Lifelines October 02, 2022

The world is on edge. Every newscast highlights all that is wrong around the globe. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has been in the headlines for months, and the images are heartbreaking. Thousands have been displaced or killed. Homes have been destroyed, reminding us that earthly possessions can be lost in the drop of a bomb. Our own streets offer up more dreadful pictures. From looting, to drug use, to senseless attacks in broad daylight; everyplace appears to be a warzone. No wonder tensions are high.

We should not be surprised. Societies are sure to degenerate when the spiritual component is neglected. Unfortunately, America is a prime example. Belief in God and country were once admirable traits. Now, they are the objects of late-night comedians and ridicule. Scripture exposes the downward trajectory that elimination of the Creator inevitably brings. It is a pitiful picture that we see developing every day (Romans 1:18-32). If we look around, we will witness the wrath of God on full display.

He will let people go however they choose, and that never works out well. Jesus never begged anyone to follow Him. He set forth the conditions and allowed them to select. A rich ruler refused (Luke 18:18-27). A hated tax-collector accepted (Mark 2:14). The Prodigal Son was given more than he deserved and squandered it (Luke 15:11-32). There is nothing quite as sad as God’s children throwing away their eternal blessings for a temporary, decadent lifestyle. It was his choice. So was going home. The pigpen experience has a way of opening our eyes. At least, it should.

America is in the ugliest of pigpens, and that’s why it is a country on edge. Rejecting God is a dead-end decision. Yet, the Lord gives us the option. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, no matter what we decide. He has not abdicated His throne and never will. We can discard His authority but can never escape it.  We will come face-to-face with Him as judge.

The word of the Lord is filled with examples of the futility of losing sight of our Creator. Humans might think that they have marched off into wisdom but it is actually foolishness. He has shown us, warned us and explained to us how devastating it is to forget Him. Yet, we find ourselves in the uneasy world of godlessness. Nerves are frayed. People are angry. Divisions are widening. The world needs the Lord.

 “You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).” The description of the kingdom in the preceding beatitudes doesn’t appear very impressive (Matthew 5:3-12). Yet, it is to the poor-in-spirit that Jesus made this statement. Disciples feel weak. We aren’t. We are part of an indestructible kingdom, not because of our strength but because of His. Through us, He can stop the cultural decay if we will deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.

Lifelines September 25, 2022

Questions abound relating to baptism. Is it absolutely essential? Is it for infants? What is its significance? What if a person is killed on the way to be baptized? Are they eternally lost? Each of these concerns (And there are probably many others!) deserves an answer, and the word of the Lord is the place to find them.

Jesus gathered His skeptical disciples (Mark 16) to give them their marching orders for the upcoming mission. He gave them their assignment to preach the gospel all over the world (verse 15) and made this statement, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned (verse 16).” Peter, who was an eyewitness when that comment was made, wrote that “baptism now saves you (1 Peter 3:15).” Does that sound essential?

That same apostle was the first to preach after the Son of God ascended before their eyes. It was the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and the Holy Spirit put on quite a show. The Jewish witnesses were confused about the events of the day when Peter spoke up. It was all a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (verses 14-21), and he preached Jesus to them. His message penetrated their hearts prompting a “what do we do” question (verses 22-37). His response was to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. That would result in the forgiveness of their horrendous sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 38). Was it important?

His answer also dealt with another issue: infant baptism. So did Jesus when He said that baptism was for those who believe. Peter said that it was necessary to repent (i.e., change the mind) prior to baptism. Infants are capable of neither believing nor of repenting. It appears that even Jesus was thirty-years-old when He was baptized (Luke 3:21-23). The biblical record seems to address that question, too.

What if a person desiring to be baptized loses his/her life before they can get to the baptistry? Consider this: God created the world in a week and rested one of those days. He totally flooded the world. He parted the Red Sea. He raised the dead. He can surely keep people alive until they can get to water. What if He chooses not to preserve them until the deed is done, then what? The Lord is the judge and is all-knowing and perfectly just. He will not make a mistake. Have you ever heard of someone dying on the way to be baptized?

The Bible is the place to search for answers. The Lord and baptism are inseparably at the heart of the apostolic mission (Acts). It washes sins away and unites a believer to Christ in burial and resurrection (Romans 6). We must always take God at His word. Adam and Eve didn’t. How did that work out?

