Thursday, May 22, 2014

A mistake or a mis-take?

For We All Stumble in Many Things

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

You’ll recognize those famous words from James 3:2. "For we all stumble in many things..." The older I get, the more I can identify with them.

I recently literally stumbled as I tried to step down to the floor as the invitation song began. No real harm and nothing broken, but it made for quite a distraction at just the wrong time in front of many witnesses. Upon reflection, it might be one way that the Lord is trying to help me with Romans 12:3.

During graduation exercises this year, I let two pages of the script stick together, totally missing a fine young man’s presentation of two prestigious awards. Thankfully, a colleague noticed my error and set me up to correct it. I’m told the audience never even knew, but I know that confession is good for the soul (James 5:16-20) .

After graduation and lunch, I came back to the office to work for awhile. I put some canned colas into the fridge—except for the one that I dropped. As it exploded it wet two walls, a file cabinet, a fire extinguisher, two umbrellas, and me. And after all that, there were still two swallows left in the can. It took half an hour to clean up.

One of our students has been named Travis all his young life. He still doesn’t know why I often call him “Justin.” Neither do I. Of course that brings us back to James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” I have no illusions of personal perfection.

On Mother’s Day, we led worship at the nursing home. On my way out the front, I removed my coat due to the warm weather. Immediately, a friend said to me, “Let me be your mother. Tuck in your shirt.” Part of the shirttail had escaped, and I had no clue. .

My work computer is well-used, having been with me for more years than it should. Even after all our time and conversations, it still does what I tell it to do rather than what I really want to do. Problem is that the new one will do just the same.

I still mow the lawn and trim the hedges. I count it a major blessing to still have all my fingers and toes. The one finger does look a bit funny, but it works OK.

I’m told that I will be switching to an iPhone soon. When I hang up on you, don’t answer, and/or dial you by mistake, please don’t be surprised. All that—and worse—is bound to happen.

I haven’t yet left the house wearing different colored socks or two different shoes, but I assume that might happen soon. When it does, I hope I’ll find it as entertaining as others will. I shouldn’t be the only one who misses the fun.

“For we all stumble in many things.” As that keeps us from being as boring as we might otherwise be, it also makes us grateful to God and others who graciously forgive.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Salt and Light

Watching and Wondering

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

The recent snow caused notable disruption to school and work schedules, but I deemed our part of the weird weather a minor event. The newspaper came every morning. Mail delivery was uninterrupted. The power never failed. We didn’t miss a meal. So many in other areas did not fare so well. We were notably spared.

I’ll admit being perplexed by some of what I heard and saw. Why would anyone think that traffic lights no longer apply because there’s snow on the street? Why would anyone think it makes sense to drive at normal speeds on icy roads? What do people do with all that bread and milk they buy? Do they really think we’re going to be homebound for weeks?

There are things I loved to see under our recent weather conditions. I loved to see people checking on their neighbors. I loved to see families playing together and taking pictures so they can enjoy the memories all the more. I loved people who choose virtually any topic of conversation other than the weather. I loved how the beautiful white snow totally transforms the formerly drab landscape.

The snow worked out pretty well for me. I never missed a day of work and was blessed with major blocks of uninterrupted time. I was reminded again of the limits of technology and human knowledge. There was too little snow to feel compelled to build a snowman. Though I broke my 99 cent ice scraper on the window of the truck, Laura quickly found another one. Neither of us slipped or fell even once.

As surely as I watch and wonder during stressful events, others must do that as well. What do they see in us? Resilience? Flexibility? Patience? Wisdom? General good cheer and good will? Gratitude that things are as well as they are? Respect for God and His creation? Willingness to help others, even (especially) strangers?

As surely as we watch, God also watches. He doesn’t have to wonder because He knows our thoughts, fears, motives, desires, reasons, and opportunities. Psalm 139 documents that so well. What does He see when He watches us? I hope He sees growth, progress, improvement, and maturity. I hope He sees the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). I hope He sees Christ being formed in us (Ephesians 4:11-16, Philippians 2:5-11).

Some say that crises and other unusual events reveal our character. Such things may cause us to lower our guard, forget our filters, and remove our masks. But we all know that life reveals our character. In so many small moments when we don’t realize that people are watching, they really are. Moment by moment we have opportunity to be salt and light to the glory of God (Matthew 5:13-16). What a blessing to use those moments well.

We don’t want to send mixed messages. We don’t want to make others wonder, “Am I seeing a real believer, or is this person just another fake?” This world needs more real-to-the-core, 24/7/365 Christians.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Super Dud

Great Expectations

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

After two weeks of extreme hype, the 2014 Super Bowl stood little chance of living up to its billing. Still, I didn’t anticipate a super dud of a game. My team lost, but it’s worse than that. They were non-competitive and stunningly disappointing.

