Lifelines September 16, 2018

Loss of a leader can be a very disorienting time.  The one to whom people look for guidance and protection was suddenly gone.  The king had died (Isaiah 6:1).  It was at just such a moment that Isaiah saw the Lord more clearly than ever before.  Human authority was removed and the ultimate authority came sharply into view.  It was indelibly etched in his mind.

That amazing presence sat enthroned, filling the temple.  Seraphim proclaimed His holiness in chorus.  The case was stated emphatically in triplicate.  There was no one to compare anywhere on earth.  He reigned, and the creation proclaimed it.  His glory permeated the entire world.  His magnificence overwhelmed Isaiah.  A glimpse of perfection magnified his imperfection.  Step closer.  Look more carefully.  Remove every flawed representation, and we will see Him as He truly is.  We will see ourselves, as well.

The world trembled.  So did Isaiah.  His self-awareness shook him down to his toes.  Step into the presence of the holy God and everything looks grimy in comparison, particularly our own hearts.  The undiluted light of divinity exposes every blemish, and they are ugly.  Face-to-face with flawlessness strips away our carefully crafted spiritual veneer.  No wonder most folks prefer to keep the Lord at a distance.  It’s more comfortable out in the shadows but much less beneficial.

The proclaiming seraphim did something that only heaven can do.  Isaiah’s self-esteem had taken a beating.  He was riddled with the ruination of sin, and there was nothing he could do.  Guilty!  He was, knew it and couldn’t fix it.  It took something out of this world to resolve his dilemma, and that is precisely what occurred.  Heaven came down and solved his sin problem.  There was no other way.  There still isn’t.

It was that clear view of the Lord that opened Isaiah’s eyes.  He saw himself in the presence of intense purity, and his impurities were glaring.  He was made acutely aware of his sins.  Have we stepped into that same probing light?  We have if we have opened up the word of God and let it have its way with us (Hebrews 4:12-13).  We will see like we never have before.  It dissects and exposes.  It examines.  It is unlike any other literature in the world and searches out every nook and cranny of our hearts.

We will find the true and living God described in those pages.  It tells us that his thoughts and ways are not like ours (Isaiah 55:8).  Jesus revealed Him to the shock of the religious leaders of His day.  He may shock us, too.  It is likely that we will discover qualities about Him (And ourselves!) that we never expected when we dive deeply into His word.  Be prepared.  It may be an Isaiah-type experience leaving us rattled but forgiven, when we see the Lord as He truly is.

Lifelines September 09, 2018

The church is a unique collection of individuals whom God has gathered together into His family.  Christians come in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities.  We come from totally different backgrounds.  Some escaped from deep in the darkness of the world.  It left telltale scars that occasionally become visible.  Others have been shaped by nonbiblical religious roots whose influence is still evident.  Still others have been surrounded by Bible based Christianity their entire lives.  In spite of the many differences; Christians comprise one big, blessed family.

The great equalizer within the Lord’s family is our mutual salvation.  That began with our realization of sin.  It is the separator.  It alienates us from our Father and divides people.  We relinquished all family rights when we chose to engage.  We lost our place at the table and became the ultimate outsider.  The progression and destruction of sin is seen within the very first family.  Sin cost them their place in paradise, and soon escalated into brother murdering brother.  It takes a toll on relationships, both vertical and horizontal.

The damage of disobedience came as no shock to heaven.  Plans were made to resolve the trauma on humanity that sin produced before it even existed.  The declared penalty was death, and God the Son was going to pay it.  His amazing grace took on flesh and stepped into the world of sin.  He confronted evil and never once failed.  An excruciating death by crucifixion followed.  An empty tomb remains.  Faith embraced that grace and our sins were forgiven.  That experience is the same for every member of the family.

We all share the same blessings (Ephesians 1:3).  They are spiritual in nature and not a one is missing.  Adoption by a loving Father headlines the list.  Add to that the redemption that came through the death of the Son, resurrection from our spiritual death caused by sin and our repaired relationship with God; and we see the extraordinary blessedness of the family.  Not to mention that the best is yet to come.

