Lifelines April 18, 2021

It might seem to be fairly insignificant.  We come together each Sunday to worship God, remember the Son and His sacrifice, to encourage one another to love and good deeds, and in the midst of that we sing.  Sometimes our minds wander through the events of last week or the coming demands on our calendars.  Life is so busy; it makes it easy to disengage and thoughtlessly sing the words.  We make sounds with our lips while our hearts are sleeping.

It’s just singing.  We might read the bulletin, write a check, make a grocery list or simply daydream.  None of those are bad things but inappropriate for the important assignment of singing.  God notices, “’THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN (Matthew 15:8-9.’”  It is a thought brought forth from Isaiah.  If Jesus addressed a problem that God through the prophet pointed out hundreds of years before, it must be significant to Him.

Singing is much more than just an attempt to be melodious.  “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…(Ephesians 5:18-19).”  The very first indication of a Spirit-filled life as described by Paul is singing which hardly makes it inconsequential.  Skill is not emphasized.  In fact, it isn’t even mentioned, but the heart is.  The Lord is listening.  Are we?

No, not to how well others produce a melody but to the words that are traveling off the page and out of our lips?  Are they coming from within or are we offering them superficially? “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also (1 Corinthians 14:15).”  Do we?  Are we soul-searching as we sing?  Do we really mean it when we sing, “All to Jesus I surrender?” 

The Lord’s people must pay close attention to His message lest we get off track.  Drifting is subtle, dangerous and awfully easy (Hebrews 2:1-4).  Singing is one of the safeguards against it.  “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16-17).”  Embodying His word, sharing it with others and filling our hearts with gratitude are all powerful measures to maintain our focus.

Singing may seem to be just punctuation between the other elements of our assembly, but that is not an eternal perspective.  Our audience is far larger than those in the room with us, and He is listening intently to our hearts.                           

Lifelines April 11, 2021

A talking bush is a pretty big clue that God has a special assignment for you, especially when that shrub is on fire but not burning up.  Suddenly, the ground on which Moses stood was holy.  The Lord has a way about that, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.  After all, He took dust and formed a human.  Who can begin to imagine what He can do with a person?

This baby-in-a-basket was all grown up.  He had bounced around from the royal household to murderer to fugitive to shepherd, and now vegetation was telling him that he would be the great liberator of his people.  Life’s experiences had prepared him for this moment, but he didn’t think so.  His was more of a “Who me?” response.  He felt woefully inadequate for such a task.  So, God’s chosen deliverer lacked confidence; not exactly what we look for in a hero.

He resisted as he pulled out every excuse in the book.  “What do I tell them when they ask who sent me?”  “What if they don’t believe me?”  “I’m the wrong man.  I am not a very good speaker.” The Lord met every objection and pushed him out with Aaron, a more polished spokesman.  Next stop: Pharoah.  Surely, a mission from God’s own lips will meet with immediate success. 

Well, not exactly.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  Conditions for the slaves grew worse.  The work was made even more difficult.  Here is a hesitant, insecure freedom fighter and his sidekick confronting the power structure at God’s direction, and they instantly failed miserably.  That was not exactly a confidence booster nor a situation that would build support among the people. 

The slaves quickly turned on the liberators.  The burdens became heavier, and everybody grew grumpier.  Pharoah called the Israelites lazy as they looked at Moses and Aaron as the cause of their headaches.  All-in-all, this has the appearance of a horrible failure of a mission.  An unwilling leader and suspicious followers.  These are God’s people and this is His plan?  Seems doubtful.

Moses wondered, “Why?”  His assignment had turned out all wrong.  Why had the Lord hurt these people?  Why was he sent?  Nothing made sense.  He offered words of reassurance but their discouragement and cruel bondage deafened their ears.  That was about as low as it could get.  Four centuries of slavery.  A hard-hearted pharaoh.  A beat-down people.  And an old man who didn’t want to be there to begin with who had no support among the slaves.  This is what God intended?

The rest of the story is even more amazing.  The Lord stepped in with a dazzling demonstration of His power.  He showed with increasing ferocity that He would free His people.  It looked impossible, and it was…without divine intervention.  It always is.  Salvation demands a heavenly solution which only He can provide.  For the Israelite slaves.  For us, too.                  

Lifelines April 04, 2021

It was a brutal collision when perfection ran into a creation that had been shaped by sin.  Deity took on flesh and blood, and sparks flew.  It started innocently enough with a baby born on the fringes of society among the animals.  Oh yes, a few knew.  Mary and Joseph were let in on the secret.  Shepherds in a field were notified.  Sometime later a star marked the way for wise men.  An unnerved king butchered babies, and the infant Messiah was shuttled off to Egypt. There were clues along the way but nothing openly definitive.

