Lifelines August 01, 2021

The church of Christ is an extraordinary body comprised of remarkably ordinary people.  We struggle with finances, sin, neighbors, the state of the world, demanding schedules and a thousand and one other distractions.  We are hurt, disappointed, angry, sad, lonesome and heartbroken.  Yet, in the midst of it all, we are richly blessed.  Admittedly, it is hard to reconcile all that we experience and feel with the notion that we are the objects of almighty God’s special affection.

There are times when life throws more at us than we can handle leaving us frazzled and overwhelmed.  Sickness and death do not stop.  Loved ones turn on us.  Those we thought were dependable and trustworthy are not.  Friends betray us.  Our inner circle abandons us.  People spread lies about us.  It actually sounds exactly like the experience of Jesus.  He has traveled the road we are on and understands it perfectly well.  This world is a rough and tumble place.  The Lord isn’t caught off guard by this (John 16:33).  He knows.

To expect otherwise is a mistake.  The church does not lift us out of the tribulations that are inescapable in this creation, but she does provide a support system.  We are no longer alone, solitary figures trying to fight our way through the injustices that we face.  We are part of a kingdom that is indestructible.  That is the Lord’s plan and promise.

David was as special as they come.  He was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).  He was the Lord’s handpicked king to lead His people (1 Samuel 16:12).  He wrote many of the psalms, including the beloved twenty-third, which is likely the most famous of them all.  Yet, his legacy is scarred by some of the most horrible sins.  His resume includes adultery and murder.  We will be terribly disappointed if we are looking for a collection of perfect people.  The church is comprised of anything but.

We could draw up a list of biblical heroes from Genesis to Revelation and not a one of them would be flawless.  Check the genealogy of our Savior in the first chapter of the New Testament and discover quite a few sketchy characters.  It is His somewhat-embarrassing family tree and through them God brought His Son to save us from our sins.  Spotless is not exactly the word to describe them.  He was.  They were not.

That brings us to His church; twenty-first century edition.  It can often be a ragtag looking assortment of sin-scarred folks with ugly histories.  That is a human perspective.  God sees us differently.  He looks through the blood of the lamb and sees forgiven sons and daughters.  He holds us near and dear.  We are His family.  What an astonishing portrait it is.  As scruffy and disheveled as we may appear to each other, He calls us His children.  It is quite amazing, isn’t it?        

Lifelines July 25, 2021

“Thy will be done.”  They are four simple words filled with significance.  It takes subordination of our wants and wishes to the much more expansive knowledge possessed by our Creator.  There seems to be a self-destructive nature within most, if not all, of us.  It is fed by alcohol, drugs, sex, smoking, over-eating and dozens of other harmful habits.  All of these are evidence of just how deep the need is for His will to take control.

The Son of God was not exempt from the anxiety of carrying out His Father’s plan (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46).  He faced the most traumatic event in eternity in giving His life for all the sins of all humanity for all time.  Such a burden is beyond comprehension, and He collapsed beneath the stress.  He knew the depths of the agony that He would soon endure, so He prayed fervently and tearfully.  He pleaded for a change, but it was not to be.  Had His Father turned a deaf ear? 

No, His righteousness had kept the channels of communication open (Hebrews 5:7).  God is both forgiving and just.  The penalty for sin was set, had to be paid and it rested on His perfectly sinless shoulders to do so.  His Father heard His prayer which included, “Thy will be done.”  It was a self-denying acceptance of the ultimate plan of God to rescue us from that self-destructive course that sin leads us on (Galatians 1:4).  

Paul had his famous “thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)” for which he asked God for relief.  He was tormented by the Satanic messenger and begged the Lord on multiple occasions to remove it.  The answer was repeatedly no.  In that experience the apostle was taught the sufficiency of grace.  God’s will?  Clearly. 

Recognizing his own weakness opened Paul’s eyes to his need for the grace and power of God.  Reliance on himself was a shaky foundation upon which to build his ministry.  Dependence on the Lord was essential.  It is for us, too.  It is much easier to spot the weakness of others than it is to identify our own.  Self-reflection is uncomfortable yet necessary.

Isaiah saw the glory of God up close and personal (Isaiah 6:1-7).  It knocked him to his knees as he realized his own unworthiness and those of the people around him.  It was an unnerving encounter to catch a glimpse of the holy God.  Stepping closer clarifies our vision of just how incomparably magnificent and pure our Lord is.  We need Him and His cleansing.

