Lifelines December 23, 2018

The cross is brutal.  The intensity of nails being driven through the hands and feet of any individual presents an incomprehensibly ugly scene.  Especially when that one is the Son of God.  Our twenty-first century sensibilities cannot take it. So, we tend to turn our heads.  We cannot bear to look.  The blood flowed.  We do not like that.  We flinch. We recoil.  We avoid it.  Or, at least try to.  We cannot. It is at the very center of our faith.

We are scandalized at the notion of such a barbaric act.  How could anyone possibly participate in it?  A lengthy string of instigators was involved; jealous religious leaders, a stirred-up mob and a spineless government official.  The atmosphere was electric.  They all joined forces in the oddest coalition of conspirators imaginable.  No one could have ever guessed who was behind it all.    

Ridicule and cruelty ruled the day, or so it seemed.  An innocent man was subjected to the most inhumane treatment conceivable.  From the spit in His face to the crown of thorns on His head, He was totally humiliated.  His prophetic role was mocked and His back was whipped to a bloody pulp.  Then they crucified Him, a joke of a Savior in their mind.  He could not even save Himself.  The Messianic wannabe had been dealt with once and for all.  Even His once-loyal associates abandoned Him, and the master-mind of it all got His way. 

It stretches our minds beyond their boundaries to think that this was the plan of God.  The cross brings into clear focus how horrible sin is in His eyes.  We have been conditioned to think of it in modern terms not His.  The world presents it as attractive and desirable.  From the beginning The Lord has described it in much more graphic ways that always end in death for the participant.  It is truly a matter of life and death, and the cross makes that clear. 

It took the most radical act in history to solve our most devastating problem, and that presents the other dimension of the cross; the immensity of the love of God.  Humanity was in trouble.  The dilemma was universal, and the consequences were eternal.  It had a stranglehold on His once-perfect creation.  In a move that defies comprehension, a baby was born.  He was the perfect missionary sent to bring healing to a broken world. 

As the world turns a brief eye at this time of year toward the birth of the Savior, let us never forget His purpose.  Lights are pretty and presents are fun, but Jesus came to save us.  He was born on a path to the cross.  His steps took Him from the wrong side of the tracks to the heart of religion.  His journey eventually led to that brutal showdown.  Sin and love collided that day on a cross.  Love won.      

Lifelines December 09, 2018

It was not a friendly audience that confronted Jesus, and their motives were not particularly pure.  They pressed Him on the issue of authority (Matthew 21:23-27).  Who gave Him the right to do what He was doing?  Their hope of cornering Him failed.  It always did, but they never stopped trying.  Threaten the power structure, and it meets with stiff opposition.  Yielding to a superior is not something that humans tend to do willingly.

He met their interrogation with a question.  Their concerns revolved not around truth but trouble.  What answer would cause the least of it?  They finally concluded with a shrug of the shoulders and left with their question unanswered.  We might find the reason for much of today’s religious confusion in that ancient encounter.  Indeed, it may explain much of our cultural erosion.

Jesus in a post-resurrection appearance declared that all authority had been placed in His hands (Matthew 28:18).  There is no need to look elsewhere.  It is a settled matter.  Decisions become much easier when we recognize that fact.  We will then come to His word for direction not debate.  Jesus came to set sinners free from sin and its consequences, and He has provided the information that is necessary to liberate us (John 8:31-32).

Only the Lord can break those bonds.  Those who imagine that they are free to do as they please cannot see their chains.  They are manipulated by impulses within and societal pressures without.  The evil one corrupts their thoughts and actions.  They are captives on death row (Ephesians 2:1-3).  How sad it is that the slaves do not recognize the emancipation that is possible when they yield to the ultimate authority.

The Son of God demonstrated His dominion over every aspect of creation during His time on earth.  His teaching brought a different air than those before Him.  He calmed storms, transformed water, dictated to demons, healed the sick and raised the dead.  He did not simply claim the authority; He proved it.  It was such a conclusive demonstration that none of His followers challenged Him when He announced it.  After all, when someone who was dead just a couple of days before speaks to you, who could argue.  Resurrection showed that even death is no match for His authority.

The wide world of religion has hundreds of sub-groups.  Their teachings vary, and some have their own book of beliefs.  Many have strayed far from the teachings of the authoritative one.  His high standards do not match with their low desires.  So, they face that same old question: By what authority are you doing these things?  People may shrug as the inquisitors of Jesus did as they seek the least objectionable route.  Popular opinion is a poor authority.  It will probably be less controversial but will always be ineffectual in dealing with the sin problem.  The lost will remain lost…forever.

