12/27/15 ~ End or Beginning?

From the Preacher’s Pen ~

The year 2015 is nearly over. Before this week is over we will have a party celebrating the end of this year and the beginning of a new year. (More about that party inside.)

As with all endings there is always the promise of a new beginning. So let’s consider that thought in light of our yearlong journey through the Bible and remember a bit of where we have been with God and His story:

End or Beginning?

It seems appropriate that our final book study of the year is 2 Timothy since it signals the end of Paul’s story.

And yet we all know that that is not really true! The Apostle Paul continued his ministry throughout the ages because of what he had accomplished. He is remembered and studied today by Christians as the inspired writer of much of the New Testament. His work goes on!

Isn’t that really the message that God has been trying to get across to us since the beginning of His word? We were not created to die!

God actually created human beings to be a reflection, an image of Him. Genesis clearly reminds us that eternal life for us with God was the plan, God’s intention all along.

Of course it all went wrong when sin entered the world. As soon as humans chose to walk with and listen to someone other than the Lord God… death came into existence. Can we really imagine the horror of Adam and Eve when God presented them animal skin clothing to help cover their sin?

That ending was soon replaced with at least a measure of joy in the beginning of new life. With sons born to Adam and Eve it was a renewal of hope. A new beginning that would soon be dashed by murder. Have you ever wondered how many times Adam and Eve thought, “IF ONLY…”

As the Old Testament narrative continues we see how often the story repeats itself. Even as Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt and introduced them to God’s new plan for them, there was the solemn reminder to remain faithful and teach each new generation lest they forget and bring an end of all God’s blessings.

Unfortunately, it was a warning that they did not take seriously! The books of Judges through 2 Kings remind us of the alarming frequency with which new generations caused their own calamitous end. And yet God was always there to offer the new beginning, the new hope to a people who would listen and obey.

As God tried His best to get His children to listen to and obey Him, one of the most horrible comments is made about their response: “but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:16).

Even with the final, terrible ending of the nation of Israel, even with the brutal destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and almost ending of Judah there was still hope. God brought His people back from captivity to give them another chance, another beginning.

Of course the ultimate plan of God was for a new beginning for all people in Christ. Isn’t it shocking to realize that instead of grateful appreciation, Jesus was “welcomed” with hatred and death? For a moment in time it would seem that even God’s ultimate new beginning had been foolishly rejected and turned into another end.

Fortunately for us, three days after His death, Jesus rose from the grave to never die again. More than that He showed us that death and endings could forever be defeated, destroyed so completely that God’s people could return to the original plan: living forever with God!

So, how do we respond to such a great and loving God? Do we choose to follow and obey Him?

We could, of course, reject Him and hold out hope for another way, another beginning, one more chance. But the Hebrew writer (along with several other NT writers) clearly says that there is not another way: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” (Hebrews 10:26)

Clearly with all our reminders of endings leading to new beginnings it is time for us to realize that with God our opportunities are winding down. Yes, the end really is in sight. If you want your life story to continue into an eternal walk with God the time to begin is now!

Let’s make our New Year our best year ever of faithful obedience to our Lord and Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

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12/20/15 ~ Blessing and Being Blessed

From the Preacher’s Pen ~

Thanksgiving is passed and yet we should be thankful for so much! Christmas is just a few days away and we are looking forward to gifts and, even more blessed, the gatherings of family to be together.

Certainly we are a people blessed by God in numerous ways! Each and every day of our lives we see the hand of God at work blessing us again and again. True, like an ungrateful child, we sometimes find ourselves complaining, but I believe that, for the most part, we do recognize how richly we have been blessed. When we count our blessings honestly (is there any other way?), we see that the words of the song have been true for us personally and as a congregation, “He blesses and blesses again.”

Perhaps a more important question for us as Christians is, “Are we a blessing to our God?” Let’s take a look at the subject of blessing and consider how it goes both ways:

Blessing and Being Blessed

The Hebrew word usually translated as “bless” is a word that incorporates the concept of blessing and thanksgiving. The book of Psalms uses the term some 75 times and the entire Old Testament uses it over 330 times to give us the foundation of our understanding of how God uses the word through His inspired writers.

The priestly prayer commanded by God in Numbers 6:22-27 says: Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’ So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.