The Son of God, as perfect and sinless as He was, prayed the prayer.  Paul accepted the education that came through his “thorn in the flesh,” and learned the lesson of grace.  Isaiah saw his own unworthiness.  “Thy will be done.”  It takes humility plus a willingness to relinquish control.  Neither is easy.  Both are life-changing.              

Lifelines July 18, 2021

There once was a time in which it was a high compliment to describe a person as “God-fearing.”  Whatever happened to those days?  To stand in awe of the Lord is an attitude held by very few anymore, and it is evident in our culture.  It reflects a total dismissal of the Almighty Creator before whom we will all stand in judgment.   Eternal destinations will be revealed that day.

Respect for God has waned rapidly in recent years to the point that many now doubt His very existence.  Despite the wonders of His creation bearing witness of Him, skeptics seem to be winning the day.  They see the sun, moon, stars, planets, and all of the wondrous creatures and conclude that it was all the product of a big bang.  Humans are nothing more than the winners in a survival of the fittest.  Such a process either marginalizes an all-powerful God or eliminates Him altogether.         

That is the world in which we live.  Has it seeped into the church?  Do we still stand totally awe-struck before God?  Or have we watered down our concept of Him?  As we break bread and share the juice of communion, do we fully comprehend the significance of that moment?  The Son of God’s battered body hanging on a cross, giving His all for us.  Blood from His back, brow, hands and feet draining the life from Him.  So horrible is sin and so great is His love. 

We come before a God of infinite love and perfect justice who is both compassionate and capable of wrath.  Whatever happened to the fear of the Lord, that attitude that recognizes our dependence on Him for every breath we take and accountable to Him for how we treat Him?  Scripture reveals attributes that grab our attention.  There is no other source that provides insight into His nature.

Rome had its share of those who knew God but did not want to be bothered with Him (Romans 1:21-32).  It began a downward spiral that we see mirrored in our own time.  Theology will inevitably leave its mark on society, and the minimizing or removal of God from our thinking leads to sin and that results in self-destruction.  The same is inescapably true of His church.

A distorted view of the great “I am” may be more common than a total rejection of Him.  His word exposes us to unexpected attributes, and we may choose to focus on some to the neglect of others.  From Genesis to Revelation, we have the facts about this unseen God that He wants us to know.  Disregarding any of them leaves us with an incomplete picture. The God of creation wants us to know Him, and that demands an investigation of His own revelation about Himself.  It’s a wonder, isn’t it?  He exposed His heart to us.  Now, it’s our turn

Lifelines July 11, 2021

We look back on the dozen men that Jesus selected to be apostles with high expectations.  After all, they would spend several years on the road with the Lord, be entrusted with the most important information in all the world and sent on a global mission.  Only the cream of the crop would be suited for such a task, right?  Not exactly.  They were not supermen but ordinary men with calloused hands, questionable characters and shady histories.  In other words, people just like us.

They were hardly a collection of bluebloods.  They were comprised of commoners; a few fishermen, at least one tax collector and several unknowns.  These men were hand-picked by Jesus Himself after a night of prayer (Luke 6:12).  He had stirred the synagogue into a frenzy with a marvelous act of healing which, rather than being met with joy, infuriated the establishment (Luke 6:6-11).  That sequence of conflict and prayer set the table for selecting the men to carry on the work after He was no longer on earth.

He was fully aware of the men that He chose and the challenges that they would meet.  He was not caught off-guard when Judas turned out to be a traitor (John 6:64) nor when Peter wilted as the pressure mounted (John 13:36-38).  He was completely conscious of what He was sending these all-too-human men into (John 17:13-18).  So, the Lord of the universe in human flesh prayed.  He communed with His Father all night.  Then He chose.

They watched as He took on the frailties of humanity.  The throngs came to listen. The sick, suffering and demon-possessed crowded Him seeking healing (Luke 6:17-19).  Apostolic eyes were opened to the enormity of the world’s needs.  He turned conventional wisdom on its head.  Blessings and woes were painted with a very different brush (Luke 6:20-:26).  He demanded a radical new approach to enemies and exploiters with the motivating factor being the imitation of the Father’s love and mercy.  This, indeed, was very different.

He chose them to spend time with Him and that He could send them out (Mark 6:14).  It seems like a pretty risky venture to commission such ordinary men with such an extraordinary task, especially with the knowledge He had of them and the opposition they would face.  Nevertheless, that was His strategy.  How did it go?  They were beaten, imprisoned, hated and executed.  Losses usually outnumbered victories.  Generally, they anonymously went about their task with no written history to tell their stories.  In other words, they were people just like us.

