2/18/18 ~ Drawing Near to God

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the great failures of many Christians is their failure to seriously read and study God’s word. Several preachers ask how many have read their Bibles daily at the beginning of their sermons. While that offends some people (apparently, we think it is okay to take offense at someone pointing out our sins!), perhaps an even more pointed question would involve how many actually study and understand God’s word.

Understanding what you read, just like the man from Ethiopia in Acts 8:26-39, is VITAL to our salvation. One of the helpful ways of studying the Bible is to follow God’s use of words, how He chooses to communicate important lessons to us.

To study like that requires more effort than simply reading. Putting more effort into an actual understanding of both what is read and how that fits the context of all God says is exactly what brought salvation to the man of Ethiopia. And that same effort will bring understanding and salvation to us.

So let’s do a little digging, a little bit of serious study into one of God’s lessons that will help us come closer to Him and to understanding what He says to us.

Drawing Near to God

One of the many rich lessons of the book of Hebrews involves a word picture that the author repeats seven times. The word is proserchomai and, especially in relation to coming to God, is translated as draw near or approach or come to (cf. Hebrews 4:16; 7:25; 10:1, 22; 11:6; 12:18, 22). This same Greek word is usually used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew qērab, which means come near or approach but also includes the idea of closeness to what or who is being approached.

Outside of the Bible, Greek writers use this word with more force than simply going somewhere. It is sometimes used in a hostile sense as going to a fight or battle, but usually in the sense of being concerned about someone and going to someone or something of great importance. It was also used in the religious sense of going to or before a deity. Just as in our world a word might be reserved for a deeper meaning rather than just being a simple synonym, so, too, the New Testament writers and the Holy Spirit chose words with richer meaning for special lessons.

This is the word that Matthew uses (Matthew 4:3) for Satan coming near to Jesus in order to tempt Him. It is also the word chosen later for the angels as they came to minister to Jesus. Both uses portray an incredible lesson for us. First, that Satan would dare to come so close and appear so intimate with Jesus. Isn’t that also a warning to us about how the Devil will try to get close to us? And second, the important job of angels in providing aid and comfort to Jesus. They did for Him just as they are sent out to be “ministering spirits… to render service” to God’s people (Hebrews 1:14).

On many other occasions, God reminds us of both the closeness of the wrong things and the intimacy of our right relationship with Him. Paul commands that we reject those and withdraw ourselves from those that (literally) do not draw near to the words of Jesus and godly doctrine (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Contrast this with Peter’s command that we come to Jesus as our living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 2:4).

Clearly, God calls His people to be more than just friendly with both God and His godly people! Just as we are never to be intimate with sin, wickedness and the worldly, so are we called to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Why? Simply because He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). We draw near to God, become intimate with Him and our family in Him here on earth so that we will be a part of the family for eternity in Heaven.

Will you draw near to God and His family here on earth so that you will be together as family for eternity? The choice really is up to you. Choose wisely!

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/11/18 ~ Three things sin will always do

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

In spite of what some people think, sin and death are not a preacher’s favorite things to talk about. That idea is akin to believing that doctors just enjoy seeing blood, guts, and disease because that’s what they often have to work with. The reality is that we do this job to alleviate suffering and hopefully prevent death. And that is the real reason that our Great Physician deals in these same issues with us.

Consider an illustration that I’ve used several times in sermons and articles before:

Three Things Sin Will Always Do

In life, there are two major ways that we learn. Some things we learn the hard way from personal experience. Some things we can hopefully learn from seeing the experience of others. We’ve all noticed that the lesson of personal experience is often far more effective at staying with us.

When it comes to the seriously deadly things in life, though, it is obvious that the lesson would be far better learned from the experience of others. That simple point brings us to much of God’s reason behind numerous lessons that He includes in His word.
Consider three lessons about the dangers of the things that sin will always do.

1) Sin will always… take you farther than you want to go!

The Hebrew writer (Hebrews 11:24-26) reflected that Moses made a grownup, adult choice not to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. That intentional choice meant that he lost the prestige, power, and authority of an Egyptian leader. That choice meant he would spend the majority of his adult life fleeing Egypt in the desert.

It would be easy and convenient for us to see his loss and miss the larger picture. Verse 25 reminds us that Moses made another choice: choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. Why? Because he considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

Look at that last thought again. Reproach is literally the word for disgrace or insult. The worst thing that comes from faithfully following Christ is greater than the greatest riches of the treasures of this world!

Jesus put it this way, For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26) I believe Moses would have said, Amen!

Clearly, the pleasures of sin for a season may yield a long and worthless harvest!

2) Sin will always… keep you longer than you want to stay!

