7/16/17 ~ FAITHFULNESS

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHave you ever worked through some difficulty because of the love, care, and encouragement of a fellow Christian and the Lord? If so, do you also remember that there are a lot of people out there in this world that have no hope? Doesn’t that strike you as sad?

Does it strike you as even sadder still when you consider that many times Christians have no hope because they’ve left their first love, Christ? I’d like us to think a bit about a Christian attribute that’s sometimes called dedication, but the word God most often uses is faithfulness! Another word for this same attribute is reliability.

Without dedication, without faithfulness, without reliability, we cannot complete the tasks we have to do. Let’s consider the subject of faithfulness for a moment.

Faithfulness

We expect faithfulness and reliability from things and other people around us. Unfortunately, as Christians, one of our persistent sins is a lack of faithfulness to God. Are you unreliable as a Christian?

You would be angry if a store clerk repeatedly ignored you to serve their friends. But do you turn your back on God and miss worship when “friends” or even “family” come to visit? Shouldn’t we be more dedicated, more reliable, more faithful to God’s family?

If your newspaper were delivered to your house on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but to someone else’s house on the other days, you would be upset. Would you consider continuing to pay for that kind of service? Do you expect God to continue to bless you and respond to your needs and prayers when you serve and worship Him on your terms?

If your hot water heater provides you with an ice-cold shower part of the time, a luke-warm shower sometimes, and a hot shower only occasionally, would you consider it dependable? Should God consider us reliable for occasional attendance at worship or Bible study and occasional other kinds of service to Him?

How would you feel about your husband or wife spending a few nights each month with another man or woman? How does God feel about you forsaking His church and His people to be with denominational people, openly claiming that their priority is their feelings, wants and needs and not what God says and wants?

What would your bank say about you missing a couple of house payments every year? Would they understand that you really needed the money to buy presents for your family? Do you expect God to accept that your children and family are better served by your time with them but away from Him?

Sometimes we presume so much on God’s love…

…that we fail to demonstrate our responsibility for faithfulness. Do you see yourself as a volunteer in service to God or do you understand God’s view? “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). For a volunteer, almost anything seems acceptable, but for servants who are duty bound, faithfulness is required!

“100 percent!” is a challenge to each one of us to demonstrate our love, our commitment, our faithfulness to each other and to God. Let’s get busy, get involved and show God and each other how much we care, who we really belong to, and how much we appreciate….

…what God paid to purchase us from hell.

— Lester P. Bagley

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

6/25/17 ~ Watch Your Lips

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingOur Vacation Bible School was a great week. Our teachers did a wonderful job of presenting lessons from God’s word and our students had a good time learning about God’s power. The hard part, as we all know, is to continue both the interest in God’s word and the excitement of serving the Savior.

Every honest child of God knows the struggles, the challenges of keeping our faith, our hope, our joy alive and active in serving the Lord. And speaking of challenges, here’s a reminder of our practical practice from one of our children’s songs for us all to think about and work on:

Watch Your Lips…

“…For the Father up above is looking down in love, Watch your lips, Watch your lips, What they say.” Remember that children’s song? It’s as good a reminder to us as it is to our children: As Christians, we must constantly practice our Christianity.

Most parents have had the experience of hearing their children learn “words” from some playmate or school friend. Christian parents hasten to explain to their children that “we” don’t talk like that.

We as Christians (parents or not) have a grave responsibility to “watch our lips.” We live in a world that says, “You have a right to your feelings and a right to express those feelings.” God disagrees!

Read Ephesians chapters four and five and you will see what I mean. Paul says that your old, corrupt self is laid aside (4:22) and, as Christians, we are a new self with renewed spirit; we are like God (4:23-24). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such as is good for edification according to the need, that it may give grace to those who hear” (4:29).

Surprise! This is not about just cursing and swearing. (We DO need to keep reminding ourselves frequently about our “bad language,” though, don’t we? How many times each day do you hear or say something that brings disrespect to the name of the Lord? To be blunt about it, how many OMGs and similar words do you use each day?)

