5/27/18 ~ Baseball and the Christian Life

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

The Apostle Paul often used the sports and games of his world as lessons for Christians. While I doubt that everyone in New Testament times was a sports nut, they still made important lessons. Let’s take a look at a modern sport with a similar spiritual lesson for us:

Baseball and Christian Life

Manny Trillo had a 17-year Major League career with the A’s, Cubs, Phillies, Indians, Expos, Giants, and Reds. In that time he was a repeat All-Star and won multiple Gold Gloves for his defensive play. He set a Major League record (since broken) with 479 consecutive errorless chances. Think about that a moment: 479 straight times he could have made an error and did not.

The most amazing thing about this story is not that he didn’t make a mistake but rather his attitude. As great as Manny Trillo was with his glove, he knew there were always errors. A bad throw. A bad hop. Broken double plays. In baseball, there are (currently) 162 games a year. A minimum (usually) of 1,458 innings in the regular season. That’s not counting pre- and post-season games. Baseball is an every-day-of-the-week game.

In baseball, perfection is technically (just like in Christian living!) non- existent. True, there are tons of statistics kept to see how close you get to perfection. But Manny Trillo lived and played by the philosophy, “The best thing about baseball is you can do something about yesterday, tomorrow.”

If you make a mistake and want to actually fix it, there’s always tomorrow’s game. Next time, you have the opportunity to undo the mistake and do it right.

This holds true on defense and just as well on offense. If you follow baseball you will quickly notice that everyone’s batting average is measured in three decimal numbers. What that means is if you get a hit every single time that you come to bat you would be batting 1.000. But no one ever does that!

In fact, no one ever comes close! In a single season of baseball, the great Ty Cobb hit .420! (For you trivia fans, Nap Lajoie holds the record average with a .426 season.) Ty Cobb’s lifetime career average was .366.

The best players in baseball history missed hitting the ball 1½ to 2 times for every time they hit it. Their mistakes totaled one and a half to two times their successes and they were the best! The best of most players is closer to the twice as many whiffs for every hit!

So what does all this about baseball have to do with us as Christians? The New Testament is constantly advising us as Christians to take the same approach to our “game,” our lives. The very use of the words repentance and forgiveness are God’s reminders that we can have another chance. How we use that next chance will always be what shows our real character, our real spirituality!

I believe the Apostle Paul, with his interest in sports, would have appreciated this analogy. After all, he wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

James wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a). And John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

God is very clear in telling us that we are not perfect. Just as “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and need Jesus to save them from their sins, we all continue to be imperfect.
Certainly, this doesn’t mean we stop trying to be perfect. No baseball player is worth anything if they are a quitter and the same is true of a Christian! But when you do and try and fail, then the answer is not to give up. The answer for saints is always found in keeping on keeping on, in trying our best to do better tomorrow!

The best thing about a mistake we make now is that we can do better. That sounds a lot like resolve, a stubborn faith in God that with His help we can always do better!
Persistent faith is what made each of the Old Testament heroes of faith (cf. Hebrews 11 and the events of their lives in the OT). Persistent faith is what makes us.
Will you be better tomorrow?

— Lester P. Bagley

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4/22/18 ~ Spiritual Ugliness

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Beauty is something we all appreciate. A gorgeous sunset will cause us to whip out our cameras or call others to see. And how can anyone fail to appreciate a beautiful baby?

But what of our spiritual souls and lives? Are we beautiful before our Heavenly Father or are we covered in…

Spiritual Ugliness

Matthew 23 is Jesus’ vicious attack on false religion. Consider verses 27 and 28: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Today the word hypocrite usually means someone who pretends to be good and yet is inwardly or secretly bad. Our English word hypocrite is not an original word in our language. Rather, it is simply an anglicized word just like baptism. It only exists at all in English because of Jesus. He used the word some 18 times in the Gospel accounts and translators simply borrow the Greek word.

Just as people misuse baptism by pretending it has an English meaning apart from the Greek biblical usage, so, too, do we misuse hypocrite by taking it out of context and attempting to give it our own meaning.

The word Jesus uses is the Greek word for a stage actor. But to appreciate what He is telling us we must appreciate, like all statements in scripture, the context. In the old Greek world, actors had been respected. But by Roman times they were considered to have the same social status as a criminal or prostitutes. They were often foreigners, captives or slaves whose job was to entertain. While they performed some “classical” Greek plays and poetry, much of the stage was devoted to rude, vulgar and tasteless.

It appears that in New Testament times there was little or no “clean” comedy or theater. Much was essentially what we today would consider the lowest “X” rated kind of entertainment. It is accurate to say that Jesus is labeling people as the modern equivalent of a porn star!

