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

 

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9/17/17 ~ Warrior Songs

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingAs the Apostle John tells of his vision of the new, eternal, holy city (Revelation 21), he specifies not only those that will be there (verse 7) but also those that will be excluded (verse 8). In that list of exclusions, God places the cowardly at the top of the list.

Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher that was born in 535 BC and died in 475 BC. During his lifetime Ephesus was part of the Persian Empire, but events were building up to the expulsion of the Persians. Five years before his death, 300 Spartans become the symbol of courage against overwhelming odds in the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). Their sacrifice would contribute greatly to the road to freedom for the Greek nation.

There’s a military quote attributed to Heraclitus that is well appreciated for its accuracy:

  • Of every 100 men, 10 shouldn’t even be there, 80 are nothing but targets,
  • 9 are real fighters and we are lucky to have them for they make the battle.
  • Ah but the one, one of them is a warrior…
  • and he will bring the others back.

The observation is true not only in the physical world but also in the spiritual one. So it is fair to ask: Are you a coward or a warrior when it comes to serving Jesus Christ? Consider God’s lesson of…

The Warrior Songs

Over the centuries many cultures were famed for their great warriors, and one of the great tributes to those heroes were songs. Songs of their fame. Songs of their great deeds. Songs of their immense courage. Songs of their sacrifice and death. Heroes are not born, you see, but they are motivated and trained.

It should come as no surprise to us that God calls His people to such a great challenge. The Apostle Paul reminds us,

  • Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
  • Put on the full armor of God,
  • so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
  • 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.
  • Therefore, take up the full armor of God,
  • so that you will be able to resist in the evil day,
  • and having done everything, to stand firm.
  • (Ephesians 6:10-13)

The fact is, once sin came into the world, this has always been an important part of God’s message to His people. After 40 years of working under the leadership of Moses God challenged him to encourage Joshua to do the job he would soon take over. And when Joshua begins the job the first thing God calls on the elders and all the nation to do is to encourage Joshua to the work he is called to do.

Throughout the years of the Judges, there were many songs to commemorate and praise the strong men and women who faithfully followed God. But perhaps David, the Sweet Singer of Israel, would set the tone for the warrior songs of God’s people for all time.

Psalm 18 begins with this ancient attribution: For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said…

David goes on to sing the song of His Lord and God as the great warrior, the great victor in saving David from all harm. What a beautiful reminder of what his son, Solomon would observe years later that victory belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31).

One of the great Messianic Psalms (Psalm 91) is often referred to as the Warrior Psalm or as the song of comfort to military families. Again the reminder comes that God is the great deliverer and reason for our victory. Satan would apply the promise of God’s angels guarding God’s warriors to Jesus as a challenge to throw Himself from the Temple (see Psalm 91:11-13 and Matthew 4:5-6). Is there any greater comfort for “Soldiers of Christ” than to realize how God controls every single detail to protect and bring victory to His people, His warriors?

Years after David died his son Solomon would sing a warrior’s song of a victorious reminder that

  • Unless the Lord builds the house,
  • They labor in vain who build it;
  • Unless the Lord guards the city, 
  • The watchman keeps awake in vain
  • (Psalm 127:1).

Yet it would be David himself, perhaps the greatest warrior of God’s people, that would sing what is often thought of as the ultimate song of all God’s warriors:

  • Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
  • Who trains my hands for war,
  • And my fingers for battle
  • (Psalm 144:1).

He would go on to praise the God of salvation who brings not only deliverance from the dangers of battle but the ultimate joy, peace, safety and blessing for the victor. And David’s ultimate conclusion in verse 15 would be:

How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!

Let’s return to Paul’s application of this lesson for us in Ephesians 6. Preparation, conditioning, training are the vital things a warrior does to get ready. If we lack the time to be in the study of God’s word and in prayer to prepare us for the fight we will never win. And no warrior ever imagines for a single moment that they are perfectly prepared. That training goes on every moment you are not actually in combat. The goal is to develop that keen edge of readiness to instantly do the right thing when the time comes.