We must do better if we truly love the Lord! As Christians, we are to guard each and every word that comes from our mouth. Now that’s a hard challenge! (Remember James 3:1-10?)

Christianity a hard challenge? Haven’t I heard that becoming a Christian was so easy anyone could do it? What is easily understood, may well be difficult to practice. Many things (perhaps your job?) take only a short time to explain, but a lifetime to master. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to describe what you want and how challenging it is to actually do it? If Christian living and entering heaven were easy, everyone would do it! But, like all really worthwhile professions (that’s what Paul calls our Christianity in Ephesians 4:1), it takes a lifetime of hard work to master. Need more challenges?

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But do not let immorality or any impurity [emphasis added] or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (5:1-3).

Now there’s a professional challenge worthy of heaven. Let’s take up that challenge together, shall we?

— Lester P. Bagley

6/11/17 ~ Look Around, Act, and React

wings-of-timeHave you ever wondered why so many churches are relatively inactive out in the world? Perhaps we have overlooked something: Inactivity is what we in our classrooms were taught years ago and what we, in turn, teach when we become the teachers ourselves in the next generation. How?

 We teach by our actions that Christianity is (1) going to worship services, (2) listening, (3) discussing, (4) going home. For all the world knows, they see us entering a building and coming out again; and that’s the end of that! We are not any different and they are not any different. No wonder people of the world think Christianity is boring. If that is all we do, then it is.  But it doesn’t have to be.

 Studying alone is not Christianity ~ never was and never will be. Faith alone is not Christianity either. They are both dead by themselves (James 2:17). Christian worship services are spiritual feasts where we eat of the bread of life. But if all we do is eat with no exercise, we get spiritually fat and lazy. Now, who wants that? No one, really, of course.

RacineBuilding The purpose of the worship assemblies is specifically spelled out in Hebrews 10. It is ironic how we use the first half of verse 25 by itself to reprimand those who do not attend all our worship gatherings when they could if they wanted to. By putting this with the rest of verse 25 we condemn many so-called “active” Christians also who are missing the whole purpose of the assemblies. Notice:

 [WHO?] Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. [WHAT?] Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. [WHEN/HOW?]  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another ~ and all the more as you see the Day approaching. [WHY?] If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

 Let us show each other how to love and be filled with good works, and then encourage each other to do them. Otherwise, we sin willfully; there no longer remains a sacrifice for our sins but rather a terrifying judgment. Remember, the devils know all about God and believe and tremble (James 2:19), and it does not benefit them anything. Let us put behind us always being a learner by just “being there every time the doors are open;” for that only makes us a hearer of the word and not a doer…like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was (James 1:23,24).

 Do not misunderstand. Being at the worship services and Bible classes is extremely important and should not be minimized for one moment. In fact, Hebrews 10 states that we should assemble ourselves together “all the more” as we see the day of judgment approaching. Actually, the early Christians met daily (Acts 2:46). But as the old popular song asks, “Is that all there is?” No, of course not.    

 As important as these times of study and worship are, as important as eating is, this is only the beginning, not the end in itself. This provides the spiritual bread of life so we can go out with spiritual energy and be able to do our Christian daily works. In fact, it creates a cycle. The more Christian works we do, the more spiritual food we need, the more we want to attend Christian assemblies so we can get more spiritual food to go out and do more work.

 Actually, once you become vitally involved with daily Christian works, the worship hours will develop a new meaning to you. Suddenly you will realize that it does not matter that much if the song leader drags the songs, the Bible reader stumbles over a word or two, the preacher preaches the same sermon again. For while you are doing all your Christian works during the week, you are loving in action, you are showing people God (who is Love), you are Love’s ambassador. Thus you learn to love your Christian brothers and sisters so much that you do not even realize they are not perfect. 1 Corinthians 13:5 states that love is not provoked by the weaknesses of others, or by anything else. Love does not notice, but prevails.

