Lifelines October 18, 2020

The mention of angels usually brings to mind images of wings, halos and flying creatures.  Isaiah certainly saw that type of creature when he was in the temple in the year of the king’s death (Isaiah 6), and winged creatures of some sort are pictured in heaven around the throne of God (Revelation 4).  Although those are interesting thoughts, the word of God presents other forms in which these fascinating creatures known as angels are portrayed. 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).”  The words of the Lord to a disheartened group of Christians.  No halos.  No wings.  Simply an encounter with what appears to be a stranger.  Will we be aware of it when they cross our path?  Can we identify them by a glow around the head?  Will their shirts bulge in the back where their wings are tucked in?  Clearly not.  Our part is to show hospitality to people we do not know.  Have we missed them in our moments of discouragement?  Maybe, if we have failed to show them hospitality.

Angels abound through the unveiling of the events in Revelation.  They are mentioned in connection with virtually every incident, and an apostle is so overwhelmed that he falls down in worship before one of them (Revelation 22:8).  Even after all that he had experienced with the Son of God, John was thrown off track by the angel whose response was simple, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God (Revelation 22:9).”  If they are fellow servants, what are they doing?

The Son of God faced the devil in the temptations of the wilderness and fought Him off with Scripture, then angels ministered to Him.  Elaboration is lacking.  In what seems to be His most stressful moments in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prayed and agonized, an angel strengthened Him (Luke 22:43).  We are not provided additional details about that, simply that it did.  It seems that angels, at the direction of God, do what needs to be done.  And now? 

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14)?”  We have the same supernatural help that the Lord had, angels.  We are not told specifically what they will do or how they will help, only that it is their job to serve the saved.  They may come in the form of a stranger.  We simple do not know, but what we do know is that God created helpers for us that we may never know about.  Remember those strangers to whom we are to show hospitality?  This provides a good incentive to do so.  They just might be our angel.     

Lifelines October 11, 2020

He spoke before he thought, and the damage was done.  His words were hateful, hurtful and ruined a beautiful relationship.  There was no physical contact nor anything to see, but the deep-down-inside pain that was dished out is indescribable.  It was an instantaneous verbal assault that leaves permanent scars.  Most of us can identify with such an incident, perhaps from both sides of the issue.  If we could only get those words back that were spoken in haste.

Of course, we cannot.  They are forever embedded in the memory of the object of our momentary thoughtlessness.  Apologies may be offered and fences might be mended, but it will never be the same again.  It should not surprise us that words pack such a punch. God used them to put the creation into a functional form, and ours are potent, too.  Scripture clearly tells us to use them carefully.

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:6).”  We do not live in an insulated environment.  It would be nice if we did, but we are surrounded by a culture that is increasingly hostile to the Lord.  A sign recently displayed in one of the protests read, “Keep God out of California.”  Unfortunately, it is a growing sentiment in our nation, but we cannot sink to their level.  We must prepare our minds to control our speech and meet their fiery rhetoric with gracious words.

It is particularly important to speak graciously to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are blessed to be in the family of God, and that should influence everything that we do including the way we talk.  As we study the instructions that are given to His church, we are guided into the beliefs we ought to hold and the behavior that we must practice.  The speech of His children is not an insignificant sidenote but a core issue. 

It is characterized not only by content but also by presentation.  It must always be truthful.  Lies originate with the devil and have no place among the saints.  The church is the pillar and support of the truth and we must never deviate from that, but there is also the manner in which that truth is delivered. “…speaking the truth in love…(Ephesians 4:15).”  Effective communication involves more than just words.  Yes, they are critically important and we must present them in a loving, gracious way.

Tensions have escalated and dragged voices with them.  It appears to be a competition of decibels; crank them up to win the argument.  Ours must be different.  We will not outshout them.  We cannot compete by their rules, nor do we want to.  Our goal is not the same as theirs. Their salvation is our objective.  That is what the Lord wants.  We should want that, too.    