Three decades passed before He went public and rocked the establishment.  The Son of God met with perpetual conflict from the covenant people of God.  He simply did not behave as they had determined that he should.  The prophets had laid the groundwork and John the Baptist proclaimed His arrival, but this was not what they expected.  He violated their self-imposed principles and exposed their hypocrisy.  As we might have predicted, they did not receive it well.

He suffered in every way imaginable.  He bore our sins.  He was rejected.  Beaten.  Spit upon.  He experienced it all.  He had to.  It was essential, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).”  For Jesus to become everything we needed, He had to suffer.  It brought Him to completion. 

He was educated through those experiences.  We speak of “the college of hard knocks,” but He earned His degree in a way that we never will.  He has a PHD in suffering.  There is a vast difference between “book-learning” and being involved in the tussle.  He knows the blood, sweat and tears that come with the warfare of this world.  It is one troublesome place, and He overcame it.  He leads us to victory and opened the door to the Lord of grace and mercy (Hebrews 4:14-16).  His blood marks the trail.

He is everything for us because of His suffering.  There is nothing apart from that.  He learned through suffering.  He was perfected in the same way.  Having been schooled through the process, Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for the obedient (Hebrews 5:8-10).  The offer is on the table for every soul who will yield.  The Son of God stepped away from the glory which He had always shared with His Father so that He could suffer to save us.  It is the story of a love so amazing that we can scarcely take it in. 

It isn’t so much that we embrace the gospel as it is that the gospel embraces us.  It seizes our hearts, and we are changed from the inside out.  Suffering has always been an integral part of the program.  Jesus first, and we follow (Romans 8:16-17).    

Lifelines March 28, 2021

It is a remarkable education to study the work of God in history.  His people experienced extraordinary ups and downs.  Their story involved centuries of slavery, a miraculous deliverance and decades of wilderness wanderings.  They watched incredible plagues leading up to their liberation and inexplicable provisions in the wilderness.  Their path included stops and starts choreographed by fire and clouds.  He is truly the Lord of the unpredictable.

He used wicked men to carry out His plans.  Who could have anticipated that His means of providing eternal life would be through the death of His own Son at the hands of ungodly people (Acts 2:23)?  We think in worldly terms, and He acts on heavenly ones.  The only means that we have of understanding Him is His revelation.  Even then, our preconceived ideas can distort our perceptions.  The Lord explained to His people through Habakkuk that they couldn’t believe His actions even if someone explained it to them (1:5). 

He set forth both expectations and the promise of blessings to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3).  It called for a combination of sacrifice and faith.  God’s clock doesn’t run like ours.  In fact, He doesn’t seem to have a clock or calendar at all.  At least, not synchronized to ours.  He has His own unique timetable.  Twenty-five years after the initial promise to make him a great nation, a single child was born, and that one after Abram had tried to rush the plan along.  Centuries came and went before the ultimate promise was fulfilled.  Time is definitely not of the essence when it comes to our Lord’s schedule.  For Him one day is like…well, you know (2 Peter 3:8).

Jesus encountered a blind man, surely the consequences of sin, right (John 9)?  Wrong.  He would be a revelation of God’s handiwork, a physical demonstration of a much-needed spiritual reality.  The power to open eyes is in the hands of the Son of God.  And just how did He take care of this man’s need?  He spit on the ground, made mud and plopped it in his eyes.  Really?   Still, he couldn’t see until he followed the instructions to go rinse it out in a specific pool.  The cause of his problem was not what was expected and the cure was anything but what could have been anticipated.  We cannot second-guess the Lord.

The Son of God came as a visible, human expression of His Father, and He surprised people His whole brief life.  He broke down social barriers and extended love to the outcasts and rejects.  He had compassion for the lost and forgotten.  He extended grace to the rich and powerful as well as the poor and suffering.  We should not be surprised, “For God so loved the world…”  All of it.  Every bit.  God saw the mess that sin created and rather than condemn He sent His Son to save us.  Who would have ever guessed?     

Lifelines March 21, 2021

Welcome to the incredible journey.  It begins today.  Yesterday’s leg of the trip is over, and there is no do-over of those steps.  Tomorrow exists only in promise.  The here and now is all we have.  Our course is up to us, but remember that whichever we choose has never-ending consequences.  Many influences await to attract our attention.  Distractions drag our focus to the temporary while the eternal fades into the background.

