6/17/18 ~ What is past

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Are you a time traveler? Many of us enjoy the past for the lessons it provides us for both now and the future. Hopefully, all of us learn from the past or else we are doomed to repeat those same mistakes over and over again.

In spite of learning from the past, there is an important fact that we must remember. We can never time travel to redo or undo the past and, while it can be a lesson (good or bad), it can never be undone…or can it? That is the beginning of a vital lesson for us as Christians about…

What is Past

Human beings living on this earth are bounded by time. Time is linear, a straight line that moves from the past to the future; yet only today actually matters. What is past is fixed forever and we can never redo it.

When we consider those simple facts, we are left with discouragement and despair. It is only when God is brought into the equation that there is any reason for hope!

Paul has a great discussion of those facts: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

As failures without God, we are spectacular failures! We were enslaved to the things of this world (Galatians 4:3) and blinded by Satan to the Light of Life (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Fortunately, Paul also tells us of the hope that only God brings: But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in
kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that [grace is] not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

The past, OUR past, is failure! Living in a fallen world of sin every single one of us has made the fatal choice of sin over obedience to God. Now we either give up in despair or find the only possible way forward that is in Christ!

Paul reminds us: For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

The change or transformation that God uses to correct our failures is nothing short of a spectacular miracle! The Holy Spirit chooses an interesting word for that transformation that God does (and continues to do) to/for us: But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2)

The Greek word “transformed” (metamorphoō) in those two verses gives us our English word metamorphosis. In the insect world that change is seen as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The only other use of this word in the New Testament is at what we usually call the “transfiguration of Jesus” in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2. Jesus did NOT just sparkle or change to white robes for the occasion, but rather he was “transformed” by God’s power! When we are baptized, when we are born again by the water and the Spirit of God we are changed, transfigured by the power of God into the image of Christ.

Paul challenges us: Now because we are fellow workers, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he (God) says, “I heard you at the acceptable time, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:1-2, NET)

Today is NOT the past. Today is the time for transformation. It’s time to move on and keep moving on from being a sinful, ugly worm to the beauty of being Christ! May we live today and into the future with the proud proclamation: I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20)!

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Lester P. Bagley

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6/10/18 ~ Faithful People

 

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Far too often we become guilty of making excuses instead of doing what it right. Catch a child in some misdeed and listen to the countless, creative excuses as to why they had to do wrong.

God points out this very lesson along with our responsibility to grow up and do right: Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature (1 Corinthians 14:20).

So let’s examine just how far God takes this responsibility to be…

Faithful People

Don’t you love hearing and learning wise counsel? Good advice that is really useful and meaningful is a treasure! God, of course, has a lot of that treasure to share and, if we would be faithful to Him, so do we!

Listen to some of Paul’s final words, So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:1-2)

Now consider what he’s saying. An Apostle of Jesus Christ is facing his final days here on earth. He had a commission from his Lord and Savior to take the Gospel ~ the whole of the Gospel ~ to others in this world. Not only does he bring words of FORGIVENESS OF SINS AND SALVATION but he also brings the message to keep it going by teaching them to teach others (Matthew 28:19-20).

Paul is passing the torch to Timothy (as he did to others) in order for Timothy to pass it on himself. Consider again Paul’s actual words.

Be strong and not timid. God has constantly reinforced His people with this reminder to be courageous. He reminds us because we are apt to forget and let courage get away from us under severe trials.

The grace that is in Christ Jesus. Being strong is only real strength and only really useful when it is in the Lord. Paul had written many times to encourage strength in the Lord (cf. Ephesians 6:10) because real power only comes from the Lord (cf. Philippians 4:13). Strength enabled and empowered by God is going to be successful.

Entrust to faithful people the powerful truth that you have learned. It is not opinion or ideas that we have to pass on, but rather the truth that was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3) by the Apostles. What we have is so precious we must not just keep it but pass it on. And we pass it on, not to just anyone, but to those faithful ones that will continue to pass it on.

The qualification to TEACH is cited by Paul as a requirement of Elders (1 Timothy 3:2) but is, in reality, a requirement of all who would be worthy of God’s Good News.

Entrust to faithful people is a great honor and responsibility. The word Paul uses for faithful people (anthrōpos) is the generic term for human beings. Faithful (pistos), can only be defined by God as it refers to those that are reliable and trustworthy in God’s eyes.

