Lifelines April 21, 2019

“Do this is remembrance of Me (1 Corinthians 11:24).”  How easily we forget.  The Lord knew.  We get wrapped up in the events of the day and it slips our minds.  From the first to the twenty-first century, distractions abound.  Satan sees to that.  He dangles the fruit of temptation before us and captures our attention.  It shines, allures and deceives.  Our senses are drawn.  We are fooled.  We bite.  It addicts.  We forget.

It is more likely to be subtle than sudden.  We do not wake up one morning intent on shoving the Lord out of our minds.  Life just gets busy.  Packed schedules crowd Jesus out.  We hustle from one assignment to another.  How can we possibly fit Him in?  So, we don’t.  Daily demands replace devotional time.  Sunday finds us in an exhausted heap.  “Do this in remembrance of Me” takes a backseat to forty extra winks.  Sorry Lord, maybe next week.

The drift sets in.  It is nearly impossible to detect as it is happening (Hebrews 2:1-4).  It comes in tiny steps.  We occasionally miss our personal private time with God.  Bibles begin to collect dust.  Our prayer life becomes sporadic.  Worldly ways that used to bother us don’t seem so bad anymore.  Our language reflects it.  Slowly our hearts are affected.  Sin does that (Hebrews 3:13).  We harden from the inside out. 

Forgetting takes an awful toll on us (2 Peter 1:5-11).  Shoving the forgiveness of our sins into the dark closet of our minds turns our priorities upside down.  How could anything be in its rightful place when the most important reality in all eternity has been demoted to second class status?  It demonstrates that we have lost our sense of the significant and everything is out of order. 

Our footing is unsteady.  We find ourselves stumbling.  The promise of entering the Lord’s eternal kingdom becomes uncertain.  Maybe: Maybe not.  Our concentration is broken.  We chase the corrupting effects of our sinful passions.  “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  Remember the cleansing of our sins?  He did that.  Remember Him?  Forgetting sets off a chain reaction that results in doubt and self-destruction.

We come together on the first day of the week to remember Him (1 Corinthians 11:23-31).  It is the crucified One who made it possible for us to escape sin’s clutches who we memorialize with simple elements.  They are not impressive; grape juice and unleavened bread, but they remind us of Him.  His body hanging in the midday darkness.  His holy blood dripping from wounds that take our guilt away.  Remember Him?  He never forgets us.  He is not an afterthought.  He is the centerpiece.  Our minds focus on Him.  The downward spiral that begins with forgetting the Lord has been replicated through history (Psalm 106:13 & 21), and it has never ended well.  It still won’t.

Lifelines April 07, 2019

Life was cruel to Job.  All of his goodness did not shield him from the waves of bad news.  Just when it seemed that it could not get worse, it did.  He was under attack in a battle that exceeded his vision and understanding.  Spiritual forces had gathered at the throne of God for a conversation.  He had become a target.  The artillery was earth shattering. 

Destruction came from every direction.  One messenger after another brought the news.  Servants, dead.  Animals, dead.  Children, dead.  It was more than the human mind could comprehend.  Where was the Lord?  How could He let this happen to such a righteous man?  Allow it?  He gave permission.  That stretches us beyond our understanding of a gracious God.  How did Job respond to such devastation?  He fell to the ground and worshiped (Job 1:20-21).

David knew loss.  He was a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22), but he had his less-than-admirable moments.  Adultery and a murder scheme were among his most glaring sins.  Those horrible miscalculations resulted in the death of his innocent son.  In spite of his devotion to the Lord and intense prayer, he still suffered the consequences of his actions.  How could God allow such heartbreak in the life of his handpicked king?  He did not simply permit it to happen, He caused it (2 Samuel 12:15).  The child died, and David worshiped (verse 20).

World powers threatened the people of God (Revelation).  The Lord’s assessment of the churches revealed very little to build optimism.  Most had problems, and the handful that were faithful were small and weak.  The odds seemed to favor the bad guys.  They had numbers, resources and lots of weight to throw around.  It looked like an unfair fight until we get a glimpse behind heaven’s door (Revelation 4). 

There sits the eternal God.  All revolves around Him.  He is unlike anything we have ever seen.  He created it all.  He reigns supreme over it all.  His power is unchallenged and harnessed in ways that we could never understand.  He always has been and always will be.  He both created the world and destroyed it by flood.  He allowed Satan to unleash all of his fury against Job.  He took David’s child.  He is God.  We are not.  The elders in heaven fall before Him and worship.

