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

1/29/17 ~ Love That Will Not Let Me Go

From the Preacher’s Pen… Are you appreciative? Do you express your gratitude and thankfulness for the kindnesses and love that people show to you?

RacineBuildingHonestly, there are few attitudes more despised and despicable than thanklessness. If you give someone a present and their response is to show their displeasure and contempt, you are not likely to give them another. Rather you will view them as rude and unappreciative and rightly so.

As you may suspect, these very attitudes and tests of our attitudes are seen by God. How should we treat Him who loved us so much? Consider some thoughts drawn from a song in our hymnbooks about His great love.

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

Have you ever been loved when you didn’t deserve it? Yes, there are actually people who will answer this in the negative. People are so in love with themselves and so conceited that they always imagine they are entirely lovable. In spite of there being many people like that, they are by definition, abnormal.

So, have you ever been loved when you didn’t deserve it? It’s unlikely that you remember much about being an infant. In many ways that is fortunate for infants can be very self-centered, ungrateful creatures. When they are hungry they really don’t care about anyone else. They demand that all attention be focused on them as though no one else and nothing else is of any importance whatsoever.

We excuse their behavior as they are, after all, infants. They don’t know any better. But when a 10 or 12-year-old acts the same way you take a much different view of their actions. And if an adult should act like that you would pretty much despise them and such awful behavior.

Now to the important question: Do we sometimes treat our God and Savior that way?

Fortunately for us, God’s response to us is much more like that of the loving parent to an infant that lacks understanding and maturity. And for that, we must be ever grateful!

A while back I read a comment by a person who had once been an unbeliever in God. That person was asked what it was that changed his mind to believe in God. The answer was that it was the words of a song sung by Christians as he visited their worship. The congregation seemed to sing with such feeling, as though it really meant something to them.

Yes, there is an important lesson to us about our singing. If we despise making any real effort to sing with the spirit and with the mind (Paul’s comment of 1 Corinthians 14:15), we dishonor God! We joke about “making a joyful noise to the Lord” but God is never amused at a lame offering as He always demands our best to truly be a sacrifice of praise. But clearly, the finest singing without the right words is likewise vain worship.

Okay, so we offer to God our best worship in song in order to teach and encourage each other. But what song touched this man’s heart when other words did not?

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Paul was daily reminded of the love that would not let him go!

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.

God is the God of second chances! And third and fourth and fifth chances, too! When you read the stories of the faithful men and women of God you do not read of perfect people. Their flaws and failures are evident for all to see. Yet they constantly respond to the love that keeps on seeking them out. And they always seek the promise that lies beyond this life.

The writer of Hebrews put it like this: “… [T]hey desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:16)

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

Everything of God’s plan, promises and purpose pointed to the cross; that awful, wonderful moment when He took on our sin, our failure. At the foot of the cross we are forced to see the price, the loss, the cost in full that was paid for us. But it’s only at the empty tomb that we behold the purpose, the promise of life eternal.

The love that cost our Savior His life is the love that will not give up on us. He, Himself, is the ultimate gift given with the ultimate promise of an eternal home in heaven.

So, are you appreciative? Do you express your gratitude and thankfulness for the kindnesses and love that people show to you? Or are you one of those rude, uncaring ones? It is, after all, a choice that we must consciously make.

With all the promise, the plan, the love that is extended to you… what will you choose?

— Lester P. Bagley

 

1/22/17 ~ To Complain or Not to Complain

RacineBuildingYour children fight all the time and nothing you do will stop them. So? Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys did too. One ran away from home and was gone twenty long years just so they wouldn’t kill each other. But by being separated, these two powerful personalities were able to become all that God intended for them to be ~ founders of the Edomite and Israelite nations.

You’ve been uprooted three times in the last three years and are having to move again. So? Abraham and Sarah moved twelve times over a period of fifty-five years while her husband, Abraham, searched for his elusive dream. But, by following her husband with blind faith, she was an example for him to follow Jehovah with blind faith.

