12/16 ~ Losing a Loved One

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the great blessings of God’s family is seeing that family sincerely pull together in hard times. In this world of sin and death, we have so very many opportunities to show the love of our Father. And none is more precious than when we share burdens simply because we are family.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve rejoiced together as Joe and Christopher put on their Lord in baptism. We’ve shared the burdens of a brother as he struggled with his life and service to the Lord. And we’ve shared in losses, at least in this present world, of one of our own in the congregation and another their close family member. Consider a bit of God’s perspective on…

Losing a Loved One

Loss of a loved one is something that every person either knows from experience or will know sometime during their life. It hurts, even for Christians, it is always painful to lose someone you know and love.

God understands that pain and that loss. Can we even begin to imagine what it was like for the Father to see Jesus die on that cross? How could God destroy the earth for the sinfulness of people (cf. Genesis 6:5) in the flood and not annihilate those mocking and murdering His Son?

The only answer to such a question is that God loved us, really loved us! (cf. John 3:16) What amazing love that God could give us such a gift! So, when we deal with loss we need to begin with the reminder that God truly does understand our pain. And God goes to great lengths to try and explain to us that this pain, horrible as it is, is not the whole story.

In 1 Corinthians 15:55 Paul would concede that death is a sting; a sting brought on by sin; sin that was introduced into this world by Satan. But that sting is overwhelmed, literally devoured by victory in Jesus. That is a picture worth hanging on to by God’s people!

While Jesus gave us a tiny glimpse of “Paradise” in Luke 16:19ff, Paul says that, at least from the standpoint of the living, it compares to sleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) with the real focus on resurrection, reunion and being with Jesus at His return. Both Jesus and Paul are trying to get us that remain to remember that the faithful child of God has nothing to fear in death. Or, as Paul would even more bluntly state it, For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

Consider one more lesson, this time from David. For many years David was the God chosen, anointed king of Israel while an ungodly man remained on the throne. Many times David faced death from both Saul and from all the external enemies of God’s people. On one of those occasions, as David had to pretend to be insane to escape death at the hands of Abimelech the Philistine king, a Psalm was born.

Psalm 34 is written to recall the sheer terror of facing death, the heartbreak of being alone and, above all else, the always present reality of God being with us! Given those circumstances, given all that horror of loss and great misery, how would you begin the story?

David begins it like this: I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth… O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together (Psalm 34:1, 3). Death and loss, misery and despair are not the ordinary human companions of praise and worship. But then again, God’s people are not ordinary humans!

Notice just a few of David’s other proclamations in this Psalm: I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears (34:4). O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the person who takes refuge in Him! (34:8) The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry (34:15). The righteous cry and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all. (34:17-19)

Yes, our God understands about losing a loved one. Our God has promised to always, ALWAYS be there with us no matter how hard it seems, how broken-hearted we are. And above all else, our God has promised to help us through those trials and deliver us from all our troubles.

Trust the Lord your God! Hold tightly to Him who loves you and will keep you in His care!

— Lester P. Bagley

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3/31/18 ~ Children in church

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

It is always interesting and instructive to observe our sister congregations in this world. It is especially so as we see the issues that they and their preachers and elders deal with. 

Recently the young preacher at Deming, New Mexico, shared some thoughts on a subject I often comment on because of God’s emphasis on the importance of our children. So let’s consider…

Children in Church

To You Who Bring Small Children to Church:

There you are sitting in worship or Bible study. Your child, or toddler, is restless. Perhaps they’re even a little boisterous. You try to silence them, and nothing. You try to pacify them with food or toys, and nothing. Eventually, you resort to the last thing you wanted to do: you pick them up, and before a watching audience, you make the march out of the auditorium. All the while, you’re a little embarrassed. Maybe you’re a little frustrated too. You might even think to yourself, “There’s no point in coming to church. I get nothing out of it because I have to constantly care for my kid.”

I want you – you mothers and/or fathers – to know just how encouraging you are to so many. The little elderly woman who often feels alone beams with a smile at the sight of you wrestling with your little one. She’s been there before. She knows how hard it can be, but she smiles because to hear that brings back precious memories. To see young parents and their small children brighten her day, and she may have just received bad news this week about her health, but seeing the vitality of young ones removes – if but for a moment – her fears.

