Lifelines March 29, 2020

It is a book like no other.  Bible sales are measured in the billions, being far and away the best seller of all time.  We see it in cars, on pews, in homes and in virtually every place where books are found.  It is a library within itself.  Sixty-six different volumes gathered into one that offers information available no place else.  It is remarkable, to say the least.  Even more amazing, considering its extraordinary circulation and almost universal availability, is the lack of time spent considering what it says.  As if simply owning one is enough.

“In the beginning God…”  It all starts with Him.  These are His words.  If we knew nothing else of its contents, this fact alone should generate the greatest of respect for the words it contains.  Through it we gain access to the mind of our Creator.  We stand in awe of our universe and beyond.  The countless planets and stars, the marvel of the changing seasons, the wonder of the human body, birth and death all touch our hearts.  How much more should we stand amazed at the One who created it all.  We have His message in our hands.

We are educated about the nature of this unseen God.  Nature bears witness that He exists but not of His character.  We can only learn that through what He has told us.  It began in perfection but quickly degenerated through the rejection of His word.  He is Lord, and what He says stands.  He means it.  He is a God of truth and justice, love and jealousy, grace and wrath.  He floods and saves.  He forgives and disciplines.  God is far from one dimensional, and there is no way to see His fullness through purely human sources.  He is spirit and not like us. 

Its pages expose human tendencies.  From the very first stumble in a perfect environment, weakness to temptation is clear.  Sin spreads worse than the coronavirus.  It is more contagious and with worse consequences.  It is eternally deadly every time.  Society tells us that it is inconsequential.  The word of God tells us otherwise.  The evidence validates His warnings.  Every one of us is vulnerable.  History’s lessons in the biblical accounts prove the reality of sin’s devastation. 

We sin.  Each of us.  All of us.  The Bible tells us so.  God is a God of justice.  His word tells us that, too.  It also reveals His love which prompted the only possible solution: One who would take our punishment.  So, the perfect sacrifice stepped into the world offering Himself in our place.  Our guilt and His love collided at the heart of God, the creation shuddered and salvation became possible. The Bible reveals both His nature and our problem.  Jesus came into the world and was rejected by many but not all.  What about us?  We have His word.  The question is: Does His word have us?

Lifelines March 22, 2020

Where is God?  The question hangs in the air as the world has been turned upside by a microscopic virus that has taken the lives of some and scared billions more nearly to death.  Schools are closed, gatherings are discouraged, events are cancelled and people have retreated behind closed doors.  The economy has suffered as much as the people.  If the Lord exists and is so loving, why is this happening?

We long for an answer.  Surely, there is one.  Medical experts frantically search for a vaccine.  Sickness and death circle the globe, and we realize our helplessness.  We are unable to stop it, but God could if He is really all-powerful.  If only He would explain Himself.  He doesn’t.  Silence.  And we wonder.

We have been put in our place.  We wear masks, buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and scrub down as if we were going into surgery.  The virus spreads in spite of it all.  We’ve been to the moon and back but cannot halt this marching sickness.  Eventually, we probably will but not now.  We are no match for something we cannot even see.  That which brings us to our knees is pretty humbling, isn’t it?

Where is God?  He’s the same place He’s always been.  People have ignored Him, opposed Him, rejected Him, ridiculed Him and even killed His Son but they cannot change Him.  He is still God.  We will never know the reason for this pandemic, but we can learn from it.

Our lives are in hands bigger than ours.  Before we were visible God was at work within our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16).  Each person is fearfully and wonderfully handcrafted by Him in His image.  We are all reflections of our maker even though it may be deeply tarnished, and our days are known to Him.  Every breath we take and each beat of our heart are totally dependent on Him (Acts 17:25).  

Life is temporary.  We all have the same appointment with death.  It may not be the result of some worldwide virus, but it will come to everyone someday and then there will be judgment (Hebrews 9:27).  That is a certainty, but the date and time is not.  Neither is the how.  Foolish is the person who does not prepare for a meeting that could come at any moment.

Where is the Lord?  He is on the throne of judgment.  It is before Him that we must all appear (2 Corinthians 5:10).  That can be a frightening prospect, but it does not have to be.  His own cross on history’s horizon makes it possible for us to live a life unshackled from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).  The ultimate problem is sin, and our judge bears the scars of suffering the penalty you and I deserved.  We will stand before Him some day as either friend or foe.  Which will it be? 

Lifelines March 15, 2020

Priorities.  We determine them every day.  First things first.  God has His list, as well, and it provides heavenly wisdom for our earthly lives.  Without them, we will spin our wheels and spend our time on the irrelevant rather than the important.  “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).”  Sadly, “these things” often replace our pursuit of His things, and the world claims another victim.

