3/18 ~ Who Packed Your Parachute?

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Together we serve the Lord! One of the great lessons of God’s word involves the reminder of our togetherness in Christ. While we can study God’s word, pray, even sing praises by ourselves, we are taught by God to do what in many ways is our most intimate remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice with our fellow saints, the Lord’s Supper.

Just how important are our fellow saints?

Who Packed Your Parachute?

Joseph Charles Plumb Jr. graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1964. He earned his Navy pilot’s wings in 1966 and went on to fly the F-4 Phantom. Flying from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk for his 75th mission, with only five days before he was to return home, his plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and rode his parachute safely to the ground only to be captured. He would spend the next 2,103 days as a POW in the prison camps where, like so many others Americans, he was tortured.

Years later after his return home to the States, he and his wife were eating in a restaurant when a man came up to him and told him. “You’re Plumb. You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and were shot down.” Plumb admitted that was all true but asked how this man knew these things. His reply was, “I packed your parachute. I guess it worked!” Plumb shook his hand and thanked him for a job well done. For Plumb, this became a lifelong lesson to be shared with others.

For us as Christians, this same lesson is vital. We often remind ourselves, and rightly so, that no one can be saved by someone else’s works. While that is true, it is equally true that we cannot be saved alone.

Christ came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), that includes each one of us, but that is because He died for His church (Ephesians 5:25). We, together are the body, the family of God and are called to be the light of the world.

No fighter pilot packs his own parachute, builds and services his aircraft, refuels and rearms it. No Christian does it all either! Two illustrations from Scripture well illustrate this lesson.

First, Paul liked to remind us of the human body. Just as it is made up of multiple parts that keep each other alive and functioning, so, too, is Christ’s church: For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4–5)

It is that vital, one and only body, that we must belong to and be a part of for our salvation (cf. Ephesians 4:4, 12). It is that same one body that continues our proper functioning and growth as we build in love (Ephesians 4:16).

Second, God pointedly uses the words “one another” to reinforce our working together or failing together. Consider just a few of the 50 some times that God uses this single Greek word for “one another:”

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10).

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another (Romans 14:19).

Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Colossians 3:13).

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another (Titus 3:3).

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).

And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16).

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:8-10)

But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us (1 John 3:23 – Jesus gave us that “new commandment” in John 13:34).

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

Every Christian has spiritual parents who helped teach them and bring them to the Lord. Every Christian who remains faithful has spiritual brothers and sisters who encourage them. Never forget those that packed your parachute. And never forget the importance of packing someone else’s. Together we serve the Lord!

— Lester P. Bagley

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3/11/18 ~ Children Leaving the Church

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the greatest concerns for any Christian parent is the faith and salvation of their children. It was true for God our Heavenly Father and it’s true for us all. After all, the younger generation is going downhill, isn’t it?

Let’s take a moment to consider these issues a bit more.

Children Leaving the Church

Children began to be the tyrants; they no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offenses against good tastes; they tyrannized their teachers.

Those words represent the thoughts of people like Socrates and Plato (and probably a lot of others) over 300 years before Jesus was born. Some 1100 years earlier than that, Moses and God told the people: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord 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 children 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. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

If you fast-forward to the dividing of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, you realize that the Hebrews as a nation also failed in teaching their children.

Failure! It sounds so awful and it is! It began with Adam and Eve failing to instill godly behavior and attitudes in their child, Cain, just as they had failed to obey their Heavenly Father in the Garden of Eden. The sad fact is that we don’t do much better. No matter what we try, we seem to always see a younger generation that, in rejecting the wrongs and failure of their parents, go on to do even worse. Good intentions for stupid, sinful behavior is worth nothing either when we do it or the younger generation does it!

Jesus loves the children. How are we doing as parents? Are we stealing the love of Christ from their hearts by simply putting the wrong motives there? We can give our children all the physical richness in the world but if we are not giving them CHRIST then we are giving them nothing!

Do we really wonder why the majority of children grow up and leave the church? Consider the harsh realities of a few facts: This week your children will spend 30 hours in a school being lectured by godless, immoral people. They will spend more time with their friends than they do with their family. As they grow up the time spent with Satan’s world steadily increases.

To offset this, they will spend less than 4 hours in church each week, with only about half or less of that time actively studying the Bible. They will also spend an average of less than 15 minutes in family prayer, mostly at mealtime. At most, only 3 percent of teens read the Bible daily and less than 20 percent of all those attending any “church” do so. Are you really going to act surprised when they choose the world over God?

