7/30/17 ~ Singing the Song of Joy

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHave you ever noticed how winners parade and show off how great they are? While losers might moan and complain that winners aren’t that great, the facts tend to speak for themselves, don’t they?

Have you ever noticed how winners parade and show off how great they are? While losers might moan and complain that winners aren’t that great, the facts tend to speak for themselves, don’t they?

In the Spiritual world, the same thing is true. Losers moan and complain while winners, real winners celebrate the joy of victory. Consider…

Singing the Song of Joy

The Jewish rabbis considered this one of David’s Kingship Psalms and saw it as highlighting the military victory of God. While David was a great king himself, he constantly reminded himself (and his people) that the Lord is the real king. It was this humility and love for his God that both kept him humble and showed his greatness.

Perhaps because many Christians today are unfamiliar with, or just uncomfortable with, the military lessons of God, many Christian commentators tend to simply view it as one of the “new songs” to be sung in heaven (cf. Revelation 5:9-14). Of course, when you read the book of Revelation (and the rest of the New Testament) you cannot fail to see the constant references to our God and Savior as both our great leader in the war against sin and Satan now and, one day, the great victor in eternity.

Military victories were important to David. The battles won subdued the hostile nations surrounding Israel and eventually brought peace, safety, honor, and riches to the nation of God’s people.

To Christians in the New Testament world seeing increasing persecution because the world did not agree with them or accept them, the same lesson of victory under Jesus’ kingship was both important and vital to their hope (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 4:8; 1 John 5:4; etc. where the terms for military victories are used). So consider David’s song as he challenges God’s people to join the “new song” and share in the reminder of joyful victory:

Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song,

For He has done wonderful things,

His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.

The Lord has made known His salvation;

He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered His loving kindness

and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;

All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;

Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.

Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,

With the lyre and the sound of melody.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar and all it contains,

The world and those who dwell in it.

Let the rivers clap their hands,

Let the mountains sing together for joy

Before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth;

He will judge the world with righteousness

And the peoples with equity.

As many other Biblical writers remind us, our God is creator of all we see around us. And all of God’s creation should honor Him. The physical world does so by obeying the physical laws He created to govern all that exists (many of the Psalms remind us of this lesson as does the book of Job).

Interestingly enough all living creatures but humans obey the laws of God that govern their lives. For example, rats never suddenly give birth to elephants and whales never give birth to horses. Rocks never turn into plants or any other living thing. All in spite of the humorous, fantastical claims of some humans.

Only humans actively try to disobey the Creator in the lives they lead. And sadly, only humans are actually made in the very image of God.

Victory is truly in Jesus. And one day, as even David looked forward to, the Lord is coming to judge the earth in righteousness. Will you and I be found to have honored Him with obedient lives? Or will we be found in rebellion against Him who is and always will be the victor?

May we join with David in singing and living praise to our Lord. He HAS made known His salvation, He HAS revealed His righteous will. Will we obey it?

— 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

3/12/17 ~ 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

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

01/01/17 ~ To a New Year

From the Preacher’s Pen…

There are many things that people seem to think about with the arrival of a new year. RacineBuildingSome are planning diets after the holiday meals, others are hoping to get into better physical shape. The gyms will be full for the next few weeks and diet foods will sell well.

But in a month or so many will go back to their old way of life and the resolutions will be forgotten.

While the lessons are many and we are often reminded (at least once a year!) of them, there are also spiritual lessons that are even more important to remember!

To a New Year

When I think of a new year there are two great Biblical reminders that come to mind.

The first one is what Paul calls putting on the “New Man.” He says it like this: “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old man, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Now, before you ladies go to sleep, notice the two specific words that Paul uses in this passage.

“Man” is not the word for a male person but rather the generic term for human beings.

Likewise, “New” is not the usual word for something new in time. This is not a “new day in our week,” but rather is the Greek word that points specifically to something new in quality as opposed to what is old and worn out. A good example of the difference is found in the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea used for the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:60). It is not called “new” in the sense of being recently cut in the rock but rather is “new” as it has never been used.

Put those two words together and you get the picture: Our new being in Christ has never existed before. We are transformed (remember Romans 12:1-2?), changed by God into new beings with new desires and a new way of life. As Paul says it, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The second reminder comes with the “New Song.” You may be familiar with the song by that title in our songbooks and even know that it comes from the final book of God’s word as a reminder of the promised “New Song” in heaven (Revelation 5:9; 14:3). But you may be surprised to learn that the theme of the “New Song” begins in the Old Testament!

