Lifeline September 22, 2019

What if the Lord were to come right now?  It is a sobering thought.  We are busy with so many things of this world that we do not spend much time meditating on our eternity.  No one knows when the end will come, but it is closer now than it ever has been before.  Time is slipping away.

His return should not be a surprise to us.  Although we do not have details, we know it will happen.  The Lord has assured us that it would.  Two messengers shared that certainty with the apostles (Acts 1:11), and it provides believers with a reason to be optimistic in an environment that can be awfully discouraging.  The promise permeates both letters to the bruised and battered Thessalonian Christians. 

The choice to follow the Lord leads us into conflict with the culture, and theirs was a particularly hostile environment (Acts 17:1-13).  Angry Jews fought against the spread of the gospel not only in their city but other places as well.  Opposition in the twenty-first century can be just as vicious.  Labels like “narrow-minded,” “Judgmental” and “hateful” are slapped on believers who stand for biblical principles.  Retreat is often easier than persistence, but the stakes are much too high to make that decision.

The righteous judge is coming.  The timetable is in hands greater than ours, but it will be at just the right time.  The persecutors and the persecuted will both witness it.  The king on His throne will sit with all the nations gathered before Him (Matthew 25:31-46).  It is He who will make the great separation.  Goats to the left.  Sheep to the right.  Justice will prevail.  Eternity will begin.  It will never end.  Blessed forever or cursed forever.  Joy or sorrow.  Today, we choose.  That day, He decides.

The Thessalonian church was suffering (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).  They were on a battlefield that was taking its toll.  The gospel had found fertile ground, and the enemy was stirred up.  Satan’s hands were busy.  They still are, and he will use anybody and everybody.  The religious establishment recruited the neighborhood thugs, and mob action ruled the day.  The devil never sleeps.  The righteous judge doesn’t either.

He sees.  He knows.  He hears.  Life is not fair, but He is and justice will prevail.  One day, the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven.  It will all be over then.  He will be flanked by mighty angels and engulfed in flames.  Vengeance will be in His hands, and those who inflicted pain on the saints will experience punishment beyond description…forever.  They will never again receive any blessings, for they will be eternally separated from the Lord. It is impossible to conceive of that day.  Words fail.  First, He came as savior.  The next time He comes as judge.  When?  No one knows.  Maybe today.  Maybe tomorrow.  What if He came right now?  Where would we spend eternity?

Lifelines September 15, 2019

“Jesus loves me! this I know…”  Do we?  His love is one that is beyond our capacity to comprehend (Ephesians 3:19).  We can search for a lifetime and never find one to compare (John 15:13).  Knowing such a love is transformative.  Once we capture a sense of its magnitude, we will never be the same again.  It motivates us to respond (1 John 4:19).  If His love has never left its mark on our lives, can we really say that we know it?

It is so profound that it led Him to sacrifice an eternal equality with God to take on flesh and blood.  He entered the world in a lowly way to endure the hardships of being human.  He knew hunger and thirst.  He experienced fatigue and pain.  He stepped away from glory to live an uncommon life in a very common world.  The everyday headaches and heartaches plagued Him just as they do us. 

He was no stranger to the sadness of death.  Even when He knew the ultimate purpose of the illness of Lazarus, He felt the deepest pain for His dear friends Mary and Martha.  Jesus wept (John 11:35).  Think of what a profound demonstration of His love that is.  The Lord of the universe shedding tears for an ordinary man.  He feels.  He cares.  Our hurts hurt Him.  There has never been anything like His love for you.  Never. 

Satan launched all of his heaviest artillery at Jesus at His weakest moments.  Forty days of fasting would have left Him weakened and vulnerable to temptation.  He resisted.  The evil one hit the Lord with His heaviest punches but failed to knock Him off His feet.  He knows first hand about the things that tempt us.  He has been through them all.  He understands our struggles.  He did not have to go through all of this.  It was His choice, because of His great love for us. 

It finds its most profound demonstration at the cross.  God described through Isaiah this climactic act hundreds of years before it came to pass on earth (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).  He made it clear that it was through no fault of His own that He ended up on that cross.  He bore our sins that day.  The sun failed.  The earth shook.  The tombs blew open.  The love of the Son was on full display, and access to the Father was opened.  “Jesus love me! This I know…”  It is generally regarded as a children’s song, and that is a pity.  It is the essence of the best news in all eternity.  The Son of God in all His wonder loves us; weak and guilty sinners.  He came to solve all the mess that we created.  The debt has been paid by a Savior who loves us.  It is worth singing about at any age.

