Lifelines February 23, 2020

Americans must be the busiest people on earth.  We rush from one task to another with very little time to stop and enjoy the great prosperity that we have.  Calendars are packed from pre-dawn to midnight.  It is a “Martha” world with very little opportunity for “Mary” moments.  Perhaps, it is time to build a pause into our hectic schedules.

Martha was always in the middle of doing something, and the Lord’s visit was a tremendous motivator (Luke 10:38-42).  After all, there would surely have been much to do.  Putting ourselves in her shoes helps us understand.  We would want the house to be spotless, dinner to be perfect and only the finest china would do.  Hustle, hustle, hustle.  Make sure it is all flawless, and that sister!  All she’s doing is just sitting there.

Well, that and listening, giving quiet attention to what her Lord was saying.  His words meant more to her than anything else.  And us?  Where are we in this picture?  Distracted by serving?  Too busy to give full attention to the word of the Lord?  Martha or Mary?  This should not be an either/or situation.  A balanced life makes time for both.

Mary is frequently found at the feet of Jesus.  It is a beautiful portrait of one who adores and respects Him.  Were there other things to do?  Of course.  She could have been helping Martha with the preparations, but she chose not to.  Instead, she stopped.  How often do we simply cease from all the activities that tug at us to spend time in adoration of the Lord?  To hear Him, to really hear Him?

We probably won’t receive a lot of encouragement to do so.  Martha was critical.  She even complained to Jesus about it, accusing Him of not caring about her workload.  She let a lot of things interfere with her devotion.  Mary was different.  Deeply devoted people always are.  They often appear to be inactive.  The truth is, according to Jesus, that Mary had chosen the good part.  That would never be taken away.

If ever there was a person with the potential to be too busy for quiet times, it was Jesus.  Healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, butting heads with the religious establishment and loving the unlovable tend to draw crowds.  Everyone needs something, and His compassion combined with His miraculous powers attracted people…lots and lots of people.  And they wanted to enthrone Him.  He would indeed ascend to a throne, but not that way.  In the midst of His eternal mission, with all there was to do, He pursued a quiet time (John 6:15).

Times come when we are forced to be busy, but we must also squeeze in quiet moments at the feet of Jesus.  A “Mary” moment in a “Martha” world that we might listen and contemplate the wonder of the Lord.  Come let us adore Him.                          

Lifelines February 16, 2020

“What are you doing right now that requires faith?”  It was a question posed in a college classroom that shook the young man’s lifestyle.  As he reflected, he realized that the answer was, “Nothing.”  Compared to the scriptural picture of those who are examples of faith, his life was virtually unaffected by his beliefs.  Sure, he believed in God and Christ.  He “went to church.”  He prayed.  He read his Bible.  And then he retreated into his own comfort zone, unchallenged in actual practice.  What about us?

God summoned Abram from his comfort (Genesis 12:1-4).  Leaving familiar surroundings is tough.  Venturing out on our own is unsettling, especially when we don’t know what our address is going to be.  The promise was blessing, not only for him but also for the entire world.  The destination was a mystery.  All Abram had to go on was the assurance of God, and that was enough.  He went.  Would we?    

The first steps on the journey into the unknown were not the only test of Abram’s faith.  The delay between the promise and the fulfillment was agonizingly long.  The promise had been that he would be made into a great nation, and more than a decade passed without even a single child.  Abram decided to help the Lord out.  Faith is not dependent upon the natural course of things, and that turned out to be a mistake that still reverberates.  The child of blessing would not come in an ordinary way or time.  Starting a family at age 100 is not exactly a human idea of family planning.

God raised the bar of faith even higher when He demanded that the child be given as a burnt offering (Genesis 22).  How could Abraham (As he was known by then. Even his name was changed!) possibly comply with such a command after the excruciatingly long wait for Isaac’s birth and him being the child of promise?  We do not know the thoughts of Abraham, but we do know of his obedience because of his faith (Hebrews 11:17-19).  The Lord provided a substitute sacrifice that day and a beautiful portrait of the salvation that would one day come through that family.     

Abraham’s faith led him away from a familiar, comfortable environment into an unknown future.  Home and country were left behind.  All he had to hold on to was the hand of the unseen God, but he learned that was all he needed.  And so, he teaches us.   

Abraham’s world was turned upside down and ours could be, too.  Faith changes everything, including our eternal destination.  Some parts of our life will be left behind.  Plans will be changed, and our journey will be guided by a wiser mind than ours. “What are you doing right now that requires faith?”  It is a probing question that is not comfortably answered, but growth seldom occurs where we are comfortable.   