Again, let’s consider the two specific words used by God. The Hebrew word “new” is often used for what has never been seen or done before. In Ezekiel 18:31 God challenges His people to repent and “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31)

“Song” is the word especially used for a religious song and is used by Ezra and Nehemiah of the Levitical choirs (cf. Nehemiah 12:46).

The two Hebrew words occur together seven times in the Old Testament. Each time it is a “new song” being composed in response to what God has done and nearly always uses a form of the command formula of “Sing to the Lord a new song.”

The first occurrence is Psalm 33:3 and the phrase also forms part of the opening for Psalms 96, 98 and 149. Likewise, David declares that he will sing “a new song to You, O God” in Psalm 144:9.

Isaiah appropriately makes the final Old Testament reference as God looks forward to the fulfillment of His plans for man’s redemption and repentance. “Sing to the Lord a new song, Sing His praise from the end of the earth! You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it. You islands, and those who dwell on them.” (Isaiah 42:10)

Now, when we move to Revelation and the final “New Song” of praise to the Lamb of God who bought our salvation with His own blood, we realize just how much it means.

As we begin a “New Year,” is there any greater promise than our renewal in Christ leading us toward that eternal “New Song” in heaven?

May we truly be a renewed, new people that rejoice in our new song this new year!

— Lester P. Bagley

#NewYear, #NewLife, #FreshStart, #NewStart, #Revival, #StartingOver, #RenewingHope, #Rededication

12/25/16 ~ Jesus, the Savior

From the Preacher’s Pen… Sunday, December 25, we celebrate the birthday of Jesus! No, I’ve not lost my mind and hopefully you haven’t lost yours either.

RacineBuildingThis Sunday, December 25, the first day of the week, we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior with our weekly Communion.  He lives and is never to die again! Paul says it like this: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. [10] For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:8–11)

Once He was born, like all of us, of human flesh. And, because of sin, humans die. But death could not keep Him, He lives again by the spirit and power of God. And God says that same power, that same promise is for us, too, as brothers and sisters of Christ the King.

Having acknowledged all that, it is still an amazing thing that our Savior once humbled Himself to submit to being born as one of us. Remember for a moment, the coming of…

Jesus the Savior

I am in awe of the Manger Scene and all that it means and represents for humans! But the story began so long before that day that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son.

Three precious verses in God’s word remind us that before He even spoke the words creating this world and all its inhabitants, before that very first sin would bring contamination to all His perfection, He knew and planned it all! Read John 17:24 where He tells of the love and glory that predate the foundations of the world. Love and glory for the sacrifice to come.

1 Peter 1:18-21 reminds us that the saving blood of the Lamb of God was planned and known before the building of this world. And Ephesians 1:4 says that even then He chose us to be holy in Him.

I am in awe of the Manger Scene and all that it means and represents for humans! But the work and preparation began so long before that day that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son.

Months before the Creator in the form of an infant would be born into this world, He laid aside His godly form to take on a form of an unborn child. Read Philippians 2:5-7 and realize the implications of that simple but awesome statement.

I’ve often wondered if Luke would not have dwelt a bit longer on that moment if the good doctor had written that passage rather than the Apostle Paul. As a physician, Luke had likely witnessed the amazing changes that led up to the near miraculous moment of birth on many occasions.

But Paul hastens to remind us that the ultimate goal is not the manger but the cross (Philippians 2:8).

I have to admit that I am still in awe of the Manger Scene. It is filled with so many great lessons for all mankind and for all time. Sadly, one of those lessons is how seldom it is seen and how quickly it is forgotten.

Just like our world, at this time of year we may be briefly amazed at the coming of the Savior and then forget Him for months and months. But perhaps this year we can resolve to be different.

Jesus’ earthly mother, like most mothers and daddies, could never forget. Luke very specifically reminds us that Mary treasured those events in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51). A good doctor takes note of good parenting and love.

The important thing for us is that we remember, that we treasure the amazing, incredible, eternal life-altering events. Are you in awe of the manger and all that it means?

Will you be found sitting at the feet of Jesus as He teaches and encourages and challenges us through the year? Will you be found weeping and heartbroken at the cross? Will you be found rejoicing at the empty tomb and in amazed awe as He returns to heaven with the promise to come back one day for you?

