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

1/8/17 ~ 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

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

7/3/16 ~ False Prosperity of the Wicked

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingWe always enjoy getting away, going somewhere else for a change. And yet, once we are gone we begin to realize what we’ve left behind. We miss and long for being back home. Hopefully, we retain that same attitude in our spiritual lives and always remember, always long to be back home with our Heavenly Father!

We always enjoy getting away, going somewhere else for a change. And yet, once we are gone we begin to realize what we’ve left behind. We miss and long for being back home. Hopefully, we retain that same attitude in our spiritual lives and always remember, always long to be back home with our Heavenly Father!

Consider how the Psalmist reflected on that same lesson:

False Prosperity of the Wicked

This life is full of challenges to the children of God and one of those challenges is the seeming prosperity of the ungodly. Does it not seem tempting many times to give up following God? It is especially tempting when we look around us and see the seeming blessings that they have.

If you have felt this challenge, don’t be ashamed, for many of God’s people before you have noticed it, too. In fact, David wrote about this very subject in Psalm 73. Let’s see what he learned (this is from the NIV 2011 translation):

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” This is what the wicked are like — always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.

Do you feel that pain? It is real. Just look around you and see how much better off the wicked seem to be… but be careful, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.

Don’t give up! Don’t give in! Don’t betray all your faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. Look closer!

When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Remember who is really God and how He controls not only the here and now but the eternal destiny of us all. And remember where you belong:

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward,  you will take me into glory.

Never forget the God who loved you so much that He gave Himself in the form of Jesus to die for you. Never forget the eternal home Jesus left this earth to prepare (John 14:1-4).

Who have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

Whatever you do, don’t give in to the temptation to be like the world! Remember who really cares for you and blesses you and promises you all the greatest things that your Heavenly Father has to offer.

But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Live calmly, confidently in Him this week… and share the Good News of the Savior with others!

— Lester P. Bagley

06/05/16 ~ Habakkuk

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingNew Year’s resolutions… remember them? Many times they don’t last past January. Sometimes we try to revive them in mid-year and other times we just save them for next year.

Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Remember that resolve and determination to live a faithful life and how you wanted to share the Good News with everyone? Isn’t it even more important to revive and renew that zeal, that resolution?

One of my favorite prophets is Habakkuk. His weakness and failure to understand God’s plan and purpose is something I can identify with. His faith in the face of such fear and doubt is an incredible lesson that we can all aspire to!

Habakkuk

No one living in Habakkuk’s day can remember a time when Judah had known and obeyed the Lord’s commands. Josiah becomes king at the age of eight and at 16 begins to seek the Lord. At 20 years of age, he purges idolatry from Jerusalem and during the repairs on the Temple Hilkiah, the priest, discovers a copy of the Book of the Law. When Shaphan the scribe reads the book that has been lost during the reign of a series of wicked kings, he hurries to Josiah with the news (2 Kings 22:10). Josiah is aghast at what they have done and humbles himself, prays for mercy and promises to both keep God’s commands and to publish them throughout the land. As the people hear God’s word, and the Feast of Passover is re-instituted, the King leads all Judah in a revival to obey the Lord.

In the midst of this revival, Habakkuk becomes aware of how superficial this religious reform is to the hearts and minds of most worshipers. Simply knowing God’s will and word does not produce holiness. More than outward reform is needed as many twist and pervert God’s word to suit what they want to do. Some even do violence to those who do try to truly obey. Sound like a familiar story? Is it perhaps just a little too like our world today?

As Habakkuk writes his book it certainly seems that God’s people have learned nothing from their own history. The Assyrians destroyed the northern tribes of Israel so long ago that the lesson is now forgotten. It seems like peace and prosperity will continue forever in the land. Far too many people believe that God really doesn’t mean what He says and will allow His people to go on sinning. Revival is just for those old fashioned few. But God Himself counsels, “Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

God always sees through the superficial people in any revival and reveals to Habakkuk just what the future holds: the cost of great sin is great punishment! So terrible is the judgment God explains to the prophet that he is shocked by the revelation. Habakkuk will soon see with his own eyes the wicked nations swallowing up his people.

As Habakkuk seeks solitude he wonders how God can allow such wicked people to destroy His own even in their sin and prays for true revival and for God’s mercy: “Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

Living by faith is the true revival; the true return to what God wants us to do. God has declared that His righteous will be preserved in the day of trouble because they depend on Him. And God will always remain the final judge, dealing out certain retribution on all the ungodly such that all the earth will be silent before Him. As Habakkuk’s prayer continues, he accepts God’s will, “I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us.”

And then he reveals to us what true faith and true revival really mean: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:16-18)

May God grant such faith to us! May the Lord renew in us the love, devotion and faithfulness that we need. May the Lord grant us the true joy that comes in faithfully serving Him. May we let it show in and lead our lives that we might boldly declare with Habakkuk, “The Lord God is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:19)

— Lester P. Bagley

. ,