9/2/18 ~ Who Will Go?

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From the Preacher’s Pen… One of the important lessons that parents are supposed to teach their children is to grow up, get a job and stand on your own two feet. If we fail in teaching them to mature and be able to go out on their own, we have failed them in the worst possible way as they will never attain that independence necessary to survive in this world.

In much the same way God teaches us to do likewise. Paul explained this concept to Timothy this way: You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:1-2)

Because this is true, evangelism or sharing the Good News of Jesus is the defining characteristic of every mature Christian. God should never have to ask the question…

Who Will Go?

While many of the prophets were given glimpses of the coming of the great King and His Kingdom, few were shown as much detail as the prophet Isaiah. Like the other messianic prophets, Isaiah would be shown practical comparisons between the people and the events of his day and the fulfillment of those lessons in Christ. Consider one such lesson of Isaiah 6:1-11:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. (2) Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. (3) And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” (4) And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. (5) Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

(6) Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. (7) He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (8) Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

(9) He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ (10) Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.”

(11) Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate.

Isaiah both learned and taught us several lessons that day. First, when we really begin to comprehend who God is and compare that to who we are we are not just in awe, but we are humbled. Our failure and unworthiness before the Lord leave us without hope.

Second, it is the Lord who extends the offer of salvation to us. Forgiveness of sins seems so trivial until we measure it to with eternity. Only God can change eternal death as our earned wage (Romans 6:23) into eternal life.

Third, while God many times uses the unrighteous to accomplish His will, the job of sharing the Gospel is reserved for the cleansed, the saved. No one else can carry the truth but God’s own people (note 1 Corinthians 1:21).

Fourth, for those unwilling to be saved, God will utterly reject them and even help them to be lost. As severe as this sounds, God repeats the same lesson today. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 and realize that God means what He says!

Fifth, how long will God let this all go on? Isaiah shows the negative side of the answer: until all the lost that want to be lost have lost everything. The Apostle Peter would remind us of the positive side of that same answer in 2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Jesus, in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, would complete the circle. No one can carry the truth of salvation but the saved! The Apostles were to go proclaim the message, to teach and then to baptize those who would accept the gift of forgiveness of sin. Then the forgiven are to be taught everything that their teachers knew; they are to be trained to do the same that others may hear and live.

So, who will go? Only the saved! Only those that understand and appreciate the gift will seek others to share in it.

The lost are going to reject God, fail God and keep on being the losers that they have chosen to be. They will never share the Good News because they are ignorant and proud of it.

The question for us is simple: Which one are you? Who will go?

— Lester P. Bagley

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8/26/18 ~ Misuse of the Bible

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Have you ever noticed and read those warning labels on things? There is a national center for poison control that tells people what to do if they’ve not read or obeyed the poison warning labels. Likewise, there is a center known as CHEMTREC that handles emergency information for hazardous materials in general. Unless you are a parent, a person who fails to read warning labels or a HAZMAT specialist you may not show much concern for such labels.

While your Bible may not have a big warning label on the outside, it does have a lot of warning labels inside. Why? Like all those other warnings one of the primary reasons is to help us avoid…

Misuse of the Bible

Hopefully, we appreciate the danger of NOT using the Bible. If we make ourselves God and feel we have the right to make the rules to live by we become nothing less than a fool (Proverbs 12:15). When God’s people tried it (Deuteronomy 12:8) God told them that it was forbidden. Sadly, years later during the time of the Judges, it became the norm, the standard of failure by which God’s people were known (Judges 17:6 and 21:25).

When everyone does what is right in their own eyes, everyone is wrong. Okay, so ignoring the Bible, ignoring God’s word is always wrong, but what if we just misuse or twist or pervert something God says. Is that also wrong?

Peter gave some instructions about such things in 2 Peter 3:14-18: (14) Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, (15) and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, (16) as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (17) You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, (18) but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

From the beginnings of the New Testament church, some people have attempted to twist what God says into their own way. In changing what God says we fail the tests of peace, spotlessness, and blamelessness.

