6/26/16 ~ Oh Jesus, I Didn’t Understand

RacineBuildingOh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  Your flesh.  It was torn for me.  I was the one who should have received the lashing that turned Your back into meat.  And the thorny slivers on the cross.  The slivers that went into Your already shredded back to create gangrene.  The lashing and thorns were supposed to be for me, not You.  And the nails too, Jesus.  The nails too.  How could You go through that in my place?

 Oh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  Your nakedness.  They stripped You instead of me.  I was the one who’s nakedness should have been exposed, and put on display for the whole world to gawk at and ridicule.  I was the one who was supposed to have been subjected to exposure, enduring both the heat of the day and the cold of that strange noon-time darkness.  How could you have endured this for me?

 Oh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  Your blood.  It was shed for me.  If I had been the only sinner in the world, You still would have had to die to free me from hell.  That was my blood that was supposed to be falling off the cross that day, not Yours.  How could You love me that much?   

Oh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  Your every breath.  Taken away from You a gasp at a time as You hung there by merciless nails tearing away at your life, rendering your lungs almost paralyzed, piercing Your soul.  Each time You chose to ignore the screaming blood vessels  in Your back and the unbearable spasms in Your arms and legs just so You could get just one more taste of breath, that should have been me.  How could You volunteer Your own body to be tortured like that in my place?

 Oh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  In the flames of Your fever and the darkness of my sins, You descended to a horrible place where God does not go.  Completely forsaken by Your God.  Completely deserted by Love.  Not because You simply bore my sins, but You actually became my sins.  How could You, who struggled a lifetime to make sure You never sinned, become exactly what You hated for me?

 Oh, Jesus, I did not understand.  All my little lies, little things I took home accidentally and kept, the strangers I never encouraged, the friends I never shared my love for You with, my arrogance in not following you.  Oh, Jesus, I am so ashamed.  How can I ever make it up to You?  How can I tell You how sorry I am?  I want to see You face to face and tell You how much I love You.  How can I convince You to let me do that?

 Jesus personally replies, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).  Oh, Jesus, say no more!  I do believe that You are the Son of God!  I do believe!

 Jesus personally replies, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3).  I’m so glad You said that, Jesus!  I truly am sorry for all those sins I have committed that caused You to die!

 Jesus personally replies, “Whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:31f).  Well, isn’t it enough that I believe?  Do I have to get my friends involved?  If I told them I believed in You, they’d kill my reputation.  Are You sure, Jesus?

 Jesus personally replies, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15).  “Jesus came…to be baptized….’It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness’ ” (Matthew 3:13-15).  

 Oh, Jesus, I wish you hadn’t been baptized and said I needed to be also.  My friends and pastor tell me I don’t need to be.  I know they didn’t die for me, but surely they wouldn’t steer me wrong.  Please, Jesus, not that!  Please….

 Would it be okay, Jesus, if I just do the first two ~ believe and repent?  Everyone says that’s all I have to do to please You.  I’ll even throw in the third one and tell a few of my friends what You’ve done for me because I believe in You.  But the fourth one.  I know You Yourself said to, but I just couldn’t!  Please, spare me that!  Please, Jesus!  It would kill me….  

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06/19/16 ~ Worship In A Nursing Home

WORSHIP  IN  A  NURSING  HOME

RacineBuilding          Some shuffle, some lean on walkers, some are pushed in wheel chairs.  Arthritis-laden legs bend, backs strain, and with the aid of shaking hands they sink down now into their chairs.  Racing heartbeats ease to a slower pace.

            After a little rest, some are given song books.  The others cannot see.  The first song is announced.  Quivering lips part, cracking voices begin, and heaven opens.  A chorus fit for the King of Glory rises through the ceiling of the little room, bursts into the universe, and swirls into the Divine throne room.  The voices of gallant warriors, torn and broken in body.  The voices of strong warriors, courageous to the very finish.  The halting voices of conquerors boldly reaching for the crown.

            A little later they hear the words, “We are gathered around this table to once again commemorate our Lord’s death.”  Once again.  Yes, once again as many times as it takes until the victory is reached.

            Bent hands, stabbed still by throbbing arthritis and shaking with palsy, reach out to touch the first symbol.  The bread has already been broken for them.  Yet it is with determination that each forces fingers to close around the little fragment representing that crucified Body.  Slowly, slowly it is taken up to the lips.  Some fingers fumble at this point, and the fragment drops into a lap.  The painful procedure is again repeated until completed.