Fret will consume us when our list of priorities is upside down.  Nature itself teaches us of the provisions of the Lord.  Birds don’t punch a time clock, but they eat.  Flowers don’t spend time at the sewing machine, but they are beautifully attired.  Besides, what does worry accomplish?  It changes nothing.  It is a worthless expenditure of time and energy, so don’t do it.  Those are the words of the Son of God, and He should know.  Depend on our Father.  He will take care of us.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…(1 Corinthians 15:3-4).”  The source is significant.  It did not begin with Paul, nor did it come from a collection of men gathered in a room in Jerusalem.  It came directly from the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12).  As we develop our individual lists of what merits our immediate attention, the word of the Lord is the place to begin.  Any other source will send us in the wrong direction.

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” The cross was not an unexpected uprising by angry sinners.  God planned it from antiquity.  He foresaw the devastation of sin and made provision to deal with it.  It wrecked paradise, and it has been a destructive force ever since.  The demands of a holy God were met through the sacrificial blood of His holy Son.  Any other life was inadequate to pay the ultimate price for our sins.  Jesus did what we could not. 

“and that He was buried.”  He was dead.  No heartbeat.  No brainwaves.  Nothing.  The attempts of the opposition seemed to have succeeded.  Plans to kill Jesus had been growing in intensity.  Hatred boiled over.  It came from all sides and every segment of society.  Mob mentality carried the day.  He was beaten, spit upon, mocked, crowned and ultimately nailed to a cross.  Finally, it was finished.  His holy heart stopped, and they put Him in the ground…dead.

“and He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.”  Biographies always end at death, but not this one.  God flexed His omnipotent muscles and the Son of Man came back to life, and lives to this day at the right hand of His Father.  He is there on the behalf of believers, pleading our case.  Resurrection gives us a living hope, and that’s forever. 

Clearly, we are God’s priority.  Is He ours?

Lifelines March 08, 2020

It was an unlikely meeting; a Jewish man approaching a Samaritan woman (John 4:7-42).  That was far from the norm for several reasons, but that was the way of Jesus.  He broke down barriers and strayed from the conventional paths throughout His brief stay on earth.  It left the woman in wonder and the disciples scratching their heads. 

It began simply enough.  He was thirsty, and she had water.  He asked for a drink, and she was surprised.  She was a Samaritan, and good Jews would not stoop to such levels as to talk with the likes of her.  Her heritage was contaminated by folks from the wrong side of the tracks, and that might be contagious.  Distance was best lest they be soiled by the commoners.  The Savior disregarded such concerns.  The door wasn’t just being cracked; it was being bulldozed open.  If only she knew.

The circumstances that drove this woman to the well at that day and time are not known but there are suspicions.  Her domestic history was not exactly storybook.  A handful of marriages had not worked out.  There were an equal number of failures.  The latest relationship never made it to the alter.  Had she given up on the institution?  We are not told, but she and the new guy had not even tried.  Jesus knew, and she knew that He knew.   

Her eyes gradually opened.  She had asked about worship.  Her concern was geography.  He addressed the deeper issues of spirit and truth.  God desires worshipers and is searching for a particular kind of heart.  The externals are important but matter only when the internals get right.  It is not either/or but a both/and.  The “where” is not the emphasis.  She begins to figure this thirsty guy out.  A prophet?  She is starting to see.  Could this possibly be the Messiah?

This improbable conversation amazed the disciples.  Venturing onto the dark side for conversations with the dubious were more than enough to raise apostolic eyebrows, and add to that she was…well…a she.  Men and women didn’t mix like that.  So, there was the Lord talking to a five-time-divorced Samaritan woman.  One, two, three strikes against her.  None of them presented a hurdle too high for the Son of God to clear.  After all, He came to seek and save the lost and she was about as lost as you can get. 

Who would have ever picked such a missionary?  And an effective one, at that (Verse 39).  Crossing traditional boundaries was the Lord’s specialty, and when we get in step with Him, we’ll cross them too.  There are people with all kinds of shady histories who need the Lord.  Rich, poor, black, white, young, old, men and women come with sinful baggage that needs to be emptied.  Jesus is the only answer.  Start a conversation.  Lead them to the Lord.  It’s amazing what He can do. 

Lifelines March 01, 2020

The world can be an awfully gloomy place.  Deadly viruses from distant shores threaten our health.  The political landscape is filled with negativity, and headlines lead us to believe that we are truly on the verge of total collapse.  It is easy to let the pessimism seep into our minds and cast a long shadow on the Lord’s church.  Jesus knows.  He has walked those dusty roads, too.