Lifelines October 04, 2020

2020 has certainly been unique.  We began the year with forty days of prayer for better spiritual vision, and the opening of our eyes has been profound.  It is doubtful that we have reached 20/20 just yet, but hopefully we have improved in our perceptions.  The Lord has surely provided ample opportunities for us to see our lives in a different light. 

The pandemic hit full throttle early in the year.  A tiny, virtually invisible menace swept around the world stopping us in our tracks.  It is certainly humbling to be driven into our homes by something so tiny.  We imagine that we can handle anything.  Our technology has advanced to the point of creating a misguided notion that nothing can stop us, but it can and did.  Life behind a mask and closed doors reminds us of just how powerless we are. 

That was followed, or actually joined by turbulence in our cities.  Tempers and tensions flared.  The United States broke up into not-so-united fragments.  Frustrations reached a fever pitch.  Legitimate demonstrations morphed into passionate confrontations.  Two sides of a volatile issue both pointing fingers at the other, and peacemakers were nowhere to be found.  It was the summer of the virus and the violent, and the heat was on.

The eye exam of 2020 was not finished just yet.  There was more added to sharpen our vision.  California exploded into wildfires consuming acreage and claiming forests with indescribable ferocity.  Firefighters worked tirelessly around the clock as God’s beautiful creation went up in smoke.  An ominous shadow fell across the western sky reminding us how quickly the material world can be reduced to smoldering embers.  Eventually, it will all go up in flames.

Just when we thought that things couldn’t get any worse, the gulf coast was smacked by hurricanes.  Destructive winds and battering waters wreaked havoc.  Towns were flooded, homes were destroyed, lives were lost, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.  Weather experts can forecast them and even tell us the likely path they will take.  People can flee the area, but no one can stop it.  It is beyond human control. 

Now, we’re in the last quarter of 2020.  What will be added to this uniquely memorable year?  Only God knows but make no mistake about it, He does know.  It will useful in His hands and eye-opening, whatever it is.  We prayed for improved spiritual vision and there has been plenty to sharpen our sight this year.

Do we see things differently after all this?  We have been shown that much of life is beyond our control.  We have been knocked to our knees by an unseen virus which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.  We saw the violent destruction that results when the Lord’s designs for human interaction are ignored.  We witnessed the devastation of fires and hurricanes.  2020 has offered it all.  Now, do we see better? 

Lifelines September 20, 2020

Christians hang their hopes on the return of Christ.  We look forward to the day that He will come to take us to our forever home.  We gather on the first day of each week to remember His self-sacrifice to bring a new covenant to His people.  We remember His body and blood; and will continue to do so until He comes again.  Skeptics ridicule us for believing such a notion.  That is nothing new. 

Everything seems to be humming long just like always.  We see little difference from day-to-day and year-to-year.  Events vary but the world keeps spinning and the doubters keep mocking.  A few televangelists distort the word of God, identify sure signs that the end is near and ask for your money.  It is certainly an odd request from someone who is convinced that the Lord is getting ready to destroy us all.  Their predictions miss and the calculations start anew as their hands reach for your checkbook one more time.

This creation is certainly going to go up in flames someday, and we don’t know when.  All of that is in the mind of the Lord and not ours.  This world is in the hands of an almighty God who is infinitely patient with His beloved creation.  He does not want anyone to perish but to come to salvation.  Thankfully, He gives second, third and fourth chances; more opportunities than we can count.  It takes repentance for midlife corrections.  We veer off course, and He is waiting for us to come back.  The end will come in an instant and which instant that is remains a mystery.

What if it were right now or tomorrow?  Would we handle things differently?  Pray more?  Study Scripture more?  Draw closer to our Savior?  How would our worship be different this morning if we knew we were going to stand face-to-face with our Lord in a matter of hours?  The clock ticks, and one day it will tick for the last time and eternity will begin.

