Lifelines December 01, 2019

Each of us is engaged in the battle of our lifetime.  Our natural impulses pull at us.  Our higher nature, the spiritual one, informs us of better choices.  Those two are in perpetual conflict (Galatians 5:16-25), and the outcome of that fight affects everything.  There is a long string of evidences that reveal which one has the upper hand, and they are signs of the ultimate destination that awaits our souls.

It is a simple understanding of the exclusionary nature of each.  We live according to one or the other at every step.  We cannot walk by both any more than we can simultaneously go north and south.  Fleshly steps are much easier to take.  Do whatever feels best, offers the fewest challenges and has the heaviest traffic.  We simply go with the flow. 

The higher road is governed by different principles.  The spiritual route is rarely the easiest.  It challenges us to overcome our feelings and emotions.  There is little congestion along the way.  There is no traffic backup on the entry ramp.  It is tight and narrow.  Excess baggage has to be left behind.  Bitterness, anger and revenge must be removed.  Sin is no longer a viable option.

Role models are rare.  As much as leaders are needed, they are few and far between.  That is why we search the pages of the gospels to find the footprints of Jesus.  The Son of God showed us the way.  We will never measure up, but we have high aspirations.  He experienced perpetual interruptions and took unexpected turns.  He butted heads with His religious contemporaries and embraced the untouchables.  He leads.  We follow.  It is a remarkable journey for those who dare.

It all begins with a decision, “If anyone wishes to come after me… (Luke 9:23).”  The choice is ours.  He will not force anyone, but He does lay down the conditions that are necessary if we decide to come after Him.  We are easily distracted.  That old serpent still dangles forbidden fruit before us.  It looks tasty and promises much but yields a harvest of life-damaging consequences.  It ultimately closes the door to paradise for those who are deceived into taking a bite. 

The first hurdle to be cleared for those who want to follow the Lord is self, “…he must deny himself…” We all have our fleshly wants and wishes that we want to indulge.  Pleasure lures us into immorality or pain pushes us into violence.  Forgiveness feels impossible when we have been terribly wronged.  We are battered and bruised.  Hopes die.  Dreams are crushed.  Careers fail.  We are angry and want to take our hurt out on someone.  Self-denial is tough business.  No to self.  No to the flesh.  It is a nonnegotiable.  To follow Jesus and walk by the Spirit we must.   The decision is which road we will take.  That affects everything and takes us to an eternal destination.

Lifelines November 24, 2019

Thanksgiving approaches, and we busy ourselves with preparations for the holiday.  Family and friends gather as we count heads, plan and cook.  It is a wonderful day as we pause to count our many blessings.  Indeed, Christians are the most blessed people on earth, so much so that it is impossible to number them all.  As we grab another plateful of turkey and trimmings, let us never forget the extraordinary gift that the Son of God is.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son…(John 3:16).”  Consider the giver.  He existed eternally before there was ever a you or me, prior to anything and everything.  Then, in the pure exertion of His will it all came into being.  Imagine nothing.  No space, time, earth or sun.  Absolutely nothing.  Then it was.  The all-powerful Creator did all this, and He created you and me. 

He loves His creation.  It is the motive behind His incredible gift, and He does not discriminate.  He loves the world.  Amazing!  That rebellious pair that got expelled from the garden?  Their murdering son?  Those who refused to get on the ark?  The ungodly hands that nailed His Son to a cross?  Me?  You?  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.  His desire is always for our best, so He sent His best.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…”

His unique Son.  God has made it possible for anyone to be His child, but there are none like Him.  It is a unique relationship that spans eternity.  The Son was with God and was equal with God.  He was God.  They shared an intimacy that exceeds our understanding, and the Father gave Him for you, me and those who couldn’t care less.  The love of the Lord is universal, unbounded by time or place.  It prompted history’s greatest gift, but not all will receive the extraordinary benefits.