“In the world you have tribulation…(John 16:33).”  The hours were dwindling.  He would soon shoulder all the sins of all mankind throughout history in a violent collision between God’s love and justice.  He had encountered the most intense rejection and hatred that people could dish out and soon He would submit to a brutal execution.  But first He would comfort His apostles.  Then He would give His life.

Tribulation?  Who could possibly know more about tribulation?  He left the glory of heaven to step into the human experience.  It was His mission to seek and save the lost.  The demands were extraordinary.  His was the life of a servant.  The Lord of the universe came to serve.  Imagine that.  And it did not stop there.  He came to die.  To save sinners.  Oh yes, He knows.  This world is a hard place.

“…take courage; I have overcome the world.”  It hardly looked that way as they swept Him away and condemned Him to death.  The human perspective is so limited.  Our eyes cannot see very far down the road.  The apostles would soon distance themselves from Him.  Hostility has a way of doing that.  Even the stout-hearted withered.  Self-confident Peter denied Him.  They all ran away.  Overcome?  It sure looked like the troublesome world was winning the war.  Soon, His heart would stop.

Appearances can be deceiving, but dead is…well…unfixable.  True, without an almighty God working behind the scenes (or inside the tomb in this case) it would have been hopeless.  No person on earth can reverse death, but there is a force that can.  He is able.  He did.  Three days later there was no corpse.  The One who said that He had overcome the world had conquered even death.  He took its heaviest shot and prevailed.  “Take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Christians have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection.  Peter (Yes, the very one who had collapsed at a critical moment!) wrote about that, but sometimes our surroundings are so dark that we lose sight of that.  So, the Lord had the old fisherman write it down.  We don’t just have hope; it is alive and it is ours.  The empty tomb verifies it. 

Paul prayed for God to open up the spiritual eyes of the Ephesian Christians to know certain facts (Ephesians 1:18-23), and hope was at the top of the list.  It is a never-ending, undying hope.  Jesus lives, and hope lives with Him. 

Lifelines February 23, 2020

Americans must be the busiest people on earth.  We rush from one task to another with very little time to stop and enjoy the great prosperity that we have.  Calendars are packed from pre-dawn to midnight.  It is a “Martha” world with very little opportunity for “Mary” moments.  Perhaps, it is time to build a pause into our hectic schedules.

Martha was always in the middle of doing something, and the Lord’s visit was a tremendous motivator (Luke 10:38-42).  After all, there would surely have been much to do.  Putting ourselves in her shoes helps us understand.  We would want the house to be spotless, dinner to be perfect and only the finest china would do.  Hustle, hustle, hustle.  Make sure it is all flawless, and that sister!  All she’s doing is just sitting there.

Well, that and listening, giving quiet attention to what her Lord was saying.  His words meant more to her than anything else.  And us?  Where are we in this picture?  Distracted by serving?  Too busy to give full attention to the word of the Lord?  Martha or Mary?  This should not be an either/or situation.  A balanced life makes time for both.

Mary is frequently found at the feet of Jesus.  It is a beautiful portrait of one who adores and respects Him.  Were there other things to do?  Of course.  She could have been helping Martha with the preparations, but she chose not to.  Instead, she stopped.  How often do we simply cease from all the activities that tug at us to spend time in adoration of the Lord?  To hear Him, to really hear Him?

We probably won’t receive a lot of encouragement to do so.  Martha was critical.  She even complained to Jesus about it, accusing Him of not caring about her workload.  She let a lot of things interfere with her devotion.  Mary was different.  Deeply devoted people always are.  They often appear to be inactive.  The truth is, according to Jesus, that Mary had chosen the good part.  That would never be taken away.

If ever there was a person with the potential to be too busy for quiet times, it was Jesus.  Healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, butting heads with the religious establishment and loving the unlovable tend to draw crowds.  Everyone needs something, and His compassion combined with His miraculous powers attracted people…lots and lots of people.  And they wanted to enthrone Him.  He would indeed ascend to a throne, but not that way.  In the midst of His eternal mission, with all there was to do, He pursued a quiet time (John 6:15).

Times come when we are forced to be busy, but we must also squeeze in quiet moments at the feet of Jesus.  A “Mary” moment in a “Martha” world that we might listen and contemplate the wonder of the Lord.  Come let us adore Him.                          