Think about that for a moment. In trying to hold fast to the truth that God has revealed we are often accused of being the ones who disrupt the “peace” in not accepting what is wrong. Yet God says just the opposite! Those who fail to hold fast to God’s way upset God’s peace and are described by God as ignorant, unstable and headed for destruction. That really does NOT sound like a good alternative!

God’s word is our only real authority. Paul reminded Timothy: (15) and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (16) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (17) so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

Once again it is only in God’s word that we find wisdom and salvation. Scripture is what is both inspired by God and useful for us in every way.

Consider a further statement from Peter: (19) So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (20) But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, (21) for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

Pay attention! Make certain that you follow what is right by God’s definition! Peter’s statement that no prophecy, no Scripture is a matter of singular interpretation actually implies two points. First, you are not allowed to interpret what God says in the way you want! The old accusation of, “That’s just the way YOU see it but I see it in my own way” is nonsense. There is a right way to understand what God says without putting our own spin on it! Second, no Scripture is to be spun and “interpreted” out of the context of the whole of God’s word. Making God contradict Himself or finding your favorite Scripture to believe in while ignoring the rest is mishandling God’s word!

Distortion of what God says has long been a popular technique of Satan. Remember what he did with God’s words to Eve in the Garden of Eden? Doing this is just as dangerous as ignoring God’s word completely.

God’s lesson to us is to remember that many people twist the Scriptures to make them fit some opinion, some idea, some doctrine of their own. After all, making something sound Biblical is the basis of most false and erroneous teaching. Jesus quoted Isaiah as evident of the ongoing truth that: (8) This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. (9) But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. (Matthew 15:8-9)

While some seek to pervert, misapply or mis-teach what God says, others would claim to have received a new revelation, a new command from God. Again, this is something that God anticipated and forbids. Deuteronomy 4:2 is a direct warning against this: You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

Proverbs 30:6 provides a similar reminder while many of the Old Testament prophets pronounced God’s curses on those who falsely claimed to speak for the Lord. In much the same way, it seems appropriate that the final book of the New Testament would conclude with a similar warning: (18) I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; (19) and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19). Given that this has always been God’s position on changing His words, the prophetic warnings seem to apply to all of the Bible.

One final case should be considered. What about a new revelation, a new prophet, a new way of salvation? Couldn’t God make another change? Actually, God has already addressed that question. The New Testament refers to this current time of Christ’s law as the LAST days. This is the end, the final plan of God. The Hebrew writer says it like this: (1) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (2) in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).

So, NO, there is no other way to see it. There is no other way to obey, please and serve God and there never will be another way for people here on this earth. We either do it God’s way, see things the way He says to see them or we are wrong.

Our faithfulness is measured by our obedience to God’s word without any room for our own opinions. Failure to believe and follow this pattern results in us being carried away by error, losing our faithfulness and thus our salvation. Don’t be a loser and misuse or mishandle God’s word!

— Lester P. Bagley

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8/19/18 – Seven Pillars of Wisdom

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

We’ve all done foolish things in our lives. But one of the most important lessons we have to learn is the difference between making a foolish mistake or error and being a fool. To be a great fool you can’t learn from the mistake, you can’t do better or try harder next time.

Of course, the Bible is full of reminders for us to learn. And Solomon even begins a lesson for us on how to build and sustain real wisdom:

 Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars (Proverbs 9:1).

Solomon naturally had a lot of good advice about wisdom. As his life demonstrated, all the wisdom and knowledge in the world doesn’t do much good without obedience. God would remind us of both great truths frequently in the New Testament. Without knowledge, we can never accidentally be right, and yet without wisdom in using that knowledge, we can easily be legalistically wrong.

Obviously, like so much else of God’s word, striking the right balance is key. Since we, God’s people, are the temple of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17), how are we to appreciate the wise way of building that temple?

