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

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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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