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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4/15/18 ~ Does it really matter why we do anything?

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Have you ever heard someone say that there are people in the world that are much better people than Christians? The discussion is really a beat-down of godly people with two intentions.

  • First, it claims that Christians are just imperfect hypocrites that don’t deserve any credit for anything good that they may do.
  • Second, it claims that, when an ungodly person does something good, it actually ought to impress God and count for some kind of “points” toward salvation.

So lets’ take a moment to examine the question…

Does it Really Matter Why We Do Anything?

To begin with let’s notice an observation that author T.S. Eliot once made about one of his characters:

The last temptation is the greatest treason:

To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

His point was that the character actually was just fooling himself into believing that something right could be done for a selfish reason. In much the same way it is sometimes argued that people do deeds just as good, or perhaps even better than Christians. Yet God does not give praise to the “good deeds” of the ungodly.

So, does it actually make a difference why we do something? Is T. S. Eliot right in telling us that doing the right thing for the wrong reason is the worst kind of self-deception?

Let’s consider a simplified example. If doing the right thing for the wrong reason is okay with God, that means everyone that dives into the water or willing goes underwater for any reason has actually been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins!

Virtually no one would ever accept that argument! Of course, immersion in water for the wrong reason is not what God calls baptism! Why would any other good deed done for the wrong reason (in God’s eyes) somehow confuse God?

Now consider something that the Apostle Peter said: For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? (1 Peter 4:17-18)

Since it requires a great sacrifice by Jesus and a repentance with actions that show the truth of our repentance (that’s what Acts 26:20 actually says!), it is NOT ever going to be done any way other than intentionally! And lest we miss the point Peter plainly states that the ungodly (those that fail to do God’s will for whatever reason) and the sinner (those that reject doing God’s will) will have no chance at salvation.

The apostle Paul puts the positive spin on it like this: For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Only in those who are obedient children of God does the good work become godly good work.

Consider how great it is to serve the Lord God and bring glory to our Heavenly Father! How sad to think that someone would do great things and fail to give the honor and glory to God!

Yes, some may do good things without being Christians. But only Christians do things because of what God has done for them. Only those actively obeying God’s will are credited with doing the “deeds worthy of repentance!”

Will you serve Him who died for you?

— Lester P. Bagley

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4/8/18 – True Heroes

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

I guess that by now everyone knows that I think we have one of the greatest groups of young people ever in this congregation. Perhaps one of the areas in which our teens impress me most is their courage. It is not easy for anyone to live in a world that believes that what God defines as wrong and sinful is accepted as right and good. And yet our teens face that challenge on a daily basis and still try to maintain both their Christ-like standards and their desire to tell others of the right.

Of course, that is God’s will for every one of us but to uphold those standards when your teachers and fellow students many time do not requires great faith. Do we appreciate what great examples our young Christians are for us all?

God says that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). We must remember that fact!

Following the terror events of 9-11 many people, even schools, openly prayed. Today most have gone back to the old ways of rejecting God. In fact, prayers are banned from many public functions by the US Supreme Court decisions in direct violation of Constitutional law that prevents any part of the US government from making ANY laws with regard to religion in this country!

At the same time, our government affirms the “right” to murder unborn babies. How long before it is considered a “right” to murder older children? Have we perhaps gone mad?

While athletes and even teenagers violating the law are held up as “heroes” and examples for all, it seems even more amazing that some can actually do what is right and thus show the world what real heroes are. Consider a couple of examples from the world of true heroes and let’s appreciate the spiritual lesson. And let’s resolve that we will have the courage from here on to place God’s will and what is right before what men may say, do, teach and even demand from us as laws:

True Heroes

Do you remember the heroes of the September 11th United Airlines Flight 93? Three typical American men on that flight, armed only with plastic butter knives, talked one last time to their wives and families and then attacked the hijackers on board their flight. These three knew of the devastation that had already occurred on the ground in New York and Washington and sought to prevent it happening again. They were successful! But before they made that heroic attempt they did one other thing, they prayed.

A few years later on June 28, 2005, a small four-man Navy SEAL team of Operation Red Wings was pinned down by a large enemy force and called for help. At that point, no one knew that only one of those four would survive. Without hesitation, the nearest aid consisting of 11 Navy SEALs and 8 Army Night Stalkers boarded their helicopter to attempt a rescue. Upon arrival to the area, the helicopter was shot down with the loss of all 19 men.

It would take some time and great effort to eventually recover all those lost men. But when they did there was an interesting dog tag found in the helicopter wreckage. It read: I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.

We would, like most folks, consider all those people to be heroes. But think for a moment what kind of persons God declares to be heroes. I guess our first thought would be Hebrews 11 and those oft referred to as heroes of faith. Perhaps some would think of the good example of those brave heroes Peter and John who stood before the Supreme Court of their country and declared, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

But what of some more modern heroes? Do we recall the New Testament Christians who died in Hitler’s concentration camps? Even today there are brethren who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus in countries like Afghanistan, China and India to what is almost our own backyard in Mexico.

And how about our young people, faithfully serving the Lord and being such a good example to us all when many of their fellow students and teachers are proud to teach and practice sin? What of our elderly Christians with their many years of service and their still constant devotion to the Savior?

Do we remember that Jesus Himself said that these modern heroes of faith are in God’s measure even greater than those of the Old Testament? “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)

Did you hear what Jesus said? It’s really the same comment that the Hebrew writer would use to conclude his list of heroes of faith: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39-40).

Do you remember that dog tag I mentioned above? Do we as Christians have the courage to live like that? Do you love the Lord and the church He died for enough to say: I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Heroes are just ordinary people who, in times of crisis, do extraordinary things. Let’s remember the real heroes this week! Truly, the Lord’s church is made up of those heroes. Let’s resolve to be faithful, loving, prayerful, encouraging this week and show just who and what we really are!

— Lester P. Bagley

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