You are too fat/thin, you’re too tall/short, your skin is too dark/light, your toes are too long/stubby. So? Ugly Leah had to listen to her husband talk about how much more he loved her sister who was so amazingly beautiful. But Leah bore children for twenty years before her gorgeous sister had any, and she lived much longer than her stunning sister. This helped Leah have proper priorities so she could become the one her husband dependent on to raise all the children, even her sister’s.

Your son got in trouble with the authorities and was sentenced to ten years in prison. So? Amran’s and Jochabed’s son, Moses, got in trouble with the authorities in Egypt and was exiled from family and friends for 40 years. But this gave Moses a chance to be well remembered by those same authorities when he returned to free his fellow Israelites, and know where to lead them to live as freed slaves.

You have a terrible disease and it is making life a living hell for you. So? Miriam was stricken with leprosy, a disease that deforms the body and takes away all feeling so that the process of fastening shoes or anything else is almost impossible. But this helped her realize she had to choose between the calf god her brother, Aaron, had made and she and she had apparently worshiped, and Jehovah, the true God.

Your wife or husband died and all your children died. So? Naomi’s husband and sons all died. But, when she was through mourning, she spent more time mentoring her daughter-in-law who eventually was a great-grandmother of King David and ancestress of Jesus.

Your husband or wife is a monster. So? Esther married the king of Persia who, when he failed to conquer Rome, beat the ocean in a temper tantrum. But living with a spouse like that gave her the courage to face half a nation that was intent on killing off her people.

The Psalm of Complaint

David, who started a large portion of his psalms with a complaint, dedicated the entire 39th Psalm to trying to work through his problem. Let’s look at the Living Bible version to see what God was explaining to us through him:

Lesson One: Don’t provide non-Christians with proof that Christians are no different than anyone else. “I said to myself, I’m going to quit complaining! I’ll keep quiet, especially when the ungodly are around me” (v. 1).

Lesson Two: When you’ll burst if you don’t complain anyway, tell God. “But as I stood there silently, the turmoil within me grew to the bursting point. The more I mused, the hotter the fires inside. Then at last I spoke and pled with God” (v.2-3).

Lesson Three: Step back and see our complaint in perspective with the truly important things in life. “Lord, help me to realize how brief my time on earth will be. Help me to know that I am here for but a moment more. My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you” (v 4-5).

Lesson Four: Ask yourself how the world would get along if you weren’t around to complain about things. “Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend” (v. 6)

Lesson Five: Face it: Complaining is a sin. “And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. Save me from being overpowered by my sins, for even fools will mock me then” (v. 7-8).

Lesson Six: Remember, God can use the bad Satan causes to happen to you, to get you to shut up and pay more attention to what God has to say. “Lord, I am speechless before you. I will not open my mouth to speak one word of complaint, for my punishment is from you” (v. 9).

Lesson Seven: An ungodly person will be destroyed by bad things, but a godly person will survive to praise God still. “When you punish a man for his sins, he is destroyed, for he is as fragile as a moth-infested cloth; yes, man is frail as breath. Spare me, Lord! Let me recover and be filled with happiness again” (v. 11,13).

The Great Complainer

Revelation 12:10 says, and Job chapter demonstrates, that Satan is the great accuser. What better synonym could be applied to a complainer? Satan causes bad to happen to us and then sits back, waiting for us to blame God for causing all our problems, and then for us to desert God. We’re just playing into Satan’s hands when we do.

Look at the contrast. Every time Satan influences someone to sin, God says, “I can forgive.” Every time Satan influences someone to become sick, God says, “I can heal him.” “Every time Satan causes someone to die, God says, “I can bring him back to life forever.”

Spiritual Warfare

Do you see the dynamic interchange that is going on? It is so much more than you and I see. We’re not at war with these people we’re complaining about. Not really.