People who will be able to teach others also is an absolute requirement for God’s people! We can never say that we just can’t do it. God calls us to do it! God not only says we can do it but empowers us. Notice the four generations Paul mentions: Himself, Timothy, faithful individuals and others. The chain of faithful teachers is one that reaches from the purity of the New Testament to us. And God calls on us to ensure that the chain continues into the future.

This is God’s vision of spiritual reproduction. Faithful Christians beget faithful Christians. If the Lord’s church is to be faithful in the future, it begins with us taking up our responsibility now.

Somehow, somewhere many supposed Christians have gotten the idea that they are without responsibility. Every real Christian owes a debt to those who taught them and a responsibility to teach others.

Without taking up our responsibility, we are not faithful.

— Lester P. Bagley

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6/3/18 ~ Hebrew words all Christians should know.

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Are you multilingual? Most of us would immediately say that we don’t know any language except English… and we would be completely wrong! Ask an English teacher how many words in our language are actually foreign words and you will be a bit surprised at the answer!

Have you ever ordered a filet mignon steak? That’s a French term (although we technically use it incorrectly as the French use it for pork tenderloin!). I suspect that, living in the Southwestern USA, you’ve also ordered tacos, enchiladas, and a lot of other Mexican foods and probably never once called them sandwiches or rolled flat-bread filled with… well, you get the point! English, like most languages, is made richer with the addition of words that, while technically foreign, are commonly used and understood by almost everyone.

Have you thought about the fact that as Christians our language is made richer by the use of words belonging to God and His people? Throughout the centuries, many of these terms and customs have been identified by God as special to us. If we lose the language of God then we lose the language of our family and our heavenly home! Let’s look at a few important terms that we should treasure and use if we really belong to God:

Hebrew Words All Christians Should Know

One that immediately should come to mind is Hallelujah. Every time we sing a song with the words “praise the Lord” and/or Hallelujah we are simply repeating the exact same thought.

Hallelu is the Hebrew term of encouragement to praise that is addressed to several people. Yah is a short version of YHWH, which is the personal, Covenant name of the Creator God, traditionally translated as Lord (English translations sometimes use Yahweh or Jehovah for this never pronounced sacred name).

So put together in English (in Hebrew it is actually a two-word phrase) it becomes Hallelujah. However, it really means much more than simply “praise God” as the “encouragement” in Hebrew carries the force of joyous praise in song or boasting in God. And when you remember that it is addressed to more than one person it becomes a direct command for us to together praise or boast in the Lord in song.

When we sing “Hallelujah Praise Jehovah” we are making a thoughtful statement about who we are and what we are doing as we acknowledge the one and only God!

Since Hallelujah includes “jah” or “yah” as God’s name, let’s also consider both El and Yah as they are important names and descriptions of God. El is a generic term used in several Middle Eastern Semitic languages. It can refer to any “god,” whether the one true God or a false god. Yah, on the other hand, is a very specific personal name (see above).

You should notice that MANY names in the Bible are compound words that include either of these two terms for God. For a few quick examples consider El-i-jah (my God is YHWH), El-isha (God helped), Dani-el (God judges or God is judge), Jo-el (YHWH is God, Jo being an alternate version of YHWH).

Since many names in the Bible were given with a special purpose or lesson in mind via God, it really helps to see the whole picture God is giving us when you use a good Bible dictionary to fully appreciate the names!

Every time a name in the Bible begins or ends with one of these forms of God’s name, there is a lesson waiting to be discovered. And seeing that lesson will enrich your understanding of what God is trying to tell you in His word!

Let’s look at one more word that’s very important to God and His people: Amen. In the Old Testament, it is used about 30 times and usually translated as amen or as truth. In the New Testament, it is used some 129 times and usually translated as verily or truly when used by Jesus in the Gospels and amen elsewhere.

In the New Testament, the word is borrowed directly from the Hebrew so it’s meaning is intended to be the same. The fact that the Holy Spirit repeatedly uses this specific Hebrew word in all languages and for all God’s people of every age ought to tell us that something important is going on. The Hebrew in its simplest meaning is, “so be it.” But it is used with much more force as an absolute affirmation of trustworthiness and certainty!

When God required His people to acknowledge all the curses that would befall them for failing to obey His commandments, this is the word that they had to use to acknowledge both the righteousness of God and their acceptance of it! (Read Deuteronomy 27:15-26)

Where today people might swear to solemnly affirm something, God’s people say, Amen. Where today people might cheer and clap to show approval of something really important, God’s people say, Amen.

