Lifelines July 11, 2021

We look back on the dozen men that Jesus selected to be apostles with high expectations.  After all, they would spend several years on the road with the Lord, be entrusted with the most important information in all the world and sent on a global mission.  Only the cream of the crop would be suited for such a task, right?  Not exactly.  They were not supermen but ordinary men with calloused hands, questionable characters and shady histories.  In other words, people just like us.

They were hardly a collection of bluebloods.  They were comprised of commoners; a few fishermen, at least one tax collector and several unknowns.  These men were hand-picked by Jesus Himself after a night of prayer (Luke 6:12).  He had stirred the synagogue into a frenzy with a marvelous act of healing which, rather than being met with joy, infuriated the establishment (Luke 6:6-11).  That sequence of conflict and prayer set the table for selecting the men to carry on the work after He was no longer on earth.

He was fully aware of the men that He chose and the challenges that they would meet.  He was not caught off-guard when Judas turned out to be a traitor (John 6:64) nor when Peter wilted as the pressure mounted (John 13:36-38).  He was completely conscious of what He was sending these all-too-human men into (John 17:13-18).  So, the Lord of the universe in human flesh prayed.  He communed with His Father all night.  Then He chose.

They watched as He took on the frailties of humanity.  The throngs came to listen. The sick, suffering and demon-possessed crowded Him seeking healing (Luke 6:17-19).  Apostolic eyes were opened to the enormity of the world’s needs.  He turned conventional wisdom on its head.  Blessings and woes were painted with a very different brush (Luke 6:20-:26).  He demanded a radical new approach to enemies and exploiters with the motivating factor being the imitation of the Father’s love and mercy.  This, indeed, was very different.

He chose them to spend time with Him and that He could send them out (Mark 6:14).  It seems like a pretty risky venture to commission such ordinary men with such an extraordinary task, especially with the knowledge He had of them and the opposition they would face.  Nevertheless, that was His strategy.  How did it go?  They were beaten, imprisoned, hated and executed.  Losses usually outnumbered victories.  Generally, they anonymously went about their task with no written history to tell their stories.  In other words, they were people just like us.

The good news is that their work lives on in the Lord’s church.  So will ours.  Our influence will echo for generations.  Lives we touch will touch others.  It is a remarkable prospect.  Jesus took a dozen ordinary men, gave them an assignment and the world has never been the same.  Imagine what He can do with us.                          

Lifelines July 04, 2021

Grab the burgers and hot dogs; It’s Independence Day.  Grills are fired up all across the country as we enjoy our yearly celebration of freedom.  Today, our thoughts revolve around the blessing of liberty and those who fought to gain and maintain it.  It is a time of remembrance in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  It falls on Sunday this year, and that marks a much more significant liberation.

Sin enslaves with invisible shackles.  We cannot see it, but its influence is clear.  In a country that enjoys extraordinary material blessings, it is easy to overlook the devastation that comes from sin.  Big houses are coupled with empty souls.  Bible believers see it clearly and mourn the moral decline that has a strangle-hold on much of our society.  Unfortunately, there is a widespread embrace of the immorality and the imaginary freedom that it offers.  It is fraudulent and has been since the Garden of Eden.  Slavery in solid gold chains is slavery none-the-less.

Spiritual captivity is the worst.  It distorts vision and hardens the heart.  Reasoning suffers and souls are destroyed.  Sin dictates actions, and the slaves can’t even recognize it.  Jesus came to set us free from that.  When the Lord presented the means by which they could be liberated, the Jews were stunned and indignant.  They failed to recognize their own history, their current conditions or their need for the Son of God (John 8:31-36).  Much of the world continues under the same delusion.  Satan is a very clever slave master.

The devil dangled before the Lord the satisfaction for His physical needs.  He challenged Him with the spiritually spectacular.  He tempted Him with power and prestige.  His scheme utilized a distortion of the word of God (Matthew 4:1-11).  All of those efforts failed, but we gain insight into his methodology.  He will exploit our weaknesses, purposes and even our faith to bring us into captivity.  Deceiving us into underestimating Him might be his greatest delusion.    

The first day of each week we come together to remember our liberation from such a crafty creature.  Sin is no longer master over us, thanks to the blood of our Savior which offered everyone a way to break the bonds.  So, we are reminded through the simple elements of the Lord’s Supper.  We tend to lose focus and the chains begin to gather around us again.  The evil one is still lurking just outside our door everyday (Genesis 4:7).  Some things never change. 

Freedom is never free, regardless of whether it is physical or spiritual.  We feel deep gratitude for those who fought and died to free our nation.  How much more should we feel an enormous sense of appreciation for the Son of God who sacrificed everything to set us free?  It is a day of remembrance: We have been liberated.  Happy July 4th!                      

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? 

Lifelines May 23, 2021

We expend a lot of energy on matters that mean very little in the grand scheme of things.  As we progress through life, our attention is drawn to worldly concerns, shiny objects and frivolous worries that distract us from that which is truly important.  Martha was that way.  Mary was not.  We all have the tendency to be like one or the other.  Balance is a challenge.

It takes a powerful imagination to step into the picture (Luke 10:38-42).  Jesus was coming to their house.  How does a person prepare for the Savior, God-in-the-flesh coming for a visit?  It would certainly send us scurrying to make sure all was in order.  Dust the shelves, wash the dishes, straighten up the living room and a dozen other chores to see that everything is just right.  The Lord is coming.

Martha was hustling when He arrived.  Mary was sitting.  Listening.  Her sister was busy, and she simply sat at His feet hanging on every word.  Martha was grouchy doing all of the “important” stuff without help.  That was not fair.  Didn’t He care?  Shouldn’t He command the “lazy” one to help her?  It is a bit of a distorted view of things to chastise the Lord and ask if He cares.  Does He care?  Really?  It is amazing what well-intentioned distractions will do to us. 