Heaven in the presence of the Lord is our ultimate destination.  Every true child of God shares that future, where there will be no pain nor sorrow.  No more smashed fingers or broken hearts.  Sickness will cease.  Death will no longer linger on the horizon.  Sin is not there, only forgiven sinners.

People cannot see a visible likeness when they look at Christians.  We do not look alike, but there is a family resemblance.  There has been from the beginning.  God created us in His image.  It is not physical but much deeper than that.  It is a spiritual connection with our Father that was terribly damaged by sin.  Children of God have been born again with a new identity.  Now, the sanctifying work of the Lord is restoring us.  We begin to share His nature.  We are His children.  We are family.

 

Lifelines September 2, 2018

Prosperity is not generally viewed as a hindrance in our spiritual journey, but it often is.  After years of living day-to-day with much uncertainty, the Lord’s people were soon to enter the Promised Land.   The decades had rolled by as they wandered and wondered.  Unpacking the moving boxes must have been appealing.  Success was coming soon and bringing unexpected threats to their relationship with God (Deuteronomy 8).

It was prime real estate, productive and beautiful.  Mining and farming guaranteed full stomachs and comfy homes.  Prosperity was just ahead, and that is good, right?  After all, they had been in the Lord’s school of humility and struggle for forty years.  The long and winding road from slavery to success was intended to educate them on what really matters.  That’s easy to miss.  Material needs are essential.  That’s why they’re called “needs.”  But there is something more critical to truly living.  God’s classroom drove that point home in one dramatically long semester.

Do not forget the One who delivered you (Deut. 8:11).  A snazzy neighborhood tends to distort our thinking.  Filled pantries blunt our sense of dependence.  Pride shoves praise into the back room.  All of those years in slavery are forgotten, as are the memories of that incredible deliverance by supernatural hands.  His guidance, protection and provision through the dangers and hardships of the desert become mere footnotes in history.  As does He; a secondary consideration at best.  Prosperity is a very dangerous neighborhood, and they were about to move in.

A few rare individuals are able to successfully negotiate the potential pitfalls associated with the challenging world of high finance.  Jesus called attention to that uncomfortable reality in terms of camels and needle’s eyes (Mark 10:17-27).  Humans do not need money to enter the kingdom of Heaven.  They need a Messiah; nothing more, nothing less.  It means total dependence on the only One capable of ushering them into true life.  Riches make it harder, not easier.

All sorts of evil arise through the inappropriate attitude toward money (1 Timothy 6:9-10).  Our passion for it is misplaced, and that leads to tricks and traps to get it and keep it.  That is the opening scene of a life whose final act is a departure from the faith and all the blessings that come through it.  It is an investment whose dividend is eternal bankruptcy.

Business, money and its management are inescapable parts of life which are not disconnected from our spiritual pilgrimage but are often neglected.  Failure to include the Lord in those plans is addressed bluntly in His word (James 4:13-17).  Considering Him, seeking His guidance and realizing that we totally depend on Him keeps us properly balanced and focused.  Next Sunday and Monday, we receive a needed assist with our seminar on being debt free.  Bringing every aspect of our lives, including finances, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ is what it truly means to be a Christian.

Lifelines August 26, 2018

It seems much too simple to be significant.  A small piece of what appears to be an ordinary cracker and a tiny sip of grape juice surely could not carry a great deal of meaning, could they?  Let’s time travel for a moment back to the slavery days of the Israelites in Egypt.  We will find our roots there.

The Jews are our forefathers.  Their history is ours.  They had endured four centuries of slavery when God prompted Moses through the burning bush to get them out of there.  The tenth in a series of plagues left the Egyptians in mourning as dead children littered the land.  It is a horrifying sight to consider.  The Lord is not one to be crossed.  The Israelites had been spared, passed over because of the blood of an unblemished lamb.  Obedience preserved life.  A spiritual picture is being painted.

