10/8/17 ~ Wrestling & Boxing

From the Preacher’s Pen… One of the hardest lessons of our Christian walk and life is RacineBuildingto remember its true seriousness. We get tired and want to quit. Nothing exciting happens and we want to quit. It all seems to require that motivation that we so often lack. How can we do this?

Reality is not kind. We face the same difficulty in almost every area of life. While many would like to win the prize or be the best, few are willing to put in the hard work that makes it all happen.

Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of this serious contest that we are involved with:

Wrestling and Boxing

As you might well expect, the ancient Olympic sports were based on skills used in warfare. Of course, it didn’t take long for the sports to develop to the point that the combatants were no longer soldiers but specialists in their sport. By New Testament times there were three combat sports and they were both highly popular and well developed with specialists in each area.

The apostle Paul was evidently a sports fan and used both sporting fights as well as real warfare as examples of important lessons for those he taught. We can best appreciate those spiritual lessons for us with a bit more appreciation of what he was actually talking about.

Wrestling was the first sport added to the ancient Olympics that did not involve running. It quickly became the most popular organized sport in ancient Greece. You scored a point by making your competitor touch the ground with his back, shoulder or hip. Points were also awarded for forcing them out of the wrestling square or by conceding defeat. Three points were necessary to win. A popular position was to be on top of your opponent and strangle him!

The word for wrestling (palē) is only used once in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:12 says, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Boxing is nearly as old as wrestling and also immensely popular. The boxer wrapped leather thongs around his hands to protect them. There were no rounds and no weight categories so the two men typically hit each other in the head until one could no longer continue. The Romans added metal studs to the leather wrappings and later made the fights to the death! (In 393 AD boxing was abolished as excessively brutal and did not return to popularity until the late 1500s in London.)

Since the rules prevented any kind of fighting other than punching and the most effective way to win was hitting the head, Paul makes the point of boxing, in such a way, as not beating the air in 1 Corinthians 9:26. When we fight the good fight of faith we always go for the win!

Pankration was the ultimate fighting sport of the Olympics and had almost no rules. The Greek term literally means all of your power, strength, might. It was a combination of boxing, wrestling, kicking, holds, locks, chokes. The only things banned were biting and gouging out your opponent’s eyes. Some contests were actually won by breaking bones or disemboweling the opponent!

While the formal word for the pankration is not used in the New Testament, the concept words are employed to remind us of just how vicious and savage is our spiritual warfare.

Paul says, This command [to be faithful] I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight [wage all-out war as a soldier] the good fight [a military campaign or battle] (1 Timothy 1:18). And a little while later he also says, Fight the good fight of faith [literally, strive, fight, struggle, do what is necessary to win the great contest]; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12).

Finally, Paul brings up the subject again in some of his final words as he says, I have fought the good fight [the same words he used in 1 Timothy 6:12], I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Read 1 Corinthians 9:25-27; Colossians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:1-4 and remember how serious this is! Our fight for Christ against Satan and his followers is not a “police action,” it is not a skirmish or a dispute. It is all out war to the eternal death! The devil has declared all-out war on us… and we must do the same to him.

— Lester P. Bagley

 

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9/17/17 ~ Warrior Songs

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingAs the Apostle John tells of his vision of the new, eternal, holy city (Revelation 21), he specifies not only those that will be there (verse 7) but also those that will be excluded (verse 8). In that list of exclusions, God places the cowardly at the top of the list.

Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher that was born in 535 BC and died in 475 BC. During his lifetime Ephesus was part of the Persian Empire, but events were building up to the expulsion of the Persians. Five years before his death, 300 Spartans become the symbol of courage against overwhelming odds in the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). Their sacrifice would contribute greatly to the road to freedom for the Greek nation.

There’s a military quote attributed to Heraclitus that is well appreciated for its accuracy:

  • Of every 100 men, 10 shouldn’t even be there, 80 are nothing but targets,
  • 9 are real fighters and we are lucky to have them for they make the battle.
  • Ah but the one, one of them is a warrior…
  • and he will bring the others back.

The observation is true not only in the physical world but also in the spiritual one. So it is fair to ask: Are you a coward or a warrior when it comes to serving Jesus Christ? Consider God’s lesson of…

The Warrior Songs

Over the centuries many cultures were famed for their great warriors, and one of the great tributes to those heroes were songs. Songs of their fame. Songs of their great deeds. Songs of their immense courage. Songs of their sacrifice and death. Heroes are not born, you see, but they are motivated and trained.