Since this problem has been around for so long, we know a number of things that do NOT work. Sadly, most of those things are the very things we insist on trying again and again. Doing what you and I think, instead of what God says, will NEVER work. Judges 17:6 and 21:25 serve as a constant reminder that doing what is right in our own eyes is certain failure.

Let me suggest that trying all the methods of the denominational world is imitating Satan and therefore foolish. Many Christians are still enamored with “Children’s Church” or countless other ways to get the kids out of worship into fun. What makes it so interesting is that denominational leaders are increasingly pointing out how wrong those kinds of programs were. They actually make things worse! (I just have to add here that the same thing has happened with “special holy days,” and instrumental music, and nearly every single change in worship, doctrine or practice for the last several centuries.)

Isn’t it just a tad ironic that parents claim a 5 or 6-year-old can’t sit through a half hour of Bible lesson? Doesn’t Satan just laugh at us when that same child sits through more than that every day at school… and learns what this world wants him or her to know? Every day in school our teenagers sit through hours of false teaching about sin, sex, and denial of God. How do you counter that much filth? There are countless things that both don’t work and actually make matters worse. So what DO we do?

Go back and re-read that very first scripture. There are the words of life!

We begin by being 100 percent committed to God ourselves! God doesn’t get 20 percent of our time. If you are not willing to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might, you are just playing with religion. What is your very first priority from the moment you awake until the moments before you fall asleep?

Is God’s word really “on your heart?” No, that doesn’t mean you “like” God so much that you are going to get around to Him someday. Do you read and study God’s word daily? Do you talk to Him about everything?

Only when we begin to put God first will we ever be able to teach our children (or anyone else) the truth! And when we teach, we teach diligently as well as teaching with every single aspect of daily life.

All those great Bible facts that Curt shares with our young people every Sunday morning? Why not reinforce that at home? How many of us can count to 100? That’s a part of kindergarten studies. How many of us can name the 66 books of the Bible in order? It’s time to get to work and be serious about learning and teaching God’s word!

Yes, our children will leave the church, they will go out and live in sin, sexually and otherwise. They are possibly going to do that in spite of everything we do. But if we do NOTHING, if we allow the world and sin and Satan to control every part of their lives, then we have willingly given their eternal souls away.

Make every effort to live like a child of God so that you share both words and example with your children and everyone else!

— Lester P. Bagley

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11/26/17 ~ The Christian Family

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingOne of the great lessons we learn in life is the fact that many things can be done in a right way or a wrong way. The same holds true with God and His lessons.

God commanded His people through Moses that, You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude to pervert justice (Exodus 23:2). Just because many people are doing it does not make it right.

At the same time, we are admonished to be active participants in God’s family as we serve Him together. Paul looked forward to fellowship with the Christians at Rome so that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine (Romans 1:12).

Let’s consider a bit more of the lesson of working with…

The Christian Family

A popular book several years ago was the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It extolled the “virtues” of independence and individuality at any price.

The seagull is a popular subject for photography, and many people who go to the beach end up with some kind of souvenir bearing the picture of a seagull. It is easy to see why people like this figure. A seagull exults in freedom. When flying alone, he thrusts his wings back with powerful strokes, climbs higher and higher, and then swoops down in majestic loops and circles.

In a flock, though, the seagull is a different bird. His majesty dissolves into infights and cruelty. The concepts of sharing and manners do not seem to exist among gulls. They are so fiercely competitive and jealous that if you tie a ribbon around the leg of a gull, making him stand out from the rest, you sentence him to death. The others in his flock will furiously attack him with claws and beaks, hammering through feathers and flesh to draw blood until he dies.

If we must have a bird as a model, there is certainly a better choice. Consider the wild goose. The V formation they use in flying enables them to fly with more ease and speed. The point position is the most difficult because of wind resistance, so the geese rotate this position every few minutes. The easiest flight is experienced in the two rear sections of the formation, and the stronger geese permit the young, weak, and older birds to occupy these positions. It is also thought that the constant honking is, at least in part, done as encouragement to the weaker geese.

The seagull teaches us to break loose and fly alone, but the wild goose teaches us to fly in a “family.” We can fly further with our Christian family than we could ever fly alone and, as we fly, our efforts constantly help others in our family.

