Lifelines June 27, 2021

Societal pressures weigh heavily on us to conform.  It comes from peers, and increasingly from the government of a country which is supposedly “one nation under God.”  Evidence does not support the claim.  Laws that are in total rebellion against the precepts of the Lord are making their way through the channels that will make them mandatory.  This is not new. 

Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah faced the very same situation.

They were the religious minority, and that will inevitably lead to conflict.  The opposition had powerful allies in high places, and they did not hesitate to seek to squash these men.  All they stood for was on the line.  Worship.  Honor.  Loyalty to their God.  The mandate had come from the highest levels of government, and they were forced to make a brutally difficult decision.  It was literally a matter of life and death.  That is pressure!

Obey or face a ruthless execution.  Those were their options, and the penalty for defiance was indescribably horrible.  Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah refused, even though they knew exactly what that meant.  It was a cost-counting that almost defies understanding.  They weighed the choices and determined that they trusted the invisible God more than they feared the torture of men. 

They were sentenced to death for their defiance.  It came as no surprise when the authorities dragged them away to face the furious ruler and ultimately to suffer and die.  It was the culmination of an intensely evil scheme against three men because they were dedicated to their God.  They gave no thought to compromise or yielding because of the threat of harm.  It was a genuine conspiracy to do them in, and it was working perfectly.  Or so it seemed.

The execution failed.  Oh, it was carried out but unsuccessfully.  The three walked away unscathed.  It had been a foolproof plan with one fatal flaw.  The perpetrators had not taken into account the Lord’s involvement.  Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah clung to God’s hand, trusting Him even in the midst of the legislated pressure that attempted to force them into conformity.  He did not let them down.  They had confidence in Him, and He came through.

Do we have such confidence?  As our culture drifts further away from Godliness and biblical principles, where do we stand?  With the Lord or with the culture?  Will we bow down to the god of this world?  Even if it becomes a life-or-death issue?  No, it isn’t yet but who knows what the future holds?  Now is the time to make that decision, before the pressure mounts anymore.  Who do we trust?

Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah put all of their trust in the Lord, and He saved them even through a fiery furnace.  We know them better as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  Read their episode in Daniel 3.  Their God is our God, too.  Trust Him.  No matter what.            

Lifelines June 20, 2021

We come into the church with a fresh, new beginning and eyes looking through the rosiest of glasses.  We have seen the Scriptures and the love that dominates and shapes every relationship.  At least, that is the way that we see it in the word of God.  Then, we run face-first into a reality that falls far short of the ideal and the rose-colored glasses are shattered.  If it just wasn’t for people…

We are thrilled as we figure out the Lord’s intentions for salvation and worship, but then we must deal with the sometimes-sloppy business of relationships.  That’s where it gets complicated.  Forgiveness is a concept that we joyfully, gratefully embrace.  God, through the shed blood of His Son, has forgiven us of all our sins.  Praise the Lord, right?  Absolutely, but there is more to the picture.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).”  Forgiveness does not stop at our door.  It flows through us to those around us.  Here we see one of the great challenges for sincere disciples.  We quickly accept the sacrifice that Jesus made so that we might be forgiven but passing it on is another matter.  The cross is a brutal reminder of just how costly our forgiveness was. 

The Son of God was nailed to a cross, easy to say but terribly difficult to comprehend.  How could the Father send the Son on such a mission for a world that for-the-most-part did not care and had no interest in giving up their sinful lifestyles?  And now we are supposed to imitate that?  If forgiveness is costly, unforgiveness is even more.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:14-15).”  What if our willingness to forgive turned out to be a measuring stick for the Lord to use on us?  It certainly seems that way from His words.  Is being unforgiving an unforgivable sin?

The Dead Sea offers an object lesson from nature.  Fresh water flows in but not out.  So, it ends there, and the results are revealed in its name.  It is dead.  Fish cannot live there because it has such a high concentration of minerals.  The bounty that flows in never moves on.  It is terminal and snuffs out any life.  Are we that way with the blessings of God?  Particularly forgiveness?  Does it flow in but never out?  Does it stop with us?

Indeed, human relationships can be messy.  We all stumble and stray out into the darkness.  The prodigal parable (Luke 15:11-32) shows us the mercy and forgiveness of the Father who ran to welcome his wayward son home.  The older brother was huffy.  Grace and forgiveness are hard to understand.  Even harder to pass on.  

Lifelines June 13, 2021

I wonder what it would have been like to hear Jesus pray.  His eternal harmonious relationship was different.  He had taken on flesh.  He knew the temptations, frustrations and disappointments that come along in this world.  He was simultaneously deity and humanity with facts in His head that we do not possess.  His prayers had captured the attention of the disciples (Luke 11:1-13).  They had watched and heard Him, had shared heartaches and headaches with the One sent to save the world and they wanted to learn. 

His first words reverberate with relationship, “Our Father…” Some versions simply say, “Father.”  Imagine that!  He was instructing His followers in the art of prayer, and He begins with that relational word: Father.  How rich.  How intimate.  How amazing to be able to come into the presence of the almighty Creator and address Him as our Father. 

The concept has been so watered down that it has all but lost its meaning.  What should we have in mind that originally started in His? Is He like our dad?  If so, how?  While human fathers will always fall short of the ideal, they often shape our thoughts about our heavenly one.  He is different.  He has no flaws and presents the perfect execution of the concept.