The good news is that their work lives on in the Lord’s church.  So will ours.  Our influence will echo for generations.  Lives we touch will touch others.  It is a remarkable prospect.  Jesus took a dozen ordinary men, gave them an assignment and the world has never been the same.  Imagine what He can do with us.                          

Lifelines July 04, 2021

Grab the burgers and hot dogs; It’s Independence Day.  Grills are fired up all across the country as we enjoy our yearly celebration of freedom.  Today, our thoughts revolve around the blessing of liberty and those who fought to gain and maintain it.  It is a time of remembrance in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  It falls on Sunday this year, and that marks a much more significant liberation.

Sin enslaves with invisible shackles.  We cannot see it, but its influence is clear.  In a country that enjoys extraordinary material blessings, it is easy to overlook the devastation that comes from sin.  Big houses are coupled with empty souls.  Bible believers see it clearly and mourn the moral decline that has a strangle-hold on much of our society.  Unfortunately, there is a widespread embrace of the immorality and the imaginary freedom that it offers.  It is fraudulent and has been since the Garden of Eden.  Slavery in solid gold chains is slavery none-the-less.

Spiritual captivity is the worst.  It distorts vision and hardens the heart.  Reasoning suffers and souls are destroyed.  Sin dictates actions, and the slaves can’t even recognize it.  Jesus came to set us free from that.  When the Lord presented the means by which they could be liberated, the Jews were stunned and indignant.  They failed to recognize their own history, their current conditions or their need for the Son of God (John 8:31-36).  Much of the world continues under the same delusion.  Satan is a very clever slave master.

The devil dangled before the Lord the satisfaction for His physical needs.  He challenged Him with the spiritually spectacular.  He tempted Him with power and prestige.  His scheme utilized a distortion of the word of God (Matthew 4:1-11).  All of those efforts failed, but we gain insight into his methodology.  He will exploit our weaknesses, purposes and even our faith to bring us into captivity.  Deceiving us into underestimating Him might be his greatest delusion.    

The first day of each week we come together to remember our liberation from such a crafty creature.  Sin is no longer master over us, thanks to the blood of our Savior which offered everyone a way to break the bonds.  So, we are reminded through the simple elements of the Lord’s Supper.  We tend to lose focus and the chains begin to gather around us again.  The evil one is still lurking just outside our door everyday (Genesis 4:7).  Some things never change. 

Freedom is never free, regardless of whether it is physical or spiritual.  We feel deep gratitude for those who fought and died to free our nation.  How much more should we feel an enormous sense of appreciation for the Son of God who sacrificed everything to set us free?  It is a day of remembrance: We have been liberated.  Happy July 4th!                      

Lifelines June 27, 2021

Societal pressures weigh heavily on us to conform.  It comes from peers, and increasingly from the government of a country which is supposedly “one nation under God.”  Evidence does not support the claim.  Laws that are in total rebellion against the precepts of the Lord are making their way through the channels that will make them mandatory.  This is not new. 

Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah faced the very same situation.

They were the religious minority, and that will inevitably lead to conflict.  The opposition had powerful allies in high places, and they did not hesitate to seek to squash these men.  All they stood for was on the line.  Worship.  Honor.  Loyalty to their God.  The mandate had come from the highest levels of government, and they were forced to make a brutally difficult decision.  It was literally a matter of life and death.  That is pressure!

Obey or face a ruthless execution.  Those were their options, and the penalty for defiance was indescribably horrible.  Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah refused, even though they knew exactly what that meant.  It was a cost-counting that almost defies understanding.  They weighed the choices and determined that they trusted the invisible God more than they feared the torture of men. 

They were sentenced to death for their defiance.  It came as no surprise when the authorities dragged them away to face the furious ruler and ultimately to suffer and die.  It was the culmination of an intensely evil scheme against three men because they were dedicated to their God.  They gave no thought to compromise or yielding because of the threat of harm.  It was a genuine conspiracy to do them in, and it was working perfectly.  Or so it seemed.

The execution failed.  Oh, it was carried out but unsuccessfully.  The three walked away unscathed.  It had been a foolproof plan with one fatal flaw.  The perpetrators had not taken into account the Lord’s involvement.  Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah clung to God’s hand, trusting Him even in the midst of the legislated pressure that attempted to force them into conformity.  He did not let them down.  They had confidence in Him, and He came through.