Lifelines December 02, 2018

A worldly perspective dulls a person’s senses to Jesus Christ.  He entered the human race on a search and rescue mission that exceeds comprehension.  Our thinking is restricted by experience.  We have never seen untainted goodness.  Love we experience always has its limitations, and then there is His.  The boundaries disappear when we consider the sacrifice that Father and Son made.  The world sees foolishness in that old, rugged cross.  It is anything but.

The message falls on deaf ears.  Christ died for our sins.  It is nonsense to those who reside in the darkness, or it more appropriate to say that the darkness resides within them.  The word of the Lord bounces off the dull hearts that have been hardened through sin’s deception.  Satan has an easy time taking it away.  Indeed, a crucified Savior?  That is foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The wisdom of God was embodied in the person of Jesus.  He challenged conventional religious thinking.  The Jews were offended by the notion (1 Corinthians 1:23) but could not change the fact.  Christ is both the power and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).  Divine reality is not limited by human reasoning.

The drum beat to do away with Jesus began early in His public ministry and reached its crescendo at the cross.  He immediately ran into conflict with the religious leaders of His day.  He violated the Sabbath rules.  He lunched with the wayward.  He touched the untouchables.  He forgave the wicked.  He confronted the bigwigs and loved the lowly.  Wisdom?  It sure did not look that way, least of all as He hung on that cross.  This is God’s power?

It was indeed; witnessed by the women and the disciples who ventured out to a vacated tomb that Sunday morning.  Greeted by a moved stone, a missing body and supernatural messengers; they all experienced first hand the infinite power of God.  He had conquered the death dilemma.  Hopelessness became an obsolete word to followers of the Messiah.

It was the essence of Paul’s message, “I determine to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).”  He is the focal point.  He is our only hope of dealing with sin which is at the root of all other problems.  Society searches for answers to the rampant violence that haunts some of our cities.  Immorality rots the culture from within.  The evidence is clear.  Our nation has but one problem: sin, and only Jesus Christ can fix it.

A worldly perspective diminishes the damage that sin does.  The digression is gradual.  What was once thought to be evil becomes acceptable and even desirable.  The wisdom of the Lord tells us different.  Sin is still sin, and that flies in the face of modern morality and the “judge not” tolerance of our day.  Sin still kills, and Jesus still gives life.  Take your pick.

Lifelines November 25, 2018

We feel overwhelmed.  The voices that are shouting have grown so loud.  They ridicule the Bible and believers.  Fairy tales, they say.  Jesus is a myth.  His followers are naïve.  “Science” has disproven the creation account.  Darwin discovered the truth.  The “good book” is full of contradictions.  On and on it goes, and it isn’t just coming from atheists or agnostics anymore.  Skeptics have even infiltrated our ranks.  Their numbers swell as our numbers shrink.  Being outnumbered and outgunned is nothing new.

Evil has been on the march from the very beginning.  It slithered into the garden, and nothing has been the same since.  Murder quickly followed.  Warped thinking and destructive behavior spread like a bad virus until virtually everyone was affected.  The majority became so wicked that it broke the Lord’s heart (Genesis 6), but He saw a glimmer of hope.  There was one who had not been corrupted.  Talk about a minority.  Yet, Noah stood out and God noticed.  Deliverance from the coming destruction was offered to all, but only a handful accepted it.

Liberating the Sons of Israel from Egypt was a spectacular demonstration of the power of God.  Ten plagues had answered Pharaoh’s question about who the Lord was (Exodus 5:2).  It was an education that he would not soon forget.  He was a powerful man, and the Hebrews were under his authoritative thumb but there was one who outranked him.  There was one who was more powerful.  He may have had numbers.  His slaves had God.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are a trio who stood up to all of the legal clout the government of Babylon could wield (Daniel 3).  Three against city hall seems like an impossible fight.  It was, only not in the way we might think.  They were commanded to bow down to the image.  They refused.  A red-hot fire was waiting.  Still, they would not.  The king turned up the heat.  That didn’t intimidate them, either.  Into the fire they went.  And out they came, unharmed.  They didn’t even smell like smoke, and there was that one unknown character in the fire with them.  Hmmm, wonder who that was?

Jesus did not select a multitude.  He chose twelve ordinary men with full knowledge that one would betray Him for a fistful of silver, another would deny Him in triplicate before the sunrise and all would head for the hills when the heat was on.  Totally human logic sought to stop Him from following through on His journey to the cross.   He was a solitary figure on a divine mission.  One man in harmony with His Father’s will.  He did not fail.

The Lord’s people have never been a majority, but we have always had an unseen advantage.  The opposition may have larger numbers and louder voices, but we have the One who can raise the dead.  Overwhelming odds have never been a problem for our almighty God.

