1/28/18 ~ Traditions, Customs, and Habits – Part 1

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Do you have any bad habits? I guess most of us do. It seems that in religious matters whenever we talk about habits, customs or traditions they are always bad. Perhaps that is just a bad habit?

In real life, we begin to appreciate the fact that many times those habits are not only good but actually things we work hard to develop! We teach our children to brush their teeth at regular times because we need to instill in them the good habits, the tradition of automatically doing the right thing!

Let’s consider a bit of God’s view of this important lesson:

Traditions, Customs, and Habits – Part 1

In so many jobs and hobbies in life, we work very hard to develop the right and good ways to do things. One such technique involves a subject known as “muscle memory.” Simply put, that involves practicing a skill until your automatic reaction is to do it the right way without consciously thinking about what you are doing.

A person skilled in missing or bending every nail that they hit with a hammer doesn’t have much future in carpentry! But with consistent practice, you can have that skill. At that point doing the right thing becomes a good habit.

God uses this same lesson for us in both positive and negative ways. Consider some of the bad or negative traditions, customs or habits of His people he has commented on:

Isaiah 29:13: Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” Doing the right things for God as His people is so important that God actually commanded us to teach these things to our children, to hand down to them the right traditions, the customs and habits that God wants us to have (cf. Deuteronomy 11:19). But as important as it is to DO the right things, we must also understand why we do it for it to be beneficial.

Leviticus 20:23: Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them. Learning to do all the wrong things is never going to help us. There is no competition for the best nail-bending carpenter!

Matthew 15:2-3, 6: “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” (3) And He answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”… (6) he is not to honor his father or his mother. ‘And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.’” Traditions that complement obedience to God’s will are good. But those customs that lead us away from what is right are worse than useless!

Colossians 2:8: See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Traditions that belong to the ideas, philosophies, or plans of people that lead us away from God’s will are always destructive and wrong!

What are some dangerous customs for Christians today? How should we go about avoiding these bad customs? Do you see how a tradition could appear good but really lead us away from or become a substitute for the truth?

Traditions, customs or habits can refer to ordinary cultural practices without regard to God’s Law:

Ruth 4:7: Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. Many things in God’s word are better understood and appreciated if we take the time to learn more about that world, it’s customs and culture. As with Psalm 23, we can easily completely miss God’s rich lessons if we fail to take the time to appreciate the traditions, customs and habits of the world where the lesson is set.

John 19:40: And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. An understanding of what this verse and others like it tell us in the context of the New Testament world would prevent people from believing in a hoax like the Shroud of Turin.

We all have them! What are some customs of your family that fit this category? Are there other good customs that you’ve seen in other families? How well do we do with the traditions of others that differ from us?

Okay, so we hopefully see a bit more importance in God’s lessons on traditions, customs, and habits. They are NOT always wrong. They CAN be very helpful to our understanding and next week we’ll see just how far God takes that important lesson for us.

— Lester P. Bagley

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1/21/18 ~ Repentance

Repentance

From the Preacher’s Pen… There’s an old hymn that asks the question: Did you repent, fully repent? It is a most sobering question. Repentance, as described by God, is the U-turn that gets us on the right way to eternal life.

RacineBuildingLike so many of God’s words, repentance has a very specific meaning in the Bible that is unlike the way it is used by the world. Consider that important ingredient that God commands us to use in our lives:

Repentance

Repentance has often been called the forgotten command of God and for very good reasons. In recent years even the denominational world has begun to notice it as painfully missing from their “Sinner’s Prayer” method of “salvation.”

Sadly, too many Christians have begun to forget or willingly ignore repentance. As you will learn by reading either the New or the Old Testament, that loss will cost you your soul.

Isaiah warned that God had instructed His people to repent and let God take care of things (Isaiah 30:15), but they were unwilling. In that failure to repent and trust God would come their downfall.

As a matter of record, God always requires obedience even, or perhaps more accurately, especially of His people. John the Immerser preached a message of preparation for Jesus as the Kingdom was about to come (Matthew 3:1). Their proof of repentance was to be found in bearing fruit or deeds that showed evidence of that repentance (Matthew 3:8).

It is embarrassing when we miss the point of a story or joke. Something that just goes over our heads or, worse still, something that we misunderstand completely can be worse than awkward. One statement of Jesus that is often misunderstood (much like many in His audience often miss the point!) is found in Luke 5:32.

It is all too easy for us to feel like the audience evidently did when Jesus said, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. If we imagine for even a moment that we are so wonderful, so righteous in God’s eyes that we have no need of our Savior and of repentance, then we are horribly deluded!

Jesus came into the world to save sinners, Paul the Apostle would say (1 Timothy 1:15) years later, of whom I am foremost! Yet he could also claim (Acts 23:1) to have lived his entire life with a perfectly good conscience before God!

Evidently, since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard (cf. Romans 3:23), we all need to repent as none of us are righteous without God!

This message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47) was the message the Apostles were to take to the whole world. Repentance was for or going toward the goal of forgiveness of sins. No, it is not the only step, but it is a vital one.

