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

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

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

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

Do we really understand that…

Disciples Disciple, or They’re Not Disciples

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

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

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

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

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

As God’s New Testament “Royal Priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) we are also subject to God’s requirements for priests: For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts (Malachi 2:7).

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

2/4/17 ~ A Really Cheap Sacrifice

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingWithout a doubt keeping ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ faithful is hard. It is the most difficult task of our earthly lives and the most important.

Without a doubt keeping ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ faithful is hard. It is the most difficult task of our earthly lives and the most important.

Without a doubt keeping ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ faithful is hard. It is the most difficult task of our earthly lives and the most important.

Over the years I’ve struggled with keeping my focus in worship. It’s just so easy to become distracted by a million others things.

Over the years I’ve watched countless fellow Christians do the same thing. A parent becomes distracted by their children and finds it hard to refocus. We can’t be bothered to open our Bibles and follow the lesson. A teenager so engrossed in whispering to their friends that worship to God becomes unimportant. A young adult more interested in their phone than in God. An elderly person worrying more about lunch burning than in the worship of God.

You get the picture. And, if you are honest with yourself and your God, you realize that it is a flaw we all have and that we desperately need to fix. Consider for a moment the sin of…

A Cheap Sacrifice

Pssst! Hey, buddy! You want to buy a really cheap sacrifice? I mean, you can really save time and money here! And the best part is, God will never know the difference!

Very near the end of Old Testament inspired writings the prophet Malachi rebuked God’s people for robbing God in their offerings. Cheating God with cheap sacrifices was just the beginning (see Malachi 1:6-14). They offered to Him defiled offerings; the lame, blind and sick with what God calls an evil attitude.

When we offer to God a cheap sacrifice, we humiliate ourselves and disrespect (profane) our God!

Malachi goes on to rebuke the priests for failure to speak up against wrong: “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 2:7).

Think about that for a moment. If, as Christians, we are the royal priesthood of God (1 Peter 2:9) then every one of us is responsible to God for preserving the true knowledge of His word. As we are commissioned by Christ to teach the Gospel to others, we must answer to Him if we fail to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

If you think that this lesson is too pushy, then you need to continue reading Malachi as God accuses His people of robbing, cheating God of His offerings and sacrifices (Malachi 3:8-9). God’s blessings are ONLY promised to those that stop cheating Him (Malachi 3:10-12).

David the King (and prophet of God, remember?) taught us a great lesson as he refused to accept a free offering for his sin and a thanksgiving to God offering from Ornan. The fact that a good and godly man willingly offered the place, the oxen, wood and wheat for a sacrifice to the Lord could not atone for David’s need to offer a SACRIFICE. Without paying full price for those things David would have been offering a cheap and worthless sacrifice (read the full incident at 1 Chronicles 21:18-27).

Okay, okay! I get it. The wrong Old Testament sacrifice and failure to know and teach the truth are big things. But that has nothing to do with paying attention in worship. Or does it?

When Peter (1 Peter 2:1-5) tells us to grow up and offer “spiritual sacrifices” that are “acceptable to God,” what does he mean? The Hebrew writer (Hebrews 13:15-16) tells us that, through Christ, we “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” Doesn’t it seem like God is telling us that worship, praise, and service to Him are ALL a part of our sacrifices as priests of the Most High?

Paul sums up the extent of our worship and sacrifice as he commands us: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).

In the final analysis, our lives are to be lived entirely, consciously and conscientiously as the royal priests of the Lord God!

Do you really work at obeying God? No! It’s NOT easy! It takes hard work and extra effort to say and do the right thing. We are never going to be at our best and “on top of our game” all the time. But we are going to try and try again whenever we fail.

So, are you simply an excuse maker? Are we just offering God the leftovers of our lives? Do we really expect to get to heaven by humiliating ourselves with disrespectful offerings? Are you giving God a cheap sacrifice of your life in service to Him?

Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to begin getting it right in giving God our very best!

— Lester P. Bagley

1/15/17 ~ When Love Is Gone

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingIn the very first chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul reminds us that, with God, ignorance is not a defense (verses 18-32). The reason for that is the fact that ignorance of God is a willful choice. The evidence of our Creator and much of what is right or wrong is written for all to see and learn from in the world around us. Those simple facts bring God’s condemnation to those who do not search out and obey His will.

No, there’s nothing new in all that, it is simply the lesson that God has been teaching through His word since man and woman first chose sin over obedience. As hard a lesson as this is for us to accept there is one that’s, if possible, worse. Consider for a moment the horror of those that have once been faithful children of God who chose to turn their backs on Him:

When Love is Gone

Have you ever heard a song and realized that, in spite of the secular intent, there is a spiritual lesson that just demands attention? One such song was pointed out to me by a very dear brother in Christ many years ago. The lyrics to Have I Told You Lately That I Love You serve as a great lesson to God’s people about the relationship that God calls us to and Paul describes so often to congregations.

Another song with a great spiritual lesson is titled When Love is Gone. The song is sung by a young woman who has come to realize that the young man she’s become so close to and planned to marry has changed. He’s now far more interested in wealth and worldly things than he is in her. Even as she pours out her heartbreak, he is seemingly unaffected and will only realize what he has lost many years later.

There was a time when I was sure / That you and I were truly one,

That our future was forever / And would never come undone,

And we came so close to being close / And though you cared for me

There’s distance in your eyes tonight / So we’re not meant to be.