Lifelines September 08, 2019

We look with horror as our world spins out of control.  Brutality sweeps across the countryside.  Big cities turn into war zones every weekend. A frustrated motorist literally shoots down an interstate.  Drug infestation destroys lives at catastrophic rates.  Sex is recreational.  Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies inevitably follow.  Termination becomes an acceptable option.  How has life become so cheap, disposable and hopeless?

“There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:18).”  Worldly chaos is rooted in a spiritual problem.  Respect for an almighty Creator has been lost, and the evidence is obvious.  After a relentless campaign that has gone on for decades, the forces of darkness have convinced the nation that He is no longer relevant if He exists at all.  Throughout history, such an attitude has never failed to produce an increasingly violent and immoral society. 

Scripture outlines the evidence that a culture has lost respect for God (Romans 3:10-18).  Righteousness becomes a lost concept.  No one is hungering and thirsting for it.  Pursuit of the eternally significant gives way to the temporarily satisfying.  The Lord and his goodness are shoved into the dark corner of forgotten antiquities.  “Created in His image” is seen as an empty phrase in an outdated book.

It is apparent in our national conversation that the country has lost reverence for God.  Dishonesty becomes commonplace, and lying is acceptable.  Politicians are not even expected to tell the truth, and it doesn’t stop there.  It seeps into every corner of the culture leaving us disillusioned and doubting.  Who can we trust?

Words are used to slash and burn anyone who dares to cross our paths.  Locker room talk is mainstream as coarseness floods the vocabulary.  Civilized discourse is virtually unknown as competing voices yell louder and curse more.  The results are increased tensions.  It is the way of a world without the Lord.  Lie.  Turn up the volume.  Throw in some profanities.  Spread the bitterness.  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

The trail they leave behind is long and bloody.  It may not be literal, but the misery certainly is.  Skepticism and cynicism.  After all, how many times can people lie to us before we become suspicious of everyone?  Hearts pierced with angry, hateful words.  They can never be un-said or forgotten.  Memories linger.  The damage is widespread.  Dismissing our Creator as unimportant or nonexistent brings dreadful consequences.  It always has.  It still does. Having the proper perspective of God is the whole purpose of life.  If we miss that, we have missed the point (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).  Yet, we live in the age of the forgotten God.  It has been an intense campaign to remove Him from the public awareness. The enemy may have succeeded in that effort, but the Lord hasn’t gone anywhere.  He is still on His throne, and He is still all-powerful.  He is God whether people want to acknowledge Him or not

Lifelines September 01, 2019

“Our Father…(Matthew 6:9).”  What a remarkable relationship.  The basis of His paternity is discipleship, those who choose to live within the framework of His word (John 8:31).  It is a choice that demands the utmost of self-disciple and denial (Luke 14:26).  It is a price that few are willing to pay but the dividends are extraordinary for those who do.  Inclusion in the family of God being among its greatest benefits.

Satan has always had a bag of glittering tricks to attract our attention.  He opened them up in the old garden and has been dangling them in front of us ever since.  He used the same temptations on the Son of God offering Him fleshly gratification, sensationalism and worldly success if He would just submit to him (Matthew 4:1-11).  Thankfully, Jesus stood firm.  Following His steps will enable us to resist, too.  It is the family way.

Establishing such a relationship includes blessings beyond our understanding.  God is no longer a distant, detached deity but our Father.  He has an intimate interest in each of His children which brings security.  When addressing anxieties about life’s basic necessities, Jesus described those worries as totally unnecessary.  Why?  A disciple’s Heavenly Father knows their needs.  He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers.  He will do the same for them (Matthew 6:25-34).

The disciples of Jesus were on the brink of the most traumatic event of their lives.  Jesus would be crucified within hours.  Judas would betray Him.  Peter would deny Him.  They would all fail Him in His darkest hour.  Their whole world was about to be turned upside down on a cross, and He comforted them.  He knew exactly what was coming and offered words of consolation, “Do not let your heart be troubled…(John 14:1).”  Worry never solved anything.  Trust our Father.  He can raise the dead.  Trust Me.  I will take care of you forever.

That relationship includes accountability, as well (1 Peter 1:14-16).  Christians have the blessing of entering into that precious relationship, and it brings the responsibility of taking on the family resemblance.  His word to us consistently tells us to imitate what we see in the only begotten Son (Ephesians 5:1-2).  Our Father loves us, and Jesus put a face on that love.  His sacrificial demonstration left us an example to follow.  It is anything but typical of what we see all around us.  It is holy.      Our Father is actively involved in our development (Hebrews 12:4-11).  He takes a hands-on approach that is not always comfortable or easy as He shapes and molds us into His image.  That is what He had in mind to begin with.  Now, He is bringing out that likeness again.  It has been tarnished by sin.  That has been forgiven, but the scars remain.  His hands are polishing us once again, and eventually we will be like Him (1 John 3:1-3).