Hopefully, we see and understand the lesson here. Paul seemed to have to deal frequently with both false teachers and those Christians that were all too willing to follow them rather than the truth of God’s word. Read his highly insulting “compliment” of this attitude in 2 Corinthians 11:4.

The fact is, it is a sin to allow ourselves to be sucked into Satan’s web. No matter how good the forbidden fruit looks, we must see through the false, good-looking false teachers and their false teachings and stand firm in the truth.

Of course, all this is also a frequent theme of Paul to congregations. How much more could we accomplish if we both stand firm in the faith and actually encourage each other in what is right in God’s sight? Being united is sin is no honor. Being united is what is truly God’s will and way is!

So, what is your choice? In nearly every congregation that we see in the New Testament, there are those infamous for their firm stand for wrong. In most of those congregations, there are also those that remain faithful and stand for the right.

Just as Joshua recommended long ago, it’s time for you to choose your stand. Are you with the Lord or with some false god?

Hopefully, we will choose the family of God and stand firm with our Heavenly Father.

— Lester P. Bagley

7/23/17 ~ LEADERSHIP

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingOne of the strangest ideas that humans have tried to impose upon the Lord’s church is the idea of “who’s the boss.” Actually, that same failure goes back much further in time with God’s people since the concept of a human boss (rather than God) led Israel to reject the Judges that God appointed and demand a King to rule over them (see 1 Samuel 8:4-7). In demanding an earthly “boss” they were really rejecting God’s rule over them.

Is that not the same thing that Christians do today when they demand a “Reverend” or a “Pope” or any other formal boss over the Lord’s church here on earth? Is that not the same thing that congregations do today when they allow a “head elder” to run the church?

Let’s consider God’s plan for real leadership in the family of God’s people:

Leadership

The best kind of leadership is by example. The symbol of the US Army infantry is a soldier with a rifle in one hand, looking back behind him. Why? His rifle is pointing forward, the other arm giving a “Come on” motion, and the leader is shouting back, “Follow me!”

In World War II General Eisenhower would demonstrate the art of leadership with a piece of string. He’d put it on the table and say: “Pull it and it will follow you wherever you wish. Push it and it will go nowhere at all. It’s just the same way when it comes to leading people. They need to follow a person who is leading by example.” Indeed, every really great military leader has led from the front.

Now, this information is not unique to military matters. In fact, God has known and put into practice this very technique with His church. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (NRSV). We are not asked by God to do something that He is unwilling to do or that is beyond our abilities, rather we are asked to be part of the team, working together with Him.

Jesus taught this same principle to His followers. When they asked who was greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, He declared that it was the servant who worked with His people rather than some grandiose leader filled with a sense of his own importance. At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4; also see Matthew 23:10-12; Mark 9:23-37 and Luke 22:24-27)

Shepherds of God’s flock are told not to “lord it over the flock” but rather to “be an example” (1 Peter 5:1-3). Likewise, all of us as Christians are to be united in mind, in love, in spirit, and in purpose. We show who and what we are by doing “nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” What’s more, we are to “not merely look out for your [our] own personal interests, but also for the interests of others [our fellow Christians]” (Philippians 2:1-4).

The best kind of leadership is by example and since each one of us as members of Christ’s body are to take the leadership in service, let’s all do our 100 percent best for the Lord and for each other this week!

— Lester P. Bagley

7/16/17 ~ FAITHFULNESS

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHave you ever worked through some difficulty because of the love, care, and encouragement of a fellow Christian and the Lord? If so, do you also remember that there are a lot of people out there in this world that have no hope? Doesn’t that strike you as sad?

Does it strike you as even sadder still when you consider that many times Christians have no hope because they’ve left their first love, Christ? I’d like us to think a bit about a Christian attribute that’s sometimes called dedication, but the word God most often uses is faithfulness! Another word for this same attribute is reliability.

Without dedication, without faithfulness, without reliability, we cannot complete the tasks we have to do. Let’s consider the subject of faithfulness for a moment.

Faithfulness

We expect faithfulness and reliability from things and other people around us. Unfortunately, as Christians, one of our persistent sins is a lack of faithfulness to God. Are you unreliable as a Christian?

You would be angry if a store clerk repeatedly ignored you to serve their friends. But do you turn your back on God and miss worship when “friends” or even “family” come to visit? Shouldn’t we be more dedicated, more reliable, more faithful to God’s family?

If your newspaper were delivered to your house on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but to someone else’s house on the other days, you would be upset. Would you consider continuing to pay for that kind of service? Do you expect God to continue to bless you and respond to your needs and prayers when you serve and worship Him on your terms?

