Lifelines June 23, 2019

The pathway to blessing was clearly marked out for Abram (Genesis 12:1-3).  It began with giving up all that was comfortable and familiar.  Old surroundings and the same old environment would not take him there.  He had to walk away for parts unknown.  It was surely a challenging decision to make.  It is for everyone.  Blessings are just beyond our grasp unless we change, and that is never easy.  Comfort zones hold us back from the best that the Lord has to offer.

The promises were remarkable.  He would be made into a great nation that extends far beyond biological connections.  It is family and then some.  Numbers exceeding our ability to count would be included.  It all began with one man, a solitary individual with nothing more than the word of God and faith in the Lord who spoke it.  All the faithful ever since, regardless of genealogy, are citizens of that great nation.

Obey the instruction and be blessed.  It was a simple statement, but one which required great trust.  There was no indication where he was to go.  Simply, go where you are told.  He did.  It was a bumpy road at times.  Occasionally, there were doubts.  Years of waiting came between the call and any indication of fulfillment.  Ishmael testifies of his impatient doubting.  It called for a willingness to sacrifice.  He did.  He sacrificed the familiar and nearly his son of promise.  He was not perfect, but he was willing.

Through the centuries his name has been synonymous with faith.  He is the father of the faithful.  God promised to make his name great, and He did.  We still look with admiration at Abram, whom we know better as Abraham.  He carved out a life through which the greatest of all blessings came.  In so doing, he was not only blessed but became a blessing.  Those who follow his lead will share the experience.

His descendent and our Savior came to bless us (Acts 3:26).  Jesus came to change the course of our lives so that we might be blessed.  He gave up the glory of heaven which He shared with His Father to show us a different way.  But then, change is difficult.  The Son of God could vouch for that.  So could Abraham.  Both gave up their homes, and we are called to do the same.  Blessings are waiting, and His word tells us how to get them.

What holds us back? “This is how we have always been.”  “This is what I have always done.”  Doubts?  There are no guarantees, except that the Lord only wants the best for us.  It may call for leaving some people, places and things behind.  There could be long delays with no apparent results.  It might demand sacrifice…like the Son of God.  He sacrificed His life for us that we might be among the blessed, and we follow in those steps.                    

Lifelines June 16, 2019

“Our Father… (Matthew 6:9).”  Those are the opening words of the exemplary prayer that Jesus taught His disciples.  It expresses the relationship between a genuine believer and our eternal Creator.  We do not approach a stranger or someone who is disinterested in us.  No one will ever care more for us than our God.  Yet, modern culture has essentially stripped the concept of fatherhood of any significant meaning.  The consequences are evident.

“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand (Isaiah 64:7).”  One of the unfortunate consequences of the breakdown of the family is the loss of the fundamental concept of authority and submission.  That is a lesson initially taught at home.  Example is a great teacher and a marriage based on biblical principles will educate a child in ways that nothing else will.  Without such a foundation, the Fatherhood of God is distorted.  He is the potter.  We are not.  We are the product of His hands.  The influence of a father never ends, not even at death.  Our view of God will be influenced by our human dad.

He is a role model.  We find ourselves morphing into our parents whether we intend to or not.  Their words come out of our mouths.  Their thoughts fill our brains.  Their interests become ours.  That makes a father’s example extraordinarily important as his habits are passed on to the next generation.  There are exceptions.  Cain and Abel grew up in the exact same environment and we know the outcome of their story.  Unfortunately, we do not know anything of Adam’s parenting skills.  Still, fathers will generally have a great deal to do with a child’s development.

Scripture puts a special responsibility on fathers (Ephesians 6:4).  He is the spiritual leader of the family, and it falls to him to instruct the children in the ways of the Lord.  This must be done in a realistic and compassionate manner that does not dishearten the child (Colossians 3:21).  His influence will extend far beyond his lifetime as he teaches and shows respect for the Lord and His word (Psalm 78:5-8).  Being a dad is an important job.       