Beware lest God gives up on you! One of the most frightening things that God may do to us is too simply allow us to have what we think we want. In Romans (cf. 1:24-32) the Apostle Paul repeatedly points out the consequences of God rejecting and abandoning those who choose sin over obedience to Him.

By choosing sin we force God to put us where we deserve. The result is dishonor (verse 24), degrading (verse 26), depravity (verse 28) and getting exactly what we earn with our sin. Our earnings (our wages of sin in Romans 6:23) include being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful (verses 29-31).

Having made that choice to live in sin God further declares that we are both ignorant and worthy of eternal death (verse 32). Remember God uses exactly the same word for eternity in Hell that He does for the duration of Heaven. Eternity is a long time to stay where neither God nor any of His goodness exists!

3) Sin will always… cost you more than you wanted to pay!

If you really insist on choosing sin, then you have to pay for sin. Paul reminds the saints at Thessalonica that, if you don’t choose salvation, then you choose for God to help you believe any false thing that will lead to eternal death (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). That’s an astronomically high price to believe what you want and enjoy wrong instead of right!
As we’ve already noted, the well-deserved earnings of sin (Romans 6:23)… is death! But there’s also one more part to that same verse and to the story of sin. There is the gift of God!

That brings us to one important final lesson about sin, and that is the one thing that God can do if you let Him. He will save you from your sins! Romans 6:23 says, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Did you catch all that? Sin will actually do all these horrible things for and to you. But God offers a choice. He offers hope and another way.

Yes, it IS a FREE GIFT! But don’t let the price tag confuse you, as so many have. That gift, that promise is ONLY to those IN Christ Jesus. And the only way that you can be IN Christ Jesus today is to be born into the family, the body of Christ.

If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:5). There is NO promise for those of us living on this side of the cross for salvation from sin without baptism! Without that uniting with Christ in burial (baptism!) and death (to sin), there is NO uniting with him in resurrection (cf. Romans 6:3-7).

Without freedom from sin, there is no life! Remember those three things that sin will always do for you. And make the choice to unite yourself with Christ in His way as the one thing that can save you.

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/4/18 ~ Traditions, Customs, Habits – Part II

 

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Last week we began a look at God’s view of traditions, customs and habits. We found that God objects to His people serving Him without intentional thought or consideration of what they are doing. There is no accidental faithfulness! Habits may help us head in the right direction, but if we forget why we are serving the Lord or do them for the wrong reason, it becomes a bad habit.

Inventing our own traditions that contradict God’s will or imitating the wrong customs of false teachers is considered by God as a direct path away from Him. We cannot use the world’s “good ideas” to improve on what God wants us to do.

Consider a bit more of God’s view of this lesson and some important positive lessons for us about…

Traditions, Customs, and Habits – Part 2

Some of the things we do, the habits or customs we keep, have no real right or wrong value. They are just part of our family or cultural tradition, the norm. But some of the seemingly common traditions, customs, and habits in Jesus’ own life are much more important for us to imitate. They help us realize what it truly means to be a part of God’s family.

Consider some of Jesus’ traditions, customs, habits and the positive lessons for us:

Mark 10:1: And rising up, He went from there to the region of Judea, and beyond the Jordan; and crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. What a powerful lesson in evangelism! Is it normal and habitual for us to share the Good News?

Luke 2:27: And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law. The fact that God’s Law demands our worship, obedience, and service doesn’t make it easy or convenient. We are the ones responsible for making it a habit of our’s to do the right thing.

Luke 2:42: And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast. Of all the lessons that we can teach our children, none is better than doing what is right together as a family.

Luke 4:16: And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. Many years ago a friend commented that he envied me growing up in a faithful family simply because he had no tradition of obeying and serving God in his early life. And yet we all work hard to learn and keep customs that are important to us! How important is your faithful service to God? Important enough to work hard at making it a habit?

Luke 22:39: And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. Jesus found strength in regularly taking time out to pray, to cultivate holiness. How often do we take time to be holy?

Jesus also found Himself wrongly criticized for his attitude toward customs. In Acts 6:14 Stephen is rebuked: “for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” In reality, Jesus had said just the opposite! (Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”) While Jesus kept many traditions without criticizing them, He was also discerning enough to reject those that were meaningless (cf. Matthew 15:2).

Traditions, customs, habits can lead to good, positive religious practices:

Esther 9:27, 32: the Jews established and made a custom for themselves, and for their descendants, and for all those who allied themselves with them so that they should not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation, and according to their appointed time annually. (32) And the command of Esther established these customs for Purim, and it was written in the book.

The “unnamed feast” that Jesus attended in John chapter 5 appears to be Purim and, like so many other Old Testament events He would show that the great fulfillment of them was found in Him.