The world saw this great present and wrinkled its collective brow.  They did not recognize Him.  He was even rejected by His own relatives (John 1:10-11).  Even with the foreknowledge of what He would encounter, He surely must have been disappointed when faced with the reality.  He confronted hypocritical religion and comforted sinners.  He was rewarded with hostility.  He loved them anyway.  His Father did, too.  Still, there were those who believed, and for them there was an exceedingly rich opportunity; a place in the family of God (John 1:12). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  The love that sent the Son offered a door that is opened by believing.  With total faith and trust in Him comes eternal life.  That choice is ours, but it is always available, and that is something worthy of giving thanks every day of the year.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Lifelines November 17, 2019

Grace is the subject of one of our most popular songs, and is surely one of God’s most appreciated attributes.  It makes forgiveness possible for the vilest of sinners as it reaches across the chasm that spans from here to eternity.  The Son of God embodied it to bring salvation to every person.  It saves, educates and commissions.  It casts a much wider shadow than most of us understand.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith…(Ephesians 2:8).”  It is one of the most reassuring verses in the word of God.  When we consider the horror of our pre-Christian condition, it becomes even more impressive.  Sinners are dead, and that is a totally hopeless state.  A corpse is powerless until faith embraces the hand of the omnipotent God.  He raises us, gives us life and seats us with Christ.  It is complete transformation which also brings responsibilities.

“…we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain…(2 Corinthians 6:1)”  There is the dangerous potential.  Initially, it means everything to us as we recognize the extraordinary gift of salvation, but does it begin to dull in significance as time goes by?  Have we really allowed the grace of God to change our hearts?  Sin is repulsive.  Do we see it that way?  Forgiveness is costly.  Will we extend it to others through our own experience of grace, or does the grace of God stop with us?

The young man was demanding.  He wanted his stuff right then and there.  He did not want to wait.  He had done nothing to deserve it except be born into the right family and even then, he should have waited in line for his part but he wouldn’t.  His dad gave in to his wishes.  He took his undeserved riches, left home and wasted it all on rowdy parties.  Home and dad looked pretty good from his mess, so he headed back to take his medicine.  He was greeted with a celebration by the same father who gave him things he didn’t deserve.  It is a celebratory picture of grace (Luke 15:11-32), joyful for everyone except…

God’s grace is a challenge for those who have been wronged.  The prodigal’s big brother did not appreciate his father’s gracious reception one bit.  He wanted discipline and punishment of some sort.  After all, his kid brother had taken something he had not earned and wasted it.  It should have been his.  Anger boiled over.  He wanted humiliation, not music and a buffet.  So, he pouted.  Jesus brought grace to an ungrateful nation.  He lived among them and died His sacrificial death at their hands.  Pentecost came and those same bloodthirsty instigators were met with grace.  Repentance and baptism in the name of the crucified one will clean the slate.  Even them?  Yes, even them.  Hard to take?  Perhaps, but the grace of God truly is amazing.

Lifelines November 03, 2019

It is the single question that will change our lives.  It was a punch to Peter’s raw emotions.  He stood before the Lord having denied Him in triplicate.  The life of Jesus hung in the balance.  Every conceivable force had joined together in opposition to the Son of God.  Hope for the little band of disciples was on the brink of apparent extinction when the self-confidence of the fisherman faltered.  Now, he had a face-to-face confrontation with the One whom he had denied.

“Do you love Me (John 21:15-17)?”  Step into Peter’s skin for a minute.  Jesus had warned him that his failure was imminent (John 13:38).  He was certain that it wasn’t.  No amount of pressure could win out against him.  Then it did, and not just once but three times.  Evil won that round, and a once-cocky apostle had a head-on collision with his own frailty.  He stood at a distance as the Son of Man took that and all the failures of humanity to the old rugged cross. Now, he looked the risen One in the eye.  Or did he look away, too humiliated to meet His gaze?  “Do you love Me?”

Peter was one of the first to hear the “follow Me” invitation and accept it.  He was among a dozen disciples that Jesus chose to be apostles.  Judas was, too.  A fast start does not assure a victorious finish.  They all received the same instructions from the Lord before they ventured out into a hostile world (Matthew 10).  It would be tough sledding.  Included was a somber cautioning about denying Him (Verse 33).  All twelve heard it and had wilted in the heat of persecution.  “Do you love Me?”

That would probably provide the perfect definition of discomfort.  Jesus asked the question three times, matching the number of denials.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  The repeated response from Peter led the Lord to give him a task: Watch out for the welfare of my people.  The Lord did not reject him.  He did not chastise him.  But He did quiz him.  One concern and one job.  Relationships, both vertical and horizontal, are the focus.  “Do you love Me?”

Peter went on to preach one of the most famous sermons ever on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  We still read those words and derive much of our understanding of the church from them.  Jesus had promised that he would receive the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), and the kingdom was opened to all.  The Lord communicated two inspired letters through him to Christians, and he served as an elder (1 Peter 5:1).  Not a bad resume for a “failure.”

Failure did not define Peter, nor does it define us.  It refines us.  We realize our weakness, and in that we find strength as we recognize our deep need for Him.  “Do you love Me?”  Our answer changes everything.                         

