1/29/17 ~ Love That Will Not Let Me Go

From the Preacher’s Pen… Are you appreciative? Do you express your gratitude and thankfulness for the kindnesses and love that people show to you?

RacineBuildingHonestly, there are few attitudes more despised and despicable than thanklessness. If you give someone a present and their response is to show their displeasure and contempt, you are not likely to give them another. Rather you will view them as rude and unappreciative and rightly so.

As you may suspect, these very attitudes and tests of our attitudes are seen by God. How should we treat Him who loved us so much? Consider some thoughts drawn from a song in our hymnbooks about His great love.

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

Have you ever been loved when you didn’t deserve it? Yes, there are actually people who will answer this in the negative. People are so in love with themselves and so conceited that they always imagine they are entirely lovable. In spite of there being many people like that, they are by definition, abnormal.

So, have you ever been loved when you didn’t deserve it? It’s unlikely that you remember much about being an infant. In many ways that is fortunate for infants can be very self-centered, ungrateful creatures. When they are hungry they really don’t care about anyone else. They demand that all attention be focused on them as though no one else and nothing else is of any importance whatsoever.

We excuse their behavior as they are, after all, infants. They don’t know any better. But when a 10 or 12-year-old acts the same way you take a much different view of their actions. And if an adult should act like that you would pretty much despise them and such awful behavior.

Now to the important question: Do we sometimes treat our God and Savior that way?

Fortunately for us, God’s response to us is much more like that of the loving parent to an infant that lacks understanding and maturity. And for that, we must be ever grateful!

A while back I read a comment by a person who had once been an unbeliever in God. That person was asked what it was that changed his mind to believe in God. The answer was that it was the words of a song sung by Christians as he visited their worship. The congregation seemed to sing with such feeling, as though it really meant something to them.

Yes, there is an important lesson to us about our singing. If we despise making any real effort to sing with the spirit and with the mind (Paul’s comment of 1 Corinthians 14:15), we dishonor God! We joke about “making a joyful noise to the Lord” but God is never amused at a lame offering as He always demands our best to truly be a sacrifice of praise. But clearly, the finest singing without the right words is likewise vain worship.

Okay, so we offer to God our best worship in song in order to teach and encourage each other. But what song touched this man’s heart when other words did not?

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Paul was daily reminded of the love that would not let him go!

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.

God is the God of second chances! And third and fourth and fifth chances, too! When you read the stories of the faithful men and women of God you do not read of perfect people. Their flaws and failures are evident for all to see. Yet they constantly respond to the love that keeps on seeking them out. And they always seek the promise that lies beyond this life.

The writer of Hebrews put it like this: “… [T]hey desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:16)

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

Everything of God’s plan, promises and purpose pointed to the cross; that awful, wonderful moment when He took on our sin, our failure. At the foot of the cross we are forced to see the price, the loss, the cost in full that was paid for us. But it’s only at the empty tomb that we behold the purpose, the promise of life eternal.

The love that cost our Savior His life is the love that will not give up on us. He, Himself, is the ultimate gift given with the ultimate promise of an eternal home in heaven.

So, are you appreciative? Do you express your gratitude and thankfulness for the kindnesses and love that people show to you? Or are you one of those rude, uncaring ones? It is, after all, a choice that we must consciously make.

With all the promise, the plan, the love that is extended to you… what will you choose?

— Lester P. Bagley

 

1/22/17 ~ To Complain or Not to Complain

RacineBuildingYour children fight all the time and nothing you do will stop them. So? Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys did too. One ran away from home and was gone twenty long years just so they wouldn’t kill each other. But by being separated, these two powerful personalities were able to become all that God intended for them to be ~ founders of the Edomite and Israelite nations.

You’ve been uprooted three times in the last three years and are having to move again. So? Abraham and Sarah moved twelve times over a period of fifty-five years while her husband, Abraham, searched for his elusive dream. But, by following her husband with blind faith, she was an example for him to follow Jehovah with blind faith.

You are too fat/thin, you’re too tall/short, your skin is too dark/light, your toes are too long/stubby. So? Ugly Leah had to listen to her husband talk about how much more he loved her sister who was so amazingly beautiful. But Leah bore children for twenty years before her gorgeous sister had any, and she lived much longer than her stunning sister. This helped Leah have proper priorities so she could become the one her husband dependent on to raise all the children, even her sister’s.

Your son got in trouble with the authorities and was sentenced to ten years in prison. So? Amran’s and Jochabed’s son, Moses, got in trouble with the authorities in Egypt and was exiled from family and friends for 40 years. But this gave Moses a chance to be well remembered by those same authorities when he returned to free his fellow Israelites, and know where to lead them to live as freed slaves.