Luke 1:9 shows a time when God carefully used tradition to bring about fulfillment at exactly the right time. In this case, a priest “just happens” to be in the Temple to learn of God’s preparations for the coming of the Savior (according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense). A similar instance occurs in Luke 4:16 when Jesus reads the Sabbath reading at the beginning of His ministry… and it “just happens” to be fulfilled in Him!

Of course, you realize that there are no “just happens” with God and His purpose. Traditions, Godly traditions are part of God’s purpose to accomplish His will!

Traditions, customs, habits can have a positive context for our Christian practice:

Acts 17:2: And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 11:2: Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.

2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by a letter from us.

2 Thessalonians 3:6: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.

Hebrews 10:25: not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.

Once again we are reminded of the many good customs and traditions but also notice how the writer of Hebrews carefully reminds us of both good and bad habits. Let’s face it, according to God, there are some “traditions” that we as Christians should never forsake!

Are you spiritual enough to appreciate the fact that some customs are good, positive and right in God’s sight, and, just as important, that some are wrong?

May we never be found holding on to those things that are not good for our souls just because we’ve always done it that way. Likewise, may we never be found forsaking and making fun of those things that bring us closer to God.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us, Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

— Lester P. Bagley

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1/28/18 ~ Traditions, Customs, and Habits – Part 1

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Do you have any bad habits? I guess most of us do. It seems that in religious matters whenever we talk about habits, customs or traditions they are always bad. Perhaps that is just a bad habit?

In real life, we begin to appreciate the fact that many times those habits are not only good but actually things we work hard to develop! We teach our children to brush their teeth at regular times because we need to instill in them the good habits, the tradition of automatically doing the right thing!

Let’s consider a bit of God’s view of this important lesson:

Traditions, Customs, and Habits – Part 1

In so many jobs and hobbies in life, we work very hard to develop the right and good ways to do things. One such technique involves a subject known as “muscle memory.” Simply put, that involves practicing a skill until your automatic reaction is to do it the right way without consciously thinking about what you are doing.

A person skilled in missing or bending every nail that they hit with a hammer doesn’t have much future in carpentry! But with consistent practice, you can have that skill. At that point doing the right thing becomes a good habit.

God uses this same lesson for us in both positive and negative ways. Consider some of the bad or negative traditions, customs or habits of His people he has commented on:

Isaiah 29:13: Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” Doing the right things for God as His people is so important that God actually commanded us to teach these things to our children, to hand down to them the right traditions, the customs and habits that God wants us to have (cf. Deuteronomy 11:19). But as important as it is to DO the right things, we must also understand why we do it for it to be beneficial.

Leviticus 20:23: Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them. Learning to do all the wrong things is never going to help us. There is no competition for the best nail-bending carpenter!

Matthew 15:2-3, 6: “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” (3) And He answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”… (6) he is not to honor his father or his mother. ‘And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.’” Traditions that complement obedience to God’s will are good. But those customs that lead us away from what is right are worse than useless!

Colossians 2:8: See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Traditions that belong to the ideas, philosophies, or plans of people that lead us away from God’s will are always destructive and wrong!

What are some dangerous customs for Christians today? How should we go about avoiding these bad customs? Do you see how a tradition could appear good but really lead us away from or become a substitute for the truth?

Traditions, customs or habits can refer to ordinary cultural practices without regard to God’s Law:

Ruth 4:7: Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. Many things in God’s word are better understood and appreciated if we take the time to learn more about that world, it’s customs and culture. As with Psalm 23, we can easily completely miss God’s rich lessons if we fail to take the time to appreciate the traditions, customs and habits of the world where the lesson is set.

John 19:40: And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. An understanding of what this verse and others like it tell us in the context of the New Testament world would prevent people from believing in a hoax like the Shroud of Turin.

We all have them! What are some customs of your family that fit this category? Are there other good customs that you’ve seen in other families? How well do we do with the traditions of others that differ from us?

Okay, so we hopefully see a bit more importance in God’s lessons on traditions, customs, and habits. They are NOT always wrong. They CAN be very helpful to our understanding and next week we’ll see just how far God takes that important lesson for us.

— Lester P. Bagley

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1/21/18 ~ Repentance

Repentance

From the Preacher’s Pen… There’s an old hymn that asks the question: Did you repent, fully repent? It is a most sobering question. Repentance, as described by God, is the U-turn that gets us on the right way to eternal life.

RacineBuildingLike so many of God’s words, repentance has a very specific meaning in the Bible that is unlike the way it is used by the world. Consider that important ingredient that God commands us to use in our lives:

Repentance

Repentance has often been called the forgotten command of God and for very good reasons. In recent years even the denominational world has begun to notice it as painfully missing from their “Sinner’s Prayer” method of “salvation.”