 Out in the world day by day you will be loving others so much that you will be overwhelmed by the tremendous capacity of love you feel from God through those around you. And you will want to adore and sing praises to him and thank him, and learn more and more about him all the time ~ all the more as you see the day approaching. It will no longer be a matter of HAVING to go to worship, but LOOKING FORWARD to going because your very heart would burst if you could not.

 In the Old Testament, sacrifice was the center of worship. In the New Testament era sacrifice is still the center of worship. Hebrews 13:15,16 states, Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Not only do we sacrifice the fruit of our lips in worship, but also the incense of prayer (Revelation 8:4) and the incense of giving (Philippians 4:15,18).

 Perhaps you do not need any encouraging to do or keep up your good works; but maybe those others who do need it will be there at the assembly waiting for you to come and encourage them. On the other hand, there will be times when you will be needing encouragement; this happens to everyone. According to Hebrews 10:25, we encourage one another when we assemble together. We must never let the other person down. That is God’s plan, God’s way.

 The worship period is only the beginning of our worship, the beginning of our service. In the worship assembly, we offer the sacrifice of our lips, our ears, and our minds. Notice carefully Romans 12:1. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God ~ which is your spiritual worship. The King James Version states that it is your reasonable service. It is only reasonable to expect a Christian to be full of good works and to encourage others to be. That is the fulfillment of worship to God.

Matthew 7:16,20 both quote Jesus as saying, By their fruits you will recognize them. John 15:16 recalls Jesus explaining to his disciples, I chose you to go and bear fruit ~ fruit that will last. Romans 7:4 tells us what our purpose in life is once we are born anew as Christians. So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

 Are you bearing fruit? Are you a Christian in every way? Do you claim to be Christ-like? Jesus said in John 15:5, I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. Are you apart from Jesus? Have you been doing nothing? Jesus went on to warn in verse 6, If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. Jesus said we must bring forth fruit. He commanded it.

Let us not be one of those to whom he said, And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I say? Matthew 7:21 gives this warning: Not everyone who says to me, “Lord!” “Lord!” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

 We often use the above verses to illustrate that, if some religious groups do not organize themselves according to the instructions in the Bible, do not become Christians according to the Bible, and do not hold worship services according to the examples of the Bible, they should question their salvation.

 This may be true. But we must not forget that it applies just as strongly to those who call out, “Lord!” yet do not go into the world around them and bring forth some fruit. 1 John 3:18 gives this gentle warning, Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth

 Today, dare to put your Christianity in to practice. Today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and every day until it has spanned the rest of your life. Make the decision for today, and for tomorrow’s today, one day at a time. You will soon find that such practice becomes a driving force in your life which you cannot stop. You will become addicted to it! 1 Corinthians 16:15 speaks of a family who had Addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints (KJV). Yes, this can happen to you, and It isn’t that hard to do.

 How can you get started if you have not been used to doing daily good works and bringing forth these fruits? Again, go back to Hebrews 10:22-27. Assemble yourself more and more with other Christians so you may give and receive encouragement. This is the first vital step. Your Bible classes and worship services are two forms of assembling.

 Other forms of assembling include setting aside one or two days a week to get with someone you can work with and spend time visiting people. Have class projects, and take some of the work home with you to do before the next class time. Have a quiet time set aside each day at home for private works if not employed outside your home.

 Try to do as much as possible by twos or more. We need each other. This will help you not put things off you know you should be doing and deep down really do want to do. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins James 4:17). Jesus recommended it. The disciples practiced it. This is God’s wisdom. Do not depend on yourself alone. The early Christians were always together doing some sort of good work. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46,47).

 You can’t miss it! If you are daily teaching and doing good works with each other, there will be many conversions to Christ, for people will notice the church (kingdom of Christians) think favorably of it, and want to be a part of it so they may have the happiness and peace you have. That’s how it works. It did in the first century; it does now.

 Even the contribution at your congregation will go up automatically, spontaneously. Not because someone told you and the other Christians to, but because you will be so involved in good works, you will see more and more needs even in a monetary form. You will want to give so you through your money, as well as time, will be able to accomplish those good works.