Ephesians 6:12 explains we’re not at war with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers in spiritual realms! Daniel 10 explains that even our prayers seem to provide strength to God’s angels as they fight Satan’s angels

Wow! God is allowing us to fight Satan right along side of him. What glory! What honor to be counted worthy! That’s the very reason the world was created. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God [forgiveness, healing, eternal life] should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:10f).

Indeed, as soldiers of the cross, how can we be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37) unless we have something to conquer? How can we have “Victory I Jesus” unless there is something to be victorious over?

This is the very reason we should “consider it pure joy” whenever we face trials (James 1:2). God believes in us and trusts us. Do we believe in him and trust him?

#Complaining, #Accusing, #Satan, #Problems, #Traps, #Angels, #Psalm, #Blaming, #Overcoming

1/15/17 ~ When Love Is Gone

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingIn the very first chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul reminds us that, with God, ignorance is not a defense (verses 18-32). The reason for that is the fact that ignorance of God is a willful choice. The evidence of our Creator and much of what is right or wrong is written for all to see and learn from in the world around us. Those simple facts bring God’s condemnation to those who do not search out and obey His will.

No, there’s nothing new in all that, it is simply the lesson that God has been teaching through His word since man and woman first chose sin over obedience. As hard a lesson as this is for us to accept there is one that’s, if possible, worse. Consider for a moment the horror of those that have once been faithful children of God who chose to turn their backs on Him:

When Love is Gone

Have you ever heard a song and realized that, in spite of the secular intent, there is a spiritual lesson that just demands attention? One such song was pointed out to me by a very dear brother in Christ many years ago. The lyrics to Have I Told You Lately That I Love You serve as a great lesson to God’s people about the relationship that God calls us to and Paul describes so often to congregations.

Another song with a great spiritual lesson is titled When Love is Gone. The song is sung by a young woman who has come to realize that the young man she’s become so close to and planned to marry has changed. He’s now far more interested in wealth and worldly things than he is in her. Even as she pours out her heartbreak, he is seemingly unaffected and will only realize what he has lost many years later.

There was a time when I was sure / That you and I were truly one,

That our future was forever / And would never come undone,

And we came so close to being close / And though you cared for me

There’s distance in your eyes tonight / So we’re not meant to be.

The love is gone, / The love is gone, / The sweetest dream

That you have ever known. / The love is gone, /The love is gone,

I wish you well / But I must leave you now alone.

There comes a moment in your life / Like a window, and you see

The future there before you / And how perfect life can be,

But adventure calls with unknown voices / Pulling you away

Be careful or you may regret / The choice you made someday

The song ends with…

It was almost love, / It was almost always,

It was like a fairytale we’d live out / You and I.

And yes some dreams come true, / And yes some dreams fall through

And yes the time has come / For us to say goodbye.

While it is sad to see those lost ones who do not listen to and obey God, it is in many ways even more poignant when those who once belonged to God turn away. Peter makes this very point in 2 Peter 2:17-22.

The spiritual version of this song plays out repeatedly in the Old Testament and leads to some heartbreaking passages in the New Testament. The early Christians in Acts, for the most part, struggled with threats from outsiders. But as the church continued to grow and spread, just when all seemed to be going so well, the false teachers and inside threats begin to flourish.

The Lord took longer for His final return than some expected. Continuing to live as a Christian became more hard work and less excitement than many wanted. And, what began with loving optimism and joy would deteriorate. Jesus warned about this very thing in Matthew 24:9-12: Then they will deliver you to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

Note carefully Jesus’ last comment there. Because people disobey God their love will grow cold. While we might take that as either their love for God or their love for others, the context actually suggests that Jesus is talking about their love for others will grow cold.

Consider what Jesus is talking about. When problems arise and Christians fall away from the family the ultimate problem, the ultimate cause of their sin is losing their real love.

Have you noted the anguish as Paul, at the close of his life writes of Demas that, because he loved this present world, he has deserted me? Love is gone. And, near the end of the first century, God writes to the Ephesian church and warns them that, even though they were still “going to church” and even doing many things right, their love is growing cold (Revelation 2:2-4).

