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

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7/2/17 ~ Lord of Open Doors

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

Lord of Open Doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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

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

11/27/16 ~ Oh, Jesus, I Didn’t Understand

RacineBuildingOh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  Your flesh.  It was torn for me.  I was the one who should have received the lashing that turned Your back into meat.  And the thorny slivers on the cross.  The slivers that went into Your already shredded back to create gangrene.  The lashing and thorns were supposed to be for me, not You.  And the nails too, Jesus.  The nails too.  How could You go through that in my place?

 Oh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  Your nakedness.  They stripped You instead of me.  I was the one who’s nakedness should have been exposed, and put on display for the whole world to gawk at and ridicule.  I was the one who was supposed to have been subjected to exposure, enduring both the heat of the day and the cold of that strange noon-time darkness.  How could you have endured this for me?

 Oh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  Your blood.  It was shed for me.  If I had been the only sinner in the world, You still would have had to die to free me from hell.  That was my blood that was supposed to be falling off the cross that day, not Yours.  How could You love me that much?   

         Oh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  Your every breath.  Taken away from You a gasp at a time as You hung there by merciless nails tearing away at your life, rendering your lungs almost paralyzed, piercing Your soul.  Each time You chose to ignore the screaming blood vessels in Your back and the unbearable spasms in Your arms and legs just so You could get just one more taste of breath, that should have been me.  How could You volunteer Your own body to be tortured like that in my place?

 Oh, Jesus, I didn’t understand.  In the flames of Your fever and the darkness of my sins, You descended to a horrible place where God does not go.  Completely forsaken by Your God.  Completely deserted by Love.  Not because You simply bore my sins, but You actually became my sins.  How could You, who struggled a lifetime to make sure You never sinned, become exactly what You hated for me?

 Oh, Jesus, I did not understand.  All my little lies, little things I took home accidentally and kept, the strangers I never encouraged, the friends I never shared my love for You with, my arrogance in not following you.  Oh, Jesus, I am so ashamed.  How can I ever make it up to You?  How can I tell You how sorry I am?  I want to see You face to face and tell You how much I love You.  How can I convince You to let me do that?

 Jesus personally replies, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).  Oh, Jesus, say no more!  I do believe that You are the Son of God!  I do believe!

 Jesus personally replies, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3).  I’m so glad You said that, Jesus!  I truly am sorry for all those sins I have committed that caused You to die!

 Jesus personally replies, “Whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:31f).  Well, isn’t it enough that I believe?  Do I have to get my friends involved?  If I told them I believed in You, they’d kill my reputation.  Are You sure, Jesus?

Jesus personally replies, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15).  “Jesus came…to be baptized….’It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness’ ” (Matthew 3:13-15).  

 Oh, Jesus, I wish you hadn’t been baptized and said I needed to be also.  My friends and pastor tell me I don’t need to be.  I know they didn’t die for me, but surely they wouldn’t steer me wrong.  Please, Jesus, not that!  Please….

Would it be okay, Jesus, if I just do the first two ~ believe and repent?  Everyone says that’s all I have to do to please You.  I’ll even throw in the third one and tell a few of my friends what You’ve done for me because I believe in You.  But the fourth one.  I know You Yourself said to, but I just couldn’t!  Please, spare me that!  Please, Jesus!  It would kill me….  

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