Days, weeks, months and years slip by and with them endless opportunities to repent.  It was the message of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), Jesus (Matthew 4:17), Peter on Pentecost (Acts 2:38) and it should be ours, too.  Hesitation on this fundamental will not do.  We do no one a favor if we play down the importance of repentance when the consequences are so profound (Luke13: 3 & 5). 

It is as challenging as any of the Lord’s commands.  Rethinking matters and adjusting beliefs is as basic to being a Christian as breathing is to being human.  A revamped mind brings about behavioral changes, and that is an ongoing process.  The letters to the struggling churches of Asia (Revelation 2 and 3) consistently told the errant churches and their members to repent.  The Lord patiently waits.  Is there anything for which we need to repent?               

Lifelines September 13, 2020

What thoughts must have swirled through Abraham’s mind as he trudged up the mountain?  It had been many years, several decades in fact, since God summoned him to a new life.  It was one that took him away from his homeland and people to an undesignated location.  It involved not only sacrifice, but also promises.  He had enough faith in the promiser to trust Him to follow through, but this was an entirely different matter.    

Faith moved his feet.  The command to sacrifice his child had been clear.  God knew of Abraham’s affection for this boy.  He said so.  He also was aware of the unique position that this son held in His eternal plan.  He mentioned that, too.  Yet, He tested the depths of Abraham’s faith.  The time would come when this same God would offer His own beloved unique Son in sacrifice, but today it was Abraham’s turn.  He passed with flying colors.

It is an open door into the life of this extraordinary man of faith.  He believed God, not just in God, but also His promises.  It led Him into a dramatically different life with an unknown destination.  He didn’t demand answers when the Lord called him away from home and eventually up the mountain of sacrifice.  He held on to the hand of the One he trusted with his life and that of his beloved son.  He believed that God could raise the dead, and that changed everything (Hebrews 11:19).

We all have an old life that holds us back from fully following the Lord.  It is people, places and things that have our attention.  The old crowd is difficult to leave.  Surely, just a few visits won’t hurt anything.  They mock, and we join in.  Habits are hard to break.  Temptations are strong.  Sin seduces, and the world wins one more for Satan.

Abraham was called to a blessed new life, one which would bring blessings to the entire world.  So have we.  Blessed to be a blessing.  Our role may not be as dramatic as his, but we have a place in the Lord’s eternal plan.  It awaits us as we step away from the broad path onto the narrow road, but we have to take that step.   

There are many delays on that journey.  Many years passed between the call of Abraham and the fulfillment.  We are puzzled and confused at times.  We stumble, dust ourselves off and travel on.  Then we encounter our own mountaintop experience, but it is rarely as popularly advertised.  Ask Abraham.  His trip up the mountain was in response to the Lord’s command that he sacrifice the most important object in his life, his beloved unique son.

Faith, pure and simple, led him to obey.  He didn’t have all the answers.  Neither will we.  It wasn’t without cost.  Ours won’t be, either.  But the benefits are out of this world.                                                          

Lifelines September 06, 2020

It was a day like no other (Acts 2).  Never before nor since has there been such a display of divine power.  The religious faithful had gathered for the Day of Pentecost, but they never expected this.  It sounded like a tornado.  Humans looked like candles.  Uneducated men spoke in foreign languages.  Heads spun and accusations flew.  Too much wine!  Wrong, it was not about tongues, sounds or sights; nor were they drunk.  This was God in action.  It was all to attract attention to one individual.

Peter seized upon the opportunity, but it wasn’t about him either.  This was much bigger than a converted fisherman.  Joel wrote about it centuries before this day.  David did, too.  The voice of God through the pens of men had told of this unfolding story.  The audience had unknowingly been part of the ultimate chapter, and now they felt the piercing pain of truth.  They had killed the Lord and Christ. 