What a heartbreaking diagnosis! Much like a person bleeding to death even as their heart frantically beats to try and continue circulating blood to keep them alive, death, when it comes, comes to the whole body.

For us, as Christians, we begin to appreciate the urgency as three New Testament writers all urge that we keep our love for one another strong and fervent (1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1 and 1 Peter 1:22).

James would bring the lesson to a pointed reminder as he tells us: My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).

Do we get the point? God, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ, never want to see us pulled away by another love. Be careful or you may regret, the choice you made someday.

Will your dreams of an eternal home come true? Or will they fall through? The choice is yours to make. Choose wisely. Choose well. Choose life and love with God and His family!

— Lester P. Bagley

#Love, #Falling, #Changing, #LostLove, #Sin, #ComingBack, #Church, #JesusChrist

1/8/17 ~ Whatever Became of Happily Ever After?

From the Preacher’s Pen… How’s your new year going? Have you broken all your resolutions yet? Or are you keeping them? Is it going to be a good year?

RacineBuildingAs we look back to the past year we often remember events to gauge whether it was a good year or bad. But how do we judge the future? Will this year be good or bad?

The ideal is for all the future to be good. But is that realistic? Can there really be a happily ever after or is that just a sign of not understanding reality? Okay, so let’s consider for a moment…

Whatever Became of Happily Ever After?

As Christians and human beings, we see death. Everyone on this earth has an appointment with death (Hebrews 9:27) and, short of being here at the moment of Jesus’ return, we will all keep that appointment one day.

A few weeks ago I asked my grandson Joshua if he liked a movie that he’d been to see. His reply was, “No, not really.” When I asked him why his answer was right to the point, “Because everyone died.”

The older I get the more I identify with his answer. Having seen a fair share of violent and tragic deaths, I find myself much fonder of happy endings.

When you’ve seen death and the situations that surround those violent and tragic ones you change. Today the response is typically labeled as PTSD. It is simply an acknowledgment that at some point we’ve all had more than we can take of such situations.

So, if you are stressed and over-stressed by unhappy endings what do you do about it? Some literally go crazy. Others joke or use some mechanism to maintain sanity and deal with the situation. However you deal with it, the point is to deflect the effect of unhappy endings.

Some of the most recommended and effective aids in coping are using a support system of others who have shared the stress, hard exercise and work, relaxation, humor, prayer and, above all, commitment to goals.

God realizes that we are limited in our capacity to deal with such things and provides help. When you go back and look at that list of aids to cope you will see that it is a description of the New Testament church.

God has not called us to do it on our own. Christ’s church, His body is made up of those sharing the failures, the stress, and the goals. We share our sins, struggles, and failures (James 5:16). Our challenge is to be committed to the hard work and goals of reaching out to others with the Good News (Matthew 28:19-20). We work, relax, live and share all things together as family. And that communicating with each other and with God is irreplaceable if we would really succeed.

Oh, and about that happily ever after part, just keep three things in mind:

First, for happily ever after to succeed, we need to go back to the innocence of childhood in order to successfully get to heaven. Two reminders from Jesus: And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Children are amazingly able to deal with things adults don’t handle. Don’t complicate with grown-up fears and failures what can be handled by simply doing what you are told by your Heavenly Father.

Second, we must realize just how great the promise of happily ever after really is! The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:16–17)

Family members have all the privileges and all the honor that belongs to God.

Third, God doesn’t promise to just give us a trophy or a certificate of completion, He is making us a part of His eternal family, with eternal bodies and all that implies: Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:50–53)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)

The trauma, the challenges, the difficulties of here and now are nothing compared to the eternal happily ever after of God. It’s not just a matter of facing challenges with help, it’s the promise that the goal, the end is worth the difficulties of the journey.

Jesus explains it like this: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)

Now is the time to lay down those worries and burdens. Now is the time to be a part of the family that helps with the here and now and looks forward God’s happily ever after.