Sadly, too many Christians have begun to forget or willingly ignore repentance. As you will learn by reading either the New or the Old Testament, that loss will cost you your soul.

Isaiah warned that God had instructed His people to repent and let God take care of things (Isaiah 30:15), but they were unwilling. In that failure to repent and trust God would come their downfall.

As a matter of record, God always requires obedience even, or perhaps more accurately, especially of His people. John the Immerser preached a message of preparation for Jesus as the Kingdom was about to come (Matthew 3:1). Their proof of repentance was to be found in bearing fruit or deeds that showed evidence of that repentance (Matthew 3:8).

It is embarrassing when we miss the point of a story or joke. Something that just goes over our heads or, worse still, something that we misunderstand completely can be worse than awkward. One statement of Jesus that is often misunderstood (much like many in His audience often miss the point!) is found in Luke 5:32.

It is all too easy for us to feel like the audience evidently did when Jesus said, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. If we imagine for even a moment that we are so wonderful, so righteous in God’s eyes that we have no need of our Savior and of repentance, then we are horribly deluded!

Jesus came into the world to save sinners, Paul the Apostle would say (1 Timothy 1:15) years later, of whom I am foremost! Yet he could also claim (Acts 23:1) to have lived his entire life with a perfectly good conscience before God!

Evidently, since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard (cf. Romans 3:23), we all need to repent as none of us are righteous without God!

This message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47) was the message the Apostles were to take to the whole world. Repentance was for or going toward the goal of forgiveness of sins. No, it is not the only step, but it is a vital one.

Just as baptism is for or going toward the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), so is repentance. That tells us two very important things: First, without repentance, you are NOT going the right direction for the forgiveness of sins. Second, in the same way, without baptism, you are NOT going the right direction for the forgiveness of sins.

In math the equation would be “a + b = c” and this is true, for example, of 2+3=5. But it is NEVER true that 2=5 nor does 3=5. In God’s mathematical equation neither repentance alone nor baptism alone will save you. Only the right combination!

It is, of course, the kindness, grace, and mercy of God that leads us to have the opportunity of repentance (see Romans 2:4). We have to be sorrowful for our wrongs, our sins, for our failure to properly follow God (2 Corinthians 7:9).

Just being sorry is not the same as repentance. Many people are sorry that they were caught but not sorry for the sin. We can be sorry for many things without having the sorrow that corrects and leads us in the right direction. Paul says it like this, For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Did you catch all that? God must break us of our sin. But Godly sorrow does not lead to ongoing brokenness. God’s way is all about life and the positive change that we are making.

As those who complete the equation of both repentance and baptism, we receive a new life. There is freedom from the old way of sin and death, and this new life is filled with the spirit of God (Acts 2:38 and repeatedly in 1 Corinthians).

Rejecting God’s way, even for those who have once been saved, is described as a life without repentance and thus without hope (Hebrews 6:6). Repentance is a treasure of God that forms a crucial ingredient of our salvation. It is more than just important, it is vital!

Have you made the U-turn that leads from living your life for Satan, sin, and death? Have you made the U-turn to obey and follow Jesus? Have you completed the equation for the forgiveness of your sins?

If you’ve done those things to begin that family relationship with God then have you continue the path of obedience to salvation? If not, is it time for your repentance to get you headed in the right direction?

— Lester P. Bagley

1/7/17 ~ Faith is our starting point to reaching out

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingAs we begin a new year we begin a new opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those around us in this world. We have several new tools (both books and DVDs) to help us with both what we should say and with reaching out to others.

Without the knowledge of and obedience to the Lord, everyone on earth faces a dim future. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that we all have an appointment with death, and then an appointment with judgment before God.

What happens in that final appointment to your family, friends, neighbors, and others you meet begins with you! Ezekiel chapter 18 is a great lesson from God about our personal responsibility. If we share the truth of God and His will, then we accomplish our part of that duty. If we fail, then we must bear the responsibility for each and every soul we lose.

Let’s think for a moment about the starting point for us in…

Faith

Faith is not just a “religious” word, but a word that we understand in almost every area of life. Faith is putting your complete trust or confidence in someone or something. The opposite in someone is literally betrayal and disloyalty, and in something it is uselessness.

Think about that a moment. A person or a thing that you cannot depend on is dangerous. Even if you try to make sure that you never have to depend on someone or something that is dangerous, you still must be careful knowing that you can never really trust them. Faith or trust, real trust is reserved for very special people and things!

The real reason that Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land was because he broke God’s trust in him. Isn’t that a shocking thought? That is exactly what God told Moses in Deuteronomy 32:51 and, to make things worse, God went on to describe that as a failure to respect or treat God as holy.