If your hot water heater provides you with an ice-cold shower part of the time, a luke-warm shower sometimes, and a hot shower only occasionally, would you consider it dependable? Should God consider us reliable for occasional attendance at worship or Bible study and occasional other kinds of service to Him?

How would you feel about your husband or wife spending a few nights each month with another man or woman? How does God feel about you forsaking His church and His people to be with denominational people, openly claiming that their priority is their feelings, wants and needs and not what God says and wants?

What would your bank say about you missing a couple of house payments every year? Would they understand that you really needed the money to buy presents for your family? Do you expect God to accept that your children and family are better served by your time with them but away from Him?

Sometimes we presume so much on God’s love…

…that we fail to demonstrate our responsibility for faithfulness. Do you see yourself as a volunteer in service to God or do you understand God’s view? “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). For a volunteer, almost anything seems acceptable, but for servants who are duty bound, faithfulness is required!

“100 percent!” is a challenge to each one of us to demonstrate our love, our commitment, our faithfulness to each other and to God. Let’s get busy, get involved and show God and each other how much we care, who we really belong to, and how much we appreciate….

…what God paid to purchase us from hell.

— Lester P. Bagley

3/12/17 ~ In Memory

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingWhen we are remembering something or someone that is truly precious to us, we can never get enough of the memories. Each good memory leads to another and every single one of them becomes more priceless with time.

When we are remembering something or someone that is truly precious to us, we can never get enough of the memories. Each good memory leads to another and every single one of them becomes more priceless with time.

Do you suppose that is exactly how we should view the greatest gift, the greatest sacrifice ever given for us? Yes, we remembered last week, but is that enough? Or is there something truly worth our effort to keep on remembering?

In Memory

Now I make known to you, brethren, the good news which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Of all the great events in history, of all the great sacrifices any hero has ever made for his loved ones, there is one that clearly stands above all the rest. Consider the challenge for us to have the same character as this greatest of all heroes. He was the creator, the “in-the-beginning-God” that made us and everything else. Yet when He saw that His own death was the only possible thing that could redeem our eternal life from eternal death, He did not hesitate to lay aside His deity, His equality with God. He emptied Himself of all that He possessed to be a slave and a human being. As a man, he even gave again all that He was and had, to die. Not just any death would make the sacrifice complete. Not only did the lamb have to be perfect, but it had to die at the peak of its perfection, slaughtered so that its death might bring life to another. And so He died in seeming shame on that cross.

Were this all to the story, we would feel the need to build some great monument to His memory. But no building, no human structure could ever tell this story or show this love. God honored Him with an honored name above all others. A name so great that everyone past and present, everyone on earth, in heaven and every hero that ever existed would honor Him above all others. A name so great that no one could ever deny that He is now Sovereign Ruler over all and be brought to their knees to honor Him before God. (Cf. Philippians 2:5-11)

Does this sound like someone ordinary in any sense of the word? Does this sound like anyone we could ever be like? Does this even sound like someone we could possibly honor in any way great enough to show just how great He was?

Now, just suppose that this great hero above all heroes asked us to gather and honor Him by encouraging each other. Suppose He chose a day for that memorial, the day He Himself used to display that even death itself had no real, no lasting power over Him. Suppose that He asked us to recreate His own death, burial, and resurrection to show that we understood and accepted His gift. Supposed that He asked us from that point on to “celebrate” that same death on the very day that He arose from the grave. Suppose that He even asked that we continue this memorial day celebration until He returns to take us home to be with Him in Heaven. How would that day be honored?

Such a day, such a memorial event should see the whole range of human emotions from great solemnity and sorrow to great joy and rejoicing. But such a day, honoring such an event, by such a saved people could not really happen, could it? After all, there are really important baseball games or football games that deserve much more of our attention, aren’t there? Aren’t there so many nice things that we could do with our children?

There’s an old saying that “Good” is the enemy of “Great”! Too often we are willing to accept some much lesser thing than the true greatness of our God and Savior. The challenge is to aspire to the truly GREAT, to make the continued effort necessary to show our appreciation for what is the best of all.

