11/29/15 ~ Peace and Thanksgiving

From the Preacher’s Pen ~

Every time that you go to the doctor they take a certain set of “vitals.” The reason is to establish a “baseline” or standard for you and your body and to compare it to healthy standards. Ideally you would have a single doctor or family physician that would see you for most of, if not all, your life. That doctor’s records would then show how you progressed over time and give important information about your health.

As those “vitals” deviate from the norm you would be checked out and corrections made. We know what it’s like to have our body temperature, our weight, blood pressure or some other readings vary and then have to be treated to get things back in line.

It should come as no surprise that the Great Physician establishes a healthy “norm” for us as Christians. In the New Testament the majority of the letters to churches and individual Christians deals with this exact set of circumstances. Such passages as Galatians 5:16-24 remind us of both the signs of sickness of the soul in “deeds of the flesh” and the signs of good spiritual health in the “fruit of the Spirit.”

Let’s take a moment to consider some of those “vitals” as we consider…

Peace and Thanksgiving

Our official holiday of Thanksgiving is past and the New Testament book that we are studying today is Colossians. What makes this convergence so beautiful is what Paul tells the Colossian Christians: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Think about that a moment. In John 14:25-26 as Jesus foretells His death and eventual departure from this earth, He promises God’s Holy Spirit is coming to be with His disciples. The purpose is to teach and remind the Apostles of all that Jesus had said. The Great Commission commands that they pass on through teaching all these things that Christians might also pass them on to others (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

As Jesus continues the thought (John 14:27) He describes this gift that He is leaving behind as God’s own peace like this: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

In Romans 14:17 Paul reminds us: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus had said before him, Paul associates God’s peace with His Spirit that is in His people. The constant, consistent picture painted by God is that as Christians are IN Christ so is God in His fullness (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) IN us! (Cf. Romans 6:11; 12:5 along with 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19 and dozens more!)

Just in case you are wondering how we tell that we truly have the Lord’s Spirit in us, Paul gives a test in Galatians 5:22-23 with the “fruit of the Spirit.” Since those qualities include faithfulness any danger of fake Christians is eliminated!

Now let’s put all that together with Paul’s comment that we began with in Colossians 3:15. God’s own peace is to not only live in us but rule in us. Indeed, that is exactly what we have been called to be: united with our Savior (Romans 6:1-7).

As is always important, let’s read the next verse, Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

So, do you really belong to Christ? Does Christ and His word richly dwell in you? Are you active in fulfilling the Great Commission to share the Good News? Do you participate in the teaching and encouragement in singing? Are you truly thankful?

Is your Thanksgiving complete? As God’s son or daughter you have incredible promises and almost unimaginable blessings from your Heavenly Father! How can we be anything else but grateful and joyous when we belong to Christ? And how could we possible fail to share God’s Good News with others this week?

~ Lester P. Bagley

11/22/15 ~ Remembering Jesus

From the Preacher’s Pen ~

One of the few things Hollywood ever got right is to title the story of Jesus as “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” The writer of one of the songs in our hymnals wrote, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” and reminded us of the desire that every word be written on our hearts.

God had spent literally thousands of years preparing the moment that our Savior would come and walk among us. And yet few were prepared for that moment. It seems appropriate that so many of those very same thoughts apply to His coming again. Perhaps there is a lesson for us to learn.

Remembering Jesus

Every single thing about Jesus coming into this world as one of us is wondrous! And yet we have turned His birth into an artificial, arbitrary time to spend money, get what we want and pretend that it all has something to do with a Bible story that we don’t even know. That’s harsh, you may say. But is it really? Or is it the truth?

As far as anything we actually know, December 25 has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. But we use it for a date to place three wise-men at the manger and fail to actually notice that none of that is true! Let’s try for a moment to actually recapture the wonder of His birth that we might be ready to share the Good News.

The words to a song by Todd Agnew illustrate the lesson we may often miss:

In the first light of the new day no-one knew He had arrived.

Things continued as they had been, while a new born softly cried.

But the heavens wrapped in wonder knew the meaning of His birth.

In the weakness of a baby they knew God had come to earth.

God’s announcements of Jesus’ birth had been restricted to the family actually involved. No proclamation of His pending arrival was made in the Temple. No plans were made to welcome Him.

But the heavens wrapped in wonder knew the meaning of His birth.

In the weakness of a baby they knew God had come to earth. 

As the Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds in the field they were terrified. To the best of their knowledge the Lord had not appeared to anyone in over three centuries. When a multitude of the heavenly host (Luke 2:13) appeared to praise God the shepherds saw a sight that was as unique as any prophet’s vision. And the words of the Heavenly beings hinted at the real significance of what and who they would find in that manger. Unlike the artist renditions we so often see, there wouldn’t be on halo over the infant or His mother. There would be nothing of significance, nothing out of the ordinary about His appearance (Isaiah 53:2) to even hint at His real importance.

As His mother held Him closely it was hard to understand

That her baby not yet speaking was the Word of God to man.