Lifelines August 25, 2019

Speculation was swirling (Matthew 16:13-20).  Who was He?  John the Baptist?  One of the old-time prophets?  The disciples were not deaf.  They had heard the rumor mill churning.  Then came the pointed question: What about you?  What do you believe about the Son of Man?  It would come to be the most important fact in all eternity.  It is the foundational issue for God’s new society, a kingdom unlike any other. 

The dust bin of history teaches of the limited lifespan of the most impressive of nations.  They had come and gone, risen and fallen, emerged and faded since the beginning of time.  Egypt, Assyria and Babylon had all gone from front page news to the obituary column through the ages.  This was something different.  It would last, not just for a decade or two, but forever.  He called it “Church,” and He promised to build it.

This would not be some manmade organization.  No, those are unavoidably flimsy and temporary.  Each has its vulnerabilities.  His would be invincible and unstoppable.  No one would be able to destroy it, no matter how they attacked it and halting its progress would prove to be mission impossible.  The Lord made it clear long before His discussion with His disciples that He would accomplish what He desires within His kingdom (Isaiah 9:7).  The Savior offers an eternal lifetime guarantee.

Human eyes look at the cross as a moment of defeat.  Satan and his troops won that battle, or so it seemed.  The powerful joined forces to eradicate the so-called king of the Jews.  In reality, they served God’s purposes.  They were His instruments to deal with sin.  Forgiveness flowed from the wounds they inflicted by His design.  Simultaneously, the Son of God was buying the church (Acts 20:28).  It became His possession through that transaction. 

Modern mindsets place minimal value on the church.  They treat it as if it were unimportant.  They fill up their schedules with work, school, entertainment, hobbies and if there is any time left, they gather with Christians.  Sunday worship is seen as optional.  We can be sure of this: If we only give God our leftovers, something will eventually eat those crumbs, too. 

Christians come together on Sunday to express how much we value the Lord.  It is a direct statement to Him of His worth to us.  We should always have a conversation with Him when we are not going to worship about why.  It will help us maintain our proper focus if we simply pause and say, “Lord, I know that you gave your life for me but I am not going to worship you today because….”    

Jesus spoke of the church two thousand years ago.  His death followed those words.  His resurrection proved the unstoppable nature of the plan of God.  The church is that plan.  He bought it.  He builds it.  It cannot fail, ever.              

Lifelines August 18, 2019

Violence struck our nation recently in El Paso and Dayton.  Armed madmen took innocent lives.  Immediately the debate began about gun control and laws to govern their use.  It has been an ongoing debate for years.  How can our nation be the home of such senseless killings?  It is a puzzle that has yet to be solved.

The question has polarized our country into increasingly angry voices.  Two sides yelling at each other seldom result in a reasonable conclusion.  As tempers flare and the temperature rises, a door is opened for the peacemaking calm of Christians.  We may not have the answer on a national scale, but we can affect the lives we touch if…and it is a big IF…we have ourselves under control.

We must not let circumstances take control of us.  It is easy to do.  Stress mounts, and words come out that never should have been said.  Their impact is immediate and never forgotten.  They cannot be un-said.  They make an indelible impression on all who hear them.  Nearly everyone has memories of verbal assaults that left deep scars. 

What has control of us?  That is a decision that must not fluctuate from situation to situation.  If it does, then our surroundings are in charge and we are puppets of our environment.  If everything around us is to our liking we’ll behave appropriately.  If it doesn’t suit us, we won’t.  That is an unhealthy, erratic way to live.  There has to be a way to rise above that.

“For the Love of Christ controls us…(2 Corinthians 5:14-15).”  There has never been another totally selfless love of His type.  It was not dependent on the response of the people to whom He offered it.  He died for everyone.  He indiscriminately brought His love into a world that neither desired nor appreciated it.  It was met with rejection and hostility, and He brought it anyway. 

He did so in order to deliver humanity from the dictatorial enslavement of selfishness.  Self is a relentless master that is never gratified.  The “successful” may have all that this world offers, but when the lights go out they feel an indescribable emptiness. It is an itch that they cannot scratch. Those who pursue contentment in such a way will always have an inner hunger and thirst that they cannot satisfy.