The Passover celebration commemorated the deliverance of the Israelites from both death and slavery.  The Lord had spared the lives of the first born and would lead them through the Red Sea to freedom.  Centuries later, another lamb would appear.  He would offer a different kind of life and deliverance.  Until His arrival, sinless life and sacrificial death; the Jews would remember their escape with this observance.  The Passover was filled with meaning.  The new memorial has even more.

It was the time of the Passover when Jesus gathered His disciples (Mark 14:12-25).  They were together to share the meal that took their minds back to those powerful images.  He confronted them with the coming betrayal and denials.  It was all necessarily painful.  The blood of the Passover lamb had to be shed.  Life and deliverance can be achieved no other way.  Remembering is critical.  The escape was secured through sacrifice.

Christ is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).  It is against the backdrop of the Jewish Passover that we recognize the importance of this visually unimpressive reminder.  “Do this in remembrance of Me (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).”  The source for that directive is impeccable, the Lord Himself.  It is a time of reflecting on the body and blood of the Lord, and the salvation which He secured through the excruciating death of crucifixion.   It is a time to immerse ourselves in the extraordinary love of God.  To remember HIM.

Each week merits a moment of reorientation.  Better yet, it demands it.  Christians come together the first thing every week to replenish our thirsty souls, encourage one another and set our course.  The world has had our heads for the last six days.  If we are not careful it will have our hearts, too.  It will draw our devotion to that which is temporary, and we will lose sight of the eternal.  So, we come together to break bread (Acts 20:7) and reflect.  He died for me.  He’s coming again.  Until He does, we remember.  The blood-bought covenant deserves nothing less.

Lifelines August 19, 2018

Jesus gathered His small group of apostles together and talked with them on the eve of His crucifixion (John 14-16).  The events of the coming hours would rattle the world.  His men surely underestimated the gravity of that conversation.  He would be dead in a matter of hours.  That would be temporary.  His resurrected life would not be, but their comprehension was limited.  Death is so final, or so we think.

The empty tomb.  It distinguishes Christianity from every other belief system in the world.  It is the reason for our hope (1 Peter 1:3).  We place ourselves in the shoes of the women who made the initial discovery (Matthew 28:1-10).  Greeted by the odd sight of a huge stone that had been mysteriously rolled away from the grave.  An earthquake, perhaps?  A shiny angel and shaking guards were the welcoming committee.  “He is not here.”  What?

The ladies were a bundle of mixed-up emotions.  They had been given words of comfort and a mission.  Tell the guys that He’s alive.  It would prove to be a hard sell (Mark 16:9-13).  Jesus had told them along the way that this is the way that it had to happen, but understanding came slowly.  This bit of information was hard to swallow.  The dead man lives?  It was news that would create ripples around the world, especially among the religious establishment.

It was the centerpiece of Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  It sent shock waves through the hearts of thousands as they responded with repentance and baptism in the name of the resurrected one.  It was a powerful message.  It still is.  Salvation hangs in the balance of believing it (Romans 10:9-10).  It is fundamental to our faith and a belief that is nonnegotiable.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ had been called into question in Corinth (1 Corinthians 15).  There were rumbles that it had never happened.  You want witnesses?  How about hundreds?  Even a post-ascension appearance to the opposition.  It is evidence that is inarguable.  No empty tomb means invalid faith and meaningless preaching.  The Bible becomes a deceptive myth.  Jesus was wrong at best, a liar at worst.  All the apostles joined Him in the greatest conspiracy of all-time if He is not risen.

What else could account for the remarkable transformation of Peter and Paul?  The former had wilted under the pressure on the night of his denial.  Yet, he was the bold proclaimer in the early chapters of church history.  Paul stood in antagonistic opposition to the church.  He was hostile and, at times, violent.  What turned him around to become a major contributor to the word of God?

It is a life-changing fact of which Christians become a participant in baptism (Romans 6:1-7).  The tomb is empty, and we join Him in that resurrected life when we are buried and raised with Him.