The older man who always seems to be grouchy notices you too. He’s always talking about how children in this day have no respect or sense of good. But, he sees you – a young family – in church, and you don’t miss any gathering. Like clockwork, he can depend on the sight of you and your young family. You give him hope that maybe the church isn’t doomed after all because there are still young parents who love God enough to bring their restless children to worship.

Bring your children to church. If we don’t hear crying, the church is dying. As hard as it might be for you as a parent who is half-asleep, keep on doing what you’re doing. You are an encouragement, and you are starting off your children’s lives as you should.

— (Author Unknown) via 9th Street church of Christ, Deming, NM

Two of the most precious resources, in God’s eyes, are our children and Godly parents. They deserve our encouragement and help in every way possible!

PARENTS: never grow weary in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13). Never! While it seems you often miss so much of what’s being said and it can be incredibly hard to focus, you are teaching and training for eternity.

YOUNG CHILDREN: you are never too young to start listening and participating in worship. If you can read you can turn to every scripture and follow along. Whether you can read or not you can always sing! And, since our public prayers are about participation for us all, you can thank God for your blessings and ask Him for your concerns. The secret to worship for us all, young or old, is DOING and not just sitting there like a bump on a log.

We possess a great gift and treasure in our children. Let’s work hard at both appreciating them and teaching them!

— Lester P. Bagley

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3/18 ~ Who Packed Your Parachute?

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Together we serve the Lord! One of the great lessons of God’s word involves the reminder of our togetherness in Christ. While we can study God’s word, pray, even sing praises by ourselves, we are taught by God to do what in many ways is our most intimate remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice with our fellow saints, the Lord’s Supper.

Just how important are our fellow saints?

Who Packed Your Parachute?

Joseph Charles Plumb Jr. graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1964. He earned his Navy pilot’s wings in 1966 and went on to fly the F-4 Phantom. Flying from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk for his 75th mission, with only five days before he was to return home, his plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and rode his parachute safely to the ground only to be captured. He would spend the next 2,103 days as a POW in the prison camps where, like so many others Americans, he was tortured.

Years later after his return home to the States, he and his wife were eating in a restaurant when a man came up to him and told him. “You’re Plumb. You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and were shot down.” Plumb admitted that was all true but asked how this man knew these things. His reply was, “I packed your parachute. I guess it worked!” Plumb shook his hand and thanked him for a job well done. For Plumb, this became a lifelong lesson to be shared with others.

For us as Christians, this same lesson is vital. We often remind ourselves, and rightly so, that no one can be saved by someone else’s works. While that is true, it is equally true that we cannot be saved alone.

Christ came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), that includes each one of us, but that is because He died for His church (Ephesians 5:25). We, together are the body, the family of God and are called to be the light of the world.

No fighter pilot packs his own parachute, builds and services his aircraft, refuels and rearms it. No Christian does it all either! Two illustrations from Scripture well illustrate this lesson.

First, Paul liked to remind us of the human body. Just as it is made up of multiple parts that keep each other alive and functioning, so, too, is Christ’s church: For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4–5)

It is that vital, one and only body, that we must belong to and be a part of for our salvation (cf. Ephesians 4:4, 12). It is that same one body that continues our proper functioning and growth as we build in love (Ephesians 4:16).

Second, God pointedly uses the words “one another” to reinforce our working together or failing together. Consider just a few of the 50 some times that God uses this single Greek word for “one another:”

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10).

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another (Romans 14:19).

Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Colossians 3:13).

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 (Colossians 3:16).

And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another (Titus 3:3).

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).

And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16).

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:8-10)

But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us (1 John 3:23 – Jesus gave us that “new commandment” in John 13:34).

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

Every Christian has spiritual parents who helped teach them and bring them to the Lord. Every Christian who remains faithful has spiritual brothers and sisters who encourage them. Never forget those that packed your parachute. And never forget the importance of packing someone else’s. Together we serve the Lord!

— Lester P. Bagley

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3/11/18 ~ Children Leaving the Church

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the greatest concerns for any Christian parent is the faith and salvation of their children. It was true for God our Heavenly Father and it’s true for us all. After all, the younger generation is going downhill, isn’t it?

Let’s take a moment to consider these issues a bit more.