Sad, isn’t it, how many people will look and not see, hear and not understand. Yes, that was repeated by several of the prophets and by Jesus Himself. And today the fact remains, many will miss the incredible coming of Jesus.

One day He will come again. And this time every eye will see Him, every knee bow before Him and every tongue confess Him. But then it will be too late to be a part of His family.

The time to see Him, to know Him, to follow Him is now. The time to truly be in awe of our Savior is now! Will you?

— Lester P. Bagley

12/18/16 ~ Generations of Love

RacineBuildingFrom the Preacher’s Pen… Toward the end of most worship services, I make my way to the back hallway in order to speak to people as they leave. Sometimes I’m looking for someone in particular to encourage and many times I rejoice in the encouragement of God’s family.

Oftentimes there is someone already back there. Mothers and dads with little ones often have diaper duty or otherwise have to tend to fussy or overly active children. What a beautiful sight and lesson of love!

In all the comings and goings it sometimes happens that one of our young people end up “stranded” at the doors as they are too polite to go back where they were sitting in the middle of the closing song or prayer.

Often when that happens they end up standing next to me and holding my hand during the prayer. I see them holding hands with their parents, their siblings, and others around them. How precious it is to see love in actions and living lessons from our young people! Consider for a moment the lesson they show…

Generations of Love

Jesus frequently used the word love. It is a vital ingredient of our Spiritual life and yet it is often neglected.

In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” God’s “new commandment” is not that we should love, but that we are actually commanded to love as God has loved us.

Peter would struggle with this concept of such a great commitment (John 21:15-17), but eventually embraced it at the cost of his physical life (verses 18-19). Interestingly, Jesus in telling him all this concludes with the imperative command (Follow Me!) to obey even though hesitant.

Consider how our own worldly definition of love has changed. In my Grandparents generation, the love of children was often defined as “children are to be seen but not heard” and it was normally true that parents ate first and children the leftovers. Why?

Sadly, in a time when a significant percentage of children died the adults who could work and feed the family had to be the priority. (Most western civilizations have seen a relatively steady decline in infant and child mortality for the last few centuries. In the 1700s 300 to 500 deaths per 1,000 were the norm. By the end of the 1800s that number dropped to 150 to 200. By 1950 it had declined to between 20 and 40 per 1,000.)

In that world, the greatest love a parent could show was staying healthy enough to provide for the children that survived.

Following World War II Americans were better off in many ways yet struggling to say and show love in a changing world. As food supplies increased and diseases were controlled it became the expected norm that children would survive into adulthood. Parents literally had the expectation that each child would continue to live and be a part of the family.

With all that came the challenge to love to an entirely new degree. Like so many things that Satan corrupts, an increase in family love was quickly transformed into the permissive “free love” generation. Confusing love with sexual expression they reshaped the world into a no-commitment world ruled by selfishness.

Today? Our world pushes to enlarge the bounds of permissiveness and demands that everyone wins, that everyone is entitled to high self-esteem with no boundaries on their actions and no limits to their licentiousness. And still, real love is neglected.

Love, real love, love like God has for us is that agape love, that committed love. Real love, like an earlier generation, sometimes seems harsh that it might really serve the needs. Even today it remains true that real love of our children includes punishment and discipline.

Jesus had a fondness for children and several times the text points out that they were specifically infants and young children. Do you ever wonder why?

Watch a child love. Before parents teach them to fear and avoid, they shyly offer their gift, their trust until one day properly jaded by adults they learn the rudeness of neglecting love.

So, do we truly love? Are we committed to our Savior and the good of His Kingdom? Or are we simply fulfilling Scripture in being the selfish, jaded, negligent lovers of self that Paul warned Timothy about (2 Timothy 3:1-9)?

Love is something that is instilled by God in a child’s heart. How we cultivate it determines whether it grows and blossoms into Christ-like love in all their lives… or dies in bitterness and strife.

Love is something that is instilled by God and carefully taught to an adult’s heart. How we cultivate it determines whether it grows and blossoms into Christ-like love in all our lives… or dies in bitterness and strife.

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in actions and truth.” (1 John 3:18)

— Lester P. Bagley

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

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

 

7/17/16 ~ What Really Needs Changed to Make Worship More Enjoyable

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingIt is one of the most talked about things in religious circles today: How do we make our worship more enjoyable.