Lifelines February 16, 2020

“What are you doing right now that requires faith?”  It was a question posed in a college classroom that shook the young man’s lifestyle.  As he reflected, he realized that the answer was, “Nothing.”  Compared to the scriptural picture of those who are examples of faith, his life was virtually unaffected by his beliefs.  Sure, he believed in God and Christ.  He “went to church.”  He prayed.  He read his Bible.  And then he retreated into his own comfort zone, unchallenged in actual practice.  What about us?

God summoned Abram from his comfort (Genesis 12:1-4).  Leaving familiar surroundings is tough.  Venturing out on our own is unsettling, especially when we don’t know what our address is going to be.  The promise was blessing, not only for him but also for the entire world.  The destination was a mystery.  All Abram had to go on was the assurance of God, and that was enough.  He went.  Would we?    

The first steps on the journey into the unknown were not the only test of Abram’s faith.  The delay between the promise and the fulfillment was agonizingly long.  The promise had been that he would be made into a great nation, and more than a decade passed without even a single child.  Abram decided to help the Lord out.  Faith is not dependent upon the natural course of things, and that turned out to be a mistake that still reverberates.  The child of blessing would not come in an ordinary way or time.  Starting a family at age 100 is not exactly a human idea of family planning.

God raised the bar of faith even higher when He demanded that the child be given as a burnt offering (Genesis 22).  How could Abraham (As he was known by then. Even his name was changed!) possibly comply with such a command after the excruciatingly long wait for Isaac’s birth and him being the child of promise?  We do not know the thoughts of Abraham, but we do know of his obedience because of his faith (Hebrews 11:17-19).  The Lord provided a substitute sacrifice that day and a beautiful portrait of the salvation that would one day come through that family.     

Abraham’s faith led him away from a familiar, comfortable environment into an unknown future.  Home and country were left behind.  All he had to hold on to was the hand of the unseen God, but he learned that was all he needed.  And so, he teaches us.   

Abraham’s world was turned upside down and ours could be, too.  Faith changes everything, including our eternal destination.  Some parts of our life will be left behind.  Plans will be changed, and our journey will be guided by a wiser mind than ours. “What are you doing right now that requires faith?”  It is a probing question that is not comfortably answered, but growth seldom occurs where we are comfortable.   

Lifelines February 09, 2020

We come together on the first day of each week to express how much the Lord means to us.  How we choose to spend our Sundays reflects our opinion of Him.  The weekly reminder of the death and resurrection of our Savior sets the tone for the rest of the week.  It is also a brief period of time set apart to encourage one another.  The basis of it all is Jesus who charts the course for our entire lives.

“…the love of Christ controls us…(2 Corinthians 5:14-15)”  This is a powerful, all-consuming reality whose dimensions are infinite.  It exceeds our mental capacities to take it in, so we seek the One who does the impossible to help us understand (Ephesians 3:18-20).  The fullness of God hangs in the balance.  Our lives will never be all that they can be with a minimal comprehension of that love.  Expanding our knowledge is the only way to deepen its impact on us. 

Mere information won’t get us to the fullness of God.  Conviction will.  As we allow that remarkable fact, the death of Jesus, to really saturate our hearts we will be transformed by it.  That is the fullest expression of His love.  He gave His life for us.  The Son of God and all that He endured was done for me.  Individualize it.  Personalize it.  Only a heart of stone would remain untouched by such an amazing reality.  Unless, we simply refused to be convinced of it.

“…Having concluded this….(2 Cor. 5:14.)”

“One died for all…”  There is no discrimination with the Lord.  What He did for one, He did for all.  As we look at our most hated enemies, we remember that the Savior gave His life for them, too.  True, not all will receive the benefits of that death, but it is open for all.  Those who choose to accept it can receive the cleansing that only His blood can bring.  If the crucifying hands of Pentecost can be forgiven, so can we. “He died for all…”

“So that…”  There was a reason.  Yes, forgiveness came through that sacrifice, but there is more.

Selfishness consumes us.  It is our god.  It dictates and manipulates.  “Not Thy will but mine,” becomes our prayer.  Our joint participation in that death delivers us from such a brutal, destructive dictator.  Nothing will ruin us more quickly than biting the fruit of the evil one when he convinces us that our eyes will be opened if we just forget God’s commandments (Genesis 3:5).

“…they who live might no longer live for themselves…”  Nothing is more liberating than a life totally given to the Lord.  No one could ever love us more.  Freed from the inhibiting boundaries of selfishness, we begin to be filled to God’s fullness.  Jesus demonstrated them, and we can begin to share in them. God’s fullness.  Can you imagine?                  