Worship is the natural response when we begin to grasp who He is.  We will never fully comprehend Him.  His ways and thoughts are vastly different from ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).  Isaiah realized his sin when he caught a glimpse of the Lord in the temple (Isaiah 6:1-4).  John collapsed at the feet of the Son when He saw Him (Revelation 1:12-17).  Whenever our eyes are truly opened to see the Lamb in all of His glory we will join the heavenly elders in worship (Revelation 5:14).         

Lifelines March 31, 2019

Jesus had a way of cutting through issues to get to the very heart of the matter.  The religious establishment was forever trying to corner Him with trick questions.  They were not seeking information.  They simply wanted to trap Him.  So, their question about the greatest command dripped with suspicious motives (Matthew 22:34-40).  His answer was sincere, simple and worthy of a second look. 

No advanced degrees are required to understand His response.  It is summed up in a single word: Love.  Directed simultaneously toward God and our neighbor, it is the ultimate life changer.  We will never be the same whenever we commit to this simple principle.  Our relationship with God will deepen dramatically when that is both motive and goal.  The same is true of our human associations.

Love for God alters our approach to Bible study.  He is the source of all of that information.  It explains the nature of our invisible Creator.  It is His self-revelation.  This is what He wants us to know about Him.  Thankfully, guesswork is eliminated.  A lifetime of study will never uncover all that He has told us.  Every time we think that we have figured Him out, His word shows us another side.  Getting to know about someone we love is a delight, especially someone as amazing as our God.

Love takes His word seriously.  Our utmost desire is to bring joy and pleasure to the one we wholeheartedly love, and His message explains how to do that.  Each new day brings us countless opportunities to show Him and our neighbors how much he means to us.  Jesus had clear intent in what He wanted the world to know about Him and how to accomplish it (John 14:31).  Are we as focused?

Our love for the unseen God takes on very visible and practical expression in our interactions with people.  Jesus said to love them.  He did.  We should, too.  It is a quality that permeates the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (1 John 4:8).  It exists wherever they are and shows through the steps that we take. 

It is the one quality of disciples that distinguishes them from the masses (John 13:34-35).  Their relationship with one another stands out and communicates to their community that there is something different about them.  Their way of life is unique.  It is attractive.  The fingerprints of the clay’s potter are revealed in the appearance of the vessel.  Christians are Christlike and Spirit produced (Galatians 5:22), the product of our loving Father.

It is the pinnacle.  There is nothing higher, nobler or more desirable.  It was intended to be the bull’s eye for the preacher’s arrows (1 Timothy 1:5).  Miss this, and we miss excellence.  Love God.  Love our neighbor.  A Christian’s life is directed by faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).                          

Lifelines March 24, 2019

It is hard to imagine that one of the dominant characteristics of the early Christian church was its unity.  As we look around, we see a denomination on every corner.  Beliefs are diverse, and worship services are tailored to meet personal preferences.  Everyone can find a church to suit their fancy.  Sermons are molded more by culture than the word of God.  Divisions are inevitable, in stark contrast to the wishes of our Lord.

He would soon suffer a brutal death, but Jesus first prayed with His disciples.  He prayed for us (John 17:20-21).  There is no question that such a moment would reveal the depths of His heart, and His plea was that we would all be one.  Convincing the world to believe in Him has been entrusted into our hands, and our relationships with each other would be among our most powerful arguments.  We must not let Him down.

He gave His life to unite us (Ephesians 2:14-16).  All of the barriers that split people apart have been nailed to the cross.  Every Christian is part of the one body of believers who have been reconciled to God.  Jesus promised that there would be one flock with one shepherd (John 10:16).  Maybe, the reason there is division is because some sheep have ceased to follow the Good Shepherd.  They are still sheep.  They just aren’t His sheep anymore.  They have relinquished their place in His flock.

We must get to work to preserve the unity that the Spirit established (Ephesians 4:1-3).  It will never come easily.  Self gets in the way.  It calls for humility, gentleness, patience and tolerance which all butt heads with our fleshly side.  Check the list of the unique qualities of the Lord’s people (Eph. 4:4-6), and we find the body at the very top.  It is not a matter of secondary importance.  There is no “attend the church of your choice.” There is only one.

The early church presents a beautiful picture of the Lord’s intentions for His people.  It was no ordinary time as anticipated stays in Jerusalem were extended, and needs began to grow.  Christians stepped up in a significant way to help (Acts 2:44-45).  They dug deep into their resources, and sacrificed to meet those pressing needs.  They even sold property and houses.  Their unity and concern for one another attracted the attention of their neighbors (Acts 2:47).