The writer of Hebrews (in Hebrews 11:6) explains it like this: without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

We often imagine that faith as a Christian is a one-way street. It isn’t! In reality the faith that God calls us to is a two-way street. Faith is trusting God so completely that He can trust us!

In Hebrews chapter 11 that is the very point the writer is emphasizing. By faith (verse 4) Abel offered a better sacrifice and God, Himself, became the proof, the testimony, the witness of that faith. Faithful to God means God will be faithful to us!

Psalm 146 is a great song of praise to the Lord and the author reflects that he is unable to trust earthly people, even royalty, in the same way that he can trust God (cf. verse 3). Not only is God the creator of all things, but God is the one that keeps faith, is trustworthy, forever (verse 6)!

In working rescue, we inspected and tested our equipment every single day. A rope that might be called upon to lift you or someone else to safety could never be just okay or good enough. If it had the slightest flaw, the tiniest break or abrasion, it was considered unsafe. After all, it could easily be my own life that depended on it, so no one would ever take the chance of what was unworthy of complete trust.

Do we see the point and make the spiritual application? Faith is not ever just a whimsical liking or fondness or even a half-hearted belief in God. Faith is the knowledge that God has been tested and proven faithful (actually what Hebrews 11:1 says!). Faith is never wishful thinking. Faith is confident, intelligent trust.

Peter and the other Apostles came to know that Jesus was really the Promised One (John 6:69). Paul was willing to suffer things on this earth without shame because he was convinced of his God’s faithfulness (2 Timothy 1:12). And John (1 John 4:16) calls us to know and believe the love God has for us.

When it comes to our God, there is no room for wishy-washy faith. As His own chosen family, His Royal Priesthood, His Holy Nation, we are called to, not just trust (if that is even possible!) but to trust and obey. Indeed, we are called to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9).

Faith is our firm foundation, our starting point to reach out with the Good News! Will you be displaying real faith this year?

— Lester P. Bagley

12/31/17 ~ Putting the “personal” back in evangelism

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

By now you’ve heard some comments being made about various books and DVDs that we are going to make available for reaching out to people in our community. And you are going to be hearing more as the new year progresses. The obvious question is: Why?

RacineBuildingThe answer is simple. We can put ads in the newspaper, mail out nice brochures and generic invitations to the “Occupant” and perhaps reach a person or two. But when you and I personally invite or talk with or share something with someone they are much more likely to respond.

 

 

There are those in our congregation that are constantly reaching out to friends, neighbors, and others they meet to invite them to attend a worship assembly, to study the Bible, to think about Godly things. That’s all it takes, that’s all that evangelism really is; sowing the seed! More than any tool, more than any technique, more than any other thing, the secret to evangelism is you and me.

Consider just how far-reaching this all is as we think for a moment about…

Putting the “Personal” Back in Evangelism

Evangelism, telling the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the primary job of Christians here on this earth. Perhaps because it is so important, it is also the focus of some of the greatest nonsense perpetrated on Christians.

Literally thousands of books are written claiming to show us the only truly successful way to evangelize, and a comparable number of teachers will come teach us their own guaranteed way to “double the size of your church in just 10 weeks” or other similar nonsense. Nonsense? Surely all those catchy titles and great preachers (I know they are great because most of them will tell you how great they are and how superior their method is to anyone else!) couldn’t be wrong, could they?

Let me suggest something for you to consider. Every problem that the New Testament church has ever had from the days of the New Testament right up to the struggles congregations have in 21st century America has been the direct result of someone trying to improve on what God has already said! Every single time another book is written explaining the greatest technique that we’ve all missed, I wonder how many more souls will be lost.

Why would I say such a thing? How could I possibly fail to appreciate all the improvements and good ideas out there? I’m glad you asked! Let me show you by way of a preacher and a book that I do have respect for…

  • Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
  • For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
  • Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
  • For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
  • Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:1-11)

Hopefully, you see the point. To teach what God wants us to do and to be is to teach God’s word! To tell the Good News the best and most successful way is to follow God’s instruction book! To be right about what we say, what we do, what we call things, how we worship, how we lead our lives, how and what we teach our children and countless other things, we just need to follow our Savior and His word.

To God’s people coming out of years of bondage and idol worship, God taught them His word and demanded that they both follow it themselves and teach it to their children in order to have life, health, prosperity and a future! (Cf. Exodus 12, Deuteronomy 4). And Peter (along with Jesus, Paul and the rest of the New Testament) reminds us that this is still true today and for all time!

“Personal” evangelism is not another class or method or book or some preacher’s secret. “Personal” evangelism is nothing more than teaching and encouraging each other, teaching our children, conversing with our families, friends, and neighbors about the eternally important things (cf. Acts 8:4). “Personal” evangelism is personally living like God’s child!