Joshua was God’s chosen man to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  His commitment was unquestioned (Numbers 32:12), and he was a successful leader of the Lord’s nation.  Yet, he failed in one regard.  He did not prepare the next generation (Judges 2:10), and that began a downward spiral that became an oft-repeated pattern.  A father’s impact will reverberate far beyond their lifetime. 

We have no choice about our earthly father.  They are good and bad, but men do have a choice about what kind of father to be.  Be a good one.  Our heavenly Father is the best.  Learn from Him, and have a Happy Father’s Day.   

Lifelines June 09, 2019

Jesus came to save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).  It was simply stated by angelic proclamation but easily forgotten.  His mission was not one of gathering up all of the righteous but reclaiming the wrecked, those who had been ruined by sin.  Sinners are a sloppy group.  They reflect the worst that is within us.  Self-centered rebels are not an attractive bunch, but they are who He came seeking.

They came looking for Him, too (Luke 7:36-50).  Simon the Pharisee had his highly refined sensibilities offended when a sinful woman crashed his dinner party and feel at the feet of Jesus.  This was, after all, a collection of the pure not the pitiful and she had a reputation.  She simply did not belong, but there she was emptying her perfume.  If Jesus only knew.  Oh, He did.  Folks like her are why He came.

Jesus was very familiar with what kind of woman she was, and He did not minimize that (Verse 47).  She was VERY sinful.  She knew it, too, so she sought the only one who offered salvation not condemnation.  Simon the Pharisee was the one who failed to see his own true colors.  She poured out her heart to the Lord.  He never even offered water for the Lord’s feet or oil for anointing.  Both had great need for forgiveness.  She recognized hers.  He did not.

Jesus did not come to condemn.  He came to offer a new beginning.  Critics never could quite grasp that.  They still do not.  He left the glory of heaven because humans are a combination of a willing spirit and weak flesh.  The weaker part of us wins out too often.  The Son of God was crucified because of weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4).  He did not come to weed out the runts of the litter but to give His life for us.  Now, it’s a matter of us facing up to our frailties.           

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Those are the words of Jesus (Luke 14:35).  Immediately, we meet two distinct groups.  One was comprised of tax collectors (Ugh!) and sinners (Double ugh!).  The other was religious experts.  One used their ears to listen.  The other used their mouths to grumble.  Their complaint?  Jesus actually associated with sinners.  He didn’t reject and condemn them.  He ate with them.

He still does.  We assemble on the first day of every week to share the Lord’s Supper, and He is the unseen host.  We come in weakness with a history of sin.  He meets us with His cleansing mercy and forgiveness.  Jesus told Simon the Pharisee that much forgiveness prompts much love (Luke 7:47).  The simplicity of the unleavened bread and grape juice can be deceiving.  Our many sins have been forgiven.  He made that possible on an old rugged cross.  We remember and love for Him grows.

Lifelines June 02, 2019

“We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).”  It is the simplest of statements that provides our most basic motive.  Our understanding of His actions shapes ours.  The great care and concern of our Creator touches us deeply when we begin to grasp its enormity.  It spans all times and places.  It echoes throughout eternity.  Yet, it is as personal as our name.  It is focused on each of us.  “…because He first loved us.”

One look at the brutality of a crucifixion cements the thought in our mind.  A back that had been shredded by a horrendous lashing.  A crown of thorns sits atop the head of the Son of God.  Blood drips down His sinless face.  Hands and feet hammered to a cross.  A spear thrust into His side.  The Father sits at a distance, knowing the suffering of His only begotten.  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Our sin did that.  How’s that for a portrait of love?

It is incomprehensible.  Knowing such a love exceeds our mental abilities.  We may read about it, talk about it, even study it but we cannot fully understand it.  Yet, it is one of the secrets of being filled up to all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19-21).  To know the unknowable is possible only through the power working within us.  The Lord can do what we cannot to bring us to the spiritual place where He wants us to be.  Our love is a response to His love.  No other motive will sustain us.