A focus on Christ and His love will lead us to yield our lives to His control.  Violent outbursts will never be in our picture.  Peacemaking will be.  We will walk by His Spirit, and the fruit of that lifestyle is self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Our steps will be different in a world that desperately needs them to be.  Answers about gun control may be beyond our area of expertise, but self-control is not.  Give ourselves to the Lord.  Follow His path.  It will make us and our nation better, one life at a time.

Lifelines August 11, 2019

The family of the faithful operates on an entirely different set of principles than those who walk by sight.  Convinced of unseen realities, we step through the visible world with assurances that unbelievers will never know.  The word of the Lord has revealed facts upon which we base our actions, and we trust the invisible God to know better.  History bears witness to the certainty of that conviction.

Some of the Hebrew Christians were on the brink of giving up.  Tough times will thin the ranks of those without firm roots.  Their experiences had been rough.  They knew what it was to have possessions confiscated simply because they had acted on a new set of spiritual facts.  They had not only accepted the plundering; they had maintained a positive attitude through it.  How?  They knew that they had something better (Hebrews 10:34).

Their circumstances had put their beliefs to the test.  Some had been ridiculed and exposed to public humiliation.  Others had actually been thrown in prison.  It is hard to watch, much less experience.  Property was seized.  The pressure had mounted, and some wavered.  Their own history revealed the value of acting on the right set of facts.  There is something much better and long-lasting at the end of the journey.  Stay faithful.  Don’t quit.  What had gotten them through the persecution?  What they knew. 

What do we know?  We have a book full of facts.  Have we learned them?  Do we know about the eternal home that awaits the faithful?  The situation in this life can be very discouraging if we do not have the right information in our heads, and the Lord has provided precisely everything we need to know (2 Peter 1:3).  We have it in our hands, but it is useless until we put it in our minds.

Internalizing the word of God gives us a different perspective.  Trials and tribulations can sour our attitude unless we see them through the Lord’s eyes.  We feel the struggle.  He tells us that there is a process underway that will ultimately be for our benefit (James 1:2-4).  It develops us in ways that nothing else will.  It is important to know that or we’ll become disillusioned.  That is why He told us.

Everything serves a positive purpose when analyzed with the proper information.  God uses the pleasant and the unpleasant to shape and mold our character into Christlikeness (Romans 8:28).  Our part is to love Him through all of life’s experiences and trust Him to work it out for His purposes.  We know that He will.  His word assures us.

Life can be mysterious.  Some things do not make sense from a human perspective.  That’s why we need to see things differently, and the Bible gives us that different viewpoint.  It is a look from above, but it will never help us until we know what it says.      

Lifelines August 04, 2019

In a world that is changing at breathtaking speed, we seek a constant.  Something that is consistent provides us with a sense of security and stability.  So, we are plagued by insecurity and instability.  We find ourselves unsteady on our feet and uncertain about our futures.  We pop a few more sedatives and antacids while we watch newscasts filled with the doom and gloom of the day.  It circles the globe and lands squarely in our laps.  If only there were a counter balance, something that was not always changing.  If only…

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).”  He is rock solid in a very wobbly world.  No need to worry about Him pulling the rug out from under us with a sudden change in who He is.  From His first cry as an infant, He has been all about loving people.  Of course, it was that passionate love for humanity that brought Him into the human arena to begin with.  God took on skin and bone to show us: He is consistently love, always and forever.

Human relationships come and go, ebb and flow.  Our closest friends a decade ago may be nearly forgotten today.  Those near and dear to us drift away.  All are destined to eventually give way to death.  The Lord never will.  Jesus rose never to die again.  He has passed through that gate and showed us that it is not the end.  Death is not a period but a comma.  We can be certain of it.  He lives forever.

His love for the human family will never cease.  It is a drum beat that permeates the psalms.  Psalm 136 strikes the same beat in every one of its 26 verses.  We long for such an assurance, and there it is.  It is the motivation behind the incarnation.  A Father willingly sacrificing His Son for the repair of a sin-torn world.  The Son cooperating with such a plan.  Only love would take such a drastic step.  His knows no bounds and has no expiration date.  God is love (1 John 4:8); pure, simple and never ending. 

We yearn for the good ole days when we could trust a person’s word.  That seems to belong to a bygone era that is lost in the dust of history, but the word of the Lord belongs in that trustworthy category.  It is forever settled in Heaven (Psalm 119:89), and does not change with the times. Right is still right, and sin is still sin.  Satan always lies.  People do sometimes.  The Lord never does, and His word will stand into eternity (1 Peter 1:21-25).

Jesus revealed the Father to us (John 1:18).  It is a revelation that eliminated the guesswork.  God is on our side.  He consistently loves us, and that will never change.  He and His truth are consistent and reliable forever.