          Next the cup is brought.  Blood symbol.  Symbol of death and life.  The little glass is so small it could embarrassingly spill.  A kind friend picks it up and places it into the palm of the awaiting cupped hand.  It is still shaking.  So two hands are used ~ one folded under the first to steady it.  The drink successfully reaches the lips and its contents triumphantly sipped.  Oh what glory to still be able to honor the dying Savior after all these years!  The glass falls out of tottering hands.  It is caught by the tray.  But the mind has already started transcending this room for another far above.

            “Each week we give our contribution to a worthy cause,” they hear explained.  Presently the collection tray is brought around.  Dimes and quarters are brought out of coin purses, shallow pockets, envelopes, Bible leaves.  Some are wadded in cold hands.  Ever so slowly coins and dollar bills are carefully placed into the tray.  Not much?  It will help someone in need.

          The preacher now stands.  Many shift.  Seats are harder, circulation cramped, arthritis continues to distress aged joints.  He reads about being taken home to Glory some day. Some watch him, some gaze at the floor.  He speaks of heaven.  They begin to feel left behind.  They think of those they ache to see again.  It has been so long.  They’ve fought so many battles.  A few tears slip down as due drops.  They dream of heaven in the morning….

            The sermon over, the last prayer said, they begin to leave.  Slowly…   The room is nearly empty now.  They make their way down wandering halls to little rooms and resume their wait for the Mansions.  They sigh.  Battles of life have been met and fought.  Mountains climbed.  Desolations conquered.  So now it is a matter of waiting and encouraging those left behind to do the best that they, too, can do.  Tired.  Waiting.  But willing to go on until they touch the mark.  And then…. 

          And then….  they will start all over.  Only this time it will be different.  For this time there will be no pain, no foes, no failures, and never again will they grow old!          

 

 

06/12/16 ~ Is “Church” Really the Best Word to Use? Maybe Not.

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHopefully one of the lessons we are learning from our Sunday morning Bible study is that learning God’s language is really a part of learning God’s word and will. If we just use the world’s misunderstandings of Scripture we will never teach them the true will of God and what He really says.

The “Great Commission” is really a job where we spend our lives learning and doing the job of Him who commissioned and sent us! Consider this lesson:

Is “Church” Really the Best Word to Use?

Maybe Not.

You are most likely aware the New Testament was not written in English. It was written in Greek and therefore must be translated into English. Translators have always had a very difficult job deciding what English words to use in place of Greek words. The Greek word, “ekklesia” is the word most commonly translated, “church.” But given where the English word “church” comes from, it is probably not the best word for us to use when talking about the people of God.

What is the Etymology of the English Word “Church”? Our English word “church” is derived from the Greek word, “kyriakon” which means, “of the Lord.” Although it was never used this way in Scripture, this word was used to refer to buildings of worship (i.e. “house of the Lord”). The word eventually evolved into the Germanic word, “kirika” and then eventually into our English word, “church.”

So you see, it’s kind of funny when we say, “The church isn’t the building; the church is the people.” Which is something I’ve been told and repeated my whole life. But technically speaking, the English word, “church” has always referred to a building.

What we really mean is, the “ekklesia” isn’t the building; the “ekklesia” is the people. So I think it’s a shame that English translators chose a word which historically refers to a building and used it to translate the Greek word, “ekklesia,” which referred to Christians collectively.

What is Ekklesia? The word, “ekklesia” always refers to a group of people. Some have suggested that it is a compound word meaning, “called out.” This may be where the word came from, but when it was used the emphasis was not on being “called out,” but on coming together. 

In Acts 7:38, “ekklesia” refers to Israel and is translated “congregation.” In Acts 19, “ekklesia” refers to a group of citizens gathered together and is translated “assembly” (vs. 32, 39, 41). Both of these English words capture the meaning of “ekklesia” very well. When we hear the word “assembly,” we know we are talking about a group of people who “assemble.” And when we hear, “congregation,” we know we are talking about a group of people who “congregate.”

We often use the word “congregation” to refer to the local “ekklesia,” but have you ever thought about the fact that the universal body of Christ could accurately be called “congregation”? We are the great world-wide congregation of the saved. The same is true with the word “assembly.” The Lord’s church – the saved throughout the world – are an assembly of the redeemed.

Why does it matter? I’m not saying we should never use the word, “church.” It has become a part of our vocabulary over the last several hundred years and it’s not going anywhere. But this is an important discussion for at least a couple of reasons:

  1. Don’t be so quick to play the role of semantics police. When we correct people about things like calling the building a “church,” we may find out that they were technically correct all along. But beyond that, we forfeit many good opportunities to teach people about Jesus when we care more about correcting their use of the English language.
  2. Realize that “ekklesia” is about being an assembly.The most important reason this issue must be discussed is because we have come to a point in our culture where many Christians see no need to come to the worship assembly. They believe they can be “members of the church” without ever assembling. But if we started thinking of the church as the “assembly” then we might realize that an assembly assembles!