Do we have such confidence?  As our culture drifts further away from Godliness and biblical principles, where do we stand?  With the Lord or with the culture?  Will we bow down to the god of this world?  Even if it becomes a life-or-death issue?  No, it isn’t yet but who knows what the future holds?  Now is the time to make that decision, before the pressure mounts anymore.  Who do we trust?

Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah put all of their trust in the Lord, and He saved them even through a fiery furnace.  We know them better as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  Read their episode in Daniel 3.  Their God is our God, too.  Trust Him.  No matter what.            

Lifelines June 20, 2021

We come into the church with a fresh, new beginning and eyes looking through the rosiest of glasses.  We have seen the Scriptures and the love that dominates and shapes every relationship.  At least, that is the way that we see it in the word of God.  Then, we run face-first into a reality that falls far short of the ideal and the rose-colored glasses are shattered.  If it just wasn’t for people…

We are thrilled as we figure out the Lord’s intentions for salvation and worship, but then we must deal with the sometimes-sloppy business of relationships.  That’s where it gets complicated.  Forgiveness is a concept that we joyfully, gratefully embrace.  God, through the shed blood of His Son, has forgiven us of all our sins.  Praise the Lord, right?  Absolutely, but there is more to the picture.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).”  Forgiveness does not stop at our door.  It flows through us to those around us.  Here we see one of the great challenges for sincere disciples.  We quickly accept the sacrifice that Jesus made so that we might be forgiven but passing it on is another matter.  The cross is a brutal reminder of just how costly our forgiveness was. 

The Son of God was nailed to a cross, easy to say but terribly difficult to comprehend.  How could the Father send the Son on such a mission for a world that for-the-most-part did not care and had no interest in giving up their sinful lifestyles?  And now we are supposed to imitate that?  If forgiveness is costly, unforgiveness is even more.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:14-15).”  What if our willingness to forgive turned out to be a measuring stick for the Lord to use on us?  It certainly seems that way from His words.  Is being unforgiving an unforgivable sin?

The Dead Sea offers an object lesson from nature.  Fresh water flows in but not out.  So, it ends there, and the results are revealed in its name.  It is dead.  Fish cannot live there because it has such a high concentration of minerals.  The bounty that flows in never moves on.  It is terminal and snuffs out any life.  Are we that way with the blessings of God?  Particularly forgiveness?  Does it flow in but never out?  Does it stop with us?

Indeed, human relationships can be messy.  We all stumble and stray out into the darkness.  The prodigal parable (Luke 15:11-32) shows us the mercy and forgiveness of the Father who ran to welcome his wayward son home.  The older brother was huffy.  Grace and forgiveness are hard to understand.  Even harder to pass on.  

Lifelines June 13, 2021

I wonder what it would have been like to hear Jesus pray.  His eternal harmonious relationship was different.  He had taken on flesh.  He knew the temptations, frustrations and disappointments that come along in this world.  He was simultaneously deity and humanity with facts in His head that we do not possess.  His prayers had captured the attention of the disciples (Luke 11:1-13).  They had watched and heard Him, had shared heartaches and headaches with the One sent to save the world and they wanted to learn. 

His first words reverberate with relationship, “Our Father…” Some versions simply say, “Father.”  Imagine that!  He was instructing His followers in the art of prayer, and He begins with that relational word: Father.  How rich.  How intimate.  How amazing to be able to come into the presence of the almighty Creator and address Him as our Father. 

The concept has been so watered down that it has all but lost its meaning.  What should we have in mind that originally started in His? Is He like our dad?  If so, how?  While human fathers will always fall short of the ideal, they often shape our thoughts about our heavenly one.  He is different.  He has no flaws and presents the perfect execution of the concept.

He knows exactly what we need before we ever utter a word (Matthew 6:4).  We do not have to explain.  That not only alleviates our worries about physical necessities but also sheds new light on our approach to Bible study.  How often do we approach it with the understanding that our Father knows what we need, and the Scriptures provide it?  Both facts and directions, what we need to know and what we need to do are in there. 

Even though He has such intimate awareness of us, He still wants us to talk to Him.  He knows but doesn’t command us to be speechless before Him.  His word consistently directs us to His throne of grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).  He is our Father and waits to hear from us in good times and bad, in joy and in sorrow (James 5:13).

God lovingly disciples His children.  It is never a pleasant process, but He is shaping our character and bringing it into conformity with His (Hebrews 12:4-11).  That can be painful at times but essential.  He is holy.  It is the family trait that He is working into us.  We will slowly begin to look like our Father.  It is an exciting prospect in which He is involved.  We yield.  He does His work.  Righteousness is the outcome.