— 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

12/4/16 ~Have I told you lately that I love you?

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingA few times each year we get together with family. If your family is like our family and spread half way around the world it may be less than that. If your family lives relatively close by it may be much more frequent. But it is always a joyful and precious time when we get together with loved ones!

Do we feel the same joy in coming together as God’s family? If we were to make one New Year resolution, could there be a better one than that we truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ?

The Apostle John reminds us of just how important that is:

“The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10)

“By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10)

In both cases, the word that John uses for “brother” is a word used for unity and love of relatives and those that are especially close to each other. The closeness of relationship is seen in the same word being used for twins.

Are we really the family twins in relationship with fellow Christians? Consider a bit further:

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

Many of us remember the words of the song by that title and most of us as Christians realize how the thoughts of a love song often reflect our love for each other and for our God. At least two Christian brothers that I know use this song title as a way of reflecting on the special bond we share as God’s children. Isn’t it a beautiful reflection on the family relationship we share in Jesus’ family?

Some have called God’s Word and especially the New Testament God’s love song to His people. Certainly, there is an element of truth to that. How many times in both Old and New Testaments do we see the tremendous love of God displayed to His people? How can anyone read some of Paul’s letters (or John’s, or Peter’s for that matter) and not see the deep love that he had for his brothers and sisters in Christ? “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (1 John 3:1a)

Just as we all find it important to take the time and make the “effort” to tell our husband, wife, children, grandchildren, etc. that we love them, it is also important, yea essential, that we also remember to tell our Christian family that we love them, too! After all, has not our heavenly father richly blessed us with such wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let’s make the extra effort this week to appreciate just how blessed we are! Oh, and how much do I love you all? Let me borrow the words of my brother Paul:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:3-11)

— Lester P. Bagley

 

Worship In a Nursing Home

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Some shuffle, some lean on walkers, some are pushed in wheel chairs.  Arthritis-laden legs bend, backs strain, and with the aid of shaking hands they sink down now into their chairs. Racing heartbeats ease to a slower pace.

After a little rest, some are given song books.  The others cannot see.  The first song is announced.  Quivering lips part, cracking voices begin, and heaven opens up. A chorus fit for the King of Glory rises through the ceiling of the little room, bursts into the universe, and swirls into the Divine Throne Room.  The voices of gallant warriors, torn and broken in body.  The voices of strong warriors, courageous to the very old-couplefinish.  The halting voices of conquerors boldly reaching for the crown.

A little later they hear the words, “We are gathered around this table to once again commemorate our Lord’s death.”  Once again.  Yes, once again as many times as it takes until the victory is reached….

Bent hands, stabbed still by throbbing arthritis and shaking with palsy, reach out to touch the first symbol.  The bread has already been broken for them.  Yet it is with determination that each forces their fingers to close around the little fragment representing that crucified Body.  Slowly, slowly it is taken up to the lips.  Some fingers fumble at this point, and the fragment drops into a lap.  The painful procedure is again repeated until completed.

Next the cup is brought.  Blood symbol.  Symbol of death and life.  The little glass is so small it could embarrassingly spill.  A kind friend picks it up and places it in the palm of the awaiting cupped hand.  It is still shaking.  So two hands are used ~ one folded under the first to steady it.  The drink successfully reaches the lips and its contents triumphantly sipped. Oh what glory!  To still be able to honor the dying Savior after all these years!  The emptied glass falls out of tottering hands.  It is caught by the tray.  But the mind has already started transcending this room to another far above.

“Each week we give our contribution to a worthy cause,” they hear explained.  Presently the collection tray is brought around.  Dimes, quarters and dollar bills are brought out of coin purses, shallow pockets, envelopes, Bible leaves.  Some are wadded in cold hands.  A faithful wife slips a dollar bill into the hand of her nearly paralyzed husband.  Ever so slowly coins and dollar bills are carefully placed into the tray.  Not much?  It will help a burned-out family in town.

