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

1/29/17 ~ Love That Will Not Let Me Go

From the Preacher’s Pen… Are you appreciative? Do you express your gratitude and thankfulness for the kindnesses and love that people show to you?

RacineBuildingHonestly, there are few attitudes more despised and despicable than thanklessness. If you give someone a present and their response is to show their displeasure and contempt, you are not likely to give them another. Rather you will view them as rude and unappreciative and rightly so.

As you may suspect, these very attitudes and tests of our attitudes are seen by God. How should we treat Him who loved us so much? Consider some thoughts drawn from a song in our hymnbooks about His great love.

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

Have you ever been loved when you didn’t deserve it? Yes, there are actually people who will answer this in the negative. People are so in love with themselves and so conceited that they always imagine they are entirely lovable. In spite of there being many people like that, they are by definition, abnormal.

So, have you ever been loved when you didn’t deserve it? It’s unlikely that you remember much about being an infant. In many ways that is fortunate for infants can be very self-centered, ungrateful creatures. When they are hungry they really don’t care about anyone else. They demand that all attention be focused on them as though no one else and nothing else is of any importance whatsoever.

We excuse their behavior as they are, after all, infants. They don’t know any better. But when a 10 or 12-year-old acts the same way you take a much different view of their actions. And if an adult should act like that you would pretty much despise them and such awful behavior.

Now to the important question: Do we sometimes treat our God and Savior that way?

Fortunately for us, God’s response to us is much more like that of the loving parent to an infant that lacks understanding and maturity. And for that, we must be ever grateful!

A while back I read a comment by a person who had once been an unbeliever in God. That person was asked what it was that changed his mind to believe in God. The answer was that it was the words of a song sung by Christians as he visited their worship. The congregation seemed to sing with such feeling, as though it really meant something to them.

Yes, there is an important lesson to us about our singing. If we despise making any real effort to sing with the spirit and with the mind (Paul’s comment of 1 Corinthians 14:15), we dishonor God! We joke about “making a joyful noise to the Lord” but God is never amused at a lame offering as He always demands our best to truly be a sacrifice of praise. But clearly, the finest singing without the right words is likewise vain worship.

Okay, so we offer to God our best worship in song in order to teach and encourage each other. But what song touched this man’s heart when other words did not?

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Paul was daily reminded of the love that would not let him go!

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.

God is the God of second chances! And third and fourth and fifth chances, too! When you read the stories of the faithful men and women of God you do not read of perfect people. Their flaws and failures are evident for all to see. Yet they constantly respond to the love that keeps on seeking them out. And they always seek the promise that lies beyond this life.

The writer of Hebrews put it like this: “… [T]hey desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:16)

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

Everything of God’s plan, promises and purpose pointed to the cross; that awful, wonderful moment when He took on our sin, our failure. At the foot of the cross we are forced to see the price, the loss, the cost in full that was paid for us. But it’s only at the empty tomb that we behold the purpose, the promise of life eternal.

The love that cost our Savior His life is the love that will not give up on us. He, Himself, is the ultimate gift given with the ultimate promise of an eternal home in heaven.

So, are you appreciative? Do you express your gratitude and thankfulness for the kindnesses and love that people show to you? Or are you one of those rude, uncaring ones? It is, after all, a choice that we must consciously make.

With all the promise, the plan, the love that is extended to you… what will you choose?

— Lester P. Bagley

 

1/15/17 ~ When Love Is Gone

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

When Love is Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But adventure calls with unknown voices / Pulling you away

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

The song ends with…

It was almost love, / It was almost always,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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

12/18/16 ~ Generations of Love

RacineBuildingFrom the Preacher’s Pen… Toward the end of most worship services, I make my way to the back hallway in order to speak to people as they leave. Sometimes I’m looking for someone in particular to encourage and many times I rejoice in the encouragement of God’s family.

Oftentimes there is someone already back there. Mothers and dads with little ones often have diaper duty or otherwise have to tend to fussy or overly active children. What a beautiful sight and lesson of love!

In all the comings and goings it sometimes happens that one of our young people end up “stranded” at the doors as they are too polite to go back where they were sitting in the middle of the closing song or prayer.

Often when that happens they end up standing next to me and holding my hand during the prayer. I see them holding hands with their parents, their siblings, and others around them. How precious it is to see love in actions and living lessons from our young people! Consider for a moment the lesson they show…

Generations of Love

Jesus frequently used the word love. It is a vital ingredient of our Spiritual life and yet it is often neglected.