Lifelines September 18, 2022

Summer vacations are behind us, and the holiday season is in sight. September means classrooms, football games and a more structured schedule for all of us even if we aren’t in school. We settle back into routines. What is ours? What do we do on a regular basis, especially as it relates to the Lord? What do people learn about us by what we habitually do?

Many of our practices are done anonymously or in secret. Hands of benevolence are intended to be hidden from all eyes except God’s. Likewise, prayer and spiritual self-discipline are personal and private. That is the way that it is designed to be. We are not on stage performing for an Oscar. We do have an audience. It just isn’t human, and He rewards those who do what is right without calling attention to it (Matthew 6:1-18).

There are other habits we develop that are very obvious. The Sunday assembly is one of them. This is not a human innovation but a divine command never to be abandoned. Children of God come together on the first day of every week. It is a hard world. Temptation lurks. Our personal failures generate doubts in our minds. Discouragement drags us down. Christians need each other, to encourage and be encouraged (Hebrews 10:24-25).

We live in a culture that ridicules our beliefs. The Bible is forbidden in many places. There is no fear of the Lord, and it is reflected in every corner of our country.  Belief in a benevolent Creator fades as crime rises. Evolution has replaced creation, and people have no sense of dignity for themselves or anyone else. To say we are created in God’s image is meaningless where He is rejected. Do people get a different impression from watching us? They should. We come together to encourage each other to love and good deeds. That stands out in a self-centered world.

Jesus went about doing good and healing the devil-oppressed people (Acts 10:38). His miraculous powers are beyond our abilities, but we can go about doing good and sharing the gospel message that will save their souls from the evil one. No fanfare needed, just simple acts of love. A sandwich for the hungry. A drink for the thirsty. A listening ear for the lonely. And the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the hope that every hopeless soul longs for. We have what they need. Let’s make it our habit to share it.

We habitually come together because we need the fellowship. It strengthens us in our fight against discouragement, evil and all that we will face in the new week. The world needs us to demonstrate a better way. We have learned it. Now, let’s live it quietly with kindness and love for the lost. We are the salt of the earth, and salt is useless if it stays in the shaker.              

Lifelines September 11, 2022

It is one of those “where were you” days in American history. It is right along side December 7, 1941 and November 22, 1963. There are others, but these stand out vividly in our memory.  The attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President Kennedy will be events that will never be forgotten.  We recall where we were if we are old enough to have lived through those disasters. Likewise, we experience an emotional surge when we remember the Twin Towers being terrorized. The entire population was shaken.

Terrorism is a horror. It infects our thinking. It alters our lives. Security is suddenly undermined. We look over our shoulder and watch our step. It is mind-altering, and that is the point. For a brief moment following the 9/11 attack twenty-one years ago, America pulled together. Prayer was acceptable, and we were unified regardless of superficial differences. The shock gradually faded and the unity began to crumble. Now, we’re arguing over pronouns.

Remembering is important, especially when it comes to terrorism. The ultimate terrorist invaded paradise, and the first lady fell for the deception. It was the bite that shook the world. Men and women have been suffering the consequences ever since. So has the earth. Terrorists can do that. Success for them is ruination for the rest of us. The world is never the same again.

Our minds are distorted when we are victimized. His tool chest is filled with virtually irresistible temptations. He attracts our attention and stirs up a lust that will carry us into a lifestyle that will destroy us. Spiritual death is the result (James 1:14-16). Don’t miss that last verse. Deception is the devil’s weapon of choice, and it works. Ask Eve.

Expulsion from the garden. Loss of the perfect environment in which to live. The rapid decline of the first family led to murder. The downward spiral continued until God had seen enough. He was grieved. It is the perfect picture of where that terrorist will take us. It started with just one and the ripples spread until it took a flood and an ark to clean up the mess. Do we remember?

If we think that the flood was a dramatic event, imagine judgment. We are eyewitnesses of the current chaos. God is disregarded and His word is dismissed, often even ridiculed. It is a culture ripe for the terrorist to do his work. It should be perfect. He created it. Society does not exist in a spiritual vacuum. The Lord has been shoved out and Satan has stepped in. Evidence surrounds us.

It is important to remember our Savior regularly. A simple piece of unleavened bread and a cup of grape juice serve that purpose. Jesus gave His life to defeat the terrorist. We are reminded every week. Never forget Him. The Twin Towers were tragic. Lost souls are much worse.       