It should come as no surprise to us that God calls His people to such a great challenge. The Apostle Paul reminds us,

  • Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
  • Put on the full armor of God,
  • so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
  • For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
  • but against the rulers, against the powers,
  • against the world forces of this darkness,
  • against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
  • Therefore, take up the full armor of God,
  • so that you will be able to resist in the evil day,
  • and having done everything, to stand firm.
  • (Ephesians 6:10-13)

The fact is, once sin came into the world, this has always been an important part of God’s message to His people. After 40 years of working under the leadership of Moses God challenged him to encourage Joshua to do the job he would soon take over. And when Joshua begins the job the first thing God calls on the elders and all the nation to do is to encourage Joshua to the work he is called to do.

Throughout the years of the Judges, there were many songs to commemorate and praise the strong men and women who faithfully followed God. But perhaps David, the Sweet Singer of Israel, would set the tone for the warrior songs of God’s people for all time.

Psalm 18 begins with this ancient attribution: For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said…

David goes on to sing the song of His Lord and God as the great warrior, the great victor in saving David from all harm. What a beautiful reminder of what his son, Solomon would observe years later that victory belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31).

One of the great Messianic Psalms (Psalm 91) is often referred to as the Warrior Psalm or as the song of comfort to military families. Again the reminder comes that God is the great deliverer and reason for our victory. Satan would apply the promise of God’s angels guarding God’s warriors to Jesus as a challenge to throw Himself from the Temple (see Psalm 91:11-13 and Matthew 4:5-6). Is there any greater comfort for “Soldiers of Christ” than to realize how God controls every single detail to protect and bring victory to His people, His warriors?

Years after David died his son Solomon would sing a warrior’s song of a victorious reminder that

  • Unless the Lord builds the house,
  • They labor in vain who build it;
  • Unless the Lord guards the city, 
  • The watchman keeps awake in vain
  • (Psalm 127:1).

Yet it would be David himself, perhaps the greatest warrior of God’s people, that would sing what is often thought of as the ultimate song of all God’s warriors:

  • Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
  • Who trains my hands for war,
  • And my fingers for battle
  • (Psalm 144:1).

He would go on to praise the God of salvation who brings not only deliverance from the dangers of battle but the ultimate joy, peace, safety and blessing for the victor. And David’s ultimate conclusion in verse 15 would be:

How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!

Let’s return to Paul’s application of this lesson for us in Ephesians 6. Preparation, conditioning, training are the vital things a warrior does to get ready. If we lack the time to be in the study of God’s word and in prayer to prepare us for the fight we will never win. And no warrior ever imagines for a single moment that they are perfectly prepared. That training goes on every moment you are not actually in combat. The goal is to develop that keen edge of readiness to instantly do the right thing when the time comes.

How serious is the battle that we face? It is literally deadlier than any flesh and blood battle ever fought! Our enemy is Satan himself with all his spiritual powers. Without God’s own help, without His full armor, we cannot face the murderous attacks of the evil one. But with His help, with God’s own Spirit within us, we can truly accomplish all things.

In the end, that’s exactly what saints really are: the most magnificent, well trained, confident, deadly warriors that fight the good fight of faith and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12)! This is our calling! And this is the very purpose of our “good confession” as we put on our Christ.

This is our life in Christ! As we serve, as we live for Him, as we destroy the power of Satan in the lives of those we turn to the Lord we join the chorus of those who sing the warrior songs.

And one day we will complete the good fight. We will finish the course. We will have kept the faith and be ready for the crown (2 Timothy 4:7-8)., the crown that is reserved for us all as victorious Soldiers of Christ. And then we sing, not the warrior’s song of fighting the good fight, but the eternal song of victory in Heaven.

  • I have fought the good fight,
  • I have finished the race,
  • I have kept the faith.  
  • From now on there is reserved for me
  • the crown of righteousness,
  • which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day,
  • and not only to me but also to
  • all who have longed for his appearing.

Without the warrior’s song, there is no victor’s song. So, are you ready to sing the warrior’s song with God’s people that you might also join in the victor’s song one day?

— Lester P. Bagley

7/9/17 ~ Bless the Lord

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHave you ever noticed how some songs just seem to apply to living as a child of God? Sure they may have originally been intended for a totally different audience but when you really consider the words they just seem to fit God’s family.One such song from the 1960s goes like this:

It’s such a pretty world today, look at the sunshine. 
And every day’s the same since I met you.
It’s such a pretty world today knowing that you’re mine
And happiness is being close to you.

Do you see what I mean? Wouldn’t David, the “sweet singer of Israel” have loved the thought?

When words, thoughts, ideas cause us to focus on God and recall both who He is and what He has done for us they ought to cause us to…

Bless the Lord

To many of us today the idea of blessing God may sound a little odd. We normally think of blessing as something that God does for us and not the other way around. However, the Scriptures provide some very certain statements about us blessing God, so let’s do a bit of study.