The preacher now stands before the little assembly.  Many shift.  The seats are harder, circulation cramped, arthritis continues to distress aged joints.  He reads about being taken home to Glory some day.  Some watch him, some gaze at the floor.  He speaks of heaven. They begin to feel left behind.  They think of those they ache to see again.  It has been so long.  They’ve fought so many battles.  A few tears slip down as dew drops.  They dream of heaven in the morning.

The sermon over, the last prayer said, they begin to leave.  Slowly….  But it hadn’t always been that way.  In years past they had taken time out of busy weeks, gathered up their newly scrubbed children, and gone down the road to the church building.  They had sung heartily and kept their children still.  Afterward, they had bustled about from one group to another discussing crops or jobs, new recipes or styles, gospel meetings or new buildings.

That was an eternity away.  Now they await another eternity ~ it is much nearer.  Dreams have been formed and some dissolved.  Children born and some have died.  Homes built and some broken.  Bodies that once were strong and vigorous, minds that once were full of exciting daily activities, spirits that once were robust.

Now all are tired.  No, they never reached perfection.  Some are impatient still.  Some still cannot always tell the truth.  Some still pout.  Some occasionally lose tempers. All continue with faults.  But because of it all, they are most grateful for Jesus’ grace.  Despite failings, He sees them as victors through Him, and loves them now as at the beginning.

The room is nearly empty now.  They make their way down wandering halls to little rooms and resume their wait for the Mansions.  They sigh.  Battles of life have been met and fought. Mountains climbed. Desolations conquered.  So now it’s a matter of waiting and encouraging those left behind to do the best they, too, can do.  Tired.  Waiting.  But willing to go on until they touch the mark.  And then….  And then….

….they will start all over.  Only this time it will be different.  For this time there will be no pain, no foes, no failures, and never again will they grow old.

K. C. Haddad

10/9/16 ~ PSALM 25

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingMany of David’s Psalms are known to come from specific events in his life. But sometimes there is no known connection to any particular happening. While our ignorance sometimes bothers us, it is also a good reminder that occasionally God’s people just struggle with life in general and need to turn to God.

Sometimes we feel the burden of life and appreciate how desperately we truly need God’s help, His guidance and His forgiveness. That feeling is a good thing. It shows that we are keeping ourselves in tune with God and what is really important in this life if we would be children of the king.

So, for a moment, let’s turn to one of those psalms of the sweet singer of Israel and borrow his words to God:

Psalm 25

A prayer of David for deliverance, guidance, and forgiveness

In you, LORD my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, LORD, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.

For the sake of your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Who, then, are those who fear the LORD? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose. They will spend their days in prosperity, and their descendants will inherit the land. The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.

My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.

See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.

May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, LORD, is in you.

Yes, God knows our struggles and if we really want to be His obedient children He will help us. May we have the courage this week to turn to the Lord and seek His help. May we have the courage to accept His guidance that we might truly be refreshed by His forgiveness!

— Lester P. Bagley

08/14/16 ~ What Is Spirituality?

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(Excerpt from Worship the First-Century Way)

The Bible never uses the actual word spirituality.  The closest it comes is “spiritually” and “spiritual.” The word spirit is a translation of the Greek word pneuma which means breathing or blowing.  We know that people breathe by its results, but we cannot see breath.  We know that the wind blows by its results, but we cannot see the wind. 

Jesus explained it this way:  ” ‘…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water AND the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit….The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit’ ” (John 3:5-8).

Spirituality is the same.  We cannot see spirituality.  We know someone has it by the results.  Romans 8:6 says we should “be spiritually minded” (KJV).  So from this, we know that spirituality has to do with the mind.  What else does it have to do with? 