This was reality.  It was true as the conspiracy to destroy Jesus was formed, and Satan squeezed the heart of Judas.  It was a fact as they mocked and beat Jesus.  As the crown of thorns was thrust upon His head and the blood dripped down His face.  As the sweaty hands pounded the crucifying nails through the hands and feet of the Son of God.  When the sword sliced into His side. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”  “It is finished.” A divine plan of redemption carried out in unsuspecting hatred.  This was the One.  He is the reason for the extraordinary demonstration of the Day of Pentecost.  Not Peter.  Not the miraculous, but Jesus Christ the Savior.

Everything changed that day.  Actually, it was already different.  They just didn’t know.  The real turning point for thousands of lost believers was when they heard.  They knew what had recently happened in their city and were certainly familiar with the messages of their Scriptures.  Peter connected all of the right dots and it hit home when they finally listened.  Hearing it set off a chain reaction that began with a simple question, “What shall we do? (Verse 37)”

They heard before they asked.  The message had been a mixture of an eternal strategy, their guilt and God’s power.  It prompted the most important quest for information that we will ever undertake.  It was triggered by Peter’s presentation which they heard.  It gives greater significance to spreading the gospel, for the unlimited power of God to save stands behind it.  He can raise the spiritually dead just as He resurrected His Son. We live among a lost people, and it may seem that it is beyond repair.  It isn’t.  Remember the limitless ability of God and the power of His message.  It even reached the hearts of the wicked Corinthians when they heard it (Acts 18:8).  It is our assignment to speak it.

Lifelines August 30, 2020

Christians are children of God.  It is a magnificent concept.  The unique Son came into the world to enable us to become part of the family.  His sacrifice to make that a possibility was extraordinary.  It brings the greatest possible blessings to enter into a parent-child relationship with the almighty, eternal Creator.  It is who we are and should shape every thought as we seek to look like we belong.

This is no retreat into the shadows but rather a call to action.  We have been placed on the front lines of the war with evil, and we must prepare our minds for such an assignment (1 Peter 1:13).  There is no ducking the issue and failure to recognize the ferocity of the battle is a grave danger.  Let us be warned, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).”  The conflict is often the most ferocious within our own thoughts. 

Hope is ever present on the horizon.  The Son embodied grace and truth (John 1:14) when He came to bring salvation, and that same grace awaits us at the end of the journey.  It is the source of our hope, and that is where we fix our attention.  The battle between good and evil rages within.  The world jars us.  Tempts us.  Occasionally it defeats us, but we gather ourselves and again set our eyes on the finish line where Jesus and His grace await us.  And we take one more step.

Once upon a time we didn’t know any better (1 Peter 1:14).  We behaved poorly because we lacked information about the higher calling.  We were content to live a second-class life and fit right in with the culture around us, slaves to our lowest emotional desires.  But not anymore.  We have been born again for greater things than that.  We have seen something nobler in our Lord.  Now, that is how we want to be.  That is who we are, no longer content to live a bargain-basement lifestyle but one that is befitting the children of highest royalty.  We have been adopted into the family of God.

The Lord calls us to a higher standard, “…like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY (1 Peter 1:15-16).’”  All of the mental preparation, focusing our hope on the grace of our Lord and putting our sinful past behind us has a purpose.  Our Father expects us to be like Him and His Son, to share the family likeness.  It is an exciting possibility and a challenging expectation.  God created us in His image in the beginning, so it is not a total absurdity.  Holy is the word.  Distinct.  Unlike the ways of the wayward.  Just like Him.  His word says so, and He ought to know.

Lifelines August 23, 2020

Our Savior stood on the mountaintop surrounded by the masses when He declared to His disciples, “You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16).”  They were, indeed, the blessed but those blessings would come in most unexpected ways.  It was not the spiritual supermen but the spiritually poverty stricken, not the comfortable but the mourning, not the assertive but the gentle, not the satisfied but the starving souls, not the sternly strict but the merciful, not the hard-hearted but the pure-hearted, not the troublemakers but the peacemakers that comprise this illuminating force. 