Lifelines August 12, 2018

They were rag-tag group of slaves that had labored under an oppressive hand for four centuries.  Optimism was for someone else.  They had endured an endless stream of identical days with no end in sight.  These were God’s chosen people?  It hardly seemed so.  A Messiah would come from this?  Doubtful.  Then there was that burning bush.

It was deliverance time.  Escape was just around the corner.  The leader?  An eighty-year-old fugitive?  Four decades had passed since Moses had fled a murder rap and hid out among the livestock.  It would be hard to imagine a less likely choice.  He thought so, too.  “Who me?” He tap-danced around God’s plan but failed to convince the Lord.  “Go!”  He did.

And he succeeded.  It took one old man, a sidekick and an all-powerful God to open the way to freedom.  The Israelites did not escape Egypt because Moses was young and energetic.  He wasn’t.  Neither was he a confident, take-charge guy.  It was not his rhetorical skills that negotiated the way out of slavery.  No, it took ten plagues and a sea divided by an invisible, omnipotent hand.  It was a demonstration of might that no army could successfully challenge.

Their situation appeared hopeless.  There was no clear way to escape the horrible conditions in which they found themselves.  Even as Moses took on his God-given mission, circumstances only got even worse (Exodus 5).  Discouragement hit an all-time high (Exodus 6:9).  The storm clouds grew to their darkest as the Lord prepared to intervene.  Indeed, He sees beyond the horizon of this moment.

Jesus stood on the brink of history’s most brutal day.  Make that eternity’s most brutal day.  Heaven and hell were about to collide on a hill far away.  He had come to save His people from their sins, and the time had come.  This was a deliverance of a different kind.  Physical slavery is insufferable.  Spiritual slavery exceeds description.  His mission was soon to reach a crescendo, the darkest of moments.  “Take heart,” He told His disciples, “I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”  Unlikely words for such a time.

He is in the deliverance business.  He is on the other side of those black clouds.  They obscure the sun.  The same could be said of the Son.  Situations arise that obliterate our vision.  We find ourselves held captive by our own thoughts and emotions.  Old habits that refuse to die seem to tie our hands.  Gloomy days fill our calendar.  The Lord is above those overcast skies.  He is still there, shining as brightly as ever.  We have simply let something block our view.  The God of the burning bush has not gone anywhere nor has He lost His power.

He is the Lord of victory.  A sea, a cross, a death, a tomb; nothing can defeat Him.  Absolutely nothing.  He has overcome it all.  In Christ, we will, too.

Lifelines August 05, 2018

Little more than seven weeks had passed since the events that literally rocked the world.  The man they called Jesus was dead on a Friday and alive three days later.  A day of despair and disillusionment for His followers had been sandwiched in between.  Hopes had been nailed to a cross, only to be resurrected never to die again.  It was an earth-shattering sequence.  What was it all about?

Jerusalem awakened to a day of sights and sounds that they would never forget (Acts 2).  It sounded like wind, looked like fire and a handful of men miraculously spoke in languages other than their own.  Witnesses pointed a finger at the wine. “They’ve had too much to drink,” was their reasoning for this unreasonable activity.  It defied explanation but demanded attention, and Peter wasted no time in seizing the spotlight.

God was at work.  It was His plan carried out by ungodly men on that ugly cross.  That is a little much for the human mind to grasp.  Their eyes saw a world that looked totally out of the Lord’s control and in the hands of the devil.  A close associate betrayed Him.  His entire inner circle abandoned Him at the most critical time.  The wages of sin were being paid.  They fled.  He died.  It is a frightening sight when wickedness gets its way.

Those Friday events were devastating, but the Sunday discovery had been stunning.  The tomb was empty.  What could possibly be the explanation for that?  David had written about it.  The Lord has a way with death.  No one else does.  The devil can instigate, and humans can carry out the taking of life.  God alone gives it, even to dead men.  The one they killed had been raised and exalted.