  • The written law of God (Romans 7:6, 14)
  • The gift of salvation (Romans 15:27 & Acts 10:36, 18)
  • Truth, mind of Christ, the Word of God (1 Corinthians 2:2:13-16,  John 17:17)
  • Food of God, the Word of God (1 Corinthians 3:1 & Hebrews 5:12-14)
  • Seed, the Word of God (1 Corinthians 9:11 & Matthew 13:19)
  • Drink of Christ, water of eternal life (1 Corinthians 10:3-4 & John 7:38)
  • Miraculous powers that confirmed the Word was really from God (1 Corinthians 12:1, 12; 14:37; John 20:30-31)’
  • Our heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:44-46)
  • Sinlessness (Galatians 5:19-6:1)
  • Salvation, the blessings of heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6-7)
  • Worship (Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16)
  • Satan’s forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12)
  • Knowledge of God’s will (Colossians 1:9)
  • People in the church (1 Pet. 2:5 & 1 Timothy 3:15)

In a nutshell, we see that spirituality is linked to the Word of God which is called the law of God, the mind of God, truth, knowledge of God’s will.  It was also the miracles that confirmed the Word of God.  Therefore, we cannot have spirituality out of our imaginations.  Spirituality comes from the Bible.

Spirituality is also linked to sinlessness, salvation, worship, the church.  Of course, we do not know what things are sin unless we check with the Bible.  We do not know how to be saved unless we check with the Bible.  We do not know if we are in the church unless we check with the Bible

There is no scripture listed above regarding spirituality that is an emotion.  It all deals with the Word of God, the Logos.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).  The term “word” is from the Greek logos from which we get another word, logic.

What many people today define as “spirituality” is an emotionalism akin to someone on a drug “high.”  Interestingly, the sin of sorcery condemned by God comes from the Greek word pharmakeia from whence our word for pharmacy or drugs.  It is a sin to act like we are on a drug high in the name of Jehovah God.  It is frightful, it is confusing, it is non-productive, and it is wrong (Revelation 21:8; 22:15).

Spirituality, then, is not emotionalism.  Spirituality also is not what comes out of our imaginations.  Spirituality is knowing and following the Word of God.

There is a parallel to understanding spirituality with understanding fasting.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

In an era when fasting was practiced frequently (we modern Christians miss a blessing by not fasting), Jesus said people were going out of their way to look the part of holy people so others would admire them.  Today, in our worship services, especially where it comes to emotionalism, we are trying to look the part of holy people.

An unknown poet said,

  • Let us keep our fast within,
  • Till heaven and we are quite alone;
  • Then let the grief, the shame, the sin,
  • Before the mercy-seat be thrown.

Fasting is an act of self-restraint.  It belongs to the sphere of self-discipline.  It is strictly a personal and private matter.  What is public is the results of fasting, the results of self-discipline.  But we cannot show the actual process of self-discipline.  In fact, we would spoil the process by attempting to show it, like wearing a “humble” button.

Just as a plant must begin its growth in the darkness of the soil, we begin our spiritual growth in the darkness of our own inner thoughts and prayer to God.  And just as we can never safely expose the roots of a plant, we can never show the exact process by which we develop and protect our own spiritual roots.  All moral and bodily restraint, all humbleness of body and spirit are represented by fasting, and it is a complete failure of self-restraint to want to show others our self-restraint.

It is the same with spirituality.  Spirituality (salvation) comes from reading the Mind of God, the Word of God (Romans 10:1-3, 17).  No one else can absorb the Mind of God, the Word of God into our minds for us.  We have to do it for ourselves.  It is a personal thing.  A private thing.  Developing faith from it all is something that cannot really be expressed in words.  It happens within our own minds.  Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) says Faith is the EVIDENCE of things hoped for.  And faith that comes from the Word of God and then following it leads to salvation (Romans 10:3, 17).

We should be grateful that salvation does not rely on emotions.  If it did, we’d be very confused about our salvation.  David understood the tug-of-war that occurs between emotions and logic.  Look at Psalm 42 where he struggled with his faith.

Here David begins a debate between his emotions (his soul) and his logic.  Let’s look in on the drama as David has a talk with himself:

SCENE:            His soul is panting for God, thirsting for God, trying to meet with God.  He’s been crying day and night asking where God is.