Children Leaving the Church

Children began to be the tyrants; they no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offenses against good tastes; they tyrannized their teachers.

Those words represent the thoughts of people like Socrates and Plato (and probably a lot of others) over 300 years before Jesus was born. Some 1100 years earlier than that, Moses and God told the people: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

If you fast-forward to the dividing of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, you realize that the Hebrews as a nation also failed in teaching their children.

Failure! It sounds so awful and it is! It began with Adam and Eve failing to instill godly behavior and attitudes in their child, Cain, just as they had failed to obey their Heavenly Father in the Garden of Eden. The sad fact is that we don’t do much better. No matter what we try, we seem to always see a younger generation that, in rejecting the wrongs and failure of their parents, go on to do even worse. Good intentions for stupid, sinful behavior is worth nothing either when we do it or the younger generation does it!

Jesus loves the children. How are we doing as parents? Are we stealing the love of Christ from their hearts by simply putting the wrong motives there? We can give our children all the physical richness in the world but if we are not giving them CHRIST then we are giving them nothing!

Do we really wonder why the majority of children grow up and leave the church? Consider the harsh realities of a few facts: This week your children will spend 30 hours in a school being lectured by godless, immoral people. They will spend more time with their friends than they do with their family. As they grow up the time spent with Satan’s world steadily increases.

To offset this, they will spend less than 4 hours in church each week, with only about half or less of that time actively studying the Bible. They will also spend an average of less than 15 minutes in family prayer, mostly at mealtime. At most, only 3 percent of teens read the Bible daily and less than 20 percent of all those attending any “church” do so. Are you really going to act surprised when they choose the world over God?

Since this problem has been around for so long, we know a number of things that do NOT work. Sadly, most of those things are the very things we insist on trying again and again. Doing what you and I think, instead of what God says, will NEVER work. Judges 17:6 and 21:25 serve as a constant reminder that doing what is right in our own eyes is certain failure.

Let me suggest that trying all the methods of the denominational world is imitating Satan and therefore foolish. Many Christians are still enamored with “Children’s Church” or countless other ways to get the kids out of worship into fun. What makes it so interesting is that denominational leaders are increasingly pointing out how wrong those kinds of programs were. They actually make things worse! (I just have to add here that the same thing has happened with “special holy days,” and instrumental music, and nearly every single change in worship, doctrine or practice for the last several centuries.)

Isn’t it just a tad ironic that parents claim a 5 or 6-year-old can’t sit through a half hour of Bible lesson? Doesn’t Satan just laugh at us when that same child sits through more than that every day at school… and learns what this world wants him or her to know? Every day in school our teenagers sit through hours of false teaching about sin, sex, and denial of God. How do you counter that much filth? There are countless things that both don’t work and actually make matters worse. So what DO we do?

Go back and re-read that very first scripture. There are the words of life!

We begin by being 100 percent committed to God ourselves! God doesn’t get 20 percent of our time. If you are not willing to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might, you are just playing with religion. What is your very first priority from the moment you awake until the moments before you fall asleep?

Is God’s word really “on your heart?” No, that doesn’t mean you “like” God so much that you are going to get around to Him someday. Do you read and study God’s word daily? Do you talk to Him about everything?

Only when we begin to put God first will we ever be able to teach our children (or anyone else) the truth! And when we teach, we teach diligently as well as teaching with every single aspect of daily life.

All those great Bible facts that Curt shares with our young people every Sunday morning? Why not reinforce that at home? How many of us can count to 100? That’s a part of kindergarten studies. How many of us can name the 66 books of the Bible in order? It’s time to get to work and be serious about learning and teaching God’s word!

Yes, our children will leave the church, they will go out and live in sin, sexually and otherwise. They are possibly going to do that in spite of everything we do. But if we do NOTHING, if we allow the world and sin and Satan to control every part of their lives, then we have willingly given their eternal souls away.

Make every effort to live like a child of God so that you share both words and example with your children and everyone else!

— Lester P. Bagley

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11/26/17 ~ The Christian Family

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingOne of the great lessons we learn in life is the fact that many things can be done in a right way or a wrong way. The same holds true with God and His lessons.

God commanded His people through Moses that, You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude to pervert justice (Exodus 23:2). Just because many people are doing it does not make it right.