Lifelines February 09, 2020

We come together on the first day of each week to express how much the Lord means to us.  How we choose to spend our Sundays reflects our opinion of Him.  The weekly reminder of the death and resurrection of our Savior sets the tone for the rest of the week.  It is also a brief period of time set apart to encourage one another.  The basis of it all is Jesus who charts the course for our entire lives.

“…the love of Christ controls us…(2 Corinthians 5:14-15)”  This is a powerful, all-consuming reality whose dimensions are infinite.  It exceeds our mental capacities to take it in, so we seek the One who does the impossible to help us understand (Ephesians 3:18-20).  The fullness of God hangs in the balance.  Our lives will never be all that they can be with a minimal comprehension of that love.  Expanding our knowledge is the only way to deepen its impact on us. 

Mere information won’t get us to the fullness of God.  Conviction will.  As we allow that remarkable fact, the death of Jesus, to really saturate our hearts we will be transformed by it.  That is the fullest expression of His love.  He gave His life for us.  The Son of God and all that He endured was done for me.  Individualize it.  Personalize it.  Only a heart of stone would remain untouched by such an amazing reality.  Unless, we simply refused to be convinced of it.

“…Having concluded this….(2 Cor. 5:14.)”

“One died for all…”  There is no discrimination with the Lord.  What He did for one, He did for all.  As we look at our most hated enemies, we remember that the Savior gave His life for them, too.  True, not all will receive the benefits of that death, but it is open for all.  Those who choose to accept it can receive the cleansing that only His blood can bring.  If the crucifying hands of Pentecost can be forgiven, so can we. “He died for all…”

“So that…”  There was a reason.  Yes, forgiveness came through that sacrifice, but there is more.

Selfishness consumes us.  It is our god.  It dictates and manipulates.  “Not Thy will but mine,” becomes our prayer.  Our joint participation in that death delivers us from such a brutal, destructive dictator.  Nothing will ruin us more quickly than biting the fruit of the evil one when he convinces us that our eyes will be opened if we just forget God’s commandments (Genesis 3:5).

“…they who live might no longer live for themselves…”  Nothing is more liberating than a life totally given to the Lord.  No one could ever love us more.  Freed from the inhibiting boundaries of selfishness, we begin to be filled to God’s fullness.  Jesus demonstrated them, and we can begin to share in them. God’s fullness.  Can you imagine?                  

Lifeline February 02, 2020

The whole world was rocked by the recent death of one of basketball’s greatest players.  Kobe Bryant, his young daughter and several others whose names will never be remembered died in a helicopter accident near Los Angeles on a foggy morning.  It was a tragic end for a superstar.  We noticed.  It dominated news cycles and personal conversations.  It touched fans and non-fans alike.  Those emotions will soon fade except for those with whom he had a personal relationship. 

Two thousand years ago there was another headline death.  It darkened the sky and literally shook the world.  Witnesses saw deep beyond His Jewish skin to One with divine roots.  This was no ordinary man.  He had calmed storms, healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead.  He touched the untouchables, embraced the sinful, challenged the establishment and angered the aristocrats.  He was nothing the experts expected and everything they needed.  He was the long-awaited Messiah, and He was dead. 

Everything changed that day.  It was the focal point of a plan devised in heaven to solve the biggest problem that any person could possibly face: sin.  The devastation it brings is impossible to exaggerate.  Its first recorded consequence was murder among kin folks.  God’s plan of man and woman as husband and wife has suffered ever since.  Family shredded and discarded by sin.  If we doubt it, look at the cross and the death of the Savior.

It was a wretched way to die.  He knew it was coming as He agonized in the garden.  It would all soon be heaped on His solitary shoulders.  There was no other way, “The wages of sin…” It was payday.  He alone could reconcile guilty sinners to a just God.  It would be brutal.  Beating.  Mocking.  Spitting.  Crowning.  Nailing.  Suffering.  Darkness.  Trembling.  Temple veil torn.  The last labored breath. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  First hand evidence of what sin can do to a relationship. “Father, forgive them…”  “It is finished.”   

It was no accident, nor was it homicide or a miscarriage of justice.  The crucifixion, as gory and horrible as it was, had been the plan all along.  It offers an insight into the way that God sees sin.  Each act drives the nails a little deeper and pains our Lord more.  He suffers again.  He hurts for the damage it does to His once-good creation.  It distorts His image in which we were all created.  There was only one remedy.  Ungodly hands carried out a godly strategy to give us a way home. We gather on the first day of every week to remember.  Simple grape juice and unleavened bread remind us.  An intentional design to forgive us.  Kobe’s death was a tragedy.  This was not.  Sin is.  The death of our Savior is the solution.  The memory fades except for those who have a personal relationship with Him.