Lifelines July 28, 2019

The road to greatness is paved in unexpected ways.  In a culture that promotes self-interest at all cost, it seems to take us in the wrong direction.  We are taught from an early age to shove aside anyone who hinders our success.  Step on a few, destroy others.  It is another dimension of Darwinism, the survival of the fittest.  The ultimate goal is the top rung of the ladder, or so we are told.  We do not realize that it is a delusion until we get there with a string of casualties behind us.  “They” tell us something else, too: It’s lonely at the top.

Mrs. Zebedee wanted the best for her boys.  Normal moms always do, and she requested the choicest seats in the kingdom for her sons (Matthew 20:20ff).  The two were certain that they could measure up to the Lord’s example, and this whole scenario ruffled a few apostolic feathers.  Ambition and intervention for these momma’s boys had rubbed the other ten the wrong way.  Besides, that was not for Jesus to say.  That decision was in other hands, but He knew the way to real success.  It wasn’t what they thought.

Jesus offered up the ways of the world as an example but not as we might think.  He did not instruct them to learn and imitate authoritarian oppression but to avoid it.  Instead, the greatest assumes the role of a servant.  Demand respect?  Nowhere in the conversation.  Humility runs throughout.  The Lord did not discourage their aspirations, but He did redefine the means accomplishment.  He didn’t just teach them; He showed them. 

The life of Jesus was one of service from His birth in a stable to His death on a cross.  He gave up the glory of heaven to endure temptation and torment at the hands of the enemy.  He did not just preach it.  He practiced it.  He fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead and washed feet.  He did not just plead for forgiveness for the wayward and wicked.  He loved, touched and forgave them.  This, He said, is greatness.  Now, you do it.

His servant mentality was never on greater display than on the cross.  He agonized in the garden of Gethsemane as He felt the heavy burden of what lay ahead.  He would take all of the sins of all people of all times on His shoulders.  He alone was free of guilt, and He was the one punished.  Forgiveness and reconciliation poured from His wounds.  It was the price of being a servant.  It is a costly commitment.    

Service and sacrifice.  It doesn’t fit neatly into our concept of what it means to be great.  We will be out of step with our neighbors.  Friends won’t understand.  Giving without getting seems a little weird to them.  Not to worry.  God is looking, and He thinks it’s great.    

Lifelines July 21, 2019

Gratitude is one of the greatest mood boosters in the world.  Whenever we’re feeling down and out thankfulness will lift our spirits like nothing else.  The psalmist repeatedly urges it based upon all of the blessings that we receive from God.  Christians have even more reasons to be grateful because our blessings are even greater.  The Lord has withheld nothing from those who are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3 ff).

Atop the “Thank you, Lord” list is our adoption into His family.  Jesus relinquished all of the glory and honor that He shared with the Father to make a place for us.  Sin had robbed us of a place at the table.  We were estranged from the One who loved us the most, and we were powerless to resolve it.  The Son of God did.  He stepped into the human family to enable us to be part of the heavenly one. For that, we give thanks.

We shudder to look at the brutality of the cross.  The sinless One endured the most inhumane treatment imaginable at the hands of those He came to save.  He prayed for their forgiveness.  He did not simply suffer; He died for our sins.  It took His life to save ours, a brutal death to make eternal life possible.  The love of God and His Son prompted it.  We benefit.  Thank the Lord.

The empty tomb stands as an everlasting testament to what He can do.  The great love that He displayed at the cross steers His indescribable power.  He can raise the dead, and what He did for His Son is exactly what He does for Christians.  Sin defeated us and took our life, a dilemma without a human solution apart from God.  He flexes His resurrection muscles with each baptism.  No matter the situation, there is always hope with an omnipotent Lord.

Sin tears the world apart.  It ruins relationships between people and alienates them from God.  The morning paper reminds us daily of the world that has forsaken Him.  It quickly degenerates into chaos.  Keeping a loving Creator at arm’s length will never work out well.  It is a problem that He sent His Son to repair.  He reached out to a rebellious world and brought reconciliation.  He repaired what we broke.

Before us is an eternity in the presence of God.  It is unimaginable.  We have already experienced a storehouse of blessings, and the best is yet to come.  We could never take it all in.  If we could lay them end-to-end, they would go on forever.  Human words can never do it justice.  It will be simply heavenly.  Paradise once lost has been restored, and it is in the future for Christians. 

Psalm 100 overflows with thanksgiving.  Our hearts should, too.  After all, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.  Thank you, Lord for giving us everything.