At the same time, we are admonished to be active participants in God’s family as we serve Him together. Paul looked forward to fellowship with the Christians at Rome so that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine (Romans 1:12).

Let’s consider a bit more of the lesson of working with…

The Christian Family

A popular book several years ago was the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It extolled the “virtues” of independence and individuality at any price.

The seagull is a popular subject for photography, and many people who go to the beach end up with some kind of souvenir bearing the picture of a seagull. It is easy to see why people like this figure. A seagull exults in freedom. When flying alone, he thrusts his wings back with powerful strokes, climbs higher and higher, and then swoops down in majestic loops and circles.

In a flock, though, the seagull is a different bird. His majesty dissolves into infights and cruelty. The concepts of sharing and manners do not seem to exist among gulls. They are so fiercely competitive and jealous that if you tie a ribbon around the leg of a gull, making him stand out from the rest, you sentence him to death. The others in his flock will furiously attack him with claws and beaks, hammering through feathers and flesh to draw blood until he dies.

If we must have a bird as a model, there is certainly a better choice. Consider the wild goose. The V formation they use in flying enables them to fly with more ease and speed. The point position is the most difficult because of wind resistance, so the geese rotate this position every few minutes. The easiest flight is experienced in the two rear sections of the formation, and the stronger geese permit the young, weak, and older birds to occupy these positions. It is also thought that the constant honking is, at least in part, done as encouragement to the weaker geese.

The seagull teaches us to break loose and fly alone, but the wild goose teaches us to fly in a “family.” We can fly further with our Christian family than we could ever fly alone and, as we fly, our efforts constantly help others in our family.

Hopefully, we see and understand the lesson here. Paul seemed to have to deal frequently with both false teachers and those Christians that were all too willing to follow them rather than the truth of God’s word. Read his highly insulting “compliment” of this attitude in 2 Corinthians 11:4.

The fact is, it is a sin to allow ourselves to be sucked into Satan’s web. No matter how good the forbidden fruit looks, we must see through the false, good-looking false teachers and their false teachings and stand firm in the truth.

Of course, all this is also a frequent theme of Paul to congregations. How much more could we accomplish if we both stand firm in the faith and actually encourage each other in what is right in God’s sight? Being united is sin is no honor. Being united is what is truly God’s will and way is!

So, what is your choice? In nearly every congregation that we see in the New Testament, there are those infamous for their firm stand for wrong. In most of those congregations, there are also those that remain faithful and stand for the right.

Just as Joshua recommended long ago, it’s time for you to choose your stand. Are you with the Lord or with some false god?

Hopefully, we will choose the family of God and stand firm with our Heavenly Father.

— Lester P. Bagley

8/5/17 ~ Persistent or Weary

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHow are you doing as a saint? How are you doing in truly honoring God with your life, with your worship, with your service?

Those are hard questions, aren’t they? They make us stop and consider. And sometimes they make us want to just give up.

God understands that and His understanding explains why so many of His words to us are all about encouragement. That explains why there are so many lessons on faithfulness and endurance. So let’s ask ourselves the question: Are you…

Persistent or Weary?

Like most people, I get tired of doing some things over and over again. Mowing the lawn (especially in the summer) makes me weary.  Do you find that washing the same dishes you washed yesterday (or even five minutes ago sometimes) makes you weary? Parents, does picking up after your children ever make you weary? I guess most of us can identify with the problem, can’t we?

When we get tired of some things we find it easier to just quit doing it. Unfortunately, that makes many things worse, doesn’t it? If you think the lawn is hard to mow after two weeks in summer, try letting it go for six weeks. If you think that mountain of dirty dishes looks daunting after only two days, what would it be like after a week? We all get the point: in so many things in life, persistence pays off in the long run.

In the business world, successful sales people are those who keep going back, those who are persistent. Check out some intriguing statistics: 48 percent of the sales people quit after only one call; 25 percent quit after two calls; 15 percent quit after three calls.

Together, these three groups account for 88 percent of the sales force and 20 percent of the business. (You can see the point coming, can’t you?) That’s right, the remaining 12 percent of the sales people keep on calling, and as a result, these do 80 percent of the business!

Generally, in the church these same statistics hold true. Some 10 to 12 percent of a congregation does 80 percent of the giving, the personal work, the teaching, the outreach, etc.