Lifelines December 22, 2019

All eyes are on the one we call Jesus.  He has our attention in the once-a-year ritual known as Christmas.  Lighted trees fill the neighborhoods and decorations adorn our streets.  Presents will be exchanged with those we love as families gather across the globe.  It is a fun time of year, but it will pass.  All the festivities will come to an end, and routines will resume.  Then what?

The reality of Jesus will not change.  Hearts that were made merry might lose their joy.  Bright wrapping paper will suddenly become disposable trash.  Trees look empty, almost sad.  It all loses its glitter the day after.  Then what?  The attention that the Christ child gathered during this festive season will wane.  A bit of a letdown will set in.  The world returns to normal.  The Lord seems to be put in a box and shoved into a corner of a closet for another year.  The only thing that has not changed is Him.

Our emotions ebb and flow.  They are often slaves to times and situations, swinging upward when circumstances are good and downward when they’re bad.  The Son of God is not like that.  He is as consistent as the Father who sent Him (Hebrews 13:8).  The character that He demonstrated during His brief stay in this world has never varied.  It never will, and we can only gather an accurate understanding our heavenly Father from Him (1 John 5:20). 

Both Father and Son displayed an incomprehensible love through the remarkable life of the One who voluntarily entered this sinful world.  Heaven is the ultimate goal for every child of God, and Jesus was there and stepped away to join us here.  Temptations were real.  The potential to fail was ever present.  The tempter lurked around every corner.  He experienced human weakness and struggle.  He knows about hunger and physical pain.  He understands what it is to be betrayed.  Denied.  Abandoned.  Alone.  Totally, absolutely alone.  Yes, He knows in ways that we never will.  Unless we reject Him.  Then we will know…forever.

He gave up that unimaginable equality with God to save us from an eternal separation from our all-loving Creator.  He knows about the power of emotions.  He wept for the grief that His loved ones suffered (John 11:33-35).  He agonized over the prospects of His impending death (Matthew 26:36-46).  Yes, He literally knows exactly how we feel but never allowed it to dictate His actions.  His sole focus was the salvation of humanity (Matthew 1:21).  From cradle to grave, He was never sidetracked from that task. 

As we see nativity scenes splashed all across the world, let us never lose sight of the eternal significance of the Christ child.  He was born to die.  He came to free us not only from the penalty of sin but also our enslavement to it.  Enjoy the season, and always remember His ultimate purpose.          

Lifelines December 01, 2019

Each of us is engaged in the battle of our lifetime.  Our natural impulses pull at us.  Our higher nature, the spiritual one, informs us of better choices.  Those two are in perpetual conflict (Galatians 5:16-25), and the outcome of that fight affects everything.  There is a long string of evidences that reveal which one has the upper hand, and they are signs of the ultimate destination that awaits our souls.

It is a simple understanding of the exclusionary nature of each.  We live according to one or the other at every step.  We cannot walk by both any more than we can simultaneously go north and south.  Fleshly steps are much easier to take.  Do whatever feels best, offers the fewest challenges and has the heaviest traffic.  We simply go with the flow. 

The higher road is governed by different principles.  The spiritual route is rarely the easiest.  It challenges us to overcome our feelings and emotions.  There is little congestion along the way.  There is no traffic backup on the entry ramp.  It is tight and narrow.  Excess baggage has to be left behind.  Bitterness, anger and revenge must be removed.  Sin is no longer a viable option.

Role models are rare.  As much as leaders are needed, they are few and far between.  That is why we search the pages of the gospels to find the footprints of Jesus.  The Son of God showed us the way.  We will never measure up, but we have high aspirations.  He experienced perpetual interruptions and took unexpected turns.  He butted heads with His religious contemporaries and embraced the untouchables.  He leads.  We follow.  It is a remarkable journey for those who dare.

It all begins with a decision, “If anyone wishes to come after me… (Luke 9:23).”  The choice is ours.  He will not force anyone, but He does lay down the conditions that are necessary if we decide to come after Him.  We are easily distracted.  That old serpent still dangles forbidden fruit before us.  It looks tasty and promises much but yields a harvest of life-damaging consequences.  It ultimately closes the door to paradise for those who are deceived into taking a bite. 

The first hurdle to be cleared for those who want to follow the Lord is self, “…he must deny himself…” We all have our fleshly wants and wishes that we want to indulge.  Pleasure lures us into immorality or pain pushes us into violence.  Forgiveness feels impossible when we have been terribly wronged.  We are battered and bruised.  Hopes die.  Dreams are crushed.  Careers fail.  We are angry and want to take our hurt out on someone.  Self-denial is tough business.  No to self.  No to the flesh.  It is a nonnegotiable.  To follow Jesus and walk by the Spirit we must.   The decision is which road we will take.  That affects everything and takes us to an eternal destination.