EMOTIONS:      Where is your God?  Remember how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng?

LOGIC:             Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

EMOTIONS:      My soul is downcast within me.

LOGIC:             Therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan….

EMOTIONS:      Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

LOGIC:             By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me ~ a prayer to the God of my life.

EMOTIONS:      I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?  Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”  My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

LOGIC:             Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Isn’t it wonderful that our salvation doesn’t depend on how spiritual we feel?  If it did, we’d be in and out of salvation, depending on how we felt.  I have known people who did gauge their salvation by their emotions

They’d say something like, “I cried and cried all one day because of my sins and asked God to forgive me.  Then I felt such release, and knew I was now saved.”  Then they’d say a few years later, “I thought I was saved, but I wasn’t really. This time, I cried and cried for several days because of my sins and asked God to forgive me.  Then I felt so good that this time, I knew he’d saved me.”

Then a few years later the rise in emotions would happen again, only this time, more intensely.  On and on the cycle went for them.  Thinking they knew for sure they were saved, then wondering, then doubting, then in hopelessness once again

Salvation does not depend on our emotions.  Salvation depends on what we logically believe about what Jesus did for us.  Are remorse, love. and gratitude involved in our salvation?  Of course.  Many emotions are involved.  But they are the result of our logically reading God’s word, and then logically accepting it and following it.

Remember, Romans 10:1-2 says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their ZEAL IS NOT BASED ON KNOWLEDGE.”

Why are we given the spiritual gift of salvation?  There is more than one reason.  The obvious one is so we can go to heaven.  But there is another reason.  Ephesians 2:8-10 explains, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God ~ not by works so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, CREATED in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Spirituality and Touching Jesus

 The Spirit cannot be seen any more than breath or wind can be seen.  But the results of breath and wind can be seen.  So too, spirituality cannot be seen.  Only the results of spirituality can be seen.  The results are in our attitudes and deeds

For instance, Galatians 5:22-25 explains clearly, “But the fruit [result] of the Spirit [spirituality] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Furthermore, James, the brother of Jesus said, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘God, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

Do we want to touch Jesus?  Jesus told us how.  ” ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ ” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

Therefore, everything In this book about applying God’s Word in worship and in service is spirituality.

Do we want to touch Jesus?  Every time the announcements are made and someone responds, “I’ll take some food over to them on Monday,” that is spirituality

Do we want to touch Jesus?  Every time we enter into prayer together after getting into each other’s hearts and lives and asking them, “What do you need prayer for?” that is spirituality.

Do we want to touch Jesus?  Every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper and compare our imperfection and being deserving of death and hell with Jesus’ perfection and taking our punishment for us, as explained in God’s Word, that is spirituality

Do we want to touch Jesus?  Every time we give money to help support evangelism, purchase Bibles, send food to the needy, that is spirituality.

Do we want to touch Jesus?  Every time we sing praises to God in faltering voices but from deep within our soul, playing on the strings of our heart, that is spirituality.

Do we want to touch Jesus?  Every time we read the Bible in order to know the Mind of God, so we can live the way he wants us to rather than what our imaginations think he wants, that is spirituality.

All we need to feel spiritual and special is to know God loves us.  No matter how many times we sin, he loves us.  No matter how many times we fall, God loves us

  • We are not special to God because of how good we are, but because how good God is.
  • Not because of anything we are, but because of who God is.
  • We’re not special because we are so loving, but because God is love.
  • Not because we are so full of life, but because God is life.
  • Not because we’re so intelligent and spiritual, but because God is.

If we want to speak in a special language, let us speak in the language of love.

Spirituality is sitting with a friend and telling them God loves them when they’re good and bad, and will help them overcome the bad.

Spirituality is going with a friend who wants to join a self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous.  It’s telling them how much God will help them.  Then proving it with scriptures.

Spirituality is going to an enemy gossiping against you and saying God loves you both, and there’s nothing they can say or do to get you to stop loving them!

That’s spirituality!

That’s high!