Lifelines October 03, 2019

The assessment was grim.  God was angry (Romans 1:18-32).  The signs flooded the culture that people had gone terribly off course.  They had done so before, and the Lord had dealt with them with a flood of His own.  The expressions of His wrath are devastating.  In the case of the Romans, it had been to take a hands-off approach.  They had made their choice, and it did not include Him.  So, He let them go in their own direction.  That never works out well.  Ask the prodigal son.

Evidence surrounded them.  As far as the eye could see, there was proof that an invisible one existed but they chose to ignore it.  They began to disregard the God that they knew.  Such an attitude will soon seep into a lifestyle whose roots run deeper than the actions that it prompts.  It is a relational problem with the almighty Lord Who created us.  Dismissing Him as irrelevant brings with it a high cost.  Is our land listening?

Among the early symptoms is a lack of gratitude (Romans 1:21).  Human speculation carries more weight than divine revelation and thinking gets distorted.  Instead of beginning the thought process with the eternal God, people start with themselves.  The creation is honored above the Creator.  Values get turned upside down.  The giving of thanks goes out the window.  Hearts are infected with irresistible wickedness.  Lies replace truth, and everyone suffers.

In the last letter that Paul wrote, he warned Timothy of the days to come (2 Timothy 3:1-5).  It is not a pleasant description and, unfortunately, sounds a great deal like 2019 America.  The character of the culture is one of self-absorption.  They love and serve themselves.  Relationships are wrecked.  They pay lip service to religion, but it is meaningless.  In the midst of the long list of ugly traits is “ungrateful.”  It is certain that something has gone very wrong when we fail to recognize all that God does for us every day.

We live in an age of overcrowded schedules when it is easy to take the daily provisions of the Lord for granted.  We cram eight days of living into a week and wonder why we’re so stressed and exhausted.  Even Thanksgiving plans fill our hours with so much to do that we have very little time left for giving thanks.  We cook, eat, clean and crash as thoughts of gratitude fade. Busy, busy, busy.  Surely, it is one of Satan’s greatest ploys. One day has been set aside to pause and say thank you to our great Provider.  It is a single 24-hour period in which our nation is encouraged to recognize all that God does for us.  It is a practice that Christians should exercise every day of the year.  He not only takes care of our daily bread but also our eternal souls, and for that we always give Him thanks.

Lifelines October 20, 2019

The word was made flesh (John 1:14).  It is one of the most remarkable realities in a history that is filled with amazing facts.  Humans crossed the Atlantic in rickety boats thinking the world was flat only to bump into new lands.  Men walked on the moon.  Scientists discovered tiny particles and enormous galaxies.  It all pales in comparison to the one who actually made the seas, planets and molecules becoming a baby in His mother’s womb.  The word was made flesh.  Incredible.

It was a central component in an eternal plan.  Our benevolent Creator knew before it ever began that the world would go astray.  Sin would rear its ugly head and distort all that was good.  All of mankind would suffer the effects, and it would take one of their own to resolve the issue.  So, He became a man.  It started in the simplest of circumstances among the animals and ended at the hands of ungodly men in a hostile act of brutality.  In between, He lived a remarkable and very human life.

His youth was spent in relative obscurity.  There is very little information that can be gathered.  His earthly “father” toiled in carpentry.  He took raw materials and made things, no doubt an interesting laboratory for one who watched and learned what it was to build.  He would someday teach people how to construct a life.  He would share profound lessons in simple terms like building houses.  He communicated at human levels.    

He knew what it was to be hungry and tired.  He felt tugging temptations of this world just as we do.  He was not exempt from any of the struggles that come with being flesh and blood.  He experienced loneliness in the worst way on the cross.  He took our sins on His shoulders and endured the horrible trauma in isolation.  Forsaken by everyone closest to Him, including His Father, He died all alone.  Being our Savior is tough business.        

The Son of God stepped into human skin and accomplished what no one else could (Hebrews 2:14-18).  He took the devil’s most powerful blow, victoriously emerged from the tomb and liberated those held captive by the death threat.  He has taken up His role as our High priest who is both merciful and faithful.  He understands, and He paid the debt that we owed.  It was a costly transaction without which we would be hopelessly alienated from God.

It is hard to imagine the creator with a hangnail.  Deity with heartburn or a headache.  Did He grow discouraged?  Did He ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed?  Did Mary give Him household chores.  Did Joseph ever fuss at Him?  Some things we will never know this side of eternity, but we can know this: The Lord loves us so much that He became one of us to save us, and that is pretty amazing.