You have a terrible disease and it is making life a living hell for you. So? Miriam was stricken with leprosy, a disease that deforms the body and takes away all feeling so that the process of fastening shoes or anything else is almost impossible. But this helped her realize she had to choose between the calf god her brother, Aaron, had made and she and she had apparently worshiped, and Jehovah, the true God.

Your wife or husband died and all your children died. So? Naomi’s husband and sons all died. But, when she was through mourning, she spent more time mentoring her daughter-in-law who eventually was a great-grandmother of King David and ancestress of Jesus.

Your husband or wife is a monster. So? Esther married the king of Persia who, when he failed to conquer Rome, beat the ocean in a temper tantrum. But living with a spouse like that gave her the courage to face half a nation that was intent on killing off her people.

The Psalm of Complaint

David, who started a large portion of his psalms with a complaint, dedicated the entire 39th Psalm to trying to work through his problem. Let’s look at the Living Bible version to see what God was explaining to us through him:

Lesson One: Don’t provide non-Christians with proof that Christians are no different than anyone else. “I said to myself, I’m going to quit complaining! I’ll keep quiet, especially when the ungodly are around me” (v. 1).

Lesson Two: When you’ll burst if you don’t complain anyway, tell God. “But as I stood there silently, the turmoil within me grew to the bursting point. The more I mused, the hotter the fires inside. Then at last I spoke and pled with God” (v.2-3).

Lesson Three: Step back and see our complaint in perspective with the truly important things in life. “Lord, help me to realize how brief my time on earth will be. Help me to know that I am here for but a moment more. My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you” (v 4-5).

Lesson Four: Ask yourself how the world would get along if you weren’t around to complain about things. “Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend” (v. 6)

Lesson Five: Face it: Complaining is a sin. “And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. Save me from being overpowered by my sins, for even fools will mock me then” (v. 7-8).

Lesson Six: Remember, God can use the bad Satan causes to happen to you, to get you to shut up and pay more attention to what God has to say. “Lord, I am speechless before you. I will not open my mouth to speak one word of complaint, for my punishment is from you” (v. 9).

Lesson Seven: An ungodly person will be destroyed by bad things, but a godly person will survive to praise God still. “When you punish a man for his sins, he is destroyed, for he is as fragile as a moth-infested cloth; yes, man is frail as breath. Spare me, Lord! Let me recover and be filled with happiness again” (v. 11,13).

The Great Complainer

Revelation 12:10 says, and Job chapter demonstrates, that Satan is the great accuser. What better synonym could be applied to a complainer? Satan causes bad to happen to us and then sits back, waiting for us to blame God for causing all our problems, and then for us to desert God. We’re just playing into Satan’s hands when we do.

Look at the contrast. Every time Satan influences someone to sin, God says, “I can forgive.” Every time Satan influences someone to become sick, God says, “I can heal him.” “Every time Satan causes someone to die, God says, “I can bring him back to life forever.”

Spiritual Warfare

Do you see the dynamic interchange that is going on? It is so much more than you and I see. We’re not at war with these people we’re complaining about. Not really.

Ephesians 6:12 explains we’re not at war with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers in spiritual realms! Daniel 10 explains that even our prayers seem to provide strength to God’s angels as they fight Satan’s angels

Wow! God is allowing us to fight Satan right along side of him. What glory! What honor to be counted worthy! That’s the very reason the world was created. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God [forgiveness, healing, eternal life] should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:10f).

Indeed, as soldiers of the cross, how can we be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37) unless we have something to conquer? How can we have “Victory I Jesus” unless there is something to be victorious over?

This is the very reason we should “consider it pure joy” whenever we face trials (James 1:2). God believes in us and trusts us. Do we believe in him and trust him?

#Complaining, #Accusing, #Satan, #Problems, #Traps, #Angels, #Psalm, #Blaming, #Overcoming

1/15/17 ~ When Love Is Gone

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingIn the very first chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul reminds us that, with God, ignorance is not a defense (verses 18-32). The reason for that is the fact that ignorance of God is a willful choice. The evidence of our Creator and much of what is right or wrong is written for all to see and learn from in the world around us. Those simple facts bring God’s condemnation to those who do not search out and obey His will.

No, there’s nothing new in all that, it is simply the lesson that God has been teaching through His word since man and woman first chose sin over obedience. As hard a lesson as this is for us to accept there is one that’s, if possible, worse. Consider for a moment the horror of those that have once been faithful children of God who chose to turn their backs on Him:

When Love is Gone

Have you ever heard a song and realized that, in spite of the secular intent, there is a spiritual lesson that just demands attention? One such song was pointed out to me by a very dear brother in Christ many years ago. The lyrics to Have I Told You Lately That I Love You serve as a great lesson to God’s people about the relationship that God calls us to and Paul describes so often to congregations.