Lifelines November 24, 2019

Thanksgiving approaches, and we busy ourselves with preparations for the holiday.  Family and friends gather as we count heads, plan and cook.  It is a wonderful day as we pause to count our many blessings.  Indeed, Christians are the most blessed people on earth, so much so that it is impossible to number them all.  As we grab another plateful of turkey and trimmings, let us never forget the extraordinary gift that the Son of God is.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son…(John 3:16).”  Consider the giver.  He existed eternally before there was ever a you or me, prior to anything and everything.  Then, in the pure exertion of His will it all came into being.  Imagine nothing.  No space, time, earth or sun.  Absolutely nothing.  Then it was.  The all-powerful Creator did all this, and He created you and me. 

He loves His creation.  It is the motive behind His incredible gift, and He does not discriminate.  He loves the world.  Amazing!  That rebellious pair that got expelled from the garden?  Their murdering son?  Those who refused to get on the ark?  The ungodly hands that nailed His Son to a cross?  Me?  You?  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.  His desire is always for our best, so He sent His best.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…”

His unique Son.  God has made it possible for anyone to be His child, but there are none like Him.  It is a unique relationship that spans eternity.  The Son was with God and was equal with God.  He was God.  They shared an intimacy that exceeds our understanding, and the Father gave Him for you, me and those who couldn’t care less.  The love of the Lord is universal, unbounded by time or place.  It prompted history’s greatest gift, but not all will receive the extraordinary benefits.

The world saw this great present and wrinkled its collective brow.  They did not recognize Him.  He was even rejected by His own relatives (John 1:10-11).  Even with the foreknowledge of what He would encounter, He surely must have been disappointed when faced with the reality.  He confronted hypocritical religion and comforted sinners.  He was rewarded with hostility.  He loved them anyway.  His Father did, too.  Still, there were those who believed, and for them there was an exceedingly rich opportunity; a place in the family of God (John 1:12). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  The love that sent the Son offered a door that is opened by believing.  With total faith and trust in Him comes eternal life.  That choice is ours, but it is always available, and that is something worthy of giving thanks every day of the year.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Lifelines November 17, 2019

Grace is the subject of one of our most popular songs, and is surely one of God’s most appreciated attributes.  It makes forgiveness possible for the vilest of sinners as it reaches across the chasm that spans from here to eternity.  The Son of God embodied it to bring salvation to every person.  It saves, educates and commissions.  It casts a much wider shadow than most of us understand.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith…(Ephesians 2:8).”  It is one of the most reassuring verses in the word of God.  When we consider the horror of our pre-Christian condition, it becomes even more impressive.  Sinners are dead, and that is a totally hopeless state.  A corpse is powerless until faith embraces the hand of the omnipotent God.  He raises us, gives us life and seats us with Christ.  It is complete transformation which also brings responsibilities.

“…we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain…(2 Corinthians 6:1)”  There is the dangerous potential.  Initially, it means everything to us as we recognize the extraordinary gift of salvation, but does it begin to dull in significance as time goes by?  Have we really allowed the grace of God to change our hearts?  Sin is repulsive.  Do we see it that way?  Forgiveness is costly.  Will we extend it to others through our own experience of grace, or does the grace of God stop with us?

The young man was demanding.  He wanted his stuff right then and there.  He did not want to wait.  He had done nothing to deserve it except be born into the right family and even then, he should have waited in line for his part but he wouldn’t.  His dad gave in to his wishes.  He took his undeserved riches, left home and wasted it all on rowdy parties.  Home and dad looked pretty good from his mess, so he headed back to take his medicine.  He was greeted with a celebration by the same father who gave him things he didn’t deserve.  It is a celebratory picture of grace (Luke 15:11-32), joyful for everyone except…

God’s grace is a challenge for those who have been wronged.  The prodigal’s big brother did not appreciate his father’s gracious reception one bit.  He wanted discipline and punishment of some sort.  After all, his kid brother had taken something he had not earned and wasted it.  It should have been his.  Anger boiled over.  He wanted humiliation, not music and a buffet.  So, he pouted.  Jesus brought grace to an ungrateful nation.  He lived among them and died His sacrificial death at their hands.  Pentecost came and those same bloodthirsty instigators were met with grace.  Repentance and baptism in the name of the crucified one will clean the slate.  Even them?  Yes, even them.  Hard to take?  Perhaps, but the grace of God truly is amazing.