Lifelines October 13, 2019

One of the great blessings of being a child of God is that it brings us into a unique relationship with other likeminded believers.  We are family.  The Lord is the tie that binds us together, and love is our common characteristic.  We stand together in good times and bad.  We rejoice and mourn together.  Joys and sorrows are shared, as are needs and resources.  It is a rich and important bond that differentiates us from a disconnected world.

The love of God makes this fellowship possible.  The vertical produces the horizontal.  Christians look at people differently.  We know that beneath the scars and disfigurement of sin, there is an image of the Creator.  That is especially true of the way that we see each other.  The years may have taken their toll but that image is still there.  Compassion and encouragement will help bring it to the surface.  It is our mutual task to restore His likeness.  Our Lord is at work in that, too (Romans 8:28-30).  It is a collective effort.

Faith is the foundation of our rebirth into the family of God (John 1:11-13).  Jesus came to His people and found rejection.  A few accepted Him, and He gave a special right to those who believed in Him.  They could become children of God.  The words and deeds of the unique Son are revealed through John’s gospel to provide adequate information to enter into that relationship (John 20:30-31).  A common faith brings us to the same heavenly Father.  Christians are spiritual brothers and sisters.

Scripture teaches us how to relate in that new family (Ephesians 4:25-32).  There is a newfound respect for the other children.  It is reflected in our speech where truth is the bedrock upon which we stand and seek to communicate.  Anger is bridled.  It is no longer a culture of exploitation but rather one of sacrificial assistance.  Words are used to build up rather than tear down.  The burden of carrying grudges is lifted by forgiveness.  After all, the Lord has forgiven us.

Jesus is our Lord, Savior and role model.  He demonstrated the kind of life that God desires for His children (Ephesians 5:1-2).  He gives us a clear picture of the Father’s love for us and tells us to imitate it.  It is a dramatic departure from the world’s example and will distinguish us from the culture around us.  The Son of God sacrificed and served.  Society teaches just the opposite.  This is a radically different family.  It is founded on the love of God, and its goal is to reflect that love. Nothing speaks as loudly as example.  The message of our lifestyle will echo longer and louder than our words ever could.  People watch us to learn what this church is all about.  Our relationship with each other is the most emphatic communication we have.  It must be correct and clear.

Lifelines October 06, 2019

Throughout His six days of creation, the Lord observed the goodness of it all.  Humanity was the crowning touch on that work, but it did not take God very long to announce that being alone is not good (Genesis 2:18).  Humans are not at their best when they live in isolation. So, the Creator addressed that deficiency with marriage and family.  There is no substitute.

Modern culture tells us it is all unnecessary.  So, there is a wandering from one meaningless relationship to another.  As soon as the initial excitement fades, they move on.  Children are shuffled from one caretaker to another.  Strangers often raise them.  Grandparents take care of the lucky ones.  The truly blessed little boys and girls are brought up by committed moms and dads.  Kids need both and have neither.  Family has been dismissed as just one option. 

Family has been the plan of God from the very beginning, and no one can improve on it.  Circumstances beyond anyone’s control can disrupt it, but no one can change it.  Humans thrive in the secure environment of a godly home.  It is within the biblical framework of the parent-child relationship that infants see the way the Lord intended for relationships to work best. 

Moms and dads who display love and respect for each other provide an education that books never can.  Those examples will be the best classroom the child will ever have to learn about how to treat people.  The world would be a totally different place if there were more Christ-centered homes.  That would be ideal.  Unfortunately, the world is considerably less than ideal.  Thankfully, the Lord planned for that, too.

A sin-tarnished world will inevitably fail to live up to a perfect standard.  Families fall apart.  Men father babies and disappear.  Woman hand those babies off to someone else to raise, and another tiny life is destined to isolation.  Potential is squandered.  “It is not good for man to be alone.”  Now what?

We have a second chance for family.  The failure has come for a variety of reasons, but the solution is clear: Almighty God is available to fill the void.  He has a love for us that is beyond our understanding.  He gave His Son to offer us security forever.  Every day He provides our physical needs, as well.  He forgives and feeds both body and soul.  He is a Father beyond compare.

The Son of God identifies as a brother to anyone who will choose to submit to His Father’s will (Matthew 12:46-50).  This world might tear siblings apart, but He is a brother who will stand by us as long as we remain faithful to Him.  Our judge, Lord and Savior is our brother. Yes, we are part of this great troubled sea of humanity, but Christians are also related in a unique way with a heavenly Father and brother.  We are Family. 