The Hebrew word most often translated “bless” is barak, literally meaning to kneel as for praise or prayer and thus to thank, bless, salute or wish well to. This word is used over 330 times in the Old Testament and is translated 315 times in the NASB as some form of “bless.” A good example is Psalm 103 where it occurs six times.

The first thing you may notice is that not all translations have the term “bless the Lord.” The NIV generally translates this as “praise” rather than bless. As you can see from the above definition, the meaning carried by this word is really a bit more than saying something nice about God. Let’s read Psalm 103 and see if we can get a better grasp of the idea:

Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities; Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit;
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The Lord performs righteous deeds And judgments for all who are oppressed.

He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more;
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
The lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, To those who keep His covenant,
And who remember His precepts to do them.

The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the Lord, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word! Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Do you see the richness and beauty of what David is exclaiming in praise of God? We could never simply say “that’s nice” to the one who forgives our sins, heals our diseases, showers us with blessings and, above all else, saves us. When we study our Bibles, we come to realize that the God who created everything and guided all of history is the very one who loved us (you and me) so much that He sent His own Son to die for us. Wow!

Have you ever stopped and just looked up? Past the clouds, past the sun, past the stars, past all that we can see is still not as big as God’s love for us! And the everlasting love of God remains forever upon those who love and obey Him.

Yes, it is a pretty world today and every day when we know and serve God! And happiness, real joy, is found only in being close to Him.

Doesn’t that make you, like David, want to call out to all of creation to shower God with praise? Do you know who God is and what He has done for you? Do you belong to Him, obeying His words and serving Him? Then let’s join in lifting our voices, our very lives to praise, to thank, to salute, to bless the Lord!

— Lester P. Bagley

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

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

3/5/17 ~ MEMORIES

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingMemories. To someone that has lost a loved one many memories can be as real as the present. When certain hymns are sung I can still hear my dad singing them as though he were right beside me. No doubt you too have memories equally strong.

To appreciate the power of memories just promise a child something special. That becomes their focus, their hope and they will do everything in their power to keep you focused on fulfilling that promise.

Memories tell who we are, what is really important to us, as well as what motivates us to move forward. And because of that fact, our God challenges us to keep certain memories ever with us.

Memories

Memories. The very word is prophetic as it conjures up all kinds of thoughts and remembrance for us. Memories have been the subject of many a poem, many a song.

Jesus through the Apostle Paul challenges us to remember a vital memory as we worship each Lord’s Day. “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Memories. A song from the musical “Cats” by Andrew Lloyd Webber carries that very title. It is, as many of his songs are, a memorable melody with some beautiful words. While not their original meaning, in fact, the words make a haunting picture of the disciples in the days following Jesus’ death and then His resurrection. Consider some of those words:

Midnight   Not a sound from the pavement / Has the moon lost her memory / She is smiling alone / In the lamplight / The withered leaves collect at my feet / And the wind begins to moan.

Memory / All alone in the moonlight / I can dream of the old days / Life was beautiful then / I remember the time I knew what happiness was / Let the memory live again.

Daylight / I must wait for the sunrise / I must think of a new life / And I mustn’t give in / When the dawn comes / Tonight will be a memory too / And a new day will begin.

 

Can’t you picture the loss the disciples felt? It seemed like, just as hope was dawning, all hope was suddenly taken away. And yet, that was not the end of the story. No, it was hardly the beginning. And soon, much like the song ends, there was the realization that, “A new day has begun!”

How do we remember the most significant person in all of history? How, when and where do we memorialize someone who loved us so much that he gave his own life for us?

We come together as family each Lord’s day in part to remember. Our Savior’s own words reminding us yet again of the matchless gift, the priceless treasure of His own life given so that we might live.

Time has passed since that gift, since His request that we keep the memory and our home in heaven is drawing nearer.

Do you still remember? Do you keep His sacrifice fresh and new in your mind, in your life?

Memories. Memories tell who we are, what is really important to us, as well as what motivates us to move forward.

Never forget those precious memories.

— 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

1/22/17 ~ To Complain or Not to Complain

RacineBuildingYour children fight all the time and nothing you do will stop them. So? Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys did too. One ran away from home and was gone twenty long years just so they wouldn’t kill each other. But by being separated, these two powerful personalities were able to become all that God intended for them to be ~ founders of the Edomite and Israelite nations.

You’ve been uprooted three times in the last three years and are having to move again. So? Abraham and Sarah moved twelve times over a period of fifty-five years while her husband, Abraham, searched for his elusive dream. But, by following her husband with blind faith, she was an example for him to follow Jehovah with blind faith.