 We too often think of giving as something we have to do or the preacher will harass us. (Sometimes, though, if a preacher preaches on it twice a year, we think of it as harassing. Guilty consciences?) After you get to work, you no longer think of giving as putting some money in a cold impersonal plate, and it going to pay for just the building, the utilities, salaries, and class books. Your money will be doing many good works and you will be glad.

 Giving of our money is just one part of the giving and seed planting involved in your Christian life.

 Remember, you are to offer your body as a living sacrifice. Everything you give is just a part of that sacrifice. And the more of one thing a person gives – such as time – the more of other things that person wants to give. Our whole way of thinking changes.

 Every time you buy something, you will catch yourself thinking, “How can I use this for God?” After all, everything we have is God’s anyway (James 1:17). You will find you can use your new house to entertain in. You can use your new stove to new refrigerator for cold drinks, storing fruits, vegetables, etc. to share with those you enjoy being with and enjoy helping. You can use your new car to pick up people to go to Bible class, to take to the doctor, to take shopping, etc. When you get new clothes, you can give your outgrown ones to someone who needs them. When your children buy new toys, they can share them with their friends. And, of course, everything we have been blessed with through the years -not necessarily recently ~ we can share with others. After all, God is sharing them with us!

 In another sense, Jesus said in Matthew 25:34-40: Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of these brethren of mine, you did for me.”

 In the midst of beginning your new life of service, you must be aware of subtle and not-so-subtle forces to stop you. There will always be those weak Christians who may criticize you for all your good works. Or shall we call it persecution? They may claim all kinds of things about your motives for doing the good works. They might even make up a few things about you that are false. As hard as it is to say – it is harder even to do – you must never let this discourage you and stop you. Instead, turn it around and use it as a spiritual thermometer to see how well you are doing as a Christian. Remember, the more good David did to Saul, the more Saul hated him and tried to kill him. And the more good Jesus did, the more the “faith-only” religious people hated him and tried to kill him.

 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:10-13a). See there? It’s your thermometer. Worldly Christians or weak Christians (same thing) certainly criticize you. The more you work, the more Satan will try to get you to stop – even through your own friends and family.

 Perhaps it is that those who shout the loudest are those who deep down envy you the most. so take note of those people. Get better acquainted with them, and invite them to do some of these Christian works with you. After awhile, they will probably say that you have changed and aren’t so overbearing and all those other things they perhaps used to call you. Actually, what it really will be is that they will have changed and will see you now through the eyes of love and brotherliness, a fellow worker. This has happened over and over through the history of the world, and is probably the best way to get rid of a critic ~ make them a participant.

 Lastly, be careful of your motives. At first your motives to do good works will be good, but as more and more people begin to condemn or praise you for doing them (they will do both), your motives may change you into being a people pleaser rather than a God pleaser. Always keep in mind 1 Corinthians 13:3: If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 Whenever you go out to do a good work, refer to yourself as so-and-so from the church or the body of Christ. Your motives will not be as easily misunderstood, and you will always be reminding even yourself of your purpose in doing these things. Christ is your purpose. You are a fellow worker with him (2 Corinthians 6:1). By glorifying his church, you will be glorifying Christ, the Head. And this is what you want above all else on earth.

 Now take the challenge! Of course you can do it! 

 

6/4/17 ~ Boldness

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuilding“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” (Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh)

Those are touching and thoughtful words from a Disney classic but there is also a spiritual lesson worth remembering: God’s people are braver and stronger than anyone that does not belong to God… and if we keep this in mind we will certainly be smarter than those outside of Christ!

Boldness

Should we as Christians be bold or humble? I’m not sure why this puzzles some Christians because the correct answer according to God’s word is both!

Unfortunately, we sometimes equate humility with weakness. While we understand that Jesus was meek and humble we also know that He was never weak, He never watered down the truth, never failed to stand up for what was right, never failed to speak the truth.

