Lifelines July 18, 2021

There once was a time in which it was a high compliment to describe a person as “God-fearing.”  Whatever happened to those days?  To stand in awe of the Lord is an attitude held by very few anymore, and it is evident in our culture.  It reflects a total dismissal of the Almighty Creator before whom we will all stand in judgment.   Eternal destinations will be revealed that day.

Respect for God has waned rapidly in recent years to the point that many now doubt His very existence.  Despite the wonders of His creation bearing witness of Him, skeptics seem to be winning the day.  They see the sun, moon, stars, planets, and all of the wondrous creatures and conclude that it was all the product of a big bang.  Humans are nothing more than the winners in a survival of the fittest.  Such a process either marginalizes an all-powerful God or eliminates Him altogether.         

That is the world in which we live.  Has it seeped into the church?  Do we still stand totally awe-struck before God?  Or have we watered down our concept of Him?  As we break bread and share the juice of communion, do we fully comprehend the significance of that moment?  The Son of God’s battered body hanging on a cross, giving His all for us.  Blood from His back, brow, hands and feet draining the life from Him.  So horrible is sin and so great is His love. 

We come before a God of infinite love and perfect justice who is both compassionate and capable of wrath.  Whatever happened to the fear of the Lord, that attitude that recognizes our dependence on Him for every breath we take and accountable to Him for how we treat Him?  Scripture reveals attributes that grab our attention.  There is no other source that provides insight into His nature.

Rome had its share of those who knew God but did not want to be bothered with Him (Romans 1:21-32).  It began a downward spiral that we see mirrored in our own time.  Theology will inevitably leave its mark on society, and the minimizing or removal of God from our thinking leads to sin and that results in self-destruction.  The same is inescapably true of His church.

A distorted view of the great “I am” may be more common than a total rejection of Him.  His word exposes us to unexpected attributes, and we may choose to focus on some to the neglect of others.  From Genesis to Revelation, we have the facts about this unseen God that He wants us to know.  Disregarding any of them leaves us with an incomplete picture. The God of creation wants us to know Him, and that demands an investigation of His own revelation about Himself.  It’s a wonder, isn’t it?  He exposed His heart to us.  Now, it’s our turn

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.