How serious is the battle that we face? It is literally deadlier than any flesh and blood battle ever fought! Our enemy is Satan himself with all his spiritual powers. Without God’s own help, without His full armor, we cannot face the murderous attacks of the evil one. But with His help, with God’s own Spirit within us, we can truly accomplish all things.

In the end, that’s exactly what saints really are: the most magnificent, well trained, confident, deadly warriors that fight the good fight of faith and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12)! This is our calling! And this is the very purpose of our “good confession” as we put on our Christ.

This is our life in Christ! As we serve, as we live for Him, as we destroy the power of Satan in the lives of those we turn to the Lord we join the chorus of those who sing the warrior songs.

And one day we will complete the good fight. We will finish the course. We will have kept the faith and be ready for the crown (2 Timothy 4:7-8)., the crown that is reserved for us all as victorious Soldiers of Christ. And then we sing, not the warrior’s song of fighting the good fight, but the eternal song of victory in Heaven.

  • I have fought the good fight,
  • I have finished the race,
  • I have kept the faith.  
  • From now on there is reserved for me
  • the crown of righteousness,
  • which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day,
  • and not only to me but also to
  • all who have longed for his appearing.

Without the warrior’s song, there is no victor’s song. So, are you ready to sing the warrior’s song with God’s people that you might also join in the victor’s song one day?

— Lester P. Bagley

8/5/17 ~ Persistent or Weary

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHow are you doing as a saint? How are you doing in truly honoring God with your life, with your worship, with your service?

Those are hard questions, aren’t they? They make us stop and consider. And sometimes they make us want to just give up.

God understands that and His understanding explains why so many of His words to us are all about encouragement. That explains why there are so many lessons on faithfulness and endurance. So let’s ask ourselves the question: Are you…

Persistent or Weary?

Like most people, I get tired of doing some things over and over again. Mowing the lawn (especially in the summer) makes me weary.  Do you find that washing the same dishes you washed yesterday (or even five minutes ago sometimes) makes you weary? Parents, does picking up after your children ever make you weary? I guess most of us can identify with the problem, can’t we?

When we get tired of some things we find it easier to just quit doing it. Unfortunately, that makes many things worse, doesn’t it? If you think the lawn is hard to mow after two weeks in summer, try letting it go for six weeks. If you think that mountain of dirty dishes looks daunting after only two days, what would it be like after a week? We all get the point: in so many things in life, persistence pays off in the long run.

In the business world, successful sales people are those who keep going back, those who are persistent. Check out some intriguing statistics: 48 percent of the sales people quit after only one call; 25 percent quit after two calls; 15 percent quit after three calls.

Together, these three groups account for 88 percent of the sales force and 20 percent of the business. (You can see the point coming, can’t you?) That’s right, the remaining 12 percent of the sales people keep on calling, and as a result, these do 80 percent of the business!

Generally, in the church these same statistics hold true. Some 10 to 12 percent of a congregation does 80 percent of the giving, the personal work, the teaching, the outreach, etc.

Look around you, see the vacant seat where just last week (month, year, or whatever is appropriate) someone was sitting. Today it’s vacant because they got tired, weary of doing the right thing for God. That’s sad. Sadder still is the fact that many of them will be content to remain unfaithful until the judgment day and then try to beg, lie, cheat or cry their way into heaven. And we know, as they do in their hearts, that will not work.

So, what do we do? Let’s face it:  Isn’t faithful Christian living a lot of weary work? Well, yes and no. Ask the successful salesman if that first, or second or third call isn’t a waste of time. What you will hear is something like this: “Every “No!” answer I get just means that I’m that much closer to the” Yes!” that is a sale. And this job is all about every “Yes” not every “No”.

Are you, as a Christian, as bright as a salesman? Listen to what your Savior had to say about that weary feeling we all sometimes get:

Come to Me,

all who are weary

and heavy-laden, and

I will give you rest.