That is what that Pentecost was all about.  It was dazzling, attention grabbing, and the focus was on the Son of God.

Joel had put those days into prophetic context.  This was the fulfillment of the words of God that he had spoken so many years before.  The faulty notions of the kingdom to come were being corrected.  John had made the proclamation.  Jesus had, too.  It was the dawn of a new age, one in which forgiveness was offered and the promised Holy Spirit had arrived.  The world had changed.  The audience was called to do the same.

Change.  We resist.  Routine is comfortable.  Repentance takes aim at the mind.  It turns preconceived ideas upside down. It erases old thoughts to make room for new ones.  Jesus is Lord.  That is different.  To redirect our lives demands updated information; but the end result is a uniting with the Lord in baptism, forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  This was no temporary fix that had to be repeated.  It is the promise of God for anyone who will accept (Acts 2:39).  That promise still stands.

Lifelines July 29, 2018

“For God so loved the world…(John 3:16).”  There is no verse in the word of the Lord that is more recognizable that that one.  It is a reassurance.  It resonates with universal appeal.  To think that an all-powerful Creator has such an attitude toward a rebellious creation stretches the bounds of our comprehension.  He is so enormous, and we are so insignificant in comparison.  He is holy.  We are not.  Yet, He loves us anyway.

The universe around us testifies to the existence of God (Romans 1:20).  He has surrounded us with evidence.  The cycle of seasons, the orbits of the stars and planets, plus the wonder of the human body all point to an amazing power behind them.  It is impossible to explain the existence of anything without acknowledging that someone made it.  Houses do not just spring up.  Cars do not evolve from bicycles.  He is beyond our understanding, but God must exist.  This all came from somewhere.

His extraordinary magnitude and pure character make His love for us even more perplexing.  He handcrafted a man and an ideal partner for him.  He placed them in a perfect environment with a wide variety of beautiful trees with good food.  Two of them were special.  One was off limits.  Of course, that is the one that they could not resist.  It must be a human tendency.  “Don’t” stirs up the worst in us, even when it comes from one who loves us perfectly.

One bite brought sin and death into the world, but it did not blunt the love of God.  Surely, He grieved.  He knows what is best for us, and we have rejected it time-after-time.  He has cleansed the world by flood, provided guidelines for liberated slaves to keep them free, sent prophets to call them back to covenantal responsibilities and each met with failure.  Still, He loved the world.

That explains it all.  The strange star in the sky.  The Bethlehem birth among the animals.  The thirty years in obscurity.  The three years in public.  Enduring the ridicule, opposition, hatred and ultimate hostility of the religious establishment.  The violent beating He took.  The crown of thorns.  The mocking.  Spitting in His face.  The nails through His hands and feet.  The sword in His side.  The quaking earth.  The total darkness.  The Son of God executed like a common criminal.  Why?  God loved us…all of us.

In an age of squawking and squabbling, this is a much-needed message.  God loves you.  It is not followed by an “if” or a “but.”  It is simply a statement of fact.  Now, it is up to each of us as to how to respond to that.  The eternal benefits of that love are in Christ.  That is where all the blessings are (Ephesians 1:3).  What will we do with a God who loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son?

Lifelines July 22, 2018

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).”  How desperately peacemakers are needed.  We are in turbulent times.  Politicians of all persuasions are encouraging confrontation.  The temperature rises.  Anger spills from their lips and incites their followers.  Crowds gather.  Words fly.  Then fists.  Peace remains an unrealized hope and, for some, an unwanted resolution.  They enjoy the fight.

Jesus, the unique Son of God, was the ultimate peacemaker.  His was a costly mission.  It was not a simple negotiation but all-out war, and He came to settle the issue once and for all.  He was not welcomed.  Wickedness is never pleased when light intrudes on the darkness.  He eventually became both casualty and conqueror.  He stepped onto the battlefield armed with grace and truth only to be greeted with rejection and crucifixion.  No, peacemaking is not a cost-free business.