Now certainly we can be boldly wrong. There are several ways that we can be aggressive, brazen or presumptuous as the negative or wrong way to behave. But that should never deter us from what is essential as a holy boldness that God demands of His people.

The Greek word used in the New Testament for this positive, confidence is based on what is right or holy boldness is parrēsia. To appreciate the importance and God’s lesson for this attitude, let’s look at how the Holy Spirit uses the term.

On the day of Pentecost Peter announced that he could boldly (or confidently in many translations and freely in the KJV) state that David died and was buried (Acts 2:29). Peter could assert this without fear of being wrong and even reminds the audience that David’s tomb is still there to see for proof.

As the early church continued to grow that confidence or boldness was seen as both a sign of knowing Jesus (Acts 4:13) and something worth praying for that they might continue to exhibit it (Acts 4:29). When challenging events threatened the saints their prayers were answered by the Holy Spirit filling them with yet more holy boldness (Acts 4:31).

As years passed the Apostle Paul would find himself imprisoned in Rome and yet still teaching and preaching with boldness and confidence (Acts 28:31).
In each case the word used is parrēsia, that holy boldness that belongs to those who speak for and serve the Lord!

As the church grew and spread the New Testament writers continued to use this term to encourage and challenge them.

To the Corinthians Paul reminds Christians of their great holy boldness in speaking God’s word. We, unlike Moses with the fading glory of God, continue to use God’s boldness in what we say (2 Corinthians 3:12). Later Paul would speak of boldness in his fellow saints as they serve the Lord together (2 Corinthians 7:4).

The Ephesians were reminded that our holy boldness and confidence is through faith in and gives us access to our God (Ephesians 3:12). Later Paul asks for prayers on his behalf that he might continue to preach the gospel with that same holy boldness (Ephesians 6:19 and a similar request to other Christians in Philippians 1:20).

Paul, in writing to Timothy about those that served well as deacons, says they gain great boldness in the faith (1 Timothy 3:13). And so great was Paul’s boldness that he could have even ordered Philemon to do what is right (Philemon 8).

The Hebrew writer repeatedly challenges Christians to hold on to their holy boldness (Hebrews 3:6) and use it to draw near to the throne of grace for our needed help (Hebrew 4:16). It is that very boldness that allows us to enter the holy place through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19) and we cannot afford to throw it away with our reward (Hebrews 10:35).

Likewise, the Apostle John calls us to live in Christ now that we might have that holy boldness to welcome His return (1 John 2:28; 3:21; 4:17). It is the secret ingredient that brings us a resplendent “Yes” answer to our prayers and requests of our Heavenly Father (1 John 5:14).

Certainly, we need to always be humble as God’s ambassadors to a world that is lost in sin. At the same time, we must remember who we are in God’s eyes and boldly serve Him and share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are, after all, those who are entrusted with the power (check out some of Paul’s great lessons about that!) and grace of Almighty God.
Do we perhaps fail to serve God as we should because we mistakenly leave out our holy boldness? Never forget that your Savior gave His life for you to cleanse you from your sins. This is personal! This is His love, His gift and we must never hide it, never be ashamed of it, never fail to boldly go forth to serve our God and King!

— Lester P. Bagley

5/21/17 ~ On Guard

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingThe wisest man that ever lived warned us that every word of God is proven as trustworthy (Proverbs 30:5). And Jesus, himself, reminded even the Devil that we live by every word that comes from God (Matthew 4:4). It would seem that God is trying to get us to diligently examine exactly what He says to learn what Peter called “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Words of eternal life! Should we not love to dig deeply into what God says and how He says it that we might appreciate His rich lessons? Consider one such example:

On Guard!

In fencing (the sword fighting kind) there is a French term, en garde, that serves as a warning to prepare to defend yourself. It translates very well to the English language as on guard.

In the New Testament, there is a similar word that the Holy Spirit uses some two dozen times with a very similar meaning. As a military term, it carries the sense of urgency in paying attention or being alert to deadly threats with the understanding that failure means certain death. The lessons that God uses it for are well worth examining and heeding.