In this sin-damaged world, life has a way of failing to live up to the hype. The wedding ceremony will be magical with our groom a gallant knight and the bride a princess. But the armor seems to rust and the glass slipper doesn’t fit. Baby comes, the most beautiful baby in the world. But baby is expensive, exhausting, and high maintenance. Our work isn’t always appreciated at the level that rewards us. We take a vacation, the flight is delayed, and the whole cruise ship gets sick. We go to a movie, it’s not nearly as good as the trailer, and cell phones keep ringing.

How do we cope with the stress and strain of such realities? The following suggestions could help:

• Concentrate less on what we hope to feel. Concentrate more on the ways we can bring joy to those around us, especially those we love (Philippians 2:3-4).

• Learn to laugh at the absurd. Sometimes God changes our plans, and it works to great blessing (Acts 16:6-10). Sometimes, we don’t have a clue who changed our plans, but we’re still wise to wait for God’s blessing.

• Choose to find more joy in God’s day-to-day surprises (Psalm 19:1). A multi-colored sunset, heavy on the red. A bluebird on an extra-cold day. Banana pudding at potluck.

• Remember that it’s not about me. There’s peace and safety in not always being the center of attention.

• Find someone who is having fun. Sometimes their attitude is infectious. Some people have a knack for getting life right. God can use them to help the rest of us.

• Choose to lower your expectations. Only God is always right. Humans often fall short even when we try really hard. And we don’t always try really hard.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A New Year

Let Us Do Good

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10).

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

I love to be set up for success. All my life I have been blessed by people who wanted the best for me, expected the best of me, and tried to help me do right. God continues to treat me far better than I deserve. Recent examples include:

• Being invited to speak for series and being assigned some wonderful topics • Being introduced by kind people who leave out the negatives and express optimism about the lesson that will be presented • Being invited to offer help during some crises and being thanked in advanced for the effort that will be made • Being asked to recommend some excellent people for new opportunities that seem tailor-made for their talents.

It’s a joy to be set up for success, but it’s also a joy to set others up to succeed. It’s one of the happiest applications of Galatians 6:9-10. We don’t get too tired to say a good word about the good work being done by others to the glory of God. When we summon the energy to do that, God will give us even more of His strength. We don’t get too tired to help those who are doing good work to the glory of God. Even if we can’t do much, every effort helps. Every effort counts. God never fails to notice.

We delight in equipping others (Ephesians 4:11-16). We delight in encouraging all things good. We don’t care who generates the idea or who first brings it to our attention. If it’s good, right, biblical, and encouraging, then we’re for it. We don’t care who is chosen to lead the effort. If that leader is one of God’s people, we’re onboard, happy, and willing to follow.

We delight in planting happy seed. “Have you thought about asking ___ to help. He has really impressed me.” “Maybe ____ could help us. She always has the best attitude.” We welcome fresh, solid ideas for advancing the kingdom. We love to see brethren grow, adding to their talents and their influence. We love the spirit of Philippians 2:3-4, because we know it is the very spirit of Christ (John 13:34-35).

What a joy to help set others up for success. What a joy to lead a conspiracy of encouragement in all things good. Such wise and active humility will be blessed by God.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Life Flow

Faithfulness in the Unpredictable

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…” Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Some weeks grab your attention more than others. Recently, we visited two funeral homes and attended two weddings within the span of four days. On the day of one of the weddings, our nephew and his wife welcomed the birth of their daughter. Within that same week, friends were bruised in a car crash, another friend had surgery, and yet another received a serious medical diagnosis. Life’s inevitable and unpredictable flow surely makes us think.

We never know what’s around the next corner, and that may be a huge blessing (James 4:14). It should move us to humility. It should move us to appreciate our wondrously changeless Creator. It surely helps us avoid worry (Matthew 6:34). It should always move us to prayer and to gratitude that things are as well as they are.

Parts of life’s flow are both pleasant and beautiful. We welcome the cooler temperatures and the changing of the leaves. If the Lord sends it, we’ll enjoy some lovely snowfall this winter. By the time spring comes, we’ll need the newness of the first green-gold leaves (think of Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Ever Stays”). We love precious weddings when God blesses young Christians to create new homes. There’s nothing more joyous than a birth, whether the arrival of a new child or the new birth that Jesus emphasized in John 3. There’s even a beauty in physical death when it’s remembered in light of John 14, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 14:13.

Parts of life’s flow are unimaginably difficult. The illnesses, accidents, and disappointments of this sin-damaged world often break our hearts. We see people we love enduring unfair trials. Worse, we sometimes see people we love causing great pain. Even worse, we sometimes find ourselves contributing to the trials and pains of others. All this makes us long for the righteousness, purity, and peace of heaven (Revelation 21:1-4).

There are at least three things that we want to do in every circumstance of life’s uneven flow:

•We want to trust God even more than we trust ourselves (Hebrews 6:13-20).