Lifelines November 03, 2019

It is the single question that will change our lives.  It was a punch to Peter’s raw emotions.  He stood before the Lord having denied Him in triplicate.  The life of Jesus hung in the balance.  Every conceivable force had joined together in opposition to the Son of God.  Hope for the little band of disciples was on the brink of apparent extinction when the self-confidence of the fisherman faltered.  Now, he had a face-to-face confrontation with the One whom he had denied.

“Do you love Me (John 21:15-17)?”  Step into Peter’s skin for a minute.  Jesus had warned him that his failure was imminent (John 13:38).  He was certain that it wasn’t.  No amount of pressure could win out against him.  Then it did, and not just once but three times.  Evil won that round, and a once-cocky apostle had a head-on collision with his own frailty.  He stood at a distance as the Son of Man took that and all the failures of humanity to the old rugged cross. Now, he looked the risen One in the eye.  Or did he look away, too humiliated to meet His gaze?  “Do you love Me?”

Peter was one of the first to hear the “follow Me” invitation and accept it.  He was among a dozen disciples that Jesus chose to be apostles.  Judas was, too.  A fast start does not assure a victorious finish.  They all received the same instructions from the Lord before they ventured out into a hostile world (Matthew 10).  It would be tough sledding.  Included was a somber cautioning about denying Him (Verse 33).  All twelve heard it and had wilted in the heat of persecution.  “Do you love Me?”

That would probably provide the perfect definition of discomfort.  Jesus asked the question three times, matching the number of denials.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  The repeated response from Peter led the Lord to give him a task: Watch out for the welfare of my people.  The Lord did not reject him.  He did not chastise him.  But He did quiz him.  One concern and one job.  Relationships, both vertical and horizontal, are the focus.  “Do you love Me?”

Peter went on to preach one of the most famous sermons ever on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  We still read those words and derive much of our understanding of the church from them.  Jesus had promised that he would receive the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), and the kingdom was opened to all.  The Lord communicated two inspired letters through him to Christians, and he served as an elder (1 Peter 5:1).  Not a bad resume for a “failure.”

Failure did not define Peter, nor does it define us.  It refines us.  We realize our weakness, and in that we find strength as we recognize our deep need for Him.  “Do you love Me?”  Our answer changes everything.                         

Lifelines October 03, 2019

The assessment was grim.  God was angry (Romans 1:18-32).  The signs flooded the culture that people had gone terribly off course.  They had done so before, and the Lord had dealt with them with a flood of His own.  The expressions of His wrath are devastating.  In the case of the Romans, it had been to take a hands-off approach.  They had made their choice, and it did not include Him.  So, He let them go in their own direction.  That never works out well.  Ask the prodigal son.

Evidence surrounded them.  As far as the eye could see, there was proof that an invisible one existed but they chose to ignore it.  They began to disregard the God that they knew.  Such an attitude will soon seep into a lifestyle whose roots run deeper than the actions that it prompts.  It is a relational problem with the almighty Lord Who created us.  Dismissing Him as irrelevant brings with it a high cost.  Is our land listening?

Among the early symptoms is a lack of gratitude (Romans 1:21).  Human speculation carries more weight than divine revelation and thinking gets distorted.  Instead of beginning the thought process with the eternal God, people start with themselves.  The creation is honored above the Creator.  Values get turned upside down.  The giving of thanks goes out the window.  Hearts are infected with irresistible wickedness.  Lies replace truth, and everyone suffers.

In the last letter that Paul wrote, he warned Timothy of the days to come (2 Timothy 3:1-5).  It is not a pleasant description and, unfortunately, sounds a great deal like 2019 America.  The character of the culture is one of self-absorption.  They love and serve themselves.  Relationships are wrecked.  They pay lip service to religion, but it is meaningless.  In the midst of the long list of ugly traits is “ungrateful.”  It is certain that something has gone very wrong when we fail to recognize all that God does for us every day.

We live in an age of overcrowded schedules when it is easy to take the daily provisions of the Lord for granted.  We cram eight days of living into a week and wonder why we’re so stressed and exhausted.  Even Thanksgiving plans fill our hours with so much to do that we have very little time left for giving thanks.  We cook, eat, clean and crash as thoughts of gratitude fade. Busy, busy, busy.  Surely, it is one of Satan’s greatest ploys. One day has been set aside to pause and say thank you to our great Provider.  It is a single 24-hour period in which our nation is encouraged to recognize all that God does for us.  It is a practice that Christians should exercise every day of the year.  He not only takes care of our daily bread but also our eternal souls, and for that we always give Him thanks.