Evangelism is listening to what God tells us and then sharing that same message with others. Every child of God does just that if they are serving the Lord. Yes, there are good tools (and we are going to be talking about them and using them this year!) to open doors, to get people started in learning the word of God. But in the end, it is all up to you. No one else can do your job of telling those you know and meet.

For each one of us, the essential ingredient is our love for God! “Hear, O Israel! Jehovah is our God, Jehovah is one! You shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8)

Do you love the Lord enough to share the Good News? Let’s determine to make our new year one of living like who we are called by God to be, a new year of encouraging and loving one another that we might share that eternal Good News!

— Lester P. Bagley

12/24/17 ~ Jesus’ Birthday

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Christmas time is one of the two times each year that many people actually take a moment to acknowledge Jesus. Christians sometimes feel the need to hastily stomp out any talk of Jesus during December. That is both sad and wrong! Others want to be like the world and embrace all the false teaching and nonsense (like the “Three Wise Men” visiting the baby in the manger and on the night he was born – something that never happened!). Some, however, feel that it is a good time to take the “opening” like this and use it to begin to gently share the truth.

If we as Christians are to both encourage one another and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, we must understand the truth ourselves! But that doesn’t always mean we hastily cram the whole thing down the throat of the first person we meet who doesn’t understand!

Jesus and the Apostles sometimes corrected misconceptions such as when Paul and Silas were called “gods” at Lystra (Acts 14:8-18). On other occasions, they simply never commented one way or the other on them. Jesus, for example, took advantage of the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) to teach truths about Himself, and yet never preached a sermon on whether or not the traditional story actually was a “miracle” by God.

Both examples teach us important lessons. We still enjoy a season of joy and family get-togethers without violating God’s will. We make sure we really understand the truth behind what God says (or doesn’t say) about the man-instituted “holiday.” And finally, we use the opportunity to gently, kindly, lovingly share the real Good News.
Let’s begin with what we really know…

Jesus’ Birthday

To begin with, I guess most of us realize how dangerous it is to accept something that everyone tells you is “common knowledge.” Just a quick look at advertising through the years and the many hazardous things that have been marketed as “safe” should be enough to make us all very cautious about accepting things that “they” or “everyone” say or believe.

Perhaps one of the most loudly proclaimed dangers to our society at this time of year is the danger of taking the Christ out of Christmas. So, let’s do a little research into the subject.

You can find at least one or two websites that claim to “prove” that Jesus was actually born on December 25. They even claim that shepherds commonly take their sheep into the mountains even in heavy snow. Since such claims are easily checked against reality we can safely discard their assertions.

In contrast, there are numerous historical (and other) websites (not to mention numerous books — you remember those old printed things without a computer chip in them, don’t you?) that give you the historical facts about the origins of Christmas as a “Christian” day. In short, the pagan Roman feast day honoring the birth of Sol (the Sun god) continued to be celebrated by many, if not most, Roman Christians. Religious leaders in Rome “proclaimed” it in 354 AD as Christ’s birthday so they could give a “Christian” meaning to their revelry. Unfortunately, leaders in other parts of the Roman Empire had other days they wanted to use with their local people and there was widespread disagreement over what day to call the birthday of Jesus even then.

As little as a century ago, most denominational churches that now “celebrate” Christmas as Jesus’ birthday decried it as pagan and unfit for Christians. A couple of snippets from history will suffice:

Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition, had this comment: “Christmas (i.e., the Mass of Christ)… Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church…. It was not instituted by Christ or the apostles, or by Bible authority. It was picked up afterward from paganism.”

\The Encyclopedia Americana, 1944 edition, said: “Christmas… was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth….” (The “Communion,” which is instituted by New Testament Bible authority, is a memorial of the death of Christ.) … A feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the fourth century. In the fifth century, the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed.”

Most encyclopedias, or other authorities, will tell you that Christ was not born on December 25. The Catholic Encyclopedia frankly states this fact: “The exact date of Jesus’ birth is entirely UNKNOWN, as all authorities acknowledge — though many think that the Scriptures at least strongly indicate that it was in the early fall — probably September — approximately six months after Passover.” [There are those who argue for almost every event in the Jewish calendar as being the “one most likely” to have been the time of Jesus’ birth. –LPB]

Even widely respected commentators such as Adam Clarke commonly noted this same fact and often preached it from the pulpits of both America and Europe.

So, when was Jesus born and why such a frantic outcry today? Honestly, it is more a matter of what people want than what God says! We want to have what we want and be like other people! We don’t want to be different! We demand that God give us what we want! And, sadly, most religious leaders find it easier to give in and give up than to keep on teaching the truth!