Two of Solomon’s words form the key to his lesson. First, house is a unique word in Hebrew in that it seems to have such a broad meaning that there are many other words said to be nearly synonymous.

For example, a house may be a dwelling or building, a castle, a palace, a temple, a settled abode, a settlement or village, a dwelling, a refuge, a sacred place or sanctuary. Second, pillars may rarely be used for the foundations of a building, but usually, the term is reserved for the large load-bearing columns of temples or similar buildings.

One could then reasonably imply that wisdom’s house is not just a lower class, common building but rather an impressive permanent structure.

The word hewn is a somewhat technical reference to the work involved in the preparation of either a wooden or stone load bearing column of large size. The NIV misses the point in using set up for the total work that both fabrication and assembly involved.

Since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10), the proper starting place is the Lord! Without proper honoring of our God and Savior and knowledge of Him and His will, we have nothing to build on.

Since we are next going to look at a comment by James, one of the elders of the church at Jerusalem, let’s first remember a bit about who he was. Growing up as part of Jesus’ earthly family he at first failed to believe (John 7:5). He would be a witness of the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:7) and eventually a faithful elder of the church (Acts 15:6, 13 and Acts 21:18). As such he took a strong stand for the Gentile Christians and also wrote a New Testament letter to Jewish Christians.

In that letter, he reminds us all of the great value of wisdom and reminds us that if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God (James 1:5). Next, he challenges us: Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. (James 3:13) And finally, he shows us: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18)

Did you notice the link to Solomon’s lesson? James suggests the seven pillars begin with the great pillar of purity. Purer in heart, oh God, help me to be the song reminds us. Purity is the foundation, the strength and, in many ways, the hardest thing of all for us to keep. Go back and look at the many Old Testament laws related to purity. There are countless ways to fail and it’s always a challenge to keep pure and holy before our God!
Only when we begin with purity do we ever start to accomplish the other goals.

Peaceable, gentle and reasonable are not to be confused, as many do, with weakness or acceptance of wrong. Jesus exhibited all three qualities, even when he whipped men out of the Temple or was rebuking those proud of their sinful accomplishments!

Full of mercy and good fruits involves both the mental attitudes as well as the outward works. Mercy shown to others allows God to show mercy to us and the actions of doing good shows that we really mean it.

Unwavering and without hypocrisy make wisdom beyond the abilities of fraudsters. God has no need of quitters or lousy actors that do not actually live the life and walk the walk of His family.

Like Jesus taught in another lesson, a house ~ indeed a life ~ built on the sand is doomed. One must build on the firm foundation to endure. The obvious challenge and question for us is a simple one. On what are you building your life, your house for eternity?
 

— Lester P. Bagley

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8/12/18 ~ A new body like Jesus’

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

A couple of Sunday’s ago we looked at Mark’s record of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) and noted the fact that Jesus’ appearance was changed. Likewise, Moses and Elijah appeared with Him and Luke says (Luke 9:31) their appearance was said to be “in glory” or “splendorous.” It appears that what the Gospel writers are trying to tell us is that, for a brief time, Peter, James, and John saw something of the eternal “body” of eternal beings with God.

We obviously understand very little about eternity, being presently confined to this temporal world. At the same time, God does make several attempts to tell us more about what we are to be in eternity. So, let’s take a look at just what it means to have…

A New Body Like Jesus’

Let’s begin with Luke’s account of Jesus’ Transfiguration. You can read the entire account in Luke 9:28-36, but for the moment let’s focus on the appearance of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in verses 28-32: Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.

God tells us several significant things. The appearance of Jesus’ face and clothing changed. Matthew 17:2 describes it as His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. Mark simply sums it all up as Jesus was transfigured or literally that He metamorphized before them (Mark 9:2). Both Matthew and Mark describe the change to Jesus’ clothing into being extremely white (Mark remarks that no laundry on earth could make them that white while Matthew says they were as white as light).