Lifelines September 04, 2022

Tom Brokaw published a book in the late 1990’s about the World War II generation in which he shared many of their inspirational stories.  They were committed to a cause and made great sacrifices in their pursuit of victory.  Lives and limbs were lost in the heat of battle. Even those who did not suffer physical injuries brought home mental scars. No one could witness what they saw and be unaffected by it. Their commitment continues to impress us. No wonder Brokaw described them as the greatest generation.

We open the pages of Scripture and discover men and women involved in the immense story of God’s plan of redemption. Some were volunteers, but most were drafted. Moses debated a bush. Gideon offered up a series of reasons why he was not the man for the job. Jeremiah tried to dodge his mission pleading inexperience. Saul/Paul was knocked flat on the road to Damascus in pursuit of those who were what he would soon become. The Lord used them all; men with feet of clay who were integral cogs in an eternal wheel.

We lift our eyes beyond the pages of Scripture to a God of unlimited power and supreme knowledge. He loves us enough to offer up His unique Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He watched as the sin-stained world distorted His chosen people into murderers. It was His plan to save the very ones who wielded the hammers. They carried out His purpose and then the omnipotent One raised Him from the grave. Death had been defeated. Jesus had more courage than any human has ever had. It was wrapped in meekness. He was greatness in an unlikely package.

He was committed to His Father and the world that had been alienated by sin. World War II was a blood bath, but it cannot compare to the devastation of sin. Deceit, distortion and death have come to billions of people through it, and there was only one way to resolve it. It demanded a perfect sacrifice, and the Son of God came on that mission. Every sin that would ever be committed were going to be placed squarely on His shoulders. And He came.

No one had ever seen or heard anyone like Him. We are blessed to have all of the information that we do, so that we can know about Him. We see His conflicts with those who were supposedly God’s people. He experienced the stress of facing an agonizing death. His closest associates would all abandon Him. He felt what we feel. He traveled our road.

He is our Savior. Without His life, death and resurrection; we would have no hope. His was an eternally important mission, bringing life to the dead and a way to the lost. He provides freedom in the most profound way. He is unquestionably the greatest Man who ever lived.            

Lifelines August 28, 2022

These are tough financial times. The Dow goes down and takes investments with it.  The economy has been rocky recently and money seems to be shrinking every day.  We are stunned when we check out at the grocery store. It is alarming for people who have nothing beyond a big fat bankroll. Dollars don’t seem to make much sense. How are we feeling right now? It all depends on where our treasure is.

Jesus told us long ago that every asset in this world is destined to be lost (Matthew 6:19-21). Our Father knows every necessity we have and has promised to provide them, so anxiety about them is unnecessary. In fact, it is forbidden. He assures us that He will take care of us as long as we arrange our priorities appropriately (Matthew 6:25-33). That is His promise. Great monetary wealth gives us a false sense of security. We think it is dependable when it really isn’t. That has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout history.

The current economic climate is nothing new, and the word of God has directed us away from the shaky foundation of financial independence (Or so we might think!) to the dependable rock upon which to build our lives. Everything in this world, including a gigantic bank account, is temporary and can disappear overnight. Imagine getting a swelled head over something that a moth can eat up. Eternal investments are the only ones that will weather inflation, a recession and even a depression. They neither fluctuate nor disappear. Their value will never diminish, because they are beyond the reach of human hands and are stored away in heaven for those who have been born again (1 Peter 1:3-5).  There is no greater security, and we can make deposits into that account every day.

The purpose of financial blessings (If indeed they are blessings! See Matthew 19:24) is to do good works, to share, to be generous (1 Timothy 6:17-19). God always seems to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Genuine riches come from generosity not hoarding. The Lord makes it clear that giving is a greater blessing than receiving (Acts 20:35). There are great needs around every corner, and we have endless opportunities to let our lights shine and glorify our Father.   

God loves it when we cheerfully give. It reveals a heart on His wavelength (2 Corinthians 9:7). Love prompted Him to give the greatest possible gift to meet people’s most profound need (John 3:16). We did not deserve it. Jesus gave His life. We didn’t deserve that either. He leads and we follow. It is tempting to hold on to those hard-earned bucks. Planning is needful. Sharing is, too. It calls for wisdom. God put your money in your pocket, not into someone else’s wallet. Whatever we choose to do in this world we should always remember that our true riches are not here.

Lifelines August 21, 2022

Death has a way of dealing up a sobering reality, especially when it comes unexpectedly.  We become so absorbed in the events of the day, the world news and our lives that we seldom just stop and think about it.  It is coming.  No ifs, ands or buts and we never know when.  God knows but we don’t.  With such a certainty, it makes sense to prepare for it. 