(Matthew 11:28)

Hear the preacher of Hebrews challenge us to…

Consider Him [Jesus] who has endured

such hostility by sinners against Himself,

so that you may not grow weary

and lose heart

(Hebrews 12:3).

Listen to the encouraging things Paul had to say to you:

And let us not lose heart in doing good,

for in due time, we shall reap

if we do not grow weary.

(Galatians 6:9).

Which kind of Christian are you determined to be: the shirker or the worker?

We are blessed with many rich opportunities to serve, to tell our friends and neighbors about the Savior and show our love for Him who died for us. Things like worship and Bible studies are not there to fill up or waste our time. They are opportunities to praise, honor and serve our God, opportunities to show Him our thankfulness and opportunities to enjoy the encouraging time together with His family.

So come!  Let us have a congregation that’s 100 percent workers and see what 600 percent success for the Lord looks like!

But as for you, brethren,

do not grow weary

of doing good

(2 Thessalonians 3:13).

— Lester P. Bagley

7/9/17 ~ Bless the Lord

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHave you ever noticed how some songs just seem to apply to living as a child of God? Sure they may have originally been intended for a totally different audience but when you really consider the words they just seem to fit God’s family.One such song from the 1960s goes like this:

It’s such a pretty world today, look at the sunshine. 
And every day’s the same since I met you.
It’s such a pretty world today knowing that you’re mine
And happiness is being close to you.

Do you see what I mean? Wouldn’t David, the “sweet singer of Israel” have loved the thought?

When words, thoughts, ideas cause us to focus on God and recall both who He is and what He has done for us they ought to cause us to…

Bless the Lord

To many of us today the idea of blessing God may sound a little odd. We normally think of blessing as something that God does for us and not the other way around. However, the Scriptures provide some very certain statements about us blessing God, so let’s do a bit of study.

The Hebrew word most often translated “bless” is barak, literally meaning to kneel as for praise or prayer and thus to thank, bless, salute or wish well to. This word is used over 330 times in the Old Testament and is translated 315 times in the NASB as some form of “bless.” A good example is Psalm 103 where it occurs six times.

The first thing you may notice is that not all translations have the term “bless the Lord.” The NIV generally translates this as “praise” rather than bless. As you can see from the above definition, the meaning carried by this word is really a bit more than saying something nice about God. Let’s read Psalm 103 and see if we can get a better grasp of the idea:

Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities; Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit;
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The Lord performs righteous deeds And judgments for all who are oppressed.

He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more;
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
The lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, To those who keep His covenant,
And who remember His precepts to do them.

The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the Lord, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word! Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Do you see the richness and beauty of what David is exclaiming in praise of God? We could never simply say “that’s nice” to the one who forgives our sins, heals our diseases, showers us with blessings and, above all else, saves us. When we study our Bibles, we come to realize that the God who created everything and guided all of history is the very one who loved us (you and me) so much that He sent His own Son to die for us. Wow!

Have you ever stopped and just looked up? Past the clouds, past the sun, past the stars, past all that we can see is still not as big as God’s love for us! And the everlasting love of God remains forever upon those who love and obey Him.

Yes, it is a pretty world today and every day when we know and serve God! And happiness, real joy, is found only in being close to Him.

Doesn’t that make you, like David, want to call out to all of creation to shower God with praise? Do you know who God is and what He has done for you? Do you belong to Him, obeying His words and serving Him? Then let’s join in lifting our voices, our very lives to praise, to thank, to salute, to bless the Lord!

— Lester P. Bagley

7/2/17 ~ Lord of Open Doors

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHave you ever noticed how often people see things differently? One person sees a bee as precious as it pollinates flowers and makes honey while another person sees a terrifying monster with no purpose other than stinging and harming people.

How do you see God? Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves about the…

Lord of Open Doors

Does your god restrict your life? Do you have a god that cramps your style? Is your god the god of “Thou shalt not’s”? That’s the kind of god many people see, one who always says “No” to anything fun, interesting or exciting. There are some very definite things God requires of us, but if the restrictive, negative and downright meanness of God is your view of Him, then you don’t really know Him. If that is how God looks to you, then you need to meet the real God, the one who is Lord of Open Doors.

Of all the doors most restrictive in life, the prison door must rank as one of the harshest. And of prison doors, the worst would have to be the one that slams shut on an innocent man or woman. Three times in the book of Acts we see innocent people imprisoned and find God opening literal prison doors.

First, in Acts 5:17ff we find the apostles thrown into prison by a jealous high priest and his associates, but God sends an angel to bring them out. Second, in Acts 12:6ff we see Herod murdering James the brother of John and arresting Peter to please the Jews. Again God intervenes and escorts Peter from his cell. And third, in Acts 16:26ff Paul and Silas are beaten and chained in the inner prison of Philippi. But Roman prisons are no more a match for God than those of Herod or the Jewish high priest.

Most of us would be greatly embarrassed to go to a friend’s house and have the door shut in our face. Even more embarrassing would be arriving at the door or gates of heaven and being shut out. Once again, the real God is concerned about those who belong to Him. Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) Does that sound like the Lord of Open Doors is someone who would restrict your life, cramp your style and cover you with “Thou shalt not’s”?

Listen to how God is described to the Christians of Philadelphia: “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.’” (Revelation 3:7b-8) That’s the real God helping faithful Christians.

Wait a minute, I’m not Super-Saint. I’ve made mistakes. What does the Lord of Open Doors have to do with me? If you are into do-it-yourself heart or brain surgery, your mistakes may be fatal. But for Christians the mistakes we make, even when we really mess up our lives, need not be fatal. God still loves and cares and wants to open doors for you, too. Notice what Jesus says to the “you’ve really blown it now” Christians of Laodicea: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20) No matter what you’ve done, if you will allow God to do so, He’ll open doors for you.

If you are a Christian, even one who has totally failed, your God wants to be the Lord of Open Doors to you. If you’re not a Christian, boy does God ever have a gift for you! Isn’t it time that you got to know (or better know) the Lord of Open Doors? Sit down someplace away from everyone else for a few minutes and read Paul’s description of the real God who opened doors for him and who promises to do so for you!

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)

Doesn’t that sound like the God you want to know? Don’t miss out. Be an active part of Him and His family this week!

— Lester P. Bagley

6/4/17 ~ Boldness

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuilding“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” (Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh)

Those are touching and thoughtful words from a Disney classic but there is also a spiritual lesson worth remembering: God’s people are braver and stronger than anyone that does not belong to God… and if we keep this in mind we will certainly be smarter than those outside of Christ!

Boldness

Should we as Christians be bold or humble? I’m not sure why this puzzles some Christians because the correct answer according to God’s word is both!

Unfortunately, we sometimes equate humility with weakness. While we understand that Jesus was meek and humble we also know that He was never weak, He never watered down the truth, never failed to stand up for what was right, never failed to speak the truth.

Now certainly we can be boldly wrong. There are several ways that we can be aggressive, brazen or presumptuous as the negative or wrong way to behave. But that should never deter us from what is essential as a holy boldness that God demands of His people.

The Greek word used in the New Testament for this positive, confidence is based on what is right or holy boldness is parrēsia. To appreciate the importance and God’s lesson for this attitude, let’s look at how the Holy Spirit uses the term.

On the day of Pentecost Peter announced that he could boldly (or confidently in many translations and freely in the KJV) state that David died and was buried (Acts 2:29). Peter could assert this without fear of being wrong and even reminds the audience that David’s tomb is still there to see for proof.

As the early church continued to grow that confidence or boldness was seen as both a sign of knowing Jesus (Acts 4:13) and something worth praying for that they might continue to exhibit it (Acts 4:29). When challenging events threatened the saints their prayers were answered by the Holy Spirit filling them with yet more holy boldness (Acts 4:31).

As years passed the Apostle Paul would find himself imprisoned in Rome and yet still teaching and preaching with boldness and confidence (Acts 28:31).
In each case the word used is parrēsia, that holy boldness that belongs to those who speak for and serve the Lord!

