Lifelines October 25, 2020

Blowups happen.  We set out on the most noble of missions, and it goes sour for one of the tiny team.  Strong personalities lead the way, and they have little tolerance for those who bail on the work.  Saul fits into the former category and John Mark in the latter.  The fallout is not clear until that trip is over and they were ready for missionary trip number two.  By that time, we know him as Paul and he and his teammate Barnabas butted heads about that young man who had abandoned them.  So much so that they parted ways.  Bad news?  Not necessarily.

Another problem had already cropped up while they were back in Antioch.  Some brethren from Jerusalem had introduced an erroneous doctrine that needed to be addressed, and the debate was on.  Paul, never one to shy away from conflict, joined Barnabas in confronting the issue.  First, they argued and when that was unsuccessful, they headed to Jerusalem to get answers.  A danger zone?  Not necessarily.

The apostles and elders resolved the matter, wrote it down and sent the letter along with a few of the leading men of the church back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.  So, we have the Jerusalem church now minus a couple of their leaders.  That is never good, right?  And Antioch had been engaged in an argument over circumcision, and that is bad, isn’t it?  The headaches weren’t over yet.  It was about to get worse.

This is where the fuss between Paul and Barnabas came.  Great, just great.  The church was dealing with a doctrinal problem.  That had caused Jerusalem to lose valued human resources, and now the missionary team is squabbling so much that they have split up.  Barnabas grabbed John Mark and took off for Cyprus.  And Paul?  Did we mention who he met while in Jerusalem?

One of the letter carriers who helped solve the spat over circumcision and obligation to the Law was a man named Silas.  He was one of the top guns in Jerusalem, and he had traveled back to Antioch with Paul.  Say hello to a new missionary partner. 

The church in Antioch was dealing with internal problems caused by external sources.  They were unable to adequately deal with the issue so they sought outside advice.  That journey introduced Silas into the equation, and the rest is history.  Souls were saved, and churches were strengthened through their teamwork.  Their road was seldom easy but always productive for God’s purposes.  Problems will always exist, but they will never stop the Lord’s plan.  One missionary team ended up two because of troubles.  Divine multiplication.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Oh, and that young deserter, he turned out okay.  In fact, God used him to write about His Son (Gospel of Mark).  As for Him and Paul, the apostle’s last letter speaks of their reconciliation (2 Timothy 4:11).  Isn’t God amazing?

Lifelines October 18, 2020

The mention of angels usually brings to mind images of wings, halos and flying creatures.  Isaiah certainly saw that type of creature when he was in the temple in the year of the king’s death (Isaiah 6), and winged creatures of some sort are pictured in heaven around the throne of God (Revelation 4).  Although those are interesting thoughts, the word of God presents other forms in which these fascinating creatures known as angels are portrayed. 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).”  The words of the Lord to a disheartened group of Christians.  No halos.  No wings.  Simply an encounter with what appears to be a stranger.  Will we be aware of it when they cross our path?  Can we identify them by a glow around the head?  Will their shirts bulge in the back where their wings are tucked in?  Clearly not.  Our part is to show hospitality to people we do not know.  Have we missed them in our moments of discouragement?  Maybe, if we have failed to show them hospitality.

Angels abound through the unveiling of the events in Revelation.  They are mentioned in connection with virtually every incident, and an apostle is so overwhelmed that he falls down in worship before one of them (Revelation 22:8).  Even after all that he had experienced with the Son of God, John was thrown off track by the angel whose response was simple, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God (Revelation 22:9).”  If they are fellow servants, what are they doing?

The Son of God faced the devil in the temptations of the wilderness and fought Him off with Scripture, then angels ministered to Him.  Elaboration is lacking.  In what seems to be His most stressful moments in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prayed and agonized, an angel strengthened Him (Luke 22:43).  We are not provided additional details about that, simply that it did.  It seems that angels, at the direction of God, do what needs to be done.  And now? 

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14)?”  We have the same supernatural help that the Lord had, angels.  We are not told specifically what they will do or how they will help, only that it is their job to serve the saved.  They may come in the form of a stranger.  We simple do not know, but what we do know is that God created helpers for us that we may never know about.  Remember those strangers to whom we are to show hospitality?  This provides a good incentive to do so.  They just might be our angel.     