It is a never-ending challenge.  To live and love like Jesus is a high standard.  Yet it is the one that the Lord has set before Christians (Ephesians 5:1-2).  He has given us a second chance.  Our sin slaughtered our relationships with God and our neighbors.  The Son has given us new life, and another chance.  He has saved us from an eternity separated from Him.  Now, it is up to us to show our appreciation for such a blessing. 

We have been given the possibility to reverse course and be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  We are not informed enough, strong enough or good enough to do this without Him.  Building relationships based on biblical principles brings His guidance into every corner of our lives.  That assures us that we have help beyond ourselves, and He bears fruit whose essence is love (Galatians 5:22-23). The human potential is virtually unlimited.  With God as our partner, Christians can achieve whatever He determines that we will.  The question becomes: What is that?  What does He want us to do?  Jesus summed it up in a couple of sentences, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).”  Why?  Because He first loved us.

Lifelines May 26, 2019

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who have given their lives in the service of our country.  Men and women who were dedicated to a cause much larger than themselves paid the price for what they believed.  Our nation’s freedom was worth whatever price they had to pay to establish and maintain it.  They saw a need and gave themselves for it.  They made the sacrifice, and we enjoy the benefits.  Once a year, a grateful nation reflects on these great warriors.

There was the ultimate warrior against this creation’s most profound problem.  It enslaves and disables billions of people every day.  It will eventually destroy them.  Trillions of dollars are spent in unsuccessful attempts to solve the symptoms.  They do not touch the cause.  Only the Lord can do that.  There is just one issue, and there is no other solution. 

He shared eternity with His Father (John 1:1).  It had been an eternally harmonious relationship of equality (Philippians 2:6), and sin was such a traumatic problem that the solution demanded Him to relinquish that position.  He stepped into the world to resolve a destructive force.  The Son of God became a servant to liberate slaves.  It cost Him His life.

He spent most of His life in an unnoticed corner of the world.  Occasional trips into Jerusalem provided hints that He was no ordinary kid, but He spent most of His youth as the carpenter’s boy.  He didn’t occupy the spotlight.  Not much is known about those first three decades of His life.  Just one fact is certain, but it is a remarkable one: He never sinned.  A guilty one could never have saved other guilty ones.  The sacrifice had to be perfect.

His public ministry was marked by both compassion and controversy.  The sinful loved Him.  They finally found someone who cared about their deepest need and offered a solution not condemnation.  He didn’t fling rocks: He offered forgiveness.  He had a soft spot in His heart for the outsiders and the guilty.  Are we listening?  We are the sinners and outsiders.  He cleanses us and ushers us into the family of God.

The religious aristocrats of the day grumbled.  They enjoyed the status of being elite.  The notion that they might have to give that up was totally unacceptable.  Storm clouds of opposition gathered quickly as He butted heads with the establishment.  Their frustrations turned them into a mob.  Death was on their mind.  It was in the Lord’s, too.  They were thinking termination.  He was planning liberation.  They never anticipated the empty tomb.  Freedom came through the blood of the Son of God.  He gave His life that we might have life.  That is memorialized on the first day of every week in the Lord’s Supper, remembering the one who died to solve our greatest problem.  Thank you, Lord.

Lifelines May 19, 2019

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (Psalm 33:12).”  There was a time in which “One nation under God” was an important concept.  Most Americans claimed to be Christian, and that shaped our national identity. We proudly stood for God and country.  “In God we trust” is still on our money, but is it in our hearts?  Do we really? 

God has been shoved to the periphery, if He is acknowledged at all.  A single protest against any representation brings it to a halt.  Crosses are deemed to be objectionable.  Prayers at public functions are frowned upon.  The Lord has been expelled from our schools.  An entire generation, maybe two, has been indoctrinated in a very secular way of viewing life.  The results are abundantly clear.

America has lost sight of the wonder of God.  Having been taught that humans are merely the product of evolutionary luck, people see no dignity in life.  It’s sad.  We have been created in the image of a wondrous Creator, and that has been tossed aside in favor of a theory that claims we came from monkeys.  That hardly makes for a high estimate of ourselves or anyone else. 