When you think about it, doesn’t that wonderfully set the tone of all our blessings? Should worldly, ungodly people claim to have been blessed, we know that it is not so. God’s blessings are given to those who are His people, covered by His name. True, God has said that He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), but in those words we see only the natural course of God’s laws of nature benefiting the unrighteous. True blessings (God’s definition) belong to God’s people!

Psalm 115 is a case study in blessings as the Psalmist begins with the injunction Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. All glory, honor and blessings originate with God and to Him is all our glory, honor and blessing due! The writer continues by contrasting the ungodly and the gods they worship as powerless and unworthy.

Notice the challenges of verses 11-18: You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield. The Lord has been mindful of us; He will bless us… He will bless those who fear the Lord, the small together with the great…  May you be blessed of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth… But as for us, we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forever. Praise the Lord!

The conclusion of the Psalmist is to both bless and praise the Lord and these commands for God’s people to do so are liberally sprinkled throughout God’s word. Consider a few examples of our challenge to bless Him:

Psalm 16:7: I will bless the Lord who has counseled me. Psalm 26:12: My foot stands on a level place; in the congregations I shall bless the Lord. Psalm 29:11: The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace. Psalm 34:1: I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

There are dozens more calls for God’s people to bless their God who has blessed them and every one is a beautiful expression of understanding and thanks to our God who gives us everything. The Apostle Paul put it like this, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

The lesson for us? Let’s make it our goal to not only enjoy the blessings of God but to offer up and BE a blessing to Him! Let’s be those who, Sing to the Lord, bless His name; proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day (Psalm 96:2). Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. (Psalm 100:4) Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits. (Psalm 103:1-2)

Now that’s a lesson and a challenge worthy of the people of Almighty God!

— Lester P. Bagley

12/13/15 ~ Doubt

From the Preacher’s Pen ~

As a firefighter my life was guided by maps. Where is that location? How do I get to that address? What else is nearby? Is there water there? Are there other hazards in the area? All kinds of vital information were available with the right maps and guidance.

Like most others that have worked similar jobs there are a million stories of times when we were really confident in our knowledge. And a similar number of times when we were not.

There are few things more confusing that uncertainty. If we don’t know what our plans are, if we don’t have certain direction to our lives we quickly learn that we don’t function well. It is hard to get somewhere without going in the right direction. It’s almost impossible to do the job if you don’t fully understand what you are doing.

The same thing is true of our spiritual life. Consider for a moment the subject of doubt:

Doubt

Did you ever doubt? If you doubt that a rickety old bridge is safe and do not venture across, your doubt might save your life. On the other hand, if you doubt that someone is doing the right thing to rescue you from a fall down a cliff, you might end up losing your life.

In much the same way a Christian may doubt the Devil’s promises of how things will turn out and not listen to the bad advice of Satan. That would certainly be a good thing both for now and eternity. However, simply applying the same doubt to God’s word would cost you your soul.

As Moses prepared God’s people to enter the Promised Land he reminded them of God’s demand that they be faithful. In Deuteronomy 28:66 Moses told them what would happen if they are not faithful: “So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life.”

It should be clear to us that God never wants us to doubt Him! Jesus taught His disciples that doubt was the thing that stood between them and great accomplishments by faith in God. In Mark 11:23 He said, “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” Far too often the same doubt keeps us today from accomplishing great things in Christ.

A few years later when God is trying to get Peter to extend the offer of salvation in Christ to the Gentiles the problem of doubt played a part. Peter doubted that Gentiles were really meant to receive God’s grace and God sent him a vision to teach otherwise (Acts 10:1-18). In case there was still any question, God told him to go without doubt or any misgivings (Acts 10:20).

Later, as Peter reported the conversion of those Gentiles to the church in Jerusalem, some contended or took issue with Peter (literally, the text says that they doubted Peter and his decision).

Isn’t it a bit strange that we still give so much credibility to those who doubt God’s word and will? That question would continue to plague the early church as it does us today. In Acts 15 Peter would again be called out because of the false teaching and doubts of others. And Paul would constantly face the same issue numerous times in his preaching and teaching.

Doubt would rear its ugly head many times with God’s people. Some would waver over eating of meats that were associated with idol worship (Romans 14). Paul would remind those same Christians that the reason for Abraham’s great faith was his refusal to doubt God no matter how incredible His promises (Romans 4).

