4/22/18 ~ Spiritual Ugliness

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

Spiritual Ugliness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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I must leave it more glorious than I found it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malcolm Parsley, Korea

 

March 5 ~ Selling Heaven Short

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Isn’t it wonderful that brother (or sister) So-and-so is in heaven? They must be playing golf every day with all their old friends!

How many times have you heard (or been involved in!) a conversation like that? Do we realize what an outright lie that is? Do we really know what heaven is and what it is all about?

Take a few moments to consider how often we cheapen and outright pervert God’s great promise:

Selling Heaven Short

Heaven is a place that everyone talks about and everyone hopes to go to… provided they don’t have to actually DO something to get there!

The reality of heaven is that it is a prepared place for a prepared people. Unless we “store up treasures there,” unless we obey our Lord and God, then we will never live there. Let’s take a look at heaven as God presents it and see how that compares with the nonsense that people often imagine is heaven.

Heaven is NOT golf, hunting, fishing nor is it about visiting with friends and loved ones!

That is NOT to imply we won’t know or care about friends and loved ones: In the Old Testament, when a person died, biblical writers said he was “gathered to his people” (cf. Genesis 25:8; 35:29; 49:29; Numbers 20:24; Judges 2:10).

In 2 Samuel 12, when David’s infant child died, David confidently said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (v. 23). David expected to see his child again – not just a nameless, faceless soul without an identity, but that very child.

Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. Even though it had been centuries since they’d walked this earth, they still maintained a clear identity (Matthew 17:3) – Peter, James, and John evidently recognized them (v. 4), which implies that we will somehow be able to recognize people we’ve never even seen before.

We will be able to have fellowship with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Moses, Joshua, Esther, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, David, Peter, Barnabas, Paul, or any of the faithful. For that to be possible, we must all retain our individual identities, not turn into some sort of generic beings.

Describing the Lord’s appearing and the resurrection of the saints who have died: 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. and thus we shall always be with the Lord’.

Paul’s purpose was to comfort some of the Thessalonians who thought their dying loved ones would miss the return of Christ. He says in verse 18, “Comfort one another with these words.” The comfort comes from the prospect of reunion. Little comfort this would be if in the reunion we could not even recognize one another. Paul’s promise that we will all be “together” forever implies that we shall renew fellowship with all whom we have known.

We will be reunited not only with our own families and loved ones, but also with the people of God from all ages. In heaven, we will all be one loving family. The immense size of the family will not matter in the infinite perfection of heaven. Our eternity will be spent in just that kind of rich, unending fellowship.

If you’re worried about feeling out of place in heaven, don’t. Heaven will seem more like home than the dearest spot on earth to you. It is uniquely designed by a tender, loving Savior to be the place where we will live together for all eternity and enjoy Him forever.

But we will NOT remember the lost! This is an eternal home for victors NOT losers (also take note of Revelation 21:8):

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 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 21:1-4)

Heaven IS all about our God and our Savior!

Back to that first point above.  While heaven includes God’s family and all the joy that is a result of that blessing, the real purpose of heaven is NOT family, friends and loved ones. The real joy and purpose of heaven is being with our God and Savior!

Every vision of heaven that John or any other prophet had of heaven is ALWAYS centered around God.

If God is not your priority here on earth, if He is not your first and greatest love, then you won’t have to worry about not enjoying heaven. You won’t be there!

Yes, that is shocking to many human beings, but the least of heaven’s blessings are about us. The priority of heaven, like our lives here on earth, is the focus on God.

Don’t imagine heaven as the place where God will wait on you and give you your heart’s desire.

Make God your heart’s desire, serve Him and learn the real blessings that God has in store for His family.

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/11/18 ~ Three things sin will always do

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

In spite of what some people think, sin and death are not a preacher’s favorite things to talk about. That idea is akin to believing that doctors just enjoy seeing blood, guts, and disease because that’s what they often have to work with. The reality is that we do this job to alleviate suffering and hopefully prevent death. And that is the real reason that our Great Physician deals in these same issues with us.

Consider an illustration that I’ve used several times in sermons and articles before:

Three Things Sin Will Always Do

In life, there are two major ways that we learn. Some things we learn the hard way from personal experience. Some things we can hopefully learn from seeing the experience of others. We’ve all noticed that the lesson of personal experience is often far more effective at staying with us.

