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

2/4/17 ~ A Really Cheap Sacrifice

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingWithout a doubt keeping ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ faithful is hard. It is the most difficult task of our earthly lives and the most important.

Without a doubt keeping ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ faithful is hard. It is the most difficult task of our earthly lives and the most important.

Without a doubt keeping ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ faithful is hard. It is the most difficult task of our earthly lives and the most important.

Over the years I’ve struggled with keeping my focus in worship. It’s just so easy to become distracted by a million others things.

Over the years I’ve watched countless fellow Christians do the same thing. A parent becomes distracted by their children and finds it hard to refocus. We can’t be bothered to open our Bibles and follow the lesson. A teenager so engrossed in whispering to their friends that worship to God becomes unimportant. A young adult more interested in their phone than in God. An elderly person worrying more about lunch burning than in the worship of God.

You get the picture. And, if you are honest with yourself and your God, you realize that it is a flaw we all have and that we desperately need to fix. Consider for a moment the sin of…

A Cheap Sacrifice

Pssst! Hey, buddy! You want to buy a really cheap sacrifice? I mean, you can really save time and money here! And the best part is, God will never know the difference!

Very near the end of Old Testament inspired writings the prophet Malachi rebuked God’s people for robbing God in their offerings. Cheating God with cheap sacrifices was just the beginning (see Malachi 1:6-14). They offered to Him defiled offerings; the lame, blind and sick with what God calls an evil attitude.

When we offer to God a cheap sacrifice, we humiliate ourselves and disrespect (profane) our God!

Malachi goes on to rebuke the priests for failure to speak up against wrong: “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 2:7).

Think about that for a moment. If, as Christians, we are the royal priesthood of God (1 Peter 2:9) then every one of us is responsible to God for preserving the true knowledge of His word. As we are commissioned by Christ to teach the Gospel to others, we must answer to Him if we fail to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

If you think that this lesson is too pushy, then you need to continue reading Malachi as God accuses His people of robbing, cheating God of His offerings and sacrifices (Malachi 3:8-9). God’s blessings are ONLY promised to those that stop cheating Him (Malachi 3:10-12).

David the King (and prophet of God, remember?) taught us a great lesson as he refused to accept a free offering for his sin and a thanksgiving to God offering from Ornan. The fact that a good and godly man willingly offered the place, the oxen, wood and wheat for a sacrifice to the Lord could not atone for David’s need to offer a SACRIFICE. Without paying full price for those things David would have been offering a cheap and worthless sacrifice (read the full incident at 1 Chronicles 21:18-27).

Okay, okay! I get it. The wrong Old Testament sacrifice and failure to know and teach the truth are big things. But that has nothing to do with paying attention in worship. Or does it?

When Peter (1 Peter 2:1-5) tells us to grow up and offer “spiritual sacrifices” that are “acceptable to God,” what does he mean? The Hebrew writer (Hebrews 13:15-16) tells us that, through Christ, we “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” Doesn’t it seem like God is telling us that worship, praise, and service to Him are ALL a part of our sacrifices as priests of the Most High?

Paul sums up the extent of our worship and sacrifice as he commands us: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).

In the final analysis, our lives are to be lived entirely, consciously and conscientiously as the royal priests of the Lord God!

Do you really work at obeying God? No! It’s NOT easy! It takes hard work and extra effort to say and do the right thing. We are never going to be at our best and “on top of our game” all the time. But we are going to try and try again whenever we fail.

So, are you simply an excuse maker? Are we just offering God the leftovers of our lives? Do we really expect to get to heaven by humiliating ourselves with disrespectful offerings? Are you giving God a cheap sacrifice of your life in service to Him?

Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to begin getting it right in giving God our very best!

— 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

11/20/16 ~ Who is Really in Control?

RacineBuildingFrom the Preacher’s Pen… Protesters in the streets using violence and theft to “prove” that their candidate and agenda should have won the election. “Demands” that California secede from the United States (an act that is by definition an act of treason – anybody remember a thing called the “Civil War”?).

What is the world and this country coming to? Why doesn’t God do something?

Perhaps it is time that we let God answer that question just as He has before. So let’s think for a moment about another time this issue came up and ask…

Who is Really in Control?

The story began long before God gave His answer. His Chosen People, His Holy Nation had been grossly disobedient for years. The nation had gone steadily downhill as both the people and their leaders intentionally disobeyed the commands of God and elevated themselves, their opinions and their worship of false Gods above the Lord.

As God’s people rebelled He began to humiliate them before the world. Some of their own government leaders (including some of the king’s own family) were taken into captivity by the new superpower of the world. The nation responded by rebelling against God yet again and placed their faith and alliances with a nation (Egypt) that God had warned them not to join.

God responded by again humiliating the nation, making the king a prisoner, installing a puppet king, and cleaning out much of the Temple and palace treasures. But the puppet king also rebelled and imagined that he had a right to disobey God’s will and His prophets.

This time God destroyed the nation, the capital (Jerusalem) and burned the Temple, the king’s house and every major building in the city. Some of the poorest were left to work the land and a governor was appointed (Gedaliah, 2 Kings 25:22) but killed by the remaining people only two months after his appointment. As a result, most of the rest of the nation became refugees (including the prophet Jeremiah) and fled to Egypt.

The book of Daniel includes several events over the years that God used to teach Nebuchadnezzar that it was the Lord, the real and only God, that was truly in control. But as the years passed the king of Babylon forgot the lesson and imagined that he as king was really in control.

The final lesson for Nebuchadnezzar came (Daniel chapter 4) much to the chagrin of Daniel. But it was this final lesson that would convince the king of Babylon of the truth and make him a godly man.

So, who is really in control of nations, kingdoms, states and all the earth? Yes, you know the answer but perhaps we should listen to God’s presentation of it:

“This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men.”

So before you worry again, God, the Most High is in control. Before you imagine that someone else is in control for even a single second, remember that you are NOT God, the president is NOT God, the governor is NOT God, the king is NOT God. The LORD is GOD and He is ruler and in control no matter what happens

If you find this truly extraordinary and perhaps even a bit daunting or even downright frightening, then you are in good company. Even Daniel felt that way (Daniel 4:19), but was wisely counseled by Nebuchadnezzar not to be alarmed.

One of the most amazing passages of Scripture is Daniel 4:34-37. Read it and realize that this is the sole passage of the Old Testament written by a Gentile, an outsider that God brought into His Kingdom to be one of the inspired writers (2 Peter 1:21).

What will it take for us to realize and acknowledge that God is really in control? What will it require for us to understand that all must be in submission to Him? What must God do for us to learn to be obedient to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and acknowledge that “all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4:37).?

— Lester P. Bagley

Worship In a Nursing Home

RacineBuilding

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