The love is gone, / The love is gone, / The sweetest dream

That you have ever known. / The love is gone, /The love is gone,

I wish you well / But I must leave you now alone.

There comes a moment in your life / Like a window, and you see

The future there before you / And how perfect life can be,

But adventure calls with unknown voices / Pulling you away

Be careful or you may regret / The choice you made someday

The song ends with…

It was almost love, / It was almost always,

It was like a fairytale we’d live out / You and I.

And yes some dreams come true, / And yes some dreams fall through

And yes the time has come / For us to say goodbye.

While it is sad to see those lost ones who do not listen to and obey God, it is in many ways even more poignant when those who once belonged to God turn away. Peter makes this very point in 2 Peter 2:17-22.

The spiritual version of this song plays out repeatedly in the Old Testament and leads to some heartbreaking passages in the New Testament. The early Christians in Acts, for the most part, struggled with threats from outsiders. But as the church continued to grow and spread, just when all seemed to be going so well, the false teachers and inside threats begin to flourish.

The Lord took longer for His final return than some expected. Continuing to live as a Christian became more hard work and less excitement than many wanted. And, what began with loving optimism and joy would deteriorate. Jesus warned about this very thing in Matthew 24:9-12: Then they will deliver you to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

Note carefully Jesus’ last comment there. Because people disobey God their love will grow cold. While we might take that as either their love for God or their love for others, the context actually suggests that Jesus is talking about their love for others will grow cold.

Consider what Jesus is talking about. When problems arise and Christians fall away from the family the ultimate problem, the ultimate cause of their sin is losing their real love.

Have you noted the anguish as Paul, at the close of his life writes of Demas that, because he loved this present world, he has deserted me? Love is gone. And, near the end of the first century, God writes to the Ephesian church and warns them that, even though they were still “going to church” and even doing many things right, their love is growing cold (Revelation 2:2-4).

What a heartbreaking diagnosis! Much like a person bleeding to death even as their heart frantically beats to try and continue circulating blood to keep them alive, death, when it comes, comes to the whole body.

For us, as Christians, we begin to appreciate the urgency as three New Testament writers all urge that we keep our love for one another strong and fervent (1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1 and 1 Peter 1:22).

James would bring the lesson to a pointed reminder as he tells us: My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).

Do we get the point? God, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ, never want to see us pulled away by another love. Be careful or you may regret, the choice you made someday.

Will your dreams of an eternal home come true? Or will they fall through? The choice is yours to make. Choose wisely. Choose well. Choose life and love with God and His family!

— Lester P. Bagley

#Love, #Falling, #Changing, #LostLove, #Sin, #ComingBack, #Church, #JesusChrist

01/01/17 ~ To a New Year

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

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

To a New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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

12/25/16 ~ Jesus, the Savior

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

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

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

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

Jesus the Savior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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….  

10/23/16 ~ World Christian Broadcasting

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingOne of the many efforts we as a congregation support to take the Gospel to the world is World Christian Broadcasting. While short-wave radio is not so important in America it does reach much of the rest of the world. A few months ago we as a congregation were contacted by World Christian Broadcasting and asked to be part of a special contribution Sunday for that work. One week from today is that special contribution Sunday! We’ve already committed $1,000 to that goal and whatever you give in addition toward that work will be sent along with that $1,000. Please use either the envelopes provided (on the table in the foyer) or mark your checks as being for World Christian Broadcasting). Here are the latest updates on that work:

World Christian Broadcasting

Dear Brothers and Sisters In Christ, We have a dream. That dream is simple but profound. We dream that Christians will come together on October 30, 2016, in an unprecedented way to share the Gospel with the entire world.

We live in a world fraught with hopelessness, danger, and division. The life-giving news of Jesus is needed more than ever. But many parts of the globe are off limits to conventional mission efforts. For political, geographical, and religious reasons, many nations and their people are closed to outside influences. Missionaries cannot cross their borders.

Jesus declared long ago, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every person.” How can we fulfill those words, words that seem to be an unattainable dream? For World Christian Broadcasting, the mission of Jesus is the very reason for our existence. The message of Jesus sent from World Christian Broadcasting’s shortwave stations cannot be stopped by any border, any ideology, any person.

Even in an internet world, shortwave remains the most effective and efficient way to reach people around the world. It is estimated that there are three billion shortwave receivers in the world. One billion of those are turned on at any given time with each one having three listeners.

Sunday, October 30, is the day hundreds of churches around the United States will be making a special offering for the ministry of World Christian Broadcasting. That is an important day for which we need your prayers and support. In addition to the six languages we broadcast now, we are hopeful to be able to add personnel who can provide Portuguese broadcasts to Brazil, Korean programs to both North and South Korea, and also broadcasts in French.

This is a once-in-a-generation moment! Would you prayerfully consider helping us reach more people? The need has never been greater.

— Andy Baker for World Christian Broadcasting

We have many mission works that we support and countless others are doing the work of the Lord out there. We must, just like the New Testament congregations, do our part both in local work and in supporting the work out there in the rest of the world. Since World Christian Broadcasting coordinates with the missionaries in the field, we are really helping all those already out there. Be an active part of the Lord’s work! Pray mightily for all the Lord’s workers. After all, they are our brothers and sisters working alongside us on this earth! And give that we might enable them to continue and increase that work. Please give much prayerful thought to this work and to your opportunity to add to our contribution.

—Lester P. Bagley