When we would show approval or want to underline the importance of something in a sermon, a song or a prayer, we say, Amen.

Let’s make a very important point here with this word and its meaning to God’s people. If you attend a secular wedding or graduation ceremony, the people of the world tend to whistle, clap, stomp their feet and yell all kinds of things.

Should we make the Lord’s church conform to our modern world? Should we show approval of Godly things by acting like the friends and followers of Satan? Or should we follow the pattern of God’s people for at least the last nearly 4,000 years?

Should we scream, whistle, clap and stomp for a Godly point made in a prayer or sermon? Should we do that for someone who has just put on their Lord in baptism? Seriously? Is THAT the response of God’s people or are we just imitating Satan?

No, we don’t have to follow Jesus. We don’t have to use God’s words… unless we really want to imitate God instead of Satan. Perhaps by serious Bible study and learning God’s words, terminology and meaning, we can learn to do things God’s way!

Yes, it’s that important!

— Lester P. Bagley

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5/27/18 ~ Baseball and the Christian Life

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

The Apostle Paul often used the sports and games of his world as lessons for Christians. While I doubt that everyone in New Testament times was a sports nut, they still made important lessons. Let’s take a look at a modern sport with a similar spiritual lesson for us:

Baseball and Christian Life

Manny Trillo had a 17-year Major League career with the A’s, Cubs, Phillies, Indians, Expos, Giants, and Reds. In that time he was a repeat All-Star and won multiple Gold Gloves for his defensive play. He set a Major League record (since broken) with 479 consecutive errorless chances. Think about that a moment: 479 straight times he could have made an error and did not.

The most amazing thing about this story is not that he didn’t make a mistake but rather his attitude. As great as Manny Trillo was with his glove, he knew there were always errors. A bad throw. A bad hop. Broken double plays. In baseball, there are (currently) 162 games a year. A minimum (usually) of 1,458 innings in the regular season. That’s not counting pre- and post-season games. Baseball is an every-day-of-the-week game.

In baseball, perfection is technically (just like in Christian living!) non- existent. True, there are tons of statistics kept to see how close you get to perfection. But Manny Trillo lived and played by the philosophy, “The best thing about baseball is you can do something about yesterday, tomorrow.”

If you make a mistake and want to actually fix it, there’s always tomorrow’s game. Next time, you have the opportunity to undo the mistake and do it right.

This holds true on defense and just as well on offense. If you follow baseball you will quickly notice that everyone’s batting average is measured in three decimal numbers. What that means is if you get a hit every single time that you come to bat you would be batting 1.000. But no one ever does that!

In fact, no one ever comes close! In a single season of baseball, the great Ty Cobb hit .420! (For you trivia fans, Nap Lajoie holds the record average with a .426 season.) Ty Cobb’s lifetime career average was .366.

The best players in baseball history missed hitting the ball 1½ to 2 times for every time they hit it. Their mistakes totaled one and a half to two times their successes and they were the best! The best of most players is closer to the twice as many whiffs for every hit!

So what does all this about baseball have to do with us as Christians? The New Testament is constantly advising us as Christians to take the same approach to our “game,” our lives. The very use of the words repentance and forgiveness are God’s reminders that we can have another chance. How we use that next chance will always be what shows our real character, our real spirituality!

I believe the Apostle Paul, with his interest in sports, would have appreciated this analogy. After all, he wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

James wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a). And John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

God is very clear in telling us that we are not perfect. Just as “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and need Jesus to save them from their sins, we all continue to be imperfect.
Certainly, this doesn’t mean we stop trying to be perfect. No baseball player is worth anything if they are a quitter and the same is true of a Christian! But when you do and try and fail, then the answer is not to give up. The answer for saints is always found in keeping on keeping on, in trying our best to do better tomorrow!

The best thing about a mistake we make now is that we can do better. That sounds a lot like resolve, a stubborn faith in God that with His help we can always do better!
Persistent faith is what made each of the Old Testament heroes of faith (cf. Hebrews 11 and the events of their lives in the OT). Persistent faith is what makes us.
Will you be better tomorrow?

— Lester P. Bagley

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5/20/18 ~ What about the ignorant?