In the Gospels, the word is used by Jesus to warn the disciples especially about the dangers of the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees and other false teachers (cf. Matthew 7:15; 16:6, 11). The grave danger of false prophets or teachers is obvious when you see God comparing the situation to a soldier guarding dangerous prisoners or on watch while at war.

In a beautifully positive sense, Lydia is described as having her heart opened by the Lord to respond (literally, be on guard) to the words spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). Certainly, this is an important way for us to be on guard to the truth of God’s word, too!

The lesson is similar to how Paul would some years later remind Timothy of the importance of devoting himself, paying attention to the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). Here again the actual word used is the be on guard term. Clearly,  your attention to reading God’s word as part of our worship together is as important as a soldier being watchful in hostile territory.

Again, the urgency is obvious when Paul warned the Ephesian elders to “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). We too must be “on guard” for both ourselves and those souls that the Lord entrusts to our care.

Failure to be on guard can also be subtle in that it causes us to gradually drift away from the truth (Hebrews 2:1). Thus Peter urges us to keep paying attention to guarding until the time when Jesus comes again (2 Peter 1:19).

The real question is: Are we truly on guard with our Lord for the truth of His word and for that which is right before God?

Knowing the threats and dangers we face in this world and knowing the power of Satan… are you ready at all times. Now is the time to be… en garde!

— Lester P. Bagley

Do and Do-Not-Do

From the Preacher’s Pen… 

RacineBuildingDo you actually belong to God? It’s easy to claim anything you want, but others will eventually see through the false claims and recognize the fakes, the frauds that are out there.

Do you actually belong to God? It’s easy to claim anything you want, but others will eventually see through the false claims and recognize the fakes, the frauds that are out there.

So how do we tell? God has a very simple standard: Those that actually know and do His will belong to God. Those that fraudulently teach, misrepresent the truth and do something that is not God’s will do not belong to Him and should never be listened to or fellowshipped.

Consider this lesson a bit further:

Do and Do-Not-Do

One of the earliest lessons that we learn as human beings involves right and wrong; things we do and things that we should not do.

Sometimes those lessons are learned by making mistakes such as when we burn ourselves on a hot stove. Other times we can learn those lessons by listening to instructions and obeying them. And sometimes we just fail to learn at all and end up making the same mistake over and over again.

The Apostle John as an elderly preacher had both learned that lesson himself and taught the same to literally generations of Christians. Earlier in his life, as one of the “Sons of Thunder,” he was anxious to call fire from heaven to destroy a city (Luke 9:54). But with years came knowledge and as he writes the letter of 1 John to younger Christians he repeatedly advises them of the importance of love.

Unlike many people, John (and God, too!) understands that love, real love involves teaching obedience. Because that is true we find that while 1 John contains some 46 references to love, the letter also contains a multitude of direct references (some 50) to obedience, what to do and what not to do.

Let’s consider a few of those lessons: John begins (1 John 1:6) with the blunt reminder: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” God is never going to be fooled by what we claim when it is repudiated by how we act. The word that many versions translate as “practice” is actually the verb “to do.” So claiming to be a child of God (have fellowship with Him) and yet failing to walk in the light means that we are failures. As we fail to actually do God’s will we fail to actually be God’s family.

In case we missed that point John repeats it in 1 John 2:4: “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Say whatever you want, claim whatever you desire but without obedience to God, actually doing His will, you are nothing but a liar.

So how much failure can we “get away with?” That is the wrong question and God’s answer is none! In Scripture, the very concept of “what can I get away with” is always contrary to obedience. The very idea of “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7) contains the attitude, the desire, to do only what is right and never what we can get away with.

Just in case we missed that point, John underlines it with several specifics that we might try to get away with. Hating our brother or sister is defined as “walking in darkness” (1 John 2:11). Loving the world or the things in/of the world is to miss out on God’s love (1 John 2:15)!

