upon.  His back had been shredded by a vicious beating.  An ugly crown of thorns had been jammed onto His head.  Nails were driven through His hands and feet.  He hung on a cross and asked for the forgiveness of His torturers.  They had acted in ignorance.  It is a brutally ugly picture of sin and an astonishingly accurate blood-stained portrait of the love of God.

The world can be an awfully discouraging place.  The evil one wanders around looking for his next victim.  Volunteers seem plentiful, and the darkness intensifies.  It transitions from external to internal (Matthew 6:23) and Satan claims another weapon in his arsenal.  The church appears to be outmanned and outgunned. “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”  Those, too, are the words of the innocent One.  We decide: Follow the losers to eternal defeat or follow the winner and share victory in Jesus.