The church finds itself in decline.  In a broader sense, the worldwide Christian community is divided into hundreds of subgroups.  Their very existence flies in the face of the biblical teaching about unity (Ephesians 4:4-6).  The world is skeptical, and that skepticism is fed by the divisions.  We must be diligent at working on oneness. The Lord died for it.  Our neighbors are listening and watching.  Do we give them reason to believe?       

Lifelines March 17, 2019

An eighty-year-old man, a bunch of slaves and a burning bush hardly seem the ingredients for one of the Lord’s most amazing deliverances.  It had been a long, painful experience for the Israelites.  Joseph was long forgotten.  Generations under bondage had come and gone.  Had the years stolen their hope?  These scarcely appeared to be chosen people for a special purpose.  Salvation coming from slaves?  Not likely.

Moses is an equally improbable man to lead such an exodus.  He had tried to step up at age forty and failed.  He figured his Israelite brothers would understand his good intentions.  They didn’t, word spread, and he fled (Acts 7:23-29).  We may want a leader in the prime of life, but God’s ways are not ours.  We expect a spotless record not a homicidal history.  He spent the next four decades as an alien tending flocks.  The Lord’s classroom is a different kind of education for a unique assignment.

Moses was eighty when the Lord caught his attention.  The first half of his life had been spent in royalty; the second half in obscurity.  Then came that bush.  An aging man with a sketchy history stood trembling before a curiously burning shrub.  He was God’s choice to lead his people out of slavery.  He unsuccessfully objected.  He was the man.  It was his assignment.  No side-stepping allowed.

It may seem an odd selection to us.  His credentials were virtually nonexistent.  His resume was mostly blank.  Yet, he was the answer to their prayers.  God is neither blind, deaf, nor unaware.  He saw them, heard them and knew the details of their situation.  It was time for Him to step in, and His specially chosen vessel to direct the mission was this guy (Exodus 3:7-8)?  Deliverance comes in the Lord’s way, not ours.  It is by His hand that freedom comes.

If we wrote the script, it would be totally different.  After debating with God about his task, he went as directed and life got even harder for the slaves.  The work load was increased (Exodus 5:6-9), and Moses caught the blame (Ex. 5:21).  That isn’t exactly the way we think it ought to go when we immerse ourselves in the Lord’s work.  Discouragement deafened their ears to the message of hope, and it spread all the way to the top (Ex. 6:9-12). 

There is nothing in this remarkable event that would go according to human plans.  An eighty-year-old, hundreds of thousands of slaves and a bush on fire do not offer much promise until we remember the one unseen actor in the scene: God.  He is intimately acquainted with everything about us.  He knows what enslaves us, and He alone can free us.  Deliverance might come through unlikely sources, but He is forever a liberating Lord.  

Lifelines March 10, 2019

The empty tomb of Jesus validates everything that Christians stand for.  There is a vast array of religious beliefs in our world.  Islam is a system that is on the move worldwide.  Muhammed’s faith is aggressive and spreading.  He died and is still in the tomb.  No resurrection means no hope beyond this world.  He is simply one example.  Movements come and go, but only one will remain standing beyond the grave.  Our trust is in that one.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…(1 Peter 1:3).”  Peter knew first hand about disappointment.  He was totally confident that he could stand up to the stiffest challenge.  He couldn’t.  He vowed that he would never deny the Lord.  He did.  Any self-confidence had crumbled long before he wrote these words.  His associates?  They were no more dependable than he was.  He had to look beyond himself for hope. 

God is almighty, and it is to Him that we shift our attention.  He towers over everything this creation can throw at us, and that is plenty.  Even death suffered a death blow when face-to-face with the Lord (Hebrews 2:14).  Combine His capacity to raise the dead with His incomprehensible mercy and it is an offer of hope that is out of this world.  It is alive, and always will be.  The tomb of hopelessness is empty. 

He has brought us into a new realm of existence.  “Born again.”  He caused that.  He has made Christians brand new.  We stumbled around in sin, not knowing where we were or where we were going.  We joined the prodigal son among the living dead (Luke 15:32).  We had become pawns in the hands of influences without and evil desires within, both of which were tools under the devil’s control. We were corpse with a heartbeat (Ephesians 2:1-3), until God stepped in and emptied that tomb, too (Ephesians 2:4-7). 

Vision becomes blurry in the rigors of day-to-day existence.  Up early, rushing for work or school, a full day’s hustle, bills to pay, chores at home, collapse into bed; who has time in an overflowing schedule to contemplate hope? So, it easily drifts into the remote recesses of our minds.  Surely, it is another satanic ploy leading to discouragement and despair.  It was high on Paul’s prayer list (Ephesians 1:18).  It must be important.