Jerry Taylor, the founding director of the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action at Abilene Christian University described the current state of our country as one of “spiritual disorientation and social disintegration.”  The latter is visible, a result of the former which we cannot see.  Internal darkness produces a life of confusion and frustration which will find expression in actions.  The urgency of the Christian mission to be light-bearers has never been greater. 

In the beginning the world was without organization, content or light.  Before He ever gathered the land, sea and atmosphere; prior to animals, birds, fish and humans; God spoke light into existence.  His word does that.  It creates.  It enlightens.  It shapes and molds.  It reveals.  Without it we would forever bump into furniture.  Or sin.  We would be disoriented.  No God.  No word.  No direction or understanding.  Confusion frustrates.  Boom.  Social disintegration. 

God saw the light was good.  Oh yes, He sees and He saw the goodness that His word had produced.  A quick glance through the creation account tells us that it was all good.  Bad didn’t slip in until His word was discarded.  It took the light with it and left a black hole.  Darkness went from external to internal.  Murder in the family followed.  Evil spread.  A flood came.  A handful survived.  Much more than a handful did not.  They had rejected the light and their hopes went with it.

Despair.  It captures the essence of the darkness.  The appearance masquerades the loneliness.  It is painted over with bright colors of money, fame, success, immorality, drugs and fun, but when the party ends the picture changes.  The mask is removed.  It is a charade.  Inside, there is only emptiness…deep, dark emptiness.  Life without the light is ultimately very sad and lonely.  Alone without God, and nothing but more of the same in the future.  Is it any wonder that social disintegration follows spiritual disorientation?            

God separated the day from the night and named it.  He was pleased.  His word still speaks to us and we either accept or reject it.  Those who receive it find a new spiritual orientation and become light in the dark sea of those who do not.  The world needs that.  Light was the Lord’s first act in organizing His creation.  That should tell us something.   

Lifelines August 16, 2020

It seems that the whole world is poised, rocks in hand, searching for an offender to stone into oblivion.  A target is not hard to find.  Wrongdoers are everywhere, including among the stone throwers.  There are no innocents.  Jesus knew.  Only the sin-free are qualified (John 8:7).  One-by-one their stones hit the ground as they wandered away.  None were thrown. 

Criticism is easy and provides justification for that fast ball, or rock, as the case may be.  “Do not judge so that you will not be judged (Matthew 7:1-5).”  The self-appointed judges set standards that they themselves failed to meet.  The Lord had a word for them: hypocrites.  Their potential victims had a speck of what they were blinded by.  It would be best to hold fast to that condemnation until they did a self-assessment.  Someday that same measuring stick will be used on them.

There is a never-ending barrage of both literal and verbal stones hurled around our nation these days, each intended to condemn and damage someone.  It is awfully easy to get swept up in the emotions of the moment and grab a rock.  As we reach for one that really sends a message; let’s stop, drop the rock and think about what our actions will say about us.  What purpose does it serve?  What do we hope to accomplish?

God saw the state of the world.  His chosen people had strayed far from their purpose.  They had His law, His house, His priesthood but they just didn’t have His heart.  The externals were in order and their words had a religious ring to them, but they stood at an internal distance.  They emphasized the insignificant and ignored the important.  If anyone ever had a right to fling a rock in disappointment, it was God.  He didn’t.  He sent His Son. 

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17).”  The Creator has an immense love for His creation demonstrated in the gift that He gave to retrieve us from the ravages of sin.  His first response was not stoning but saving. 

The Son came on a mission to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Sin leads us down a path that we cannot begin to comprehend.   It will cause us to do extensive damage not only to ourselves but to those around us.  Relationships are wrecked, beginning first with our heavenly Father.  Others follow.  Jesus came to save us from our wayward wanderings.  There were no rocks in His hands, only nails. The time for judgment will come.  Eventually this world will end for all of us, and eternity will begin.  The Lord’s perception is beyond this world.  Ours should be, too, for ourselves and our neighbors.  They don’t need stoning.  They need salvation.  We follow His steps and throw lifelines not rocks

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.