With that ugly picture in mind, re-read Jesus’ words above. The degree of spiritual ugliness is important in seeing how God sees sin. Sin is never just a minor flaw or a tiny blemish on our character. It is always a fatal ugliness that God cannot ignore.

There is something disconcerting about us missing true ugliness and mistaking it for beauty. Have you ever picked up something without knowing what it was only to find out or realize that it was something truly disgustingly awful?

God gives us many examples. Solomon would illustrate it like this on one occasion, As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion (Proverbs 11:22). It’s not the beauty that appears on the outside, it’s the ugliness hidden within. Samuel was taught the lesson by God like this, God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but YHWH looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Hypocrisy and iniquity, sin or lawlessness are identified by Jesus as attributes of the utmost ugliness. When we are unclean before God we are ugly! When we use sin to deceive others as a false teacher we achieve God’s ultimate in spiritual ugliness!

Recall that the Pharisees were often admired as some of the most sincerely religious of the Jewish people and many times were among the most “conservative.” Yet God demands much more than sincerity and outward conservatism.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus would say it like this: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Paul would tell Titus: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11–14).

With all the love, forgiveness, grace, mercy and hope that God provides to us, we should be the most beautiful people; fit to be the bride of Christ. Whatever you do, do not allow spiritual ugliness to ever be seen in you!

— Lester P. Bagley

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I must leave it more glorious than I found it

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Today is the only one I have for my usage and tomorrow possibly.  I will have another but today is the only one I have.  Every day is like every opportunity.  I accept it from Him in the morning and how I return it to him at evening is all in accordance with my love for Him.

I must go wherever He sends me polishing and brightening every soul I meet.  I must leave it more glorious for Him than I found it.

Oh, how I love God.  How can I say He is my God and I am His child if I do not glorify the day He has given me?  I cannot even imagine such an ingrate.  For those who love God, it would be virtually impossible.

I have oft been made to wonder how one thanks God for giving him one day of life.  What can I do? What can I say?  What words are going to adequately describe my feelings and be sufficient to even attempt to offer something toward the worthiness of the value of a day?

How incapable man is to even come near reaching the infinite value of a touch of appreciation deserved for just a moment of basking in its beauty, glory, and splendor.  Wherever one might be on this verdant globe, every single day one might see is a glory to God and I have shared in its existence!

Where does someone find the heart, the feelings, the words to express appreciation for only this moment? Only the thrill of the soul that stops to enjoy such a gift can within that jubilation pleasingly thank God, for he has fulfilled the intent of its creation.

The joy of a child of God!  Anything else is a worthless, meager, bereft attempt leaving the soul empty in the wonder of the purpose of its existence.  What a waste of all creation for the one and what an eternal ecstasy for the other.

In no other way can the wisdom of the wise and the foolishness of the fool be more clearly seen!  The moment when God’s purpose and man’s value meet and share the common joy of existence. They meet. They share. In that moment they are one. That is what all existence is all about. The oneness of God.

Malcolm Parsley, Korea

 

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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2/18/18 ~ Drawing Near to God

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the great failures of many Christians is their failure to seriously read and study God’s word. Several preachers ask how many have read their Bibles daily at the beginning of their sermons. While that offends some people (apparently, we think it is okay to take offense at someone pointing out our sins!), perhaps an even more pointed question would involve how many actually study and understand God’s word.

Understanding what you read, just like the man from Ethiopia in Acts 8:26-39, is VITAL to our salvation. One of the helpful ways of studying the Bible is to follow God’s use of words, how He chooses to communicate important lessons to us.

To study like that requires more effort than simply reading. Putting more effort into an actual understanding of both what is read and how that fits the context of all God says is exactly what brought salvation to the man of Ethiopia. And that same effort will bring understanding and salvation to us.

So let’s do a little digging, a little bit of serious study into one of God’s lessons that will help us come closer to Him and to understanding what He says to us.

Drawing Near to God

One of the many rich lessons of the book of Hebrews involves a word picture that the author repeats seven times. The word is proserchomai and, especially in relation to coming to God, is translated as draw near or approach or come to (cf. Hebrews 4:16; 7:25; 10:1, 22; 11:6; 12:18, 22). This same Greek word is usually used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew qērab, which means come near or approach but also includes the idea of closeness to what or who is being approached.

Outside of the Bible, Greek writers use this word with more force than simply going somewhere. It is sometimes used in a hostile sense as going to a fight or battle, but usually in the sense of being concerned about someone and going to someone or something of great importance. It was also used in the religious sense of going to or before a deity. Just as in our world a word might be reserved for a deeper meaning rather than just being a simple synonym, so, too, the New Testament writers and the Holy Spirit chose words with richer meaning for special lessons.