Another song with a great spiritual lesson is titled When Love is Gone. The song is sung by a young woman who has come to realize that the young man she’s become so close to and planned to marry has changed. He’s now far more interested in wealth and worldly things than he is in her. Even as she pours out her heartbreak, he is seemingly unaffected and will only realize what he has lost many years later.

There was a time when I was sure / That you and I were truly one,

That our future was forever / And would never come undone,

And we came so close to being close / And though you cared for me

There’s distance in your eyes tonight / So we’re not meant to be.

The love is gone, / The love is gone, / The sweetest dream

That you have ever known. / The love is gone, /The love is gone,

I wish you well / But I must leave you now alone.

There comes a moment in your life / Like a window, and you see

The future there before you / And how perfect life can be,

But adventure calls with unknown voices / Pulling you away

Be careful or you may regret / The choice you made someday

The song ends with…

It was almost love, / It was almost always,

It was like a fairytale we’d live out / You and I.

And yes some dreams come true, / And yes some dreams fall through

And yes the time has come / For us to say goodbye.

While it is sad to see those lost ones who do not listen to and obey God, it is in many ways even more poignant when those who once belonged to God turn away. Peter makes this very point in 2 Peter 2:17-22.

The spiritual version of this song plays out repeatedly in the Old Testament and leads to some heartbreaking passages in the New Testament. The early Christians in Acts, for the most part, struggled with threats from outsiders. But as the church continued to grow and spread, just when all seemed to be going so well, the false teachers and inside threats begin to flourish.

The Lord took longer for His final return than some expected. Continuing to live as a Christian became more hard work and less excitement than many wanted. And, what began with loving optimism and joy would deteriorate. Jesus warned about this very thing in Matthew 24:9-12: Then they will deliver you to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

Note carefully Jesus’ last comment there. Because people disobey God their love will grow cold. While we might take that as either their love for God or their love for others, the context actually suggests that Jesus is talking about their love for others will grow cold.

Consider what Jesus is talking about. When problems arise and Christians fall away from the family the ultimate problem, the ultimate cause of their sin is losing their real love.

Have you noted the anguish as Paul, at the close of his life writes of Demas that, because he loved this present world, he has deserted me? Love is gone. And, near the end of the first century, God writes to the Ephesian church and warns them that, even though they were still “going to church” and even doing many things right, their love is growing cold (Revelation 2:2-4).

What a heartbreaking diagnosis! Much like a person bleeding to death even as their heart frantically beats to try and continue circulating blood to keep them alive, death, when it comes, comes to the whole body.

For us, as Christians, we begin to appreciate the urgency as three New Testament writers all urge that we keep our love for one another strong and fervent (1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1 and 1 Peter 1:22).

James would bring the lesson to a pointed reminder as he tells us: My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).

Do we get the point? God, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ, never want to see us pulled away by another love. Be careful or you may regret, the choice you made someday.

Will your dreams of an eternal home come true? Or will they fall through? The choice is yours to make. Choose wisely. Choose well. Choose life and love with God and His family!

— Lester P. Bagley

#Love, #Falling, #Changing, #LostLove, #Sin, #ComingBack, #Church, #JesusChrist

1/8/17 ~ Whatever Became of Happily Ever After?

From the Preacher’s Pen… How’s your new year going? Have you broken all your resolutions yet? Or are you keeping them? Is it going to be a good year?

RacineBuildingAs we look back to the past year we often remember events to gauge whether it was a good year or bad. But how do we judge the future? Will this year be good or bad?

The ideal is for all the future to be good. But is that realistic? Can there really be a happily ever after or is that just a sign of not understanding reality? Okay, so let’s consider for a moment…

Whatever Became of Happily Ever After?

As Christians and human beings, we see death. Everyone on this earth has an appointment with death (Hebrews 9:27) and, short of being here at the moment of Jesus’ return, we will all keep that appointment one day.

A few weeks ago I asked my grandson Joshua if he liked a movie that he’d been to see. His reply was, “No, not really.” When I asked him why his answer was right to the point, “Because everyone died.”

The older I get the more I identify with his answer. Having seen a fair share of violent and tragic deaths, I find myself much fonder of happy endings.

When you’ve seen death and the situations that surround those violent and tragic ones you change. Today the response is typically labeled as PTSD. It is simply an acknowledgment that at some point we’ve all had more than we can take of such situations.

So, if you are stressed and over-stressed by unhappy endings what do you do about it? Some literally go crazy. Others joke or use some mechanism to maintain sanity and deal with the situation. However you deal with it, the point is to deflect the effect of unhappy endings.

Some of the most recommended and effective aids in coping are using a support system of others who have shared the stress, hard exercise and work, relaxation, humor, prayer and, above all, commitment to goals.

God realizes that we are limited in our capacity to deal with such things and provides help. When you go back and look at that list of aids to cope you will see that it is a description of the New Testament church.

God has not called us to do it on our own. Christ’s church, His body is made up of those sharing the failures, the stress, and the goals. We share our sins, struggles, and failures (James 5:16). Our challenge is to be committed to the hard work and goals of reaching out to others with the Good News (Matthew 28:19-20). We work, relax, live and share all things together as family. And that communicating with each other and with God is irreplaceable if we would really succeed.

Oh, and about that happily ever after part, just keep three things in mind:

First, for happily ever after to succeed, we need to go back to the innocence of childhood in order to successfully get to heaven. Two reminders from Jesus: And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Children are amazingly able to deal with things adults don’t handle. Don’t complicate with grown-up fears and failures what can be handled by simply doing what you are told by your Heavenly Father.

Second, we must realize just how great the promise of happily ever after really is! The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:16–17)

Family members have all the privileges and all the honor that belongs to God.

Third, God doesn’t promise to just give us a trophy or a certificate of completion, He is making us a part of His eternal family, with eternal bodies and all that implies: Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:50–53)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)

The trauma, the challenges, the difficulties of here and now are nothing compared to the eternal happily ever after of God. It’s not just a matter of facing challenges with help, it’s the promise that the goal, the end is worth the difficulties of the journey.

Jesus explains it like this: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)

Now is the time to lay down those worries and burdens. Now is the time to be a part of the family that helps with the here and now and looks forward God’s happily ever after.

— Lester P. Bagley

01/01/17 ~ To a New Year

From the Preacher’s Pen…

There are many things that people seem to think about with the arrival of a new year. RacineBuildingSome are planning diets after the holiday meals, others are hoping to get into better physical shape. The gyms will be full for the next few weeks and diet foods will sell well.

But in a month or so many will go back to their old way of life and the resolutions will be forgotten.

While the lessons are many and we are often reminded (at least once a year!) of them, there are also spiritual lessons that are even more important to remember!

To a New Year

When I think of a new year there are two great Biblical reminders that come to mind.

The first one is what Paul calls putting on the “New Man.” He says it like this: “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old man, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Now, before you ladies go to sleep, notice the two specific words that Paul uses in this passage.

“Man” is not the word for a male person but rather the generic term for human beings.

Likewise, “New” is not the usual word for something new in time. This is not a “new day in our week,” but rather is the Greek word that points specifically to something new in quality as opposed to what is old and worn out. A good example of the difference is found in the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea used for the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:60). It is not called “new” in the sense of being recently cut in the rock but rather is “new” as it has never been used.

Put those two words together and you get the picture: Our new being in Christ has never existed before. We are transformed (remember Romans 12:1-2?), changed by God into new beings with new desires and a new way of life. As Paul says it, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The second reminder comes with the “New Song.” You may be familiar with the song by that title in our songbooks and even know that it comes from the final book of God’s word as a reminder of the promised “New Song” in heaven (Revelation 5:9; 14:3). But you may be surprised to learn that the theme of the “New Song” begins in the Old Testament!

Again, let’s consider the two specific words used by God. The Hebrew word “new” is often used for what has never been seen or done before. In Ezekiel 18:31 God challenges His people to repent and “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31)

“Song” is the word especially used for a religious song and is used by Ezra and Nehemiah of the Levitical choirs (cf. Nehemiah 12:46).

The two Hebrew words occur together seven times in the Old Testament. Each time it is a “new song” being composed in response to what God has done and nearly always uses a form of the command formula of “Sing to the Lord a new song.”

The first occurrence is Psalm 33:3 and the phrase also forms part of the opening for Psalms 96, 98 and 149. Likewise, David declares that he will sing “a new song to You, O God” in Psalm 144:9.

Isaiah appropriately makes the final Old Testament reference as God looks forward to the fulfillment of His plans for man’s redemption and repentance. “Sing to the Lord a new song, Sing His praise from the end of the earth! You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it. You islands, and those who dwell on them.” (Isaiah 42:10)

Now, when we move to Revelation and the final “New Song” of praise to the Lamb of God who bought our salvation with His own blood, we realize just how much it means.

As we begin a “New Year,” is there any greater promise than our renewal in Christ leading us toward that eternal “New Song” in heaven?

May we truly be a renewed, new people that rejoice in our new song this new year!

— Lester P. Bagley

#NewYear, #NewLife, #FreshStart, #NewStart, #Revival, #StartingOver, #RenewingHope, #Rededication