In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” God’s “new commandment” is not that we should love, but that we are actually commanded to love as God has loved us.

Peter would struggle with this concept of such a great commitment (John 21:15-17), but eventually embraced it at the cost of his physical life (verses 18-19). Interestingly, Jesus in telling him all this concludes with the imperative command (Follow Me!) to obey even though hesitant.

Consider how our own worldly definition of love has changed. In my Grandparents generation, the love of children was often defined as “children are to be seen but not heard” and it was normally true that parents ate first and children the leftovers. Why?

Sadly, in a time when a significant percentage of children died the adults who could work and feed the family had to be the priority. (Most western civilizations have seen a relatively steady decline in infant and child mortality for the last few centuries. In the 1700s 300 to 500 deaths per 1,000 were the norm. By the end of the 1800s that number dropped to 150 to 200. By 1950 it had declined to between 20 and 40 per 1,000.)

In that world, the greatest love a parent could show was staying healthy enough to provide for the children that survived.

Following World War II Americans were better off in many ways yet struggling to say and show love in a changing world. As food supplies increased and diseases were controlled it became the expected norm that children would survive into adulthood. Parents literally had the expectation that each child would continue to live and be a part of the family.

With all that came the challenge to love to an entirely new degree. Like so many things that Satan corrupts, an increase in family love was quickly transformed into the permissive “free love” generation. Confusing love with sexual expression they reshaped the world into a no-commitment world ruled by selfishness.

Today? Our world pushes to enlarge the bounds of permissiveness and demands that everyone wins, that everyone is entitled to high self-esteem with no boundaries on their actions and no limits to their licentiousness. And still, real love is neglected.

Love, real love, love like God has for us is that agape love, that committed love. Real love, like an earlier generation, sometimes seems harsh that it might really serve the needs. Even today it remains true that real love of our children includes punishment and discipline.

Jesus had a fondness for children and several times the text points out that they were specifically infants and young children. Do you ever wonder why?

Watch a child love. Before parents teach them to fear and avoid, they shyly offer their gift, their trust until one day properly jaded by adults they learn the rudeness of neglecting love.

So, do we truly love? Are we committed to our Savior and the good of His Kingdom? Or are we simply fulfilling Scripture in being the selfish, jaded, negligent lovers of self that Paul warned Timothy about (2 Timothy 3:1-9)?

Love is something that is instilled by God in a child’s heart. How we cultivate it determines whether it grows and blossoms into Christ-like love in all their lives… or dies in bitterness and strife.

Love is something that is instilled by God and carefully taught to an adult’s heart. How we cultivate it determines whether it grows and blossoms into Christ-like love in all our lives… or dies in bitterness and strife.

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in actions and truth.” (1 John 3:18)

— Lester P. Bagley

12/4/16 ~Have I told you lately that I love you?

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingA few times each year we get together with family. If your family is like our family and spread half way around the world it may be less than that. If your family lives relatively close by it may be much more frequent. But it is always a joyful and precious time when we get together with loved ones!

Do we feel the same joy in coming together as God’s family? If we were to make one New Year resolution, could there be a better one than that we truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ?

The Apostle John reminds us of just how important that is:

“The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10)

“By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10)

In both cases, the word that John uses for “brother” is a word used for unity and love of relatives and those that are especially close to each other. The closeness of relationship is seen in the same word being used for twins.

Are we really the family twins in relationship with fellow Christians? Consider a bit further:

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

Many of us remember the words of the song by that title and most of us as Christians realize how the thoughts of a love song often reflect our love for each other and for our God. At least two Christian brothers that I know use this song title as a way of reflecting on the special bond we share as God’s children. Isn’t it a beautiful reflection on the family relationship we share in Jesus’ family?

Some have called God’s Word and especially the New Testament God’s love song to His people. Certainly, there is an element of truth to that. How many times in both Old and New Testaments do we see the tremendous love of God displayed to His people? How can anyone read some of Paul’s letters (or John’s, or Peter’s for that matter) and not see the deep love that he had for his brothers and sisters in Christ? “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (1 John 3:1a)

Just as we all find it important to take the time and make the “effort” to tell our husband, wife, children, grandchildren, etc. that we love them, it is also important, yea essential, that we also remember to tell our Christian family that we love them, too! After all, has not our heavenly father richly blessed us with such wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let’s make the extra effort this week to appreciate just how blessed we are! Oh, and how much do I love you all? Let me borrow the words of my brother Paul:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:3-11)

— Lester P. Bagley

 

7/17/16 ~ What Really Needs Changed to Make Worship More Enjoyable

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingIt is one of the most talked about things in religious circles today: How do we make our worship more enjoyable.