This is the word that Matthew uses (Matthew 4:3) for Satan coming near to Jesus in order to tempt Him. It is also the word chosen later for the angels as they came to minister to Jesus. Both uses portray an incredible lesson for us. First, that Satan would dare to come so close and appear so intimate with Jesus. Isn’t that also a warning to us about how the Devil will try to get close to us? And second, the important job of angels in providing aid and comfort to Jesus. They did for Him just as they are sent out to be “ministering spirits… to render service” to God’s people (Hebrews 1:14).

On many other occasions, God reminds us of both the closeness of the wrong things and the intimacy of our right relationship with Him. Paul commands that we reject those and withdraw ourselves from those that (literally) do not draw near to the words of Jesus and godly doctrine (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Contrast this with Peter’s command that we come to Jesus as our living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 2:4).

Clearly, God calls His people to be more than just friendly with both God and His godly people! Just as we are never to be intimate with sin, wickedness and the worldly, so are we called to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Why? Simply because He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). We draw near to God, become intimate with Him and our family in Him here on earth so that we will be a part of the family for eternity in Heaven.

Will you draw near to God and His family here on earth so that you will be together as family for eternity? The choice really is up to you. Choose wisely!

— Lester P. Bagley

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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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12/31/17 ~ Putting the “personal” back in evangelism

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

By now you’ve heard some comments being made about various books and DVDs that we are going to make available for reaching out to people in our community. And you are going to be hearing more as the new year progresses. The obvious question is: Why?

RacineBuildingThe answer is simple. We can put ads in the newspaper, mail out nice brochures and generic invitations to the “Occupant” and perhaps reach a person or two. But when you and I personally invite or talk with or share something with someone they are much more likely to respond.

 

 

There are those in our congregation that are constantly reaching out to friends, neighbors, and others they meet to invite them to attend a worship assembly, to study the Bible, to think about Godly things. That’s all it takes, that’s all that evangelism really is; sowing the seed! More than any tool, more than any technique, more than any other thing, the secret to evangelism is you and me.

Consider just how far-reaching this all is as we think for a moment about…

Putting the “Personal” Back in Evangelism

Evangelism, telling the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the primary job of Christians here on this earth. Perhaps because it is so important, it is also the focus of some of the greatest nonsense perpetrated on Christians.

Literally thousands of books are written claiming to show us the only truly successful way to evangelize, and a comparable number of teachers will come teach us their own guaranteed way to “double the size of your church in just 10 weeks” or other similar nonsense. Nonsense? Surely all those catchy titles and great preachers (I know they are great because most of them will tell you how great they are and how superior their method is to anyone else!) couldn’t be wrong, could they?

Let me suggest something for you to consider. Every problem that the New Testament church has ever had from the days of the New Testament right up to the struggles congregations have in 21st century America has been the direct result of someone trying to improve on what God has already said! Every single time another book is written explaining the greatest technique that we’ve all missed, I wonder how many more souls will be lost.

Why would I say such a thing? How could I possibly fail to appreciate all the improvements and good ideas out there? I’m glad you asked! Let me show you by way of a preacher and a book that I do have respect for…

  • Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
  • For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
  • Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
  • For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
  • Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:1-11)

Hopefully, you see the point. To teach what God wants us to do and to be is to teach God’s word! To tell the Good News the best and most successful way is to follow God’s instruction book! To be right about what we say, what we do, what we call things, how we worship, how we lead our lives, how and what we teach our children and countless other things, we just need to follow our Savior and His word.

To God’s people coming out of years of bondage and idol worship, God taught them His word and demanded that they both follow it themselves and teach it to their children in order to have life, health, prosperity and a future! (Cf. Exodus 12, Deuteronomy 4). And Peter (along with Jesus, Paul and the rest of the New Testament) reminds us that this is still true today and for all time!

“Personal” evangelism is not another class or method or book or some preacher’s secret. “Personal” evangelism is nothing more than teaching and encouraging each other, teaching our children, conversing with our families, friends, and neighbors about the eternally important things (cf. Acts 8:4). “Personal” evangelism is personally living like God’s child!

Evangelism is listening to what God tells us and then sharing that same message with others. Every child of God does just that if they are serving the Lord. Yes, there are good tools (and we are going to be talking about them and using them this year!) to open doors, to get people started in learning the word of God. But in the end, it is all up to you. No one else can do your job of telling those you know and meet.