Jesus set the record straight.  There is no doubt that Martha’s labors were good, but there was something better that Mary had chosen.  Stop.  Sit.  Listen.  His are words of eternal life (John 6:63).  What could be more important than that?  A voice from heaven proclaimed the very same thing on the Mount of Transfiguration: Listen to My Son.  The good will sometimes interfere with the better which will never be taken away.

There are certainly tasks at hand and responsibilities that demand our attention, but they must not take us away from the most important thing in any life: our relationship with the Lord.  In fact, they provide an opportunity to put our Christian principles on display.  Worldly circumstances arise that test us, and we often blame them for our actions.  They don’t cause our behavior but reveal how real our commitment to Jesus is and that determines our actions.  The real issue is far deeper that a word or deed.    

Christians strive for that which is excellent.  That’s a cut above good.  We aren’t content with mediocrity.  The Lord created us for greater things, and the pathway to that is through knowledge and discernment (Philippians 1:9-11).  In other words, quietly sitting at the Lord’s feet to listen.  Each time we expose our minds to His words we are choosing the better part.  Let’s put ourselves in the house with Martha and Mary.  Who would we be?  The grumpy, complaining one who was just too busy to listen or the one who made the better choice? 

Lifelines May 16, 2021

Life didn’t start out well for Patti Wilson.  She was diagnosed in her early years with epilepsy.  Her dad was a jogger, and she really wanted to jog with him but feared a seizure.  He assured her that he knew what to do if that happened and persuaded her to run with him.  She fought through the fear, strapped on her running shoes and changed the world.

She loved it and had no complications.  She enjoyed it so much that she began setting goals.  Her first goal was getting out of her front door, but once she began running there was no stopping her.  She set her sights on running further than any woman ever had.  The record was 80 miles.  It was an ambitious goal but not too big for Patti.

As a high school freshman, she determined to run from her home in Orange County, California to San Francisco and she did.  That’s 400 miles!  Her sophomore goal: Portland, Oregon more than 1500 miles and she did it.  As a junior, she headed to St. Louis about 2000 miles.  Again, she succeeded.  Finally, as a senior she planned to run to the White House more than 3000 miles away.  It took more than four months and she accomplished that one, too, where she shook hands with the president. 

How could an epileptic accomplish so much?  We might say grit and determination, goal setting and focus.  A desire that pushed her, and an attitude that helped her.  As far as her physical condition is concerned, she said that epilepsy was simply “an inconvenience.” She refused to be held back, and ultimately raised enough money to build 19 multi-million-dollar epileptic centers across the country.  Quite an accomplishment for someone who faced such a substantial challenge from the beginning.

Hers is a remarkable story.  Is ours?  We have placed ourselves in the Lord’s hands, and there are “inconveniences” in our lives, too.  What do we do with them?  We have options.  We can view them as reasons to quit or challenges to overcome. The Israelites came to the edge of the Promised Land and refused to claim the promise because they were afraid.  Fear drove the disciples behind closed doors (John 20:19).  Patti could have allowed her concerns about having a seizure to keep her indoors, but she listened to her father and has inspired epileptics ever since. Listening to our Father will open our eyes to amazing possibilities. 

Paul experienced extraordinary ups-and-downs in his life.  Through it all, he learned that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him (Philippians 4:13).  So can we.  Imagine what great things we can do with the Lord.  The message of her upcoming virgin birth stunned young Mary, and the angel assured her, “Nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).”  It still isn’t.  It’s time to strap on our running shoes.                

Lifelines May 09, 2021

I arrived at the church building Monday morning, and there was a snake in front of the door.  I am not a snake guy so I didn’t know if it was dangerous or harmless.  After a momentary pause, I figured I could get by him easily enough.  I know that the building isn’t the church, but the symbolism is striking.  There was a snake between me and the church.

The obvious example of the danger of slithering critters is in Genesis 3.  We have heard the Adam and Eve story, even with the unbiblical finger-pointing at the apple, all of our lives.  We know it well, but do we recognize the serpents that are still lurking?  Everyone has one, maybe more than one, that present an obstacle to fully obeying the word of the Lord.  It is sometimes hard to hear over the hiss.

They are never obvious, sort of like the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They masquerade in harmlessness waiting to deliver a venomous fatal strike.  They swoop in and take the word of God away from the unsuspecting.  They fill the pulpits and television screens with feel-good messages that have no biblical content.  Viewers are emotionally charged and spiritually empty.  They might hear a verse or two but it quickly slips from their mind.  Jesus described it as a seed sown on the road (Mark 4:15).  The snakes are always hiding in the nearby grass.

They may come at us with the reaction of the world to our beliefs (Mark 4:16-17).  Godly principles are under attack from every direction, and those who stand up for them are subject to ridicule or worse.  The snakes are expert liars (After all, Satan is their father!), and they describe our ethics as hate-speech and our morality is narrow-minded.  It is easy to wilt under the pressure to conform to society, and that’s is one more victim for the snake.

They might come at us as worldly worries (Mark 4:18-19).  God expects us to work, but jobs and careers can become an obsession that squeeze Him to the margins of our lives and then out altogether.  Our occupation is an opportunity for us to put our biblical principles on display and glorify our Father, not disregard Him.  And possessions…well…it’s all temporary. The great danger is that we will not recognize the extremely poisonous snakes in our own garden.  Some Christians identify them and chop their heads off before they do extensive damage.  They listen carefully to the word of God, accept what it says and produce the fruit that follows.  “Good soil” is what Jesus called them (Mark 14:20).  They are not “snake-bit.”  They are what God has made, and then re-made, them to be.  Just be careful.  There are snakes between us and the church.