He knows exactly what we need before we ever utter a word (Matthew 6:4).  We do not have to explain.  That not only alleviates our worries about physical necessities but also sheds new light on our approach to Bible study.  How often do we approach it with the understanding that our Father knows what we need, and the Scriptures provide it?  Both facts and directions, what we need to know and what we need to do are in there. 

Even though He has such intimate awareness of us, He still wants us to talk to Him.  He knows but doesn’t command us to be speechless before Him.  His word consistently directs us to His throne of grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).  He is our Father and waits to hear from us in good times and bad, in joy and in sorrow (James 5:13).

God lovingly disciples His children.  It is never a pleasant process, but He is shaping our character and bringing it into conformity with His (Hebrews 12:4-11).  That can be painful at times but essential.  He is holy.  It is the family trait that He is working into us.  We will slowly begin to look like our Father.  It is an exciting prospect in which He is involved.  We yield.  He does His work.  Righteousness is the outcome.

The first words that Jesus taught about prayer direct attention to the relationship that we have with the God of the universe.  What a notion!  Happy Father’s Day to all you dads, and never forget the One is out of sight but never out of reach.              

Lifelines June 06, 2021

The mere mention of the Holy Spirit leaves many of us scratching our heads.  He is a mystery.  We have come to somewhat of an understanding about God the Father.  The Bible reveals much of His character, and although our comprehension of an unlimited Being is indeed very limited we gain a notion of what He is like.  Jesus put flesh on the infinite.  God in a person became a visible representation of deity.  We gain insight from the One who came searching for the lost in order to save them.  The Holy Spirit still lingers in the shadows of our minds.

John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus.  The Spirit-inspired prophets had set the table, and the time was right for the introduction of the Savior.  John stepped onto the stage to perform his task but before he did, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In fact, the filling occurred before he was even born (Luke 1:15).  Clearly, the Spirit had a central role in God’s plans.

The Holy Spirit was the means by which the Son of God was produced in Mary (Luke 1:35) and descended in a visible form like a dove at the baptism of Jesus as a voice from heaven announced the unique nature of the One who was being baptized (Luke 3:21-22).  It was the same Spirit that soon led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-2).  He is an active yet mysterious being. That confrontation with the schemes of the evil one was essential. 

Jesus paid an incredible price to save us from our sins, and the Holy Spirit has always been a part of that.  We may not understand Him, but He is integral to the process.  The encounter with the devil was a prerequisite to being a merciful and faithful High priest, a role that He occupies to this day.  He sympathizes with our temptations because He has been through them.  The Spirit saw to that.

Jesus told the apostles to stay in Jerusalem after His ascension until the Holy Spirit empowered them for their expanding mission.  Sounds and sights unlike any ever seen.  Uneducated men began to speak in foreign languages, and crowds from around the world were totally confused.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit were behind all that was seen and heard that day, and the church took shape.  Peter’s answer to the question of the Jews about their guilt in crucifying the Lord and Christ was twofold:  Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus.  That would bring about forgiveness, even of their grievous sin, and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is a promise from God that has extended from that day to this one (Acts 2:38-39).  He may mystify us, but He remains vital and worthy of careful study.

Lifelines May 30, 2021

Jesus led His disciples up the mountain and crowds followed.  He shared with them a profound exposition of what it means to be a disciple (Matthew 5, 6 & 7).  The notion of blessing was turned on its head.  The true depths of the Old Covenant law were exposed as heart issues.  He taught of secretly helping the needy, privately praying and not flaunting personal acts of self-discipline.  God sees in secret.  Even His closing remarks opened up the reality of the challenges of true discipleship that few will meet.  It is a matter of taking the Lord at His word and living it out.  Any other lifestyle will ultimately crumble.  It was a true mountain-top experience, and the people were amazed.

The mountains have been special places throughout biblical history.  Noah’s ark came to rest on a mountain following the flood (Genesis 8:4).  The ten commandments were delivered in a remarkable demonstration of the power of the Lord on a mountain (Exodus 19:18-20:18).  Moses gave instructions for both blessings and curses to be proclaimed from mountains (Deuteronomy 27:12-13), and Joshua carried out those orders exactly as they had been written (Joshua 8:30-35).  The mountain-top has always been a special place.

Jesus led Peter, James and John to a mountain for an experience that they would never forget (Matthew 17:1-8).  They saw the Lord in dazzling splendor with Moses and Elijah who had lived so long before.   Peter was so taken by what he saw that he wanted to build something to mark the occasion.  That is when the voice from heaven spoke.  The message was clear and surely etched indelibly in their minds. Listen to my Son.  Then comes verse 9: They came down the mountain. 

Life is not lived on the mountain-top.  It is lived in the valley where sin resides.  They came down to find a father in despair over the pitiful condition of his son, and the disciples had been powerless to help.  It was a faith problem (Verses 19-20).  It took enough faith to pray for the problem to be solved and the boy to be cured.  Faith, or lack of it, was the issue in the valley of despair.  It still is.

Occasionally we have our own mountain-top experiences.  It is not a miraculous time but one of keener insight and a feeling of being closer to God, alone with our Creator and it lifts our sagging spirits and fortifies our souls.  But then comes the trudge down that mountain and into the sin-ravaged world in which we feel powerless.  It is a genuine test of our faith.  The Lord is the only hope for the hopeless and the only cure for the sick.  Jesus posed the question when talking about prayer, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?”  Well, will He?  Faith enough to pray?