4/30/17 ~ The Biblical Compass

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingThe first time we read the Bible we get it. After all, we only read other books one time to understand them. Of course, anyone taking a course in literature and tried to claim such an absurd thing would find themselves failing the course. Reality check: We seldom, if ever, fully appreciate and understand something the first time we see it!

Most of us are mature enough to understand that fact in life. And most Christians are able to see, like many of the people in the Bible, how rich are the ongoing lessons we learn about God and His will.

It should be a ritual with us to not just read God’s word but to think about it, to constantly inquire about what it says and how to appreciate and understand it.

Consider something as simple as the compass directions and let’s remind ourselves of how easy it is to miss so much.

The Biblical Compass

North-South-East-West

A great lesson for Bible study comes from an old illustration: To read the Bible always and only in translation is like listening to Bach, always and only played on the harmonica. You certainly get the tune, but you will miss pretty much everything else.

Now, if you are comfortable with hearing Classical music only played on the harmonica and think there’s nothing to be gained by listening to a great orchestra… well, you probably have no problem with lazy, effortless Bible study.

Yes, I realize just how hard it is to learn another language but I’ve also learned just how much can be gained by consulting someone that truly knows that language. In fact, many times we will actually learn more by taking the time to ask questions of those that know the language rather than just learning to speak or read a few words! (This is what makes the many books dealing with Biblical word studies so valuable if you don’t read the original languages.)

Let’s start with the compass and basic directions: north, south, east and west. Just like reading the Bible one time, we can understand those directions and at least get ourselves headed in the right direction. But does God have a little more to the lesson? Let’s check.

In Genesis 13:14 we read, The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward.”

These four directions are technical navigation terms in English, and, even if you simply read them in Hebrew you would normally get the same idea. (The pronunciations are tsafonah for north, negbah for south, kedmah for east and yamah for west.) It’s only when you do a bit more serious digging that you learn that those words used by God were filled with even more meaning for Abraham.

North (tsafonah) is connected to Mount Tsaphon (or Zaphon) in modern Syria (cf. Isaiah 14:13). This was the Canaanite version of Olympus as the “mount of assembly” where the gods’ met and thus a prominent landmark.

South (negbah), as you might guess, is the Negev desert or wilderness area south of the land of Israel. This was the area where Abraham traveled back and forth to Egypt and centuries later the nation of Israel would wander there for 40 years because of their lack of faith.

West (yamah) means “to the sea” as the Mediterranean Sea formed that huge barrier in that direction.

East (kedmah), of course, brings to mind the idea of where it all began. Abraham had traveled far from his old life and land in the east to this new land of promise. And even earlier in mankind’s history, the Garden of Eden was planted to the east (Genesis 2:8).

Much like a jigsaw puzzle, when we piece together God’s words they become a picture of all that surrounded Abraham, his life and the Biblical story to that point in history. And in those four words filled with so much meaning, is God teaching us an important lesson, too?

In the years to come God would use another phrase, “wherever you go” as a reminder of the same lesson. First, to Joshua that the Lord would be with His people to deliver them even in the Promised Land (cf. Joshua 1:7, 9). And then second, to the nation during the time of the Judges as a reminder that without God no place would be safe (cf. Judges 2:14-15).

Does God do the same for us today? If we are faithful to Him will he not give us safety and blessings from deserts to oceans? Does He keep us safe from pagan and false gods and the old ways of life?

There is a rich history in God’s promises to give His blessings to His faithful people. Perhaps the ultimate reminder comes as Jesus gives the Great Commission and concludes that, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

With such great promises and with a God that gives us such great directions, what kind of lives should we live this week and always?

— Lester P. Bagley

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04/23/17 ~ They Fired the Preacher!

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingAs members of God’s family, one of the first things we should learn is the basics about the Bible. Obviously, no one can live right before God without knowing that we do not live under the Law of Moses. That leads us to learn the differences between Old and New Testaments and, while all lessons from God are important, some are more directly applicable to us today.

When we come to the New Testament we still must learn how to apply the lessons. The first four books, the Gospels, tell of the life and teachings of Jesus. While they are vital lessons for us we must understand that not everything is directly applicable to us today! For example, many people wrongly claim salvation by the “thief on the cross” method without understanding that it most certainly does NOT apply.

When it comes to how to be saved, the most important book of God’s word is the book of Acts. When we follow those instructions we are actually doing the things necessary to become Christians.

All the rest of the New Testament is written to the saved ones actually living under the New Covenant of Christ. It is here we must turn for God’s instructions on living IN Christ… and these are vital for eternal life!

Since the church began people have been trying to re-write God’s commands and will. One of the great errors that has been injected by the Devil into God’s way is the concept of clergy and laity, that is a “priesthood” of some special group other than all of God’s people.

Without a doubt, one of the greatest disappointments for so-called Christians at the Judgment Seat of God will be to learn that they are personally responsible for living and acting as saints, as royal priests of God. Consider this lesson:

They Fired the Preacher!!!

There are many excuses used for not assembling with the saints. Through the years, most of us have heard just about everything imaginable. Some folks are kept away by a rainy day while others are home-bound because their pets were unruly! As one man said, “Any excuse is as good as another.”

Here’s a little “preacher story” that has an important lesson for us. Read it and seriously consider if it is not the mindset of many in the church today.

The story is told of a preacher who began showing up late for services and even missing the “prayer meeting” altogether. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he did not show up at all one Lord’s Day because he had taken a drive in the country to see the beautiful fall colors. The elders met and decided to fire the man. The secretary summed it all up in the minutes of the meeting by saying, “It was clear he cannot be a minister here if he insists on acting like the rest of our members…”

I suppose we would all laugh if we could not see so much truth in the notation made by the secretary. Most preachers would be fired if they tried to get away with what some of the members do on a regular basis.

Whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, we do have a “double standard.” I am not suggesting, by any means, that the preacher should be allowed to get by with what some of the members get by with. Neither am I suggesting that we should hold the preacher up as our standard for Christianity, even though he should strive to be a good example (1 Corinthians 11:1).

What I am suggesting is that we ALL live our lives by the standard Christ set for us. “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,” (1 Peter 2:21).

The question is: Do each and every one of us as Christians actually try to live like who we are called to be?

The challenge for us is to truly behave like children of God instead of anything less. Long ago Solomon warned us that “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

Are you prepared to be judged by God for who you really are and what you are doing? Are you personally living and acting like a saint, a royal priest of the Lord God?

The time to get it right… is now!

— Lester P. Bagley

04/15 ~ MORE HOLINESS

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingDo you ever struggle with your faith? Years ago I met a young Christian that claimed she didn’t think she had ever sinned. It was incredibly sad to realize that she felt that she really didn’t even need a Savior.

Do you ever struggle with your faith? Years ago I met a young Christian that claimed she didn’t think she had ever sinned. It was incredibly sad to realize that she felt that she really didn’t even need a Savior.

Do you ever struggle with your faith? Years ago I met a young Christian that claimed she didn’t think she had ever sinned. It was incredibly sad to realize that she felt that she really didn’t even need a Savior.

Years ago I met a man about to lose his physical life that claimed he didn’t think he needed any help, that he didn’t need someone to save him. As he ignorantly faced certain death, he, much like the Christian, failed to recognize real danger and was perfectly comfortable in believing a lie… even if it cost life and soul.

The Apostle John expressed the problem like this: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8–10)

So let me ask again, “Do you ever struggle with your faith?” Let’s consider our need for…

More Holiness

Originally written with the title of “My Prayer,” this is one of many songs by the well-known 1800s songwriter P. P. Bliss. While a large number of secular songs are about lost love and difficulties in life, most hymn writers share the good news of positive love and lessons from God.

In P. P. Bliss’ case, he shared his joy with his wife Lucy. Just three years after he wrote what he often talked about as his favorite prayer song he and his wife lost their lives in a railway crash when a bridge collapsed. P. P. Bliss was last seen alive trying to rescue Lucy from the burning wreckage of the train.

The great lesson of this prayer is an important one for each of us as we are called to live like Christ’s family in this world where there are so many challenges to our faith.

More holiness give me, more strivings within.

More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin.

More faith in my Savior, more sense of His care.

More joy in His service, more purpose in prayer.

Jesus’ request in the Garden of Gethsemane for God’s will to be done is not, as many see it, a cop-out for not getting our own way. Rather it is the most mature and difficult request we can make of our Father. A request for God to do what is truly best and that we will not be just okay with it but truly accept it as our will, too.

When we’ve truly let go of our lives and let God direct us, we can begin to grow in the right direction. Seeing His will and truly accepting it leads to real faith, real understanding, real joy and real purpose.

More gratitude give me, more trust in the Lord.

More pride in His glory, more hope in His Word.

 More tears for His sorrows, more pain at His grief.

  More meekness in trial, more praise for relief.

Gratitude is one of the easiest positive attitudes to fake and one of the hardest to truly feel. It’s based on humility and understanding that He is truly greater than we are.

Never are we more vulnerable than when we lose our pride in ourselves. Never are we more grateful than when we find our greatest pride in our Savior! When we truly kneel at the cross and make Him our greatest joy we begin to appreciate the giver and His matchless gift.

More purity give me, more strength to o’ercome,

More freedom from earth-stains, more longings for home.

More fit for the kingdom, more useful I’d be,

More blessed and holy, more, Savior, like Thee.

Purity! It is so easy to say and so hard to maintain. Like a young child trying to keep clean when there’s a perfectly good mud puddle around, we struggle to keep pure in a world filled with seemingly fun and desirable sin. It is a lifelong struggle but one that is oh so worth making if we would just remember what home is like.

Too many times we confuse God’s wonderful mercy and grace with a false sense of humility. Yes, we are sinners and yes, we are never worthy of God’s matchless gift of forgiveness. But the very moment we excuse our failure to do our very best in obedient service, we risk being totally unfit, unholy and unblessed.

Few Scriptures are more threatening to this excuse-making than Hebrews 6:4-6. As we are challenged to quit acting like babies and grow up (a challenge the Apostle Paul also made in Ephesians 4:14-16), we are reminded that if we do not grow into greater holiness that we will lose everything that Christ died to accomplish.

May we always continue to strive to be more fit for the kingdom, more useful, more blessed and holy, more like Jesus!

— Lester P. Bagley

Wings of Time

wings-of-time

What was that which just flew by

On wings of a whisper and a sigh ~

The form was vague, the hues o’er cast ~

In to the arms of eager past?

Now ’tis still, it’s ceased to flee,

And I am amazed at what I see.

Hard to perceive when viewed so near ~

Yesterday, last week, entire year.

Wait!  Not yet!  Do not depart!

Didn’t it just recently start?

How can it be?  It’s out of hand.

Nothing worked out like I had planned.

No mountain I see, nor great temple.

The year I built was plain and simple.

But I reflect with kinder view ~

The form its shape, the colors their hue.

At the time I just could not see

The value frustrations could be to me.

What God and I each had in mind

Often differed.  What did I find?

I touched a life and wiped a tear,

I held a child and calmed a fear.

A word of love was passed along,

A happy time was framed with song.

So now ’tis passed, as I’ve reflected,

Wasn’t so bad.  And I’ve erected

Amidst a world of ebb and flow

A loving, shimmering, fleeting rainbow.

Katheryn Maddox Haddad

04/02/17 ~ GENTLE TIME

cropped-header-jesus-hands-in-clouds2.jpg

When God created all things good

Something special He understood

We would need for pain to languish,

Softening life’s chance loss or anguish.

With tender heart and word sublime

He spoke into existence Time.

One moment’s word or deed is done;

An irrevocable web is spun.

Tossed about while tragedy batters,

A delicate life breaks and shatters.

But Time can mend the life that’s broken

With patient remedies softly spoken.

Stabbing pain  invades the flesh

Till thoughts and agonies enmesh.

No strength to bear; it’s past enduring.

Oh for relief that comes with curing.

Time brings tranquility’s soothing ray.

Fair Hope disarms what passes away.

Death robs a life ~ it cares not how.

Yes, bitterly we all must bow

As precious ones are snatched from sight.

Goodbye? Relent, oppressive plight!

Time whispers then, “I conquer all.

Be reunited when trumpets call.”

Some day our God will vanquish fears,

There’ll be no death, no pain, no tears.

He’ll change His children ~ all mortals we ~

To peaceful immortality.

With nothing left save the sublime,

He’ll then dissolve what we call Time.

K. C.  Haddad