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Jesus placed a burden, a responsibility on the Apostles. According to Matthew 28:19-20 they had to go to all the world and teach them of God’s will and the salvation that is only in Jesus. In teaching that Good News they had to–much like the old court injunction–tell the truth… the whole truth… and nothing but the truth.

In telling all the truth (Jesus called it “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”) they were passing on to each new child of God the responsibility to also share the Good News with everyone else.

That leads us to an interesting and important question:

What About the Ignorant?

Have you ever noticed how often people have an opinion of God without actually consulting God’s revealed word? It is a frequent approach by people that do not actually follow the New Testament but, sadly, it is also often practiced by those claiming to be Christians.

Before you claim that this cannot possibly be so, consider how often you’ve heard someone discussing things about God’s will and say something like, “I think” or “I believe” as they give an opinion. Perhaps you’ve even been guilty of saying it yourself.

Opinions are nice things… sometimes. But we would all have to agree that failing to stop for a STOP sign is not a matter of opinion but a matter of law. The obvious principle for spiritual matters must be that, if God tells us the facts, if He sets the law of what is true and false, right and wrong, then we must agree with Him if we want to be right.

Once we understand and accept this fact, then we realize the seriousness of continued study of His word. Only when we first actually listen to and follow God may we be in agreement with Him. Amos the prophet asked the question: Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3, NKJV) We find ourselves out of step and unable to walk with our God if we do not agree with Him!

So let’s consider the question: What about those ignorant of God’s will? We ask it often in many ways and many times we find ourselves giving an opinion that is completely out of step, out of agreement with God! What about the person that has never heard God’s will and dies in their ignorance? Surely God wouldn’t send that person to hell!

The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians in large part to deal with the question of how God will deal with unbelievers and false teachers when Jesus returns. Certainly, that question is of great importance to us today and is directly relevant to our question of ignorance.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 Paul says: (5) This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and results in your being considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are indeed suffering. (6) For it is a righteous thing for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, (7) and to give relief to you who are afflicted, and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (8) in flaming fire, inflicting punishment on those who do not know God, and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (Mounce-NT translation)

You will notice that I quoted that from a very literal translation that is actually used for teaching Greek translation. But the fact is, nearly every single English translation agrees with the Greek that punishment is coming on those who do not know God as well as those that do not obey Him. As a matter of fact, the only English Bible I found that implies another meaning is a work known as The Message; a work known for repeated intentional mistranslation. It says, Those who refuse to know God and refuse to obey the Message will pay for what they’ve done, and thus completely misses the force of what God actually says.

So, we can safely conclude that the only way to claim ignorance of God’s word as an excuse in the Judgement Day is to pervert what God actually says. Oops! That’s NOT a good opinion to hold, is it?

Consider one last point. If people can go to heaven out of ignorance then there’s not any point in the Great Commission! Think about it! Why should we try so hard to teach people of Jesus if they would actually be better off in ignorance?

And that leads us to one last important lesson. What if we fail to do our job of telling the Good News? What if we fail to warn others of God’s way and judgment?

God actually has that discussion with Ezekiel the prophet in chapter 33, verses 1-20. Since Ezekiel was given a commission by God to speak God’s will (much like Jesus passed on to us all in Matthew 28:19-20), he is responsible only for his failure to preach the truth. If others listen and obey God’s will, their salvation is assured. If others choose to ignore God’s message then they bear the burden of their sin.

Never does God make an exception for ignorance. We know God’s will and we are responsible for sharing that Good News with others. It’s time for us to get busy because ignorance is death.

— Lester P. Bagley

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5/12/18 ~ Battle Buddies

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Are you helping or hurting the church, the body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Are you a real soul winner for Jesus or just an old sorehead? Do you truly stand with your…

Battle Buddies

The fact is, we as Christians are often guilty of “shooting our wounded!”

The most demanding job in this world is that of actively living a Christ-like life! Having said that, we often imagine that what that means is living a totally self-righteous life. While Jesus lived a sinless life, he did NOT live it without friendships, encouragement, love, and support of others!

John is described as the disciple that Jesus loved (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20). While Jesus was close to all His disciples, there were some that especially provided even closer friendship and fellowship. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are also singled out as those that Jesus loved (John 11:5). Certainly, many of Jesus’ discussions with Peter show an especially close bond of encouragement.