You are too fat/thin, you’re too tall/short, your skin is too dark/light, your toes are too long/stubby. So? Ugly Leah had to listen to her husband talk about how much more he loved her sister who was so amazingly beautiful. But Leah bore children for twenty years before her gorgeous sister had any, and she lived much longer than her stunning sister. This helped Leah have proper priorities so she could become the one her husband dependent on to raise all the children, even her sister’s.

Your son got in trouble with the authorities and was sentenced to ten years in prison. So? Amran’s and Jochabed’s son, Moses, got in trouble with the authorities in Egypt and was exiled from family and friends for 40 years. But this gave Moses a chance to be well remembered by those same authorities when he returned to free his fellow Israelites, and know where to lead them to live as freed slaves.

You have a terrible disease and it is making life a living hell for you. So? Miriam was stricken with leprosy, a disease that deforms the body and takes away all feeling so that the process of fastening shoes or anything else is almost impossible. But this helped her realize she had to choose between the calf god her brother, Aaron, had made and she and she had apparently worshiped, and Jehovah, the true God.

Your wife or husband died and all your children died. So? Naomi’s husband and sons all died. But, when she was through mourning, she spent more time mentoring her daughter-in-law who eventually was a great-grandmother of King David and ancestress of Jesus.

Your husband or wife is a monster. So? Esther married the king of Persia who, when he failed to conquer Rome, beat the ocean in a temper tantrum. But living with a spouse like that gave her the courage to face half a nation that was intent on killing off her people.

The Psalm of Complaint

David, who started a large portion of his psalms with a complaint, dedicated the entire 39th Psalm to trying to work through his problem. Let’s look at the Living Bible version to see what God was explaining to us through him:

Lesson One: Don’t provide non-Christians with proof that Christians are no different than anyone else. “I said to myself, I’m going to quit complaining! I’ll keep quiet, especially when the ungodly are around me” (v. 1).

Lesson Two: When you’ll burst if you don’t complain anyway, tell God. “But as I stood there silently, the turmoil within me grew to the bursting point. The more I mused, the hotter the fires inside. Then at last I spoke and pled with God” (v.2-3).

Lesson Three: Step back and see our complaint in perspective with the truly important things in life. “Lord, help me to realize how brief my time on earth will be. Help me to know that I am here for but a moment more. My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you” (v 4-5).

Lesson Four: Ask yourself how the world would get along if you weren’t around to complain about things. “Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend” (v. 6)

Lesson Five: Face it: Complaining is a sin. “And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. Save me from being overpowered by my sins, for even fools will mock me then” (v. 7-8).

Lesson Six: Remember, God can use the bad Satan causes to happen to you, to get you to shut up and pay more attention to what God has to say. “Lord, I am speechless before you. I will not open my mouth to speak one word of complaint, for my punishment is from you” (v. 9).

Lesson Seven: An ungodly person will be destroyed by bad things, but a godly person will survive to praise God still. “When you punish a man for his sins, he is destroyed, for he is as fragile as a moth-infested cloth; yes, man is frail as breath. Spare me, Lord! Let me recover and be filled with happiness again” (v. 11,13).

The Great Complainer

Revelation 12:10 says, and Job chapter demonstrates, that Satan is the great accuser. What better synonym could be applied to a complainer? Satan causes bad to happen to us and then sits back, waiting for us to blame God for causing all our problems, and then for us to desert God. We’re just playing into Satan’s hands when we do.

Look at the contrast. Every time Satan influences someone to sin, God says, “I can forgive.” Every time Satan influences someone to become sick, God says, “I can heal him.” “Every time Satan causes someone to die, God says, “I can bring him back to life forever.”

Spiritual Warfare

Do you see the dynamic interchange that is going on? It is so much more than you and I see. We’re not at war with these people we’re complaining about. Not really.

Ephesians 6:12 explains we’re not at war with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers in spiritual realms! Daniel 10 explains that even our prayers seem to provide strength to God’s angels as they fight Satan’s angels

Wow! God is allowing us to fight Satan right along side of him. What glory! What honor to be counted worthy! That’s the very reason the world was created. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God [forgiveness, healing, eternal life] should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:10f).

Indeed, as soldiers of the cross, how can we be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37) unless we have something to conquer? How can we have “Victory I Jesus” unless there is something to be victorious over?

This is the very reason we should “consider it pure joy” whenever we face trials (James 1:2). God believes in us and trusts us. Do we believe in him and trust him?

#Complaining, #Accusing, #Satan, #Problems, #Traps, #Angels, #Psalm, #Blaming, #Overcoming

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