There is a vast, never-ending eternity stretched out before us.  It could be years away.  Maybe minutes.  Countless people all across the globe woke up this morning not knowing this would be their last day.  Whenever it comes, the Lord will be there.  We will stand before Him in judgment, and eternity begins.  No mulligans or do-overs.  Our time and opportunities will have passed.  There are no clocks, calendars or tomorrows; just one endless day.  The question for this moment is: Where will we spend it?

That thought puts everything in perspective.  Minor irritants are seen for what they are, insignificant.  It leads us to use our words more carefully since we don’t know when they might be our last ones.  Relationships take on added importance.  Every interaction that we have may be the final one and our lasting memory will be how we treated the deceased.  Heavy thoughts, particularly the most important one: What will I do with Jesus?

He knows about death, and He will be waiting at the end of our journey to judge us.  Can we even picture such a scene?  It will be a separation of the lost and saved.  A blessing or a horrible condemnation.  Great joy or unspeakable misery.  Comfort or sorrow.  It is impossible to describe either.  Both are beyond our experience. 

Words cannot do justice in comprehending something so dramatically different, nor can they convey the thought of eternity. A purely spiritual existence in a totally different realm that never ends defies explanation.  Scripture uses vivid language such as “no more death and mourning” and “a lake of fire.” Someday we will know firsthand.  Maybe today.   

Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  People had become disoriented. Everyone is mixed-up without the Lord.  Sin and Satan do that.  We cannot figure out the way.  We don’t know and we don’t know that we don’t know.  The devil makes the bad look good and the good look bad.  He is the master of disguise and misdirection. The Lord sheds light on it all.

For God so loved the world…It is a most amazing thought when we truly consider it.  It was a world in disarray.  It still is.  Sin wrecks everything.  The Lord fixes all of the wreckage.  That is why He came, and without Him we are all just broken pieces with no idea which way to go.  He makes us whole and leads us home.  It is up to us to follow.                 

Lifelines August 14, 2022

Satan uses every weapon he has to keep us away from the word of God.  He has filled his world with diversions.  We find a thousand reasons to let our Bibles collect dust as we stay on top of our favorite TV characters.  We can recite the latest stats from our favorite baseball player but struggle to remember the fundamentals of Scripture.  Amazing, isn’t it?  The essential element of that which constitutes a genuine life remains on the shelf unread. 

What keeps us away from it if the information that it presents is so vital?  Forty years of wilderness wandering with mysterious food and shoes that miraculously never wore out had an intended lesson for the Israelites.  Food is necessary but if you really want to live, digest every word that comes from God.  It was a four decades long education.  Are we listening to the voice of history?

Life is substandard without those concepts.  People will exist, have a heartbeat, think thoughts and make their way through the years without reaching their God-given potential.  End-of-life reflections will be sprinkled with regrets.  What about eternity?  Only the Lord knows, but there will likely be very little comfort in the prospects of judgment.  The judge that the ill-informed face will be a stranger.  Pity.  He could have been a friend; someone they know and who knows them.

Do we know Him?  A tough question, or is it? “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:3)” That isn’t particularly complex but clouds of confusion enter in for those who are uninformed.  How could they keep commandments that they do not know?  Is it the ten commandments?  Scripture answers those questions, so that we can know if we know Him.

The word of God comes from His mind and guides us into a life that is genuinely worthwhile.  Instead of simply occupying time and space, we will be everything the Lord wants us to be (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  It requires digging in and honestly assessing our flaws and mistakes then finding the ways to correct them.  That can be a painful process.  Scripture has a razor’s edge that splits thoughts, hearts and even intentions to expose them all (Hebrews 4:12).  Using the word of God to slice away our own sins is like surgically removing malignancies, not fun but absolutely necessary for a healthy soul.  Perhaps, that explains why the Bible is collecting dust in so many households.

The reasons are many.  Some simply do not believe it.  Others don’t want to face it, but the fact remains that it is the only source for the thoughts of our Creator.  Pick it up and read it to find out about almighty God, feeble people and the amazing plan to bring the two together that sin had separated.  There is no other book like it.      

Lifelines August 07, 2022

The roots of Judaism ran deep.  They could trace their heritage back for thousands of years and countless generations.  Then, it all changed.  The clues were abundant as the Son of God taught, healed, cast out demons and butted heads with the religious elite.  It was different.  He embraced the rejects and fought with the establishment.  He did not bring a welcome change.