If Jesus drew strength and reinforcement from that bond of friendship then we undoubtedly need the same thing, too. Solomon, another “wise man,” reminded us that there is a friend that is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

Burnout is highest among those that work the hardest! Teachers, elders, preachers, deacons and all who faithfully serve the Lord are both worthy of honor and in danger of that dreaded disease.

Think of Paul’s admonition, The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). We usually focus on the “double honor” as being paid for their work, but part of the honor is also the appreciation and caring for that’s so richly deserved, even here on earth, for those that faithfully serve.

Over the years many of our finest elders, preachers, teachers and Christian servants of the Lord have burned out and even lost their faith. So, what can we do about it?

As we’ve already noted, Jesus had close, loving friends that were an encouragement to Him. Solomon, David and many others of God’s people depended on those friends that were closer than earthly family.

Let’s back up a moment and consider the problem from another angle. Suicide (both literally and professionally) is extremely high among soldiers with the most combat experience. And very similar things happen among the most proficient police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical professionals. The challenge of constantly having someone’s life (soul) in your hands and so often seeing it all go badly wrong too often is a huge burden to bear.

It seems like some of that pressure is evident in the apostle Paul’s writings. Too many battles fought with too little support from your own side is an awful burden to bear. You can hear it rather loudly in 2 Timothy 4.

The US Army began a program several years back known as the “battle buddy.” The idea is that a battle buddy assists his or her partner both in and out of combat. They are not just for company but intentionally for the reduction of suicide. Each battle buddy watches his partner’s actions and is expected to save their fellow soldier’s life by noticing negative thoughts and feelings and intervening to provide help.

It is a real challenge to have the self-confidence to stay strong without that “buddy” support. Nowadays the “battle buddy” concept is not only for support in combat but for the ongoing support for living life outside of combat. The lesson readily applies to Christians that are sincerely fighting the good fight of faith.

Go back to 2 Timothy 4 and note verses 9-11: Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. Do you hear the loss of too many? Do you see the importance of those close friends, those “battle buddies” that remain faithful?

You will recall that Jesus ALWAYS sent his disciples to work in (at least) pairs. Paul routinely traveled and worked with one or more fellow workers.

John tells us, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). But it remains for James to demonstrate the practice as he says, 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)

It seems like God is trying to tell us something there! The way to survive the trials is with the working together, the praying for one another. Only together can we accomplish much!

Look at four additional scriptures that address this issue: A friend loves at all times, & a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17). Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10). With all humility & gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love (Ephesians 4:2). Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).

There are souls to save here. And the only way we can save the souls of fellow saints is to stand strong and firm with them in the Lord. Only together can we accomplish much!

— Lester P. Bagley

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5/6/18 ~ Going Beyond or Falling Short

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Have you ever noticed how some things are “just right” the way they are? It is important for us to remember that “no substitutes, no additions, no changes” is a vital truth of God’s word. We sometimes say that a miss is as good as a mile, and with God, that is especially true. However you miss, it is still a miss and nothing can make that miss a hit. As Christians, we need to make certain that we never…

Go Beyond or Fall Short

While we often remember Balaam for his later failure to honor God, we need to also remember his early faithfulness. Balak, king of the Moabites, was making every effort to persuade Balaam to go against God’s commands. Balaam’s reply to Balak’s servants was, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God” (Numbers 22:18).

Do we have the same courage to be so determined to obey our God? Can we truly say that we are so faithful to Him that we will do nothing little or big that is contrary to His commands?

As the New Testament is still being written, God constantly includes reminders that the “perfect” revelation, will and instructions of God are the standard that all future generations will adhere to for what is right and wrong. Paul told the church at Corinth that was so inordinately proud of their miraculous spiritual gifts that they were all coming to an end.

The gifts of prophecy would be done away with, the “tongues” (speaking a language you had never learned so you could teach the gospel to someone of that language) will cease. Even the gift of miraculous knowledge (knowing the will of God without the effort of study and preparation beforehand) would end. All that was partial and imperfect was to end when the perfect revelation was complete (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

Strangely enough, many years ago someone informed me that this view, this understanding of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 was unique to the “churches of Christ” and that no other “Bible scholars” saw it that way. Think about that argument for a moment. Even IF the only people that agreed with God (just like in Balaam’s case) were those that actually worshipped God, then that would still make it right! Nothing you can believe, say or do will ever make a wrong right.

