Lifelines July 07, 2019

Christians have been entrusted with the most valuable information imaginable.  Yet, we find it difficult to share.  It is a life or death mission in which we have a twenty-first century role.  Our roots in Jerusalem shed light on the work of the infant church which turned that ancient city upside down.  Perhaps a lesson or two from them could help us create a ripple in our city, too.

“And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:42).”  It was not an occasional effort or a once a week gathering.  They were busy every day.  Granted, they were in a unique situation, but we can still learn from their perpetual involvement in spreading their faith.  It is an all-the-time mission.

It is also a wherever-you-go assignment.  “In the temple and house-to-house” takes us into all types of environments, from very public to totally private.  The temple would obviously take them into a setting with people who believed in God.  However, their beliefs were incomplete.  Filling in the final chapter of the plan of God may have ruffled a few feathers, but they felt compelled.  Eternal destinations were at stake, and who knows what kind of reception would meet them behind a door.  Nevertheless, they took it everywhere.

Their message was clear.  Jesus is the Christ.  No frills and no fluff.  He had come on His own mission to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  It was an angelic pronouncement to Joseph (Matthew 1:21).  Shepherds got the word in dramatic fashion on a seemingly ordinary night (Luke 2:8-13).  The Son of God and self-proclaimed Son of Man gave Himself to remedy the sickening sin problem that was wrecking the planet.  People needed a Savior.  There is no other.  They were passionate to tell it everywhere and all the time.

Paul’s reflections with the elders from Ephesus reveal his uncommon commitment: “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).”  Such dedication would surely communicate in a way that no words could. 

Of course, the words didn’t hurt either and he had much to say, “…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21).”  He held nothing back (Acts 20:27).  He went everywhere, told everybody and said everything.  He made converts and served jail time.  The road may be a hard one, but it is ours to travel.  People need Jesus.  If we don’t tell them, who will?

Lifelines June 30, 2019

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…” How we cherish the notion of salvation.  Eternity separated from God is a fate worse than our imagination can conceive.  No love.  No light.  No hope stretching far beyond the horizons of our mind.  There would be no way back.  Just an endless night of indescribable misery.  But for the grace of God…

Jesus embodied that grace (John 1:14).  It was not a human initiative but a divine love that set the plan in motion.  People had swapped paradise for a bite of forbidden fruit.  The relationship was shattered and deterioration set in.  Murder followed.  Sin awaited just outside the door and within the mind.  The situation went from bad to worse, and the creation had a dire need for cleansing.  The Lord grieved and humanity died.  The fresh start did not last long.

Sin continued to distort thoughts and plans.  God knew.  He had a strategy to deal with it from the beginning.  It was engineered by grace.  Salvation extended to every corner of the globe (Titus 2:11).  Every soul had the option.  They always would.  Make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19).  Preach the gospel everywhere to everyone (Mark 16:15).  Take it to the weak, worthless and rebellious.  God’s deepest desire is that they all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Amazing grace, indeed.

It does not stop there.  He has a much bigger agenda in mind.  Grace doesn’t just pluck us from the cesspool of sin and leave us alone.  It teaches us (Titus 2:12).  The environment that destroyed us will not rebuild us.  Christians need a new direction, away from the destructive forces of the evil one.  We are tugged and tempted with those same old desires that captivated us.  Grace freed us.  Now, it guides us away from a return to slavery and into a liberated life.

The here-and-now can be a strong influence, and grace teaches us to look beyond this moment (Titus 2:13).  Jesus is coming again.  Eternity waits, and who knows how close it is?  It may be a thousand years or half a second.  His grace enables us to look with hope and expectation to His appearing.  Great glory is there.  He is there.  That exciting, thrilling moment is closer than ever.

Delivering that grace was the costliest transaction in all of eternity.  He gave Himself (Titus 2:14).  That is how bad the problem of sin is and how deep His love runs.  He salvaged us, cleaned us up and took possession of us.  We belong to Him now, and He has purpose for us while we are still here.  There is work to be done, and His grace has prepared us to do it.  We weren’t left to sit and watch but to engage in good deeds.  It is what He did.  Now it is our turn.

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.