Worship has become a consumer product.  Rather than honoring God, it is intended to please the worshipper (If they can truly be called worshippers at all!).  He is no longer given His proper respect.  It is a tragic turn that marks a destructive route for any society.  Gratitude begins to fade as people become less God-focused and more self-absorbed.  They fail to acknowledge all that He does for them every day.  Not to mention His eternal plan for the salvation of their souls.           

Every breath we take is a gift from the Lord.  Lungs that work and air to take in are not the product of human endeavor.  Each beat of our heart is His work.  The idea of a “self-made” person is laughable.  If God withdrew all that He supplies, we would cease to exist almost instantaneously. We owe all to Him and His provisions.  Respect for the Lord has waned into an ungrateful culture.

God will allow any people intent on leaving Him behind to go.  They will get there wish, and everything gets turned upside down.  It affects their thinking.  No consideration of the will and word of God will surely lead them down a ruinous path.  Their foolish ideas are presented in glowing words with an appearance of wisdom and higher intellect, but foolish ideas will always be foolish ideas no matter how good they sound.  They lead to foolish actions. We watch in horror as our country becomes increasingly ungodly.  We shouldn’t be surprised. The word of the Lord described times such as this (Romans 1:18-32).  Neither the Lord, people nor sin has changed.  It still ruins us, both individually and collectively, and it still infuriates God.

Lifelines May 12, 2019

It is impossible to put a price on a good person.  To find someone who is faithful, dependable and trustworthy is to discover a rare gem.  Timothy was just such a man (Acts 16:1-5).  The brethren vouched for his quality, and he seemed a good partner for an evangelist who was on a mission for God.  Paul had just rejected John Mark and split with Barnabas because of it.  This was a high compliment for a young man, and he did not disappoint.

His name appears in much of the correspondence from Paul to the early churches.  His influence was felt in the development and growth of those congregations.  He proved to be so trustworthy that he was left in Ephesus to work with the church there.  His solid faith was no accident, and it didn’t come from dear ole dad.

His father is mentioned but once, and that pointed to a contrast with his Jewish mother who had evidently converted to become a Christian.  The influences that shaped Timothy were that believing mother and his grandmother.  They were known to Paul as women of genuine faith (2 Timothy 1:5).  There was nothing superficial or hypocritical about these two ladies, and they brought up a boy who would become a man of exemplary faith.

It is clear that his upbringing was largely shaped by the word of God (2 Timothy 3:14-15).  He had not only been educated with the right information, but had also taken it to heart.  He was convicted in childhood.  Faith is shallow, if it exists at all, where information is lacking.  He was taught.  He got it, did not let it go and touched his world.  Lois and Eunice sure knew the right textbook to use in raising a child of integrity.

The sacred writings imparted wisdom.  They still do.  Without the wisdom that the Scriptures give, we live foolishly.  So will our children.  Preparing a child for a sinful world full of temptations is a challenge, and parents need all the help they can get.  Timothy was provided with the right literature to guide him into becoming a man of faith in Christ.  That faith saves souls, and there is no greater reward than that for parenthood.

He is described as a bond-servant of the Lord (Philippians 1:1).  Paul sends greetings to the Roman Christians on behalf of his fellow worker, Timothy (Romans 16:21).  The apostle looked at him and saw more than simply someone who shared his mission, he saw a son in the faith whom he loved (1 Corinthians 4:17).  That is just a glimpse at him.  He was quite a man.

 A faithful mother is to thank.  More than sermons and Bible classes, a mom’s influence shapes a child.  Timothy could tell us.  They are irreplaceable.  Thanks ladies, and Happy Mother’s Day.  There’s nobody like you.

Lifelines May 05, 2019

The crowds were home, safe and dry (Mathew 14:22-33).  The gusty winds that tormented the disciples were no threat to them.  The storm had the full attention of the experienced fishermen.  Jesus had retreated to the solitude of the mountain to pray, but He had ordered them into a boat and a mess.  They were there because they were disciples.  Those who were not in that small group were spared the experience, and that was a pity because it was amazing.