Worse still, is the fact that many (most?) Bible scholars even in the denominational world (people that will accept some error or false teaching as okay) admit that there is no other way to interpret Paul’s words! Like Balaam, many times people that plead their case for disobeying God, nevertheless admit that what God actually says is both true and required if we would obey Him!

The writer of Hebrews challenges us with the same idea. We cannot afford to even seem or appear to come short of God’s standard. That will lose us our reward (cf. Hebrews 4:1). As John pens the final words of God in the Revelation, he includes God’s command to read, hear and obey “these words” without change (cf. Revelation 22:18). God promises to add the “plagues” to those that add to His word. Sounds like God is serious, doesn’t it?

Since Jesus promised that God (His Spirit) was the author of all the Apostles’ teaching passed on to us (cf. John 14:26; 16:13; Matthew 28:20), it is obligatory that we only believe, teach and practice the same things! That is literally what Jesus commands of all teaching by His people in Matthew 28:20. Hopefully, we all know and understand the concept of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Everything God speaks to His people is important! That precept is stated in many ways throughout the Bible and repeated by Jesus to Satan (Matthew 4:4). Every word that comes from God is our life. Obviously, words are important and we ignore them at our peril!

That leads to an important reminder. Any time we take a statement of God out of context, we sin and lose sight of godly teaching. An excellent example is found in 2 Timothy 2:14. When Paul tells Timothy not to wrangle about words, he is NOT talking about teaching and learning (like we often hear argued) what God says!

Paul is talking about the word arguments that he and Timothy had repeatedly dealt with, the myths and genealogies (worldly and pagan things as in 1 Timothy 1:3-4) and includes the old wives’ tales of 1 Timothy 4:7. Worldly words, ideas, “theological” arguments outside of the revealed word of God have no place alongside the actual holy words of God. By God’s definition, His word and only His word is the absolute truth (cf. Psalm 119:160 and confirmed by Jesus in John 17:17).

Since our Lord is truly the great God and Savior (cf. Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1), we learn and obey His words in His context and meaning. We are not called to just obey basic concepts. Our God is able to say exactly what He means and His wisdom is what we need to learn and obey. The psalmist reminds us of those who rebelled against the words of God and spurned His counsel (Psalm 107:11).

One of Jesus’ warnings shortly before He left this earth was of “false prophets” that would come after He left (Matthew 24:24). In some of the last words from God to His people, John would remind us that “many false prophets” are out there in the world and we are not to believe them. Once again, the standard we compare them to is God (1 John 4:1).

If these things taught by God are all true, then we have a responsibility to learn, believe, practice and continue to teach God’s word. The truth, the facts, the way of salvation, the way of worship and service to God, and the way we are to live is all settled. As Jude concluded, we are to contend for (defend) the faith, the truth that was once for all delivered to us (Jude 3).

We have God’s word, God’s standard, God’s requirements for us, our lives and our teaching. If we would be true to God, we must neither go beyond nor fall short of what He says!

— Lester P. Bagley

4/29/18 ~ How did you “receive” Christ?

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From the Preacher’s Pen… How did you become a Christian? Is it appropriate to ask that question of anyone? Paul shows us plainly in Acts 19:1-5 that it is appropriate and necessary.

So, in light of all the worldly false teaching out there, let’s ask ourselves the important question:

How Did You “Receive” Christ?

It never fails to amaze me how often a Biblical term that has been used since Bible times suddenly becomes popular with the denominational world. But what makes it truly perverse is the fact that they give it their own “spin” instead of using it the way God does.

An obvious example is the term “born again Christian.” In God’s view, there are no other Christians than those who have been born again. Jesus explained it with great clarity to Nicodemus in John 3:3-7, you must be born again to ever see (be a part of) the Kingdom of God!

And yet suddenly a few years ago the denominational world proposed that Christians needed to become “born again Christians” by something other than the water and the Spirit.  Sorry, that’s not God’s way.

Hopefully, you are familiar with the concept of belief. Believing Christ or believing in or on Christ is used repeatedly in the New Testament. But no one actually “believes” Christ who does not obey Him. John 3:36, for one example, makes it plain: He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

Another popular term involves “receiving Christ.” Sure, God does use that term as John 1:12 speaks of those who received Him as opposed to those who reject Him. The flagrant error comes with the explanation that this means “taking Jesus as your personal Savior.”

Sadly, for those that teach such, the New Testament never urges anyone to “take Jesus as your personal Savior.” So, in the context of the Scripture, what does it really mean to “receive Jesus?”