The word of God has given us a great formula for the maintenance of hope: information and persistence (Romans 15:4).  History teaches us of the greatness of the Lord who delivers on his promises, even when there seems to be no possible way.  Never give up.  He is a God of hope (Romans 15:13).       

Lifelines March 03, 2019

It is a simple matter to speak of the Lord.  File away a few verses in our memory banks, and we can explain baptism with the best of them.  We can lead a discussion about His love and compassion or His judgment.  We can even teach a class on the unique nature of the church, but do we know Him?  Really know Him, in a life changing way? 

It will never happen by accident.  We do not suddenly wake up one morning and have a relational knowledge of God.  It takes time and effort.  We have a book filled with information that reveals Him to us.  From the opening words, it provides insight into this amazing Being.  He speaks, and all of creation jumps.  Humanity has a special place.  We are handmade in His image.  We botched it.  He fixed it.  Do we know the Fixer?       

King David recognized the great value of knowing the character and nature of the Lord (Psalm 9:10).  It totally reorients our faith.  It is one thing to believe that God exists.  Most people do, but to place absolute trust in Him is a different matter.  That removes any hesitation in praying for His will to be done, because we will know with certainty that it is best.  Bible study becomes an exciting quest to quench our spiritual thirst.  Obedience is as natural as breathing.  Total trust is the result of a genuine knowledge of Him.

Those who know the Lord are people of action (Daniel 11:32).  In our days of increased individual autonomy, there is a growing disregard for the covenant that Jesus gave His life to establish.  Christians come together each Sunday to recognize that covenant in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:25).  It brings both blessings and responsibilities.  To know God is to appreciate the former, live up to the latter and stand firm for both in the face of challenges. 

Our relationship with God will reflect in our attitude towards other.  We come to have a deeper understanding of His indescribable love for us.  It exceeds words and understanding, but we increasingly grasp it. We dive into its significance, learn of its implications and strive to imitate it (Ephesians 5:1-2).  We have benefited from it.  Now, it is our turn to pass it on.  As we do, our knowledge increases.  We know Him better and trust Him more.  Relational growth results.

It has been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.  Do we know the Lord well enough to model our lives after His?  It is a life of love (1 John 4:7-8) sacrificing self for the welfare of others.  Even when the others don’t care? Yes, even then.  Knowing God will change both our daily life and eternal destination.  The Lord is coming one day, and He will gather those who know God (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).   Are we one of them?        

Lifelines February 24, 2019

He was a man who appeared to have it all (Luke 18:18-27).  He had political clout.  It is a very difficult thing to see beyond the authority that a person possesses.  It is hard to imagine a need when we can summon a subordinate to grant our every wish in the blink of an eye.  The blinding effects of power are evident on both sides of the aisle in our nation’s capital.  Even local officials can fall victim to their own limited success.  Yet, all of this man’s power did not blunt his investigation into life’s most important question. 

He had achieved success in his youth (Matthew 19:22) and it makes this encounter even more surprising.  Such concerns of eternity often do not enter a person’s thinking until death is more of a reality.  That is a concern for the elderly.  Younger years are generally reserved for career planning and romance seeking.  Jobs, families and fun take center stage.  Obviously, this man had few job concerns but was certainly subject to other distractions of a young life.  Clearly, something had stirred his awareness of an issue that stretched beyond this lifetime.

Not only did he have age and power on his side, but he also had possessions which pose an unexpected threat.  They give a faulty sense of security about which the Lord warned the Israelites on their way to the promised Land (Deuteronomy 8).  Paul instructed Timothy to teach about the dangers of prosperity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).  Money is never the problem; attitude is.  This young ruler was very rich, and that would prove to be his undoing.

He had a life that most of us could only imagine, but he had a single deficiency that would cost him the only thing that matters.  His age would become irrelevant, as would his power and riches.  Jesus exposed that flaw because He loved him (Mark 10:21).  The Lord knew what held him back from fully following Him, and told him.  Call it tough love.  It was more than the man was willing to do.  It grieved him (Mark 10:22).  The bank account meant more to him than eternal life.  He left.    

It is an unholy trinity: the sense of invincibility that comes with youth, the intoxication of worldly power, and the distorted sense of self-confidence that worldly prosperity brings.  The man who seemed to have it all wound up with nothing because he was unwilling to totally place himself in the hands of the Lord.  His trust was misplaced.  Is ours?

Youth will give way to wrinkles and sags.  Power comes and goes.  Thieves, time or nature will ultimately take our precious possessions.  All that truly matters is our relationship with the Lord.  Are we willing to trust Him unconditionally and totally?  Or are we like that rich young ruler who lacked one thing?  He swapped eternal life for just one thing.  One!  Will we?          