Nearly a century later it would be the Apostle John that would remind us (John 1:1-5) of who was really in that scene: God the Creator. And yet He was unrecognized by His own people. How incredibly sad! Have you ever seen something of great significance without even realizing it at the time? What a shock to later learn that you had not appreciated its importance.

Yes, the significance was missed when Jesus came the first time. But He will not allow it to be missed when He comes again! Paul says it like this to the Philippian Christians:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11).

Hear the angels as they’re singing on the morning of His birth.

But how much greater will our song be when He comes again.

In the all the wonder and beauty of Jesus coming to this earth the real importance comes not in His birth, His life or even in His death, but in what would happen three days after His burial!

He would tell them of His Kingdom but their hearts would not believe.

They would hate Him and in anger they would nail Him to a tree.

But the sadness would be broken as the Song of Life arose.

And the first-born of creation would ascend and take His throne.

He had left it to redeem us but before His life began.

He knew He’d come back not as a baby, but as the Lord of every man.

Just as Paul observed to the Philippians, Jesus will never again be unrecognized, unsung, unappreciated. As wondrous as His first coming was, His second will be glorious. Are you ready? Hear the angels as they’re singing on the morning of His birth. But how much greater will our song be when He comes again. Prepare to be amazed!

— Lester P. Bagley

11/15/15 ~ The Thanksgiving Thief

From the Preacher’s Pen ~

My wife is always on the lookout for interesting approaches to lessons for the young people that she teaches. Over the years this has been a blessing for schools where she has taught and many times for less experienced teachers. But above all, it has been a blessing for young people in the church because those are the most important lessons any of us will ever teach.

Recently we were discussing the Devil and lessons about him. At this time of year with so many thoughts beginning to converge on Thanksgiving I was reminded of an article written a few years back by an old friend and fellow teacher.

Obviously, the greatest enemy of God, His people and all his great blessings is Satan. The old Devil has constantly been the joy and thankfulness stealer from the beginning. If we recognize him then we can be ready to fight back against the things he tries to do to us.

So, just how do we recognize him? To answer that question, let’s consider this short article: In What Guise? His eyes glow. He comes in dreams and sits on your heart to crush the life out of you. He has the most evil grin. He is red, has a tail, and carries a pitchfork. These are various people’s depictions of Satan.

People ask if their dreams of terror were sent by the devil to intimidate Christians. They wonder if people may be Satan or his agents because of an evil look or a conversation that kept the person from reading about Jesus.

All of these things belie a misunderstanding of the truth about Satan. It must be understood that the devil has power. It must be understood that the devil wants as many souls to follow him as possible. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Nevertheless, Satan would not appear like those things described above. It must be also understood that the devil’s power is limited. “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him.” (Revelation 20:2)

Because he has been bound by the crucifixion of Jesus, the shedding of blood for sin, his power is limited. We are his masters, and he has to obey. If he comes to tempt us to sin, all we have to do is tell him to leave and he has to do so. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Keeping those two points in mind, the devil would certainly not be seen as some portray him. Face the facts. If you could recognize the devil for who he is, would you follow him? If he had [a] red tail and carried a pitchfork, wouldn’t you know him and refuse to believe his lies? If he came to you in a dream and tried to smother you, would that induce you to follow him or to fight him?

I’m sure he would love for people to think that he appears in these ways, because then they will be off their guard when he does come before them. The evil or strange looking persona just works in his favor, because that is not how he really appears. “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

The greatest of all baseball musicals, Damn Yankees, came close to the truth. Satan looked like a player’s agent. (Of course, some owners might believe that Scott Boras is the devil personified during negotiations over multimillion dollar contracts.) Some Hollywood movies of the Fifties thought it might be interesting if the devil were portrayed as a businessman in a three-piece suit.

Little did they know how accurate they probably were! Satan is going to come to us in a guise that is pleasing and reassuring. He wants us to trust him, or at least not to reject him outright. After all, he wants us to do what he wants us to do. How will we do that if we are repulsed by him?

So how would we recognize him? Most often he comes to you looking like yourself. No, not in another body that looks like you, but in your own body. “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14-15)

He makes you think “it’s just natural,” or “I was born that way.” Sometimes he comes as our friends, exerting peer pressure. Even so, he isn’t hard to recognize, if you know what to look for. Just look for someone who wants you to follow them into sin.

Of course, that means you have to know what sin is; and for that you have to study the word of God. Only then can you recognize Satan and his ways. Then you will be ready for him. Ready to resist. — Tim O’Hearn via Minutes With Messiah

Every time someone or something leads you away from God, away from His truth, His love, His forgiveness, His worship, His service, we can be sure that it is Satan. If we, as Christians, are caught up by the Devil, it can only be because we let him do it to us! As Thanksgiving approaches and as our Christian thanksgivings continues, let’s remember to take even great care to watch out for the Devil. Let’s allow God to supply us with the greatest of all reasons for true, on-going thanksgiving. Let’s allow God to instill His true joy into our lives by resisting and rejecting Satan! Now that’s something to be thankful for and something worth sharing with one another to keep us truly encourage! Let’s join in God’s service the rest of this year, the year to come and every moment that our Lord gives us on this earth!

—Lester P. Bagley