Just as baptism is for or going toward the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), so is repentance. That tells us two very important things: First, without repentance, you are NOT going the right direction for the forgiveness of sins. Second, in the same way, without baptism, you are NOT going the right direction for the forgiveness of sins.

In math the equation would be “a + b = c” and this is true, for example, of 2+3=5. But it is NEVER true that 2=5 nor does 3=5. In God’s mathematical equation neither repentance alone nor baptism alone will save you. Only the right combination!

It is, of course, the kindness, grace, and mercy of God that leads us to have the opportunity of repentance (see Romans 2:4). We have to be sorrowful for our wrongs, our sins, for our failure to properly follow God (2 Corinthians 7:9).

Just being sorry is not the same as repentance. Many people are sorry that they were caught but not sorry for the sin. We can be sorry for many things without having the sorrow that corrects and leads us in the right direction. Paul says it like this, For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Did you catch all that? God must break us of our sin. But Godly sorrow does not lead to ongoing brokenness. God’s way is all about life and the positive change that we are making.

As those who complete the equation of both repentance and baptism, we receive a new life. There is freedom from the old way of sin and death, and this new life is filled with the spirit of God (Acts 2:38 and repeatedly in 1 Corinthians).

Rejecting God’s way, even for those who have once been saved, is described as a life without repentance and thus without hope (Hebrews 6:6). Repentance is a treasure of God that forms a crucial ingredient of our salvation. It is more than just important, it is vital!

Have you made the U-turn that leads from living your life for Satan, sin, and death? Have you made the U-turn to obey and follow Jesus? Have you completed the equation for the forgiveness of your sins?

If you’ve done those things to begin that family relationship with God then have you continue the path of obedience to salvation? If not, is it time for your repentance to get you headed in the right direction?

— Lester P. Bagley

1/7/17 ~ Faith is our starting point to reaching out

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingAs we begin a new year we begin a new opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those around us in this world. We have several new tools (both books and DVDs) to help us with both what we should say and with reaching out to others.

Without the knowledge of and obedience to the Lord, everyone on earth faces a dim future. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that we all have an appointment with death, and then an appointment with judgment before God.

What happens in that final appointment to your family, friends, neighbors, and others you meet begins with you! Ezekiel chapter 18 is a great lesson from God about our personal responsibility. If we share the truth of God and His will, then we accomplish our part of that duty. If we fail, then we must bear the responsibility for each and every soul we lose.

Let’s think for a moment about the starting point for us in…

Faith

Faith is not just a “religious” word, but a word that we understand in almost every area of life. Faith is putting your complete trust or confidence in someone or something. The opposite in someone is literally betrayal and disloyalty, and in something it is uselessness.

Think about that a moment. A person or a thing that you cannot depend on is dangerous. Even if you try to make sure that you never have to depend on someone or something that is dangerous, you still must be careful knowing that you can never really trust them. Faith or trust, real trust is reserved for very special people and things!

The real reason that Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land was because he broke God’s trust in him. Isn’t that a shocking thought? That is exactly what God told Moses in Deuteronomy 32:51 and, to make things worse, God went on to describe that as a failure to respect or treat God as holy.

The writer of Hebrews (in Hebrews 11:6) explains it like this: without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

We often imagine that faith as a Christian is a one-way street. It isn’t! In reality the faith that God calls us to is a two-way street. Faith is trusting God so completely that He can trust us!

In Hebrews chapter 11 that is the very point the writer is emphasizing. By faith (verse 4) Abel offered a better sacrifice and God, Himself, became the proof, the testimony, the witness of that faith. Faithful to God means God will be faithful to us!

Psalm 146 is a great song of praise to the Lord and the author reflects that he is unable to trust earthly people, even royalty, in the same way that he can trust God (cf. verse 3). Not only is God the creator of all things, but God is the one that keeps faith, is trustworthy, forever (verse 6)!

In working rescue, we inspected and tested our equipment every single day. A rope that might be called upon to lift you or someone else to safety could never be just okay or good enough. If it had the slightest flaw, the tiniest break or abrasion, it was considered unsafe. After all, it could easily be my own life that depended on it, so no one would ever take the chance of what was unworthy of complete trust.

Do we see the point and make the spiritual application? Faith is not ever just a whimsical liking or fondness or even a half-hearted belief in God. Faith is the knowledge that God has been tested and proven faithful (actually what Hebrews 11:1 says!). Faith is never wishful thinking. Faith is confident, intelligent trust.

Peter and the other Apostles came to know that Jesus was really the Promised One (John 6:69). Paul was willing to suffer things on this earth without shame because he was convinced of his God’s faithfulness (2 Timothy 1:12). And John (1 John 4:16) calls us to know and believe the love God has for us.

When it comes to our God, there is no room for wishy-washy faith. As His own chosen family, His Royal Priesthood, His Holy Nation, we are called to, not just trust (if that is even possible!) but to trust and obey. Indeed, we are called to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9).

Faith is our firm foundation, our starting point to reach out with the Good News! Will you be displaying real faith this year?

— Lester P. Bagley