The disciples in that boat saw Jesus walk on water.  It impresses us to read about it, but to be an eyewitness surely seared an indelible image into their minds.  His approach rattled them.  “A ghost,” they said.  Fear spilled from their lips, but from His came words of reassurance, “Fear not…”  Don’t be afraid?  They were looking at a man doing the impossible!  The people at home didn’t see that.  

That’s when Peter spoke up.  He never was one to do a lot of thinking before he opened his mouth.  Emboldened, He wanted to do the same thing.  His request was granted, and he stepped out of the boat and walked on water.  His fellow disciples saw that, too.  Wonder what they thought?  Did Peter replay that moment over-and-over in his mind when he went to bed at night?  “I actually walked on water.”  Those in their houses never stepped on top of a wave and stayed.  They never sank either.  Peter did.

He lost focus.  He took his eyes off of the Lord and put them on the wind.  As soon as he did, he lost his footing, and down he went.  He had dared to step out in a remarkable demonstration of faith, or was it?  Jesus saved him and immediately criticized his faith.    

He had followed the Lord’s orders to get in the boat and ended up in a brutal storm because of it.  He had watched Jesus walk on the sea, then took a few steps on the surf himself.  He sank.  Jesus both rescued and chastised him.  His faith was not as substantial as he thought.  How’s that for a day?  The end result for those who shared the experience was the same.  They worshiped.  They recognized that this was no ordinary man.  He was the Son of God. 

The Lord separated the disciples from the crowds.  One group got into a boat and had the lesson of a lifetime.  The other stayed in the comfort of their homes and learned nothing new.  Discipleship leads us into deep waters.  Sometime they are stormy.  That is where the really intense education occurs.  We learn of the greatness of our Savior and the fault lines in our faith.  It can be rough, but the consequences are the same: a certainty that Jesus is the Son of God.  Then, we really worship. 

Lifelines April 28, 2019

Twenty-first century sensibilities tell us not to get into religious conflicts with our neighbors, to tread softly and not to generate controversies.  Apparently, no one ever told the apostles about that.  Following them on their evangelistic road inevitably led into trouble.  It started in the earliest days in Jerusalem when conditions became so volatile that believers were run out of town.  The ringleader of the opposition was a man named Saul (Acts 8:3), and it wouldn’t take long for him to wind up on the opposite side of the fence.

The persecutor became the persecuted.  Saul became Paul, and his subsequent service in the cause that he once tried to eradicate is well documented.  We read his correspondence which makes up a large portion of the New Testament.  His influence rippled throughout the region and around the world for centuries to come, but it was not without its hardships. 

“I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake (Acts 9:16).”  It is part of the message from the Lord about Paul’s mission.  Conversion had been hard.  The strong hand of the Lord had knocked the vision right out of his eyes.  He groped his way with a few helping hands into Damascus, regained his vision, washed away his sins and was hustled out of town under the cloak of darkness.  His conversion was not welcome there.  That would not be the last time.

His travels would eventually take him to Thessalonica where the response was strong and mixed (Acts 17).  Many believed and joined Paul and Silas, but there was also a group of Jews who were not so agreeable.  They gathered up their jealousy, supplemented it with a gang of hoodlums and threw the city into an uproar.  Once again, the nighttime was the right time for his escape.  So, whatever happened to that new congregation planted in the midst of such turbulence?

Biblical history is silent concerning details about any further visits by Paul, but we have two letters that were subsequently written to the church that lend great encouragement of their progress.  Paul had left his stamp on them (1 Thessalonians 1).  They learned by observation what kind of man he was.  We reveal our faith by our actions.  People are watching.  Some are imitating.  What kind of example are we setting? 

The initial entry of the gospel into Thessalonica had been a bumpy ride.  Nevertheless, the word found a place in their hearts and transformed them from follower to leader.  They began to set the example.  They became the proclaimers.  Their faith made such an impression that further proclamation by the apostle was unnecessary.  They had grown from idolaters to Christian role models, proof of the power of one man with the gospel.  Now, it’s in our hands.                      

Lifelines April 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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