Lifelines February 17, 2019

Jericho was locked up tight as a drum (Joshua 6).  The Lord said that He had given the city into their hands, but there was that wall.  It stood in between the promise and the reality.  What were they to do about that seemingly insurmountable object?  Should they call the army corps of engineers?  Consult a political subcommittee?  Take up battering rams?  The God of the promise was also the God of the means.  Follow His instructions, the wall will fall and the city would be theirs.

A human demolition professional did not draw up the plans for leveling that wall.  Neither did an efficiency expert.  Nothing happened on the first day of implementing the Lord’s plan.  Ditto day two, three, four, five and six.  Surely, questions popped into their collective minds about the leadership that had produced no success after a half-dozen days.  In our microwave world, impatience would certainly have rippled through the ranks.  Day seven began just as uneventfully.  It looked like certain failure.  Round-and-round they went.  Results: Zero, except maybe a little ridicule from observers.  Just be quiet and march were their directions, and so they did.

Day seven did not end the way that it began.  As they completed their seventh lap around the city walls, they shouted, the priests blasted the trumpets and the wall collapsed.  God had given them the city.  He had provided the way in which they would receive it.  The only question to be answered was whether they trusted the Lord enough to obey His commands so that they would receive His gift.  That is still the question.

Hebrews 11:30 reveals the key.  Their accomplishment was not due to the fact that they marched better than anyone else.  Nor was it because the priests were superbly skilled at blowing those horns.  No, it was faith in God that knocked that barrier down.  Faith in Him, His gift, and the way to receive it.  It is an early portrait of the interaction of grace (The gift) and faith (The way to receive the gift). 

Salvation comes by means of that same grace and faith (Ephesians 2:8).  It is a gift, but an obstacle stands in the way.  Sin looms menacing and apparently impenetrable with the Lord and salvation on the other side.  How can we possibly get that wall to fall?  What composes ours?  The next party?  Anger?  Immorality?  Doubt?  Fear?  Jealousy?  Apathy?  The bricks stack up.  Nothing but the blood of Jesus can knock them down.  All of the blessings of God both now and eternally await us on the other side of that wall.  Belief strong enough in the Giver and the gift to follow His directions will clear the way.  When that faith meets God’s grace, we march right through walls into heaven.

Lifelines February 10, 2019

It was a pitiful collection of “Christians.”  They hardly displayed any of the expected characteristics.  Embarrassing immorality was tolerated, maybe even with a wink and a knowing smirk.  See, you can come here and never change a thing. To call this a church seemed to be an insult to the Lord.  They were a pretty ragged bunch.

Squabbling found a comfy home there.  Criticism and division fragmented the congregation.  Everybody was in somebody’s camp.  They imagined themselves to be spiritual giants when they were in reality infants.  Childish vision saw adults in the mirror.  Gifts were sprinkled throughout their number, but they had never grown up.  They only thought they had.  Growth is always stunted for those who believe that they have already reached maturity.

We might rub elbows with such a group for a minute, but genuine Christians would never have fellowship with them.  After all, they had sin and division right there in their midst, and that was just the beginning of the problems we would find in these babies.  They could not possibly be a real church, at least, not a faithful one.  The descriptive words of the Lord come unexpectedly.

“To the church of God which is at Corinth to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling…(1 Corinthians 1:1)”  Huh?  He claims this ragged collection of sinners as His church?  And they are sanctified?  That means “holy,” right?  They hardly appear that way.  Saints, you say?  That’s what he called them.  The Holy Spirit guided Paul to assess them very differently. 

Yes, they were riddled with problems.  The world had seeped in to stain the saints, but the Lord had not rejected them.  The rest of the letter addresses their many issues, but they were not consigned to the trash heap because of them.  Their history would make a politician blush, but our Lord is compassionate and forgiving.  Jesus died to forgive us of our sins, even the worst of them, but that isn’t the whole story.

Jesus was once confronted with a situation in which a woman had been caught in adultery, and the penalty for that was death (Where was the man?) (John 8:1-11).  That incident reveals not only the compassion and forgiveness of the Lord, but also His direct order: Stop sinning!  The same was said in different words to the Corinthians (6:9-11).  They had been cleaned up.  Don’t go back to the mud.

We all have a history of sin.  Some are bad.  Others worse.  A few are unspeakably horrible.  None are unforgiveable.  Faced with the prospects of killing the Christ, guilty Jews were told to repent and be baptized in the name of the one they had murdered (Acts 2:36-38).  Jesus offers hope for everyone, even the worst of us.