Luke, however, explains that Jesus’ face became different (literally, became another face) and His clothing white and gleaming. While most translations simply combine the two words Luke uses to make it extremely or dazzlingly white, the precise word Luke used means to flash like lightning!

Luke also tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared in glory (splendor) using the same word that he uses for the apostles seeing Jesus’ glory in verse 32.

A safe conclusion is that the general appearance of Jesus was much like that of Moses and Elijah who are now eternal beings.

So what does all this have to do with us and our eternal bodies? For that, we must look at some later lessons from the apostle Paul. In Philippians 3:20-21 he reminds us of who we as Christians really are, and what we are going to be when Jesus returns: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

As citizens of that eternal city, we look forward to going home to live. But our home is not a temporal, time-bounded place. Rather it is beyond time; it is eternal and that requires a body like God. So how do we get that new body of glory like His? By the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Our present bodies are described by Paul (verse 21) as humble (NASB), lowly (NKJV) or vile (KJV). While some may find the KJV term extreme, it is actually the one closest to Paul’s actual word! The term he used for our current body is literally the body of humiliation! He’s not insulting what God has created but rather recognizing that a body made perishable by the humiliation of sin and death, a body that will return to the dust from which it was made, is unfit for an eternal heaven.

Our new body will be transformed, remodeled, the outward form changed into a body conformed (sharing the likeness) to Jesus’ eternal body. Where humans were originally created in God’s image or likeness, now we are to be recreated into His image again. Just as Jesus created us before so now He will re-create us like Him for eternity!

Paul would give an extended lecture on this transformation process, its necessity and its implications to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:35-57). Apparently, from Paul’s forcefulness (You fool! of verse 36), some Christians were inventing all kinds of nonsensical stories much like today.

Changed we must be in order to belong to Christ on this earth. And changed we will again be in order to belong to Christ for eternity in heaven. That change will be just like the change He went through to return to heaven.

What does this all mean for us? Paul says it this way, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

So, knowing who you really are as a Christian and who God intends you to be for eternity, how will you live your life this week?

— Lester P. Bagley

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8/5/18 – A Tale of Five Good Deeds

From the Preacher’s Pen…

Years ago, back when the internet and email were just beginning to be used by many people, a good friend sent me a list of five lessons. I’m sure that they have all been retold many times and probably with some changes. But this is what he sent:

Five Lessons for God’s People

First Lesson: The Cleaning Lady

During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?”

Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50’s, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say “Hello.”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

Second Lesson: Pickup in the Rain

One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car.

A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960’s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him.

Seven days went by and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.”

Sincerely,

Mrs. Nat King Cole.

Third Lesson: Always Remember Those Who Serve.

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. “How much is an ice cream sundae?” he asked.

“Fifty cents,” replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.

“Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?” he inquired.

By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. “Thirty-five cents,” she brusquely replied.

The little boy again counted his coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said.

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies.

You see, he couldn’t have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

Fourth Lesson: The Obstacle in Our Path.

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the King’s’ wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.

The peasant learned what many of us never understand! Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

Fifth Lesson: Giving When it Counts

Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had somehow survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.

The doctor explained the situation to her little brother and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes I’ll do it if it will save her.”

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?”

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

Like the stories Jesus told, these are simple little lessons that have some great spiritual lessons for us. In fact, these each have parallels in scripture… if only we will listen and pay attention.

So, how do you do with paying attention to others that you might win their souls? Do you truly reflect the character of Jesus rather than that of the society that you live in? Do you take time to honor those who serve? Are you a complainer or a doer in the Lord’s Kingdom?

And finally, since your Savior gave His all for you… what do you actually offer to give to Him?

Yes, these are important lessons and each one may show far more about who we really are than anything that we might say. As a Christian, a child of the King… who are you really?

— Lester P. Bagley

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