Think about that for a moment. Shouldn’t we enjoy our worship so much that our praise is a delight, a joy to us?

A few weeks ago as I began working on this article a fellow preacher wrote on much the same thing. In fact, he did it so well that I want to share what he says on the subject of:

What Really Needs Changed to Make Worship More Enjoyable

For many Christians, the worship assembly feels like a “duty,” in the worst sense of the word. Coming to the worship assembly is something they feel they must do, but not something they enjoy doing. This has left many saying, “It shouldn’t be this way; worship should be enjoyable!” I wholeheartedly agree! But I’m afraid the way many are trying to make worship more enjoyable is resulting in making worship shallow, meaningless, and not even worship at all.

Why Worship Should Be Enjoyable: Praising God with our Christian family should be the thing we find more enjoyable than any other. It should be something we look forward to all week long. It should be our joy and delight.

This is true for the same reason that the night a football team wins a big game, the fans can’t wait to talk to one another about the big win. They call each other on the phone, they post about it on social media, and when they see each other in person, they excitedly say, “Can you believe it?! Wasn’t that incredible?!” They enjoy talking about it almost as much as they enjoyed watching the game in the first place.

Everyone who has ever enjoyed something knows this feeling. When we’re on a great vacation, we almost can’t wait for it to be over so we can get home, tell people about it, and show them the pictures. When we have a great meal, we can’t wait to share with someone how great it was.

In fact, we could say, half the enjoyment is found in expressing our enjoyment. Isn’t it frustrating and disappointing to experience something great, but yet be unable to share it with someone? C.S. Lewis wrote about this, saying, “We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.”

When we truly enjoy God for who He is then we will be longing, aching, dying to sing out to someone, “Isn’t God awesome?!” And when they answer back, “Yes! Yes, He is awesome!” we experience the greatest pleasure available in this life.

What We Don’t Need to Change: But when people don’t experience the pleasure we intuitively know worship should bring, they often try to manufacture it through artificial means. They adjust the lighting, update the music style, incorporate drama and skits, use video and other technology, all in an effort to manipulate people’s emotions and “help them enjoy worship.”

But is this even worship? Are those who are enjoying this experience really enjoying God or are they simply enjoying an entertaining show? If it takes a change in lighting – or a change in music style – for you to enjoy sharing with your church family how great God is, maybe you need to stop and ask yourself if what you’re doing can even be called “worship.”

Worship comes from a heart that has been stirred by the goodness of God – as revealed through the Gospel – and NOT by a heart that has been manipulated by dimmed lights and talented performers.

What We DO Need to Change: If we want to make worship more enjoyable, here is what we do need to change… our hearts! We need to fill our hearts with the “word of Christ” so it dwells within us “richly” and then we’ll be able to, “[sing] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

When we daily allow God to reveal Himself to us through the “word of Christ,” then our enjoyment grows and grows throughout the week, finally being completed when we assemble to, “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Ephesians 5:19). And this weekly assembly is just the foretaste of the great assembly that will gather around God’s throne in heaven to enjoy Him forever!

Sadly, many of us don’t think of the worship assembly in this way. We don’t look forward to it. We’re not longing, aching, and dying to come together with our church family and sing to another, “Our God is an awesome God.” Some are content to simply show up and say, “I’ve done my duty.”

But God is not honored by the praise of people who do not enjoy Him. If we don’t enjoy worship, we don’t need to change the music or the lights, we need to change our hearts. We need to start enjoying God every moment of every day, and then we will desperately long for our enjoyment to be completed by praising Him with our church family.

— Wes McAdams online at RadicallyChristian.com

So, how is your worship? Is it a time of joy overflowing your heart as you sing praises to the Lord? Are prayers a precious time of pouring out your thoughts, concerns, needs and praise to God? Do you join in the preaching and teaching to see the thoughts of God that you might apply them to your life to better serve God?

To put it a simpler way: How’s your heart? Is it filled with God’s joy?

If any one of us has heart trouble we quickly find it important to follow the doctor’s instructions and take the medicine or have the procedure that will let us live.

When we sing, pray, study, worship in every way will it be with the joy of hearts that truly love Him who died for us? Or will we chose to die without God’s saving medicine? Choose life beginning today!

— Lester P. Bagley