When it comes to the seriously deadly things in life, though, it is obvious that the lesson would be far better learned from the experience of others. That simple point brings us to much of God’s reason behind numerous lessons that He includes in His word.
Consider three lessons about the dangers of the things that sin will always do.

1) Sin will always… take you farther than you want to go!

The Hebrew writer (Hebrews 11:24-26) reflected that Moses made a grownup, adult choice not to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. That intentional choice meant that he lost the prestige, power, and authority of an Egyptian leader. That choice meant he would spend the majority of his adult life fleeing Egypt in the desert.

It would be easy and convenient for us to see his loss and miss the larger picture. Verse 25 reminds us that Moses made another choice: choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. Why? Because he considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

Look at that last thought again. Reproach is literally the word for disgrace or insult. The worst thing that comes from faithfully following Christ is greater than the greatest riches of the treasures of this world!

Jesus put it this way, For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26) I believe Moses would have said, Amen!

Clearly, the pleasures of sin for a season may yield a long and worthless harvest!

2) Sin will always… keep you longer than you want to stay!

Beware lest God gives up on you! One of the most frightening things that God may do to us is too simply allow us to have what we think we want. In Romans (cf. 1:24-32) the Apostle Paul repeatedly points out the consequences of God rejecting and abandoning those who choose sin over obedience to Him.

By choosing sin we force God to put us where we deserve. The result is dishonor (verse 24), degrading (verse 26), depravity (verse 28) and getting exactly what we earn with our sin. Our earnings (our wages of sin in Romans 6:23) include being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful (verses 29-31).

Having made that choice to live in sin God further declares that we are both ignorant and worthy of eternal death (verse 32). Remember God uses exactly the same word for eternity in Hell that He does for the duration of Heaven. Eternity is a long time to stay where neither God nor any of His goodness exists!

3) Sin will always… cost you more than you wanted to pay!

If you really insist on choosing sin, then you have to pay for sin. Paul reminds the saints at Thessalonica that, if you don’t choose salvation, then you choose for God to help you believe any false thing that will lead to eternal death (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). That’s an astronomically high price to believe what you want and enjoy wrong instead of right!
As we’ve already noted, the well-deserved earnings of sin (Romans 6:23)… is death! But there’s also one more part to that same verse and to the story of sin. There is the gift of God!

That brings us to one important final lesson about sin, and that is the one thing that God can do if you let Him. He will save you from your sins! Romans 6:23 says, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Did you catch all that? Sin will actually do all these horrible things for and to you. But God offers a choice. He offers hope and another way.

Yes, it IS a FREE GIFT! But don’t let the price tag confuse you, as so many have. That gift, that promise is ONLY to those IN Christ Jesus. And the only way that you can be IN Christ Jesus today is to be born into the family, the body of Christ.

If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:5). There is NO promise for those of us living on this side of the cross for salvation from sin without baptism! Without that uniting with Christ in burial (baptism!) and death (to sin), there is NO uniting with him in resurrection (cf. Romans 6:3-7).

Without freedom from sin, there is no life! Remember those three things that sin will always do for you. And make the choice to unite yourself with Christ in His way as the one thing that can save you.

— Lester P. Bagley

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8/20/17 ~ Things We Cannot Do Without

RacineBuildingFrom the Preacher’s Pen… Over the years there were a few times that I had to undergo a process called survival training. While the goal is teaching you and giving you the confidence to accomplish things even in dangerous circumstances if the course is really worth anything the ultimate test is really a question of “pass” or “fail” at surviving.

In a very real way, this world is that kind of course. Either we learn and properly practice the things that enable us to live forever with God or else we fail and face eternal death.

With that sobering thought in mind, let’s consider some…

Things We Cannot Do Without

If you’re ever stuck out in the wilderness, remember what survival experts call ‘the Rule of 3s’: You can live 3 minutes without air. In a harsh winter environment — it’s snowing, say — you have 3 hours to survive without shelter. Without water, you will die in 3 days (note that in the Arizona summer you may not last that long!). Finally, you can make it 3 days without food (but it won’t be easy!).