Lifelines September 29, 2019

“What is truth (John 18:38)?” It was the question that Pilate set before our Lord as the enemy forces prepared a cross for Him.  To hear today’s “experts,” there is none.  Modern thinking argues that everything is subjective.  My truth and yours may be different, and that is okay.  It is like our favorite food or color which varies from person to person.  The only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth.

The incarnation of God the Son is described in Scripture as a visible expression of glory, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  The apostles watched Him.  They walked and talked with Jesus, and what they witnessed was truth embodied.  He was the most exact physical example of reality possible.  When we study the life of Christ we learn of absolute truth in both word and deed.  Without it, our most basic need will never be met.

“…and the truth will make you free…(John 8:31-32).  Apart from truth, we remain enslaved to sin and face all its never-ending consequences.  The only hope that we have for liberation is a commitment to embody His word in our lives.  The Lord calls it discipleship, and it is the means of developing a relationship with truth.  It becomes a part of us, making its mark on our hearts and shows in our actions.  Everybody serves somebody.  That is not optional.  Only servants of the Lord break the bonds of sin.

Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth in His closing conversation with the apostles (John 14-16).  That Spirit would remain a stranger to the world (John 14:17).  Pure truth has a strange ring to it for those who have worldly values.  The evil one has a hold on their ears, and they simply cannot accept it. 

For the apostles, He would be the revealer of all the truth that they (and we) would ever need (John 16:12-15).  His followers had been exposed to much, but not all, that they needed to know.  The Spirit of truth would educate them further, and the focus of His teaching was to be God the Son.  It is the same information that has been preserved and handed down to us (2 Peter 1:19-21).

Truth is fundamental to the church’s existence.  She is built upon the foundation that was laid by the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:19-22).  We exist to stand for truth (1 Timothy 3:15).  If there is no absolute truth, we have no reason to be here.  We are still slaves of sin, our foundation has crumbled and our message is pointless.  We are of all people to be pitied. Truth is facts and more.  It is Christ.  “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me (John 14:6).”  Whether we believe Him or not, that does not change.  And that’s the truth.

Lifeline September 22, 2019

What if the Lord were to come right now?  It is a sobering thought.  We are busy with so many things of this world that we do not spend much time meditating on our eternity.  No one knows when the end will come, but it is closer now than it ever has been before.  Time is slipping away.

His return should not be a surprise to us.  Although we do not have details, we know it will happen.  The Lord has assured us that it would.  Two messengers shared that certainty with the apostles (Acts 1:11), and it provides believers with a reason to be optimistic in an environment that can be awfully discouraging.  The promise permeates both letters to the bruised and battered Thessalonian Christians. 

The choice to follow the Lord leads us into conflict with the culture, and theirs was a particularly hostile environment (Acts 17:1-13).  Angry Jews fought against the spread of the gospel not only in their city but other places as well.  Opposition in the twenty-first century can be just as vicious.  Labels like “narrow-minded,” “Judgmental” and “hateful” are slapped on believers who stand for biblical principles.  Retreat is often easier than persistence, but the stakes are much too high to make that decision.

The righteous judge is coming.  The timetable is in hands greater than ours, but it will be at just the right time.  The persecutors and the persecuted will both witness it.  The king on His throne will sit with all the nations gathered before Him (Matthew 25:31-46).  It is He who will make the great separation.  Goats to the left.  Sheep to the right.  Justice will prevail.  Eternity will begin.  It will never end.  Blessed forever or cursed forever.  Joy or sorrow.  Today, we choose.  That day, He decides.

The Thessalonian church was suffering (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).  They were on a battlefield that was taking its toll.  The gospel had found fertile ground, and the enemy was stirred up.  Satan’s hands were busy.  They still are, and he will use anybody and everybody.  The religious establishment recruited the neighborhood thugs, and mob action ruled the day.  The devil never sleeps.  The righteous judge doesn’t either.

He sees.  He knows.  He hears.  Life is not fair, but He is and justice will prevail.  One day, the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven.  It will all be over then.  He will be flanked by mighty angels and engulfed in flames.  Vengeance will be in His hands, and those who inflicted pain on the saints will experience punishment beyond description…forever.  They will never again receive any blessings, for they will be eternally separated from the Lord. It is impossible to conceive of that day.  Words fail.  First, He came as savior.  The next time He comes as judge.  When?  No one knows.  Maybe today.  Maybe tomorrow.  What if He came right now?  Where would we spend eternity?