James would illustrate doubt as being “like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6) as he challenged Christians to pray and seek God’s help in their lives. Paul used that same theme to remind us to grow up and not be accepting of false teachings (Ephesians 4:14). Real strength is found in not allowing our doubts to ever take us the wrong way.

Jude would also remind us of the dangers of false teachers (Jude 17-21) and pleads with us to have mercy and help those brothers and sisters in Christ who are tempted to doubt God and follow error (Jude 22). What a beautiful thought that our encouragement might be equated to God’s own mercy!

As in other areas of life so also in our spiritual lives, doubt may be good or bad depending on how we use it or are used by it. Let’s work hard at doubting all the false teachings, all the earthly things that lead us away from Christ.

And let us never doubt our Savior in the things that lead us to Him and eternal life!

— Lester P. Bagley

12/6/15 ~ How Much Does the Blood of Christ Forgive?

From the Preacher’s Pen ~

Hopefully this time of year makes us think about much more than big sales and the hectic last minute rush to complete our shopping before it’s too late. Hopefully the season is at least a reminder of peace, good will and family getting together to share joy.

As Christians, as God’s family members we have the greatest joy to share just because of who we are and what our Heavenly Father has done for us. It is often that very joy that causes us some great struggles as we wrestle with what He has done for us. So it’s entirely appropriate that even as we share our joy, so we share our appreciation for what He’s done.

As people here on earth we come across some powerful things. If you are working with explosives, you have to occasionally remind yourself to be careful. It’s easy to become so complacent that you forget the precautions and become careless.

As recipients of God’s greatest gift let’s take a moment to remind ourselves just how much the blood of Christ our Savior actually does forgive. Why? So that we don’t risk becoming complacent.

How Much Does the Blood of Christ Forgive?

At the Last Supper Jesus was teaching us how the old Passover Feast was in reality a portrait of what was to come. In the death, burial and resurrection of Christ would come the reality of God’s salvation for His people. Just as the death of a lamb and its blood on the doorpost once saved the people of old, now the death of the Lamb of God and the blood applied to our lives would bring salvation, eternal salvation to God’s people.

In Matthew 26:28 Jesus says, “this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” Paul reminded the Roman Christians (Romans 5:8-9), “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”

Did you catch all that? God’s new agreement (covenant) with us begins with the forgiveness of sins. God demonstrated His love for us, not after we were right with Him but while we were still sinners, by giving Christ to die for those sins. In the uniting of us with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:2-5) we are justified (made right) by His blood. And in uniting with that great gift of God we become the “being saved ones” (Acts 2:47).

Paul explains this to the Ephesian Christians (Ephesians 1:7-8a) this way: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.”

We are redeemed (freed! bought back from sin and the Devil’s possession, ownership, enslavement of us) by Jesus’ blood. Our trespasses (the Greek word is used of everything from minor offenses to the most massive failure) are forgiven by His rich grace. How is the grace applied? Lavishly! The Greek word is literally a gift so great that it is ridiculously more than enough to cover our sins!

One of the great struggles that we have is fully appreciating the fact that God can and does forgive me the sinner. Yet God says that He gives us so much forgiveness that it would cover tons more sin than we could ever have or imagine.

There is, of course, one caveat, one stipulation, one limitation: to receive such forgiveness we must be obedient, do what He tells us to do. Remember Romans 6 and Paul’s great lesson of what baptism does for us? Look at Romans 6:16 and you’ll see something very important: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”

So just how much sin can God forgive with this great gift of Jesus’ own, sinless blood? Could He possibly even forgive me and all my sin?

Now, isn’t the blood of Christ powerful? Isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it wonderful? Yes, it is all that… and MORE!

The Apostle John reminds us: “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

When we continue our obedience, trying our very best to keep on serving our God (walking in the light) then He keeps on cleansing, forgiving our sins!

Obviously none of this works if we don’t obey (walk in the light). Hebrews 10:26-31 deals with that very issue.

So, in a very real sense our salvation, our purity before God, our forgiveness of sins is up to us! Do you want God’s forgiveness and resulting salvation? Then act like it!

How’s your life? Are you truly making the effort to make excuses? Or are you striving to serve Him who gave His own life to forgive all your sin?

~ Lester P. Bagley