God’s word also has some lessons about things a Christian simply cannot survive without. Let’s consider seven things that are vital for us:

1) God — Paul spoke of the time before Christ when the heathen nations were outsiders, strangers to God’s covenants of promise with Israel. He says that they had no hope and were “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

2) The Precious Shed Blood of Christ — The writer of Hebrews reminds us that, “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). And Peter challenged us to remember, “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

3) The Sinlessness of Christ — Our “high priest” understands and sympathizes with our weaknesses because He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The fact that He was perfect and sinless allowed God to accept His sacrifice as the price for our sins, or as Paul puts it: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

4) Faith — “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Of course “faith” here is God’s definition of true, obedient hope and trust in Him; rather than contemporary man’s idea of just wishful thinking.

5) Works — James reminds us that in God’s definition of terms faith and service or works are inseparable (James 2:18-20) and plainly says that faith without works is just dead, useless faith.

6) Holiness — Like so many other words in Scripture we are required to use God’s definition and not Satan’s perversion of God’s will. Hebrews (12:14) reminds us that if we lack that holiness or sanctification we will not see the Lord!

7) Birth into God’s Family — Again, the world is quick to follow Satan’s definition of God’s commands and terminology. In doing so they reject God’s blessings and promises just as Adam and Eve did. To gain God’s promises and blessings today requires that “new birth.” Baptism can never be just getting wet (1 Peter 3:21). It is submission to God and obedience to His commands and will. Baptism is uniting with Jesus in His death, burial AND His resurrection (Romans 6:4-7). Without it, we are not free from sin and we will never see heaven!

Yes, there are many things that are vital to our Spiritual life and health. In addition to the survival ‘Rule of 3s’ there are countless poisons, wild animals, falls from cliffs and innumerable other dangers out there that we must avoid to live. But hopefully, we also understand that without the basic important things we face no hope at all.

How about your spiritual life? Have you begun with the basic, vital items? Because, if you are lacking any of these you are starting out by dying. If you would live then seek Christ… this week and always!

— 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

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

2/12/17 ~ Disciples Disciple, or They’re Not Disciples

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingLast week a preacher friend of mine remarked about some interesting facts. That led to some discussion among preachers and some good thoughts for us all. Here’s how it all began:

If you attend three times a week for worship, that is 4 hours per week or 208 hours per year. By the time you are 40 years old you have been in a total of 8,320 hours of religious education. By contrast, the university student graduating after four years spent 2,176 hours in the classroom. That equates to a 20 year Christian having essentially the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in the subject and a 40 year Christian having nearly a doctorate!

It is hard to believe that a person of average intelligence with over 8,000 hours in religious services is incapable of teaching others the fundamentals of the gospel. Equally shocking is that some of those people are so proud of the two Bible verses that they’ve read and memorized in all that time that they no longer feel there’s anything to learn from God’s word.

Do we really understand that…

Disciples Disciple, or They’re Not Disciples

Yes, we’ve looked at these Scriptures many times but look again:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20). If we teach all that Jesus commanded then we teach them to go and teach others!

Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4). Most of these people had only known Jesus’ teachings for a few years at the longest and yet they spoke of what they knew.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14) It is embarrassing and downright wrong to not know and teach.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul uses the literal word for human beings. Teach, just like Jesus said, everyone. Teach them to be faithful and that means to faithfully teach.

As God’s New Testament “Royal Priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) we are also subject to God’s requirements for priests: 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).

Christians are told, Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever (1 Peter 4:11).

I think we get the picture. So, the real question remains, what are you doing for Christ? Jesus has more pew-sitters than He needs! Actually, His “need” for pew-sitters is zero! What the Lord NEEDS are those who will OBEY His will.

As Jesus sent His disciples out to teach He reminded them: The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Luke 10:2) He is NOT saying to look for someone else to do the job but rather for us to do and seek others to also do!

Are you a disciple, a student of the Lord? Then show it by reaching out to the lost!

How? There are LOTS of ways but all of them require that you get up and do! Invite someone to come with you to Bible study. Have a Bible study in your home and invite others to come. Become a World Bible School teacher or nWorld English Institute teacher and teach online or by mail.

There are countless good ways to actually do God’s will. The only failure comes in just sitting and making excuses. Will you begin being an obedient disciple today?

— 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

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

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

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

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

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

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

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.

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

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

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley