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

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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)

Jesus Rises from the Grave

The Life Project

Matthew 28:1-15

Matthew’s account of the events that day, the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, varies from that of Mark and Luke, and while we can discuss that some other time, I would point out that Matthew’s account carries forward His emphasis throughout the narrative of both Kingdom and the messianic mission of Jesus; in fact, these two themes are virtually inseparable: Jesus’ messianic mission was to establish His kingdom, which is not of this world. No, I haven’t forgotten that Jesus came to die on the cross for the redemption of Mankind; rather I am asserting that He did so in order to establish the Kingdom as a present reality.

Early on the first day of the week, which is the day after the Sabbath (Sunday), the women come to see the tomb. Unlike Mark and Luke, Matthew doesn’t get into the exact purpose for this. They…

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12/03/17 ~ WINTER

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingIt is, unfortunately, all too easy for us to forget that God really does know us and the struggles we face. That was, of course, a part of Jesus’ coming to this earth to face those struggles, those temptations as one of us. That uniquely qualifies Him as both our ultimate High Priest and our Savior (cf. Hebrews 4:15).

In Jesus’ life on this earth, He spent most of His time between the region of Galilee and Jerusalem. He would experience the seasons that He had once promised Noah and his descendants would never end until this earth itself is finally destroyed in judgment (cf. Genesis 8:22).

As our winter approaches, let’s consider a very special season in the life here on earth of our Savior.

Winter

Jesus knew of the Psalmists praise to Him as the one who had made both summer and winter (Psalm 74:17). Living in the land of Israel He would have known that the rains of winter would be vital not only to the Spring harvest but to the rivers and lakes that would lead to the lush produce of summer. He would have learned to both treasure and appreciate Solomon’s comment about the winter being past and the rain over and gone (Song 2:11).

Travelling the mountain roads and spending so much time in and around Jerusalem Jesus would have felt the cold. He would have seen the fall of snow and known the warmth of a fire like Jeremiah described in the king’s house one cold day (Jeremiah 36:22).

As Jesus prophesied of the coming destruction of Jerusalem He would counsel that God’s people pray that their flight would not be in the cold of winter (cf. Mark 13:18). Much like His lament over Jerusalem (Luke 13:34), He would sorrow for the pain His people felt even for their sins.

But in so many ways perhaps the worst winter of His life here on earth (certainly the most poignant!) would have been His final one in Jerusalem.

Many years before Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, God’s people had rededicated the Temple and rebuilt the Alter of God after a Greek king had desecrated it with offerings of pigs. Every winter they would celebrate God’s blessing, His deliverance and that time of rededication to show their thanksgiving.

John would describe that day like this: At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon (John 10:22-23).

For centuries the Jews had looked forward to the promised one of God, the Messiah, the God-with-us fulfillment of prophecy to come and give true meaning, true direction to their lives. He would, among so many other things, tell them what to do with the pile of stones discarded from the defiled altar. Even if it had been profaned, they were afraid of completely removing from the Temple grounds what had once been holy. And so it happened that, in Jesus’ last winter here on earth, He and a crowd converged at this moment in time and history.

Their question was bluntly stated, The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

His answer was equally blunt, I told you, and you do not believe (verse 25). Even more blunt, was His next statement, But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep (John 10:26). And the reason that He knew all about God’s sheep was the simple fact that Jesus was God! (John 10:30)

It seems pathetic that today so many will argue that Jesus wasn’t and never claimed to be God. Why? Because the very crowd gathered to demand that He reveal that He was the fulfillment of Scripture, would pick up the rocks from that pile of stone and seek to kill Him for claiming to be God (John 10:33).

For all the drama, for all the threats, for all the hatred of God, the winter was not to be the time of death for the Savior. His sacrifice, His death would have to wait until the season of new life.

Winter, with all its chill, all its threats, all its harbingers of death, is not the promise.

Another winter was approaching many later when an elderly preacher would write a final letter to his longtime friend and fellow preacher. Paul would urge Timothy to come soon (2 Timothy 4:9) bringing his coat left at Troas (verse 13) and do so before winter (verse 21). Paul would write these words all the while knowing that this winter, much like that earlier winter for Jesus His Savior, would be his last (verse 6).

Winter, once more, with all its chill, all its threats, all its harbingers of death would still not be the promise of God.

Just as night precedes the new day, so Winter, for all its harshness is but the reminder that Spring and Life are coming. You see, God designed it just that way.

Winter, with all its chill, all its threats, all its harbingers of death, is never the end, never the promise.

As our Winter descends may we remember and live for the promise of Spring, the promise of resurrection and new life in Christ! Are you ready for death or life?

— Lester P. Bagley