We have come out of the darkness with squinting eyes into the brightness of the Lord’s light.  For some of us, it was decades ago and for others it was more recently.  Either way, it is a radical change.  The whole world appears different.  Once attractive activities lose their appeal.  We question the wisdom of certain friendships that add nothing to our ambitions in this new pursuit.  Some of our buddies pull against us or even put hurdles in the way.  This is unique and uncomfortable.  Old comfort zones are inviting.       

We learned that our lifestyles were out of harmony with the tune of our Creator.  The notes were sour and painful to hear.  His sweet melody drew us to the pursuit of something better, a quest that challenges our morals and tests our ethics.  This is a trip like no other.  The transformation from a purely fleshly perspective to a spiritual one is a struggle.  Those old desires still tug at us, and yielding is an ongoing temptation.

Everybody has their own version of Egypt.  God liberates His children from the slavery of sin just as He freed the Israelites from their captivity.  They wanted to return almost as soon as they crossed the Red Sea.  Freedom is unsettling and scary for people who are accustomed to captivity.  There are choices to make.  Different forms of enslavement always lurk around the next decision.  Resistance to old habits is hard.  We want to go back.

The children of Israel marched right up to the edge of the Promised Land and saw attractive land beyond the river…and massive opposition.  Faith wavered.  Fear took over, not enemies but fear.  They never engaged the battle for the territory that God had for them.  So, they wandered, four decades of shuffling around the wilderness.  How much time do we spend in a spiritual wasteland?  Fear will take us there. 

Everyone has to negotiate the turf between slavery and the Promised Land, but fear makes it a much more difficult trip.  Even Jesus had His own wilderness experience (Matthew 4).  Temptation greeted Him as the devil taunted Him.  He overcame with the word of His Father.  We can, too. 

It is a unique journey.  From a dark, dead existence into the light; out of enslavement to Satan and his troops into freedom.  The Lord leads us through the tough terrain that we cross on the way to our ultimate destination.  It is a wondrous adventure like no other.                

Lifelines March 14, 2021

He presented himself to the Lord in an almost perfect fashion (Mark 10:17-22).  He demonstrated an enthusiasm in his approach that would surely have been an encouraging sign.  He didn’t hesitantly come to Jesus but he came in a sprint and when he arrived, he showed the greatest respect.  He fell to his knees.  Encouraging sign number two.  This was one great prospect.  Or was he?

He certainly looked good and had the right interest about eternal life.  Encouraging sign number three.  This was absolutely a can’t-miss situation.  His background was impeccable as he met the answer that Jesus gave him with an unblemished record.  He had been in compliance with the commandments since he was a kid.  Encouraging sign number four.  Who could ask for anything more? Apparently excited, sincere, obedient and asking the most important question he could ask.  This guy was surely destined to become a loyal follower of Jesus. 

Something about this man touched the Lord’s heart, and He identified a single shortcoming.  Perhaps His divine eyes saw through the impressive externals that he displayed to see a flaw of heart.  He lacked just one thing, and Jesus called him on it.  That solitary deficiency would cost him dearly because he could not give it up.  He walked away from the only Savior that could offer him the answer to his eternal question.  Just…one…thing.

The condition that he was unwilling to meet?  Sell your stuff, all of it, and give to the poor.  He was at a crossroads.  Material life on one hand or eternal life on the other but not both.  It was a moment with never ending consequences.  He weighed his options and determined that his possessions were of greater value to him than treasure in heaven.  It was a monumental decision that changed the course of his life and his destination.  What would he tell us about that choice now that he has had 2000 years to experience the consequences that will never end?

He had a lot going for him.  If we take all of the accounts we have about this incident (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-27), we learn that he was young, rich and powerful; any of which could hinder him from following the Lord.  The one that tripped him up was money.  He simply could not give it all up.  Jesus explained the danger to His disciples with a camel and needle story.  The point: Eternal life is not possible without God.  Let something stop us from following Jesus, and we will forfeit our eternity.  It is a disastrous trade.

Is there a single factor standing between us and a total commitment to Jesus?  Age?  A powerful position?  Worldly wealth?  Trusting in something temporary when the eternal hangs in the balance?  Jesus loved that man and made his misplaced priorities clear to him.  Just…one…thing.  And what about me?

Lifelines March 07, 2021

He was an unlikely prospect to be one of a few handpicked representatives of the Lord.  His resume was rather sketchy at best.  His background was not one that included rabbinical school nor had he been a loyal religious participant.  He had collected taxes, and his friends were as shady as he was.  It was from his tax booth that Jesus invited him on an improbable journey, “Follow Me (Luke 5:27).” As shocking as the invitation may have been, his acceptance was just as surprising.  Up and off he went.