Lifelines October 11, 2020

He spoke before he thought, and the damage was done.  His words were hateful, hurtful and ruined a beautiful relationship.  There was no physical contact nor anything to see, but the deep-down-inside pain that was dished out is indescribable.  It was an instantaneous verbal assault that leaves permanent scars.  Most of us can identify with such an incident, perhaps from both sides of the issue.  If we could only get those words back that were spoken in haste.

Of course, we cannot.  They are forever embedded in the memory of the object of our momentary thoughtlessness.  Apologies may be offered and fences might be mended, but it will never be the same again.  It should not surprise us that words pack such a punch. God used them to put the creation into a functional form, and ours are potent, too.  Scripture clearly tells us to use them carefully.

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:6).”  We do not live in an insulated environment.  It would be nice if we did, but we are surrounded by a culture that is increasingly hostile to the Lord.  A sign recently displayed in one of the protests read, “Keep God out of California.”  Unfortunately, it is a growing sentiment in our nation, but we cannot sink to their level.  We must prepare our minds to control our speech and meet their fiery rhetoric with gracious words.

It is particularly important to speak graciously to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are blessed to be in the family of God, and that should influence everything that we do including the way we talk.  As we study the instructions that are given to His church, we are guided into the beliefs we ought to hold and the behavior that we must practice.  The speech of His children is not an insignificant sidenote but a core issue. 

It is characterized not only by content but also by presentation.  It must always be truthful.  Lies originate with the devil and have no place among the saints.  The church is the pillar and support of the truth and we must never deviate from that, but there is also the manner in which that truth is delivered. “…speaking the truth in love…(Ephesians 4:15).”  Effective communication involves more than just words.  Yes, they are critically important and we must present them in a loving, gracious way.

Tensions have escalated and dragged voices with them.  It appears to be a competition of decibels; crank them up to win the argument.  Ours must be different.  We will not outshout them.  We cannot compete by their rules, nor do we want to.  Our goal is not the same as theirs. Their salvation is our objective.  That is what the Lord wants.  We should want that, too.    

Lifelines October 04, 2020

2020 has certainly been unique.  We began the year with forty days of prayer for better spiritual vision, and the opening of our eyes has been profound.  It is doubtful that we have reached 20/20 just yet, but hopefully we have improved in our perceptions.  The Lord has surely provided ample opportunities for us to see our lives in a different light. 

The pandemic hit full throttle early in the year.  A tiny, virtually invisible menace swept around the world stopping us in our tracks.  It is certainly humbling to be driven into our homes by something so tiny.  We imagine that we can handle anything.  Our technology has advanced to the point of creating a misguided notion that nothing can stop us, but it can and did.  Life behind a mask and closed doors reminds us of just how powerless we are. 

That was followed, or actually joined by turbulence in our cities.  Tempers and tensions flared.  The United States broke up into not-so-united fragments.  Frustrations reached a fever pitch.  Legitimate demonstrations morphed into passionate confrontations.  Two sides of a volatile issue both pointing fingers at the other, and peacemakers were nowhere to be found.  It was the summer of the virus and the violent, and the heat was on.

The eye exam of 2020 was not finished just yet.  There was more added to sharpen our vision.  California exploded into wildfires consuming acreage and claiming forests with indescribable ferocity.  Firefighters worked tirelessly around the clock as God’s beautiful creation went up in smoke.  An ominous shadow fell across the western sky reminding us how quickly the material world can be reduced to smoldering embers.  Eventually, it will all go up in flames.

Just when we thought that things couldn’t get any worse, the gulf coast was smacked by hurricanes.  Destructive winds and battering waters wreaked havoc.  Towns were flooded, homes were destroyed, lives were lost, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.  Weather experts can forecast them and even tell us the likely path they will take.  People can flee the area, but no one can stop it.  It is beyond human control. 

Now, we’re in the last quarter of 2020.  What will be added to this uniquely memorable year?  Only God knows but make no mistake about it, He does know.  It will useful in His hands and eye-opening, whatever it is.  We prayed for improved spiritual vision and there has been plenty to sharpen our sight this year.

Do we see things differently after all this?  We have been shown that much of life is beyond our control.  We have been knocked to our knees by an unseen virus which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.  We saw the violent destruction that results when the Lord’s designs for human interaction are ignored.  We witnessed the devastation of fires and hurricanes.  2020 has offered it all.  Now, do we see better?