4/30/17 ~ The Biblical Compass

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingThe first time we read the Bible we get it. After all, we only read other books one time to understand them. Of course, anyone taking a course in literature and tried to claim such an absurd thing would find themselves failing the course. Reality check: We seldom, if ever, fully appreciate and understand something the first time we see it!

Most of us are mature enough to understand that fact in life. And most Christians are able to see, like many of the people in the Bible, how rich are the ongoing lessons we learn about God and His will.

It should be a ritual with us to not just read God’s word but to think about it, to constantly inquire about what it says and how to appreciate and understand it.

Consider something as simple as the compass directions and let’s remind ourselves of how easy it is to miss so much.

The Biblical Compass

North-South-East-West

A great lesson for Bible study comes from an old illustration: To read the Bible always and only in translation is like listening to Bach, always and only played on the harmonica. You certainly get the tune, but you will miss pretty much everything else.

Now, if you are comfortable with hearing Classical music only played on the harmonica and think there’s nothing to be gained by listening to a great orchestra… well, you probably have no problem with lazy, effortless Bible study.

Yes, I realize just how hard it is to learn another language but I’ve also learned just how much can be gained by consulting someone that truly knows that language. In fact, many times we will actually learn more by taking the time to ask questions of those that know the language rather than just learning to speak or read a few words! (This is what makes the many books dealing with Biblical word studies so valuable if you don’t read the original languages.)

Let’s start with the compass and basic directions: north, south, east and west. Just like reading the Bible one time, we can understand those directions and at least get ourselves headed in the right direction. But does God have a little more to the lesson? Let’s check.

In Genesis 13:14 we read, The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward.”

These four directions are technical navigation terms in English, and, even if you simply read them in Hebrew you would normally get the same idea. (The pronunciations are tsafonah for north, negbah for south, kedmah for east and yamah for west.) It’s only when you do a bit more serious digging that you learn that those words used by God were filled with even more meaning for Abraham.

North (tsafonah) is connected to Mount Tsaphon (or Zaphon) in modern Syria (cf. Isaiah 14:13). This was the Canaanite version of Olympus as the “mount of assembly” where the gods’ met and thus a prominent landmark.

South (negbah), as you might guess, is the Negev desert or wilderness area south of the land of Israel. This was the area where Abraham traveled back and forth to Egypt and centuries later the nation of Israel would wander there for 40 years because of their lack of faith.

West (yamah) means “to the sea” as the Mediterranean Sea formed that huge barrier in that direction.

East (kedmah), of course, brings to mind the idea of where it all began. Abraham had traveled far from his old life and land in the east to this new land of promise. And even earlier in mankind’s history, the Garden of Eden was planted to the east (Genesis 2:8).

Much like a jigsaw puzzle, when we piece together God’s words they become a picture of all that surrounded Abraham, his life and the Biblical story to that point in history. And in those four words filled with so much meaning, is God teaching us an important lesson, too?

In the years to come God would use another phrase, “wherever you go” as a reminder of the same lesson. First, to Joshua that the Lord would be with His people to deliver them even in the Promised Land (cf. Joshua 1:7, 9). And then second, to the nation during the time of the Judges as a reminder that without God no place would be safe (cf. Judges 2:14-15).

Does God do the same for us today? If we are faithful to Him will he not give us safety and blessings from deserts to oceans? Does He keep us safe from pagan and false gods and the old ways of life?

There is a rich history in God’s promises to give His blessings to His faithful people. Perhaps the ultimate reminder comes as Jesus gives the Great Commission and concludes that, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

With such great promises and with a God that gives us such great directions, what kind of lives should we live this week and always?

— Lester P. Bagley

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

7/24/16 ~ God’s Word

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingFive times the inspired writers of the New Testament warn Christians of the difference between the truth of God and His word and the fake, myths, fables or made up stories of others. (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4; 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14 and 2 Peter 1:16).

Yet, today we still find that people often equate human nonsense with the word of God. There is no comparison! Consider this brief reminder of the veracity of God’s truth:

God’s Word

Isn’t it fascinating what people will think of to discount and disobey God’s Word? Does anyone remember the time leading up to the year 2000? There were all kinds of articles about predictions and prophecies of the coming millennium disasters (oops! I guess they were wrong about that one!).

In going through some old clippings that I’d saved, I found one about a religious writer and his declaration that he alone had finally figured out when and how “the end” would come. It seems that before the year 1999 ended the world would be destroyed by a nuclear war and that would precipitate the Lord’s Second Coming. Hmmm, unless I’ve forgotten how to read a calendar, that “prophet” seemed to have missed his prediction.

The problem is that such people claim to get their information from God’s Word or from some special revelation direct from God. Pardon me, but the real God is just not that stupid! And people who make such claims bring ridicule on God and His word and upon all who believe in God and harm the work of the Lord and His church.

God’s take on this subject? “Wise men store up knowledge, But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand.” (Proverbs 10:14)

Another popular headline claim that is still being made has to do with some great discovery from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here, too, the claim was made about disaster predictions for our day and time.

What the Dead Sea Scrolls really do contain are copies of every Old Testament book but Esther and other religious writings, commentaries and community documents of a group of religious people who lived in New Testament times. While there are some similarities between these people’s beliefs and the teachings of the New Testament, there are no real surprises. These religious people are concerned with many issues that are also discussed by other Jewish writers of the time as well as New Testament writers. That people concerned with the things of God would be interested in such matters should come as no surprise to us.

What is significant about the Dead Sea Scrolls is the fact that they verify the reliability of the OT portion of our Bibles! There are copies of OT books that are centuries older than any previously known copy and there are no doctrinal changes, indeed few technical literary differences that exist. In fact, the majority of differences are older vs newer spellings of the names of people and places!

But how can we be certain? Have a read! The entire OT Bible text as preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls is available. You can not only read it but also compare all the differences with other Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts, a whole variety of other ancient OT manuscripts that have been preserved and the OT text as it appears in our modern Bible translations.

What you will find is that God’s Word has been most carefully preserved through the centuries and we may have great confidence that what we read is actually what was originally written by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

The popular, outrageous and silly claims of those who discount and disobey God’s Word should not bother God’s people. “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14)

Our faith is firmly grounded in factual reality and not in myths or made up stories of man! Let’s keep the faith, this week and always!

— Lester P. Bagley