There is no indication that he hesitated in his response.  He didn’t ask for a week or two to think about it.  Why he didn’t remains a mystery, but he left it all behind and began the adventure of a lifetime.  Obviously, he knew something of this one called the Christ.  His first impulse was to throw a dinner party.  That was surely an eye-opener.  The room wasn’t exactly filled with the town’s elite, and the critics were vocal.  They always are.  Religious circles seem to attract them.      

Interesting, isn’t it?  The Savior of sinners came and was surrounded by…sinners, and the ones who were supposed to be God’s people complained and criticized.  The Son of God made one of the most obvious statements imaginable to explain, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick (Luke 5:31).”  Seems pretty logical, does it not? 

To complain about Jesus being surrounded by sinners is somewhat like patients complaining because a doctor is in the middle of sick people.  We don’t expect a hospital to be filled with healthy people, and we sure want doctors to be there to help the ailing.  The Savior came searching for those who were terminally ill with the most horrible of spiritual diseases.  Satan deceives, damages and destroys God’s most treasured possession.  The Son of God came with the cure.

People today are scrambling to get the COVID-19 vaccine.  They fear getting the disease which can be deadly and are willing to wait in long lines to get their shots.  Sin is always, 100% of the time, fatal if left untreated and we are all afflicted.  How urgent is the need for what Jesus offers?  Yet, the establishment criticized the Great Physician for mixing with the sin-sick.  They were the very ones who needed Him.  We still do.

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).”   Medicine.  Turn to the Lord.  The diseased cannot keep feeding their illness.  The Son of Man did not indulge their sin or justify their actions.  He summoned them to change.  Levi (Better known as Matthew) left his past behind and followed Jesus.  We do not know much more about him, but he was one of a select dozen.  Some become famous like Peter.  Others don’t.  The Lord invites them all.     

Lifelines February 28, 2021

It was a fall that defies description or understanding.  It was not hearsay or secondhand information.  He had actually been there to hear the warning from the Lord Himself.  “Deny Me and I will deny you.”  Yet, he did the unthinkable and not just once but three times.  How could he?  Fear?  Intimidation?  Surely, he was disqualified for any future service in the work of an apostle relegated to be a mere footnote of forgotten history.  He had violated a fundamental principle.    

Jesus was not caught off guard.  He warned him.  Conditions had soured long before this moment as the storm clouds gathered on all sides.  Religious leaders and world powers collaborated to carry out their plan.  The odds were overwhelming from a human perspective.  The Lord knew better.  The eternal plan of redemption was unfolding, and the ultimate collision was on the horizon.  The old fisherman was about to get swept away in the tidal wave that he was confident he could conquer. 

It was misplaced confidence.  Uncomfortable questions were fired at him.  He had walked with Jesus.  He was educated at the feet of the master teacher.  He saw the lame walk, demons cast out and storms stilled.  He had even taken a few steps on water, but nothing had prepared him for his own wobbly knees.  He thought he could withstand any storm.  He was wrong.  The laboratory of life will surely expose our hidden weaknesses. 

He failed.  There is no way to sidestep that truth.  He denied his relationship with Jesus with increasing volume.  He sat at a distance with the enemy as they beat, mocked and spit on his Lord.  Peter had wilted at the most critical time.  Circumstances had led him to the point of surrender.  Now, what?  Where does he fit in now that he has shown that he has a breaking point and had greatly overestimated his own strength of commitment?  Where, indeed?

We have the benefit of knowing the rest of his story.  Jesus confronted him three times with the ultimate question (John 21:15-17), and three times he answered in the affirmative.  Peter went on to preach one of the most famous sermons ever (Acts 2), to be an elder in the church and to write two books of the New Testament; impressive work for such a failure.

Everyone’s resume includes victories and defeats, successes and failures.  Blood was shed to wash away the failures and defeats.  Peter was right in the middle of the strategy to make that possible.  It was a combination of insiders and outsiders, those who loved Jesus and those who hated Him.  Some probably didn’t even know who He was.  They joined forces to carry out God’s plan.  Unimaginable grace in action crucifying the lamb of God to take away our sins; yours, mine and all the failures of the world.  Peter still had a place. So, do you and I.     