To begin with, John wrote those words about “receiving Christ” over 50 years after the Lord’s church began. Jesus’ church began with Peter and the other Apostles fulfilling prophecy and God’s direct commands by preaching on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection. On that day and forever since the Lord’s people of His church have preached the message of “repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Luke would record those words in the book of Acts about AD 60.

The Apostle John had been there that day and had preached and taught the same message. Since John preached the truth don’t you suppose that he meant the truth and not some other doctrine?

Now let’s cut to the chase: You “receive Jesus” when you obey Him in baptism (Romans 6:3-11). When you “receive Jesus” you become a part of the church, the body that He died for (Acts 2:38, 47; Ephesians 5:23, 30).

While God never speaks of accepting Jesus as your “personal savior,” He repeatedly speaks of the body, the church of Christ. If you are going to actually listen to what God says, we are called to accept Jesus as our “corporate” or joint savior!

When John penned the words, But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12), he meant just what he and the other New Testament teachers and preachers had always meant!

Those who receive Jesus are those who obey Him. Those who believe Him do His will. Those who do the right things commanded by Jesus are those that become children of God. John repeatedly points this out, both in his Gospel account of Jesus and in his letters to Christians (cf. John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 2:3–4; 3:22; 5:3).

So, have you actually received Christ in His way? Did you repent of your sins? Were you added to the Lord’s family by being born again through baptism? Nothing less is obedience to God. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Will you do so?

— Lester P. Bagley

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4/22/18 ~ Spiritual Ugliness

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Beauty is something we all appreciate. A gorgeous sunset will cause us to whip out our cameras or call others to see. And how can anyone fail to appreciate a beautiful baby?

But what of our spiritual souls and lives? Are we beautiful before our Heavenly Father or are we covered in…

Spiritual Ugliness

Matthew 23 is Jesus’ vicious attack on false religion. Consider verses 27 and 28: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Today the word hypocrite usually means someone who pretends to be good and yet is inwardly or secretly bad. Our English word hypocrite is not an original word in our language. Rather, it is simply an anglicized word just like baptism. It only exists at all in English because of Jesus. He used the word some 18 times in the Gospel accounts and translators simply borrow the Greek word.

Just as people misuse baptism by pretending it has an English meaning apart from the Greek biblical usage, so, too, do we misuse hypocrite by taking it out of context and attempting to give it our own meaning.

The word Jesus uses is the Greek word for a stage actor. But to appreciate what He is telling us we must appreciate, like all statements in scripture, the context. In the old Greek world, actors had been respected. But by Roman times they were considered to have the same social status as a criminal or prostitutes. They were often foreigners, captives or slaves whose job was to entertain. While they performed some “classical” Greek plays and poetry, much of the stage was devoted to rude, vulgar and tasteless.

It appears that in New Testament times there was little or no “clean” comedy or theater. Much was essentially what we today would consider the lowest “X” rated kind of entertainment. It is accurate to say that Jesus is labeling people as the modern equivalent of a porn star!

With that ugly picture in mind, re-read Jesus’ words above. The degree of spiritual ugliness is important in seeing how God sees sin. Sin is never just a minor flaw or a tiny blemish on our character. It is always a fatal ugliness that God cannot ignore.

There is something disconcerting about us missing true ugliness and mistaking it for beauty. Have you ever picked up something without knowing what it was only to find out or realize that it was something truly disgustingly awful?

God gives us many examples. Solomon would illustrate it like this on one occasion, As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion (Proverbs 11:22). It’s not the beauty that appears on the outside, it’s the ugliness hidden within. Samuel was taught the lesson by God like this, God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but YHWH looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Hypocrisy and iniquity, sin or lawlessness are identified by Jesus as attributes of the utmost ugliness. When we are unclean before God we are ugly! When we use sin to deceive others as a false teacher we achieve God’s ultimate in spiritual ugliness!

Recall that the Pharisees were often admired as some of the most sincerely religious of the Jewish people and many times were among the most “conservative.” Yet God demands much more than sincerity and outward conservatism.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus would say it like this: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Paul would tell Titus: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11–14).

With all the love, forgiveness, grace, mercy and hope that God provides to us, we should be the most beautiful people; fit to be the bride of Christ. Whatever you do, do not allow spiritual ugliness to ever be seen in you!

— Lester P. Bagley

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