For those who would honor God’s word and God’s wishes, there is an interesting parallel. When Moses died, God buried him “in the valley in the land of Moab… but no man knows his burial place to this day.” (Deuteronomy 34:6) And yet visitors to the Bible Lands are shown the “exact” burial place of Moses! Lest you think that to be a modern invention, many think it was pointed out even in New Testament times. Is it really surprising that folks are trying to “point out” the exact day when Jesus was born?

When you consider the facts as actually revealed by God do you suppose that God might have intentionally withheld the date of Jesus’ birth because He knew we would focus too much on it as the special day of remembrance and worship? Could God have actually wanted us to remember not the birth but the resurrection as the vital focal point of faith?

The earliest Christians remembered Christ’s coming (His birth and life on earth) along with His atoning death and His victorious resurrection all year long. That remembrance for them was made even more precious by their worship together on the Lord’s Day. Isn’t that what we should do?

Take advantage of the season. Rejoice with family and friends as we are together. Always remember (and teach each other and our children) the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about God’s matchless gift of His Son coming to this earth for us!
Let’s remember to kindly and gently “let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Let’s “never grow weary of doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) and “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Let’s work to make this week and the coming year a great one in our service together to the Lord!

— Lester P. Bagley

12/17/17 ~ Into the Night

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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We’ve all noticed how a phrase or idea can be good or bad depending on how it is used. In looking up a word in a dictionary recently I ran across a discussion of words referring to things that can be good or bad. Something that is “six of one and half a dozen of the other” is one such description. Another one would be something that “cuts both ways” or had both good and bad aspects.

It shouldn’t be surprising that God in His use of language also uses words that can be good or bad depending on the setting. Love is an excellent example. Loving like God loves is good. Loving your husband or wife is good. But loving wealth or any earthly thing more than God is wrong. Likewise, loving sin is wrong.

Let’s look at another term that God frequently uses so that we can see both lessons, the good and the bad, that He illustrates with it:

Into the Night

If you ever need to get out of town secretly, night can be a perfect cover. That was actually the case with Joseph and Mary as they left Bethlehem for Egypt under the protective cover of night (Matthew 2:14). They wisely used God’s time of darkness to preserve the life of the King of kings.

Many years later the Apostle Paul would work, presumably at his tent making trade, both night and day in order to aid the Thessalonian congregation (2 Thessalonians 3:8).
On the other hand, Jesus would warn His disciples of the importance of working for the Lord while we have the light of life since the time after life gives no such opportunity (John 9:4). Notice, too, that in saying that Jesus reminds us that there is no second chance in death. We must do the Lord’s will now, in the light of life, or miss out on the very life that leads to salvation.

Like many of God’s lessons, there is a good and positive lesson where we see night and darkness as a help, a blessing to God’s people. At the same time, nighttime and darkness can be associated with a more negative lesson and many times with the ultimate negative of death, sin, and evil.

That same cover of darkness that once brought safety to the infant Jesus, would later hide the deeds of Judas as he instituted the chain of events that would bring about the Savior’s death (see John 13:29). And once again a good night would be turned into evil.

Paul would praise those Christian widows that faithfully serve the Lord “night and day” in spite of having no earthly relatives and family to aid them (1 Timothy 5:3-5). They would be the ones that God commanded His congregations to assist.

Paul would also use both night and day to pray for his younger fellow preacher, Timothy (2 Timothy 1:3). How well do we use the time God provides to us?

Of course on many occasions, God would use night and darkness to illustrate the realm of Satan, evil and wickedness. The greatest contrast would then be with the light or day of God where righteousness lives. Just as light overwhelms and shines out of the darkness, so our Savior overwhelms the darkness of sin to shine in us (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).

Light and dark cannot truly partner together, as one or the other will always win. That fact is used to remind us as Christians that we cannot be partnered with either sin or those who persist in sin (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Yes, we were once in darkness, but now, as those who have accepted the call to be God’s light of the world, we must live exclusively as God’s people (Ephesians 5:8). There should be no going back!

We are rescued from darkness (Colossians 1:13) and, as heirs, sons and daughters of God, we are not to participate in darkness (Ephesians 5:11) for that is the kingdom of Satan and his forces (Ephesians 6:12). Instead, we are to live and walk exclusively in the light (1 John 1:5-6).

Only in that exclusive walk may we truly have fellowship with God’s family and the ongoing cleansing of all sin (1 John 1:7). Only in the light do we become and remain the chosen people of God (1 Peter 2:9).

With this final use of light comes the end of night with all its pitfalls and dangers. Our eternal city in Heaven will see no night and no need for the protections against the menaces of darkness (Revelation 21:25). And the ultimate reason for the end of night and darkness will be that our eternal Lord and God is the light of Heaven.