Lifelines February 21, 2021

The rock star evangelist strolls to the podium with his million-dollar smile and thousand-dollar suit to assure us that God wants us to be rich like him.  He packs huge auditoriums and sells books by the truckload.  His private jet awaits to fly him off to his new vacation home.  Life is good.  He is surely a modern-day Paul…or is he?

He was known as Saul when he is introduced.  He is aggressively hostile to the disciples and dedicated to snuffing out this heretical movement.  On a journey to do just that, he was flattened by the floor.  It was one intense encounter, and this dedicated Pharisee was blinded into submission.  He had been selected by God for a special mission.  This is the original Paul, and his was hardly a jet-set life. 

The long knives came out immediately.  Conspiracies to rid the world of this turn-coat traitor were formed wherever he went.  He escaped in a basket under the cloak of darkness, suffered stonings, beatings and ship wrecks.  His history is filled with drama as he flees from one threat to another until he is finally captured and confined.  He was assigned the task of taking the message to the Gentiles, and that infuriated the establishment to the point of bloodshed.  He perpetually lived under a cloud of death threats.

Much of his story is unveiled in his journey to Rome.  He wanted to visit and had planned to do so (Romans 1:13), but it was hardly expected to be as a prisoner.  In His evangelistic career he ran into failures.  The Lord both sent him and hindered him.  He was commissioned by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2), and stopped by that same Spirit (Acts 16:6).  His plans flopped in order to get him into God’s will.  That is the story of his life.  What about ours?  Do we see our failures as part of God’s strategy to redirect us?

He was progressing up the Jewish ranks in impressive style when the Lord interrupted with a different assignment that would turn all of his associates against him.  From hero to fugitive in one eye-opening episode.  He lost his prestige and gained a nation of enemies in that moment.  He had been energetic in his persecution of the church, energetically wrong and the Lord turned him into an example (1 Timothy 12-17).  God is good, but we must never mistake our notions of Him for what that really means.

Paul was His hand-picked man for a specific mission, and it turned his world upside down.  It did not take him into a life of ease but of hardships.  He suffered because he was obedient.  Fancy accommodations were never his.  Chains were.  Confinement was.  Luxury was not.  Yet, he did not waver along his journey.  He learned the secret to contentment in every situation (Philippians 4:12).  Learning that really is our best life now.                   

Lifelines February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine’s Day!  It is a day made for expressions of love for those who are most special in our lives.  It is a time of giving.  Flower orders and candy sales boom in celebration of love, but no one ever showed it like our God.  He sent a gift far beyond all comparison.

It is a dramatic picture that is drawn through His word.  Divine hands took ordinary dust and fashioned something totally different than the cows and the birds.  It was a human made in the image of the Creator.  A perfect partner was provided, and they shared paradise until they were swayed by an evil influencer.  The crash was dramatic.  Murder within the family soon followed.  Lingering behind the scenes of the deteriorating civilization was a God who never stopped loving them even in their darkest moments. 

History reveals that His powerful arm of love expresses itself in puzzling ways.  A worldwide flood doesn’t fit neatly into our human concept.  Four hundred years of slavery seem inconsistent with an all-powerful benevolent Lord.  His chosen people being ravaged by foreign military powers, not just once but on multiple occasions, can raise a lot of doubts.  Is He truly a God of love?

Yes, He is (1 John 4:8).  It is His essence and beyond our capacity to comprehend.  Occasionally, we catch a glimpse of its greatness but fully understanding it is beyond us.  It spans the entire globe and covers every soul throughout all the ages.  At the perfect moment, He sent His most special gift.  It staggers our minds to conceive of such a move.  The deep darkness of the world was in need, and love acted.  It was like nothing ever seen before.

Angels proclaimed it to…shepherds?  Surely, this child should have been announced to the kings and dignitaries first.  The press agent certainly blew this one.  And to be born in that little village among the animals?  How common.  As an adult He rubbed elbows with the sleazy tax-collectors and the unsavory sinners.  This kind of love sure was strange.  He even talked with Samaritans and divorced ones, at that. 

It is quite a demonstration of the Lord’s love.  He stepped down from the throne of heaven to mix and mingle with His lost and crumbling creation.  He walked into the darkness with His everlasting light and was largely rejected.  He did it anyway.  Love is unconcerned with high hurdles and social barriers as it extends a hand to the drowning.   

Jesus dropped all the privileges of equality with God to become a servant for the needy and a sacrifice for the lost.  Love simply gives whatever it has to whoever needs it.  Prompted by His love, God gave His Son, and His Son gave His life.  Now, it’s our turn to embrace that love and share it with a world deeply in need.  Happy Valentine’s Day!