In some ways, the most severe criticism from God comes in 1 John 2:21. With God’s word as our guide, we cannot claim ignorance! We can never tell God, “I didn’t know better.” If we fail to know the truth the fault is ours, not His. There is never any excuse for ignorance because it always means that we chose not to learn, not to obey.

Wait, can’t I just get away with doing a few things wrong? 1 John 3:10 points out that failure to do right, failure to practice or work at doing the right things is proof… proof that we are children of the Devil and not of God.

Well, I’m sure that I can find someone that believes and teaches that I can get away with what I want! Actually, you can! There are countless “teachers” and “preachers” out there that will tell you what you want to hear. So you really do NOT have to do all this hard work of knowing and doing right! Unfortunately, for those that wish to live this way John labels their teachers as false prophets that we should never listen to, never believe (1 John 4:1).

One of the earliest lessons that we learn as human beings involves right and wrong; things we do and things that we should not do.

If we would be family members of the King of Kings, if we would actually belong to the Royal Priesthood of God we must actually do the things He calls us to do. In spite of all the religious claims out there, we must get it right and do only what is God’s will or else we are wrong (read 1 John 5:12).

In the end, we only fool ourselves when we fail to truly know and do God’s will.

— 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

2/27/17 ~ Seven Simple Steps

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingThe Apostle Paul was obviously a sports fan as his illustrations make clear. But, like most preachers, he uses those illustrations to emphasize spiritual lessons. In one comment he makes an important observation to Timothy that, “bodily exercise is of value for a little while, but godliness is of value for all things because it holds a promise for the present life and for the coming life.” (1 Timothy 4:8). Take a moment to consider a bit more the application of that lesson:

The Apostle Paul was obviously a sports fan as his illustrations make clear. But, like most preachers, he uses those illustrations to emphasize spiritual lessons. In one comment he makes an important observation to Timothy that, “bodily exercise is of value for a little while, but godliness is of value for all things because it holds a promise for the present life and for the coming life.” (1 Timothy 4:8). Take a moment to consider a bit more the application of that lesson:

Seven Simple Steps

Recently I saw a little article by a medical doctor that made me stop and think. He was writing, not about spiritual things, but about seven simple steps to regular exercise. But his comments actually have a much deeper spiritual lesson that we need to learn.

In the physical realm when we determine to eat better and exercise more in the New Year we often see those resolutions slip away within a month or so. In order to get over that hump and really form healthy habits, there are seven simple steps to take.

These steps are important because our brain’s cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”) is our habit center that helps to shape and control our behavior through repetition and reinforcement.

This little brain becomes our “little friend” when we try to establish a habit. The more connections, the firmer the habit. So developing a healthy habit begins by training the mind. Or, as the Apostle Paul says it, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Think about that for a moment. Our God who designed and created us in His own image knows and tells us to do just exactly the same things that people only now have learned!

So here are those seven simple steps to train or transform our minds to actually be full-time the people God calls us to be:

1) Begin today. The longer we put something off the more likely we are to NOT actually do it! Latch on to any excuse to do it! The New Testament constantly, consistently reminds us that TODAY is the day of salvation. The time to start is never tomorrow!

2) Start simply. There’s no need to run a marathon the first time out. If weight-lifting is your aim, begin with what’s bearable. If you are a would-be runner, start with a brisk walk around the block. Or, as God puts it, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that, by it, you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

3) Aim for success. Once you’ve set your goals, work hard to achieve (and surpass) them. Rewards for achievement is a great motivator to keep going. Encouraging one another, cheering each other on is actually part of God’s plan for His people!

4) Research your sport. Reading and learning about what you love doing is as important as training to do it. Serious athletes are serious students of what they do, what they can learn and what others have learned. Serious Christians are always studying, digging, working hard to better their knowledge and understanding just like Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15).

5) Don’t overdo it. After a particularly tough run or sweaty workout, take it easy. Achieving exercise balance helps you avoid the injuries that can sideline healthy habits. Hint: check the Gospels for how often Jesus took time out (and asked His disciples to do the same) for prayer, for time to themselves rather than always being on the go or on call for everyone else.