For each one of us, the essential ingredient is our love for God! “Hear, O Israel! Jehovah is our God, Jehovah is one! You shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8)

Do you love the Lord enough to share the Good News? Let’s determine to make our new year one of living like who we are called by God to be, a new year of encouraging and loving one another that we might share that eternal Good News!

— Lester P. Bagley

11/12/17 ~ Provocation

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingI don’t know if you are a fan of the Bee Gees or not, but they wrote and/or performed literally thousands of songs. Of the songs that they wrote, over 2,500 other singers have recorded them. So you probably have at least heard a some of their songs and may even have some favorites. One of their catchy and popular love songs was simply titled “Words” and it includes the reminder that “words are all I have to take your heart away.”

If you are not a fan of the Bee Gees perhaps you have at least heard the old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And you may also realize just how false that little taunt really is. That, of course, is the point of the love song. Words can reach out and touch a heart and turn it to the right things.

Words really do have power. They have the power to challenge and inspire us, and the power to hurt and discourage us. And that is why the study of the words of God is so important. “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life” are lyrics that we sing to remind us as Christians of this very important lesson.

Take a moment to consider one of God’s extraordinary words, and both the bad and the good lessons that it offers to us:

Provocation

Have you ever used a stick to push someone or some animal along? Have you ever used words to provoke someone? Children may taunt someone with the intention of hurting their feelings and, sadly, adults may do the same thing. The word “provocation” means just that, trying to motivate them in some way by poking and prodding them.

In Deuteronomy, Moses uses the term several times to refer to the repeated disobedience of God’s people and how it caused Him to be angry (cf. Deuteronomy 4:25; 9:7, 18, 22; 32:16, 21). This would become a sadly repetitious theme in the relationship between God and His people as Judges 2:12 points out: and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.

The time of the monarchy is all too similar to the time of the Judges as the kings, like the whole nation before them, repeatedly disobeyed God until they provoked Him to bring first the end of Israel and a few years later the captivity of Judah.

Provocations! Disobeying, dishonoring and ignoring the Lord and His will until such time as He would be fed up and punish them.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul did not want to take John Mark on the second missionary journey after Mark’s desertion on the first journey. The word that Luke used of the angry dispute between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39) pictures an explosion. This provocation was so great that Paul and Barnabas split up for a time.

Sometime later on that very same journey, Paul would again be provoked as he observed the multitude of idols in the city of Athens (Acts 17:16). Like God when Israel and Judah chose to worship the false gods of the nations around them, it was appalling to see the extent of their provocations of the Lord Himself.

It’s often said that preachers’ lessons are directed at themselves as much as anybody else. Certainly, Paul understood that principle as he wrote his letters. Perhaps that is partly why he chose this same word of great provocation to be a reminder to us all in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked.

As strong as this word is in the negative form it is also used in a positive way with an equally strong lesson from the Holy Spirit. In Hebrews 10:24 we are urged by God to …consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Some translations actually use the literal translation of provoke.

How much effort do we give to encouragement? Have you ever been really good and angry, incensed and downright explosively angry? That is exactly how much effort God expects us to put into our positive encouragement of His people! What a thought! Explosively good and positive for God!

One last picture from God’s word to keep this all in the proper perspective comes from the Apostle Peter. Certainly, Peter knew about an explosive attitude and at times could be as volatile as any of us. Yet he writes to us to sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Think about that a moment. What follows involves us actually treating our God as the Holy Lord that He is!

Okay, so what’s the rest of Peter’s point? Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).

We are called to BE the dynamite of God; His power used in this world of spiritual battle against the forces of Satan. And yet we use that very power for good in encouraging our fellow saints to serve and fight the good fight.

May we always be provoked to love and serve our Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

10/8/17 ~ Wrestling & Boxing

From the Preacher’s Pen… One of the hardest lessons of our Christian walk and life is RacineBuildingto remember its true seriousness. We get tired and want to quit. Nothing exciting happens and we want to quit. It all seems to require that motivation that we so often lack. How can we do this?

Reality is not kind. We face the same difficulty in almost every area of life. While many would like to win the prize or be the best, few are willing to put in the hard work that makes it all happen.

Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of this serious contest that we are involved with:

Wrestling and Boxing

As you might well expect, the ancient Olympic sports were based on skills used in warfare. Of course, it didn’t take long for the sports to develop to the point that the combatants were no longer soldiers but specialists in their sport. By New Testament times there were three combat sports and they were both highly popular and well developed with specialists in each area.

The apostle Paul was evidently a sports fan and used both sporting fights as well as real warfare as examples of important lessons for those he taught. We can best appreciate those spiritual lessons for us with a bit more appreciation of what he was actually talking about.