If there is really any encouragement in our Savior, if there is really any love that we have for the one who died for us, if there is really any fellowship between us and God and between me and His family, if we really care… then we would maintain our love, our unity in spirit, our intent fixed on one purpose. We would never do anything so selfish or so conceited as to put ourselves above our brethren or our Savior. Indeed, we would strive to have the same attitude with our lives and service that Jesus had! (Cf. Philippians 2:1-5ff)

Time has passed and our home in heaven is drawing nearer. Do we appear to the world as those who understand and honor our Savior and His sacrificed life for us? Do we really honor Him? What are you doing this week in His memory?

— Lester P. Bagley

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3/5/17 ~ MEMORIES

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingMemories. To someone that has lost a loved one many memories can be as real as the present. When certain hymns are sung I can still hear my dad singing them as though he were right beside me. No doubt you too have memories equally strong.

To appreciate the power of memories just promise a child something special. That becomes their focus, their hope and they will do everything in their power to keep you focused on fulfilling that promise.

Memories tell who we are, what is really important to us, as well as what motivates us to move forward. And because of that fact, our God challenges us to keep certain memories ever with us.

Memories

Memories. The very word is prophetic as it conjures up all kinds of thoughts and remembrance for us. Memories have been the subject of many a poem, many a song.

Jesus through the Apostle Paul challenges us to remember a vital memory as we worship each Lord’s Day. “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Memories. A song from the musical “Cats” by Andrew Lloyd Webber carries that very title. It is, as many of his songs are, a memorable melody with some beautiful words. While not their original meaning, in fact, the words make a haunting picture of the disciples in the days following Jesus’ death and then His resurrection. Consider some of those words:

Midnight   Not a sound from the pavement / Has the moon lost her memory / She is smiling alone / In the lamplight / The withered leaves collect at my feet / And the wind begins to moan.

Memory / All alone in the moonlight / I can dream of the old days / Life was beautiful then / I remember the time I knew what happiness was / Let the memory live again.

Daylight / I must wait for the sunrise / I must think of a new life / And I mustn’t give in / When the dawn comes / Tonight will be a memory too / And a new day will begin.

 

Can’t you picture the loss the disciples felt? It seemed like, just as hope was dawning, all hope was suddenly taken away. And yet, that was not the end of the story. No, it was hardly the beginning. And soon, much like the song ends, there was the realization that, “A new day has begun!”

How do we remember the most significant person in all of history? How, when and where do we memorialize someone who loved us so much that he gave his own life for us?

We come together as family each Lord’s day in part to remember. Our Savior’s own words reminding us yet again of the matchless gift, the priceless treasure of His own life given so that we might live.

Time has passed since that gift, since His request that we keep the memory and our home in heaven is drawing nearer.

Do you still remember? Do you keep His sacrifice fresh and new in your mind, in your life?

Memories. Memories tell who we are, what is really important to us, as well as what motivates us to move forward.

Never forget those precious memories.

— Lester P. Bagley

2/27/17 ~ Seven Simple Steps

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingThe Apostle Paul was obviously a sports fan as his illustrations make clear. But, like most preachers, he uses those illustrations to emphasize spiritual lessons. In one comment he makes an important observation to Timothy that, “bodily exercise is of value for a little while, but godliness is of value for all things because it holds a promise for the present life and for the coming life.” (1 Timothy 4:8). Take a moment to consider a bit more the application of that lesson:

The Apostle Paul was obviously a sports fan as his illustrations make clear. But, like most preachers, he uses those illustrations to emphasize spiritual lessons. In one comment he makes an important observation to Timothy that, “bodily exercise is of value for a little while, but godliness is of value for all things because it holds a promise for the present life and for the coming life.” (1 Timothy 4:8). Take a moment to consider a bit more the application of that lesson:

Seven Simple Steps

Recently I saw a little article by a medical doctor that made me stop and think. He was writing, not about spiritual things, but about seven simple steps to regular exercise. But his comments actually have a much deeper spiritual lesson that we need to learn.

In the physical realm when we determine to eat better and exercise more in the New Year we often see those resolutions slip away within a month or so. In order to get over that hump and really form healthy habits, there are seven simple steps to take.

These steps are important because our brain’s cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”) is our habit center that helps to shape and control our behavior through repetition and reinforcement.

This little brain becomes our “little friend” when we try to establish a habit. The more connections, the firmer the habit. So developing a healthy habit begins by training the mind. Or, as the Apostle Paul says it, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Think about that for a moment. Our God who designed and created us in His own image knows and tells us to do just exactly the same things that people only now have learned!