The first words that Jesus taught about prayer direct attention to the relationship that we have with the God of the universe.  What a notion!  Happy Father’s Day to all you dads, and never forget the One is out of sight but never out of reach.              

Lifelines June 06, 2021

The mere mention of the Holy Spirit leaves many of us scratching our heads.  He is a mystery.  We have come to somewhat of an understanding about God the Father.  The Bible reveals much of His character, and although our comprehension of an unlimited Being is indeed very limited we gain a notion of what He is like.  Jesus put flesh on the infinite.  God in a person became a visible representation of deity.  We gain insight from the One who came searching for the lost in order to save them.  The Holy Spirit still lingers in the shadows of our minds.

John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus.  The Spirit-inspired prophets had set the table, and the time was right for the introduction of the Savior.  John stepped onto the stage to perform his task but before he did, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In fact, the filling occurred before he was even born (Luke 1:15).  Clearly, the Spirit had a central role in God’s plans.

The Holy Spirit was the means by which the Son of God was produced in Mary (Luke 1:35) and descended in a visible form like a dove at the baptism of Jesus as a voice from heaven announced the unique nature of the One who was being baptized (Luke 3:21-22).  It was the same Spirit that soon led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-2).  He is an active yet mysterious being. That confrontation with the schemes of the evil one was essential. 

Jesus paid an incredible price to save us from our sins, and the Holy Spirit has always been a part of that.  We may not understand Him, but He is integral to the process.  The encounter with the devil was a prerequisite to being a merciful and faithful High priest, a role that He occupies to this day.  He sympathizes with our temptations because He has been through them.  The Spirit saw to that.

Jesus told the apostles to stay in Jerusalem after His ascension until the Holy Spirit empowered them for their expanding mission.  Sounds and sights unlike any ever seen.  Uneducated men began to speak in foreign languages, and crowds from around the world were totally confused.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit were behind all that was seen and heard that day, and the church took shape.  Peter’s answer to the question of the Jews about their guilt in crucifying the Lord and Christ was twofold:  Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus.  That would bring about forgiveness, even of their grievous sin, and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is a promise from God that has extended from that day to this one (Acts 2:38-39).  He may mystify us, but He remains vital and worthy of careful study.

Lifelines May 30, 2021

Jesus led His disciples up the mountain and crowds followed.  He shared with them a profound exposition of what it means to be a disciple (Matthew 5, 6 & 7).  The notion of blessing was turned on its head.  The true depths of the Old Covenant law were exposed as heart issues.  He taught of secretly helping the needy, privately praying and not flaunting personal acts of self-discipline.  God sees in secret.  Even His closing remarks opened up the reality of the challenges of true discipleship that few will meet.  It is a matter of taking the Lord at His word and living it out.  Any other lifestyle will ultimately crumble.  It was a true mountain-top experience, and the people were amazed.

The mountains have been special places throughout biblical history.  Noah’s ark came to rest on a mountain following the flood (Genesis 8:4).  The ten commandments were delivered in a remarkable demonstration of the power of the Lord on a mountain (Exodus 19:18-20:18).  Moses gave instructions for both blessings and curses to be proclaimed from mountains (Deuteronomy 27:12-13), and Joshua carried out those orders exactly as they had been written (Joshua 8:30-35).  The mountain-top has always been a special place.

Jesus led Peter, James and John to a mountain for an experience that they would never forget (Matthew 17:1-8).  They saw the Lord in dazzling splendor with Moses and Elijah who had lived so long before.   Peter was so taken by what he saw that he wanted to build something to mark the occasion.  That is when the voice from heaven spoke.  The message was clear and surely etched indelibly in their minds. Listen to my Son.  Then comes verse 9: They came down the mountain. 

Life is not lived on the mountain-top.  It is lived in the valley where sin resides.  They came down to find a father in despair over the pitiful condition of his son, and the disciples had been powerless to help.  It was a faith problem (Verses 19-20).  It took enough faith to pray for the problem to be solved and the boy to be cured.  Faith, or lack of it, was the issue in the valley of despair.  It still is.

Occasionally we have our own mountain-top experiences.  It is not a miraculous time but one of keener insight and a feeling of being closer to God, alone with our Creator and it lifts our sagging spirits and fortifies our souls.  But then comes the trudge down that mountain and into the sin-ravaged world in which we feel powerless.  It is a genuine test of our faith.  The Lord is the only hope for the hopeless and the only cure for the sick.  Jesus posed the question when talking about prayer, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?”  Well, will He?  Faith enough to pray?