•We want to serve God ahead of serving ourselves (Matthew 20:20-28).

•We want to love God even more than we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40).

In terms of what might happen tomorrow, we don’t know. In terms of what ultimately happens to all who are saved by grace through faith, we are certain (2 Timothy 4:6-8, Revelation 2:10b). One day we will awaken in God’s tomorrow, in God’s presence. One day we will be reunited with all the faithful of all the ages. One day we will see Him face to face, “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17b).


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Honor and Blessing

Lift Them Up To Honor

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

“Render therefore to all the due taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7).

On June 4, 2013 Friends of the Overton Memorial Library hosted the eighth annual Honors Evening on the campus of Heritage Christian University. It’s one of my favorite occasions for many reasons. The concept flows directly from Scripture, I like books, and I like positive, happy, understated events.

You know what I mean by “understated.” No one is asked for money. Attendees are free to dress up or come casual. No RSVP is required. And nobody does too much “rah rah.”

I enjoy people’s reactions to Honors Evening. Some call or email asking, “What’s this about? What am I supposed to do? How much will this cost me?” Callers enjoy a sense of relief when they get the facts. My favorite callers are ones who are pleasantly surprised that someone chose to honor them. It doesn’t occur to these humble servants of God that their good works are being noticed and appreciated. We love reminding such people of Matthew 5:16.

Honoring those who are due honor is far too important to be limited to a single organization or to one night each year. There are countless wonderful ways to honor those who help us faithfully walk with God: • A gift to the Christian Children’s Home. • A gift to any faithful mission work. • A note, poem, or article of tribute. • Heart-felt words of respect and appreciation. • Telling good people how their example encourages and motivates you. • Imitation in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, and Hebrews 13:7.

We all know that this world works hard at bringing people down. Satan’s lies include: • You don’t really count. • Your actions don’t matter in the long run. • Nobody cares what you do. • Once you die, they’ll never even remember that you lived.

God counters each of these lies. • If He cares for the birds of the air, He surely cares for us (Matthew 6:26). • Our actions affect our eternal destiny (2 Corinthians 4:9-11). • He knows our actions can powerfully and positively affect others (Genesis 18:19). • Even death can’t stop the influence of the righteous (Hebrews 11:4 and 12:1-2).

Honoring those to whom honor is due invites God’s blessings. It points our hearts toward heaven. It reminds us of the true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and good that should fill our minds (Philippians 4:8). It fights pride and invites God to rule in our hearts. –Bill

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cruise Ship Disaster

I Will Praise You in the Storm

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

I’d never make fun of the unfortunate people who were on the Carnival Triumph when an engine fire left her dead in the water. I’m glad they’re back on land, and take no joy in their misery. However, several things either perplex or impress me:

I hate the media overkill, from excessive coverage to silly exaggeration. It wasn’t, as some asserted, “the cruise from hell.” I love hyperbole as much as the next guy, but no one died. Terrorists didn’t take the ship and threaten lives. Pirates didn’t take the ship and hold people hostage for months. The ship didn’t break apart throwing thousands into the sea. I’m not saying conditions were easy, but they were far from unimaginably bad.

I hate the fact that even as I write this, just a couple of days after the ship made port, at least one suit has already been filed. I own no stock in Carnival and have no knowledge of their history, but I’m certain that representatives of the company didn’t purposefully set fire to the engine room. And once the fire happened, it’s not like they could snap their fingers and immediately move the ship back to port. Some problems don’t have easy or immediate solutions—not even in our microwave world.

I hate the fact that a bus carrying some of the newly docked passengers from Mobile to New Orleans broke down. Those poor folks didn’t need any more pain. Remind me to avoid those infamous words, “At least things can’t get any worse.” In almost every case, they most certainly can. It’s smart business to be glad that things are as well as they are.

I was greatly impressed to hear suffering passengers praise the Carnival crew for its service and dedication. I’m glad to know there are good people who make the best of bad situations. I’m glad for the good hearts of people who can recognize the efforts of others even when those efforts can’t fully change the situation. There’s nobility in making the best of a bad situation.

I was glad that I wasn’t on the ship. Had I been there, I hope 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 and Philippians 4:4-9 would have guided me. I hope I’d have remembered 1 Corinthians 13, Matthew 5:16, and Matthew 7:12.

In this sin-damaged world, bad things happen. Those bad things range from the inconvenient to the stunningly tragic. This cruise ship “disaster” might rank somewhere in the middle. Every day there’s another terminal diagnosis, another death, another job loss, another divorce, and more. Thank God, that every day there’s another statement of “cancer in remission,” another birth, another person blessed with a job, and another happy wedding. Wouldn’t do to ignore the pains and dangers, but it also wouldn’t do to dwell only on the negative. It’s not exactly a quote from the Bible, but it’s certainly a biblical concept: Blessed are the balanced who know God is good all the time in every situation.