So here are those seven simple steps to train or transform our minds to actually be full-time the people God calls us to be:

1) Begin today. The longer we put something off the more likely we are to NOT actually do it! Latch on to any excuse to do it! The New Testament constantly, consistently reminds us that TODAY is the day of salvation. The time to start is never tomorrow!

2) Start simply. There’s no need to run a marathon the first time out. If weight-lifting is your aim, begin with what’s bearable. If you are a would-be runner, start with a brisk walk around the block. Or, as God puts it, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that, by it, you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

3) Aim for success. Once you’ve set your goals, work hard to achieve (and surpass) them. Rewards for achievement is a great motivator to keep going. Encouraging one another, cheering each other on is actually part of God’s plan for His people!

4) Research your sport. Reading and learning about what you love doing is as important as training to do it. Serious athletes are serious students of what they do, what they can learn and what others have learned. Serious Christians are always studying, digging, working hard to better their knowledge and understanding just like Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15).

5) Don’t overdo it. After a particularly tough run or sweaty workout, take it easy. Achieving exercise balance helps you avoid the injuries that can sideline healthy habits. Hint: check the Gospels for how often Jesus took time out (and asked His disciples to do the same) for prayer, for time to themselves rather than always being on the go or on call for everyone else.

6) Stay on track. Make exercise a top priority. “Neither rain nor sleep nor lack of time will keep me from my appointed workout.” How sad that so many so-called Christians never have a priority of worship, of study, of fellowship with God’s people. And no wonder they fail!

7) Make exercise a part of your life. If you love running, hang out with runners. If you’re a swimmer, join a swimming club. The example of friends offers ongoing encouragement. Are we surprised that God’s design for His family is constant contact and literally living in the body of Christ?

These seven steps are key to building long-lasting exercise routines. Following this routine to establish one healthy habit at a time allows each to become a foundation for the next.

In spiritual terms, we are building up the body of Christ by working together to truly DO God’s will and BE God’s people. Paul said it this way, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

— Lester P. Bagley

12/25/16 ~ Jesus, the Savior

From the Preacher’s Pen… Sunday, December 25, we celebrate the birthday of Jesus! No, I’ve not lost my mind and hopefully you haven’t lost yours either.

RacineBuildingThis Sunday, December 25, the first day of the week, we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior with our weekly Communion.  He lives and is never to die again! Paul says it like this: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. [10] For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:8–11)

Once He was born, like all of us, of human flesh. And, because of sin, humans die. But death could not keep Him, He lives again by the spirit and power of God. And God says that same power, that same promise is for us, too, as brothers and sisters of Christ the King.

Having acknowledged all that, it is still an amazing thing that our Savior once humbled Himself to submit to being born as one of us. Remember for a moment, the coming of…

Jesus the Savior

I am in awe of the Manger Scene and all that it means and represents for humans! But the story began so long before that day that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son.

Three precious verses in God’s word remind us that before He even spoke the words creating this world and all its inhabitants, before that very first sin would bring contamination to all His perfection, He knew and planned it all! Read John 17:24 where He tells of the love and glory that predate the foundations of the world. Love and glory for the sacrifice to come.

1 Peter 1:18-21 reminds us that the saving blood of the Lamb of God was planned and known before the building of this world. And Ephesians 1:4 says that even then He chose us to be holy in Him.

I am in awe of the Manger Scene and all that it means and represents for humans! But the work and preparation began so long before that day that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son.

Months before the Creator in the form of an infant would be born into this world, He laid aside His godly form to take on a form of an unborn child. Read Philippians 2:5-7 and realize the implications of that simple but awesome statement.

I’ve often wondered if Luke would not have dwelt a bit longer on that moment if the good doctor had written that passage rather than the Apostle Paul. As a physician, Luke had likely witnessed the amazing changes that led up to the near miraculous moment of birth on many occasions.

But Paul hastens to remind us that the ultimate goal is not the manger but the cross (Philippians 2:8).

I have to admit that I am still in awe of the Manger Scene. It is filled with so many great lessons for all mankind and for all time. Sadly, one of those lessons is how seldom it is seen and how quickly it is forgotten.

Just like our world, at this time of year we may be briefly amazed at the coming of the Savior and then forget Him for months and months. But perhaps this year we can resolve to be different.

Jesus’ earthly mother, like most mothers and daddies, could never forget. Luke very specifically reminds us that Mary treasured those events in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51). A good doctor takes note of good parenting and love.

The important thing for us is that we remember, that we treasure the amazing, incredible, eternal life-altering events. Are you in awe of the manger and all that it means?