Hostilities toward the Savior escalated quickly.  They reached a fever pitch within a few years of His public ministry, and He was executed.  It is hard to see the hand of God in such a violent reaction, but His fingerprints are all over it.  He had a plan, and the ungodly carried it out (Acts 2:23).  It was anything but expected, in spite of the prophetic message.  The covenant people missed it and misjudged Him.  They played right into the Lord’s hands.

The Lord’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8).  Those words read easily enough and flow effortlessly from our lips but really believing them is an entirely different matter.  How often have we been surprised at the events that surround us?  The bad guys seem to win far too often.  God’s strategy?  It hardly seems so, but this was something totally different.

The Law had been fulfilled and the penalty for sin was paid once and for all.  This was the ultimate sacrifice.  Grace was shoving the old legal system aside in favor of a new way.  It was brutally bloody as the lashed, thorn crowned and nail driven offering took place.  A sword put the period at the end of the horrifying sentence. Apostles stood at a distance as He gasped for breath.  Then He didn’t.  It was finished. 

It was not a human plan.  God’s way never is.  He opens and shuts.  We stumble and stammer.  His will is accomplished through those shaky efforts.  If we doubt that, look at the crew He put in charge of taking it to the far reaches of creation (Acts 1:8).  They were ill-trained for such a mission, but the Lord knew something they did not.  Just wait, supernatural help was on the way. 

The Holy Spirit was prominent from the very beginning.  It sounded like the wind, but there wasn’t so much as a gentle breeze.  The apostles seemed to be on fire and began to speak foreign languages.  Peter preached, and Jews repented by the thousands.  Baptisms washed away the murderous sins of the guilty.  His ways sure aren’t like ours.

 The cross is at the forefront of this new thing, and alongside it is an empty tomb.  That is what no one expected that weekend.  But the new week brought the brightest ray of hope imaginable.  The crucified had risen, and then we remember that He told us: My ways are not…well, you know.  They still aren’t.            

Lifelines July 31, 2022

The holy nation had made their worst mistake.  They had miscalculated in a self-destructive way.  They watched as their neighbor to the north had fallen to the Assyrians more than a century before, but they had failed to learn the lesson.  So, they stood on the brink of a horrible disaster at the hands of another outsider for the same reason.  Babylon was coming with ferocity.  The covenant community in Judea had lost their focus.

More than sixty times, Ezekiel sites the problem that plagued the Jews.  “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”  Variations of that thought are sprinkled throughout His prophecy.  It points the finger at the issue that was undermining His people.  They had forgotten.  The same God who revealed Himself at the burning bush as “I am,” still is.  He had lost none of His power nor His authority.  They simply did not acknowledge it any longer.  He would remind them.

His reminders were emphatic. He speaks of dead bodies and scattered bones.  Altars would be smashed; idols destroyed and works blotted out.  It was all part of God’s classroom for those who had chosen idolatry.  Idols were manmade, and He was the maker of man.  His wrecking ball was bringing it all into focus.  The slain would lay at their feet, then they would know that He is the Lord (Ezekiel 6:1-7).

It is a frightful picture, and Ezekiel had just begun.  The Lord had been hurt.  He watched as their eyes wandered and their hearts became increasingly adulterous.  He would deal with them through sword, famine and plague.  A tiny remnant would escape, but the guilt was widespread.  Escapees would spread the word about the living God.  The rest would suffer terribly and come to hate themselves because of their evil.  Then, they would know that He is the Lord (Ezekiel 6:8-10).    

Over and over, He drills them.  There was no escape from the fallout.  It is a graphic and disturbing description.  They would come to know who the Lord is.  Have we forgotten?  Has the church constructed an idol?  No, not a carved image but an erroneous mental one of a God who is so detached and benign that He no longer inspires reverential awe?  Just how do we picture the Lord?  Exactly who is our Lord?

We see a repetitive pattern among humans.  God commands.  People obey…for a while.  Then questions.  Doubt, disobedience and deterioration descend.  From Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel to Noah gathering up gopher wood and then gophers.  Even His people can drift from God-fearing to self-centered, a fatal mistake. 

Are we in line for similar lessons from the Lord? Certainly, our nation is disrespectful to God.  Have we allowed that to seep into the church?  If so, we must wake up.  The education is painful.  “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”  Better never to forget.