And even when the assembly is not assembled, we should still think of ourselves as a member of the assembly of Jesus Christ (both locally and universally). The rest of the assembly should be on our hearts and our minds as we go throughout our day. We should pray for the assembly, look for every opportunity to assemble with them, and encourage them “all the more as [we] see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

Jesus died to save His assembly. Someday He is coming back to take His assembly home to heaven. On that day, the great assembly of Christ will be assembled around the throne of God and we will praise His name forever and ever.

Here’s a sobering thought: If you don’t appreciate the assembly now, what makes you think you’ll appreciate it – or even be a part of it – for eternity? Think about it.

— Wes McAdams online at RadicallyChristian.com

Excellent lesson! Unfortunately, both the changes in the English language combined with the doctrinal error of early translators leaves us today with a great challenge to bring real understanding to those learning God’s word. The tired old argument that everything in Scripture is simple to understand is nonsense. It was not so for the Ethiopian (Acts 8:30-31) or many who misunderstood Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16); nor was it God’s plan to make an oversimplified Gospel. Preaching/teaching is God’s plan to get it right (1 Corinthians 1:21) and He commands us to both learn and go to do that teaching (Matthew 28:19-20).

Since we are rightly the body, the assembly, of Christ may we together serve Him this week!

— Lester P. Bagley

 

06/05/16 ~ Habakkuk

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingNew Year’s resolutions… remember them? Many times they don’t last past January. Sometimes we try to revive them in mid-year and other times we just save them for next year.

Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Remember that resolve and determination to live a faithful life and how you wanted to share the Good News with everyone? Isn’t it even more important to revive and renew that zeal, that resolution?

One of my favorite prophets is Habakkuk. His weakness and failure to understand God’s plan and purpose is something I can identify with. His faith in the face of such fear and doubt is an incredible lesson that we can all aspire to!

Habakkuk

No one living in Habakkuk’s day can remember a time when Judah had known and obeyed the Lord’s commands. Josiah becomes king at the age of eight and at 16 begins to seek the Lord. At 20 years of age, he purges idolatry from Jerusalem and during the repairs on the Temple Hilkiah, the priest, discovers a copy of the Book of the Law. When Shaphan the scribe reads the book that has been lost during the reign of a series of wicked kings, he hurries to Josiah with the news (2 Kings 22:10). Josiah is aghast at what they have done and humbles himself, prays for mercy and promises to both keep God’s commands and to publish them throughout the land. As the people hear God’s word, and the Feast of Passover is re-instituted, the King leads all Judah in a revival to obey the Lord.

In the midst of this revival, Habakkuk becomes aware of how superficial this religious reform is to the hearts and minds of most worshipers. Simply knowing God’s will and word does not produce holiness. More than outward reform is needed as many twist and pervert God’s word to suit what they want to do. Some even do violence to those who do try to truly obey. Sound like a familiar story? Is it perhaps just a little too like our world today?

As Habakkuk writes his book it certainly seems that God’s people have learned nothing from their own history. The Assyrians destroyed the northern tribes of Israel so long ago that the lesson is now forgotten. It seems like peace and prosperity will continue forever in the land. Far too many people believe that God really doesn’t mean what He says and will allow His people to go on sinning. Revival is just for those old fashioned few. But God Himself counsels, “Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

God always sees through the superficial people in any revival and reveals to Habakkuk just what the future holds: the cost of great sin is great punishment! So terrible is the judgment God explains to the prophet that he is shocked by the revelation. Habakkuk will soon see with his own eyes the wicked nations swallowing up his people.

As Habakkuk seeks solitude he wonders how God can allow such wicked people to destroy His own even in their sin and prays for true revival and for God’s mercy: “Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

Living by faith is the true revival; the true return to what God wants us to do. God has declared that His righteous will be preserved in the day of trouble because they depend on Him. And God will always remain the final judge, dealing out certain retribution on all the ungodly such that all the earth will be silent before Him. As Habakkuk’s prayer continues, he accepts God’s will, “I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us.”

And then he reveals to us what true faith and true revival really mean: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:16-18)

May God grant such faith to us! May the Lord renew in us the love, devotion and faithfulness that we need. May the Lord grant us the true joy that comes in faithfully serving Him. May we let it show in and lead our lives that we might boldly declare with Habakkuk, “The Lord God is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:19)

— Lester P. Bagley

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