Lifeline February 02, 2020

The whole world was rocked by the recent death of one of basketball’s greatest players.  Kobe Bryant, his young daughter and several others whose names will never be remembered died in a helicopter accident near Los Angeles on a foggy morning.  It was a tragic end for a superstar.  We noticed.  It dominated news cycles and personal conversations.  It touched fans and non-fans alike.  Those emotions will soon fade except for those with whom he had a personal relationship. 

Two thousand years ago there was another headline death.  It darkened the sky and literally shook the world.  Witnesses saw deep beyond His Jewish skin to One with divine roots.  This was no ordinary man.  He had calmed storms, healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead.  He touched the untouchables, embraced the sinful, challenged the establishment and angered the aristocrats.  He was nothing the experts expected and everything they needed.  He was the long-awaited Messiah, and He was dead. 

Everything changed that day.  It was the focal point of a plan devised in heaven to solve the biggest problem that any person could possibly face: sin.  The devastation it brings is impossible to exaggerate.  Its first recorded consequence was murder among kin folks.  God’s plan of man and woman as husband and wife has suffered ever since.  Family shredded and discarded by sin.  If we doubt it, look at the cross and the death of the Savior.

It was a wretched way to die.  He knew it was coming as He agonized in the garden.  It would all soon be heaped on His solitary shoulders.  There was no other way, “The wages of sin…” It was payday.  He alone could reconcile guilty sinners to a just God.  It would be brutal.  Beating.  Mocking.  Spitting.  Crowning.  Nailing.  Suffering.  Darkness.  Trembling.  Temple veil torn.  The last labored breath. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  First hand evidence of what sin can do to a relationship. “Father, forgive them…”  “It is finished.”   

It was no accident, nor was it homicide or a miscarriage of justice.  The crucifixion, as gory and horrible as it was, had been the plan all along.  It offers an insight into the way that God sees sin.  Each act drives the nails a little deeper and pains our Lord more.  He suffers again.  He hurts for the damage it does to His once-good creation.  It distorts His image in which we were all created.  There was only one remedy.  Ungodly hands carried out a godly strategy to give us a way home. We gather on the first day of every week to remember.  Simple grape juice and unleavened bread remind us.  An intentional design to forgive us.  Kobe’s death was a tragedy.  This was not.  Sin is.  The death of our Savior is the solution.  The memory fades except for those who have a personal relationship with Him.

Lifelines December 22, 2019

All eyes are on the one we call Jesus.  He has our attention in the once-a-year ritual known as Christmas.  Lighted trees fill the neighborhoods and decorations adorn our streets.  Presents will be exchanged with those we love as families gather across the globe.  It is a fun time of year, but it will pass.  All the festivities will come to an end, and routines will resume.  Then what?

The reality of Jesus will not change.  Hearts that were made merry might lose their joy.  Bright wrapping paper will suddenly become disposable trash.  Trees look empty, almost sad.  It all loses its glitter the day after.  Then what?  The attention that the Christ child gathered during this festive season will wane.  A bit of a letdown will set in.  The world returns to normal.  The Lord seems to be put in a box and shoved into a corner of a closet for another year.  The only thing that has not changed is Him.

Our emotions ebb and flow.  They are often slaves to times and situations, swinging upward when circumstances are good and downward when they’re bad.  The Son of God is not like that.  He is as consistent as the Father who sent Him (Hebrews 13:8).  The character that He demonstrated during His brief stay in this world has never varied.  It never will, and we can only gather an accurate understanding our heavenly Father from Him (1 John 5:20). 

Both Father and Son displayed an incomprehensible love through the remarkable life of the One who voluntarily entered this sinful world.  Heaven is the ultimate goal for every child of God, and Jesus was there and stepped away to join us here.  Temptations were real.  The potential to fail was ever present.  The tempter lurked around every corner.  He experienced human weakness and struggle.  He knows about hunger and physical pain.  He understands what it is to be betrayed.  Denied.  Abandoned.  Alone.  Totally, absolutely alone.  Yes, He knows in ways that we never will.  Unless we reject Him.  Then we will know…forever.

He gave up that unimaginable equality with God to save us from an eternal separation from our all-loving Creator.  He knows about the power of emotions.  He wept for the grief that His loved ones suffered (John 11:33-35).  He agonized over the prospects of His impending death (Matthew 26:36-46).  Yes, He literally knows exactly how we feel but never allowed it to dictate His actions.  His sole focus was the salvation of humanity (Matthew 1:21).  From cradle to grave, He was never sidetracked from that task. 

As we see nativity scenes splashed all across the world, let us never lose sight of the eternal significance of the Christ child.  He was born to die.  He came to free us not only from the penalty of sin but also our enslavement to it.  Enjoy the season, and always remember His ultimate purpose.