Look around you, see the vacant seat where just last week (month, year, or whatever is appropriate) someone was sitting. Today it’s vacant because they got tired, weary of doing the right thing for God. That’s sad. Sadder still is the fact that many of them will be content to remain unfaithful until the judgment day and then try to beg, lie, cheat or cry their way into heaven. And we know, as they do in their hearts, that will not work.

So, what do we do? Let’s face it:  Isn’t faithful Christian living a lot of weary work? Well, yes and no. Ask the successful salesman if that first, or second or third call isn’t a waste of time. What you will hear is something like this: “Every “No!” answer I get just means that I’m that much closer to the” Yes!” that is a sale. And this job is all about every “Yes” not every “No”.

Are you, as a Christian, as bright as a salesman? Listen to what your Savior had to say about that weary feeling we all sometimes get:

Come to Me,

all who are weary

and heavy-laden, and

I will give you rest.

(Matthew 11:28)

Hear the preacher of Hebrews challenge us to…

Consider Him [Jesus] who has endured

such hostility by sinners against Himself,

so that you may not grow weary

and lose heart

(Hebrews 12:3).

Listen to the encouraging things Paul had to say to you:

And let us not lose heart in doing good,

for in due time, we shall reap

if we do not grow weary.

(Galatians 6:9).

Which kind of Christian are you determined to be: the shirker or the worker?

We are blessed with many rich opportunities to serve, to tell our friends and neighbors about the Savior and show our love for Him who died for us. Things like worship and Bible studies are not there to fill up or waste our time. They are opportunities to praise, honor and serve our God, opportunities to show Him our thankfulness and opportunities to enjoy the encouraging time together with His family.

So come!  Let us have a congregation that’s 100 percent workers and see what 600 percent success for the Lord looks like!

But as for you, brethren,

do not grow weary

of doing good

(2 Thessalonians 3:13).

— Lester P. Bagley

7/23/17 ~ LEADERSHIP

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingOne of the strangest ideas that humans have tried to impose upon the Lord’s church is the idea of “who’s the boss.” Actually, that same failure goes back much further in time with God’s people since the concept of a human boss (rather than God) led Israel to reject the Judges that God appointed and demand a King to rule over them (see 1 Samuel 8:4-7). In demanding an earthly “boss” they were really rejecting God’s rule over them.

Is that not the same thing that Christians do today when they demand a “Reverend” or a “Pope” or any other formal boss over the Lord’s church here on earth? Is that not the same thing that congregations do today when they allow a “head elder” to run the church?

Let’s consider God’s plan for real leadership in the family of God’s people:

Leadership

The best kind of leadership is by example. The symbol of the US Army infantry is a soldier with a rifle in one hand, looking back behind him. Why? His rifle is pointing forward, the other arm giving a “Come on” motion, and the leader is shouting back, “Follow me!”

In World War II General Eisenhower would demonstrate the art of leadership with a piece of string. He’d put it on the table and say: “Pull it and it will follow you wherever you wish. Push it and it will go nowhere at all. It’s just the same way when it comes to leading people. They need to follow a person who is leading by example.” Indeed, every really great military leader has led from the front.

Now, this information is not unique to military matters. In fact, God has known and put into practice this very technique with His church. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (NRSV). We are not asked by God to do something that He is unwilling to do or that is beyond our abilities, rather we are asked to be part of the team, working together with Him.

Jesus taught this same principle to His followers. When they asked who was greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, He declared that it was the servant who worked with His people rather than some grandiose leader filled with a sense of his own importance. At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4; also see Matthew 23:10-12; Mark 9:23-37 and Luke 22:24-27)

Shepherds of God’s flock are told not to “lord it over the flock” but rather to “be an example” (1 Peter 5:1-3). Likewise, all of us as Christians are to be united in mind, in love, in spirit, and in purpose. We show who and what we are by doing “nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” What’s more, we are to “not merely look out for your [our] own personal interests, but also for the interests of others [our fellow Christians]” (Philippians 2:1-4).

The best kind of leadership is by example and since each one of us as members of Christ’s body are to take the leadership in service, let’s all do our 100 percent best for the Lord and for each other this week!

— Lester P. Bagley