Think about that for a moment. Shouldn’t we enjoy our worship so much that our praise is a delight, a joy to us?

A few weeks ago as I began working on this article a fellow preacher wrote on much the same thing. In fact, he did it so well that I want to share what he says on the subject of:

What Really Needs Changed to Make Worship More Enjoyable

For many Christians, the worship assembly feels like a “duty,” in the worst sense of the word. Coming to the worship assembly is something they feel they must do, but not something they enjoy doing. This has left many saying, “It shouldn’t be this way; worship should be enjoyable!” I wholeheartedly agree! But I’m afraid the way many are trying to make worship more enjoyable is resulting in making worship shallow, meaningless, and not even worship at all.

Why Worship Should Be Enjoyable: Praising God with our Christian family should be the thing we find more enjoyable than any other. It should be something we look forward to all week long. It should be our joy and delight.

This is true for the same reason that the night a football team wins a big game, the fans can’t wait to talk to one another about the big win. They call each other on the phone, they post about it on social media, and when they see each other in person, they excitedly say, “Can you believe it?! Wasn’t that incredible?!” They enjoy talking about it almost as much as they enjoyed watching the game in the first place.

Everyone who has ever enjoyed something knows this feeling. When we’re on a great vacation, we almost can’t wait for it to be over so we can get home, tell people about it, and show them the pictures. When we have a great meal, we can’t wait to share with someone how great it was.

In fact, we could say, half the enjoyment is found in expressing our enjoyment. Isn’t it frustrating and disappointing to experience something great, but yet be unable to share it with someone? C.S. Lewis wrote about this, saying, “We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.”

When we truly enjoy God for who He is then we will be longing, aching, dying to sing out to someone, “Isn’t God awesome?!” And when they answer back, “Yes! Yes, He is awesome!” we experience the greatest pleasure available in this life.

What We Don’t Need to Change: But when people don’t experience the pleasure we intuitively know worship should bring, they often try to manufacture it through artificial means. They adjust the lighting, update the music style, incorporate drama and skits, use video and other technology, all in an effort to manipulate people’s emotions and “help them enjoy worship.”

But is this even worship? Are those who are enjoying this experience really enjoying God or are they simply enjoying an entertaining show? If it takes a change in lighting – or a change in music style – for you to enjoy sharing with your church family how great God is, maybe you need to stop and ask yourself if what you’re doing can even be called “worship.”

Worship comes from a heart that has been stirred by the goodness of God – as revealed through the Gospel – and NOT by a heart that has been manipulated by dimmed lights and talented performers.

What We DO Need to Change: If we want to make worship more enjoyable, here is what we do need to change… our hearts! We need to fill our hearts with the “word of Christ” so it dwells within us “richly” and then we’ll be able to, “[sing] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

When we daily allow God to reveal Himself to us through the “word of Christ,” then our enjoyment grows and grows throughout the week, finally being completed when we assemble to, “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Ephesians 5:19). And this weekly assembly is just the foretaste of the great assembly that will gather around God’s throne in heaven to enjoy Him forever!

Sadly, many of us don’t think of the worship assembly in this way. We don’t look forward to it. We’re not longing, aching, and dying to come together with our church family and sing to another, “Our God is an awesome God.” Some are content to simply show up and say, “I’ve done my duty.”

But God is not honored by the praise of people who do not enjoy Him. If we don’t enjoy worship, we don’t need to change the music or the lights, we need to change our hearts. We need to start enjoying God every moment of every day, and then we will desperately long for our enjoyment to be completed by praising Him with our church family.

— Wes McAdams online at RadicallyChristian.com

So, how is your worship? Is it a time of joy overflowing your heart as you sing praises to the Lord? Are prayers a precious time of pouring out your thoughts, concerns, needs and praise to God? Do you join in the preaching and teaching to see the thoughts of God that you might apply them to your life to better serve God?

To put it a simpler way: How’s your heart? Is it filled with God’s joy?

If any one of us has heart trouble we quickly find it important to follow the doctor’s instructions and take the medicine or have the procedure that will let us live.

When we sing, pray, study, worship in every way will it be with the joy of hearts that truly love Him who died for us? Or will we chose to die without God’s saving medicine? Choose life beginning today!

— Lester P. Bagley