Sin disrupts our standing with God.  It turns our greatest ally into an adversary.  The war is on, and He sent His Son to end it.  The problem lies on the human side not the Divine.  Yet, He took it upon Himself to resolve it.  Our faith rectifies the dislocation between the sinner and his benevolent Creator.  Peace with God comes through “our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1),” a brief phrase packed with meaning.

“Our.”  It is both personal and inclusive.  He is not mine alone.  He is ours.  I am part of a collective group of individuals who have embraced the same Lord.  The result is a body of believers which we know as the church, the family of God. We stand united.

“Lord.” Although, we see multiple words used to describe the relationship between believers and Jesus, this one is frequent.  He is Lord.  All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18).  Having peace and being a peacemaker calls on us to surrender to that authority.  Our mission in life is no longer self-serving but Lord-serving.  He died for us: we live for Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

“Jesus.”  Mary had a son.  There was the human side of Jesus, and He knows the experience because He has been through it.  He is a merciful, faithful high priest because of His time in the flesh (Hebrews 2:17).  He successfully endured the temptations and sympathizes with our dilemma.  Divinity and humanity combined perfectly in one individual.

“Christ.” That is: He is the anointed one.  He was chosen and sent on a mission of forgiveness and reconciliation.  Peacemaking.  There is no other way to have peace with the Father.  He is the only road that leads there.  Without Him, we will forever be at war with our Creator.  It is a no-win situation without Him, just eternal alienation.

Four words that will aid us in being peace-making children of God, “Our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He was the original.  Peacemakers follow.  It’s the family way.

Lifelines July 15, 2018

In our rough and tumble world, questions about God can easily pop up.  Where is He when I am hurting?  A knife-wielding homicidal maniac charges into a birthday party for a three-year-old.  The results are bewildering.  Why anyone would want to stab children defies reason.  But then, it is not a reasonable world.  So, we scratch our heads and wonder: Where is the Lord?

The state of humans seems to be deteriorating at warp speed.  Terrorists drive cars into crowds.  Gunmen attack schools.  City streets seem more like war zones.  It should not surprise us that a culture that has expelled God from our schools produces ungodly graduates.  It has happened since the beginning of time.  The downward spiral picks up momentum until thoughts and actions are similarly anti-God.  The word of the Lord warns us (Romans 1:18-32), if we’ll just listen.  Life without God gets very ungodly.

That is where we live.  He has been pushed to the margins of society.  Principled Christians are challenged in the courts and protested in the streets.  Confrontation is common.  There is nothing new about that.  Jesus saw it first-hand.  He handed the torch to the apostles who experienced the same type of hostile rejection.  Paul was the Johnny-come-lately missionary who was beaten, jailed and ultimately executed by the enemy’s forces.  Yet, he shared a unique perspective on the brink of his death sentence.

“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…(2 Timothy 4:17).”  He did not call the Lord into question, even in the worst of circumstances.  All of his friends had deserted him. He was not doubtful of the Lord’s presence or of His certain safe delivery into eternity (2 Timothy 4:18).  The road to heaven was sure to be a torturous one, but he had confidence that the Lord would see him all the way through.  A crown of righteousness was waiting for him (2 Timothy 4:8).

Joseph felt the full brunt of the injustices that occur in this world.  The world is not fair.  It never has been and never will be.  If we expect it, we will be perpetually disappointed.  Jealousy drove his brothers to sell him.  Yet, he did okay in Egypt.  In fact, he did quite well…for a while (Genesis 39:2).  The Lord was with him.  Obviously.  Then his master’s wife had eyes for him, and his life was turned upside down.

Bogus charges took him to jail.  How’s that for unfair?  Where was God then?  Right there with him, that’s where (Genesis 39:21).  In jail on false accusations?  Yes, even then.  His imprisonment told us about the world in which he lived, not about Joseph or God or the relationship between the two.  The Lord was with him, and He is with His faithful children today, even in the hard times.  Maybe, especially then, because that’s when we need Him most.