Wrestling was the first sport added to the ancient Olympics that did not involve running. It quickly became the most popular organized sport in ancient Greece. You scored a point by making your competitor touch the ground with his back, shoulder or hip. Points were also awarded for forcing them out of the wrestling square or by conceding defeat. Three points were necessary to win. A popular position was to be on top of your opponent and strangle him!

The word for wrestling (palē) is only used once in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:12 says, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Boxing is nearly as old as wrestling and also immensely popular. The boxer wrapped leather thongs around his hands to protect them. There were no rounds and no weight categories so the two men typically hit each other in the head until one could no longer continue. The Romans added metal studs to the leather wrappings and later made the fights to the death! (In 393 AD boxing was abolished as excessively brutal and did not return to popularity until the late 1500s in London.)

Since the rules prevented any kind of fighting other than punching and the most effective way to win was hitting the head, Paul makes the point of boxing, in such a way, as not beating the air in 1 Corinthians 9:26. When we fight the good fight of faith we always go for the win!

Pankration was the ultimate fighting sport of the Olympics and had almost no rules. The Greek term literally means all of your power, strength, might. It was a combination of boxing, wrestling, kicking, holds, locks, chokes. The only things banned were biting and gouging out your opponent’s eyes. Some contests were actually won by breaking bones or disemboweling the opponent!

While the formal word for the pankration is not used in the New Testament, the concept words are employed to remind us of just how vicious and savage is our spiritual warfare.

Paul says, This command [to be faithful] I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight [wage all-out war as a soldier] the good fight [a military campaign or battle] (1 Timothy 1:18). And a little while later he also says, Fight the good fight of faith [literally, strive, fight, struggle, do what is necessary to win the great contest]; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12).

Finally, Paul brings up the subject again in some of his final words as he says, I have fought the good fight [the same words he used in 1 Timothy 6:12], I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Read 1 Corinthians 9:25-27; Colossians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:1-4 and remember how serious this is! Our fight for Christ against Satan and his followers is not a “police action,” it is not a skirmish or a dispute. It is all out war to the eternal death! The devil has declared all-out war on us… and we must do the same to him.

— Lester P. Bagley

 

9/24/17 ~ Concentrate Me, Lord

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingSome years ago I was talking to a young person about the concept of God making us holy. Misunderstanding the word “consecrate” they replied that they understood the idea that God was concentrating us.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes our young people better understand and express difficult lessons? Let’s dig a little deeper into those words.

Concentrate Me, Lord

The Old Testament several times uses the word “consecrate” to describe the procedure of making the priests ready for their service to God (cf. Exodus 30:30; 32:28-29). The word comes from the concept of “cut off” to imply that those that serve the Lord are completely set aside to that task. They were not to be like other people but rather holy to the Lord.

Most of us are perhaps more familiar with the word concentrate. Take concentrated orange juice for example. You understand what it is. Fresh orange juice has most of the water removed (that’s why you add water to re-constitute it!) and you are left with very strong, thick, pure orange flavor and solids (vitamins, minerals, pulp, etc.) that make up orange juice.

Now, put that in a spiritual perspective. If we allow God to distill us, remove the things that make us impure then we are left with the most Christlike parts.

Consider James’ recommendation: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4) Isn’t that God concentrating and consecrating us?

Or Paul’s thought: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:3-4). God has chosen us to be concentrated, holy and like Him.

That’s exactly how God views the church, the bride of Christ: So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:26-27). Set apart, distilled down to be pure essence of godliness.

Peter advises us to: Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “you shall be Holy, for I am Holy.” (1 Peter 1:13–16)

Do you see the point? We have to be changed from that old person of sin, selfishness and ignorance into the holy people of God’s own family. Our consecration, being made holy by our holy God boils us down, distills us into a concentrated form that is more powerful and more precious than anything we could otherwise be.

I’m often amused at the degree of nonsense that many people will believe. You can find great discussions about why concentrates like orange juice are bad, evil, wicked and unhealthy. In reality, the ONLY difference is that the water is removed and EVERYTHING else is still there.

Likewise, it is often amusing that we forget that CONSECRATION in a Christian is just removing the ungodly parts. The result in our lives is that ALL the godly, useful, spiritual parts are still there. They are just stronger for having less of the unspiritual mixed in with them. We are CONCENTRATED with Christ for God’s use!

We need to ask ourselves what we really are. Do we still retain the contaminants of the world? Or are we allowing God to change us into the consecrated, holy, concentrated, pure body of Christ that we are called to be?

— Lester P. Bagley