6) Stay on track. Make exercise a top priority. “Neither rain nor sleep nor lack of time will keep me from my appointed workout.” How sad that so many so-called Christians never have a priority of worship, of study, of fellowship with God’s people. And no wonder they fail!

7) Make exercise a part of your life. If you love running, hang out with runners. If you’re a swimmer, join a swimming club. The example of friends offers ongoing encouragement. Are we surprised that God’s design for His family is constant contact and literally living in the body of Christ?

These seven steps are key to building long-lasting exercise routines. Following this routine to establish one healthy habit at a time allows each to become a foundation for the next.

In spiritual terms, we are building up the body of Christ by working together to truly DO God’s will and BE God’s people. Paul said it this way, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

— Lester P. Bagley

2/19/17 – FORGOTTEN

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingThis past week the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team reported for spring training. If you are a real baseball fan spring training is the time of year that all those ridiculous winter sports (you know, things like football and basketball) are over and may be safely forgotten for another year!

If baseball fans have good reason to be thankful, how much more so do we as Christians have reason to be grateful for all that our God has done for us? We are not just spectators but literally chosen by our God to serve Him on this earth as His “royal priesthood!”

As those who are recipients of God’s many rich blessings, we need to remember two very important things. First, the cost of remaking us into the Holy Ones that God needs us to be: the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God. And second, the reason that sacrifice was necessary was not because we are so wonderful but because we were so desperately in need of forgiveness.

Let’s remember just how great that gift from God truly is.

Forgotten

It was July 19 in the year 2000 and, as any summer in the US should include, there was a baseball game. In particular, there was a scheduled game for the Florida Marlins to host the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta’s newly acquired pitcher Andy Ashby was looking to show his new team what he could do for them. At the same time, Brad Penny was the rookie starting pitcher for Florida and he likewise looked forward to displaying his skills for his teammates.

The game was not really very good, certainly not destined to be memorable for the pitchers, both of whom lasted less than four innings with neither (as you might imagine) pitching very well. By the middle of the fifth inning, the score was tied six to six, not from good batting but rather from poor defense on the part of both teams.

Suddenly, rain poured down on the field and, as it continued, the game was called and everyone went home soaking wet.

The rules that major league baseball is played by state that if there is no clear winner by the end of the fifth inning and the game is canceled, all the statistics are blotted out. It is just as if no game had ever been played. The fielders had no record kept of any errors and the starting pitchers had their slates for the day likewise wiped clean. Today, if you look up the records of any of those individuals, their bad plays, errors, mistakes and every blunder of that day is gone. It simply does not exist!

For us as Christians, there is a similar official rule from God. When we repent, our sin is blotted out of God’s memory. It is as though it never happened! God reminded His people through the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah that, “I even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins!” (Isaiah 43:25) “… for I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34). The writer of Hebrews tells us that the prophecy God made through those men was directed at us on this side of the Cross (Hebrews 8:12 & 10:17).

Do we realize, do we appreciate just how great a gift God has given to us? The bumbling errors, the mistakes, the blunders, the bad plays and wrong decisions are the very thing that the blood of Christ, like that rainstorm, simply washed away from God’s sight and memory.

How sad it would be if such love, such forgiveness should be forgotten by us, made as though it had never happened. That same writer of Hebrews also goes on to remind us that “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for [our] sins” (Hebrews 10:26).

For us, the decision is a conscious one made by God to forgive and by us to accept that forgiveness. He made that choice to forgive and forget your sins when He allowed His own Son to die for those sins. Have you made that choice to accept Him and His forgiveness?

If not, why not? Why not let it all be gone? And if you already have, do you live like it? Are we grateful enough to live for Him who died for us? We all have the opportunity (not to mention the command from our God Himself!) to share this Good News. Are we grateful enough to share what He’s done for us and what He can do for others?

Let’s live and encourage each other to live as thankful brothers and sisters in Christ this week!

— Lester P. Bagley