As the church grew and spread the New Testament writers continued to use this term to encourage and challenge them.

To the Corinthians Paul reminds Christians of their great holy boldness in speaking God’s word. We, unlike Moses with the fading glory of God, continue to use God’s boldness in what we say (2 Corinthians 3:12). Later Paul would speak of boldness in his fellow saints as they serve the Lord together (2 Corinthians 7:4).

The Ephesians were reminded that our holy boldness and confidence is through faith in and gives us access to our God (Ephesians 3:12). Later Paul asks for prayers on his behalf that he might continue to preach the gospel with that same holy boldness (Ephesians 6:19 and a similar request to other Christians in Philippians 1:20).

Paul, in writing to Timothy about those that served well as deacons, says they gain great boldness in the faith (1 Timothy 3:13). And so great was Paul’s boldness that he could have even ordered Philemon to do what is right (Philemon 8).

The Hebrew writer repeatedly challenges Christians to hold on to their holy boldness (Hebrews 3:6) and use it to draw near to the throne of grace for our needed help (Hebrew 4:16). It is that very boldness that allows us to enter the holy place through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19) and we cannot afford to throw it away with our reward (Hebrews 10:35).

Likewise, the Apostle John calls us to live in Christ now that we might have that holy boldness to welcome His return (1 John 2:28; 3:21; 4:17). It is the secret ingredient that brings us a resplendent “Yes” answer to our prayers and requests of our Heavenly Father (1 John 5:14).

Certainly, we need to always be humble as God’s ambassadors to a world that is lost in sin. At the same time, we must remember who we are in God’s eyes and boldly serve Him and share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are, after all, those who are entrusted with the power (check out some of Paul’s great lessons about that!) and grace of Almighty God.
Do we perhaps fail to serve God as we should because we mistakenly leave out our holy boldness? Never forget that your Savior gave His life for you to cleanse you from your sins. This is personal! This is His love, His gift and we must never hide it, never be ashamed of it, never fail to boldly go forth to serve our God and King!

— Lester P. Bagley

3/26/17 ~ Faith in Desperate Times

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuilding     Have you ever had a hard time? Have you ever felt like just giving up? I would dare to say that most of us could answer “Yes” to those questions and probably more than just once or twice in our lives!
     God’s people are not immune to challenges to their faith and this has been true since God first put mankind on this earth.
     Psalm 42 marks the beginning of a section of Psalms of Korah and family. Korah was a Levitical musician placed in charge of temple worship by David and Solomon so these Psalms are intended to focus on worship. That idea might surprise us as it’s easy to imagine that true worship only comes from people without worries or problems.
In reality, true worship comes from real people with real struggles that are working through real difficulties toward being faithful to God. In other words, just like us!
     Consider the words of Psalm 42. Yes, we sing some of them in a song. And yes, they teach a beautiful lesson about longing for God. But when we look deeper we see just how real and how difficult that struggle is. And we also see what real faith really is!

Faith in Desperate Times

     Psalm 42 begins with the beautiful thought: As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. Yes, we long for God (or certainly should!) above all else. But just how serious, how desperate is that struggle?
     Consider the next two verses: My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
     When we are truly at the end of our own solutions, in the depths of despair and struggles in this life, we begin to question God. Where are You? When are You really going to take control and show us the way?
     As things seem to continually go wrong it is easy to find ourselves remembering those times when we seemed faithful and strong and all seemed to be going well: These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
     What’s wrong with me? We seem to question everything, ourselves and even our God! Why do I doubt? Will I ever be strong again? Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence. O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
     Yes, I remember, God IS in control! He will be with me! I will talk to my Heavenly Father and tell Him of my struggles: The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.
     Yet almost as we begin to remind ourselves we find the doubt creeping in again. When we desperately want to be strong we find ourselves struggling yet again with doubt. Alas, everyone is against us and there is no reason for hope: I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
     As we fight this ongoing battle we need to always remember where our hope truly is. To struggle with our faith in desperate times is not a sin, it is truly a part of being human. Faith, real living faith, the kind that brings hope and salvation is faith that keeps on keeping on. Faith, real faith keeps looking back to God. As the Psalmist concludes his struggling reminder, Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.
     When things are going wrong, when we are in despair, when we begin to question God and everything around us it is time to question despair. It is time to remind ourselves that our God is in control and that He will continue to be our help, our hope. Above all else, in times when our faith is struggling the most, it is time to look to God and hold on to our hope in Him.
     Like our Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane, in desperate times it is the most important time to stand by our God and accept that He will do all things to bless and further His will. In hard times it is time to long for God as though our very lives depend on Him… because they do!