Will you be found sitting at the feet of Jesus as He teaches and encourages and challenges us through the year? Will you be found weeping and heartbroken at the cross? Will you be found rejoicing at the empty tomb and in amazed awe as He returns to heaven with the promise to come back one day for you?

Sad, isn’t it, how many people will look and not see, hear and not understand. Yes, that was repeated by several of the prophets and by Jesus Himself. And today the fact remains, many will miss the incredible coming of Jesus.

One day He will come again. And this time every eye will see Him, every knee bow before Him and every tongue confess Him. But then it will be too late to be a part of His family.

The time to see Him, to know Him, to follow Him is now. The time to truly be in awe of our Savior is now! Will you?

— Lester P. Bagley

12/18/16 ~ Generations of Love

RacineBuildingFrom the Preacher’s Pen… Toward the end of most worship services, I make my way to the back hallway in order to speak to people as they leave. Sometimes I’m looking for someone in particular to encourage and many times I rejoice in the encouragement of God’s family.

Oftentimes there is someone already back there. Mothers and dads with little ones often have diaper duty or otherwise have to tend to fussy or overly active children. What a beautiful sight and lesson of love!

In all the comings and goings it sometimes happens that one of our young people end up “stranded” at the doors as they are too polite to go back where they were sitting in the middle of the closing song or prayer.

Often when that happens they end up standing next to me and holding my hand during the prayer. I see them holding hands with their parents, their siblings, and others around them. How precious it is to see love in actions and living lessons from our young people! Consider for a moment the lesson they show…

Generations of Love

Jesus frequently used the word love. It is a vital ingredient of our Spiritual life and yet it is often neglected.

In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” God’s “new commandment” is not that we should love, but that we are actually commanded to love as God has loved us.

Peter would struggle with this concept of such a great commitment (John 21:15-17), but eventually embraced it at the cost of his physical life (verses 18-19). Interestingly, Jesus in telling him all this concludes with the imperative command (Follow Me!) to obey even though hesitant.

Consider how our own worldly definition of love has changed. In my Grandparents generation, the love of children was often defined as “children are to be seen but not heard” and it was normally true that parents ate first and children the leftovers. Why?

Sadly, in a time when a significant percentage of children died the adults who could work and feed the family had to be the priority. (Most western civilizations have seen a relatively steady decline in infant and child mortality for the last few centuries. In the 1700s 300 to 500 deaths per 1,000 were the norm. By the end of the 1800s that number dropped to 150 to 200. By 1950 it had declined to between 20 and 40 per 1,000.)

In that world, the greatest love a parent could show was staying healthy enough to provide for the children that survived.

Following World War II Americans were better off in many ways yet struggling to say and show love in a changing world. As food supplies increased and diseases were controlled it became the expected norm that children would survive into adulthood. Parents literally had the expectation that each child would continue to live and be a part of the family.

With all that came the challenge to love to an entirely new degree. Like so many things that Satan corrupts, an increase in family love was quickly transformed into the permissive “free love” generation. Confusing love with sexual expression they reshaped the world into a no-commitment world ruled by selfishness.

Today? Our world pushes to enlarge the bounds of permissiveness and demands that everyone wins, that everyone is entitled to high self-esteem with no boundaries on their actions and no limits to their licentiousness. And still, real love is neglected.

Love, real love, love like God has for us is that agape love, that committed love. Real love, like an earlier generation, sometimes seems harsh that it might really serve the needs. Even today it remains true that real love of our children includes punishment and discipline.

Jesus had a fondness for children and several times the text points out that they were specifically infants and young children. Do you ever wonder why?

Watch a child love. Before parents teach them to fear and avoid, they shyly offer their gift, their trust until one day properly jaded by adults they learn the rudeness of neglecting love.

So, do we truly love? Are we committed to our Savior and the good of His Kingdom? Or are we simply fulfilling Scripture in being the selfish, jaded, negligent lovers of self that Paul warned Timothy about (2 Timothy 3:1-9)?

Love is something that is instilled by God in a child’s heart. How we cultivate it determines whether it grows and blossoms into Christ-like love in all their lives… or dies in bitterness and strife.

Love is something that is instilled by God and carefully taught to an adult’s heart. How we cultivate it determines whether it grows and blossoms into Christ-like love in all our lives… or dies in bitterness and strife.

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in actions and truth.” (1 John 3:18)

— Lester P. Bagley