The difference between right and wrong, between good and evil is as plain as day and night. Will we wisely use the time allotted to us here on earth? Will we prepare for the coming of night when this physical, earthly life is over? Will we prepare ourselves for an eternal, terrifying, horrible night? Or will we prepare for the eternal day of blessing?
The choice, our choice, your choice should be as obvious, too.

— Lester P. Bagley

12/10/17 ~ Love Songs of God

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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There is always a danger in oversimplifying anything. To say that the basic ingredients of a cake are all that’s needed to actually have cake is to miss the importance of both so-called minor ingredients and all the work that goes into properly mixing, baking and ultimately serving a cake.

When it comes to the Bible we hear many similar simplifications both by teachers discussing the scriptures and from within God’s word itself. Hopefully, we are intelligent enough to appreciate those simplifications and the lessons they teach as well as incorporate them into the larger overall lessons from God.

One example of this lesson is what we commonly call the “five steps to salvation.” They serve the purpose of summarizing God’s will. But no one that really studies God’s word believes for a single moment that by quickly checking off five items on a list that they can then get back to their lives and, somehow, magically be saved. And yet there is much to be learned from what that simple lesson tells us of God.

A similar summary is sometimes expressed like this: The New Testament is God’s love letter to us. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that all of the Bible is God’s love letter, but even then we need to realize how much there is to that statement.
To begin with, what about our love for Him. Love cannot last as a one-sided affair. So consider and explore for a moment a few of the lessons of the…

Love Songs of God

One of the most prominent themes of God’s relationship with His people is that of love. So important is this theme that John bluntly says that, without love, we do not know God (1 John 4:8). He would go on to say that if we live in love, God’s kind of love, then God lives in us (1 John 4:16).

Throughout God’s word, He portrays the relationship that He has with His people as the perfect love of husband and wife. Solomon in the Song of Solomon would paint perhaps the ultimate picture of love between husband and wife here on earth. With that picture God would paint the ultimate picture of love between God and His bride.

The Psalmists would remind us of our Lord’s righteousness and love of righteousness (Psalm 11:7). They would remind us of our love for Him (Psalm 18:1) and challenge us as God’s people to love our Lord (Psalm 31:23).

Certainly, one of the greatest tragedies in scripture is that of Hosea as the prophet sees portrayed in his own life the same love story that God shares with His people. A relationship that begins with love will turn to sorrow in unfaithfulness, love rejected, only to have true love continue.

Love that gives, even when hurt and rejected, is love that is true. Love that forgives and keeps on loving is the only love that is worthy of its name. All else is merely infatuation, fake love without strength or purpose.

The New Testament reminds us that it is the ultimate fulfilment of God’s Old Testament lessons and illustrations. Paul applies that to the love of Jesus for His bride, the church (cf. Ephesians 5:21-32). He loved us even while we were unlovable, while we were still sinners (cf. Romans 5:8).

Perhaps it is only natural that when humans think of love, real love, that they so often use terms from God’s word for that ultimate standard.

A few weeks ago I turned the radio on in the car and heard an older (1964) song. Listening to the words I thought of this very point:

  • There’s a new world somewhere they call the promised land 
  • And I’ll be there someday if you could hold my hand   
  • I still need you there beside me  no matter what I do  
  • For I know I’ll never find another you

One of the greatest pleasures of our children and grandchildren is holding that little hand and sharing the tenderness of a moment. How precious to know that our God loves us like that and loves us enough to walk with us.

  • But if I should lose your love, dear, I don’t know what I’d do  
  • For I know I’ll never find another you

How bitterly sad that moment when Adam and Eve realized they would never again be able to walk together with God in the Garden. How agonizing to imagine that we could never again take His hand and walk with Him.

  • It’s a long, long journey, so stay by my side   
  • When I walk through the storm, you’ll be my guide, be my guide   
  • If they gave me a fortune, my pleasure would be small.   
  • I could lose it all tomorrow and never mind at all.   
  • But if I should lose your love, dear, I don’t know what I’d do   
  • For I know I’ll never find another you.

How precious are those promises and hopes of His faithfulness, His forgiveness, His love.  The very knowledge of God’s love for us ought to cause us to love and give Him our all.

Solomon’s ultimate story of love between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, is called the Song of Songs. James would remind us that, if we are cheerful, we should sing songs (James 5:13). Certainly, it is most appropriate of us as Christians that we should sing of His love for us. (Be sure to check out your hymnbook and notice how many songs deal with God’s love for us and our love for Him!)

If we lose God’s love we will have lost everything for all eternity. We will never find another one like our God. Let’s make sure we never lose such love!

— Lester P. Bagley

(Lyrics from I’ll Never Find Another You by Tom Springfield)