— Lester P. Bagley

3/12/17 ~ In Memory

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

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

In Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

#Memory, #memorial, #grave, #death, #Communion, #HolyCommunion, #Lord’s Supper, #Sunday, #crucifixion, #resurrection

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

2/19/17 – FORGOTTEN

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingThis past week the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team reported for spring training. If you are a real baseball fan spring training is the time of year that all those ridiculous winter sports (you know, things like football and basketball) are over and may be safely forgotten for another year!

If baseball fans have good reason to be thankful, how much more so do we as Christians have reason to be grateful for all that our God has done for us? We are not just spectators but literally chosen by our God to serve Him on this earth as His “royal priesthood!”

As those who are recipients of God’s many rich blessings, we need to remember two very important things. First, the cost of remaking us into the Holy Ones that God needs us to be: the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God. And second, the reason that sacrifice was necessary was not because we are so wonderful but because we were so desperately in need of forgiveness.

Let’s remember just how great that gift from God truly is.

Forgotten

It was July 19 in the year 2000 and, as any summer in the US should include, there was a baseball game. In particular, there was a scheduled game for the Florida Marlins to host the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta’s newly acquired pitcher Andy Ashby was looking to show his new team what he could do for them. At the same time, Brad Penny was the rookie starting pitcher for Florida and he likewise looked forward to displaying his skills for his teammates.

The game was not really very good, certainly not destined to be memorable for the pitchers, both of whom lasted less than four innings with neither (as you might imagine) pitching very well. By the middle of the fifth inning, the score was tied six to six, not from good batting but rather from poor defense on the part of both teams.

Suddenly, rain poured down on the field and, as it continued, the game was called and everyone went home soaking wet.

The rules that major league baseball is played by state that if there is no clear winner by the end of the fifth inning and the game is canceled, all the statistics are blotted out. It is just as if no game had ever been played. The fielders had no record kept of any errors and the starting pitchers had their slates for the day likewise wiped clean. Today, if you look up the records of any of those individuals, their bad plays, errors, mistakes and every blunder of that day is gone. It simply does not exist!

For us as Christians, there is a similar official rule from God. When we repent, our sin is blotted out of God’s memory. It is as though it never happened! God reminded His people through the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah that, “I even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins!” (Isaiah 43:25) “… for I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34). The writer of Hebrews tells us that the prophecy God made through those men was directed at us on this side of the Cross (Hebrews 8:12 & 10:17).

Do we realize, do we appreciate just how great a gift God has given to us? The bumbling errors, the mistakes, the blunders, the bad plays and wrong decisions are the very thing that the blood of Christ, like that rainstorm, simply washed away from God’s sight and memory.

How sad it would be if such love, such forgiveness should be forgotten by us, made as though it had never happened. That same writer of Hebrews also goes on to remind us that “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for [our] sins” (Hebrews 10:26).

For us, the decision is a conscious one made by God to forgive and by us to accept that forgiveness. He made that choice to forgive and forget your sins when He allowed His own Son to die for those sins. Have you made that choice to accept Him and His forgiveness?

If not, why not? Why not let it all be gone? And if you already have, do you live like it? Are we grateful enough to live for Him who died for us? We all have the opportunity (not to mention the command from our God Himself!) to share this Good News. Are we grateful enough to share what He’s done for us and what He can do for others?

Let’s live and encourage each other to live as thankful brothers and sisters in Christ this week!

— Lester P. Bagley