Lifelines November 18, 2018

Thanksgiving rolls around, and we begin to take stock of our blessings.  We think of family, friends, home, health and all of the other good things in our lives.  It is a joyous time as we focus on everything that is positive.  Each season of the year is drenched with reasons to be grateful, but this is when we pause to take note of them.  They are not always obvious.

The Lord promised long ago to provide the means by which every individual could be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).  The road to the fulfillment of that promise was long and winding.  It was a quarter of a century before there was any evidence at all, and that came after doubts crept into Abraham’s head.  Years passed, hundreds of them.  The people through whom the blessings were to come endured the worst of circumstances for generations.  These were God’s chosen people?  It makes us wonder: How would Thanksgiving have been for the Israelites in Egypt?

Even after their miraculous deliverance, there were many stumbles.  Idolatry always lingered in the margins.  Faith faltered.  Demands for a king proved to be a disaster with long term consequences.  Rejecting the Lord always brings a heavy price tag.  The pathway to universally available blessings appeared to have been blocked by human incompetence and rebellion.  More centuries passed.  How would Thanksgiving have been in Babylonian captivity?

Powerful military forces continued to rise and fall as the Lord prepared the world for the greatest blessing of all.  The most profound cause for gratitude was born in a barn among the animals, hardly an impressive debut.  There was scarcely a peep from Him for three decades, and when He did emerge, He was not at all what was expected. His public ministry offended the self-righteous and attracted the sinful.  Giving thanks was probably the furthest thing from minds of the religious establishment.

The Lord delivered on His long-awaited promise of blessing in an unexpected way.  The storm clouds of opposition grew increasingly dark.  Confusion morphed into anger giving birth to hostility.  Insiders betrayed, denied and abandoned Him.  Outsiders killed Him.  The promise had surely been a false one.  Thanksgiving for what?  A dead Savior?

Then, there was Sunday.  The Christ had taken the enemy’s best shot and had emerged victoriously.  Thousands of pages had been ripped off the calendar from promise to fulfillment.  Humans, all kinds of them, had been the means through which God delivered; wicked, wayward, faithful, loyal, weak and strong.  They had all been instruments in the Lord’s hands.

Would they have had a sense of being part of something so monumental?  There is always a reason to be grateful.  The Lord is good, and we can count on Him to be faithful to His promises even when it appears impossible.  Enjoy the food, fun and family but we must always remember the source of our greatest blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!

Lifelines November 11, 2018

Decisions.  Every day we make them by the dozens.  Most do not amount to much.  What to wear.  Where to have lunch.  How to spend leisure moments.  But there are some that affect our entire lives.  What profession to pursue.  Who to date and marry.  Where to live.  And most importantly, what will I do with the Lord?  That is the most important choice we will ever make, and no one can make it for us.

As Joshua prepared for his home stretch, he challenged the Jews to make up their minds (Joshua 24:15).  They were going to serve someone.  That was not an option.  The only question was: who?  They could choose to serve the same god their daddy served.  The habit of hand-me-down religion has survived throughout the ages, but it is never the best way to make such a profound decision.  What if the family had made the wrong choice?

Another option was to adopt the religious practices of the culture.  New and different is always exciting, and we often seek a shot of spiritual adrenalin.  They were entering a time of transition, and it was decision time.  Our society offers just about any type of worship that we could want.  We get to choose anything from acapella to rowdy rock and roll.  If an accelerated heartbeat is what we seek, we can find it.  Following the lead of our neighbors will take us in the wrong direction more often than not.

Procrastination is always an option.  Side-stepping those hard decisions gives us one more day to stay comfortable where we are.  Joshua put a sense of urgency in his message.  That choice must be made today.  No more delay.  It is dangerous to put it off.  Satan and sin work relentlessly.  Each passing day gives them more time to do their deceptive and destructive work (Hebrews 3:13).  This moment is the only one we have.

There is a perpetual tug-o-war going on over our souls.  We all have a religious heritage inherited from our parents.  That’s what we’ve always done.  Our friends and neighbors offer their version, and we are free to join in with them.  Surely, so many people can’t be wrong.  It can be very confusing, and each of us must make our own decision.  Joshua made his, “As for me and my house…”

Everyone has a guiding light and we all get to choose what or who it is.  For Joshua, it was the Lord.  What is ours?  When the pressure builds, where do we look?  Life has a way of taking unexpected turns, and we need a north star to regain our direction.  Our questions grow with maturity.  Surely, there is more to my existence than just one more paycheck.  We seek answers.  Something guides us somewhere.  Who and to where?  “As for me and my house…” What about you and your house?